A Wake Up Call for the Interior Minister

Source: Dawn

Ahsan Iqbal is easily one of the most dignified, educated, and well spoken politicians in Pakistan. He is a visionary and has been promoting a progressive economic vision since the earlier terms of PML-N.

He became an unlikely candidate for the position of Interior Minister when the self-righteous Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, an ultra conservative pro-establishment PML-N dissident, stepped down. When the Prime Minister was also disqualified, the tensions got even more intense and paved way for Ahsan Iqbal’s rise to the powerful but controversial position of becoming the civilian security boss of the country. Many expected that the position will not suit him well, a man of a scholarly background. Especially because it was in this current tenure that the social media was blacked out during a protest for the first time in history in Pakistan.

Back in November, when Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was occupying the parliament square in Islamabad, the greatest test came of his leadership. His resolutions to the problem drastically failed when due to the unwillingjness of the military, a half backed operation ended up further strengthening the hands of the rogue Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah, a radical Barelvi political cult whose agenda is to reinforce the laws about the Finality of the Prophethood and to make life further miserable for the already marginalized Ahmedi community of Pakistan. Ahmedis are perceived as a threat by orthodox religious Muslims in Pakistan to the tenet that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, even though the Ahmedis respond that they share the same belief.

The recent controversy over the Ahmedi oath for the parliament members sparked the protest in the first place with the blame falling on the , apart from generally on the entire leadership of PML-N. Sunni clerics even issued fatwas that voting for the party was haram or forbidden.

Despite the threat to the party, and some would say that particularly because of it, the PML-N federal government decided to appease the extremist Muslims by making laws about blasphemy and speech even stricter. The Ministry of Interior, as well as the National Counter Terrorism Agency, are running campaigns that openly call for people to hunt for perceived blasphemies in the guise of acting against hate speech. While such narrative has not been started by the Government of Pakistan so proactively, as you can thank the narrative of the local cleric for that, it has emerged with full force as a countering reaction to unpopular speech on social media.

Today, hours ago actually, Ahsan Iqbal was shot at by an angry citizen in a meeting with the constituents in his native Narowal District. Fortunately, the bullet only brushed his arm and his life was spared. The would-be assassin Abid Hussain has been captured and he has confessed to have made an attempt on the Minister’s life because of the “Finality of Prophethood” or “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” issue.  While this complex term may not mean anything to most people, it is the article of faith of the Muslim population, and takes an extreme in the more radical elements of the Barelvi sect that is particularly devotional to the Prophet.

Source: Times of Islamabad

While the Minister has been lucky, all the citizens hunted by the extremists such as his assailant are not so much. Especially when the one putting them to death is the judiciary. The 30 year old blogger who got convicted by the court for just expressing himself was not so lucky. Often people tend to forget how harmful and dangerous these so-called responsible information campaigns are. And it is important to remember that government campaigns calling for reporting blasphemy are as dangerous in creating the mindset that resulted in the attempt on the life of Ahsan Iqbal as the hateful teachings in the mosque.

I wish the Interior Minister will consider this unfortunate event a wake up call. We are very happy that he is safe but it is time that he starts thinking about safeguarding the speech and lives of his citizens. Of course, he can’t fight the atrocious courts in Pakistan but at least he can tone down the explicit witch hunt. Or the same poison that stung him today could get just about any one of us.

Shame on Pakistan

Source: AFP/geo.tv

It greatly pains me to write these words but I cannot help but express my disappointment in Pakistan in the harshest of words on this day.

You would probably live with this situation (as if we the citizens had a choice?) if things were a bit more balanced and saner at some level somewhere. On one hand, you have a nation content and proud of some of the most discriminatory provisions in the constitution taken as a fair social contract. On the other, you have a group of mullah bandits who have taken the entire nation hostage by emotionally blackmailing them in the name of faith and the love of the Prophet. When you are a Muslim, you are forced to believe their bigotry disguised as passion and love for the Prophet. If you don’t, you are an infidel. A Qadiani sympathizer.

In Pakistan, bigotry has become the highest standard of piety and religiosity.

How can someone with a slightly saner worldview find any hope in a place like this? In a place where perhaps the best strategy to fend off these ills and threats is to remain silent. The November 25 clash between the mullah protesters and the state, ironically two sides of the same coin, is a terrible instance of this fact. What was even worse is that in the face of this blatant religious bigotry, the state, which is supposed to protect the citizens, ends up punishing the citizens for the crimes of a few. In perhaps the first time in my living memory, I have seen the government block the social media, facebook, twitter and youtube, other than the private TV channels just to deal with a riot in Islamabad. This confirmed any misconception that we were living in a democracy of some kind. This needless information blackout is a great stain on the record of the new Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise considered a very forward-looking politician.

Source: Hindustan Times

To add insult to injury, on the world news, the very next story following the sit-in protest crackdown was the US denunciation of the release of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader wanted by India for Mumbai attacks. This was the world’s view of Pakistan on November 25. Even the high ministers and superiors in the echelons of the government are blind to what picture of the country is presented by this state of affairs to the world. Either that or there is nothing in the world that they can do. It is remarkable how they expect foreign entities to even visit Pakistan with this sort of air, let alone invest their capital in it.

Forget foreign investment and the global image, all of these are only more reasons to leave Pakistan for a humane country. All of these are more reasons to stop believing in Pakistan and to stop defending it, rooting for it or supporting it.

November 25 showed Pakistan’s true face to the world. A raving mad and bloodthirsty public infected with Islamic extremism and a draconian, undemocratic government misleading its citizens and enabling their viciousness.

Copy of the concluded compromise agreement

To further humiliate the government, the selectively just military of Pakistan refused to partake in the operation against the Barelvi protesters, terming them “our own people.” The terms on which this protest has ended on November 27 sound humiliating as well with the government succumbing to the demands of the sit-in protesters, which they have been resisting up till that point. Other than the resignation of the accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the compromise agreement called for an inquiry to penalize those who had made the amendment in the statement pertaining to the anti-Ahmedi oath. The Islamabad High Court has slammed the military’s role in this negotiation but we have a lot more to be alarmed about this. Wish our judiciary had too. This essentially means that even suggesting to propose an amendment to these draconian theocratic laws could possibly mean prison time if not death sentence, confirming Pakistan as a theocracy like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

November 25 will go down in history as a dark day for the people of Pakistan.

On this day, everyone should be ashamed to be a Pakistani citizen.

Discrimination Against Ahmedis: Institutionalizing Hate in the Name of Love

Source: dunyanews.tv

Source: dunyanews.tv

The recent hateful protests by business owners demanding Ahmedi citizens to wear identification publicly have been a real eye-opener to anyone oblivious to intolerance in the Pakistani society. The protest was directed against Punjab police for removing hateful and derogatory signs from a shop warning Ahmedis to refrain from entering.

It is inconceivable to deduct that these people are calling for such measures out of sheer hate for humanity. It is clear that their hateful rhetoric is fueled by religious fervor. For the majority of Muslim citizens, these traders are only playing their due to defend the finality of the Prophethood and are doing so in the name of the love for the Prophet. The only problem is that such love has created a serious civil rights crisis.

For those who are not aware, the government of Pakistan already requires its Muslim citizens to sign a declaration of not being an Ahmedi for the National ID card registration. Furthermore, the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan is also dedicated to declaring the religious sect or group non-Muslim.

The demand for Ahmedis to wear identification, which has been widely compared to the yellow Juden badge in the Nazi Germany by critics, would take the institutionalization of discrimination against them to the next level. Calls for such apartheid measures should be a great concern for anyone who is worried about the state of freedom and civil liberties in Pakistan. This should also be a great concern to people who claim that an Islamic society offers perfect protection to religious minorities.

Religious freedom can be a funny civil liberty. While there is apparently no hint of doubt that all religions preach peace and love, this unexpected exceptional case warrants enough liberties to one side to infringe on those of others. As a matter of fact, this almost always occurs in overwhelming religious majorities, but hardly truer in any case in modern times than that of the persecution of Ahmedis in Pakistan and apparently there is no social contract to keep such religious freedom in check.

What are you going to do when such a force of public sentiment influences provisions in the law and the Constitution? Some would even argue that improving the law would hardly prove to be of any effect, but there is no doubt that eliminating profiling would make a world of a difference, if not the Second Amendment.

Probably the answer to the question of reforming Islam lies in the belligerence against Ahmedis as well. There is a reason why Sunni Islam has survived over 14 centuries. The school so fiercely and often violently represses any deviation to its orthodoxy. The Sunni clerics ensure to establish a hostile environment for suppressing novel religious ideas, and possibly, with the rise of Khomeini in Iran, the Shiite branch has been establishing its own state orthodoxy as well.

In the case of Pakistan, eliminating the persecution of Ahmedis would probably prove to be even more difficult than reforming the blasphemy law. At least not as long as a fairer social contract is in place. Possibly in a reaction to the Ahmedi movement, local clerics have aggressively established the theological narrative to counter its supposed claims over the last century. While such firmly rooted beliefs insisting on the legal definition of Islam would sound fine as a theological position, the subsequent activism for their excommunication has led to the formulation of such dangerous laws.

Some would argue that the bureaucratic and political elite had surrendered to the theological pressure for discrimination the day they agreed to establish an Islamic Republic. However, it is imperative to remind the people of the problem by pointing out that such theocratic provisions are a serious violation of civil liberties and religious freedom.

Furthermore, the institutional and systematic persecution of Ahmedis is the greatest evidence that minority religious groups are not safe in a Muslim majority society. It also shows that theocracies cannot be trusted to ensure religious freedom to communities not following the state religion. The Pakistani lawmakers have very deliberately formulated the sort of laws that would physically threaten a certain group of Pakistanis and the clerics deem them perfectly according to the Koran and the Sunnah.

The theocratic Apartheid state is only a logical conclusion to such a foundation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.