Archive for the ‘ Pakistani Christians ’ Category

Pakistan’s Mosques, Media and Intolerance

By Zeeshan Haider for Reuters

Pakistan has been fighting Islamist militants for years, but tough measures are needed to overturn a system breeding religious intolerance after the long failure of authorities to confront mullahs and hardline groups.

Analysts say the notion of religious mistrust is deeply entrenched in the predominatly Muslim country — even in the school system — and it is now up to leaders to mobilise public.

Last week’s massacre in the city of Lahore of more than 80 Ahmadis – a minority religious sect deemed non-Muslim and heretical by the constitution – has generated a heated debate in Pakistan, a U.S. ally, on how to tackle the issue.

In a sign of how hatred is propagated, The News newspaper said one of the two surviving gunmen caught by security forces said he had been persuaded that Ahmadis were “blaspheming” Islam.

Identified as Abdullah, he told investigators that his mentors had him believe that Ahmadis were drawing caricatures of Prophet Mohammad during a recent online contest and “so their bloodshed was a great service to Islam”, the newspaper said. That raised alarm bells in a country combatting militancy.

“The nagging feeling that the government has already lost the battle against extremism has now acquired the force of conviction,” Zafar Hilaly, a former ambassador, wrote in The News last week.

After joining the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Pakistan mounted a crackdown on militancy, outlawing several groups, arresting hundreds of suspects and warning hardline mullahs against delivering hate speeches and distributing hate literature.

The government also vowed to reform tens of thousands of Islamic seminaries, known as madrassas, many of which are considered as breeding grounds for militancy. Almost none of these measures, however, has been implemented.

Most outlawed groups have re-emerged under new names. Radical clerics still deliver fiery speeches against sects. The U.S. Embassy acknowledged the difficulties, given the importance placed on Pakistan helping Washington battle al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

“We recognise this is a problem,” an embassy official said, adding that the embassy encouraged Pakistanis to take part in exchange programmes to see a multi-faith United States.

Analysts say Pakistani leaders dating back to the 1970s, however popular, took no action to counter radicals. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political and security analyst said governments have lacked the stomach to implement reforms, particularly in school curricula.

“In textbooks used in government schools, Pakistan is equated with Muslims…They teach Pakistan is a country only for Muslims. They don’t teach that non-Muslims also live here,” he said.

Journalist and analyst Ahmed Rashid described school programmes as “the most sensitive issue. But it is an issue in which any attempt to change the curriculum would have a whole host of fundamentalist groups oppose you.”

In 1974, Pakistan’s first popularly elected Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, bowed to Islamic groups and won approval of a constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. He also switched the weekly day off from Sunday to Friday.

But much of the upsurge in militancy occurred in the late 1970s and 1980s during the “Islamisation drive” by late military leader General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-baked Afghan jihad or holy war against the Soviet invasion which saw a rapid growth of radical groups and madrasas.

Haq introduced several laws, such as the notorious blasphemy law, which are deemed discriminatory against non-Muslim minorities and fuelled tensions between different Muslim sects. Subsequent governments did nothing to reverse the laws.

Military dictators, who ruled Pakistan for more than half of its existence, have also used militant groups to further policy objectives in Afghanistan and India and marginalise liberals.

“In earlier years, in order to pursue its foreign policy using the instrument of jihad, the state actively sought to create a religiously charged citizenry,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and analyst. “But, now that the Pakistani military and political establishments have become a victim of extremism, they are foundering in confusion.”

Former President Pervez Musharraf, a military ruler, though he espoused a modern and liberal version of Islam, repeatedly failed to get the laws reviewed while in office from 1999-2008.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a pro-West politician and a vocal opponent of the militants, was killed in December 2007 in a suicide attack blamed on militants linked to al Qaeda. Civilian leaders are made even more cautious now in tackling radical groups by the tremendous fear of militants who have unleashed bomb and suicide attacks across the country.

“Religious intolerance is getting worse in Pakistan because the political leadership lacks the will to fight this,” said analyst Rizvi. “They don’t want to face the wrath of mullahs.”

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Official Admits Militancy’s Deep Roots in Pakistan

By Jane Perlez and Waqar Gillani for The New York Times

LAHORE, Pakistan — Days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official declared in a surprising public admission that extremist groups were entrenched in the southern portion of the nation’s most populous province, underscoring the growing threats to the state.

 The statements by the interior minister, Rehman Malik, after the killing of more than 80 people at two mosques last week here in Lahore, were exceptional because few Pakistani politicians have acknowledged so explicitly the deep roots of militancy in Pakistan. They also highlighted the seeming impotence of the civilian government to root out the militant groups, even in Punjab Province, providing a troubling recognition that decades of state policy to nurture extremism had come home to roost in the very heart of the country.

 The extent of the problem has become an increasing concern for the United States, which has pressed the government to deal with the issue with renewed urgency since the failed attempt by a Pakistani-American to explode a car bomb in Times Square.

 “We’re dealing with a problem that is so deeply burrowed into the bosom of the society,” said a senior Western official about the difficulty of loosening the grip of the militant groups. “And we’re dealing with a government that is unhappy within itself.”

The problem for Pakistan, Western officials and some Pakistani politicians said, is not only the specific acts of terrorism by these groups, but the far more pervasive jihadi mentality that has been nurtured in the society by an extensive network of extremist madrasas and mosques.

Mr. Malik’s remarks — in which he rattled off a host of extremist groups once supported by the state — were a nod to these larger problems. In contrast to the tribal areas at the nation’s periphery, where the military is battling the Pakistani Taliban on several fronts, militants were “now active” in the southern part of Punjab and were trying to “destabilize the country,” he said.

Though Mr. Malik seemed to hint at possible military action in Punjab, the civilian government, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, the more secular of the political parties in Pakistan, has little leverage to make it happen.

The Pakistani military, which still holds most power, has shown little interest in taking on extremist groups in Punjab. The province is a major recruiting area for the army, and many of the militant groups there were created by the state decades ago and have been fostered since as arms of Pakistan’s enduring anti-India strategy.

To a large degree, they have slipped from the control of their handlers in the military and intelligence services, according to Western diplomats and Pakistani security experts, and have linked up with Taliban fighters and other militant groups that are now striking deeper into Pakistan in an effort to overthrow the state.

Today these militants move back and forth easily between the tribal areas for training and Punjab, where they carry out a rising number of spectacular attacks.

“They — Lashkar-e-Janghvi, the Sipah-e-Sohaba Pakistan and Jaish-e-Mohammad — are allies of the Taliban and Al Qaeda,” Mr. Malik told reporters in Lahore after the mosque attacks. 

The loose conglomerate of militants that Mr. Malik listed is now being grouped by officials and others under the name of the Punjabi Taliban, a designation that itself highlights the expanding nature of the threat in Pakistan’s most important province and the militants’ shifting ambitions. Under that rubric also falls Lashkar-e-Taiba, an anti-India militant group. Like the others listed by Mr. Malik, Lashkar-e-Taiba has been banned by the state, but continues to operate under a different name and apparently with the blessing of the military.

The Punjabi Taliban took credit for the assaults on the two Ahmadi mosques last Friday. At least one of the men arrested by the Pakistani authorities in connection with the Times Square bombing case is connected to Jaish-e-Mohammed, according to law enforcement officials in Karachi.  Adding to the difficulty of clamping down on the groups, the Punjabi government, led by Shahbaz Sharif, a leader of the more conservative Pakistan Muslim League-N and a chief political rival of President Asif Ali Zardari, has stopped short of condemning the militants. In some respects, he has treated them as allies.

Two months ago, Mr. Sharif asked the Taliban to stay away from Punjab, arguing that his party and the Taliban had a common enemy in the United States. The Punjab government is “in a state of denial,” said Arif Nizami, a columnist with the newspaper The News. Mr. Sharif played down the attack on the two mosques in Lahore, Punjab’s capital. Instead, he visited the wounded survivors in a hospital quietly at night without the usual television coverage.

The groups hold such sway that Pakistani politicians frequently pander to some, like the pro-Taliban Sipah-e-Sohaba Pakistan, during elections.  In a bold illustration of the power of one of the militant groups in southern Punjab, the provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, campaigned alongside the leader of Sipah-e-Sohaba, Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, during a March by-election for the provincial assembly in the city of Jhang.

In an interview, Mr. Sanaullah, said he saw nothing wrong with campaigning with Mr. Ludhianvi. It was a good thing, he said, because it helped bring groups that he described as no longer militant into the democratic mainstream. “If they want to be law-abiding citizens, we should allow them to be,” Mr. Sanaullah said.  Mr. Sanaullah was not alone in seeking votes from Sipah-e-Sohaba. A candidate for the National Assembly running for the Pakistan Peoples Party also won with its support earlier this year. Though security is a paramount concern, government officials and others acknowledge that the problem of militancy will not be solved by military force alone. Having been nurtured through generations, it will also not be undone quickly.

A program announced by Mr. Zardari two years ago to rein in the madrasas has yet to get off the ground, blocked by bureaucratic inertia and fears of a backlash from powerful conservative religious groups, Pakistani officials say. As state-sponsored education becomes too expensive for poor parents, the number of madrasas has actually increased in the past three years, to more than 17,000 in 2010 from 13,000 in 2007. At least several thousand of the madrasas churn out militant students, experts say.

Lahore bombing is Pakistan’s bloodiest this year

By Saeed Shah for The Guardian

A bombing in the eastern city of Lahore has killed at least 43 people – the fifth terrorist attack this week as extremists in Pakistan demonstrate their continued ability to strike.

The bloodiest terrorist strike in Pakistan this year was carried out by two attackers wearing suicide jackets who walked into a busy market in a high security military district and blew themselves up. The target appeared to be passing military vehicles but most of the victims were civilians. Shops in the market were ripped apart, with children crossing the road and people waiting at a bus stop among the victims. About 10 soldiers were killed and 100 injured, said the Lahore police chief, Parvaiz Rathore.

“There were about 10 to 15 seconds between the blasts. Both were suicide attacks,” a senior local government official, Sajjad Bhutta, said at the site. “The maximum preventative measures were being taken but these people find support from somewhere.” The bombers struck at 1pm, around the time of Friday prayers, in the cantonment area, home to the local army garrison and one of Lahore’s most upmarket residential districts.

Lahore is the bustling cultural hub of Pakistan and had enjoyed several weeks of relative peace. It is the capital of the eastern Punjab province, Pakistan’s most densely populated area and its political heartland. The suicide bombings were followed in the evening by three smaller blasts in a residential area across town. They caused panic but damage was reported to be minor. The authorities repeated their regular assertion that the Taliban and other extremist groups have been defeated. The provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah , said: “We broke their networks. That’s why they have not been able to strike for a considerable time.”

But it was the second bombing this week in Lahore. A car bombing on Monday at a police interrogation centre killed 14 people. Other attacks this week included a gun and grenade assault on a US Christian aid agency’s office in the north-west, killing six of its staff, all Pakistani nationals. “They (the extremists) are trying to project their power, telling the government that they are still alive,” said analyst Imtiaz Gul, author of The al-Qaida Connection. “They are still far from broken. It’s going to be a long haul.”

In 2009 that Lahore was dragged into the bloody insurgency in Pakistan, which claimed around 3,000 lives last year, with a series of spectacular attacks including a gun assault on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team. The last major attack in Lahore was in December when a market was bombed, killing at least 49 people. The launch of a military offensive in South Waziristan, on the Afghan border, the base of the Pakistani Taliban, in October last year was accompanied by a vicious spate of terrorist reprisals but the country had been relatively peaceful this year.

Pakistani minister promises to revise blasphemy law despite death threats

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 Islamabad, Pakistan- The minister for minority affairs of Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti,  promised to work to amend the blasphemy laws used to target non-Muslims in Pakistan such as Christians and Hindus and said he was ready to die fighting for this cause.

A Member of Parliament and head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), Shahbaz Bhatti was visiting Washington DC at the invitation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which awarded him a first-of-a-kind medal for championing the rights of minorities in Islamic Pakistan.

A Catholic member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration as a federal minister for minority affairs, he took over the job last year when it was made a cabinet level position in Zardari’s cabinet.

Bhatti said he has received threats for his work on numerous occasions. Earlier this month, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister was wounded in an assassination attempt in Islamabad that left his driver dead.

“I personally stand for religious freedom, even if I will pay the price of my life,” Bhatti said. “I live for this principle and I want to die for this principle.”

Pakistan’s law against blaspheming Islam carries the death penalty. While no one has ever been sent to the executed for the crime, activists say the law is used to exploit others out of personal vendettas by some in the Muslim community against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhist minorities in Pakistan.

A 25-year-old Christian jailed on blasphemy allegations earlier this week died in prison. Authorities said he committed suicide but civil rights activists suspect that he was tortured by the police.

The death came several weeks after an angry mob killed seven Christians in an arson attack that destroyed about 40 houses in the town of Gojra in central Punjab province.

Christians and other religious minorities have a long history of persecution and discrimination in all walks of life in Pakistan by the Muslim majority. This is a sad reality and a country such as Pakistan that was founded for religious freedoms for the Muslims of India in 1947, has to do a much better job at protecting the 3 to 5% of the population that does not share the Islamic faith.

Unfair, subjective and antiquated laws such as Pakistan’s blasphemy laws need to be urgently amended so that the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan do not live in fear of an upset neighbor calling the authorities and falsely claiming an individual blasphemed the religion of Islam. Furthermore, if an individual is indeed ever guilty of blasphemy, the death penalty is a rather harsh punishment for simply stating one’s opinions, no matter how offensive to the faithful.

Although he may face strong resistance by some of the extremist and ultra religious members of Parliament in Pakistan, many moderate and enlightened Pakistanis support the minister for minority affairs and hope that he is successful in amending this archaic law.

Christian Pakistani Children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reported by Manzer Munir for www.PakistanisforPeace.com

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