Imran Khan’s accident triggers wave of sympathy in Pakistan

By Jon Boone for The Guardian

Image

Imran Khan, a leading candidate in this week’s general election in Pakistan, was rushed to hospital with a skull fracture and injured back on Tuesday after falling off an improvised platform attached to a forklift truck at one of the final rallies of his campaign.

The images of the dazed and bloodied leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) being rushed to hospital with a skull fracture and back injuries has added another element of uncertainty to an election that even seasoned observers are hesitating to call.

But just hours after falling from an overcrowded platform attached to a forklift truck, Khan was recording video messages from his hospital bed, urging his countrymen to vote for his party in the coming polls on Saturday.

“I did whatever I could for this country,” Khan said while lying flat on a hospital bed, his neck partially restrained by a brace. He went on to urge people to vote for the PTI.

“Now I want you to take responsibility. If you want to change your destiny, I want you to take responsibility.”

Earlier yesterday the 60-year-old politician had been pulled off the platform used to raise him to a stage at a political rally in the city of Lahore after one of his guards lost balance and toppled over the side.

The accident triggered a flood of concern and support on social media, where Khan already has a passionate following.

Crowds gathered outside the Shaukat Khanum hospital, a private cancer hospital named after his mother that Khan established, after he was transferred there.

When news came through that a scan had shown Khan had not suffered internal bleeding, the gathered supporters cheered and waved cricket bats, the official symbol of the PTI which will appear on ballot papers next to candidates’ names.

The extraordinary twist to an already drama-filled election complicates the guessing game over how many seats the PTI, a relatively young party that has only ever held one seat in the past, will win.

Although most analysts do not think the PTI will emerge as the biggest party, Khan had appeared to be gaining momentum in recent days with a frantic schedule of back-to-back campaign events that have helped to galvanise a young, middle-class fanbase with huge numbers of supporters flocking to his events.

The more seats he wins, the harder it will be for frontrunner Nawaz Sharif, a two-term prime minister who heads a wing of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), to win an outright majority or even enough seats to form a strong coalition.

Sharif’s campaign was quick to respond to events, announcing the cancellation of all campaign events on Wednesday and the dropping of all ads attacking Khan. The country’s interim prime minister, Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, also expressed concern over Khan’s injury and wished him a quick recovery.

Khan’s political rallies have been full of energy but also chaotic at times, with security guards powerless to prevent the PTI leader throwing himself into heaving crowds despite the terrorist attacks that have cast a shadow over the election.

In 2007 the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed after she was attacked by militants. The incident helped her party, the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP), ride to power on a wave of sympathy.

The runup to the elections has been marred by near-daily violence by militants targeting candidates and their election offices.

On Tuesday 12 people were killed and more than 40 injured by a suicide bomb attack on a candidate for Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a rightwing religious party, in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Later in the day a roadside bomb killed another five people, including the brother of a PPP candidate standing for the provincial assembly.

So far more than 100 people have been killed by the Taliban’s campaign of violence, largely directed against candidates standing for secular parties that back army operations against the militants.

Khan believes the Pakistani army should withdraw from the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan and resolve the conflict through negotiations. He has also been an outspoken opponent of the US drone programme targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan.

Some of Khan’s supporters, pictured left, took the accident as a good sign, citing the example of the 1992 cricket World Cup, in which Khan led Pakistan to victory despite suffering acute pain in his shoulder.

“Imran Khan won 92 World Cup with a shoulder injury, this time he’ll win Elections 2013 with a head injury,” said one Facebook commenter.

Dr Mohammed Shafiq, who treated Khan after the fall, told Geo News the former all-rounder had received seven stitches to a 15cm wound in his head, but expected him to recover. “He is fully conscious and he was complaining of backache,” he said. “He is fine, but he must have some rest for one or two days.”

“Imran Khan wants his supporters to remain peaceful and united, and he says he will soon be among them,” his sister, Rani Hafiz Khan, told the Pakistani ARY news channel. According to a recent poll by the Pew research centre, 60% of respondents viewed Khan favourably. However that figure was slightly down on a year ago, and now Khan is slightly outranked by Sharif.

The election will mark a historic transfer of power from one democratically elected government fulfilling its full term to another, something that has never happened in Pakistan’s history.

Sarabjit Singh Dies in Lahore, India Blames Pakistan

As Reported by The Hindustan Times

Image

Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who was comatose in a Lahore hospital after a brutal assault by four to five prisoners on April 26, succumbed to injuries on Thursday, officials said. “I received a call from the doctor on duty (at Jinnah Hospital) at 1am (1:30 IST) informing me that Sarabjit is no more,” Mahmood Shaukat, the head of a medical board that was supervising Sarabjit’s treatment, told PTI.

Officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad said they had been informed by officials of Jinnah Hospital about Sarabjit’s death.

Singh’s lawyer Owais Sheikh confirmed the 49-year-old’s death and said that his body “has been moved to the hospital mortuary”.

The doctor who spoke to AFP said arrangements were under way for an autopsy.

Singh sustained several injuries, including a fractured skull, when six prisoners attacked him on Friday last week, hitting him on the head with bricks.

“(His death) was already feared. His condition was more than critical and he had less chances of survival,” Sheikh said.

Sarabjit was on life support since April 26.

Sarabjit slipped into a “non-reversible” coma on Wednesday.

A source said Sarabjit’s heart was beating “but without brain function” because of the extensive head injuries he sustained when he was assaulted by prisoners at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore.

Sarabjit was completely unresponsive and unable to breathe without ventilator support.

Sarabjit’s wife Sukhpreet Kaur, daughters Poonam and Swapandeep Kaur and sister Dalbir Kaur, who went to Lahore on Monday to see him, returned to India on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, doctors treating Sarabjit at the state-run Jinnah Hospital said that his condition had further deteriorated though he had not been declared brain dead.

Returning from Pakistan, Sarabjit Singh’s family accused the government of doing little for the death-row prisoner battling for his life after a brutal assault.

“I am disappointed with the government. The Prime Minister should resign as he is not able to bring back an Indian citizen.You failed to protect your citizen… They (Pakistan) got freed (Pakistani citizen Dr Khalil) Chishti and you (India) released their other prisoners,” Dalbir said.

Dalbir had demanded that Sarabjit be brought to India immediately and given proper treatment.

“I want the government to immediately step in. I want to bring him back. If Malala (Yousafzai) can be treated abroad, why not my brother. I have doubts about the treatment they are giving to him, but I have full confidence in the doctors back home,” Kaur said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned the attack on Singh as a “dastardly act” and called on the government to make a thorough inquiry into the matter and punish the guilty persons.

“The authorities have obviously failed to do their elementary duty” of providing him safety and security, the commission said in a statement.

Sheikh earlier told AFP that his client had received threats following the execution of a Kashmiri separatist in India. Mohammed Afzal Guru was hanged in New Delhi on February 9 for his part in a deadly Islamist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.

Singh was convicted for his alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks in Pakistan’s Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990. His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former president Pervez Musharraf.

His family insisted he was a victim of mistaken identity and had inadvertently strayed across the border in an inebriated state.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Thus is another blow to peace between India and Pakistan. The attack on Sarabjit Singh and his subsequent death does little for trust and friendship building measures between the two nations.

 

India Anger Over Sarabjit Singh Attack in Pakistan Jail

As Reported by The BBC

Image

There have been protests in India after an attack in a Pakistani prison left convicted Indian spy Sarabjit Singh in a coma.

Singh, a high-profile prisoner on death row for more than 21 years, was attacked by inmates armed with bricks in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail on Friday. Singh is in intensive care with severe head injuries. Two inmates have been charged and two officials suspended.

Indian PM Manmohan Singh described the attack as “very sad”. Former foreign minister SM Krishna said a strong protest should be lodged with Pakistan. He said such conduct should not happen “in a civilised world”. Protests erupted in the city of Jammu, in Indian-administered Kashmir.

One protester, Chetan Sharma, told Reuters: “This was a conspiracy to kill Sarabjit Singh in which they have meted out inhuman treatment to him. This was well planned by Pakistan.”

‘All alone’

A doctor at Lahore’s Jinnah hospital told Agence France-Presse news agency: “Singh’s condition is critical with multiple wounds on his head, abdomen, jaws and other body parts, and he has been put on ventilator.”

India’s government informed Sarabjit Singh’s family that Pakistan had granted visas for four family members to visit.

His sister, Dalbir Kaur, told AFP: “We want to be with Sarabjit in this difficult time. He is all alone.” Sarabjit Singh was reportedly attacked as he and other prisoners were brought out of their cells for a one-hour break. Two prisoners have been charged with attempted murder.

The BBC’s Jill McGivering says that over the years the Singh case has been raised at the highest political levels and his fate has often seemed caught up with the broader relationship between India and Pakistan.

Sarabjit Singh was convicted of spying for India and involvement in a series of bomb blasts in 1990 in which 14 people died. His family say he is innocent and merely strayed across the border in Punjab by accident.

Tensions have increased in the past six months with the execution in India of Kashmiri Afzul Guru over the attack on India’s parliament 11 years ago and of Mohammed Ajmal Qasab, the sole surviving attacker from the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Sarabjit Singh’s lawyer Owais Sheikh told AFP his client had received threats after Guru’s execution.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Another sad chapter in the depressing Pakistani-Indian saga. We hope that Sarabjit Singh is able to recover and Pakistan needs to release him to Indian custody. Whether he truly is a spy or not, he has served his time and now needs to be released to Indian custody in a goodwill gesture towards India.

At Least 161 Dead in Bangladesh Building Collapse

By Julhas Alam for The Associated Press

Image

Rescuers tried to free people believed trapped in the concrete rubble of a building housing mainly garment factories that collapsed in Bangladesh a day after workers complained cracks had developed in the structure. The death toll jumped Thursday to 161 after searchers worked through the night.

“Many” people are still trapped, said the rescue operations leader, army Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder said Thursday morning. A clearer picture of the rescue operation would be available by afternoon he said.

Searchers cut holes in the jumbled mess of concrete with drills or their bare hands, passing water and flashlights to those pinned inside the building near Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka.

“I gave them whistles, water, torchlights. I heard them cry. We can’t leave them behind this way,” said fire official Abul Khayer. Rescue operations illuminated by floodlights continued through the night.

The disaster came less than five months after a factory fire killed 112 people and underscored the unsafe conditions in Bangladesh’s massive garment industry.

Workers said they had hesitated to go to into the building on Wednesday morning because it had developed such large cracks a day earlier that it even drew the attention of local news channels.

Abdur Rahim, who worked on the fifth floor, said a factory manager gave assurances that there was no problem, so employees went inside.

“After about an hour or so, the building collapsed suddenly,” Rahim said. He next remembered regaining consciousness outside.

On a visit to the site, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters the building had violated construction codes and “the culprits would be punished.”

Local police chief Mohammaed Asaduzzaman said police and the government’s Capital Development Authority have filed separate cases of negligence against the building owner.

Asaduzzaman said nearly 100 bodies have been handed to their families as of Thursday morning.

Among the textile businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd., which make clothing for major brands including The Children’s Place, Dress Barn, and Primark.

Jane Singer, a spokeswoman for The Children’s Place, said that “while one of the garment factories located in the building complex has produced apparel for The Children’s Place, none of our product was in production at the time of this accident.”

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the victims of this terrible tragedy and their families,” Singer said in a statement.

Dress Barn said that to its knowledge, it had “not purchased any clothing from that facility since 2010. We work with suppliers around the world to manufacture our clothing, and have a supply chain transparency program to protect the rights of workers and their safety.”

Primark, a major British clothing retailer, confirmed that one of the suppliers it uses to produce some of its goods was located on the second floor of the building.

In a statement emailed to the Associated Press, Primark said it was “shocked and deeply saddened by the appalling incident.” It added that it has been working with other retailers to review the country’s approach to factory standards and will now push for this review to include building integrity.

Meanwhile, Primark’s ethical trade team is working to collect information, assess which communities the workers come from, and to provide support “where possible.”

John Howe, Cato’s chief financial officer and executive vice president, told The Associated Press that it didn’t contract with any of the factories directly but it’s currently investigating what its “ties” were.

Howe said that one of Cato’s domestic importers could have used one of the factories to fulfill some of the orders the retailer had placed. It’s expected to have more information by Thursday.

Spanish retailer Mango denied reports it was using any of the suppliers in the building. However, in an email statement to the AP, it said that there had been conversations with one of them to produce a batch of test products.

Kevin Gardner, a spokesman at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the second-largest clothing producer in Bangladesh, said the company is investigating to see if a factory in the building was currently producing for the chain.

“We remain committed and are actively engaged in promoting stronger safety measures, and that work continues,” Gardner added.

Workers said they didn’t know what specific clothing brands were being produced in the building because labels are attached after the products are finished.

Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, which has an office in nearby Dhaka, says his staff is investigating the situation. He’s hoping his team, working with local workers’ groups, will be able to find out which brands were having their products made at the time of the collapse.

“You can’t trust many buildings in Bangladesh,” Kernaghan said. “It’s so corrupt that you can buy off anybody and there won’t be any retribution.”

Sumi, a 25-year-old worker who goes by one name, said she was sewing jeans on the fifth floor with at least 400 others when the building fell.

“It collapsed all of a sudden,” she said. “No shaking, no indication. It just collapsed on us.”

She said she managed to reach a hole in the building where rescuers pulled her out.

Tens of thousands of people gathered at the site, weeping and searching for family members. Firefighters and soldiers with drilling machines and cranes worked with volunteers to search for survivors.

An enormous section of the concrete structure appeared to have splintered like twigs. Colorful sheets of fabric were tied to upper floors so those inside could climb or slide down and escape.

Rescuers carried the body of a young boy from the building, but it was not immediately clear what he had been doing inside. The building, in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, housed a bank and various shops in addition to the garment factories.

An arm jutted out of one section of the rubble. A lifeless woman covered in dust could be seen in another.

Rahim said his mother and father, who worked with him in the factory, were trapped inside.

Mosammat Khurshida wailed as she looked for her husband. “He came to work in the morning. I can’t find him,” she said. “I don’t know where he is. He does not pick up his phone.”

The morgue of the medical college echoed with the sobs of people waiting for the bodies of their loved ones. “Where’s my mother? Where’s my mother? Tell me, tell me, oh Allah, oh Allah!” Rana Ahmed cried.

The November fire at the Tazreen garment factory drew international attention to working conditions in Bangladesh’s $20 billion-a-year textile industry. The country has about 4,000 garment factories and exports clothes to leading Western retailers. The industry wields vast power in the South Asian nation.

Tazreen lacked emergency exits, and its owner said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built. Surviving employees said gates had been locked and managers had told them to go back to work after the fire alarm went off.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– This shoddy building, lack of code enforcement and corruption in developing South Asian nations like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan is deplorable and some agency like the UN or IMF should hold these countries responsible to save their citizens lives as they do not care to do so by themselves. Our condolences to all affected by the needless tragedy and huge loss of innocent lives.

Fathers and Sons and Chechnya

By Juan Cole for Informed Comment

dagestan

 

The anger and embarrassment visible in the interviews given on Friday by the uncle and the aunt of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, are entirely understandable.

But I see clues here to family dynamics that may be important in understanding what happened. In Ivan Turgenev’s 1862, novel, “Fathers and Sons,” the old man’s son, Arkady, comes back home after studies with a friend, Bazarov, after both had adopted the radical philosophy of Nihilism. Their radicalism roiled the family for a while, until Bazarov’s death. (Later, in 1881, Nihilists assassinated Tsar Alexander II).

The key back in 2013, I think, is Maret Tsarnaeva’s assertion that the father, Anzor, ‘worked in the enforcement agencies’ in Russian Chechnya. ‘We were,’ she said, ‘lucky to get him out of Kyrgyzstan alive,’ presumably because radical Muslims were trying to track him down and take revenge on him there. She also seems to imply that he was given asylum in the US easily, precisely because he had been an ‘enforcer’ in Grozny against the Muslim fundamentalist rebels, and so there was no doubt that his life was in danger from them.

It is possible that she is saying that Anzor Tsarnaev was a soldier or security policeman for the pro-Russian Chechnyan government of Akhmet Kadyrov, established in 1999 in the course of the Second Chechnya War against the Islamic Peacekeeping Army, which had invaded Daghestan.

The uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said that the bombings had nothing to do with religion, that that charge is a fraud, he said, because he knew the family and the boys as children (i.e. he knew them to have been raised as secularists). Someone, he said, ‘radicalized them.’

Most ex-Soviet Muslims are secular and many don’t believe in God or think religion is important. Their families lived under a Communist regime for some 70 years, with its campaigns of official atheism and anti-religious indoctrination in schools. In the ex-Soviet Muslim-heritage republics, there are huge struggles between those happy in their secularism and those who are attempting to recover a Muslim identity. That struggle has played out in Chechnya as well as in Uzbekistan.

This is the transcript of Ruslan’s remarks

“I want to speak on behalf of Tsarnev. First, the only purpose here is just to deliver condolences and to share grief with the victims here. Those who were injured – this boy this Chinese girl, the young 29-year-old girl – I’ve been following this from day one.

I can never imagine that somehow the children of my brother would be associated with that so it is atrocity. I don’t know this family . I don’t know how to share that grief with the real victims.

They never lived here. The last time I saw them was December 2005.

I never knew they had any ill will towards United States. Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves – these are the only reasons I can imagine why they did this. Anything else, religion, is a fraud. I’ve seen thm when they were kids.

Somebody radicalized them but its not my brother who spent his life bringing bread to their table fixing cars. He didnt have time or chance, He’s been working.

My family has nothing to do with that family.

Of course we are ashamed! They are children of my family! Who had little influence of them. i just wanted my family to be away from them.

Again I say what I think was behind it . BEING LOSERS! not being able to settle themselves. That they were hating everyone who did.

They came early since 2003. They came to Cambridge when they moved to the States. They came to Cambridge. They immigrated. They received asylum. They LIVED there. My family had nothing to do with that family for a long time. Last time I spoke to them was 2009.

I say I teach my children. I respect this country I love this country. This country which gives chance to everyone else to be treated as a human being .
They never been in Checnya. They had nothing to do with Chechnya. They were not born there. One of them was born in neighboring country.

I saw them only this morning when I was contacted at 7 a.m. with the orders. When they said have you seen the pictures I opened up internet and I saw a picture of [Dzhakhar].

I said, ‘You’re alive! Turn yourself in and ask for forgiveneess. The victims from the injured and from those who died. Ask forgiveness from these people.” He put a SHAME on our family. He put a shame on the entire Chechnyan ethnicity cause now everyone blames Chechnyans. They shamed entire ethnicity. TURN yourself IN and put yourself in the discretion of these people.

(Reporter asked: do you consider them terrorists) I would, I would. From now on, I ask you to respect our property. Again, with the families of those who suffered, we share the grief with them. I’m ready to bend in, we seek forgiveness. Thank you.”

I think what he was saying is that the Tsarnaevs were secular Chechens, as the majority of ex-Soviet Muslims are. That the family was not interested in religion or religious nationalism is supported by the reports that the two boys liked to party.

In her interview, Maret Tsarnaev seemed to me to say that the father of the two, Anzor Tsarnaev, had worked as an ‘enforcer’ for the Russian authorities, I take it as a policeman or security official [i.e. siloviki]. That was the reason, she said, that he had to flee to Kyrgyzstan. That is, far from being rooted in the Muslim fundamentalist wing of the Chechnya rebellion, as many are assuming, the family appears to have been part of the Russian Kadyrov-Putin establishment and opposed to religious radicalism there.

She also said that the father had ridden Dzhokhar and Tamerlan very hard, and that the latter had dropped out of college and gotten married, and the father had not taken it well. Their mother also seems to have been troubled,having been busted a couple years after coming to the US for stealing $1600 worth of clothing.

So you have young men from a secular, ex-Soviet Muslim family that had perhaps fought the Chechen fundamentalists. And you have young men who felt they had failed their father.

And they had started praying five times a day and listening to radical sermons, and they finally commit suicide by terrorism (they seemed to be acting Thursday night as if they were ready to die), in a cause toward which their father had been unsympathetic. (It is even possible that he had to flee in 1999 because of his identification with the Russian side).

This sounds to me like a classic father-son struggle, and a tale of adolescent rebellion, in which radical Muslim vigilanteism appears mainly as a tool for the young men to get back to their father, and perhaps to wipe off the shame they had begun feeling about the family having been on the wrong side of the Chechnya fundamentalist uprising. They were playing the nihilists Arkady and Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. The shame of the secular uncle may have been mirrored from the other side in the shame of the newly religious-nationalist adolescents.

Boston’s Largest Mosque: ‘We’re Bostonians — We Mourn With The City’

By Shahien Nasiripour for The Huffington Post

Image

Security officials at Boston’s largest mosque requested police to guard its campus in the wake of Monday’s deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon, a sobering reminder that Muslims in the U.S. often face threats after alleged terrorist attacks.

But if the pair of city police officers parked outside the mosque conveyed a message of heightened alert, workers inside the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center were too busy to notice. There, a small staff spent Tuesday morning working with religious leaders from various faiths across the city to launch an interfaith prayer event to memorialize the attack’s victims, while offering city and state officials all the resources the mosque could muster.

“We’re Bostonians – we mourn with the city,” said Suhaib Webb, the Oklahoma-born imam who leads the congregation. “We stand in support with the city, with the victims. We’re hurt, equally shocked and equally pissed off.”

The relationship that a Muslim community has with the city it inhabits can often be tested in the aftermath of acts of terror. But in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon attacks, the prevailing sentiment inside this mosque was of shared grief rather than instinctive distrust.

The mosque volunteered to city officials the services of the roughly 40 doctors who attend its religious services. The campus itself was volunteered to serve as a disaster relief center. And Webb, who was out of town when the attack took place, offered via Twitter his home to any marathon runner that needed shelter.

“This is Boston’s mosque,” Webb said.

Monday afternoon’s deadly attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, an annual event that the state celebrates as an official holiday, killed at least three people and injured at least 170 others, police said. Flights were temporarily grounded Monday as the city’s downtown was cordoned off and treated as a massive crime scene, frustrating residents as investigators spent Tuesday combing through an area roughly a mile in size for clues. No arrests had been made as of early Tuesday afternoon.

The mosque — New England’s largest and the second-biggest on the East Coast — once faced an uphill fight to be accepted within the Boston community, according to contemporaneous news reports. Its 70,000-square-foot building “stands tall … in the heart of Boston, a Muslim handprint on the city skyline,” the mosque’s website declares.

The mosque is now working with religious leaders across Boston to ensure the city’s healing in the aftermath of the attacks continues, even if those accused of the attack are found to be believers of Islam or of Middle Eastern descent.

“Let’s say the attacker is Muslim. I won’t consider him to be a Muslim,” Webb said. “I’m not going to defend him or represent him.”

About 1,200 people attend regular Friday prayers here, Webb said. Roughly half of the congregation is composed of immigrants. More than 250 people last year converted to Islam at the mosque, Webb added.

Webb said the mosque had not received any threats as of Tuesday morning. Still, Muhammad Abuwi, a security guard at the mosque, said all the doors to the building had been locked except for a rear entrance. Abuwi said he had been in touch with Boston police and the city’s SWAT team. The campus was in “more lock-down than normal,” Abuwi said.

Two police officers parked beside the sprawling campus declined to comment.

“We have a very strong commitment to this city, and we are helping to maintain law and order,” Webb said.

Religious leaders from across the city peppered Webb with emails on Tuesday, he said, passing along incidents of hateful speech and threats they found on the Internet in hopes of warning him of a potential backlash. One offered to pray for his congregation.

Webb was upbeat. He said he plans to run in the Boston Marathon next year. The city, he said, is “incredibly resilient.”

The Problem with Pakistan’s Democracy

By Farahnaz Ispahani for Foreign Policy

Image

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers

%d bloggers like this: