Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistan Peoples Party ’

Priority in Pakistan: Turn On Lights

By Saeed Shah for The Wall Street Journal

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When Nawaz Sharif starts his new term as Pakistan’s prime minister on Wednesday, 14 years after he was ousted in a military coup, he will focus on turning on the lights in a nuclear-armed nation that has been increasingly starved of electricity.

Power outages of 12 to 20 hours a day have crippled industry and made life miserable for households, a problem that worsened under the previous government of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Electricity shortages cost Pakistan some $13.5 billion a year, equivalent to knocking 1.5 percentage points off the economic-growth rate, Lahore’s Beaconhouse National University said in a report this year.

After Mr. Sharif is sworn in, he will deliver a speech outlining his strategy for solving the electricity emergency through wide-ranging intervention, bond sales and privatizations, aides said. The financing of the electricity rescue plan would be laid out in the budget to be announced next week by incoming Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, they said.

The new administration plans to pay off what it says is $5 billion in debt that has paralyzed the industry, build new power plants and privatize the sector in a multibillion-dollar overhaul that could attract foreign investor interest, the aides said.

The challenges are great. The previous government poured billions into the sector without eliminating the debt or significantly increasing the supply of electricity. The industry is riddled with corruption and depends on expensive oil for power generation, instead of cheaper gas or coal.

The most pressing issue is the chain of so-called circular debt that runs through the sector: The government keeps the price of electricity to the consumer below the cost of production, but can’t afford to make up the shortfall. It means that oil importers are owed money by power plants, which are owed money by distribution companies, which in turn are owed money by consumers.

“First, we need to write a check,” said Miftah Ismail, an energy adviser to Mr. Sharif, who drew up the energy policy in the party’s election manifesto. “We will pay off the stock of circular debt. It is choking the system. No fresh investment will come into Pakistan unless you get rid of circular debt.”

Although the incoming government has given the level of this debt at $5 billion, a government think tank, the Planning Commission, issued a report in March this year placing it at $9 billion at the end of 2012.

The new administration would borrow the money from banks and also take on the debts owed to the banks by various energy companies and government-owned entities, Mr. Ismail said. Then the government would plan to tap domestic and international bond markets.

A domestic bond issue picked up by local banks would be the most likely scenario, said Ashraf Bava, chief executive of Nael Capital, a brokerage in Karachi. Pakistan would need to improve its credit rating and balance of payments before approaching international capital markets, he said.

“The local banks will have no choice. They’ll have to do it,” said Mr. Bava. “Obviously they’ll be offered a decent return.”

Pakistan, a country of 180 million people, is currently producing some 11,000 megawatts of power, though that dropped last month to less than 9,000 megawatts, compared with demand of at least 17,000 megawatts.

By comparison, installed generation capacity in Indonesia, a country of 240 million people, is 41,000 megawatts, according to a 2012 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Pakistan’s supply shortfall results in power being switched off to households and industry for part of each day on a rotating basis across the country—outages known as “load shedding.”

After paying off the debt, the new government plans to pursue a three-pronged strategy, the aides say. The government would aim to cut line losses and electricity theft, shift power plants from oil to coal, and eliminate subsidies to consumers. Pakistan currently charges consumers around 9 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity that costs 12 to 14 cents to produce.

Those who use minimal amounts of electricity would continue to get power cheaply, a cost that would be borne by the full fare paid by heavier users—including the middle classes, who form Mr. Sharif’s core constituency, as well as Pakistan’s elite. But if the plan works, Mr. Sharif’s aides said, the cost of power production and prices would come down again.

“There’s no reason why we should be subsidizing those who can afford to run air conditioners,” said Mr. Ismail.

Mr. Sharif’s plan envisages converting three or four of the biggest power plants, which currently burn oil, to coal. Experts estimate such a plan would cost about $2 billion but would pay for itself in savings in about a year.

New coal-burning power stations would also be commissioned, which the incoming government says would take around three years to come onstream. Government-owned generation plants and the grid companies would be put under new management and privatized.

“We will nibble at this problem from many angles as we go along,” said Sartaj Aziz, an adviser to Mr. Sharif on finance and a former finance minister.

Foreign companies rushed into Pakistan’s electricity sector in the 1990s, when new private generation plants were allowed, on lucrative terms. Oil prices were low at the time, so oil-burning plants were built.

However, frequent changes in governments and policies that followed, together with the circular debt issue, chased away most of the foreign interest. The last major American investor, AES Corp.,sold out in 2009.

GDF Suez of France and Malaysia’s Tenaga Nasional Berhad are the remaining foreign firms active in Pakistan’s energy sector.

Naveed Ismail, an independent energy-sector expert who previously worked with the government, said that 48% of Pakistan’s thermal generation came from burning furnace oil, the highest such proportion among any major countries, while contribution from much cheaper coal, the main source of generation in India or China, was close to zero.

“Pakistan just has to learn from the rest of the world. It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “The issue is producing affordable electricity. No new capacity should be added unless it brings down the average cost of power.”

Helping Pakistan with its electricity crisis has been a major focus of American aid in recent years. Since October 2009, the U.S. has spent $225 million on energy projects in Pakistan, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, adding more than 900 megawatts to the country’s generation, with schemes for upgrading power plants and dams.

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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.

Political Instability Rises as Pakistani Court Ousts Premier

As Reported by Delcan Welsh for The New York Times

The Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, drastically escalating a confrontation between the government and the judiciary and plunging the political system into turmoil.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared that Mr. Gilani’s office had been effectively vacant since April 26 when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, his superior.

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a grudge-driven tussle between Mr. Zardari and Justice Chaudhry, with the prime minister caught in the middle.

“The court has been gunning for the prime minister for a long time,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran political analyst. “Clearly there is a lot of politics in this.”

The order left Pakistan in a state of constitutional uncertainty, with the cabinet effectively dismissed. The court instructed Mr. Zardari to “ensure continuation of the democratic process” — words widely interpreted as an order to arrange the election of a new prime minister.

Legal experts said Mr. Gilani could not appeal the decision but that he may continue in an interim role until a successor is chosen. It was unclear what impact the decision would have on troubled negotiations with the United States to reopen NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

As word of the ruling spread, Pakistanis held their breath for reaction from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, whose top leaders held an emergency session at Mr. Zardari’s house. Television stations reported that the party had agreed in principle to accept the court’s ruling, but a final decision was not expected until later Tuesday.

Shahbaz Sharif, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N Party, which instigated the court action, hailed the decision. “It upholds the supremacy of the law and the Constitution,” Mr. Sharif said.

But it calls into question the validity of all executive decisions made since April 26, including the passing of the federal budget. One commentator said it “opened a massive legal can of worms.”

Speculation swirled about the identity of a replacement prime minister; among the names circulating were those of the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and various stalwarts from the party’s electoral heartland in Sindh Province and southern Punjab.

Any candidate, however, will need the approval of the P.P.P.’s coalition partners — smaller, ethnically centered parties based in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, who are likely to seek fresh concessions from Mr. Zardari in exchange for their votes in Parliament.

The court decision advanced the likelihood that general elections, scheduled to take place by next spring, could be brought forward.

Equally, however, Mr. Zardari may wish to first resolve some of the governance failures that have marred his government’s reputation, notably widespread power outages and system failures that have continued for years. The court decision coincided with street agitation in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where rioters burned buildings and clashed with police in several cities on Monday and Tuesday to protest power outages.

“Law has become subservient to politics, but this government had it coming. It has been singularly inept,” said Mr. Sethi, the analyst. “They had six months to anticipate the power crisis, and now it is upon them.”

In dismissing Mr. Gilani, the court chose the strongest option. It could have referred Mr. Gilani’s case to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which could have taken up to three months to adjudicate the case.

It comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the court itself. Last week, a billionaire businessman made explosive accusations in court and in the media that he had given $3.7 million in kickbacks to Justice Chaudhry’s son in order to swing several cases his way. The furor over those accusations, centered on the judge’s son, Arsalan Iftikhar, is now likely to fade as the country grapples with its latest political crisis.

Mr. Gilani’s dismissal stems from longstanding demands by the court that Mr. Gilani write a letter to the authorities in Switzerland to seek to reopen a dormant corruption investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances that started in the 1990s.

Mr. Gilani refused, arguing that he was unable to do so because the president enjoyed immunity from prosecution. And the prime minister signaled long ago that he was ready to be dismissed or face prison in the case.

After Mr. Gilani was convicted on contempt charges on April 26, the speaker of Parliament examined calls for his dismissal from public office. The court intervened after the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, ruled that Mr. Gilani should not be dismissed.

“What will happen to independence of judiciary if speaker or Parliament tries to scrutinize judicial rulings?” Justice Chaudhry said on Tuesday. “No one can undo a court verdict except a court of appeals.”

Pakistan High Court Launches Contempt Case Against Prime Minister

By Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Dealing a heavy blow to Pakistan’s embattled government, the Supreme Court on Monday initiated contempt proceedings against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for refusing to revive a long-standing corruption case against the nation’s president.

Gilani, a top ally of President Asif Ali Zardari in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, must appear before the court Thursday, when the justices will listen to his explanation for not going ahead with the case.

If the court moves forward with the contempt proceedings and Gilani is convicted, he could be disqualified from office and forced to step down. He also could be forced to serve up to six months in jail.

Zardari’s government is locked in battles with the Supreme Court and Pakistan’s powerful military, both of which have had an acrimonious relationship with the president since he took office in 2008. The crisis has stirred talk of the government’s possible ouster, though experts say it probably would happen through legal action taken by the high court rather than a military coup.

The military has ousted civilian leaders in coups four times in Pakistan’s 65-year history, but military generals have said they have no plans to mount a takeover.

Nevertheless, they were deeply angered by an unsigned memo that a Pakistani American businessman contends was engineered by a top Zardari ally to seek Washington’s help in preventing a military coup last spring. In exchange, the memo offered several concessions, including the elimination of a wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups.

The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, says the then-ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, approached him with the idea. Haqqani, who was forced to resign after the allegations surfaced, denies any involvement in the creation or conveyance of the memo. A Supreme Court commission is investigating the case, and on Monday it ordered Ijaz to come to Pakistan and appear before the panel Jan. 24.

The high court’s move to start contempt proceedings against Gilani involves money-laundering charges in Switzerland that Zardari was convicted of in absentia in 2003. The case was appealed by Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and was later dropped at the request of the Pakistani government in 2008.

Since 2009, Pakistan’s high court has repeatedly ordered the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be reopened. Gilani and government lawyers have refused, arguing that as president, Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Last week, the court warned Gilani that it could remove him from office if he did not abide by its demand. Government lawyers were supposed to appear in court Monday and explain why Gilani’s administration had ignored the court.

Instead, Atty. Gen. Maulvi Anwarul Haq appeared before a packed courtroom and told a high court panel that the government had not given him any instructions about what to say in court. The head of the panel, Justice Nasir Mulk, said Gilani’s inaction gave the court no recourse but to pursue a contempt case against him.

Outside the courtroom, Haq said that if the court eventually issues a contempt finding against Gilani, “this conviction has ramifications…. Under the constitution, with a conviction it’s disqualification from office.”

Before the court issues its findings, it probably would hold evidentiary hearings, Haq said. If Gilani on Thursday tells the court he will ask Swiss authorities to reopen the corruption case, the justices probably would consider dropping the contempt proceeding, said Tariq Mehmood, a lawyer and retired judge.

Gilani has given no indication he plans to give in. He will, however, appear in court Thursday to explain the government’s rationale, he told parliament late Monday. “We have always respected the courts,” he said. “The court has summoned me, and in respect of the court I will go there on Jan. 19.”

Zardari’s administration hopes to become the first civilian government to finish out its term, which ends in 2013. The political turmoil may thwart that plan, as opposition leaders increasingly push harder for early elections. Though Zardari is widely criticized in Pakistan for failing to revive the country’s moribund economy and tackle corruption, his party remains confident that it can weather the storm and retain power for a second term.

Even if Gilani is removed from office, Zardari continues to hold together a coalition that controls parliament’s lower house, which elects the prime minister. On Monday, however, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a staunch ally of the president, doubted it would come to that.

“The prime minister will stay,” Malik told reporters outside parliament. “The government is in command. Our flight may be a little bumpy, but God willing, we will have a smooth landing in 2013.”

Pakistani Judges Press Premier to Defy President

By Salman Masood and Ismail Khan for The New York Times

The political and legal crisis in Pakistan took a new turn on Tuesday when the Supreme Court threatened to dismiss Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for failing to comply with court orders to reopen corruption cases against his political boss: President Asif Ali Zardari.

The latest pressure from the court compounds the problems of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, already facing a political crisis over a controversial memo that sought United States support in thwarting a feared military coup.

Adding to the government’s troubles is a steep increase in terrorist attacks. Another attack occurred early Tuesday, a truck bombing that the authorities said killed more than 25 people, including women and children, in northwestern Pakistan. A senior government official said the bombing appeared to be in retaliation for the recent killing of a militant leader.

Since December 2009, when the Supreme Court struck down an amnesty that nullified corruption charges against thousands of politicians, the court has insisted that the government reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari.

But the government has resisted court orders, and Mr. Zardari said last week that, “come what may,” officials from his party would not reopen the graft cases filed against him and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in Switzerland. Ms. Bhutto was assassinated in 2007.

On Tuesday, a five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, ruled that the government was guilty of “willful disobedience” and said that Mr. Gilani was “dishonest” for failing to carry out the earlier court orders.

The judges laid out six options — including initiating contempt of court charges, dismissing the prime minister, forming a judicial commission and taking action against the president for violating his constitutional oath — and ordered the attorney general to explain the government’s position in court on Monday.

A three-member judicial commission that is investigating the controversial memo is scheduled to resume its hearing the same day. Apart from having an acrimonious relationship with the judiciary, the government has an uneasy relationship with the country’s top generals.

Mr. Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on unproved corruption charges, says the corruption cases against him and Ms. Bhutto that date to the 1990s were politically motivated.

In an interview last week with GEO TV, a news network, Mr. Zardari said reopening those cases would be tantamount to “a trial of the grave” of his wife.

Mr. Zardari also claims immunity as president, but the judiciary, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has resisted that claim and has aggressively pursued cases against Mr. Zardari’s party, leading many government officials to speculate that the judiciary was being used by the country’s powerful military to dismiss the government before the March elections for the Senate, in which the Pakistan Peoples Party is expected to win a majority.

Political analysts said the fate of Mr. Gilani, the prime minister, was in peril.

Mr. Zardari called a meeting of his party officials and coalition partners on Tuesday evening to chart strategy, and he was expected to get a statement of support from his allies.

“The situation is fast moving towards a head-on confrontation,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and military analyst based in Lahore. “It depends on what options are exercised by the Supreme Court.”

According to the Pakistani Constitution, a prime minister can be removed only by the Parliament, and the Supreme Court can disqualify the prime minister only indirectly, Mr. Rizvi said.

“If the court disqualifies the prime minister and the prime minister continues to enjoy the support of the Parliament, then the stage is set for a very dangerous confrontation,” he said.

The legal standoff is forcing the government to defer issues of greater importance, like rescuing a failing economy and fighting Taliban insurgents, as it focuses on its political survival, Mr. Rizvi said.

“The court, the military and the executive are trying to assert themselves,” he said. “It has become a free-for-all.”

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombing on Tuesday, but it appeared to have been carried out by Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani militant groups, against the Zakhakhel tribe, which has formed a militia in support of the government, said Mutahir Zeb, administrator for the Khyber tribal region.

Mr. Zeb said the Tehrik-i-Taliban sought to avenge the killing of Qari Kamran, a local Taliban commander, by security forces last week in an area occupied by the Zakhakhel.

Mr. Zeb said a pickup truck exploded in the middle of a bus terminal used by the Zakhakhel in the town of Jamrud.

The bomb destroyed several vehicles, damaged a nearby gasoline pump and shattered windows in the area. In addition to those killed, 27 people were reported wounded in the bombing and were taken to hospitals in Peshawar.

“I was on duty at the nearby checkpoint when I heard a big bang,” said Mir Gul, a security guard. “I rushed toward the spot and saw bodies lying around while the injured cried for help. It was devastating. There was blood everywhere.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note-
The Pakistani people deserve better than this. The only solution to EVERYTHING that ails Pakistan is a true and long lasting peace with India. The sooner this dream becomes a reality, the sooner grim news of extremism and its grip on Pakistan will go away~

In Pakistan, Justifying Murder for Those Who Blaspheme

By Aryn Baker for Time

“I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us,” the doomed man said, staring straight into the video camera. “And I am ready to die for a cause.” Shahbaz Bhatti had no hesitation in his voice as he responded to a question about threats from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.” It was his last answer in a four-month-old self-produced video that was to be broadcast in the event of his death. But the radicals had the final say. On March 2, Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, was shot dead in Islamabad. Pamphlets scattered on the ground claimed the act for a new alliance of “the organization of al-Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban” and asserted that other infidels and apostates would meet the same fate.

Bhatti’s death had been foretold not just by himself but also in the nation’s response to a previous assassination, that of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer on Jan. 4. Taseer, a self-made millionaire, had turned his largely ceremonial post into a platform for a campaign to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Bhatti, the only Christian in the Cabinet, refused to be a token and swore to battle intolerance. Both men supported clemency for Aasia Noreen, a Christian woman who had been accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Taseer’s stance on the issue infuriated a large part of the population that, thanks to religious leaders and school curriculums, believes that blasphemy is a sin deserving of execution. In the weeks leading up to his assassination, Taseer had been denounced at Friday prayers, excoriated in the media and largely abandoned by his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for fears that his campaign would prove politically toxic. The witch hunt culminated in a bodyguard’s pumping 27 rounds into his head and chest in the parking lot of a popular Islamabad shopping center.

Within hours of Taseer’s death, telephone text messages celebrating his assassination made the rounds. “Justice has been done,” read one. “If you love the Prophet, pass this on.” A Facebook fan page for assassin Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri garnered more than 2,000 members before site administrators shut it down. Even the leaders of state-funded mosques refused to say funeral prayers for the slain governor. When Qadri was transferred to a local jail, he was garlanded with roses by hundreds of lawyers — the vanguard of a movement that in 2008 helped unseat a military dictator — offering to take on his case for free.

At his court appearance a few days later, Qadri told the judge that he believed in a Pakistan where loyalty to the Prophet eclipses all other rights. According to Taseer’s daughter Shehrbano, her father “wanted an egalitarian society where open debate is protected and people are not killed for speaking out.” And Bhatti dreamed of a nation true to founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision, one where “you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship.” Which vision prevails — Qadri’s or Taseer and Bhatti’s — will decide the future of the country.

The Roots of Extremism

 
It is not news that Pakistan has a lunatic fringe. What is disturbing is that after Taseer’s murder, when the silent majority finally spoke up, it praised Qadri, not his victim. The public reaction exploded the myth of Pakistan’s moderate Islam; Qadri belongs to a mainstream sect that routinely condemns the Taliban. “The Pakistan we saw in the wake of Taseer’s killing is the real Pakistan,” says Amir Muhammad Rana of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. For the past two years, Rana’s organization has conducted in-depth interviews with a broad spectrum of Pakistani citizens. “They might dress Western and eat at McDonald’s, but when it comes to religion, most Pakistanis have a very conservative mind-set.”

Pakistan’s religious parties rarely do well at the polls — a fact often cited by those countering concerns that the country is going fundamentalist — but their street power is considerable. The furor over blasphemy appears to be partly in response to significant losses for the religious right in the 2008 elections. With the current government on the verge of collapse and popular sentiment against the PPP mounting, the religious parties are betting on significant gains if fresh elections are called. The case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor accused of killing two Pakistanis during what appears to have been a botched attempt to rob him, demonstrates the state of Pakistan’s politics. It has gone virtually unremarked in Pakistan that Qadri, a confessed murderer, has been hailed as a national hero, while Davis — who, whatever his background, seems to have been acting in self-defense — is considered worthy of the death penalty. Over the past few weeks, street rallies led by the religious right have simultaneously called for the release of Qadri and the hanging of Davis. (Read: “Pakistan’s Christians Mourn, and Fear for Their Future.”)

Using religion to shore up political support is nothing new in Pakistan. Founded as a Muslim nation carved from a newly independent India in 1947, Pakistan has long struggled to unite a diverse population divided by language, culture and ethnicity. Islam was the common denominator, but Jinnah was famously enigmatic about its role in government.

Then, in 1977, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, an Islamist military general, overthrew the democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was already retrenching his secular vision of Pakistan in an effort to win religious support. To further appease Muslim religious leaders, Zia-ul-Haq strengthened the colonial-era blasphemy laws, mandating that breaches should be answered by the death penalty. Since then, more than 1,274 cases have been lodged. As repeating blasphemous words could be considered to be perpetuating the crime, many cases are accepted without evidence, a system well primed for the pursuit of vendettas. That nobody has yet been executed by court order is hardly reassuring: 37 of the accused have been killed by vigilantes. (In 1929, Jinnah famously defended an illiterate carpenter who shot to death a Hindu publisher accused of blasphemy. The plea failed, and after the carpenter was hanged, Taseer’s father was one of the pallbearers.)

The Uses of Blasphemy
When a nation rises up in support of a murderer instead of his victim, it’s hard not to believe it is heading down a dangerous path. “What is happening now won’t matter in five years,” says Shehrbano Taseer. “It will matter in 25 years. What we are seeing now is the fruit of what happened 30 years ago. If people had stood up against [Zia-ul-Haq], we would not be here today. Because of that silence we have madrasahs spewing venom, a true Islam threatened by the same people who claim to serve it, and a cowed majority too afraid to speak.”

President Asif Ali Zardari, an old friend of Taseer’s, condemned the murders but didn’t go to either funeral. After paying his respects to Taseer’s family, Interior Minister Rehman Malik gave an impromptu press conference outside Taseer’s house during which he announced that he too would kill any blasphemer “with his own hands.” A few days later, the Prime Minister announced that he would drop the issue of the blasphemy laws altogether. Meanwhile, the government is under pressure to go through with Aasia’s sentence, and now her two champions are dead.

Reaction to Bhatti’s murder has been muted, characterized mostly by denial. What little newspaper coverage there was focused on security lapses or the role of the country’s Christian community rather than on the motives of the killer. On television talk shows, members of the religious parties and right-wing commentators spun a conspiracy theory that alleged that Bhatti’s murder had been “a plot” hatched by “outside forces” to “divert attention from the Raymond Davis affair.” There was no mention of the fact that Bhatti was campaigning alongside Taseer on the issue of blasphemy.

The PPP was founded in 1967 with the goal of bringing secular democracy to a nation under military rule. It vowed to give power to the people and promised to protect the nation’s downtrodden. That Pakistan’s most progressive party — one that has already endured the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — should cave in the face of religious fundamentalism speaks volumes about the strength of the religious right. A candlelight vigil promoting a progressive Pakistan a few days after Taseer’s assassination drew nearly 1,000 supporters; a religious rally in Karachi the same day had 40,000 in the street chanting Qadri’s name. “Taseer’s murderer was tried in the court of public opinion, and he has emerged a hero,” says a woman shopping for vegetables in the same market where the governor was killed. “If someone kills me because I criticize Qadri, will he too be called a hero?” She declined to give her name. (Read: “Murder in Islamabad: Pakistan’s Deepening Religious Divide.”)

Of course, few Pakistanis would ever go as far as Taseer’s or Bhatti’s killers. But their ambivalence can easily be manipulated. “Just because we are religious does not mean we will all be reaching for guns the next time someone says something wrong,” says Malik Khan, a university student who spent a recent afternoon at a shrine in Lahore dedicated to a revered Islamic saint. “But Salmaan Taseer was an extremist as well. He should not have touched the blasphemy law.” Khan received a text message praising Qadri and exhorting him to pass it along. It posed a moral quandary: “I don’t agree with the message,” he says. “But I love the Prophet. My thumb hesitated a long time over the delete button.” In the end, he passed the hate along.

Qadri himself was the religious-minded youngest son of a family just stepping into the middle class. Like his brother, he joined the special-forces branch of the Punjab police in 2002. He had been flagged as a security risk because of his strong religious leanings but was nevertheless appointed to Taseer’s security detail when he visited Islamabad. In his confession, Qadri said he had been inspired by the teachings of his local mullah, Hanif Qureshi. At a rally a few days later, Qureshi claimed credit for motivating Qadri. “He would come to my Friday prayers and listen to my sermons,” he said. Then he repeated his point: “The punishment for a blasphemer is death.”

But is it? Two weeks after Taseer’s murder, I visited Qari Muhammad Zawar Bahadur, the head of one of Pakistan’s mainstream religious groups and a co-signer of a statement that advised Muslims not to show “grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy.” For more than an hour, he justified his group’s stance, telling me that the Koran was clear on the issue. I asked Bahadur to show me the exact verse that detailed the punishments for blasphemy. He mumbled that “there are several passages,” as if there were so many, he couldn’t decide which one to quote. When pressed further, he consulted a Koran and read aloud a passage that spoke of killing a man who had once harmed the Prophet.

That verse has routinely been dismissed by leading Islamic scholars as referring to a specific case and having nothing to do with blasphemy. They say there is no definition of blasphemy in the Koran, nor any prescription for its punishment. “Nobody challenges these mullahs, and that is our problem,” says Omar Fazal Jamil, who runs a p.r. firm in Lahore. “We can’t invoke liberal secular values anymore. I have to have the knowledge to contradict these men who distort our religion for their own political gain. I have to be able to say, ‘No, this did not happen, this is not right, and show me where it says in the Koran that blasphemers should be shot on sight.’ ”

The Sin of Silence
In the absence of such challenges, those favoring religious intolerance will continue to have things go their way. In late 2007, Benazir Bhutto released an updated manifesto for her father’s party. “The statutes that discriminate against religious minorities and are sources of communal disharmony will be reviewed,” it said. Less than a month later she was dead, killed in a bomb attack just 13 km from where both Taseer and Bhatti were murdered. Her death was an opportunity to rally the nation against the forces of extremism. Instead the party focused on consolidating power. The manifesto remains an empty promise, and two more voices of tolerance have been silenced. For evil to prevail, goes the old aphorism, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.

With reporting by Ershad Mahmud / Lahore and Omar Waraich / Rawalpindi

Sindh Saves the Day

By Nadeem F Paracha for Dawn

Plans are afoot to build the world’s first ever international Sufi university near Bhit Shah in Sindh. The main purpose of the institution would be to promote interfaith and intercultural education to tackle extremism in the country.

Such a thought and project could only have come about in Sindh. Especially in the context of what Pakistan has beengoing through in the last many years.

Not only have the country’s other provinces – especially the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – become central targets of horrid terrorist attacks by extremist organisations, the Punjab in particular has also been witnessing a steady growth of faith-based conservatism within its urban middle and lower middle-classes.

When extremists (calling themselves ‘Punjabi Taliban’) attacked the famous Sufi shrine, Data Darbar in Lahore late last year, economist and political analyst, Asad Sayeed, made a rather insightful observation.

He said that had such an attack on the Darbar taken place twenty years ago, thousands of Lahorites would have poured out to protest.

But not anymore. The attack on one of Punjab’s most popular Sufi shrines was simply treated as just another terrorist attack.

Though it is now clear that the Wahabi/Deobandi extremists have been going around blowing up Sufi shrines frequented by the majority Barelvi Muslims, the Barelvi leadership has looked elsewhere, putting the blame on the ever-elusive ‘foreign hands.’

Journalist and intellectual Khaled Ahmed once wrote a telling tongue-in-cheek article about the annual gathering of the Dawat-i-Islami in Multan.

The Dawat is the Barelvi equivalent of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamat. Both these outfits are considered to be non-political organisations who are more interested in evangelizing their respective versions of Islam and its rituals. One should also mention that both these (sub-continental) strains of Islam accuse one another of being ‘flawed Muslims.’

Ahmed wrote how after Dawat’s huge congregation in Multan, when police found some bullet-riddled bodies of Dawat members, the outfit’s main leadership simply refused to acknowledge the glaring evidence that pointed towards the involvement of an opposing Sunni sect’s organisation in the murders.

Ahmed adds that Dawat leaders began babbling about ‘outside forces (RAW, CIA, Mossad)’ who wanted to create disharmony between Pakistan’s Barelvi majority and the Deobandi and Wahabi sects.

Barelvis: From moderate to militant

One can understand the above-mentioned episode as an example of the confusion Barelvi spiritual leadership has gone through since the 1980s.

From its inception in the 18th century and until about the mid-1980s, the Barelvi sect was largely apolitical in orientation, non-Jihadist and followers of some of the most relaxed dictates of the Hanafi madhab – the first of the four main Islamic schools of law that is also considered to be the most moderate.

‘Barelvi Islam’ (as it is sometimes called) is purely a sub-continental phenomenon that fuses elements of Indian Sufism with the folk and populist strains of various cultures that exist in the sub-continent.

It is also called the ‘folk Islam’ of the region in which a high degree of tolerance exists between various faiths, sects, classes and ethnicities and in which the puritanical aspects of other Islamic sects are eschewed and even rejected.

The Sufi shrine and an intense reverence of the Prophet (PBUH) play a central role in Barelvi Islam. Its populist and moderate make-up helped it become the majority Sunni sect amongst the Muslims of the sub-continent.

Two of its leading opponents have been the Sunni Deobandi sect (also a product of the subcontinent) and the Saudi-inspired Wahabism.

Both have accused Barelvis of ‘adopting Hindu rituals and practices’ and assorted ‘heresies.’

In spite of being the majority sect amongst Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, ‘Barelvi Islam’ hardly ever had a coherent political expression in shape of a mass-based political party or organisation.

Its spiritual leadership remained pro-Jinnah (unlike Deobandi organizations of undivided India), and various Pakistani political leaders have continued to appeal to the symbolism and lingo associated with various populist aspects of Barelvi-ism.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was the most successful in this respect.

Bhutto was also one of the first leading Pakistani political figures to undertake the act of regularly visiting various famous Sufi shrines in Sindh and Punjab.

Barelvis are in the majority in Sindh and the Punjab, whereas Deobandis are largely centred in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and in the Pushtun-dominated areas of Balochistan.

Until the 1970s Barelvi-ism also prevailed among many of Sindh and Punjab’s urban middle-classes, especially those who considered themselves to be progressive and likely supporters of secular politics.

However, the arrangement in this context was suddenly disturbed with the arrival of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in 1977.

Dipped in the political Islam of scholar and Jamat-i-Islami (JI) chief Abul Ala Mauddudi, Zia soon moved towards infiltrating the spiritual and political nerve centres of Barelvi-ism in an attempt to ‘reform’ them.

Barelvi dominance across the country’s religious landscape reminded him of Z A. Bhutto’s populism (which he, like JI, considered to be ‘vulgar’ and ‘un-Islamic’), and from 1979 onwards Pakistan under Zia also became one of the leading client states of Saudi-generated Wahabi propaganda and aid.

Stunned by the ‘Islamic revolution’ in the Shia-dominated Iran in 1979, Saudi Arabian monarchy and its Wahabi Sunni religious elite began seeing Pakistan’s Barelvi-dominated make-up as venerable to Shia-ism’s revolutionary symbolism and also of socialist propaganda, especially with the arrival of Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

At least that was one of the reasons used by Zia and his Saudi allies to draw the United States into giving Pakistan billions of dollars worth of aid and arms.

With the aid also came Wahabi propaganda literature and preachers who along with Pakistani Deobandi and Wahabi spiritual and political groups began setting up madressas and mosques.

These madressas operated as institutions that would indoctrinate young Pakistanis – most of whom were immersed in the non-Jihadi traditions of Barelvi-ism – and prepare them for Jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Bralevi tradition had also not been very kind to the ulema and the clergy.

To address this, Zia also began describing famous Sufi saints as ulema and banned (in the media) all criticism and humour aimed at the clergy.

The Afghan war, Saudi propaganda, the mushrooming of Deobandi and Wahabi madressas and televangelists, and a concentrated campaign by the Zia regime to equate the dictatorship’s capitalist-Islamist makeup as something in accordance with the Shariah and with ‘Jinnah and Iqbal’s vision,’ had a telling impact on Pakistan’s religious sociology.

In the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa many moderate and progressive Deobandi strains that had prevailed in the province began sliding into the sect’s more radical dictates, coming closer to the puritanical Wahabi and Salafi ideas about faith.

This slide was celebrated by the Punjab-dominated military as a successful blow to the secular and ‘treacherous’ Pukhtun separatist tendencies.

In the Punjab, the province benefited the most from Zia’s Punjab-centric capitalist maneuvers. This coupled with unprecedented remittances coming from Pakistanis who had begun going to Arab Gulf states to work from the 1970s onwards, gave birth to new moneyed classes.

Many from the petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie sections began moving away from their Barelvi heritage and towards more puritanical strains of faith.

Their Barelvi past now reminded them of their lower status and economic modesty, whereas they began relating their enhanced economic standing with the adoption of the more puritanical strains of Islam.

That’s why the growth of puritanical Islamist and sectarian organizations that Punjab saw under Zia, a lot of their local funding came from Punjab’s nouveau-riche and petty-bourgeois trader classes.

Interestingly, it was also the same classes that also pushed the Barelvi leadership to become more conservative and radical. Those sections of the Punjabi petty-bourgeoisie that stuck to Barelvi-ism encouraged their spiritual leadership to compete with the Puritanism and radicalism of the growing number of Deobandi and Wahabi groups.

This trend saw the first ever emergence of radical Barelvi groups. In the early 1980s, the Dawat-i-Islami was formed to counterbalance the growth of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamaat that had begun making deep inroads into Punjab’s bourgeoisie and the military.

The Dawat discouraged the Barelvis from indulging in antics associated with the region’s folk Islam, emphasising an increased reverence of holy personalities and encouraging holding of recitals of naats and milads instead of quwalis and dhamals. The last two became associated with the practices of the lower-class Barelvis.

In 1992, emerged the Sunni Thereek (ST). A Barelvi outfit that emerged from the splintering of the oldest Barelvi Islamic political party, the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP).

Such occurrences did not really help the Barelvi sect defend its traditions in the face of the state-sponsored Deobandi and Wahabi onslaught –  rather, these organisations began turning Barelvi-ism into an equally anti-pluralistic and militant political phenomenon.

Sindh saves the day?

By the 1990s, Zia’s manoeuvres and Saudi involvement in reshaping Pakistan’s religious tradition had seen Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab become hostage to various violent Deobandi/Wahabi outfits and new-born Barelvi reactionary-ism.

The Punjab also saw a rise in the use of reactionary political and religious narratives within its lower-middle and middle-classes, whereas in Balochistan attempts were being made (by intelligence agencies) to neutralize secular Baloch nationalist militancy with the help of puritanical evangelical outfits. The agencies had already done this successfullyin Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the 1980s.

But what happened in Sindh? Barelvi-ism in Sindh (outside Karachi) has always been a lot more secular and pluralistic than the Bareilvi-ism in the Punjab.

Its  sociology  in Sindh heavily revolves around the staunchly secular historicity that the province’s famous scholar, GM Syed’s literary work generated.

He described a highly pluralistic and secular reading of Sufism as being the cultural and religious make-up of the Sindhis and it is this narrative that still rules the roost in the province’s social and religious psyche.

This is one of the reasons why Zia completely failed to impose his version of Islam here. Also, just like the majority of the Baloch who equate puritanical Islam with the ‘Punjabi civil-military elite,’ so does the socio-political discourse in Sindh.

On the other hand, in Karachi, though Zia-backed Deobandi and Wahabi radical outfits did manage to find a foothold, two things have always worked against these outfits here.

The first is the fact that the sprawling ethnic, sectarian and religious diversity found in Karachi actually absorbs and neutralizes any attempt by an outfit to impose its version of Islam.

Secondly, MQM, a party that first emerged as a mohajir nationalist group, adopted almost the same populist Barelvi symbolism and lingo as Bhutto did in the 1970s.

Also, the other two big political parties in the city too are secular: the PPP and ANP.

Though the Sunni Thereek (ST) has managed to infiltrate some sections of MQM’s support, ST is Barelvi and anti-Taliban (albeit reactionary).

In spite of the rampant crime and ethnic tensions that are a constant in Karachi, it will not be an overstatement to claim that Karachi along with the rest of Sindh today stands to be perhaps the only (ragged) sanctuaries in present-day Pakistan that are (comparatively-speaking) largely free of the factors that have created opportunities in the Punjab and KP for violent extremist activity as well as for reactionary conservatism to now become a mainstay in Punjab’s bourgeois psyche.