Posts Tagged ‘ Benazir Bhutto ’

The Problem with Pakistan’s Democracy

By Farahnaz Ispahani for Foreign Policy

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On Sunday, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was at last given permission to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11, but only in the northern district of Chitral. Two other districts rejected his nomination papers, and his application in Islamabad is still pending. Elections officials in Pakistan, acting under directives of the country’s Supreme Court, have excluded several candidates — among them Musharraf — from running in the elections. This pre-selection of candidates is based on controversial Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, decreed by military ruler General Zia ul-Haq in 1985 as part of his Islamization agenda. These articles forbid anyone who does not meet the test of being a good Muslim or patriotic Pakistani from becoming members of Pakistan’s parliament. Until now, the highly subjective criteria of these provisions have never been implemented in practice.

This time around, the Election Commission of Pakistan has allowed officials in each parliamentary district to vet candidates. The result is a mish-mash of arbitrary decisions. Almost 100 members of the out-going legislatures, many of them deemed popular enough to win re-election, have been disqualified for producing fake college degrees at the last poll, when the generals mandated the possession of one as a pre-condition for membership in parliament. The law was changed by parliament in 2008 and it is questionable why, after serving for five years, these politicians are being challenged now.

Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was disqualified on grounds of unproven corruption allegations. Musharraf was barred from running in two districts while being found sufficiently sagacious in another. The leader of the opposition in the outgoing parliament, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, was similarly found to be lacking in the criteria in one district where he filed his nomination papers, while being allowed to run in another.

The last few days have witnessed the spectacle of Election Officers asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day, and in the case of a female candidate, even respond to the question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to be fulfill your religious duties as a wife and mother?”

The pre-qualification conditions have adversely affected liberal candidates while favoring Islamist ones. Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religiosity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers for Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of a banned terrorist organization, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.

In addition to facing discrimination from election officials, liberal politicians must also contend with threats from terrorists – threats that have not persuaded the judiciary or the permanent state apparatus to enhance security for these politicians. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned that candidates and rallies of ‘secular’ parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Awami National Party (ANP) would be targeted, and the targeting has already begun. The ANP lost one of its finest leaders, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a few months ago. The TTP took credit for the murder.

The elimination of liberal political figures must be seen as part of the process of creeping Islamization, as well as the permanent militarization of Pakistan, which began during Zia ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. Using Islam and a narrow definition of patriotism to limit the options available to voters is nothing new. It is a direct outcome of Pakistan’s long history of dominance by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as the ‘establishment.’ In addition to existing under direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges, and civil servants.

No elected parliament was ever allowed to complete its full term until this year. But instead of allowing voters to choose the new government in a free and fair election, the establishment wants to make sure that the voters have only limited choice at the polls. A direct military coup is no longer feasible. The politicians, led by President Asif Zardari, have foiled bids by the judiciary to virtually become the executive. The battle between elected leaders and unelected judges has come at great cost to several outspoken individuals in the country’s politics. Now, an election with pre-qualification could ensure the establishment’s supremacy without overtly pulling back the democratic façade.

From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided, or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate. This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub Khan (1958-69), Yahya Khan (1969-71), Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Musharraf (1999-2008) at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.

General Zia ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. He drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways that have proved difficult to reverse, even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the Islamic provisions introduced by Zia ul-Haq persist, enabling the establishment to use Islam as an instrument of control and influence over the body politic.

Article 62 demands that a candidate for parliament demonstrate that “he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions; he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; and that he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.”

Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if “he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.”

Both constitutional provisions provide considerable leeway to an ideological judiciary to influence the electoral process and exclude critics of the establishment from the next legislature. The recent celebration and positive commentary over parliament completing its term should not distract us from an ugly reality. Pakistan’s establishment may have refrained from another direct coup, but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote for whomever they choose.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and former Media Advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as a writer and minority rights advocate.

Western Peace Activists March in Pakistan Against Drone Strikes

By Mark Mcdonald for The New York Times

Dozens of Western peace activists, including 32 Americans, participated in a convoy in Pakistan over the weekend to protest deadly American drone strikes in the tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The motorcade was almost certain to be turned away Sunday from entering South Waziristan and the town of Kotkai, the hometown of the founder of the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government, as my colleague Salman Masood reported, was expected to block the group.

The activists, most of them from the group Codepink, object to the civilian deaths that occur in the aerial strikes against Taliban fighters and other militants. (Rendezvous recently explored the controversy over drone warfare in a piece, “Are Drone Strikes Worth the Costs?”)

“We kill a lot of innocent people,” said Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of Codepink and part of the delegation in Pakistan. She called the attacks “barbaric assassinations.”

Speaking of the tribal areas, she said, “This is a culture that very much believes in revenge, and then they seek revenge by trying to kill Americans. So we are just perpetuating a cycle of violence and it’s got to stop somewhere, and that’s why we are putting our bodies on the line by trying to go to Waziristan to say no.”

Ms. Benjamin said her group also was participating in the march to “put significant pressure on the Obama administration to come clean about these drone attacks, to recognize how inhumane and counterproductive they are.”

Before the convoy got under way in Pakistan, members of the Codepink delegation met with Richard E. Hoagland, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, and he was presented with a petition calling for an end to the drone strikes.

“I wish I could tell you how enormously, enormously careful the various deciders are before there is any strike these days,” Mr. Hoagland said. “I know you object to any strike at all, absolutely, I know that, but I wish I could also tell you the extreme process that is undertaken to avoid what is very sadly called ‘collateral damage.’ ”

“I looked at the numbers before I came here today,” Mr. Hoagland told the group, “and I saw a number for civilian casualties that officially — U.S. government classified information — since July 2008, it is in the two figures. I can’t vouch for you that that’s accurate, in any way, so I can’t talk about numbers. I wanted to see what we have on the internal record, it’s quite low.”

The so-called “peace march” — which was more like a motorcade — was organized by Tehreek-e-Insaaf, the opposition political party led by the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. In a recent profile in The New York Times Magazine, the writer Pankaj Mishra called Mr. Khan “Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto.”

“His long and uncompromising opposition to American presence in the region,” the article said, “not only pleases assorted Islamic radicals; it also echoes a deep Pakistani anger about the C.I.A.’s drone attacks, whose frequency has increased under the Obama administration.”

Before the march, Mr. Khan said of the campaign of drone strikes: “It’s totally counterproductive. All it does is it helps the militants to recruit poor people. Clearly if they were succeeding, these drone attacks, we would be winning the war. But there’s a stalemate.”

In an interview on BBC Radio 4, Mr. Khan said Pakistani government officials were “completely complicit” in the U.S drone efforts, “covertly and tacitly giving their approval.”

If he becomes the Pakistani leader, Mr. Khan said, he would appeal to the United States and the United Nations to halt the aerial attacks. If those appeals failed, he said, he would have the Pakistani Air Force begin shooting down the drones.

In a scathing opinion piece Sunday in the Express Tribune newspaper from Karachi, the attorney and commentator Saroop Ijaz said Mr. Khan’s march was principally linked to domestic Pakistani politics. He also objected to Mr. Khan not denouncing Taliban suicide attacks that have killed numerous civilians. An excerpt from his commentary, headlined “Game of Drones”:

This is not about Waziristan, this is not even about drones; this is about politics and very dangerous and cowardly politics. By indulging and showing indecent deference to these murderers, Mr. Khan is insulting thousands of those dead in suicide attacks over these years.

By all means, go and play your political games and make populist, unrealistic promises, but a line needs to be drawn when the memory of thousands of our martyrs and the survival of our society is at stake. Unless, of course, Mr. Khan can give us his solemn word that his new friends are willing to lay down their weapons and stop killing our innocent civilians.
The journalist Ahmed Wali Mujeeb recently spent nearly a month in Waziristan. A condensed excerpt from his report for the BBC:

The drones do not suddenly appear over the horizon, carry out the attack and leave. At any given time of the day, at least four are hovering in the sky, emitting a distinctive and menacing buzzing sound. They call them “mosquitoes.”

“Anybody who has been listening to the buzzing all through the day usually can’t sleep at night,” says Abdul Waheed, a tribesman in North Waziristan. “It’s like a blind man’s stick — it can hit anybody at any time.”

Taliban and local tribesmen say the drones almost always depend on a local spy who gives word when the target is there. Some say the spy leaves a chip or microchip at the site, which guides drones in for the kill. Others say special marker ink is used — rather like “X” marks the spot.

Anyone coming under suspicion is unlikely to get a hearing. The Taliban kill first and decide afterwards if the suspect was involved or not. It is better to be safe than sorry, they say.
Jennifer Gibson, an attorney with Reprieve, a legal charity in Britain that represents a number of Pakistani drone victims, was a researcher in Pakistan for the recent report, “Living Under Drones,” a joint project by the law schools at Stanford University and New York University.

In a commentary for The Los Angeles Times, Ms. Gibson said drones did not simply fly to a target, launch their missiles and then withdraw to a distant base. Instead, she said, drones were “a constant presence” overhead, “with as many as six hovering over villages at any one time.”

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school,” she wrote. “Women are afraid to meet in markets. Families are afraid to gather at funerals for people wrongly killed in earlier strikes. Drivers are afraid to deliver food from other parts of the country.

“The routines of daily life have been ripped to shreds. Indisputably innocent people cower in their homes, afraid to assemble on the streets. ‘Double taps,’ or secondary strikes on the same target, have stopped residents from aiding those who have been injured. A leading humanitarian agency now delays assistance by an astonishing six hours.”

Pakistani President Chooses Party Stalwart as New Premier

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

President Asif Ali Zardari has chosen a party stalwart, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, to replace the ousted prime minister, Pakistani news media reported late Wednesday.

Mr. Shahabuddin, who was serving as textiles minister when the Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and broke up the cabinet on Tuesday, will file his nomination papers before the election commission on Thursday. Khurshid Shah, a senior leader of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, said a special session of the National Assembly would be held Friday for a confirmation vote.

The nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin came after hours of negotiations between party officials and the other members of its governing coalition. Officials said he was Mr. Zardari’s first choice, but he faced mild resistance during a meeting at the president’s house on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Shahabuddin belongs to an influential family from the southern part of Punjab Province, which has been a stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He has held several positions, including deputy finance minister in the early 1990s. He was considered close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The country’s economy, militants in the tribal badlands and troubled relations with the United States over reopening NATO supply lines would be among the issues facing him if he was confirmed. But he may face another challenge by the Supreme Court, which has been pushing the ruling government to reopen a Swiss corruption investigation against Mr. Zardari. Mr. Gilani’s refusal to do so led to contempt charges and his dismissal.

Most analysts expect Mr. Shahabuddin would fight such pressure, as Mr. Gilani did.

Raza Rumi, the policy director of the Jinnah Institute, a research group in Islamabad, said that the nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin indicated continuation of the governing party’s policies. “Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an assertive court and a restive opposition,” he said.

Pakistan Supreme Court Convicts Prime Minister

As Reported by The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday of contempt for failing to revive a long-standing graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari, a ruling that could eventually result in the premier’s ouster and ramp up political tension in an important but troubled U.S. ally.

The court opted not to sentence Gilani to a maximum six months in prison. However, under Pakistani law, a conviction could entail disqualification from the office he has held since 2008.

The verdict comes at a time when the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, stewarded by Zardari and Gilani, is especially vulnerable. As elections approach, the party faces a public intensely dissatisfied with its performance on issues such as a stagnant economy and crippling power shortages.

Within hours of the ruling, handed down by a seven-judge panel, opposition leaders called for Gilani’s resignation.

“He should step down without causing further crisis,” former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Peoples Party’s archrival Pakistan Muslim League-N, told a Pakistani television channel. “The prime minister himself invited this situation.”

But members of Gilani’s team suggested the Pakistan Peoples Party would defend his right to stay in office. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira called the ruling “a very unfortunate day for this country and for democracy,” but said the court’s ruling did not explicitly call for Gilani’s disqualification as prime minister.

Ultimately, Zardari and other party leaders will have to weigh the benefits of staving off Gilani’s removal from office through legal and legislative maneuvers against the political damage that could come with trying to keep him at the helm of government.

“Essentially, it will go to the court of public opinion,” said Cyril Almeida, a leading columnist for Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper. “The media and political opposition will say you have a prime minister convicted, so morally he should not stay on as prime minister. … What might happen is someone might petition the Supreme Court, saying, ‘This is your order, so please disqualify the prime minister.’ That seems likely to be the next step.”

The contempt conviction stems from a case in Switzerland in which Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were convicted in absentia in 2003. The couple were charged with taking kickbacks from Swiss companies during Bhutto’s rule in the 1990s. They appealed, and the case was dropped in 2008 at the request of the Pakistani government.

Since 2009, the Supreme Court has repeatedly demanded that Gilani’s government write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be revived. Gilani refused, contending that, as president, Zardari has constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Pakistan PM Prefers Jail to Writing to Swiss

As Reported by Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday he would rather go to jail than obey a court order and ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against the president.

Gilani’s remarks revive speculation that he would rather risk losing his job than capitulate in a two-year showdown with the judiciary that culminated last month with him being charged with contempt by the Supreme Court.

He has always insisted that President Asif Ali Zardari is immune from prosecution as president and says the cases against him are politically motivated.

“If I write a letter it will be a violation of the constitution, which is treason and which carries the death sentence,” Gilani told PhD students in central Punjab province, with a few in the audience shouting “do not write, do not write”.

“If I don’t write, I will be convicted for contempt, the punishment for which is six months’ imprisonment,” Gilani said. “It’s better to face six months’ imprisonment than face the death sentence.”

Pakistan’s top court last week ordered Gilani to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by March 21.

It was the first time the court asked Gilani personally to write to the Swiss. It previously addressed repeated demands to the government since revoking in 2009 an amnesty freezing legal proceedings against key politicians.

Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.

Playing to the gallery, Gilani asked the students in Bahawalpur district whether he should write the letter, to which the audience shouted: “No, no.”

“Ok, we will send your message to the court and tell them that they should charge parliament with contempt of court because parliament has given immunity to the president. All heads of state all over the world have this immunity.”

Zardari is so tainted by corruption allegations that he is nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent”. He has already spent 11 years in jail in Pakistan on charges ranging from corruption to murder although he has never been convicted.

Pakistan Vows to Arrest Musharraf for Bhutto Assassination

By Reza Sayah for CNN

Pakistani authorities vowed Tuesday to use the international police agency Interpol to arrest former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

“The government is moving for his (Musharraf’s) red notice,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, referring to the Interpol’s international arrest warrant.

“We will get him through Interpol to Pakistan.”

Malik made the announcement as part of a progress report of the four-year-long assassination probe that was presented to provincial lawmakers Tuesday in Bhutto’s home province of Sindh. The briefing lasted several hours and was broadcast live on Pakistani TV.

Bhutto was assassinated in a gun-suicide attack in December 2007, shortly after she came back to Pakistan from self imposed exile to take part in the 2008 general elections.

Malik and the head of the investigation team said former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud plotted the assassination and paid the equivalent of about $4,500 to a network of Islamist militants to carry out the killing.

Using a Power Point presentation, pictures and video to outline the evidence they had gathered, authorities said Mehsud had Bhutto killed because she supported the west’s war against Islamist militants. Investigators said they collected much of their evidence from the accused plotters’ cell phone records before and after the killing.

Last November a Pakistani court charged five alleged Islamist militants with aiding the suicide attacker and two senior police officers for failing to provide adequate security.

Musharraf has also been accused of failing to protect Bhutto. In February 2011 a judge issued an arrest warrant for Musharraf after he didn’t show up to court for questioning.

Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since he left Paksitan in 2008. Last August authorities confiscated his property in Pakistan and froze his bank account. The former military ruler has denied having anything to do with Bhutto’s killing.

In Tuesday’s briefing Malik and investigators said Musharraf rejected Bhutto’s request to use a western private security contractor for protection when she returned to Pakistan. They suggested Musharraf intentionally left Bhutto vulnerable because he felt politically threatened by her return.

“It was the duty of the government to provide the prime minister with protection,” Malik yelled at one point. “Why did you not give security? What was the problem?”

Pakistani Prime Minister Due in Court For Contempt Hearing

As Reported by CNN

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan is due to appear Monday before the country’s Supreme Court, which plans to charge him with contempt in relation to a long-running struggle over old corruption cases.

Gilani is locked in a standoff with the Supreme Court justices, who are demanding that he ask the Swiss authorities to revive corruption charges from the previous decade against President Asif Ali Zardari and others.

Gilani has refused the court’s demands and could be jailed for six months if the justices find him in contempt. The court on Friday rejected an appeal by Gilani’s lawyers against the summons to face the contempt charge.

The lawyers have argued that the prime minister has not followed the court’s order because Zardari enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad as a president in office.

Gilani said in an interview over the weekend with the satellite news network Al Jazeera that he had an “extremely capable” lawyer and didn’t believe the court would jail him on the contempt charges.

If found guilty of contempt, the prime minister could be forced from office. But his lawyers have said he would keep his position unless electoral officials disqualified him.

Gilani served more than five years in prison between 2001 and 2006 on corruption charges brought by the previous military regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf — counts he said were also politically motivated.

The corruption cases that the Supreme Court now wants reopened stem from money-laundering charges against Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A Swiss court convicted them in absentia in 2003 of laundering millions of dollars.

After Musharraf granted a controversial amnesty in 2007 to Zardari, Bhutto, and thousands of other politicians and bureaucrats, Pakistan asked the Swiss authorities to drop the case. In 2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled the amnesty was unconstitutional and called on the government to take steps to have the cases reopened.

The government has not done so, and the court apparently lost patience. Since Gilani is the head of the government, the court justices view him as responsible.

Musharraf Announces He Will Return to Pakistan Late This Month

By Nasir Habib for CNN

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pledged in a speech Sunday to return to his country later this month, despite word from authorities that he will be arrested when he does so.

“I am coming, Pakistan,” Musharraf told thousands of supporters via video link in the southern city of Karachi. “Attempts have been made to scare me, but I am not afraid of anything.”
He pledged to return between January 27 and 30.

When he does, Pakistani officials said, Musharraf will be arrested in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a special public prosecutor in the assassination case, said a Rawalpindi court has already issued an arrest warrant for Musharraf.

“They are bound to execute the order unless a higher court sets aside the orders,” Ali said, adding that Musharraf is accused of conspiring in the assassination.

Musharraf’s attorney, Chaudry Faisal, said the threat of arrest is politically motivated and has no legal bearing. The warrant is being challenged in court, the attorney said.

He described the claim that Musharraf could be arrested at any time upon return as “absurd.” The former president said Sunday that he will return even at the risk of his life.

Musharraf, who resigned in 2008, is expected to fly into Pakistan from the United Arab Emirates later this month, accompanied by up to 500 supporters, said Jawed Siddiqi, spokesman for the former president’s All Pakistan Muslim League party.

“President Musharraf told me that although the possibility of arrest is there — there is no way of knowing what will happen, and how dangerous the situation is, until one jumps into the situation head first,” he said. Elections are set to take place in Pakistan next year; Musharraf intends to run.

On Sunday, he told Pakistanis that other politicians have failed leading the country, but “I succeeded 100%.”

“When I took charge of the country, it was surrounded in huge problems,” he said. “… Today, we have to decide whether we need change or we need the same faces.”

Terrorism in Pakistan, he said, “is at its peak. We are alone in the world.” He said he restored Pakistan’s economic development, increased its global standing and strengthened the armed forces.

Musharraf resigned in 2008 as the country’s ruling coalition began taking steps to impeach him. He was succeeded by Asif Zardari, Bhutto’s widower.
In 2010, the United Nations released a report that said Musharraf’s government had failed to protect Bhutto before her 2007 assassination. Musharraf has rejected such accusations, saying that Bhutto had police protection and took unnecessary risks.

Bhutto’s assassination turned public opinion strongly against Musharraf in 2008 and led to his resignation and self-exile in London. In 2010, Musharraf said the timing of his return to Pakistan would depend on the environment there.

“My going back is dependent, certainly, on an environment to be created in Pakistan and also, I would say, with certainty, that whenever the signs of the next election comes up, I will be there in Pakistan,” he said.

We Are Free to Choose Peace

By Ethan Casey for Dawn.com

I was planning to devote this column to Memogate and Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s resignation, then I woke up one morning to learn that the topic had been rendered quaint by a Nato cross-border attack killing two dozen Pakistani soldiers and bringing the already fragile (not to say ostensible or notional) alliance between Pakistan and the United States very close to the breaking point. Then I realised that the two topics are aspects of a larger one, indeed of the twin elephants in both societies’ living rooms: the damage done when a military establishment becomes too powerful and unaccountable.

The only time I’ve ever met Husain Haqqani was at a seminar at Harvard University in 2006, organised by the journalist and activist Beena Sarwar. He wasn’t yet Ambassador to the US; Musharraf was still president. Most of the discussion was, I felt, preaching to the converted among elite-class Pakistani liberals about how the military was the problem and the solution was democracy in the form of elections and civilian rule. I’m not Pakistani, but I was an invited panelist at the seminar, so I took the liberty of challenging that consensus. Recall, I said, the sorry tit-for-tat excuse for democracy that Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and their undemocratic parties inflicted on the country throughout the 1990s. That rivalry’s personal vindictiveness and pettiness, I asserted, did a lot of damage to the credibility of civilian leadership. Was it really clear that civilian rule was preferable to military rule under Musharraf?

For my pains I was, as I remember it, ganged up on by Husain Haqqani, the stern and formidable historian Ayesha Jalal, and Ayesha Siddiqa, whose book Military Inc. was about to be published. Haqqani in particular accused me of being “merely anecdotal,” meaning that the foibles of civilian politicians were incidental, whereas the military was a problem institutionally and structurally.

I still believe that my point was well taken, because there’s much that elected leaders can and should do to claim political space and assert their own authority, even – especially – if they’re being besieged or undermined by the military. If you’re elected to lead, you must accept the responsibility to do just that, and you must demonstrate courage and personal character in disdaining consequences to yourself when necessary. And I’m a reporter; merely anecdotal is what I do. But Haqqani was all too right – wasn’t he?

I’m aware that conspiracy theories have been flying about the notorious memo’s provenance. Like most conspiracy theories, they’re beside the point. It doesn’t matter whether Haqqani wrote the memo himself or was framed by the ISI; the result is the same. And the question to ask is Lenin’s: Who benefits?

A.J.P. Taylor (among many others) was right to point out that the armed forces are a fundamental institution of any state. But if the state is going to serve the interests of anyone else, the armed forces must be subject – and obedient – to civilian authority. This is what the authors of the US constitution understood in the 18th century, when they made the president the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. And it’s what President Truman understood when he fired the insubordinate General Douglas MacArthur in 1951, even though MacArthur was more popular with the American public at the time than Truman himself.

But Americans should be anything but self-congratulatory about such things. President Eisenhower, himself a retired general, was not only prescient but brave and patriotic when he took the occasion of his leaving office in 1961 to warn, in a rightly famous nationally televised speech, that a “military-industrial complex” (he coined the phrase) was poised to dominate America’s public life and economy. Half a century later America is hip-deep in the muck of Afghanistan, and – in addition to the death and destruction in Afghanistan itself and in Pakistan – the only Americans who are benefiting are the military itself and the shareholders of the companies that supply the war effort with everything from “contractors” (mercenaries) to drones to cheeseburgers for the troops. Military Inc., indeed.

Which brings us to the cross-border attack. Maybe Nato mistakenly or aggressively attacked over the border; maybe Pakistani troops fired first. Who knows? The New York Times has published a de rigueur, pro forma editorial urging an inquiry. Whatever the truth, it doesn’t matter, because the only people who gain from such an incident are the people who gain from war, and that’s not you or me. It’s also not the soldiers on all sides who are being killed. If I were Pakistani I would be furious, as I know many Pakistanis are, at the contempt for sovereignty that the attack shows. At the same time, we know that the Pakistani establishment is duplicitous. So where does that leave you and me? Does it help anyone if I claim your establishment is more duplicitous than mine, and vice versa?

Our two countries have arrived at a depressing and discouraging pass, both in relation to each other and internally. The exigencies of “defense,” which is a euphemism for war, have brought us here. As individuals, we feel (because we are) largely powerless to affect the course of events. As human communities there’s more we can do, as the Occupy Wall Street movement has been showing in America, and as the lawyers’ movement showed in Pakistan.

We’re in this together – and by “we” I mean Americans and Pakistanis. We’re not on opposing sides; we’re on the same side, against the warmongers of both states. And we are free to choose both our actions and our attitudes. As an American, Ken Williams, commented just this week on my Facebook page: “We can live with generosity and trust OR greed and fear. Each choice has outcomes.”

-Pakistanis for Peace group member Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip. He can be reached at www.facebook.com/ethancaseyfansand www.ethancasey.com

Pakistan WSJ Ad Unlikely to Change Narrative

By Tom Wright for The Wall Street Journal

Pakistan has taken out a half-page advertisement in The Wall Street Journal to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in an attempt to shift what Islamabad feels is an anti-Pakistan narrative in the American media.

“Which country can do more for your peace?” the ad asks, sitting below a story on page A10 of the U.S. Journal’s Saturday/Sunday edition titled “When the Towers Came Down.”

“Since 2001 a nation of 180 million has been fighting for the future of world’s 7 billion!” it continues.”Can any other country do so? Only Pakistan…Promising peace to the world.”

Pakistani army and civilian officials complain that in the U.S. their country is often portrayed in the media and by members of Congress as a double-dealing ally that takes billions of dollars in U.S. aid but secretly helps the Taliban kill U.S. soldiers.

Pakistan’s leaders have been publicly trying to promote a competing narrative, but with almost no success.

In their telling, Pakistan did foster Islamist militant groups, first to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan and then Indian soldiers in Kashmir. Pakistan military and civilian officials point out the U.S. was all for the Mujahideen war against Moscow in the 1980s. But in the past decade, Pakistan’s army has severed its links with militants, who have unleashed a bloody war against Pakistan’s army and government, according to Islamabad’s narrative.

Pakistani officials regularly tell this version of events in public speechs and to visiting U.S. officials and journalists. The military has even made a local TV drama featuring real soldiers to publicize its sacrifices in the war against militants.

The advert in the Journal seeks to give the message to a wider audience.

To underline its point, the ad carries a picture of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s former prime minister who was assassinated by Islamist militants in 2007, next to the slogan, “The promise of our martyrs lives on…”

The ad cites a series of statistics. Almost 22,000 Pakistani civilians have died or been seriously injured in the fight against terrorism, the ad said. The army has lost almost 3,000 soldiers. More than 3.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting and the damage to the economy over the past decade is estimated at $68 billion, it added.

People will quibble with these statistics from a country where reporters often find it difficult to get basic data.

It was not clear whether the ad was carried in other U.S. publications. Pakistan’s government also tried to place it in the New York Times. The Times asked for “more clarity in the ad about who was placing it,” according to a spokeswoman for the newspaper. The Times did not hear back from the government and so has not yet run the ad, she said.

The ad as printed in the Journal carries a line at the bottom in small font saying “Government of Pakistan” next to a web address for the government. A spokeswoman for the Journal declined to comment.

Will the advertisement be effective in shifting the narrative? It’s unlikely.

The points raised are all fair enough. Pakistan has been hammered by suicide bombings by Islamist militants against civilian and army targets. It’s perhaps fair to say that many in the U.S. have failed to recognize the changes in Pakistan, especially in the past few years, that have led to its domestic war against militancy.

Still, many in the U.S. and elsewhere are likely to shrug their shoulders. In the U.S. and India, where Pakistani-based militants are viewed as a daily threat to security, many politicians, analysts and ordinary citizens blame Pakistan for failing to stop the export of terrorism and being selective in which Islamist militant groups they go after.

Pakistan has waged a war against homegrown Pakistan Taliban militants for the past three years, suffering large casualties. But U.S. defense officials say publicly they are concerned that the country continues to protect Afghan Taliban fighters that don’t attack inside Pakistan. It’s these fighters who use Pakistan soil as a base from which to launch attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, they say.

Some U.S. officials say they believe Pakistan’s argument that it’s too stretched fighting the Pakistan Taliban to open new fronts in its war against militants. But many members of Congress and U.S. defense officials say Islamabad wants to keep ties strong with the Afghan Taliban so it can influence politics over the border once the U.S. pulls out its troops by 2014.

India blames Pakistan for failing to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group which carried out the attacks on Mumbai in 2008, killing over 160 people, and has hit Indian targets in Afghanistan. LET has not carried out any attacks against the Pakistan state.

Slain Pakistani’s Daughter Takes Up His Cause

By Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

A day after her father was gunned down by an Islamist extremist, a grieving Shehrbano Taseer wrote on Twitter, “A light has gone out in our home today.” It wasn’t long before the 22-year-old realized something else: Her father’s death had lit a fire in her.

In the months since, the daughter of the late Punjab province Gov. Salmaan Taseer has emerged as one of Pakistan’s most outspoken voices for tolerance. Through her writing and speaking, she warns any audience who will listen of the threat of Islamist extremism, and impatiently waits for her father’s killer to be brought to justice.

And yes, sometimes she gets scared. She’s received threats from militants, who’ve warned her to remember her father’s fate.

“These extremists, they want to tell you how to think, how to feel, how to act,” says Taseer, a slim, elegant young woman with intense brown eyes. “It has made me more resolute that these people should never win.”

Salmaan Taseer was assassinated on Jan. 4 at a market in Islamabad by one of his own bodyguards. The confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, boasted that he’d carried out the slaying because the outspoken politician — a liberal in Pakistani terms — wanted to change blasphemy laws that impose the death sentence for insulting Islam.

To the horror of Taseer’s supporters, many Pakistanis praised the assassin. Islamist lawyers showered Qadri with rose petals, and major Muslim groups, even ones considered relatively moderate, said Taseer deserved to die because, in their view, speaking out against the blasphemy laws was tantamount to blasphemy itself.

Two months after Taseer’s killing, gunmen killed Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian minister in the government and another opponent of the blasphemy laws, which have often been used against Pakistan’s Christian minority. Bhatti’s killers left a note promising to target others who pushed to change the laws.

Shehrbano Taseer still has trouble remembering those first moments and days after her father’s death — her brother telling her their father was gone, the rush of grief, the hundreds of people flooding her family’s home in the eastern city of Lahore. Mostly, it’s a blur.

“I’d never lost anyone in my life, not a friend or anyone,” she says. “For everyone else it was the governor and their leader and this man, and it was this big, sexy story and it was so sensationalist. But for me, it was my father.”

Taseer majored in government and film at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is by profession a journalist. She spends much of her time now writing columns and traveling in and beyond Pakistan to speak about Islamist extremism.

Salmaan Taseer, a father of seven, was not afraid to be blunt — a trait that attracted both enmity and grudging respect. On Twitter, Salmaan Taseer openly taunted and trashed extremists, once tweeting that he’d never back down on the blasphemy issue, “even if I’m the last man standing.”

His daughter, who tweets under the handle shehrbanotaseer, is more gentle but just as firm. Her more than 9,000 followers on Twitter often receive notes that criticize Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, especially blasphemy claims that have reached the courts since her father’s death.

When she singles out a politically marginalized community, either on Twitter or her other outreach, Taseer recalls how well her father treated that group, how he was often the only public official to visit their homes after an attack or publicly speak on their behalf.

Once, Salmaan Taseer took his daughter along on a visit to meet Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman whose case attracted international attention because of allegations that she was gang-raped on the orders of a village council. The governor asked Mai to put her hand on his daughter’s head, so that Shehrbano Taseer could gain the same courage to stand up for her rights.

Like her father and Bhatti, the Christian leader, Taseer wants the blasphemy laws amended to prevent their misuse.

The laws are vaguely written, and often used to persecute minorities or settle rivalries, rights activists say. The state has not executed anyone under the law, but the accused may spend years in custody. Some defendants have been killed by extremists after being freed by the courts.

But Taseer has found that many Muslims, even moderate, liberal ones, are extremely sensitive about blasphemy.

She recalls giving a speech in England when a woman in the audience suggested that her father deserved what he got because he was so blunt about the topic.

“I said, ‘I don’t care what he said, and I don’t care how he said it. He didn’t deserve to be shot and killed for it,’” Taseer says.

She’s dismayed at the toll extremism is taking on Pakistan by spawning violence or an intolerant mindset. She’s also disappointed at how few Pakistani leaders are willing to take a public stand against extremism or how many find some reason to excuse it.

She bemoans how for decades moderate or liberal leaders in Pakistan have appeased the religious right for short-lived political gains — whether it was by banning alcohol and nightclubs or passing laws that discriminate against certain religious sects.

Unlike many Pakistani politicians, she’s willing to criticize the role Saudi Arabia has played in funding numerous hardline Islamist schools in Pakistan. And she’s quick to note that the United States as well as Pakistan says little about it — after all, it needs Saudi Arabia’s oil.

Pakistan has a tradition of dynastic politics. The most famous political family has been that of the Bhuttos, which spawned former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, also assassinated by Islamist extremists. Salmaan Taseer was a member of the Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party.

Shehrbano Taseer says she views Pakistan as an enticing challenge akin to a Rubik’s Cube because of its many, convoluted problems. But she says she has no plans to run for office. “It’s such a dirty profession,” she says, laughing.

Sherry Rehman, a People’s Party lawmaker who also has been threatened for speaking out against the blasphemy laws, says Shehrbano Taseer will “chart her own future.”

“She’s found a torch to carry, and she will do it,” Rehman says. “It’s what her father would have wanted.”

Taseer is frustrated with the Pakistani justice system’s delays in processing the case of Qadri, her father’s confessed killer.

Pakistan’s courts have very low conviction rates, even in terrorism cases. Qadri’s confession may not be enough to persuade a court to punish him, considering the threats facing any judge who dares pass such a judgment.

Taseer wants the former bodyguard to spend his life in prison, in solitary confinement. A death sentence is “too easy,” and a conviction would send a warning to other would-be assassins, she says.

“In Pakistan, we have very few brave and honest leaders,” she says. “We need our heroes alive.”

Not much Islamic about Islamic Pakistan

By Haroon Siddiqui for The Toronto Star

In the failing state of Pakistan, a junior cabinet minister is killed. Shahbaz Bhatti was a member of the Christian minority. He had taken up the cause of a poor Christian woman condemned to death for allegedly defaming Islam. He knew he was a marked man. But on a recent visit to Canada, where his brother lives, he said he was determined to carry on.

Eight weeks ago, a veteran politician was gunned down for the same sin. He, too, had championed the woman’s cause and condemned the blasphemy law that imposes the death penalty for insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab, the most populous and prosperous province, and an influential billionaire tycoon, a socialite and an unrepentant liberal in a society that’s becoming militantly conservative. He was a Muslim.

Bhatti was gunned down by unknown assailants. Taseer was assassinated by a member of the elite security unit assigned to guard him. More shockingly, the assassin was hailed a hero. Hundreds turned up at his house, chanting “we salute your bravery.” About 500 clerics signed a statement calling him “a true soldier of Islam.” When he appeared in court, young lawyers showered rose petals and kissed him. At a rally in cosmopolitan Karachi, marchers waved his portrait.

This is a sick society. There’s little Islamic about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The blasphemy law may have been enacted by the British colonials in 1860. But it was toughened by the Muslim rulers of Pakistan in the name of Islam. And both in its wording and implementation, the law violates the most basic principles of Islamic jurisprudence. In allowing hearsay evidence and innuendo, it ignores the necessity of incontrovertible proof for a finding of guilt.

The act is allowed to be abused in personal and property disputes. (A majority of those charged have been Muslims, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a voluntary organization). Or it is wielded as a weapon in political and religious vendettas. In one particularly horrific case, two Christian brothers were framed with a handwritten note defaming the Prophet, found in a marketplace with their home address and phone number.

Yet local police and magistrates dare not toss out such trumped-up charges. Cases have to be taken to higher courts to be overturned. Not a single person has been executed under the act. Yet more than 30 people charged or acquitted have been killed.

Under Islamic law, such jungle justice constitutes a greater crime than the alleged original one. It is deemed particularly egregious when the innocents prosecuted are poor and powerless.

The blasphemy law is just one of many flashpoints.

Christian churches have been bombed. So have been mosques belonging to the minority Ahmadi sect, deemed heretic. So also mosques of the minority Shiite Muslim sect. So also Sufi shrines, along with the devotees who turn up for the anniversary festivals of dance and music dedicated to those saints.

Not just that.

Pakistani Taliban and other militants have been killing fellow Muslims who won’t side with them. Such attacks were once restricted to the remote Afghan-Pakistan border but now they are routine in the populated south. Tens of thousands have been killed, including Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in December of 2007.

Yet the government is too weak to provide basic security and too corrupt to care — both egregious Islamic crimes. The politicians and the bureaucrats are not the only ones on the take. Too many clerics are also money-grabbing machines.

Several reasons are proffered for this sad state of affairs.

One is that Pakistan has had too many military dictators, and that the longest-serving one, Zia ul-Haq (1977-88) Islamized Pakistan, which he did. But he did so in tandem with the American-led effort to Islamize the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Another inconvenient truth is that while the military used jihadist proxy militias against India and Afghanistan, political parties use them as vote banks and to flex street muscle.

The secular-Islamic divide is also cited. Yet both religious and secular elites have pandered to extremists. It was the wine-sipping prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who in the 1970s restricted liquor and declared the Ahmadi sect non-Muslim. It is his People’s Party, once again in power, that abandoned backbencher Sherry Rahman after she proposed amendments to the blasphemy law.

Meanwhile, the economy is in ruins. Inflation is rampant, the currency is losing value and the central bank is printing more rupees.

Don’t be surprised if Pakistanis begin clamouring, yet again, for the return of the military to power.

Haroon Siddiqui is the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Assassinations are a blemish on Pakistan’s soul

By Shahina Siddiqui for The Montreal Gazette

The assassination by terrorists of Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, follows the brutal killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer a couple of months ago. Both were targeted by extremists because they called for the reformation of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. These and other attacks on Christians and Muslims in the name of blasphemy laws is a blemish on the national soul of Pakistan that cannot be washed away by empty rhetoric and the muted cowardly condemnations by the political and religious leadership in Pakistan.

There is no place for laws in Muslim countries that are the very antithesis of the spirit, soul, and letter of Islamic law. Prophet Muhammad in his lifetime was insulted, ridiculed and physically hurt, and yet he never ordered, condoned or recommended the killing or even harming of these individuals. There are documented cases where the prophet intervened to save the perpetrators from the wrath of his companions. We do not honour the prophet by murdering the innocent in his name. We honour him by practising compassion and dealing with mercy toward all of God’s creation, yes, even those who hurt us.

There is no justification for the blasphemy laws in the form they exist in Pakistan. The misuse and abuse of these laws have caused the security of religious minorities to deteriorate and be exploited, and it has become a licence to kill people, to destroy property and to create havoc for personal and political interests.

The terrorists are using this law to paralyze an entire nation into submitting to their whims through fear and trauma. The inept political leaders of Pakistan are more interested in maintaining their power and control on the country’s wealth then in actually working for the betterment of their country. The few who dare to stand up to this injustice find themselves isolated and without support.

The genuine religious leaders, on the other hand, are afraid to be labelled by these pseudo-religious terrorists as supporters of blasphemers, and thereby fear losing their own support base, their lives and their reputations. The socalled religious political parties are supporting these laws unconditionally, manipulating the love the masses have for their faith and their prophet, to ensure their own popularity and political gains.

In such a vacuum of moral, religious and human courage the terrorists thrive, the extremists dance in the streets and the ordinary Pakistanis struggle to survive. This ugly situation in Pakistan calls for an uprising of the silent majority. But the disconnect between rural and urban, rich and poor, and the excruciating poverty and illiteracy are barriers that make this an unlikely scenario.

Pakistanis, unlike their coreligionists in the Middle East, face brutality on many fronts: the war on terror that is consuming the country’s resources, the drone attacks that are killing hundreds of innocent civilians, the Talibanbacked terrorists who kidnap, torture, brainwash and blackmail poor rural youth into becoming suicide bombers who target fellow Pakistanis on an alarmingly frequent basis.

The indifference of the ruling elite – political and feudal – and the tyrannical pseudoreligious extremists seem to have paralyzed this nation into a pathological resignation to its “fate.” There is no credible leadership at the national level that is nurturing national pride, identity and vision. The people are adrift, holding on to any straw, no matter how fragile, that will keep them afloat.

In spite of these many challenges, however, I am confident – having observed firsthand the courage, resilience and moral strength of non-governmental organizations, selfless philanthropy by the affluent, and the development and growth of civil society – that Pakistanis will rise and can defend their nation. They must, however, break the chains of fear that are choking their conscience, and stand up for justice.

My prayer is for Pakistan to realize the vision of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah: a vision in which all Pakistanis are granted freedom and security to practise their religions and maintain their places of worship, and where all Pakistanis thrive together, as equals under the law, regardless of ethnicity, gender and religion.

In Pakistan, Another Assassination and the Lessons Unlearned

By Natasha Fatah for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The Lion of Punjab is dead. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in Pakistan, was assassinated in Islamabad on Tuesday by one of his own security guards.

When the guard later turned himself in to the police, he said that he killed the man he was supposed to be protecting because he considered Taseer’s campaign against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws an insult to Prophet Muhammad.

The blasphemy laws, which have been around since the 1980s, have been at the heart of a huge religious debate in Pakistan recently after a 45-year-old Christian woman was sentenced to death, allegedly in a dispute over drinking water among farm hands.

Most human rights observers say that the woman did nothing wrong, did not break any blasphemy law, and that the law is just being used to make some kind of example out of her.

Taseer stood by the side of this Christian woman, Asia Bibi, both literally and figuratively.

He stood next to her in the courtroom, which was a brave and dangerous move for any Muslim in Pakistan, but particularly so when you are a member of government and have a profile.

He had also waged an attack on those who wanted her dead by constantly criticizing the mullahs and hard-liners on his very active Twitter account these past weeks.

In response, Islamic fundamentalist politicians and imams were constantly attacking Taseer, even going as far as to say that criticizing the blasphemy law is an act of blasphemy itself, thus making Taseer an apostate.

A member of the Pakistan People’s Party and closely tied to President Asif Ali Zardari, Taseer had dedicated his life to social and political liberalism and to taking on the fundamentalists. But now that bravery has cost him everything.

According to witnesses, the guard who killed Taseer jumped out of a car, pointed his Kalashnikov and blasted away. He then continued his rampage, shooting the governor at least nine times.

Dropping his weapon, the man then gave himself up to police, saying later he was “proud” that he killed the blasphemer.

Another disturbing aspect to this story is that the assassin had managed to get himself into the police force and then, barely four months into the job, was transferred to the unit assigned to protect the governor.

It makes you wonder who was doing the vetting and whether some other even more devious plan was afoot. But how deep and powerful this doctrine of hate must be when someone who is paid to protect you ends up being the one to take your life?

Still, while it was the guard who pulled the trigger, it was the culture of hatred, ignorance and bigotry that put the idea in his head in the first place.

And it will no doubt be the disease of apathy among the majority of Pakistan’s comfortable middle class that will ensure nothing changes, which means more good men and women who want to reform Pakistan’s society will lose their lives.

After all, it was only three years ago that the world lost Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, for the same reasons.

She, too, was an advocate on behalf of liberalism and democracy and an enemy of religious extremists and she, too, paid for it with her life. If her death could not motivate the wealthy, powerful and influential in Pakistan to stand up and change things, then I’m not sure what will.

There is strange culture in Pakistan of blaming the victim. When Benazir Bhutto was murdered, many middle-class Pakistanis, in effect blamed her for her own assassination.

They criticized her for knowing the risks and continuing to speak out. Some said that as a mother she was being selfish for putting herself in the public eye.

And now, with Taseer’s murder, there are murmurs about him bringing this on because he provoked the Islamists through his criticism of their agenda. These are the risks you take when you stand behind a Christian blasphemer, some are saying.

It is only in an upside-down world like Pakistan’s self-absorbed middle class where those who die for being brave are considered irresponsible.

And it’s not like these moderate politicians such as Taseer don’t represent the values of the ordinary Pakistani.

Overwhelmingly, whenever given the election opportunity, the people of Pakistan vote in liberal, moderate and middle-of-the-road parties. Hardline Islamist parties do not win majorities in any of the country’s provinces.

Still, there seems to be a disconnect between what the Pakistani middle class say they want — stability and democracy — and what they are willing to work for.

Yes, in the case of Taseer, they will mourn the loss of another great leader. But Pakistan has lost far too many moderate leaders like this while everything goes on as before.

Wealthy Pakistanis will continue to go to their luxurious parties at fancy hotels, where the poor and their servants are not even allowed to enter. They will continue to justify the economic divide that keeps so many of their fellow citizens in squalor. And they will continue to argue that the Islamist militants are just a creation of the Western media.

Fortunately, there are still a handful of journalists, lawyers and politicians in Pakistan who are fighting the good fight and putting their lives on the line to try to push back against the extremists who think that violence is the only way to get their ideas across.

But unless Pakistan’s elites joins this fight, nothing will change.

For Pakistan, with the current government coalition in danger of crumbling and its Taliban launched on a terror campaign in the capital Islamabad itself, Taseer’s murder is a horrible start to a new year.

Yes, there will be vigils throughout Pakistan and around the world this week for this fallen hero. But vigils are temporary and the underlying problem that Taseer was taking on will likely still be around long after the vigils have wrapped up.

Salman Taseer Assassination Points to Pakistani Extremists’ Mounting Power

By Karin Brulliard for The Washington Post

One of Pakistan’s most openly progressive politicians was gunned down Tuesday in an act that violently highlighted extremists’ tightening grip on the country even as the beleaguered government struggled to stay in power.

The killing of Salman Taseer, apparently at the hands of one of his own guards, marked the most prominent political assassination in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s death three years ago.

The razor-tongued governor of Pakistan’s most populous province was known for speaking out on behalf of women and religious minorities, and his slaying stunned the nation and alarmed U.S. officials. It also further rocked Taseer’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party, which is desperately trying to keep its government afloat following a key ally’s defection to the opposition Sunday.

The secular PPP condemned the killing and promised a swift investigation, but its weakened position undermines its ability to crack down on religious extremists.

In timing that underscored those limitations, Taseer was shot in an upscale area of Islamabad as Pakistan’s main opposition party was across town demanding that the government agree within three days to implement a list of reforms, or risk collapse.

After the killing, the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said it would allow three additional days for the changes, including a slash in government spending and the reversal of unpopular fuel price increases.

Taseer was a chief ally of President Asif Ali Zardari, who in 2008 appointed him governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest province. But Sharif’s party rules the province, making Taseer’s assassination a blow to the federal government’s influence there.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the killing in a statement Tuesday, saying she had met Taseer and “admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan’s future generations.”

Taseer’s apparent killer cited his boss’s stance against a controversial anti-blasphemy law in justifying his actions. As the embattled, pro-U.S. PPP sought in recent days to win back defecting allies that also include a small Islamic party, it had already said it would not support a proposal to change the blasphemy statutes. That left Taseer one of the few vocal champions of the move, which hard-line religious organizations had labeled a Western conspiracy.

The laws have drawn scrutiny since a Christian woman was sentenced to death in November for allegedly criticizing the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Taseer had called for her pardon, leading religious groups to denounce him as an “apostate” and burn effigies of him during a nationwide strike last week in support of the law. One Muslim cleric has offered $6,000 to anyone who kills the woman, who remains in jail.

Even as Pakistani television stations were dominated Tuesday by commentators condemning rising religious intolerance, supporters of Taseer’s arrested guard, Mumtaz Qadri, 26, created a page for him on Facebook. Page visitors called him a “hero” and praised his “awesome job.” No major unrest over the killing was reported, but authorities said they were on high alert.

“This shows how the religious extremists want to impose their agenda to terrorize the society,” Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities affairs and also a proponent of changing the laws, said in an interview. “This cowardly act cannot stop us who are raising our voice.”

Yet in a country where Taliban militants increasingly flex their muscles through bombings, religious hard-liners have great power to intimidate even though polls show that their views are not widely shared. Last week’s strike by Islamic organizations drew few supporters to the streets, but shops in major cities closed – and many merchants said they did so under threat.

Human rights activists say the blasphemy laws are also abused by extremists, who use them as a tool to persecute minorities or opponents by bullying police and courts into arrests and convictions. The laws were strengthened during the 1980s rule of Islamist military dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq.

Taseer lamented the power of the religious mob in an interview last summer following bombings of mosques belonging to the Ahmadi sect, whose members identify themselves as Muslims but are barred by the constitution from “posing” as such. Taseer – whose appointed position gave him little direct power in Punjab – condemned the provincial government of Sharif’s center-right PML-N for what he called its tolerance of radical religious groups.

“Extremist people are not in the majority,” Taseer said at the time. “This is a very narrow minority, but . . . they are always prepared to do and die. That is their strength.”

On Dec. 24, he had posted on his Twitter account: “My observation on minorities: A man/nation is judged by how they support those weaker than them not how they lean on those stronger.”

Authorities said Taseer’s guard, a member of an elite Punjab provincial police force that provides VIP security, shot the governor multiple times outside the Kohsar market in Islamabad, a small shopping plaza near his residence that is frequented by foreigners. The guard proudly surrendered to police afterward, according to local news reports.

Most political parties condemned the killing, and the government announced a three-day mourning period, during which political activity would be suspended. Zardari, to whom Taseer was close, called the assassination “ghastly.”

“The governor of Punjab was the bravest person in our government, and the stands he took for women, minorities and on the blasphemy law were incredibly brave and will never be forgotten,” Farahnaz Ispahani, a Zardari spokeswoman, said in an interview.

Taseer, who began his political career as a PPP student activist, was a successful businessman who played polo and smoked heavily. With his flashy sunglasses and frequent Twitter dispatches, Taseer, 66, cut a rather shocking figure in a country dominated by conservative social mores.

Critics assailed him for fathering a child with an Indian journalist while he was still married to the mother of his other children. In 2008, minor scandals broke out when opponents published photos online of him holding wine glasses at parties and of one of his daughters wearing shorts and dancing.

Despite the alleged gunman’s confession, Taseer’s killing was sure to be swept up in the conspiracy theories that permeate Pakistani politics, particularly in times of turmoil. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said investigators would seek to determine whether the suspect acted alone or was “asked” to carry out the attack.

In the hours after the killing, some criticism centered on the PML-N-led Punjab government, which provided Taseer’s police guard. There was no indication Tuesday night that the party played a role.

But the PML-N might yet bring down the PPP, whose government faces growing criticism over corruption, a floundering economy and a ham-handed response to last year’s devastating floods. The ruling party’s coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, withdrew from the government Sunday, weakening its mandate by depriving it of a parliamentary majority.

A united opposition could pass a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, leading to his ouster and potentially triggering early elections. That has appeared unlikely, because of divisions among opposition parties. But Sharif threatened Tuesday to “ask the opposition parties to come forward and we will give them our full support” if the government does not show progress on reforms within 45 days, according to the Associated Press.

Like many in the PPP, Taseer often criticized opposition parties for stoking political instability in a country that has been ruled by the military for half its 63-year history and where an elected government has never completed its term.

Religious extremism, Taseer said last summer, would be quashed only by the “continuous, functional position of a democratic system.”

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