Posts Tagged ‘ Sherry Rehman ’

Pakistan Wants U.S. Drones Out

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan for Bloomberg News

Pakistan has told the White House it no longer will permit U.S. drones to use its airspace to attack and collect intelligence on Al-Qaida and other militants, according to officials involved.

Eliminating drone missions would aid the resurgence of extremist groups operating along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, said Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, met Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Antony Blinken, on Friday and told him that Pakistan’s political parties have agreed that the drone flights over Pakistan must end, officials involved said.

Pakistan’s sovereignty over its airspace and the civilian casualties that have resulted from drone strikes are emotional issues in Pakistan, where public opinion heavily favors terminating drone missions.

The only chance for a compromise, Pakistani officials said, may be if the United States agrees to share intelligence and coordinate strikes first. The United States has resisted giving information to Pakistan in advance because of fears that some in Pakistan’s security forces might warn the targets of impending strikes.

The drone program has been part of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan since 2004, officials and experts say. The administration authorized 53 drone attacks in 2009 and 117 in 2010, compared with 35 in 2008 under former President George W. Bush, according to Bill Roggio, a U.S. military analyst whose website, the Long War Journal, maintains a database of the campaign.

The drone program is “critical” because it provides better real-time surveillance and reconnaissance than satellite imagery does, Seth Jones, a senior political scientist for the RAND Corp. research institute, said in an interview.

Singer said that “for several years, Pakistan has openly said, ‘How dare you violate our sovereignty,’ but it turned out the CIA was flying from Pakistani bases with Pakistan’s permission.” This time, it’s possible “they really mean it,” after a series of high-profile disputes have damaged relations, Singer said.

Pakistan’s New U.S. Envoy Faces Tough Task Ahead

As Reported by Xinhuanet

A journalist-turned politician, Ms. Sherry Rehman, will soon proceed to Washington to assume responsibility as Pakistan’s new ambassador where she would face tough task as how to bridge the trust gap with the United States.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani appointed Sherry Rehman as Pakistan’s new ambassador in Washington a day after her predecessor Hussain Haqqani resigned over a recent claim by a Pakistani-American business tycoon that he had been asked by Haqqani to deliver the alleged President Asif Ali Zardari’s memo to the former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, seeking Washington’s help to rein in the powerful army.

Haqqani, who was summoned to Pakistan this week after the memo controversy dragged the country into crisis, was asked by the Prime Minister to quit during a meeting attended by the President, the Army Chief General Ashaq Pervaiz Kayani and Intelligence Chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Sherry Rehman, a former Information Minister and current member of the National Assembly or Lower House of the parliament, is also a central leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. She was chosen for the key post only because of her association with the ruling party as she has no diplomatic career. Islamabad routinely appoints ambassadors to the United States on a political basis. Several retired military men have also served as the country’s ambassadors to the U.S..

The Pakistani government has designated a political loyalist and the woman ambassador to the U.S at a time when mistrust between the two key allies in the so-called war on terror is at peak. Pakistan and the U.S. cooperation is considered a key to stability in Afghanistan as Washington is mounting pressure on Islamabad to take measures in “days and weeks” to encourage the Taliban, the dreaded Haqqani network and other Afghan armed groups to join the peace and reconciliation process in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

“It’s like that old story – you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard, ” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while standing along with her Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad last month in a blunt message to Pakistan.

The first major challenge the Pakistan new ambassador will have to face is how to address to the U.S. concern about the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, which the U.S. officials say are operating from Pakistan’s tribal region. Washington seemed to be in haste on the Afghan peace process in view of its troops’ withdrawal, which already began in July and will be completed by 2014.

The Pakistani Taliban is also an issue for the U.S. as the CIA says that they are sheltering Afghan armed militants in the country’s lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. In view of its frustration, the U.S. routinely uses its spy aircraft to hit targets in Pakistan tribal regions, which is also a source of tension in bilateral relationship and the U.S. is in no mood to stop drone strikes despite Pakistan’s criticism.

The new Pakistani ambassador will also have to convince the U.S. administration to unblock the suspended military aid to Pakistan. The U.S. withheld some 800 million US dollars in assistance to the country’s armed forces in July just two months after Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. military raid, the U.S. unilateral action had itself worsened relationship. The U.S. has also attached tough conditions with the civilian aid for Pakistan.

Pakistan is nowadays under fire during the Presidential nomination campaign in the U.S. and even on Tuesday Republican presidential candidates attacked Pakistan in their foreign policy debate. The Republican presidential hopefuls ganged up on Pakistan and questioned whether the United States could trust it. Texas Governor Rick Perry called Pakistan unworthy of U.S. aid because it had not done enough to help fight al-Qaida.

Criticism at Pakistan by the Republican hopefuls shows how much tough environment she would face after she assumes the office of ambassador in the coming days. She vowed on Wednesday, a day when she was designated as ambassador, to work for improvement of ties with the U.S..

The United States on Wednesday acknowledged the impending change of guard at the Pakistani embassy in Washington as they praised deposed Ambassador Husain Haqqani for his services and announced their anticipation of working with Pakistan’s new Ambassador Sherry Rehman to continue strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries. In Washington too, the State Department spokesman on Wednesday said the U.S. looks forward to working together with her as both countries “continue to build a strong, cooperative relationship between our two countries.”

The former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. had also good ties with the U.S. administration and his role was praised by the State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, but even then the relationship had been worst during his tenure. Now Sherry Rehman will not only have to address to the U.S. concern but also to serve the interests of Pakistan where a majority of the people are against the U.S. policies.

The Tragic Case of Mukhtaran Mai

As Reported by The Express Tribune

The decision by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly on April 22 to disallow any discussion on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mukhtaran Mai is most unfortunate, especially given that it was PPP MNA Sherry Rehman who wanted to speak on the matter.
The Supreme Court decided earlier this week to uphold a Lahore High Court verdict that had acquitted all the accused in Mukhataran Mai’s gang rape in 2002, except one.

The gang rape was ordered by an illegal panchayat of Meerwala in Muzaffargarh, Punjab, after which an anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan sentenced five of the six accused to death. The fact is that a powerful local tribe has been able to prevent its men from being punished by the justice system. The powerful in our society can first cause a delay in justice — nine years in this case — and then cause a miscarriage of justice through manipulation of the lower ranks of the police.
Mukhtaran Mai is one of many women who have to put up with violence at the hands of men and are forced to keep quiet because the investigative-judicial system is biased against them. Because of ‘anticipated injustice’ in Pakistan’s judicial system, Mukhtaran Mai was made into a global symbol of an abused woman, a challenge which she accepted. Unfortunately, the state became defensive about the publicity and support she got from all over the world; it also manifested a clear conservative bias against the women’s rights movement in Pakistan, which is demonised by powerful religious lobbies.

There was more than ‘anticipated injustice’ in the Mukhtaran Mai case. This was the impunity of the powerful, seen in relation to the terrorist elements in Pakistan which are supported by sections of the state. According to official statements, no terrorist caught after horrendous acts of killing has been punished. Those who view our judiciary politically say that the kind of out-of-the-box jurisprudence applied by the courts to matters such as the NRO will never be applied to Lal Masjid and Mukhtaran Mai. This view holds that the judiciary has always been drawn from a largely conservative legal community and it tends to agree with religious constraints to justice when it comes to women, while tacitly accepting the reign of the powerful in society.

The Supreme Court had intervened after the Federal Shariat Court in 2005 contested the jurisdiction of the Multan Bench. It heard the case and, agreeing with the Multan Bench verdict, ordered the release of the accused. Mukhtaran Mai went in appeal and the latest decision has come after over five years of hearings. Now, in 2011, two of the three judges on the bench have decided to go along with the earlier findings while one judge thought the Court could have taken a more pro-reform view and focused more closely on the notorious methodology of registering an FIR in areas where feudal power trumps justice all the time. The Musharraf government — illegal in the eyes of the Court — pitted itself against this wronged woman and put a ban on her travel abroad. If the liberal elements in Pakistan had stood behind the so-called ‘liberal reforms’ of Musharraf, this was one case that they did not support his government on. Alas, the Supreme Court’s latest decision will be seen as being supportive of Musharraf’s policy of hiding the truth of women’s disabilities in Pakistan from the world.

The judiciary takes the position that its power is not only derived from the Constitution but also from civil society, which stood up for the judges dismissed by Musharraf and finally got rid of the military ruler through street agitation. But civil society also includes women and their rights must equally be defended; more so because Pakistani society needs reform before it learns to treat women as desired by the Constitution. And the Court remains the guardian of the Constitution. If the Honourable Court is today dubbed as being ‘activist’ in favour of the people, let it be clear that it is not the Court of the conservative elements simply because they are powerful.

Pakistan Elite Silent After Taseer Assassination

By Mosharraf Zaidi for CNN

The assassination of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer by his bodyguard last week seems to confirm the prejudices about Pakistan as a country where moderate voices face danger, where violent extremism is widespread and where investors aren’t very safe.

Taseer, ever the entrepreneur, the tycoon and the irrepressible Pakistani patriot would resist vociferously. If he could tweet his thoughts from heaven, the prejudiced would have hell to pay. His plain-spoken manner and blunt were often a political liability. But for all his political faults, Taseer’s was a rare courageous voice.

He was murdered for speaking out in defense of a poor, defenseless Christian woman in a village — something few dared to do. It was Taseer’s unambiguous morality in his speaking out for the weak that captured imaginations of those neutral Pakistanis keen to see reason as a dominant force in their country.

Taseer was unique in life and stands virtually alone in death. The deafening silence among the pygmies that make up the rank-and-file of the Pakistani elite is the sound of fear and moral confusion.

The fear is genuine and real. More than the assassination itself, the mainstream reaction to Taseer’s murder exposes the cancerous immunity to reason in Pakistan’s Islamic discourse. Without expressing anything resembling blasphemy, educated and articulate Pakistanis chided Taseer, even in death, for writing his own death warrant. His crime? Asking for changes to the Pakistan Penal Code, whose blasphemy clauses have been regularly abused for social, political and economic gain.

The irrational right-wing Pakistani “Tea Party” is really no party at all. It is a lynch mob. And it isn’t tea that fanatics in Pakistan have been drinking for years. Instead, the Pakistani establishment has fed them a steady diet of nationalism, pan-Islamism and Takfirism [accusing a Muslim of apostasy.]

Unable to win elections, or compel social transformation on its own, the Pakistani right has always required the patronage of secret services and their financiers; American, Saudi or otherwise. It simply cannot survive without this patronage. The Machiavellian establishment, fueled by the clumsy intellect of military men and the dangerous cunning of civilian bureaucratic and political hatchet men, knows this. It is the only power base in the country that can truly respond to Taseer’s assassination.

In the heart of the most dynamic and exciting economic region in the world, Pakistan can still be a force for good. To do so, the Pakistani establishment has to take two sets of actions. The first and immediate is to mobilize the state machinery, swiftly and firmly, against those that openly call for violence.

This isn’t unprecedented. The Pakistani state has a long record of using busloads of cash, the British legacy administrative system of magisterial power, and a police force not entirely familiar with Miranda rights to obliterate dissent.

The second, the more complex and much longer-term task is the deradicalization of Pakistani Muslims. The religiously illiterate fanatic is a dangerous creature.

His blind rage is expressed in all kinds of wars that go far beyond religion. Pakistan’s class and caste wars are as old as the Indus River. Religious authority is merely an instrument of social mobility. Slaying members of the elite, even if it is not openly acknowledged, is seen as striking a blow for one’s oppressed class and caste sensibilities.

The 24-hour news media also feeds the rage, airing long and tortuous narratives that stimulate the indignities of being Pakistani in the 21st century. The U.S. war in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas is at the top of the list of these indignities.

Deradicalizing Pakistani fanatics is not going to be easy, but it may not be as impossible as it seems. In essence, it needs to be seen as rerationalism. Too often, critics view deradicalization as an attempt to strip Muslims of their identity or as an attack on the fundamentals of a Muslim’s faith. On the contrary, fundamental Islamic values of reason, knowledge and mercy need to be included in the mainstream Islamic narrative. These qualities are facets of Islam that have become subservient to blind rage.

Luckily, there are glimmers of light. Civil voices across the country demonstrate the establishment will not be batting alone if it begins to take steps to fix its own mess. More than 60 organizations have signed up to a call for resistance by the Citizens for Democracy.

Recently, activists in Karachi, including one of Taseer’s six children, registered criminal charges against a mosque leader who was openly inciting violence against Sherry Rehman, a former journalist and now member of Parliament who has submitted a bill for an amendment to the blasphemy laws. These are reasonable people asking for reasonable actions.

Bringing reason into Pakistan’s public discourse is a critical prerequisite for a society based on the rule of law and a political process that enhances the dignity of people, rather than undermines it.

Pakistan is teetering on the brink of economic collapse and political failure. For decades, Pakistanis have rightly spoken with pride of their society’s strength and resilience. Now is the time for Pakistan to prove its resilience once more.

Civil society can take the brave first few steps, but this struggle is one that requires the assets and resources of the state. Taseer’s assassination is a test of the Pakistani state.

Mosharraf Zaidi has advised governments and international organizations, including the U.N. and the EU, on international aid and development. He writes a weekly column for Pakistan’s The News, and other publications.

Islamists Rally for Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

By Zahid Hussain for The Washington Post

Tens of thousands of Islamists rallied Sunday in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi in support of the nation’s controversial blasphemy laws, and clerics threatened to kill anyone who challenged them.

Security was tightened around the house of Sherry Rehman, a former federal minister, who was threatened with death by radical clerics for moving a bill in the parliament last month to amend the blasphemy laws, which currently sentence to death anyone found guilty of insulting Islam.

The blasphemy laws have been in the spotlight since the murder last week of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a critic of the laws, who was shot by a member of his security detail. The shooter, Mumtaz Qadri, later said he killed Mr. Taseer because of the politician’s opposition to the laws. Mr. Taseer was a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, which runs the governing coalition, and was close to President Asif Ali Zardari.

The killing highlighted the extent to which extremist Islam has permeated Pakistan’s middle class and those close to the political elite even as the country grapples with an insurgency from the Pakistan Taliban and other violent Islamist groups. And it has deepened the polarization between moderate and radical Muslims throughout Pakistan. Radical clerics have seized the opportunity to whip up a campaign against moderate and progressive politicians, intellectuals and journalists.

Speakers at the Karachi rally sought to justify Mr. Taseer’s assassination, saying the killer fulfilled his obligation as a Muslim. “We will defend the assassin in the court,” declared Fazalur Rehman, the leader of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, a radical Islamic group that recently quit the coalition government after one of its ministers was sacked after publicly accusing a cabinet colleague of corruption.

The rally was organized by an alliance of hard-line Islamic groups including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which the United Nations has said acts as a front for the outlawed terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Lashkar-e-Taiba is accused of masterminding the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which left more than 160 dead. Many demonstrators Sunday carried portraits of Mr. Qadri, who killed Mr. Taseer in a fashionable shopping district of Islamabad. Mr. Qadri has been hailed by Islamists as a great Islamic warrior.

Mr. Taseer had provoked the ire of radical clerics for publicly supporting a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Islam’s prophet. The controversial laws have often been used against Christians and other non-Muslim communities, something that Ms. Rehman is seeking to prevent with a private bill she introduced last month.

A cleric of the Sultan Mosque in Karachi in his sermon on Friday called Ms. Rehman an “infidel” for suggesting changes in the blasphemy laws. A pamphlet signed by several Islamic clerics named her for supporting blasphemy. And some hard-line clerics have issued a “fatwa” demanding death to Ms. Rehman, a senior member of parliament of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Ms. Rehman said she is under pressure from the administration to leave the country until the situation calms down. “I am not going anywhere and [will] face the threat,” she said in a telephone interview.

Time to Repeal the Blasphemy Law

By Nasim Zehra for The Express Tribune

In June 2008, Asiya Bibi, a Pakistani farm worker and mother of five, fetched water for others working on the farm. Many refused the water because Asiya was Christian. The situation got ugly. Reports indicate Asiya was harassed because of her religion and the matter turned violent. Asiya, alone in a hostile environment, naturally would have attempted to defend herself but was put in police custody for her protection against a crowd that was harming her.

However, that protection move turned into one that was to earn Asiya a death sentence. A case was filed against her under sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code, claiming that Asiya was a blasphemer. Her family will appeal against the judgment in the Lahore High Court.

The Asiya case raises the fundamental question of how Pakistan’s minorities have been left unprotected since the passage of the blasphemy law. There may have been no hangings on account of the law but it has facilitated the spread of intolerance and populist rage against minorities, often leading to deaths. There is also a direct link between the Zia-ist state’s intolerance against minorities and the rise of criminal treatment of Ahmadis.

Cases have ranged from the Kasur case to the more recent Gojra case, from the mind-boggling row of cases between 1988-1992 against 80-year-old development guru Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, to the case of the son of an alleged blasphemer, an illiterate brick kiln worker who was beaten to death by a frenzied mob.

Although doctor sahib faced prolonged mental torture, he was saved from the maddening rage that has sent to prison, and in some cases devoured, many innocent, poor and hence unprotected Pakistanis.

There is a long list, prepared by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, of unjust punishments handed down to Pakistani citizens whose fundamental rights the state is obliged to protect. Beyond punishments, minorities live in constant fear of being lethally blackmailed by those who want to settle other scores.

Yet most political parties have refrained from calling for the law’s repeal or improvement in its implementation mechanism. When, in the early 90s, I asked Nawaz Sharif sahib to criticise the hounding of Dr Khan, his response was a detailed recall of the story in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) went to ask after the health of a non-Muslim woman who repeatedly threw garbage over him. He condemned what was happening but said politics prevented him from doing so publicly. Later, General Musharraf, advised by other generals, reversed his announcement of changing the law’s implementation mechanism. Small crowds protested against it. Among politicians, very few exceptions include the PPP parliamentarian Sherry Rehman and, more recently, the ANP’s Bushra Gohar, who asked for its amendment and repeal.

Already sections of the judiciary have been critical of flawed judgements passed by lower courts in alleged blasphemy cases. Recently in July, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif quashed a blasphemy case against 60-year-old Zaibunnisa and ordered her release after almost 14 years in custody. According to the judgment, the “treatment meted out to the woman was an insult to humanity and the government and the civil organisations should be vigilant enough to help such people.” Surely the Bench should know the plethora of abuses that Pakistan’s minorities have suffered because of an evidently flawed law.

A message more appropriate, perhaps, would be to repeal the black law that grossly undermines the Constitution of Pakistan and indeed the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, one of the most tolerant and humane law-givers humankind has known. This environment of populist rage, fed by the distorted yet self-serving interpretation of religion principally by Zia and a populist mixing of religion and politics by a politically besieged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, must be emphatically challenged. A collective effort to roll back these laws must come from parliament, the lawyers’ forums, the judiciary, civil society groups and the media.

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