Thursday 30 April 2009

Throne or the dock: who decides - Musharraf or people of Pakistan!

General Musharraf ruled Pakistan for almost nine years with all the belligerence of an illegitimate usurper. After seeking an "honourable" exit from Presidency in 2008 by avoiding impeachment and seeking reassurances that he will not be prosecuted he now has the cheek to suggest that he is "ready to resume his office of President of Pakistan to steer out the country from present crises situation". The old hawk wants his throne in the Margala Hills of Islamabad returned to him through, once again, back door politics.

Fortunately he is not a serving General any more so he cannot enter the presidency riding a Pakistan army tank. He cannot buy himself an electoral victory because the political party that he created with his cronies while being a dictator got kicked out in the last general election simply because of association with him. And Americans, whose presidential level security is keeping him alive have not invaded Pakistan yet so no chance of getting appointed as high representative of US occupied Pakistan like General Jay Garner in Iraq - though I personally doubt that Musharraf will stoop this low.

Though weak but still there is a democracy in Pakistan and only People of Pakistan have the right to chose who leads them into the future, even if, like in recent past, it means electing the bona fide most corrupt politician in the world as their president - but that's democracy and people's choice.

What people of Pakistan, a vast majority of them, want for Mr. Musharraf is to see him sitting in the dock being held accountable for the crimes that he committed while in absolute power for around a decade. In a new democratic Pakistan I don't want him to be treated unfairly but justly - an impartial investigation followed by proper prosecution through independent courts without any politicisation of the process. The crimes against people of Pakistan committed by Musharraf and administration of his henchmen must not remain a shameful legacy for our children to carry.

Every single day that passes with Musharraf and his cronies not in the docks being accounted for the crimes against the people and state of Pakistan encourages another military adventurer in waiting. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that aspiring dictators are not allowed to hold the people and country to ransom in future.

From among a long list of his crimes ones that immediately should be brought before the courts include:

  • extra-judicial murder of 80 year old Sardar Akbar Bugti of Baluchistan. General Musharraf is on record to have warned Akbar Bugti of dire consequences if he did not tow the government's line. Justice for Akbar Bugti will go a long way towards satisfying the feelings of injustice among the Baloch nation.
  • illegally throwing out a democratically elected government in 1999 and suspension of constitution which in itself is an act of treason
  • imposition of partial Martial-law in 2007 in his role as Army chief - an illegal act under the constitution, the Military Code, or any other national law - again an act if treason carried out to avoid having impeached through the superior courts.
  • sacking of the superior judiciary including the Chief Justice of Pakistan after failing to carry out the worst act of bullying courts into submission.
  • for being the worst modern day slave trader selling Pakistanis to USA under the guise of terrorism laws and receiving money and other benefits in return. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her three young children's abduction, illegal detention and humiliation in Afghanistan should be used as the main case. Musharraf is on record in his biography that he traded 600 people for economic benefits from US.
  • Joint responsibility with Maulana Abdul Aziz for deaths of over 200 people during the siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad where both the General and the Maulana created a situation that could have been avoided and lives saved.
A petition has recently been filed with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and I hope this turns out to be one of many steps that we need to take to bring Musharraf and his cronies to justice and put a serious obstacle in the way of any future aspirant to dictatorship in Pakistan.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Iqbal Bano: another loss for Pakistani Arts

Another sad loss for Pakistan’s artist fraternity this week was the sad demise of Iqbal Bano, renowned classical singer of Urdu ghazal. While the world remembers magical combinations of beautiful lyrics and her melodious voice that left an indelible mark on the hearts and souls of listeners there are many in Pakistan who view her as one of the last bastions of artistic resistance against dictatorships in Pakistan. Her best known works include renditions of poems of famous poet and revolutionary, Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Like Habib Jaalib who never hesitated representing the oppressed in Pakistan, at a time when General Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship was at its worst Iqbal Bano sang at a festival in Lahore to a crowd of 50,000. She became a cult figure under Zia regime in the 1980s when she sang songs banned by the government. Her rendition of Faiz's poem Hum Dekhenge caused quite a stir and landed her in trouble with the military authorities but made her an immensely popular singer. Classical Urdu singing has traditionally been for the pleasure of elites in the subcontinent, but Iqbal Bano’s singing of Faiz broke those boundaries and she became popular with the masses. Like Naheed Siddiqui and Habib Jaalib she faced the wrath of the military authorities who barred her from official concerts but she kept her music alive by singing at private parties.

To remember Iqbal Bano I am embedding this video courtesy YouTube. Below the video I have reproduced the famous poem by Faiz with an English translation by Ghazala.

Hum dekhenge

Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Wo din ke jis ka wada hai
Jo lauh-e-azl mein likha hai

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan
Rooi ki tarah ur jaenge
Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale
Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke kaabe se
Sab but uthwae jaenge
Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-harm
Masnad pe bethae jaenge
Sab taaj uchale jaenge
Sab takht girae jaenge

Bas naam rahega Allah ka
Jo ghayab bhi hai hazir bhi
Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi

Utthega an-al-haq ka nara
Jo mai bhi hoon tum bhi ho

Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda

Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho

We shall Witness

We shall Witness

It is certain that we too, shall witness
the day that has been promised
of which has been written on the slate of eternity

When the enormous mountains of tyranny
blow away like cotton
Under our feet- the feet of the oppressed
when the earth will pulsate deafeningly
and on the heads of our rulers

when lightning will strike.

From the abode of God
When icons of falsehood will be taken out,

When we- the faithful- who have been barred out of sacred places

will be seated on high cushions
When the crowns will be tossed,
When the thrones will be brought down.

Only The name will survive
Who cannot be seen but is also present

Who is the spectacle and the beholder, both

I am the Truth- the cry will rise,

Which is I, as well as you

And then God’s creation will rule

Which is I, as well as you

Sunday 26 April 2009

Polish complicity in CIA's illegal activities

While General Musharraf and his government of Pakistan have been complicit with US in arresting and handing over Pakistani nationals, "suspected" of terrorist links, to CIA for "rendition" and "detention" without any recourse to legal support and justice, Government of Poland has allegedly allowed CIA to use its territory to carry out these rendition and detention activities. Only those involved know as to how many Pakistani nationals ended up being tortured in CIA custody in Poland.

To be fair, National Public Prosecutor's office in Poland has opened up an investigation to find out truth about this and hold those responsible to account. Through the Amnesty International website I have written to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk asking him to make public the findings of the investigation to ensure that there is full accountability for human rights violations. I would strongly urge my readers to register with the Amnesty International website and write to Polish Prime Minister. It does not take more than five minutes to join and send a pre-drafted message from the following link.

I had lived in Poland for some years and still look at the country with affection and treat her as my second home. It comes as a surprise to me when a nation like Poland which was a victim of Nazi atrocities herself and later of Soviet oppression and deeply understands the impact of torture and illegal detention, gets involved with CIA's covert illegal activities. Public scrutiny of this investigation and any prosecutions that might happen as a result will help clear the doubts about Polish involvement in illegal CIA activities.

Text of the message to Prime Minister Tusk is as follows:

"I am writing to welcome the investigation of the National Public Prosecutor’s office into allegations that Poland hosted a secret detention centre, run by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where crimes including torture and enforced disappearance were committed.

This is a positive step towards unveiling the truth and ensuring there is no impunity for human rights violations. I am asking you, as Prime Minister of Poland, to ensure that the investigation is thorough, transparent and effective.

I call on you to:

· Issue a report on the scope and method of the investigation and ensure its findings and its methodology are made public

· Issue a statement that those who cooperate with the investigation will not be subsequently prosecuted for breaching secrecy laws and regulations;

· Guarantee that the prosecutor will not grant immunity from prosecution for involvement in human rights violations in exchange for information or evidence.

· Aid the prosecutor’s investigation by formally requesting that other governments, particularly the US government, cooperate with the investigation and share all relevant information on alleged secret detentions by the CIA in Poland.

Yours sincerely"

Readers, please raise your voice and join in.

Friday 24 April 2009

Might is not always right: apologise and let them study

Pakistani parents sent 9,300 students last year to study in the UK. Vast majority of them spent last couple of weeks in a state of anxiety about the well being and future of their sons and daughters. Many of these students must have felt that with once stroke of brush they have been branded as suspected terrorists on Friday 10th April when based on a half baked intelligence information 11 students were arrested and even the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, pointed the finger squarely at Pakistan stating "We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot … there were a number of people who are suspected of it who have been arrested. That police operation was successful...We know that there are links between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Pakistan."

Every nation including Britain has a right to keep an eye on possible threats to its security and take action when this threat appears to be becoming real. In case of students arrested in April it does not appear to be the case of real threat but an attempt to deal with momentary lapse of judgement of an otherwise competent head of counterterrorism, assistant commissioner Bob Quick, who inadvertently allowed details of the operation to be photographed outside Downing Street, forcing the hand of security agencies to take action based on raw suspicions rather than hard evidence.

Now that the police and intelligence agencies have carried out their investigations and found that any evidence against these students will not stand in a court of law they have been released without charge. But to make matters worse they have been handed over to the UK Borders Agency for deportation back to Pakistan. This is highly highly prejudicial and damaging to these students and will end up ruining their lives and careers.

I for one come from a country where it is quite common for security agencies to make suspects disappear without any trial and their families never to find out what happened to them, where it is common for innocent close family members to held by police as a collateral for suspects they couldn't arrest, and where Chief Justice of Supreme Court can be sacked by a dictator for standing up for rights of these suspects. So no wonder civil liberties and rule of law is important to me and to all those who adopted this country as a homeland. One of the greatest things British is the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" - if the police and security agencies believe that their suspicions are suspicions and not evidence (real or circumstantial) that can stand in a court of law than apologise for the wrongful arrests and let these students study - that is why 9300 of them are here.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Lal Masjid Islamabad - episode II

Speaking to media from Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad in May 2007 he is on record to have said
  • "the suicide attackers are ready to operate anywhere/any time in Pakistan,”
  • “We consider suicide attacks are right in Pakistan in few circumstances, while we consider them as absolutely justified in the context of Afghanistan and Iraq,”
  • “Our students enjoy the moments when a police or Rangers operation looms, and they get bored when the situation normalises,”
  • “We favoured the Taliban not only in the past, we favour them even today.”
These were statements of Mulana Abdul Aziz, cleric of Lal Masjid in Islamabad during the stand off with government in 2007 - times when his religious baton wielding burqa clad girls platoons were terrorising neighbourhoods in Islamabad. Kidnappings, torture and humiliation of alleged infidels was a daily occurance and federal capital was under virtual seige. The operation he so wanted to happen resulted in around 200 deaths at the mosque.

Maulana has been under "house arrest" since and has been released last week on orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The August Court had due reasons to order his release - because the government had the Maulana arrested not for inciting terrorism, or for training suicide bombers, or for being directly responsible for deaths of soldiers and para military personnel who were trying to bring his militants under control, or for indirect responsibility for the deaths of scores of innocent young students who died in the cross fire - but for alleged corruption and land grabbing at Children's library and then failed to provide adequate evidence to convict him. Reminds one of American government trying to get Al Capone on tax evasion.

Maulana is now back at the same Lal Masjid that by early 2007 had become a rallying cry for Taleban style militancy right at the heart of Pakistani capital. General Musharraf's government did not act against the Maulana and his religious Mafia because he was using them as a scare tactic against the western governments to legitimise his continued stay in power and for continued military aid. I wonder what is the present democratically elected government's argument for not prosecuting him for the crimes he committed in 2007.

Maulana still believes in the same philosophy of imposing his own form of Sharia through coercion "the 2007 siege had been a necessary sacrifice", he told those who came to welcome him back. "Hundreds were killed, many were injured. But today the whole country is resounding with cries to implement Islamic law. We will continue with the Islam will not remain confined to Swat. It will spread all over Pakistan, then all over the world."

I sympathise with those in Pakistan who would like to see Sharia as the basis of law and justice. This is a democratic right that should be achieved through democractic means. But people who believe in Maulana's teachings are also aware that a relegious hegemony cannot be achieved through democracy because a vast majority of Pakistanis will not vote for them. What's happening in Swat is an example - what Taleban minded groups could not achieve when they rode to electoral victory in North West Frontier Province in 2002 on the wave of anti-American sentiments, they achieved through violent miltant activity in 2009.

Maulana Abdul Aziz is claiming to achieve the same in Islamabad. Like him General Musharraf has blood of over 200 people on his hands because he did not act in time to stop Lal Masjid becoming hub of militancy in Islamabad. I hope that President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani will show the courage to nip this evil in the bud.

Sunday 19 April 2009

State within a state - is Swat next Somaliland

In February 2009 finding itself unable to govern Swat the government of Pakistan caved in to demands of local militants and agreed to imposition of their form of Sharia law for the region. I wrote at that time suggesting that the writ of the state has been handed over to local goons masquerading as champions of Islam. Government had chosen to sign a deal with Sufi Muhammad, father-in-law of the regional Taleban leader Maulana Fazlullah in the hope that Sufi will be able to reign in the militants.

When the Chief Justice of Pakistan took suo moto notice of flogging of a young woman in Swat, an incidence that shook the country and resulted in a public outcry, and asked the perpetrators and the victim to produced before the courts it was evident from the response of the government that the civil bureaucracy and police were incapable of acting upon the directives. It was also evident that the increasingly powerful Taleban hegemony in Swat will soon pose a serious challenge to the established and constitutional arms of law and justice.

In his statement over the last few days Maulana Sufi Mohammed has thrown down the gauntlet by publicly dubbing the existing judicial system of the country as unconstitutional and against the teachings of Sharia. According to him since the established judicial system of the country has not been in line with Sharia, the judgments of Sharia courts (being established in Swat under the deal between Sufi Muhammad and the government) could not be challenged in the higher constitutional courts. Sufi has termed all judges, lawyers and pro-democracy Ulema (religious leaders) as ‘rebels’. According to him those opposed to enforcement of sharia and the Holy Quran are infidels - a tactic that was used successfully to intimidate the parliament into ratifying the peace deal between the government and the Sufi, by branding any member of parliament opposed to the peace deal as being in opposition to Sharia and thus an infidel.

Is Swat the next Somaliland!

Friday 10 April 2009

Arts in Pakistan: speak up or the future looks bleak

Shanakht (literally meaning identity) festival in Karachi recently organised by Citizen's Archive of Pakistan was prematurely cancelled by the festival organizers because of lack of security provision by the Sind provincial government. Why!

The festival that focussed on the theme of identity, featured photo and art exhibitions, documentaries, interactive plays, audio-video installations, oral storytelling and various other oral-based presentations. The basic aim of the Shanakht festival was to impart knowledge of the past to the younger generation.

On the opening day the festival was marred by a violent protest by self-styled vigilantes from Pakistan People's Party (currently in power in the Sindh province and the central government) who objected to the exhibition of a work of art they considered offensive. The attackers smashed the exhibition, abused the organisers and terrorised the visitors and openly fired weapons in the air. While this attack was happening a contingent of on duty police stood by and watched as silent spectators. The attackers were unhappy that one out of over a thousand works of art on display depicted Benazir Bhutto in cohort with an ex-military dictator in Pakistan.

Attack on Shanakht is one of a long list of attempts to beat the Arts world in Pakistan to submission. Over the years the World Performing Arts Festival in Lahore has been organised under a very tight security and threats of attacks from various religious right groups are common. At the 2008 festival four people were injured when three bombs went off outside Alhamra cultural complex hosting the festival. Traditional Kathak dancers like Sheema Kirmani still perform under a constant threat to their lives.

Most of the past attempts to subdue the artistic voice have either been made by the military dictators (General Zia-ul-Haq in specific who has the dubious honour of sending artists like Naheed Siddiqui, a Kathak dance maestro, into exile from Pakistan) or by the religious right who consider various forms of Arts as anti-Islamic. People's Party has now joined the ranks of those who have tried to coerce creativity into serving its designs. Normally one would blame it all on Jiyala (loosely means a deveotee, and it has become a buzzword in Pakistan largely taken as a devotee of Pakistan People’s Party) culture among the lower ranks of the People's Party but in recent attempts to subdue Arts and media senior government ministers have come out in support of this danda (batton) imposed censorship. One has to acknowledge that in the subcontinent political leaders sometimes can be revered when alive and elevated to sainthood after death (and especially the kind of untimely and atrocious death that Benazir Bhutto faced). One can question the sensibility of the organisers to chose such an offensive protrait for display. But no one can and should question the validity of such brazen display of violent conduct as demonstrated against the event.

State machinery like police is becoming insular to all social responsibility and is either watching as bystanders (as in case of attack on Shanakht) or are being used as muscle to shut these irritating events down elsewhere. It is sad that even after the return of democracy the ways of working of the political elite and the arms of the state have not changed from the dictatorial style of working.

While Taliban are on the attack in the North West blowing up shrines of ancient poets who taught love and harmony, relegious right is on rampage in rest of Pakistan threatening arts activities in the Punjab, People's Party has now joined the ranks of those who want to impose their intolerant hegemoney.

I would like to finish this post on a thought provoking recent note by Kamila Hayat who suggests: "There is interesting research on how key militants, including a number of the bombers who struck on 9/11, are recruited from backgrounds in science education. Evidently brainwashing people grounded in literature, the arts or the humanities is not so easy – possibly because they have had more access to avenues of thinking of all kinds."

Thursday 9 April 2009

Can a leopard change its spots!

Nawabzada Talal Bugti's recent allegations about corruption at the highest level in Pakistan's government brings back painful memories of last two People's Party lead governments in Pakistan.

Speed of Asif Ali Zardari's ascent to the highest office in Pakistan surprised a vast majority Pakistanis and, perhaps, him as well. His presidency is one of the biggest improbabilities in Pakistani politics - all credit to democracy. A man who was incarcerated for a number of years without due judicial process in Pakistan, convicted on corruption charges in Switzerland, and whose only claims to fame outside his home town were being married to Benazir Bhutto and for being known as the most corrupt political person in the short and chequered history of Pakistani politics. He was held responsible for the premature fall of Benazir Bhutto's government twice and had the dubious honour of getting himself promoted from the notoriety of being known as Mr. Ten Percent (kick backs to the tune of 10% on every contract awarded by the government) in her first term of office to Mr. Cent Percent in her second term in office. Right up to Benazir Bhutto's assassination he was considered to be a political liability for the Pakistan People's Party.

It turned out that years of political persecution had taught him a thing or two about Pakistani politics. His masterful handling of the political situation after Benazir's death presenting himself as a unifying interim national leader, seeking political alliances with sworn enemies, bringing down Musharraf's dictatorship and finally manoeuvring his way in the presidency was the pinnacle of his political career. I myself am among those people who have believed that to let the fledgling democracy in Pakistan the process should be allowed to run even if it means some of Zaradri's reputation to become the head of the state.

He has, however, not been able to (nor has he tried to) clear his name from the charges of being a dangerously corrupt person. National Reconciliation Ordinance promulgated by Musharraf regime that gave a blanket amnesty to Zardari and his cronies against any judicial process is still in place. There is a general belief in Pakistan that one reason donors and friendly governments have hesitated from providing any economic aid to Pakistan is primarily due to doubts about the moral integrity of president Zardari himself.

Background to Talal Bugti's allegations is as follows: Bugti family in the province of Baluchistan owns the land where some of Pakistan's gas fields are situated. Under an agreement with the government of Pakistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti’s family are supposed to get Rs 360 million every year royalties against 4,500 acres of land given to the Oil and Gas Development Corporation of Pakistan. According to Mr. Bugti the government of Pakistan owes his family 2.16 billion rupees. Bugti Family has not been paid these royalties for the last six years as a pressure ploy by the federal government because it blames them for aiding and abetting the ongoing insurgency in the Baluchistan province.

Nawabzada Talal Bugti alleges that he was approached by an assistant of the Minister of Interior, Rehman Malik (a Zardari henchman from his Mr. Ten Percent years) contacted him with a message from his "bosses" that “They are willing to pay me the outstanding dues (of about one billion rupees) but only after getting half of it either in advance or shortly following the release of the pending payment to my family. There is a chain from the president down to the governor and Rehman Malik who want to distribute the amount among themselves. Certainly, they will eat up Rs. 500 million.”

Mr. Bugti made these allegations in front of the national media a few days ago and there has been no denial from President Zardari himself and no intention of a public enquiry from the Prime Minister's office. General view among the public is that a leopard cannot change it spots and it was only a matter of time before the stories of current rampant corruption among the ministers of People's Party lead federal and provincial governments were going to lead right to the office of the President.

Since the restoration of independent judges lead by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry the judiciary has once again begun to take suo moto notice of violations of human rights and conduct of the government officials. Due to obvious reasons CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry would like to stay away from any course of action against President Zardari that can be construed as revenge or politically motivated. I wait to see that whether Prime Minister Gilani will show courage and take action to investigate Mr. Bugti's allegation and address the issue of corruption at the very heart of the government.

Monday 6 April 2009

A nation in a state of denial

In response to my artcile on "Battlefront Swat" Rashid Chaudhry, a reader from Karachi, sent me a copy of an article from Athar Hashmi, a Pakistani columnist commenting on the barbaric episode of flogging of 17 year old girl in Swat.

Mr. Hashmi is as shocked as any civilised person in the world would be at the atrocious treatment of this young girl while highlighting that the incidence is not only against all Islamic values but does not conform to local Swati traditions or practices as well. Athar's thoery is that this incidence happened three months ago - well before the signing of Swat accord with Taleban and implementation of Nizam-e-Adl ordinance and is an attempt to discredit the peace agreement and to single out and malign the Taleban movement. He points out other examples of mal treatment of women in Paksitan, some of them involving sitting ministers in the current democratic government - see my earlier article on Plight of women in Muslim countries.

Though I respect and agree with some of the views expressed in the article to the extent that problem of defning a very localised form of Sharia as Islamic and the rampant mal-treatment of women right across the uneducated social setup of Pakistan is not simply because of Taleban phenomenon. I do, however, refuse to accept that this is also simply because of international conspiracies against a nuclear Pakistan. I refuse to accept that the American drones and agents of Indian RAW give anyone on the Taleban side the right to begin killing spree against Shia Muslims across the country using the suicide bombers. I do not subscribe to the notion that since the incidence happened three months ago it somehow reduces its significance. Treatment of this young girl is unacceptable whether it happened three month ago or last week. Whether the perpetrators were local Taleban or imported ones (of whom we have many). They did no justice to Islam or people of Swat and should be brought before the established law of the land of Pakistan.

We are a nation in a state of denial. Though we have always been our best critics and can surgically disect the problems we face - but we have also developed a tendency to blame it all on someone from outside. The concept of "Bae-runi Haath" (literally meaning external hands) in everything bad that goes on in Pakistan needs to go for us to get out of this abyss of terrorism.
In the spirit of openness I am reproducing it below for those who can read Urdu:

Sunday 5 April 2009

Battlefront Swat

"For God's sake, stop it ... hang on, hang on," the 17 year old girl cries as the beast continue to flog her. Another voice can be heard giving orders as the girl squirms and whimpers under the blows: "Hold her feet tightly, hold her hands tightly." Most of the world has seen these grainy mobile phone images from Swat and shocked at the brutality. So have these been seen by those in Pakistan who can do something about it and will or might not do anything about it.

I will not go into the details of this incidence as much has been written on conflicting stories that are emerging describing the reasons for public humiliation of this young women - none of them justify her ordeal. She was being punished under the so called sharia law - "what is being presented as sharia [by Taleban and their feudal supporters] is in reality a system that protects the unquestioned power of those who have monopoly over violence and resources in the society."

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa an eminent Pakistani research scholar recently wrote "The application of Sharia is extremely complex as it entails a stringent mechanism for evidence. For instance, a witness has to meet certain conditions. The witness has to be one: (a) who has never been punished for any crime, (b) has always said all his prayers in time, (c) never urinated standing up, (d) never eaten from a market place, (e) never committed any major sin, (f) never committed any minor sin, and (g) never failed to carry out obligations prescribed by Quran and Sunnah. These conditions are so stringent that according to Pakistan's former Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah even he would not qualify to be a witness." Syed Sajjad Ali Shah, ex Chief Justice of Pakistan once said that under Sharia Law even he wouldn't qualify to be a witness in such a case.

Islamic history records that Mulsim armies invaded the Indian Subcontinent in 711 AD when similar cries of help from widows of Muslim traders reached the Islamic Caliphate. Will there be a similar response to cry for help from this desparate girl - difference this time is that perpetrators of crime against women are self appointed representatives of Islam themselves. Who will play the role of Hijaj Bin Yusuf! Who are those who can do something:

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Iftikhar Chaudhry - among those who can do something he is the only one who have moved and done so immediately. "In his suo-moto notice, the CJP said the matter was a serious violation of fundamental rights, guaranteed under the Constitution. The CJP observed that the exact place/venue of the incident and the circumstances under which the punishment by whipping was administered was not known, it certainly constituted a serious violation of law and fundamental rights of the citizens of the country." The victim and the perpetrators of this punishment have been asked to be brought before the apex court. With a crumbling administrative insfrastructure in Swat how these instructions from the CJP will becarried out is a question that will be answered over the coming days.

Government of Pakistan - President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani - are hard core feudal landlords themselves and representatives of the ruling feudal class. They have, in reality, given up the writ of the government to the local Taleban leadership through the promulgation of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation on February 16 2009. By virtue of their feudal heritage it is in their interest to defend feudal traditions and practices of subjugating their people by denying them access to justice.

Government infrastructure appears to be in a state of denial as evident from the satement of the most incompetent Minister of Interior we have ever had. His statement "we are investigating the matter. But sometimes anti-state elements make fake or artificial footage or images to bring disrepute to Pakistan" is a typical of example of the governments state of mind.

Political opposition - is in disarray and in a state of denial like the government and ruling class. I am particularly disappointed by the worldly wise politicians like Imran Khan, a reformed playboy and a leadership hope for right wing intellectuals who try to link everything wrong in Pakistan with the American drone attacks in North West of Pakistan. Rather than take moral stands at what's wrong with Teleban way of life they always try to blame it all on the Americans. I never expected a strong personality like Imran Khan to bury his head in the sand and hope that if the Americans stopped the drone attacks perhaps the Taleban beast will change its colours.

Face of political hypocrisy in Pakistan Leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Maulana Fazlur Rehman who without any shame has sat on the fence at key junctures in our chequered political history and swung whichever way money can be made by political wheeling dealing, has said the protest against flogging of a girl in Swat is legitimate but the people should also recognize the brutalities of drone attacks in which several innocent people including women and children have been brutally killed. How do you justify two totally unrelated brutalities against each other.

People of Pakistan - there in lies the problem. People of Pakistan are sitting on the fence. A vast majority do not want the Taleban style of governance - the way relegious parties were booted out of government from North West Frontier Province in the last elections is clear indicator. Majority also do not want to openly speak out against the Taleban way of life - some out of fear that somehow speaking out against Taleban is equivalent to speaking out against Sharia or Islam, some out of fear for their lives because Taleban way of dealing with dissent is capital punishment. Battle lines for Pakistan are being drawn in the North of Pakistan.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Plight of woman in Muslim countries - Is Islam responsible?

I am angry at the atrocious conduct of the Afghan president Hamid Karzai and his government that led me to write my last post about violation of fundamental human rights for woman in Afghanistan - legalising some a ancient traditions and practices and making already suffering woman legally subservient to male dominance. I ended my last post on a note that what happens in many predominantly Muslim countries has got nothing do with Islam but is a continuation of ancient barbaric pre-Islamic traditions and practices that were carried on after Islam came to these regions later. These were later adopted by local uneducated religious hierarchy to promote their own interests.Unlike common media promoted western perceptions Islamic laws make no demand that women should confine themselves to just household duties and hide behind walls and veils. “In a truly Islamic society women have the following rights:
  • The right and duty to obtain education;
  • The right to have their own independent property;
  • The right to work to earn money if they need it or want it;
  • Equality of reward for equal deeds;
  • The right to participate fully in public life and have their voices heard by those in power;
  • The right to provisions from the husband for all her needs and more;
  • The right to negotiate marriage terms of her choice;
  • The right to obtain divorce from her husband, even on the grounds that she simply can't stand him;
  • The right to keep all her own money (she is not responsible to maintain any relations);
  • The right to get sexual satisfaction from her husband.
  • and more... “ Source
In fact the early Muslim women were out and about in all walks of life. I have always used the example of Khadija-tul-Kubra, the first wife of the Prophet and mother of all his surviving children, was a known and respected businesswoman who recruited him as an employee, and proposed marriage to him through a third party. In Islamic times women traded in the marketplace, took part in battles not just carrying water and nursing the wounded, but some even fought and killed the enemies to protect themselves and the Prophet.

Although the conduct of president Karzai of Afghanistan forced me to write on this but in my own homeland Pakistan, that gave the world the first democratically elected woman Prime Minister in an Islamic countr
y, woman still face all sorts of problems including obstacles in employment, low wages, sexual harassment, draconian laws (wrapped under the sacred packages of Sharia), glass ceiling for those who wish to take part in mainstream politics, social differences, unpaid domestic labour, honour killings, etc. None of these problems is sanctioned in Islam - but since these happen in a muslim society these are considered as acceptable by Islam.

In the Indian su
bcontinent and Afghanistan women perform some of the heaviest and most labour intensive work, much of their effort remains invisible as it occurs either within the household or in the unregulated informal sector. A large number of women are subjected to different forms of domestic violence in their lives including physical violence, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse. Honour killings, female infanticide, sexual violence includes marital rape, custodial rape, gang rape, incest, and harassment through language, gesture and trafficking and forced prostitution. None of these are in anyway condoned by Islam, and are as illegal as these would be in any modern civilised society.

In feudal systems of these countries women are also sometimes used for revenge against enemies – one well know example is that of Mukhtaran Mai, a rural woman of poor economic background, who was gang-raped in 2002 for a supposed transgression by her family member. She refused to give in to the ‘shame' of her position and fought an embarrassing, for the government, court case against her rapists.

These discriminative practices have been a part of culture in these countries from prehistoric times b
ut have unfortunately carried on till today. Respective governments, especially under military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, tried to formalise these as laws of the land in Pakistan under the umbrella of Sharia laws. Religious bigots introduced Hadood law and Zina ordinance in Pakistan under which cases of rape have often been converted into sexual relations outside marriage which are considered offences under the ordinance. In a society where there is an extreme reluctance to report rape because of social stigmas, women are further threatened by the laws themselves.

Despite the struggle by civil society in Pakistan these ancient and barbaric practices continue in vast areas of the country and are still unchallenged. Its pains me all the more when these heinous acts are promoted to be Islamic equally by those who commit these and those who watch and do nothing.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

"It is legal to rape your wife" - Women's emancipation Afghan style

A shocking development in Afghanistan that should not go un-noticed and without a response from the civilised world is the recent approval of a law by the Afghan government that makes it legal to rape your wife. According to daily Telegraph "The law, which has not been publicly released, is believed to state women can only seek work, education or doctor's appointments with their husband's permission... Only fathers and grandfathers are granted custody of children under the law, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women." I wonder whether the plight of women was easier under the Taliban or is it under Mr. Karzai. Is this the free and democratic Afghanistan for which American and British lives and resources are committed to.

Passing of this law is a desparate attempt by Afghan president Karzai to appease the hard core fundamentalists in the country ahead of the forthcoming presidential elections. He has also successfully managed to go a step ahead in political opportunisim from president Zardari of Pakistan who last year slapped the women's rights movement in Pakistan in the face by appointing to senior political positions Senator Israrullah Zehri, who made headlines when he publicly supported in the parliament the barbaric custom of honour killing as being "part of our custom" and declared that he would defend it, and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani who headed a jirga that gave away five girls, aged between two and five, as compensation to the family of a murdered man.

I must remind readers that these traditions and practices do not have any link to Sharia and Islamic laws but are deep rooted ancient barbaric practices which some political leaders, who despite having spent lives overseas in western democracies, are finding hard to let go.