Building Pakistan’s Future

Mumtaz Qadri MosqueFew things tell as much about a society than the physical space itself. America’s Statue of Liberty, London’s grand palaces, the pyramids of Egypt, the canals of Amsterdam – each of these gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the society. In Pakistan, too, our architecture tells our story. You cannot know Pakistan without knowing Lahore Fort, Shalimar Bagh, Islamia College, and Mazar-e-Quaid. Architectural landscapes change along with societies, though, and what we are building today is a glimpse into where we are headed tomorrow.

In Pakistan, the future we are building is usually discussed in terms of transportation infrastructure. Whether the controversial Orange Line Train in Lahore, or game changer CPEC, we are told stories about development that will usher in a bright future for the country. However, these are not the only projects taking place, and they may not even be the most important ones.

Jamia Hafsa, the infamous Lal Masjid madrasseh whose students swore allegiance to Daesh, has been granted 20 kanals plot in Sector H 11-4 Islamabad for construction of new facilities.

Across the capital, Faisal Mosque is getting competition from a newer construction – the mosque built to honour the convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. This mosque has proven so popular that it has raised funds to double its size.

Religious extremists are not the only ones expanding their space in the country. There has also been an rapid growth of building by DHA, one of the Army’s construction companies. DHA has even spread outside of its usual areas, announcing new developments in Balochistan also.

While religious extremists and the military expand their presence across the architectural landscape of the nation, secular political offices are being bulldozed. This is not a defence of Altaf Hussain, but nobody suggested bulldozing PMA Kakul when a COAS was charged with treason.

Projects like Orange Line Train and CPEC will make it easier to travel and transport both in major urban areas and across the nation. But it is what is being built for people to travel to that that will define our future.

Shot in the Heart

Lahore attack

Two weeks ago, a bus exploded while driving through Peshawar. 15 innocent people were killed in the terrorist bomb attack. If you were not aware of this tragedy, do not feel too guilty. It was barely mentioned by the media. Some government and military leaders gave a short tweet condemning the attack, but mostly the entire nation went on with our busy lives, watching cricket, visiting friends, and complaining about how the Western media only makes a big deal when Westerners are killed. In other words, it could have been any other day. Yesterday, another blast was carried out. This one got our attention. It was a shot right in the heart.

This time it was not a bus in Peshawar, it Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in Lahore. And it wasn’t 15 government employees who were martyred, it was 70 innocent people including women and children. Just how sick the minds of these terrorists are was shown when a suicide bomber detonated himself next to children’s rides to maximise the inhumanity and brutality of his evil deed.

Reaction has been quick and coming from all corners, but the response also includes the common problems that have kept us from successfully defeating the terrorist threat since many years.

The Army has declared an operation against all militants in Punjab, but it is unclear if we are still using the old definition of ‘militant’ that quietly excludes supposedly ‘pro-Pakistan’ militants like Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammad. These groups have been protected from previous operations because they are seen as no threat to the state, even though there is increasing evidence that by radicalising people they are feeding recruits to Daesh and TTP and other anti-Pakistan groups. Will the Army finally give up its delusions that some jihadi groups are no threat?

Whatever Army does, there is also the problem that military operations alone cannot solve the problem which is rooted in a radicalised public. This was also made clear by the fact that while security forces were responding to the suicide blast in Lahore, they also had to respond to over 25,000 extremists marching on parliament. These were not TTP militants, they were our neighbors. The people we pass in the street every day. And they have been so radicalised that they were taking out a violent march against our own government. By definition, that should make them anti-state militants, but if we accept that fact, then how much of our population must be considered as such? The answer is too terrifying to think about.

Our leaders are giving the same excuses and circular thinking that brought us to this point. Khawaja Asif is denying that the attackers are not Muslims or Pakistanis.

TV anchors are preaching appeasement of terrorists

Or trying to shift the attention away from jihadi terrorists to India

Meanwhile, the rest of us are complaining about whether the Eiffel Tower was lit up green and whether the West is giving us the same respect as Brussels and Paris. At a time when we need to look inwards and heal our own country, instead we are looking outward and wallowing in our victim mentality.

I am going to say this now: Who cares how the West responds? Who cares if London and New York and Paris are showing solidarity with us in our time of grief? They will or they will not. Do you think that the terrorists will be so shocked by a green Eiffel Tower and give up their jihad? Do you think Facebook profile pics or Twitter hashtags will cause extremists to wake up and walk away from their guns and bombs? It is a meaningless waste of time and energy.

We are facing a life and death situation. It is not going to be fixed by Western solidarity, and it is not going to be fixed by Army operations. It is not going to be fixed by appeasement. It is not going to be fixed by blaming India. Our country is going to live or die based on whether you – yes YOU – decide whether you are willing to take your country back from the extremist elements that have hijacked it.

Who is issuing Taliban visas?

Imran Khan

Imran Khan told Hamid Mir today during his programme that a senior Taliban commander was treated at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore. With Imran Khan’s history of openly supporting the Taliban, many immediately took this news as more proof of the PTI chief’s ‘Taliban Khan’ moniker. However, doctors are correctly pointing out that treatment is given to any patient without asking about their religion or politics. In Afghanistan, wounded Taliban militants are even treated next to Afghan soldiers. Therefore, the question is not why a Imran Khan’s hospital treated a Taliban commander, but why he was not treated in Afghanistan but rather in Lahore.  Continue reading

Salmaan Taseer memorial attack a bellwether for the nation?

Salmaan Taseer vigil

40 suspects are being held in connection with an attack against citizens who had gathered to remember slain Governor Salmaan Taseer on Sunday. An attack against a peaceful memorial should be shocking enough in itself, but there are certain details which make the event even more disheartening.

The first thing to note is that media reports that the attackers are all ‘belonging to a banned organisation’. This shows that despite lofty rhetoric about the nation finally being united against extremism and terrorism, the fact remains that banned organisations continue to operate with little disruption. Even though arrests have been made after public outcry over the incident, police were reportedly standing aside while the attack took place. It should also be noted that media has so far protected the name of the ‘banned organisation’.

More troubling, however, are the comparative numbers. According to reports, 40 militant extremists were arrested for attacking a gathering of ‘more than 35 activists of civil society’.

The number of extremists outnumbered the number of people at the vigil.

This can be attributed to a couple of factors, but neither of them bode well for the future of the country. It could be as simple as a sign that there are more extremists than tolerant moderates in the country. I am still unwilling to believe this, however. I think what is most likely is that most moderates recognize the risks inherent to standing up for their values.

Salmaan Taseer was murdered because he dared to take a stand for protecting a poor Christian woman who he believed was unjustly accused. Fatwas were issued calling for death of Sherry Rehman. Husain Haqqani received life threats from extremist groups.  Mohammad Shakil Auj, the 54-year-old dean of Islamic Studies at the prestigious University of Karachi, was declared ‘apostate’ and murdered for being too moderate in his religious views. Militants carried out operation to kill moderate columnist and TV anchor Raza Rumi. Though he survived with his life, his driver, Mustafa was not so lucky.

Army has stepped up attacks against militant groups that attack them, and those convicted of carrying out attacks against military targets are being executed. While the military looks after its own, the rest of us are left to look after ourselves.

I continue to hold onto the belief that a moderate, tolerant, ‘silent majority’ exists in this country, but I also believe that this majority does not have the security to stand up to the extremists. My fear is that this lack of security not only weakens our ability to stand up to extremists, it weakens our will to do so. If we do not do something to change this, the majority soon may not be in our favor and extremists may outnumber us not only in the streets, but in our homes, our schools, and our institutions.

If it hasn’t happened already.

Sharifs snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Lahore protest

For a brief moment, it seemed as if a new dawn was rising in Pakistan. Following an audacious attack against Karachi Airport, the nation seemed to pull together in a rare show of unity. The Prime Minister was giving strong statements announcing the beginning of the end of terrorism. The military were taking the fight straight to the heart of the militant camps in North Waziristan. Even PTI was endorsing the operations, and for a fleeting moment we had a glimpse of what Pakistan could look like without cynical political opportunism and without the civilians and military working at crossed purposes. Then, it happened. Lahore.

There is no question that Tahirul Qadri is a cynical opportunist of the worst sort, and the the timing of his protest was beyond comprehension. None of this, however, can explain or excuse what happened next.

“Clashes between workers of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s PAT party and police started in the morning when police started removing barriers from the road [outside Qadri’s Lahore residence in Model Town],” Sohail Azim, a police officer on the scene, told Newsweek.

“Following complaints from Model Town residents, police sought to remove barriers from Dr. Qadri’s house,” said Azim. “While police were working to remove the barriers, political workers pelted them with stones, injuring three senior officials,” he added.

In response, police baton-charged the protesters and fired tear-gas shells on them. TV footage also showed police officers opening fire on the protesters and Qadri’s residence, resulting in the deaths.

This is more than merely a distraction that the nation cannot afford. It is a division among the people in a time that calls for unity. It undermines faith in the government and security services just when that faith is most desperately needed.

The fragile national unity that was just beginning to emerge has already begun to crumble. Not only are Qadri’s supporters baying for blood, PTI (never one to miss an opportunity to jump in the lime light) has quickly announced that its Bahawalpur jalsa is back on. MQM has announced another day of mourning, shuttering Karachi in response to the attacks on Qadri’s supporters.

The proper response was a simple one. Allow Qadri and his supporters to have their rally which was made completely irrelevant by the new wind that had just begun to blow. Let them protest and let them go home. Instead, the streets were stained with the bodies of the dead. Not terrorists, but innocents. Just when things were starting to look up, chaos has returned. It remains to be seen whether the Sharifs can put things back together, or whether they have finally managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.