Protecting the Public

Government is cracking down on a series risk to the public. The Supreme Court has directed government at all levels to take action against sheesha cafes and to work to prevent smoking. Actions have already begun in the capital city, where Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration has sealed cafes and shops and imposed fines after making surprise visits and finding illegal activities. This is an important step to protecting the public health and strengthening law and order.

However, there is another danger to the public that is being ignored by the government. While all levels of government are busy taking action against the danger of smoking, the danger of extremist madrassahs is being ignored completely.

Even after 10 months of the announcement of NAP, the federal government has failed to start the process of registration of madrassas throughout the country, a basic point to introduce reforms in seminaries. According to rough figures collected by the Ministry of Interior, around 30 million students study in 18,000 madrassas in the country that are being run under Ittehad-e-Tanzeematul Madaris (ITM), a body of madrassas representing five major schools of thought.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claims that a committee having representatives of ITM and the departments concerned had been formed to finalize a registration form of seminaries. As expected, there has been no progress on it. This was literally the first step to the whole process.

Smoking is a danger to public health, and it is encouraging that government is taking the danger seriously and taking immediate action to protect people. Is sheesha a greater danger than extremism? Why is government taking immediate and wide spread action against sheesha cafes, but doing nothing about extremist and unregulated madrassahs? The appearance is that when it comes to protecting the public, government is only willing to do what is easy but not to do what is difficult.

Mainstreaming Extremism In KP Primary Schools

Madrassa

Yesterday, Government KP announced that 2000 madrassahs will be given Primary School status:

What this means is not exactly clear. It could mean that 2000 madrassahs will be brought under state curriculum in effort to eliminate radicalising forces and improve the education of all students. However the reality is probably different.

In the best case scenario, this is a scheme to cook the books on education in the province by making it appear that the provincial government has increased number of primary schools. This is more of an accounting trick than anything else, moving schools from the madrassah column to the primary school column to boost numbers. Supporters of the move will argue that this will have a positive effect by bringing them under official curriculum and increasing lessons on maths and science for madrassah students.

More likely is that the result will be mainstreaming of extremism in KP primary schools. It should be remembered that one year ago KP government changed the official school curriculum to include lessons on jihad.

“Jihad is a part of our faith and every child should have knowledge about it and its true spirit,” said Farman, who was flanked by Elementary and Secondary Education Additional Secretary Qaiser Alam. “In the curriculum we will include whatever we consider correct. We are not going to appease anyone,” he stressed.

Such statements suggest that the influence is more likely to come from the madrassahs than the other way around.

Pakistan faces an education crisis, and KP is in many ways suffering the worst as hundreds of state schools have been destroyed by militant extremists. The solution however is not to turn education over to them.

What Happens After North Waziristan?

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As airstrikes continue to pound militant compounds in North Waziristan, media reports that a full scale military operation is finally in the works targeting militants in the region. Such an operation is necessary, but it is not sufficient to root out the problem of extremist violence in the country. Just as the 2009 operation in South Waziristan did not end terrorism, neither will a successful operation that only takes place in North Waziristan today.

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Shehrbano Taseer: Hatred that killed my father hurts all Pakistan

Shehrbano TaseerFive months ago, my father Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri for opposing misuse of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. During the investigation, we were shown a video that made my blood freeze. In a tiny madrassa in Rawalpindi, the chief cleric of a little known Sunni religious group, Shabab-e-Islami, was frothing at the mouth, screeching to 150 swaying men inciting them to kill my father, “the blasphemer”.

Qadri was in the audience, nodding and listening intently. A few days later, on January 4, he casually strolled up behind my father and shot him 27 times. As was reported this week, the blasphemy laws are still being used to persecute Christians, while Qadri, who has still not stood trial, is treated as a hero.

How did it come to this? In the 1979 Soviet-Afghan war, the intelligence agencies of the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia joined together to fight a covert operation against the Soviet Union. The US offered huge amounts of aid as Pakistan became a conduit for assistance to the Mujahidin. About 20,000 to 30,000 fighters from 20 Muslim countries joined the battle, including Osama bin Laden. In local madrassas they were taught to hate and kill, and indoctrinated with extremist Wahhabi ideology. We thought the nightmare would end when Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. But it’s thriving and has come back to haunt us.

Madrassas are still the breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. More than 15,000 have mushroomed all over the country and 80 per cent teach militant Islam. Clerics can preach whatever they please, and are raising a generation of children to be merchants of hatred, who believe that their only contribution to Islam is jihad and that the only way to achieve it is violence.

Not all madrassas are evil. My grandfather was educated in one and he was a poet, the first South Asian to receive a doctorate in literature from Cambridge. But nowadays rabid clerics hijack the minds of young children, denying them contact with the outside world and teaching them to be bitterly antagonistic to non-Muslims and other sects of Islam alike.

A boy of 8 or 9 in a madrassa will not know much about history, maths or science but will know how to fire a Kalashnikov and strap on a suicide bomb vest. These children are being trained not how to live, but how to die. My father’s murder is the perfect example of the hatred and violence spewed daily to children who go out into the world deluded in this warped piety where murder and violence are legitimised in the name of Islam.

The weak Pakistani Government appeases extremist demands and allows these hate-mongers a platform. The ruthless military and intelligence agencies play a double game, dividing terrorists into good and bad, funding and arming those deemed “good”.

But Pakistan too is a victim of the ideology. We have lost an estimated 3,000 soldiers and 35,000 civilians in the War on Terror. Our mosques and market places are bombed every month. Police and military bases and training academies are attacked weekly. As a people, we are exhausted with the bombings, violence and assassinations. We are suffering because of an extremist ideology exported from Saudi Arabia.

The role of wealthy Saudi families in funding al-Qaeda and other terrorists has been kept in the background. But according to a US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, $100 million a year makes its way from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to extremist recruitment networks in Punjab. Given Saudi Arabia’s importance as an oil producer, the presence of Saudi financial support is, perhaps, a big complication for the UK and US anti-terror effort. But it has reached the point of passive sponsorship.

An international effort to cut off the financial tentacles of the Islamist terrorist apparatus is needed urgently. No other family should have to suffer what mine have had to. No other nation should lose its brave heart because of this madness in the name of religion.

The writer, the daughter of the assassinated governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, is a journalist with Newsweek Pakistan. This piece was originally published in The Times (UK).

 

AHR: A Deadly Silence

Agha Haider RazaWhen Salmaan Taseer was assassinated eight weeks ago, I quoted Max Weber in my article: “If the power of violence shifts from the state to the people, we also see a shift from a state to anarchy”.  Weber’s paradigm of anarchy is becoming more evident in Pakistan as time progresses.  The brutal murder of Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad has solidified the notion that the PPP led government is ignoring extremism.  This perturbed ideology is challenging the writ of the State and if not handled with the delicacy and precision required, we will surely dissolve into a state of oblivion.

During the past year, President Zardari has sent over 70 press releases to the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP – GoP’s official wire agency) “condemning” deaths, murder and terrorist actions.  Yet Mr. Zardari seems ignorant of the very extremists who killed Benazir Bhutto, assassinated Salmaan Taseer, murdered Shahbaz Bhatti and thousands of civilians.  Zardari changed his children’s surname so they would carry the name of their maternal grandfather and even went to the extent of renaming his own hometown of Nawabshah to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto district.  Why invoke Benazir Bhutto if the extremists who murdered her are still wreaking havoc in Pakistan?

I am not undermining the sacrifice Ms. Bhutto gave this country.  But what use is it to Pakistan if Mr. Zardari refuses to acknowledge the very threat of violence that has forced him to name cities after his slain wife?  Where is the speech of a President uniting a fractured country? Where is the public condemnation of murder? Sitting within the Presidency’s bubble and sending 250 words to the APP will surely not break the shackles dragging us towards anarchy.

Having recently travelled through southern Punjab, it was highly disturbing to see the number of madrassahs being constructed.  These institutions are being set-up every 20 kilometers along Multan Road through Sadiqabad.  The graduating batch is more fodder for the “extremist Frankenstein monster” Benazir Bhutto spoke of two decades ago.

It is arguably difficult to tame the monster.  However, a thoughtful analysis of threats and opportunities is required in order to break free from extremism.  The Islam being preached at such institutions needs to be modified and reexamined.  This concept of invoking fear into the hearts of “infidels” and “blasphemers” through violence is not an Islam that was practiced by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) nor advocated by his followers.

Islam can survive without violence, as it has for 1400 years.  It is truly mesmerizing where a religion that was not spread by the sword is now synonymous with suicide bomb and cold-blooded murder.

Those who are inspired by carnage and terrorism through religion need to be shown that Islam at the core does not follow such principles nor evokes such behavior.  Education is one method of response, but that is a long-term goal.  Pakistan requires a proactive responsibility from the government, opposition parties and civil society in order to marginalize the thought-process of extremist elements threatening our social fabric.

The government needs to take a lead role in countering religious violence.  First and foremost the writ of the state is being challenged as civilians are utilizing the power of violence.  Despite all odds, Mumtaz Qadri (a self-proclaimed assassin) needs to be dealt with according to the law.  If religious parties, the government and political parties constantly rally for Raymond Davis to be dealt in accordance to the laws in Pakistan, I don’t see why we should be discriminating.  Providing military training for mujahid’s in covert operations needs to cease.  Investments for NGOs providing roti, kapra aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter) should be increased exponentially, while the public-private sector partnership needs to assist the government in dealing with the monster of terrorism.  The Zia-ul-Haq era of textbooks containing religious violence should to be revoked.

Islamic History is absent from books utilized in schools across the country.  From the very basic public schools in rural Pakistan to elite institutions like Aitchison College, 1200 years of Islam is absent.  Islamiyat is taught from the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the death of Imam Hussain (AS).  Pakistan Studies picks up from the reign of the Mughal Emperor Babar to the inception of Pakistan in 1947.  The Umayyads, Abbasids, Ottoman Empire, Safavid dynasty are crucial to Muslim history but is overlooked.  These dynasties brought about a social cultural change through religion and would be an important aspect to countering religious violence in Pakistan.

There are some who may argue that if the government is absent, the people of Pakistan need to voice their opinions.  While this may be true, I still feel that an elected, representative democratic government is required to take the lead on such a sensitive issue.  Harping on the Shaheeds of a party will not rid us of the Frankenstein monster that has taken the life of thousands across Pakistan.  Pakistan’s very identity and survival is at stake.  Actions truly speak louder than empty rhetoric.

In his inaugural speech Pakistan’s founder stated, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan.  You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.  It is only fair we live up to his expectations; it’s the least we as a nation can do to the very man who gave us Pakistan.  If the government refuses to provide this safety net to those who practice other religions, we most definitely are sliding towards anarchy.

The author Agha Haider Raza posted this piece on his blog 4 March 2011.