Nawaz has a problem. His name is Chaudhry Nisar.

Nawaz Sharif Chaudhry NIsarNawaz Sharif gave a commendable speech today in Chakwal, saying that his government is dedicated to improving the lot and lives of religious minorities and promoting the mindset of ‘for you is your religion and for me is mine’. He told the audience that he is prime minister of all Pakistanis and “not just Muslim Pakistanis”. The Prime Minister should be applauded for giving this important message. Unfortunately, he has a problem.

No, it’s not his past flirtation with becoming ‘Ameer ul Momineen‘. The past can be forgiven if the present proves different. In this case, there is a question mark because while Nawaz is saying the right thing, he is keeping in his government powerful ministers who are saying the opposite. Day before PM Nawaz gave his impressive speech, his own Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told a completely different story, declaring that sectarian militants cannot be considered terrorists. Nisar’s remarks sparked a walkout by opposition Senators.

How can anyone take seriously the PM’s words about ending religious intolerance and sectarianism when his own Interior Minister is seen serving tea to the heads of proscribed hate groups and giving his own speeches defending sectarian militants? Nawaz Sharif has a choice. He can keep Chaudhry Nisar and continue to give empty speeches and have no one believe him, or he can sack Chaudhry Nisar and go down in history as a PM who actually put his words into action to improve the country. He can’t do both.

Nawaz Sharif just dealt an important blow to extremism

Muhammad Abdus SalamPrime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dealt an important blow to the forces of obscurantism and extremism today by renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and creating a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship to grant five annual fellowships for Pakistani PhD students in the field of Physics.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam is a national hero, though he has been treated very badly and nearly forgotten only because of his religious sect. By openly recognising Dr Abdus Salam in such a public and lasting way, PM Nawaz has dealt an important blow to extremism in the country. It is a first step only, but it is a crucial one to undoing the normalisation of hate and sectarianism that has taken root in so much of our society.

 

Foreign Policy: Everything is fine

Pakistan Foreign PolicyYesterday I predicted that the state was still unwilling to do the needful to fix our current foreign policy that has increasingly moved the country into global isolation. How could I have known that I would  be proven correct only 24 hours later? According to Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan is not only not isolated, but our foreign policy is a ‘monumental‘ success!

To prove his point, PM’s Foreign Advisor listed several achievements of the foreign policy. These include CPEC and Pak-China ties (listed separately, as if they are two different things) and resumption of dialogue with US (really? US ties are a success???). However the best example given by far is “exporting labor to Middle Eastern countries”.

Abandoned laborers in Saudi

Yes, our leadership believes that their ‘monumental’ success is demonstrated by Pakistani laborers in Middle Eastern kingdoms.

Islamabad said 8,520 of its nationals in Saudi Arabia had not been receiving their salaries for several months. A foreign ministry statement said “most of the workers want to leave these companies but only after settling their dues.”

Exporting our people to work under slavery conditions is not a success of foreign policy, it is a failure of economic AND foreign policy. In other words, even our ‘monumental’ successes are actually failures. But as usual we are not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Nawaz urged envoys to promote a positive image of Pakistan to other countries, saying the responsibility to introduce Pakistan as an emerging market rests with ambassadors, who should take up the promotion of foreign investment in Pakistan as their mission.

This is actually our foreign policy: Just keep repeating what we want to be true, no matter how ridiculous we look, and keep hoping that someday it will actually come true.

AQ Khan’s Offshore Accounts Exposed: Military Officers to Follow?

A Q KhanThe Panama Papers are not going away. Nawaz Sharif spent the day in parliament discussing the scandal, and there appears to be little sign of resolution as opposition parties walked out in response. After calling for Nawaz to resign, Imran Khan has also found himself facing problems as he was exposed as having offshore accounts also. At least Immy was honest and admitted that his offshore company was created so he could avoid paying taxes. However Imran turns out not to be the only ‘Khan’ exposed in the scandal that won’t go away. It is not learnt that AQ Khan has also been exposed in Panama Papers.

AQ Khan has denied having any offshore companies and claimed that his family members signatures were all forged as part of a huge conspiracy against him by Habib Bank.

“I have never even heard the name of this company,” A.Q. Khan told Dawn over phone. “Neither did my wife and daughters. My brother, who died a few years ago, was with Habib Bank and, as you know, bankers are always up to their tricks and hanky panky,” he said without mincing words. “My wife and daughters never signed any documents to create this company. The signatures (on the incorporation paperwork) are surely false. My brother never discussed it with me and my family only heard about this company after the Panama Papers release.”

It’s not just what AQ Khan knew about these companies that is now coming under scrutiny, though. Many are also asking how this was not discovered until so late. One name that appeared in Panama Papers list was wife of AQ Khan, Hendrina. This is not a very common name and surely a researcher would have noted it, especially a researcher like Umar Cheema who is not only a Jang/Geo reporter but also a member of the ICIJ that broke the story! Is this another case of Army’s strangle hold on media?

Surely the powers that be knew that things could not be hidden forever. Now questions are being asked who else has been ‘missed’ in the long list of offenders? So far it has been civilians who have been in the bulls eye of the Panama Papers scandal, but we know thanks to former DG-ISPR Maj-Gen (r) Rashid Qureshi that Army has been covering up corruption among military officers since long. Will we soon learn than the names of military officers appear in the Panama Papers but were not previously reported? Will these too be blamed on ‘hanky panky’ at Habib Bank?

Events show how deeply extremism has rooted in society

Mumtaz Qadri supporters

When militants carry out attacks, we tell ourselves and the world that they are not Muslims and religion has nothing to do with their barbaric acts. When a Pakistani like Tashfeen Malik is involved in an attack overseas, we point out that she spent time in Saudi Arabia. When a Pakistani like Saad Aziz is involved in attacks in Pakistan, we say that he must have been influenced by RAW. Maximimum Pakistanis are moderate and peaceful, we say. And I am desperate to believe it. But two events this week have shaken my confidence.

The first is the case of the 15-year-old boy who cut off his own hand and delivered it to his Imam after accidentally raising his hand when asked who had stopped praying. Raising one’s hand at the wrong moment is an honest mistake that every schoolboy has made at one time or another. Instead of understanding the boy’s predicament and comforting him not to worry, though, the crowd quickly accused him of blasphemy leading him to cut off his own hand and deliver it as apology. This is horrible enough, but what came next made me fear for our country.

Ahmed said that he has seen a video in which the boy is greeted by villagers in the street as his parents proclaim their pride.

No complaint has been made, he said, so no police report has been filed and there will be no investigation.

This what we have let Pakistan become. A country where children cut off their own limbs out of fear of being labeled a blasphemer, and their parents and villagers praise them for it.

I know what you are thinking. This is a terrible thing, but these are poor ignorant people. They are backwards and uneducated and do not represent Pakistan. True. And I was happy to shake my head in sadness for this poor boy as another evidence of need for more education. Until I saw this.

This video is Capt (r) Muhammad Safdar MNA son in law of Nawaz Sharif giving speech in favour of Mumtaz Qadri. This is not a 15-year-old boy who knows no better. This is not a backwards villager or an uneducated mullah. He is a retired Army officer who was educated at MCJ. He is elected Member of National Assembly. And he is a member of Prime Minister’s family. In other words, if the poor boy who cut off his hand represents Pakistan’s poor, Capt Safdar represents the elite. And here he is proudly praising an extremist murderer and I am reminded of the crowds of lawyers showering a killer with rose petals, and a passage written by another lawyer Feisal Naqvi hits me like a brick.

So far as I have been able to tell, there is a very small supply of enlightened Muslims and a very large supply of unenlightened Muslims. More importantly, the social credibility of the enlightened portion of the Ummah seems to run a very distant second to fire-breathing idiots who demand that we should stone sinners to death.

I am a middle class liberal Pakistani. I pray. I fast. I pay zakat. And I also believe in tolerance and moderation and have no need for hatred and extremism. I have always believed that I was not alone. I was part of the ‘silent majority’ of Pakistanis who also do the same. Right now, that belief is shaken and I am worrying more that I am actually a member of shrinking minority. For the sake of our country, I pray that I am mistaken.