A Case of Two Death Sentences

Source: Public’s Radio/Fareed Khan/AP

Pakistani people are known for their strange standards of morality, and nothing puts these paradoxes in the spotlight than issues considered “sensitive” in society. In a country, dominated by military dictatorship, a verdict such as the one issued by the Special Courts on December 17 was unheard of. This Special Court made of three judges in a 2-1 decision condemned former dictator Pervez Musharraf to death. Most liberal commentators, including Amnesty International, welcomed the verdict only for the supremacy and legitimacy of the civilian constituency over military dictatorship in a country with Pakistan’s history. These liberals went to great length to condemn or disapprove of “capital punishment,” while deeming such a stand by the judiciary necessary to uphold a civilian constitution in the country and to discourage military coups.

However, one of the Special Court judges, Waqar Seth overkilled the verdict by adding the infamous paragraph 66, probably to leave his personal political statement on the verdict, if not to sabotage it willfully. The paragraph or article reads as in the following picture, in which the judge orders the fugitive or convict’s “corpse be dragged to the D-Chowk, Islamabad, Pakistan and be hanged for 03 days” if found dead. To me, reading these words in a verdict by a Pakistani court is almost comical in a dark way, but it is indeed no laughing matter. And I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who has taken offense at such a verdict, even the pro-establishment nationalists and the government, involving public hangings, which have nothing to do with the law in Pakistan. Pakistan is not Iran and the anger of such social conservative uncles should not be enabled just because they happen to have convicted an authoritarian dictator.

Source: Muhammad Rizwan Safdar

It had to take a military dictator sentenced to death to start hearing about the cruelty and injustice of capital punishment from the pro-establishment social conservatives of the country. Most of these people are the lot who talk about hanging child rapists and “traitors” in squares.  However, it is important to understand that most of these people who you would otherwise not hear from on capital punishment are social conservatives. They have nothing against the death penalty. On the other hand, another brutal verdict from our courts went without any attention when Fulbright scholar and academic Junaid Hafeez was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges after being incarcerated for nearly six years. This must have come as a devastating blow to his family which is already ostracized and has suffered great financial losses ever since Junaid was arrested for the charge. The pain and grief of his father are evident from this VOA interview. You could hardly imagine what his mother would be going through.

Several reports and commentators have pointed out the flimsy evidence in the case of Junaid Hafeez. Many people believe that any court lower than the high court lack the courage to challenge the overzealous blasphemy mobs. This is not necessarily an unreasonable concern for even Sunni Muslim judges less likely to be accused of blasphemy. Rashid Rehman, a heroic lawyer, who opted to represent Junaid Hafeez as a defense attorney was murdered by the blasphemy zealots. It must be pointed out for the benefit of a novice reader who is not aware of the situation in Pakistan that killing of someone alleged to have blasphemed against the Prophet or anything remotely related to Islam is not only encouraged but is considered a great virtue of a hero. However, that does not absolve the so-called “moderate” Muslims or even liberal Muslims of their responsibility.

It is indeed these majority of moderate Muslims who allowed this new form of murderous religion known as “Barelvism” flourish in Pakistan. However, Deobandi Sunnis and Shia Muslims are also complicit in terms of their stance on blasphemy, the latter mostly out of fear, being a regular target of Sunni blasphemy zealots themselves. Even many of these liberal Muslims can be heard advocating the necessity of a blasphemy law but “minimize its misuse through reform.” Well, they have a point too, considering you cannot overturn blasphemy law overnight. But they are still pretty much okay with capital punishment for blasphemy, if not hanging them in the squares.

Ironically, many of the people advocate precisely what Judge Seth had written in paragraph 65 for the blasphemers and the “corrupt,” especially your common social conservative Sunni Whatsapp uncle, or sometimes even a PTI Shia uncle inspired by Khomeini’s revolution. Anti-democracy pro-establishment and anti-liberal social conservatives in Pakistan thrive on this narrative, especially targeted against blasphemers, “corrupt politicians,” and dissidents often labeled “traitors” by them. That is why the epithet of “traitor” stings so much as it is the treatment of their own medicine.

It is amazing how much two death sentences can reveal the hypocrisy and moral corruption of Pakistanis. There is outroar against the death penalty for a military dictator though there is a deafening silence on the sheer cruelty and barbarism with how the State of Pakistan is treating one of its gifted scholars in Junaid Hafeez. We should think twice before giving brownie points to pro-establishment liberals and conservatives in Pakistan for their “humanity.”

The Televised Slow Killing of Another National Leader

Source: samaa,tv

Pakistan has a history of getting rid of its democratically elected leaders in a manner that is both torturous to them and to their supporters. From Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Akbar Bugti and from Murtaza Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto, there is a long history of the Pakistani deep state establishment influencing the demise of popular leaders. These days, another national leader is being killed slowly and his demise is being televised all across the nation. The only three times Prime Minister in the history of the country, Mian Nawaz Sharif.

The government has been resorting to the petty measures of denying the former Prime Minister proper medical care for several weeks, as promised in Imran Khan’s speech in a Washington D. C. rally, until his situation brought him on the verge of death. He was denied bail repeatedly despite recommendations from his doctors. A patient of heart disease, his level of blood platelets fell to a critical level. Even his kidneys are said to be affected of late and he has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Foul play is not being dismissed as an explanation for his condition.

On the other hand, President Asif Ali Zardari is also being held despite his worsening condition in terms of his cardiac health. His family is being prevented to see him. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is being held on frivolous allegations by NAB and was kept with the death row prisoners. The controversial and corrupt National Accountability Bureau, which was perhaps established to target political victims, remains to be the central body behind the inhuman treatment of national leaders who have not abrogated the constitution or committed treason, unlike their leniency for the former dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Meanwhile, the silence of his supporters and the people of Punjab for a man who has done so much in their service has been deafeningly loud. What is perhaps even worse is the attitude of his brother and current Opposition Leader and former Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the party leaders in his camp who remain silent on his dismal condition. These leaders, which include Former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Former Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, are still rooting for making up with the military and finding a way back into the cozy corridors of power that the Punjab politicians are so used to.

So leaders such as Ahsan Iqbal can bother to hold Kashmir Rallies to please the national security establishment but they will not take it to the streets for the health and safety of his leader. All he could ask for was prayers for his leader on the deathbed, with passively outraging about the brutal measures of the current administration. The PML-N loyalists should never forget how these leaders have behaved in these circumstances when Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif are being incarcerated for political reasons.

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But more than anything, it is the callousness and the indifference of the people of Punjab which hurts the most. They have betrayed yet another political leader who stood up for democracy and civilian supremacy in Pakistan. You would expect that there would be streets erupting with protestors in solidarity with Nawaz Sharif, angry at the kind of abuse he is being subjected to in the prison by the Punjab government.

Had Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman not announced his “Azadi March” against the government, the agenda of which does not even mention the political arrests of the opposition leadership, there would be no protests against the current government. The secular opposition is disappointing who would not even come out on the streets with their leadership on the verge of death and for ceding space to Islamist parties such as the JUI-F.

Nawaz Sharif’s situation has become stable since the scare on October 22 but he is still on his deathbed. Maryam had said much earlier that the government will be responsible if anything happened to Nawaz Sharif. But she can add her uncle’s name and her party leadership to the list of his killers.

The courts finally granted him temporary bail as a desperate measure. His daughter Maryam is still being prevented to see him. And people like Firdaus Ashiq Awan are still making fun of someone struggling for his life.

This is the price of public service in Pakistan.