Posts Tagged ‘ Salmaan Taseer ’

Pakistan, Islam & Radicalism

By Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi for The Huffington Post

I was in Kasur, a small town near Lahore, Pakistan, where the celebrated mystic poet Bulleh Shah is buried. Thousands gathered for the 254th anniversary of his death. Slogans chanted on that occasion would be branded ‘blasphemous’ by extremist organisations in Pakistan.

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.

Bulleh Shah penned these verses challenging religious extremism and orthodoxy that plagued Muslim society hundreds of years ago. He was exiled from his home town and, history has it, he was denied a burial in Muslim cemetery. His advice has clearly gone unheeded as my country is still yet to find peace. Not even the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been spared being labelled ‘the great infidel’.

Incidentally, the same ilk of religio-political parties who now manipulate public discourse were at the forefront of using religious narrative for political point scoring before Pakistan came into being.

4 January 2011 is a day I cannot forget. Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan’s biggest province Punjab, was gunned down by his bodyguard. He was killed for supporting a Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was shot twenty six times.

For the entire week after the killing, I was scared. I don’t remember being in that state of mind since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It’s not a very heartening sight to see fellow ‘educated’ countrymen glorifying a murderer and justifying his actions based on ignorant rhetoric. Scores of fan pages popped up on Facebook, many of my friends changed their profile pictures to one of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, exalting a murderer as hero.

Very few turned out to pay homage to the slain governor in days to come, as ‘liberals’ arranged vigils in his remembrance. Yet thousands poured on to the streets to defend Mumtaz Qadri, his assassin. The media, which has been a primary tool in fanning conspiracy theories in public, had again played a pivotal role in enticing ‘religious’ emotions on this issue.

The killer of Salman Taseer had confessed proudly. The brave judge who sentenced him to death has gone into hiding and will not be re-appearing anytime soon.

7 March 2011. The start of another week of gloom and, if I’m honest, I was ashamed to be a Pakistani. We had arranged a protest to condemn the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities who was brutally assassinated on 2 March. He was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the cabinet. Only a few youngsters turned up.

When it comes to numbers, we can gather thousands but the ’cause’ has to be against India, Israel or America. Not many will show up if the demonstration is against radical organisations, or asking for introspection within.

Many who rallied for Gaza in early 2009 were not seen in protests condemning Taliban atrocities in Swat at the same time. Many who burnt down shops in anger at the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad never stood up for Parachinar, a small town near the border of Afghanistan where thousands have been killed in sectarian violence between Sunni’s and Shia’s.

9 October 2011. I was stuck on the Islamabad Highway, the main road that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi as it was blocked by flash mobs protesting for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.

Two decades and 40,000 deaths later which includes top politicians, generals and clerics – not many things have changed when it comes to checking radicalism within Islam.

Many attacks on places of worship of minority sects within Islam, recurring violent brawls between followers of different schools of thought, reaction to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, recent acts of violence in Baluchistan and the tale of Parachinar are chapters in recent history which expose the extent of radicalisation in Pakistani society.

Soon, we as citizens of a country founded because a minority felt discriminated against and followers of the great religion of Islam, need to face up to the challenge of the radical minded and their extremist ideology.

This is a war of ideologies and is inevitably a war that must be fought with opinions and ideas; it must encourage discourse and exchange of reason. It is a war that must form the basic pillar of a new and improved national paradigm for Pakistan

We as a society cannot ignore an emerging threat from radicalism within our ranks, because if it gets too late, there might be no ‘music’ left to face.

Pakistan Court Suspends Death Sentence of Governor’s Killer

By Shaan Khan For CNN

A Pakistani court has suspended the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri, a security guard who killed a liberal politician over the latter’s remarks on the nation’s controversial blasphemy law.

“Qadri was provoked by the governor and should therefore be tried for murder, not an act of terror which is what he was tried for earlier” said his attorney Raja Shuja Ur Rehman in confirming the judge’s decision.

Earlier this month, a terror court in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Pakistan’s capital, sentenced Qadri to death. The Islamabad High Court suspended the sentence Tuesday until the appeals process is complete. The court did not say when it will meet again to consider the case.

Police said Qadri, a policeman serving as a security guard for Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, fatally shot him in a market in Islamabad on January 4 because of Taseer’s remarks on Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law. Police said Qadri confessed to gunning down the man he was supposed to be protecting. Qadri’s lawyer appealed the sentence imposed by the Anti-Terrorist Court, saying the court did not have the jurisdiction to make the death penalty decision.

Taseer, a successful businessman as well as politician, had said Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law is too harsh. The law makes it a crime punishable by death to insult Islam, the Quran or the Prophet Mohammed. The legislation has been criticized by some as being used to entrap minorities.

Why Not Free Qadri?

By Ayesha Siddiqa for The Express Tribune

How about freeing Mumtaz Qadri for the simple reason that the state system has lost the capacity to execute punishment? The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) judge, who gave him the death sentence, is already on the run. It will be quite a cost to protect Justice Shah and his family or other judges that may be brave enough not to overturn the ATC’s decision.

Why bother with the idea of punishing Qadri when it is no longer in the realm of the possible. An olive branch that is offered to the Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan and other killers can be extended to Qadri as well. Not to forget that the political leadership in the form of the recent All Parties Conference has surrendered to a peculiar agenda. So, forget about Jinnah’s August 11 speech now as the state has already transformed to a hybrid-theocracy. It has small liberal spaces, equally smaller spaces where Sharia is formally implemented, and larger spaces where the orthodox law is informally enforced. Try standing in front of a Jamaat-i-Islami/Jamaatud Dawa procession in support of Qadri to feel the melting away of the state and its changed character. Sadly, many of our post-modernists scholars will, yet again, call this as part of the secularising process through bringing religion into public sphere. Driven by personal ambitions to establish their scholarship, they won’t even question that the current discourse is not secularising as it condemns all other arguments as being against Islam. Are the protesters even willing to explore other religious arguments that may not save Qadri from the sentence given by the ATC judge?

There are no governments that are willing to stand up to the bullying and to establish the writ of the state. There is no intent to even deradicalise society because, in the words of a senior bureaucrat of the Punjab government, reputed to be close to the chief minister, there is no radicalisation in Punjab and even if there were, why should the state become an ideological warrior. Obviously, this CSS-qualified babu considered deradicalisation as anti-religion or against the tenets of Islam. This bureaucrat was a good example to debunk the argument that radicalisation results from lack of education. Here was a case of a literate man not willing to understand that deradicalisation is about creating sufficient space for all religions and sects to co-exist without fear of persecution, and increasing the state’s capacity to provide justice for all, irrespective of their cast, creed and religion. Thus, he presented the Punjab government’s development priorities as devoid of the goal of deradicalisation.

It was almost unbelievable to think that the bureaucrat’s plan had the sanction of his political bosses, especially someone like Mian Nawaz Sharif who made some bold pronouncements of building ties with regional neighbours and condemned parties with militant wings. Notwithstanding the goodness of Mian Sahib’s heart, one wonders how familiar is he with his own party’s support of militant outfits and if he considers this linkage equally condemnable? The fact of the matter is that no political party can claim to be above board as far as rising radicalism is concerned. The absence of the state in most provinces — Balochistan where people are being picked up and killed, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where the provincial government has willingly opted to share space with certain types of militants, Sindh, which is devastated by floods and a government that is almost invisible and Punjab where the government opts to burn down state infrastructure — is visible. Therefore, it is not surprising to see militant outfits becoming the new arbiters even replacing the old feudal class. They have and will exercise greater influence on the electoral process, especially ensuring that no parliamentarian challenges the writ of these militant outfits.

The militants of today are the new feudal lords that will adjudicate and dispense justice not on the basis of any higher religious law but their personal bias for things which are superficially religious. These people, who hold jirgas and dispense justice, are not fully aware or trained to interpret religious text or other sources. Surely, memorising the Holy Book cannot be the sole criterion. For those who believe that voting another party into power will solve the problem of radicalism, they will be disappointed to know that religious radicalism is the only game in town. It is now time to think of ways to grapple with the new reality.

A Monster Roaming The World

By Paul Mcgeough for The City Weekly

Search for a firm footing in Pakistan and there is none – all is quicksand … strategically, politically, morally.

Here in south Asia, strategically sandwiched between failing Afghanistan and the China and India powerhouses, is a country in which journalists are abducted in the night by agents of the state and murdered; in which the only advance after a decade in which Washington has tried to buy friendship with cheques for more than $20 billion, is the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – which is on the verge of surpassing Britain’s as the fifth biggest in the world.

In Pakistan, a 50-year-old woman is sentenced to death on a dubious blasphemy charge – and politicians who dare to speak in her defence are gunned down; and a woman is gang-raped and paraded naked through her village on the orders of a local council, over bogus claims that her 12-year-old brother has offended a 20-year-old woman from the clan of the men who defiled her.

But that’s village life. In the leafy garrison town of Abbottabad, an hour’s drive north of Islamabad, Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the attacks of September 11, 2001, was able to hide in plain sight for years. The location of his fortified bunker, a stone’s throw from a prestigious military academy, made it harder to give any credence to the generals’ repeated denials that significant elements of Pakistan’s extensive security apparatus sheltered the al-Qaeda chief and continue to give succour to the Taliban and other insurgency and terrorist movements.

In the south-west, in the wilds of provincial Baluchistan, there have been 150 ”kill and dump” operations this year. Most of the victims are Baluch nationalist rebels. Their killers are the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and other elements of Pakistan’s national security forces – driven to brutality by a belief, which could be correct, that Pakistan’s arch foe, India, stirs the local nationalist pot. In turn, the Baluch nationalists are accused of running their own death squads – their victims are Punjabi ”settlers”, government workers brought in from other parts of the country.

Baluchistan is half Pashtun, which also makes it a sanctuary for the Taliban from adjoining Afghanistan, where Washington and the world still struggle, with little success, to impose a semblance of democracy on the bones of a fracturing, failing state. Here then is another of the ironies that puts a serious question mark over the bona fides of the Pakistani security forces: the leadership of the Afghanistan Taliban sequesters in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, but the various Pakistani security services are so busy putting the Baluch nationalists through the mincer they don’t have time to take down the Taliban command-and-control centre. Instead, they reportedly socialise with the Taliban and sit in on their strategy meetings.

West from Baluchistan is the sprawling port city of Karachi, where the spiralling death toll in renewed ethnic turf-wars gives raw meaning to what local novelist Kamila Shamsie broaches obliquely, recounting how the city ”winks” at her. “Yes, the city said, I am a breeding ground for monsters, ” she writes, “but don’t think that is the full measure of what I am.”

This drab, chaotic home to 18 million people who account for 65 per cent of Pakistan’s economy is being carved up by bullets that this year have accounted for as many as 1000 ”wrong place, wrong time” deaths as gunmen randomly select their targets – sending messages to whole communities, not the individuals with whose blood they paint the rough pavements. As the suburbs seethe, police do little, because they are cowed by the systematic elimination of those in their ranks who intervened in the last iteration of these ethnic wars. Provincial and federal governments and the security forces only wring their hands.

In Karachi everyone lies. No one denies turf wars are being waged. They simply blame everyone else – all the political parties deny any links to the militias that prosecute their bloody agendas and to the crime, drug and land-development mafias that prosper in their wake. And the city’s once-dominant Urdu-speaking Mohajirs fight to maintain their control of corrupted city politics, amid an influx of Pashtuns fleeing upheavals along the Afghan border.

“Tension rises, we see killings and then scores must be settled,” an adviser to the provincial governor says. “We are at war – the political parties say they are not involved, but the mafias take shelter from the parties as they exploit the situation.”

In Islamabad, enter any of the city’s newsrooms, and see fear in the eyes of journalists who risk death and torture for going about assignments. Consider the words of their Karachi colleague Madiha Sattar – “a growth of intolerance has forged an extreme, murderous antipathy to freedom of expression.”

Most shocking in this campaign of fear and intimidation against one of the pillars of democracy was the disappearance in late May of Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter for the respected, Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online. Two days after his abduction, Shahzad’s battered body was found at Mandi Bahauddin, 130 kilometres south-east of the capital. The reporter left detailed accounts of the threats he had received from the ISI; in Washington, senior officials unflinchingly confirming that Shahzad’s death had been ”sanctioned” by the Pakistani government.

Umar Cheema might just as easily have been their victim. Behind a door marked ”Investigation Cell” off a basement corridor in the Islamabad offices of The News, the 34-year-old father of two explains that the shock in his colleague Saleem Shahzad’s murder was a realisation it might just as easily have been him.

As Cheema drove home from a party in the early hours during Ramadan last year, 12 men who identified themselves as police commandos abducted him, he says. Informing him first that he was a suspect in a killing, they pulled a bag over his head and hauled him away.

“They took me to a building where the leader stripped off my clothes. Then I was ordered to lie on the floor and they beat me on the back and shoulders for 20 or 25 minutes with leather straps and wooden canes.

“I was writing about corruption in the government and the lack of accountability in the military and intelligence agencies – they said they were beating me because of my reporting. Then they shaved my head and eyebrows – that’s what is done to thieves in rural areas to humiliate them.

“Shahzad’s death left me speechless,” he says. “I was the second last victim before they took him. So I felt very much that this was a message for me – it was very, very personal.”

In Islamabad, the government of Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani is as overwhelmed as it is complicit in the nation’s failings. The economy is in crisis and the government has ceded control of more than half the country to the military or to extremist militias. “None of the cogs of state mesh to make it do what must be done,” Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Kamran Arif said.

Just south of Islamabad is Rawalpindi, a more typical Asian city than the sanitised and empty boulevards of Islamabad. As home and headquarters to the men and institutions that comprise Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment, this is the centre of absolute power in Pakistan. And it is here that a deep-fried sense of humiliation over the American raid to kill Osama bin Laden, in May this year, is felt most acutely.

“After the bin Laden raid, it’s a question of the survival of the state,” the defence analyst and director of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, Maria Sultan, says. “The problem now is that by this very public humiliation, the US has lost its biggest supporter – it’s not the capability of the Pakistani military that is affected, it’s its credibility.”

A close reading of ”Getting Bin Laden”, The New Yorker’s inside account of the May 2 raid, reveals the mission was not just a single US incursion that managed to evade Pakistan’s air defences. On the night, there were effectively three separate American missions, none of which was detected by a military-security complex that demands indulgence by the people of Pakistan on the grounds that it is their only protection from the Indian hordes.

Pakistan’s generals faced a grim choice – they had to admit to deceiving the world in harbouring bin Laden, or to incompetence by not knowing he was lounging in their backyard. So supine were they in opting to plead incompetence there were fears of a mutiny in the middle ranks of the security services.

The US signal to the world of just how much it could not trust its south Asian ally came hard on the heels of serial embarrassments at the hands of the Taliban and other militant groups in Pakistan.

There have been a series of militant attacks on the most secure and sensitive defence establishments. The latest, which some observers concluded could not have been undertaken without inside help, saw a 10-man assault team storm the Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi. It took hundreds of Pakistani navy commandos, marines and paramilitaries to retake the base, but not before two aircraft were destroyed, hostages taken and the base had been occupied for the best part of a day.

But it takes a discerning Pakistani general to differentiate between militants – some are ”strategic assets” of the security apparatus and the generals refuse to go after them.

Dr Ayesha Agha, whose military and political commentaries appear in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, explains: “The military depends on these ‘assets’ – they are a cost-effective means to fighting wars that the Pakistani military wants to fight in India and Afghanistan.” Extrajudicial killings by the military now are counted in the hundreds.

When men in uniform were filmed recently murdering a detainee, the reckoning in human rights circles was that far from being a lapse of judgment, the recording had been allowed in the knowledge that its distribution on the internet would serve as a useful warning to the wider community.

A Karachi taxi driver becomes excited as he ferries us from the airport to a downtown hotel – “Pakistan lovely country,” he bellows. “Terrorism? No, no, no.”

But a single graphic in a 200-page study of Pakistan, published in May by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, reveals an impossible security challenge. Last year alone, 2113 terrorist attacks, 369 clashes between the security services and militants, 260 operational attacks by the security forces, 135 US drone attacks, 69 border clashes, 233 bouts of ethno-political violence and 214 inter-tribal clashes resulted in more than 10,000 dead and as many injured.

The death of bin Laden and the reported death of al-Qaeda’s new No. 2 figure, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, in an American drone attack last week, are still being factored into a running debate among intelligence specialists on the extent to which al-Qaeda offshoots elsewhere in the world, especially the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], have taken the baton from the Pakistani organisation.

But a July study by the New America Foundation of 32 ”serious” jihadist terror plots against the West from 2004 to 2011, finds 53 per cent had operational or training links to jihadist groups in Pakistan – compared to just 6 per cent being linked to Yemen. And the rising tempo of the drone attacks has failed to dent the rising frequency of Pakistan-linked plots against the West, the study finds.

Implicit or explicit in any discussion on Pakistan’s volatile mix of militant violence and governmental chaos, is the level of anxiety around the world about the security of its nuclear arsenal. Confronted with claims such as that by bin Laden that acquiring a nuclear weapon was a ”religious duty” and the hope expressed by one of his lieutenants that such a weapon one day might be seized in Pakistan, officials in Islamabad invariably boast that all is tightly locked down.

But when we ask a Pakistani diplomat how secure were the weapons in the aftermath of the US mission to kill Osama bin Laden, he replies: “Less so, now that the Americans have revealed to the world that it is possible to sneak into Pakistan undetected, to take something that you really want.”

President Obama’s public appeal that Pakistan not become the world’s first ”nuclear-armed militant state” gives context to disclosures by The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh of the existence of a US Special Operations rapid-response team which would be parachuted into Pakistan in the event of a nuclear crisis.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former director of intelligence and counter intelligence at the US Department of Energy, is boldest in setting out the fears of Washington, London and other capitals – some of which were disclosed without diplomatic varnish by Wikileaks last year.

Writing in Arms Control Today, Mowatt-Larssen, who served 20 years at the CIA, bills Pakistan as the most likely setting for terrorists bent on acquiring a nuclear device to co-opt a nuclear insider – of whom there are estimated to be as many as 70,000 in Pakistan.

“There is a lethal proximity between terrorists, extremists, and nuclear weapons insiders,” he writes. “Insiders have facilitated terrorist attacks. Suicide bombings have occurred at air force bases that reportedly serve as nuclear weapons storage sites. It is difficult to ignore such trends.

”Purely in actuarial terms, there is a strong possibility that bad apples in the nuclear establishment are willing to co-operate with outsiders for personal gain or out of sympathy for their cause.”

“Not possible,” says Maria Sultan. “About eight to 10,000 personnel working at the strategic level on security,” she says, ticking off seven or eight interlocking layers of complex security, the first of which she says would trip most intruders before they came within 80 kilometres of a nuclear facility. “The idea that a terrorist can walk in and get hold of a device is just not possible.”

Such is the bind in which Pakistanis find themselves. But if it is true feeble and corrupt civilian administrations make circumstances ripe for a military takeover, it is hardly surprising the generals have no respect for democratic fundamentals.

As revealed in one of the Wikileaks cables, Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was ready to force President Asif Ali Zardari from office – save for the fact the general thought even less of Zardari’s likely civilian replacement. And historically, Washington has opted to connect with Pakistan through the military power of the generals, rather than the people power of the civilian leadership.

Bruce Riedel, a veteran CIA analyst, sets out the connections in Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad. “…Richard Nixon turned a blind eye to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis to keep his friends in Pakistan’s army in power, a strategy that ultimately failed,” Riedel writes. “Ronald Reagan entertained Zia-ul-Haq even as Zia was giving succour to the Arab jihadists who would become al-Qaeda. George W. Bush allowed Pervez Musharraf to give the Afghan Taliban a sanctuary from which to kill American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.”

And in the judgment of Bushra Gohar, an elected MP from Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, Washington still prefers to deal with the military rather than the country’s civilian leadership. “That’s not a role that the military has under the constitution,” she says during a break in the business of the National Assembly in Islamabad. “There has been a democratic transition in this country and we expect the international community to support it.”

Power vacuums become ripe for exploitation, as was revealed with frightening clarity earlier this year when two of three elected figures who had dared to speak out against Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws were assassinated. In January, Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by one of his state-provided security men; in March, the Minorities Minister and the only Christian in Gillani’s cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, died in a hail of gunfire as his car left his mother’s home in Islamabad.

Taseer’s killer confessed and became a national hero. His home is a shrine, he is garlanded with rose petals and, in the oddest twist of all, the young lawyers’ movement that effectively bundled Pervez Musharraf, the last dictator, from power in 2008, has taken the side of this cold-blooded murderer – not the principle for which his victim died.

A visitor leaves Pakistan wondering if anyone here speaks the truth. The dictators habitually resort to amping up religious parties – either to drown out secular ones that might be interested in the ideals of selfless democracy, or to further marginalise the country’s Shiia Muslim minority.

“And people like Musharraf have two faces,” Kamran Arif of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said. “He would say all the right things for the West and do just what he wanted to do at home.”

Some foreign analysts fall back on the seeming failure of Pakistan’s religious parties at the ballot box as a hopeful sign. But a sense of rising radicalisation, particularly in the military and the middle classes, suggests an asymmetric contest for control of a highly unstable society – the non-religious parties fight in the parliament, but the religious parties are street brawlers.

Sherry Rehman, the only elected figure in the country to defend the convicted blasphemer Aasia Bibi, makes the same point in explaining how that debate was lost. “The discourse shifted from the parliament to the street,” she says.

“We have to keep the agenda in the parliament, and not with the gun-toting thugs who make inflammatory speeches outside.”

Like the financial institutions in the 2008 global financial crisis, Pakistan is deemed by Washington to be ”too big to fail”. Between them, however, Washington and Islamabad have been unable in the past decade to make this relationship work – credibly or creditably.

Predictions of imminent collapse in Islamabad are exaggerated, but perhaps not overly so. “The government does not have the capacity to tackle any of the issues,” says the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Arif. “Things will just keep getting bad … and I don’t discount the fact that we can fall into chaos.”

Like many other analysts, Bruce Riedel laboriously sets out the policy options by which Washington and Islamabad might work together to defeat the global jihadist movement – before he concludes that none is easy or guaranteed.

An adviser to several US administrations and now with the Brookings Institution, Riedel sees Pakistan under siege from a syndicate of radical terrorist groups unified by the notion that nuclear-armed Pakistan could be the extremist jihadist state they have never had.

“They want to hijack Pakistan and its weapons,” he says. Alluding to Islamabad’s role in creating a monster, as often as not with Washington’s sponsorship, he writes: “An extremely powerful jihadist Frankenstein is now roaming the world, with equally powerful protectors in Pakistani society, right up to the very top.

“Who cannot fear that the ‘long beards’ will prevail?”

Why My Father Hated India

By Aatish Taseer for The Wall Street Journal

Ten days before he was assassinated in January, my father, Salman Taseer, sent out a tweet about an Indian rocket that had come down over the Bay of Bengal: “Why does India make fools of themselves messing in space technology? Stick 2 bollywood my advice.”

My father was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, and his tweet, with its taunt at India’s misfortune, would have delighted his many thousands of followers. It fed straight into Pakistan’s unhealthy obsession with India, the country from which it was carved in 1947.

Though my father’s attitude went down well in Pakistan, it had caused considerable tension between us. I am half-Indian, raised in Delhi by my Indian mother: India is a country that I consider my own. When my father was killed by one of his own bodyguards for defending a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, we had not spoken for three years.

To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge—its hysteria—it is necessary to understand the rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan. This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan’s animus toward India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.

The idea of Pakistan was first seriously formulated by neither a cleric nor a politician but by a poet. In 1930, Muhammad Iqbal, addressing the All-India Muslim league, made the case for a state in which India’s Muslims would realize their “political and ethical essence.” Though he was always vague about what the new state would be, he was quite clear about what it would not be: the old pluralistic society of India, with its composite culture.

Iqbal’s vision took concrete shape in August 1947. Despite the partition of British India, it had seemed at first that there would be no transfer of populations. But violence erupted, and it quickly became clear that in the new homeland for India’s Muslims, there would be no place for its non-Muslim communities. Pakistan and India came into being at the cost of a million lives and the largest migration in history.

This shared experience of carnage and loss is the foundation of the modern relationship between the two countries. In human terms, it meant that each of my parents, my father in Pakistan and my mother in India, grew up around symmetrically violent stories of uprooting and homelessness.

But in Pakistan, the partition had another, deeper meaning. It raised big questions, in cultural and civilizational terms, about what its separation from India would mean.

In the absence of a true national identity, Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India. It turned its back on all that had been common between Muslims and non-Muslims in the era before partition. Everything came under suspicion, from dress to customs to festivals, marriage rituals and literature. The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination.

Had this assertion of national identity meant the casting out of something alien or foreign in favor of an organic or homegrown identity, it might have had an empowering effect. What made it self-wounding, even nihilistic, was that Pakistan, by asserting a new Arabized Islamic identity, rejected its own local and regional culture. In trying to turn its back on its shared past with India, Pakistan turned its back on itself.

But there was one problem: India was just across the border, and it was still its composite, pluralistic self, a place where nearly as many Muslims lived as in Pakistan. It was a daily reminder of the past that Pakistan had tried to erase.

Pakistan’s existential confusion made itself apparent in the political turmoil of the decades after partition. The state failed to perform a single legal transfer of power; coups were commonplace. And yet, in 1980, my father would still have felt that the partition had not been a mistake, for one critical reason: India, for all its democracy and pluralism, was an economic disaster.

Pakistan had better roads, better cars; Pakistani businesses were thriving; its citizens could take foreign currency abroad. Compared with starving, socialist India, they were on much surer ground. So what if India had democracy? It had brought nothing but drought and famine.

But in the early 1990s, a reversal began to occur in the fortunes of the two countries. The advantage that Pakistan had seemed to enjoy in the years after independence evaporated, as it became clear that the quest to rid itself of its Indian identity had come at a price: the emergence of a new and dangerous brand of Islam.

As India rose, thanks to economic liberalization, Pakistan withered. The country that had begun as a poet’s utopia was reduced to ruin and insolvency.

The primary agent of this decline has been the Pakistani army. The beneficiary of vast amounts of American assistance and money—$11 billion since 9/11—the military has diverted a significant amount of these resources to arming itself against India. In Afghanistan, it has sought neither security nor stability but rather a backyard, which—once the Americans leave—might provide Pakistan with “strategic depth” against India.

In order to realize these objectives, the Pakistani army has led the U.S. in a dance, in which it had to be seen to be fighting the war on terror, but never so much as to actually win it, for its extension meant the continuing flow of American money. All this time the army kept alive a double game, in which some terror was fought and some—such as Laskhar-e-Tayyba’s 2008 attack on Mumbai—actively supported.

The army’s duplicity was exposed decisively this May, with the killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. It was only the last and most incriminating charge against an institution whose activities over the years have included the creation of the Taliban, the financing of international terrorism and the running of a lucrative trade in nuclear secrets.

This army, whose might has always been justified by the imaginary threat from India, has been more harmful to Pakistan than to anybody else. It has consumed annually a quarter of the country’s wealth, undermined one civilian government after another and enriched itself through a range of economic interests, from bakeries and shopping malls to huge property holdings.

The reversal in the fortunes of the two countries—India’s sudden prosperity and cultural power, seen next to the calamity of Muhammad Iqbal’s unrealized utopia—is what explains the bitterness of my father’s tweet just days before he died. It captures the rage of being forced to reject a culture of which you feel effortlessly a part—a culture that Pakistanis, via Bollywood, experience daily in their homes.

This rage is what makes it impossible to reduce Pakistan’s obsession with India to matters of security or a land dispute in Kashmir. It can heal only when the wounds of 1947 are healed. And it should provoke no triumphalism in India, for behind the bluster and the bravado, there is arid pain and sadness.

—Mr. Taseer is the author of “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands.” His second novel, “Noon,” will be published in the U.S. in September

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Aatish Taseer’s brutally honest and forthright column is one of the best articles I have read in a long time.  As a Pakistani American, I find a lot of truth in what he is saying, no matter how ill received it may be back in Pakistan, I feel that Aatish does make some good points and it was well worth sharing with you readers.

Slain Pakistani’s Daughter Takes Up His Cause

By Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan’s Secular Martyrs

By Beena Sarwar for The News International

The murder of professor Saba Dashtiyari in Quetta last week, coming on the heels of the killing of investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad, is yet another sign of an ongoing ‘genocide’ of progressive Pakistani intellectuals and activists. ‘Genocide’ generally means the deliberate destruction of an ethnic group or tribe. In this context, it applies to the tribe of Pakistanis who have publically proclaimed or implicitly practiced the enlightenment agenda of freedom of conscience. They may have very different, even opposing, political views but they are people who are engaged knowingly or unknowingly in spreading ‘enlightenment’ values. Perceived to be out to undermine or eliminate members of this tribe are sections of state long engaged in establishing Pakistan’s “Islamic” identity and determining the “national interest”. They decide who is a patriot or a Muslim. Most of those killed in mysterious circumstances over the years were critics of this sate of affairs.

Let’s list some of them (a complete list is not possible here), starting with the former governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, murdered by an official bodyguard. Contrary to standard operating procedures, the other guards did not open fire on the assailant – who had been assigned to this duty despite his “extremist views” due to which the Special Branch had earlier dismissed him. Barely two months later, two human rights defenders were gunned down — former federal minister for minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad, and Naeem Sabir, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s former coordinator in Khuzdar, Balochistan.

The assassins “may perhaps belong to different groups,” said the HRCP, but the murders were “the work of militants out to eliminate anyone who raises his voice against persecution of the vulnerable people”. Naeem Sabir, associated with the HRCP since 1997, had been targeted off and on “by minions of the state” for his coverage of human rights abuses. A shadowy group calling itself the ‘Baloch Musala Defai Tanzeem’ (Armed Baloch Defence Committee) claimed responsibility.

Saba Dashtiyari was not exposing human rights abuses but he was doing something more dangerous – opening young minds to progressive thought. Although he received his basic education in the slums of Lyari he shared a wealth of knowledge, running “kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university,” writes his former student Malik Siraj Akbar. The disparate group of students around him often comprised “progressive and liberals”; they clutched books by “freethinkers like Bertrand Russell, Russian fiction by Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky,” and writings of Pakistani progressive intelletuals like the late Syed Sibte Hasan and Dr Mubarak Ali. Their discussions revolved around “politics, religion, revolutions, nationalism” and also included social taboos like sex and homosexuality. He contributed his salary “to impart cultural awareness and secular education”.

The state, on the other hand, is “constructing more and more religious schools to counter the liberal nationalist movement” which only accelerates the process of right-wing radicalisation (Obituary: The Martyred Professor, June 2, 2011, Baloch Hal).

Prof Dashtiyari had lately become “a staunch backer of the Baloch armed resistance for national liberation” (‘The Baloch Noam Chomsky Is Dead’, Baloch Hal, Jun 2, 2011). Although he himself had not taken up arms, his views were anathema to the ‘establishment’ as defined above.

In April last year, another professor at the University of Balochistan, Nazima Talib was murdered — the first time a woman was target-killed in the province. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) said it had killed her in response to the security forces’ killing of “two Baloch women in Quetta and Pasni and torture of women political workers in Mand and Tump”. Security forces routinely pick up Baloch youth for questioning. Far too often, mutilated bodies are found in what Amnesty International has termed as “kill and dump” operations. Since July 2010, the rights body has documented “the disappearances and killing of at least 100 activists, journalists, lawyers and teachers in Balochistan, with victims’ relatives often blaming the security and intelligence services”.

One can empathise with the anger of the Baloch. But revenge killings cannot be justified or condoned. When victims become oppressors, it becomes even harder to emerge from the downward spiral.

The murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in Gen Musharraf’s military operation of August 2006 contributed to this downward spiral, sparking off a wave of target killings of non-Balochis, particularly educationists and civil servants. Those killed since include former education minister Shafique Ahmed and Hamid Mehmood, former secretary of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education.

Although shadowy groups with long names sometimes claim responsibility, it is usually “unidentified assailants” who are said to be behind the murders, like those who gunned down former senator Habib Jalib of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) last July.

Journalists remain vulnerable, walking a tightrope between the military and the militants, as Saleem Shahzad did. At least half-a-dozen Baloch journalists have been target-killed over the past nine months alone: Rehmatullah Shaeen, Ejaz Raisani, Lala Hameed Hayatan, Ilyas Nazar, Mohammad Khan Sasoil, Siddiq Eido and Abdus Rind. These murders have not been investigated, nor has the mainstream media taken any notice of them.

Many compare the situation to 1971. Just before Bangladesh’s liberation (albeit with foreign intervention), extremists trying to kill progressive ideas in the new country massacred progressive intellectuals. Is a similar mindset at work in what’s left of Pakistan? Extremists know they cannot win the argument so they silence the voices that make the argument.

Musharraf’s “moderate enlightenment” led to an escalation of violence against those who are genuinely enlightenment partisans from all shades of political opinion. This is not just a series of “incidents” but a tacitly agreed upon plan operating under a culture of impunity for both the state and the insurgents, fostered, it must be noted, by non-elected arms of the state. All demands for accountability, and for these acts to be tried and punished as criminal offences have so far come to naught.

There are signs of hope in the unprecedented number of people speaking out, in the Supreme Court’s seeking of the past three-year record of targeted killings in Balochistan, and in the Aghaz Huqooq-i-Balochistan (“the Beginning of Rights of Balochistan”) introduced by the government in November 2009. It is essential to build on these moves and urgently address Balochistan’s long-standing grievances about economic and political disenfranchisement, and human rights abuses.

As mentioned above, the genocide of Pakistan’s progressives is not limited to Balochistan. After educationist Latifullah Khan was murdered in Dir in November last year the Communist Party of Pakistan noted that since the start of the Taliban insurgency in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, systematic elimination of the enlightened and educated people had been underway. Terming it ‘rampant ‘intellecticide’, the CPP urged the international community to take note as not a day passed without a university professor, chancellor, doctor, enlightened teacher or a progressive political worker being target-killed or kidnapped.

Saba Dashtiyari is the latest in a long line of such ‘enlightenment martyrs’ in Pakistan. They include those fighting the land mafia – like Nisar Baloch (of Gutter Bagheecha fame, Karachi), and the fisherfolk Haji Ghani and Abu Bakar who spearheaded a movement against the destruction of the mangrove forests along the coast.

Let this blood not have been spilt in vain.

The writer is a journalist working with the Jang Group

Why Pakistan’s Taliban Target the Muslim Majority

By Omar Waraich for Time

Although Pakistan’s headlines are dominated by the violent excesses of Taliban extremists, the majority of Pakistanis subscribe to the more mystical Sufi tradition of the country’s Barelvi school of Islam. And attacks on their places of worship are becoming depressingly familiar. Last Sunday, two bombers attacked the 13th Century Sakhi Sarwar shrine, near the southern Punjabi town of Dera Ghazi Khan, slaughtering 50 people and injuring twice as many. Mercifully, two other bombers failed to detonate their devices, preventing even higher casualties. Still, it was the deadliest assault yet on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan — and the sixteenth in the last two years.

The Pakistani Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, as they have done for each previous one. Pakistan’s Taliban claims the mantle of the hardline Deobandi tradition, with many beliefs in common with the austere Wahabism of Saudi Arabia. They regard the Barelvi, who comprise more than three quarters of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims, as irredeemable heretics. The Barelvis favor a more tolerant approach to Islam, promoting a cult of the Prophet and incorporate folkloric traditions such as seeking intercession from rural saints. Sakhi Sarwar, a mystic who is also revered by some Hindus and Sikhs, is said to grant women a son — a local legend that rouses anger among Islam’s more literalist adherents, who ascribe such powers only to Allah.

Tensions between Deobandis and Barelvis have punctuated most of Pakistan’s history. But with the arrival of al-Qaeda in the country a decade ago, local militants forged links with the global jihadists, their sectarianism sharpened to accept al-Qaeda’s “takfiri” worldview that deems adherents of other strains of Islam as deviant apostates worthy of death.

One reason for the uptick in sectarian-based terror attacks may be that the militants’ ability to strike the high profile urban targets that once grabbed global headlines has been diminished by Pakistani military offensives in their strongholds over the past two years. “It has become harder for the militants to strike hard targets,” says security analyst Ejaz Haider. “Some lessons have been learned from the previous attacks.”

So, the militants have, over the past two years, more keenly focused on sectarian attacks. Traditional Shi’ite processions are now routinely targeted by suicide bombers. In May 2010, two mosques of the minority Ahmedi sect were targeted in Lahore, killing 93 people. And there’s been an escalation of bombings directed against the majority Barelvis. After attacks on two of their most prominent shrines, Data Darbar in Lahore’s old city and Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Barelvis came out on to the streets, wielding weapons and vowing revenge against the Taliban. They did not extend blame to the broader spectrum of Deobandis, perhaps wisely evading the beginnings of a more gruesome sectarian conflict that Pakistan can ill-afford.

Not all Barelvis are the models of peace and tolerance that some have portrayed them to be. It was a Barelvi, Mumtaz Qadri, that assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January, for his opposition to Pakistan’s prejudicial blasphemy laws. The assassination was applauded by 500 Barelvi scholars in a joint statement. And the Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi militant outfit, rewarded Qadri’s family and threatened Taseer’s daughter. While they may favor a more permissive vision of Islam, certain Barelvis are quite capable of violence where they feel the Prophet has been dishonored.

The campaign to defend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws from reform has, in fact, united Barelvis and Deobandis since last November. Barelvi anti-Taliban rhetoric was also put on pause. “We had seen the Barelvis getting ready to organize a campaign against the Taliban,” observes analyst Nasim Zehra, “but they got sidetracked by the blasphemy issue and this was forgotten.” Until last month’s assassination of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the religious right was able to frequently draw tens of thousands on to the streets.

Sectarian hatred aside, rural shrines are a far easier terror target than the more heavily guarded state and economic targets in the cities. Suicide bombers, especially the teenage boys favored by militants, can often evade notice before they reach the target. A crowded space helps secure the militants’ aim of causing high casualties. In the case of the Sakhi Sarwar bombers, they only had travel to a relatively short and unimpeded distance from North Waziristan to the edge of Punjab.

The bombings may also be an attempt to relieve pressure from sporadic Army actions against militants in the northern tip of the tribal areas. “Just to remain alive there, the militants have to try and force the government’s hand into diminishing pressure,” says analyst Haider. “To counter that pressure, they mount attacks in the mainland in the hope of securing some deal back in the tribal areas.” By targeting shrines across the country, the militants are able to demonstrate their enduring geographical reach and expose the state’s vulnerabilities.

The bad news is that the state is in a poor position to respond. After the latest bombings, Barelvi leaders denounced the Punjab provincial government for failing to provide security at shrines. The Punjab government dismisses the charge. “It’s happening all over,” says Ahsan Iqbal, a leading politician from the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the ruling party in Punjab. “This is not something that is province-specific.” Iqbal casts blame on the federal government for failing to share intelligence. The federal government reverses the charge, and argues that the law and order is a provincial responsibility. What no one seems to be focusing on is the desperate need to enhance the police’s capacity, with better equipment, counterterrorism training and an intelligence gathering network that reaches deep into Pakistan’s remote areas.

A Nation Overloaded with Religion

By Tanzeel for Tanzeelism

Frequent assassinations of Pakistan People’s Party leaders have not only shaken the ideology of this country but left a clear cut message for Government to avoid any confrontation against strengthening religious lobby in Pakistan.

The Tehreek e Taliban and Al Qaeda backed groups in Pakistan especially in Punjab are after the ruling party and eradicating its moderate forces one by one. As a result the PPP systematically takes back seat, and gets blackmailed by the religious forces.
Government’s evident policy shift from the party manifesto of ensuring religious harmony among all faiths in the wake of doctrine of necessity further pushes nation in the hands of extremists.

From the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to Shehbaz Bhatti, the message is clear. Let Taleban pursuit their agenda of violent Islam and whoever comes in between will become history.

In such horrific circumstances when even the ruling party leaders are not safe how unarmed liberal forces would dare voice their opinion seems to be a big ask. As a result the clouds of insanity steadily prevailing and a common man is reluctant to counter them not because of being blithe but for his own safety resulting mass surrender of journalists, civil society, liberal political forces and minority rights groups against religious forces.

A common Pakistani despite wanting to express deep displeasure is suppressed by the bearded gun totted black sheep who are gelled up in the society to take necessary ‘religious measures’ against those who prefer humanity over religion.

Salman Taseer’s assassination by his own security guard Mumtaz Qadri and the subsequent showering of rose petals by lawyers’ community is one of the shocking examples of deep rooted religious fanaticism within our society. Be it media, armed forces, politics (not to mention the historical speech of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Shareef during which he proudly endorsed the agenda of Taleban), judiciary, education or even sports.

In my view the traces of religious terrorism can be found back during partition campaign when the voices of independent ‘Muslim Land’ were on rise.

At that time some of the Muslims might had opted the idea of migrating to separate land due to vested interests but by and large it was the dominating religious sentiment that caused division with the objective of turning Pakistan into the “Fort of Islam” comprised by majority of Muslims.

Two- Nation Theory which clearly rejects any of idea co existence of Muslims with Hindus is a true depiction of Pakistan’s current situation where Muslims are unable to coexist with other sects let alone religions and ethnicities.

Today, I being a moderate Muslim who is deeply concerned about his country’s image foresee not only the bleak future of Pakistan but raises the doubts whether creation of Pakistan was really an apt approach.

Pakistan Christians Increase Security

As reportd by UCA News.com

 Worried Pakistani Christians have stepped up security following the assassination of minorities minister Shabhaz Bhatti last week, according to Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore.

The country’s 2.5 million Christians fear for the future more than ever before and as a result security had been increased so much that his Sacred Heart Cathedral was “like Fort Knox,” he said in an interview with the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“The murder means that we have lost a great leader in our community. Our people are quite down. They are fearful of the future – more so than before. People feel like second-class citizens. We cannot speak out. We feel oppressed, repressed and depressed.”

Accusing the government of failing to tackle fundamentalism effectively, he said: “The religious parties have put a lot of pressure on the government which is very weak and cannot make a stand against the menace of extremism.”

However, Archbishop Saldanha told ACN: “Our people are very resilient and determined. For centuries, they have been suffering. This is nothing new for them. They have always been under the thumb. We carry on with God’s grace.”

The archbishop was speaking five days after Bhatti, the only Catholic minister in the federal government, was gunned down on the streets of Islamabad, and less than two months after Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was killed by his own bodyguard.

In its report of the interview, the London office of ACN pointed out that both men had spoken out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. It said their criticism came amid widespread concern that extremists use the laws “as the pretext for acts of violence in response to unproven allegations of disrespect towards Islam.”

Shahbaz Bhatti, Modern Day Martyr in Pakistan

By Terry Mattingly for The Pocono Record

In the early days of Christianity, martyrs often gave their final testimonies of faith to Roman leaders before they were crucified, burned or fed to lions.

Times being what they are, Shahbaz Bhatti turned to Al-Jazeera and YouTube. The only Christian in Pakistan’s Cabinet knew it was only a matter of time before his work as minister for minority affairs got him killed. Threats by the Taliban and al-Qaida kept increasing.

“I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross and I follow him on the cross,” said Bhatti, in a startlingly calm video recorded several weeks before his assassination on March 2.

“When I’m leading this campaign against the sharia laws for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me. … I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.”

The last straw was almost certainly the Catholic statesman’s defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death last November for the crime of blasphemy after she publicly defended her faith in a village argument. The verdict — which must be upheld by a higher court — further polarized a tense nation and sparked a global firestorm.

Then again, in 2009 Bhatti received the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s first medallion for the promotion of religious freedom. A year later, he met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss interfaith work and religious liberty in Pakistan. Bhatti was not hiding his convictions.

The blasphemy laws in question went into effect in 1986, during the dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. They ban, among other actions, the use of “derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

These blasphemy laws have been used against hundreds of Muslim dissenters and Ahmadi sect members, whose approach to Islam is specifically attacked in the laws. In practice, conversion from Islam to another faith is considered blasphemy, as are attempts to advocate or defend minority faiths, such as Christianity or Hinduism.

Vigilantes often kill those formally or informally accused of blasphemy — making trials irrelevant.

This was the case with Bhatti’s death in a wave of machine-gun fire into his unarmored car. Pakistani officials had denied his request for an armored car, despite the constant threat of drive-by shootings.

Formalities were also irrelevant on Jan. 4, when Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. This outspoken Muslim also defended Bibi and called for reform in the use of blasphemy laws.

Adoring crowds showered Taseer’s assassin with rose petals and garlands as he arrived to face a magistrate, while moderate Muslim leaders remained silent. Pakistan’s legislators observed a moment of silence for Bhatti, since it probably would have been fatal for anyone to offer a prayer in his honor.

After all, pamphlets left by those who killed Bhatti warned that they would keep fighting “all the world’s infidels, crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood. … This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Apparently, many radicals in Pakistan have concluded — a perfect Catch-22 — that it is blasphemy to oppose the blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani conference of Catholic bishops is preparing to render a judgment of its own. Later this month the bishops will review a proposal to ask the Vatican to designate Bhatti as a martyr.

“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan told a Vatican news agency. “It is up to us, the bishops, to tell his story and experience to the church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom.”

-Terry Mattingly is director of the Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

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

The Myth of ‘Moderate Pakistan’

By Sadanand Dhume for The Wall Street Journal

It’s time to bury the myth of moderate Pakistan. You know the one: the notion, repeated ad nauseam in magazine articles, think-tank reports and congressional testimony—as though saying it often enough will make it true—that Pakistan is an essentially tolerant country threatened by a rising tide of fundamentalism. Here’s a news flash: The tide has risen.

The most recent reminder of this came last Wednesday in Islamabad, when suspected Taliban militants shot dead Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s 42-year-old minister for minority affairs and the only Christian in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation’s cabinet. His crime? Supporting the repeal of a barbaric blasphemy law that makes insulting the prophet Muhammad punishable by death.

The law is often used to settle scores with hapless religious minorities, especially Christians such as Asia Bibi, an illiterate peasant sentenced to hang last year after she allegedly badmouthed the prophet during a row with Muslim coworkers. Bhatti’s assassination comes two months after a bodyguard murdered Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer for visiting Ms. Bibi in jail and speaking out against abuse of the law.

To be fair, Pakistan’s claim to relative moderation has been kept alive thus far by more than just wishful thinking. Overtly Islamist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami have rarely commanded more than a fraction of the national vote. Women enjoy freedoms in the public square that their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Iran could only dream of. At great personal risk, a small but courageous group of activists, intellectuals and politicians speak out publicly against bigotry and religious intolerance.

Scratch the surface, however, and a bleaker picture emerges. Islamist parties may not garner large-scale electoral support, but Islamist ideas are widely tolerated by mainstream political parties. The major opposition party, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, flaunts its closeness to sundry Islamists, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organization of the international terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Ostensibly secular, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party supported both Kashmiri militancy and the Afghan Taliban in the past. In its current incarnation it appears permanently cowed by the country’s legion of vocal fundamentalists. President Asif Ali Zardari failed to attend the funerals of either Taseer or Bhatti. His government has made it clear that it will not touch the controversial blasphemy law. Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that he would personally kill anyone who dared blaspheme Muhammad’s name.

As for Pakistan’s undeniably brave activists and intellectuals, unfortunately they appear to have more admirers overseas than among their compatriots. Hand-wringing in the pages of Dawn and the Friday Times, two of the country’s leading English-language newspapers, has not prevented Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer’s murderer, from becoming a national hero.

Not surprisingly, anti-American sentiment—often a reliable shorthand for a society’s paranoia and self-loathing—is rampant. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, American favorability ratings stood at 17% last year, the lowest of all countries surveyed. On the streets, bloodcurdling yells for the execution of alleged Central Intelligence Agency operative Raymond Davis, accused of killing two Pakistanis in January, have prevented the government from granting Mr. Davis the diplomatic immunity that the U.S. claims he is entitled to. This despite personal pleas by President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry.

By now the reasons for Pakistan’s predicament are well known. They include the intolerance embedded in the nation’s founding idea of a separate “land of the pure” for Indian Muslims, the malign shadow of Saudi Arabia on religious life, blowback from the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, and the overwhelming influence that the army and its thuggish intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence, wield on national life. The army’s very motto, Jihad-fi-Sabilillah, or jihad in the path of Allah, is an exhortation to holy war.

For the international community, the long road to fixing Pakistan begins with the simple recognition that the country’s true face is not the urbane intellectual making reasoned arguments, but the frenzied mob showering rose petals on a murderer for his services to the faith. Over time, Pakistan can only be saved by re- arranging the basic building blocks of the country.

This means backing provincial autonomy and linguistic identity as an alternative to the centralized pan-Islamism used by the military and its supporters to weld the country together. It means deploying social networks and satellite television to open the door to reasonable discourse about religion. It means channeling aid to ensure that children are no longer taught to glorify Islamic conquest and reflexively mistrust the West and India. It means accepting that the most poisonous madrassas—such as Jamia Binoria in Karachi and Darul Uloom Haqqania outside Peshawar—must be shuttered if they can’t be reformed.

Needless to say, none of this will be easy. But the consequences of the alternative—pandering to fundamentalists while blaming outsiders for all the country’s ills—can be seen in the freshly turned soil of Bhatti’s grave.

-Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist for WSJ.com.

Our Noblest Selves

By Marvi Sirmed for Newsweek Pakistan

Be careful. After the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, on March 2 and of Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab, two months before that, friends and family put out the same, simple message. Be careful. But with two brave men slain so violently and so publicly, can we afford to be careful?

Everything changed after the governor’s assassination. For Taseer’s killer, there are shrines on Facebook and rose petals. For those of us who, accurately, refer to Taseer as a martyr, there is concern from well-wishers—and death threats from others. Lawyers lined up in the hundreds to defend and garland Taseer’s self-confessed killer, while cleric after another refused to lead his funeral services. The right’s pundits called Qadri a ghazi or holy warrior, while state-owned Pakistan Television dropped shaheed or martyr for Taseer within hours of his death. Qadri supporters brandished their bloody hands at rallies that pulled in tens of thousands, while those who mourn Taseer and what he represented struggled to manage mere hundreds at vigils. The polarization and plight of Pakistan have never before been so painfully obvious.

Like Taseer, Bhatti, too, gave his life up for a cause that must be owned by those who run our country. But people everywhere are being careful. And this just won’t do.

Bhatti was one of those rare public figures who never sought the spotlight, who spoke softly, who had no skeletons in his closet. Bhatti could have played it safe. He began receiving death threats after the Gojra massacre. These picked up after he championed the cause of Aasia Noreen, a Christian mother convicted under the blasphemy laws, which the Pakistan Peoples Party had committed to review in order to prevent their misuse. After Taseer’s death, Bhatti could have played it safe and gone quiet. He did not. He was not “careful.” He was laid to rest in Faisalabad on March 4 with thousands turning out to honor him.

What can we do? We need to be honest with ourselves. Bhatti was killed by a group that calls itself the Punjabi Taliban. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has taken exception to interior minister Rehman Malik highlighting this fact. Terrorists are a national problem, they are not Punjabis or Sindhis, says Sharif, who is also the home minister of his province. What more has to happen before the chief minister, a compassionate man by most accounts, finally acknowledges that we have a problem in the Punjab?

Second, we need to stop passing the buck and offering contrition practiced for television. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly offered his resignation to the cabinet the day Bhatti was assassinated. There have been two shocking high-profile murders in Islamabad in as many months and not a single soul has been sacked. There’s no shortage of candidates who deserve the ax. Let’s start with the state-employed clerics who refused to perform Taseer’s last rites.

Third, name and shame the members of Parliament who refused to raise their hands in prayer for Taseer and Bhatti. There was a prayer for Taseer in the National Assembly, but, infamously, not in the Senate. Bhatti got two minutes of silence in the National Assembly on March 3 and a walkout from all parties—including, oddly, the ruling party—against the government’s failure to protect Bhatti, but no prayers. What have we come to when we cannot bring ourselves to pray for the departed and their devastated families? This is not coldhearted or remotely Islamic, but pure evil.

Fourth, we need to enforce a strict ban on hate speech. Incitement to murder, character assassination and hate words cannot be provided mainstream platforms—whether print or electronic—under the pretense of free speech. Some channels promoted the false impression that Taseer had blasphemed, and they publicized fatwas against him. They also hyped up pro-Qadri rallies. It never came to light that these processions, while big, were limited to three cities. Responsibility will not suddenly dawn on our lawless media. To keep television honest and to counter the state’s halfhearted ban on militant groups, corporations need to step up and withhold ad spend from channels providing support to the jihadists. Consumers can then hold these corporations accountable by buying or boycotting their products.

The brave among us refuse to be careful when they see the rapid undoing of their motherland, and whose faith in man’s goodness speaks to our noblest selves. We are not a nation of murderers and monsters, but we sure are close.

Sirmed is a rights activist in Islamabad.

It is The Women Who Have the Guts in Pakistan”

By Bina Shah for Dawn

In Pakistan, Salman Taseer’s assassination in early January has blown the lid off the seething cauldron that has been bubbling in Pakistan for the last several years: the divide between Pakistan’s extremist forces and its minority liberal community is now so wide that it seems nothing can bridge the gap anymore. Worse, the extremists greatly outnumber the liberals, endangering whatever advances have been made in the Pakistani society.

But the women intelligentsia of Pakistan is determined not to let the religious right gain any more ground in the struggle for Pakistan’s soul. They have responded to the onslaught of the right wing with such ferocity that a Pakistani man said on Twitter: “I definitely see more women out on the streets after Salman Taseer’s killing. Does this mean that it is the women that have the guts in this country?”

It all started with a woman: Aasia Bibi, the hapless Pakistani-Christian mother of five who made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of a group of malicious village women. One moment Aasia Bibi was offering her coworkers a cup of water; the next, she was facing the death penalty for having supposedly committed “blasphemy”

Activists and women’s rights groups, aghast at the blatant abuse of human rights that Aasia Bibi’s case represented, agitated for the country’s leaders to have her acquitted. Pakistan’s progressives, especially women, got in touch with the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer through his Twitter account – one which he used mostly to tweak rival politicians’ noses, share his favorite Urdu poetry, and communicate with his daughters. They besieged him with 140-character-long appeals to save Aasia Bibi’s life, hoping against hope that he would listen.

Taseer not only took Aasia Bibi under his protection, but he widened his scope to take aim at the blasphemy law itself. But Taseer’s strong voice was silenced on January 4, when his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, shot him 27 times with his state-issued Kalashnikov.

After the initial shock of the assassination, women activists vowed to use it as a rallying point: not just because they feel for Aasia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan to face the death penalty for blasphemy, but because they know that women are the first to lose their freedoms when extremism takes over a nation. They are organising candlelight vigils, rallies, and media campaigns to defend their hard-won rights, despite knowing they are outnumbered by the other side.

One of the bravest women in today’s Pakistan is Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of the slain Governor, who wrote several pieces for the newspapers protesting the death of her father and the way in which his killer was showered with rose petals by lawyers who vowed to defend him in court. For this, she received threats from extremists: “She should remember the fate of her father and refrain from issuing statements.”

Taseer, a graduate of Smith College in the US, draws inspiration from other brave women in Pakistan who came up against the same forces: Asma Jehangir, Benazir Bhutto, Jugnu Mohsin, Sherry Rehman (who is now living under virtual house arrest in Karachi because of death threats she has received for her stance against the blasphemy law), Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Beena Sarwar, and Marvi Sirmed are some of the women whose struggles against injustice in Pakistani society have inspired her.

And of course, there is her father’s legacy: “My father’s fire has come inside me … I don’t wish for any other family to have suffered what mine has had to.”  Her father’s violent death has illustrated most vividly to her how both men and women in Pakistan have worked together for generations in the name of social activism. “Men and women have marched on the streets together and sacrificed a lot, so I don’t feel one sex is more dominant than the other in this regard.”

But it is not enough. The men in Pakistan need to step it up greatly when it comes to supporting women in social activism. Nuzhat Kidvai, a human rights activist in Karachi, says, “In general, men are more active in the left and labour movements – they will march for economic or political reasons. But when it comes to supporting women’s issues, they just aren’t there.” Her husband, Zaheer Kidvai, a long-time proponent of social activism in Pakistan, agrees that “women are certainly more engaged in this battle and despite bad attacks – lathis, jail, beating, and even rapes by the police! – they have moved this forward against all these odds. If there is any way for this society to evolve further, it’ll have to have even more women come out.”

So, back to the original question: is it really the women in Pakistan who have the guts? When it comes to fighting for their rights, definitely. Life in Pakistan is hard for women, but they don’t give up easily. Perhaps this is why they haven’t yet suffered the fates of their compatriots in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other supremely conservative Muslim countries in the region.

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