The Rare Proud Moment of the Kartarpura Corridor

Source: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Dawn

Today is Gurpurab or the Birthday of Baba Gurunanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. On the occasion of his 550th birthday, Pakistan and India achieved something unprecedented and historic. The Kartarpura Corridor was opened to the Darbar Saheb Gurudwara from Amritsar. Prime Ministers of both the countries inaugurated their respective sides of the Corridor.

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Source: Nighat Dad facebook

Source: Nighat Dad facebook

However, there is a shade of doubt behind the Kartarpura Corridor as well. The opposition is raising questions about the funding of the project, considering its efficient and speedy construction and completion within months. Many believe that the project comes directly from the Army Chief General Bajwa, whose interest in it makes more sense than that of Imran Khan. Others believe that Pakistani intelligence has pushed it to help encourage the Khalistan movement in Eastern Punjab.

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Furthermore, leaders of progressive parties are also raising the issue that the farmers whose land has been withheld by the state for building the corridor and the temple complex infrastructure have still not been compensated. Opposition leaders are even asking the tough questions regarding the funding of the Kartarpura Corridor, let alone the idea of opening the border in Punjab when civil freedom in Kashmir has still not been restored ever since the passage of the revocation of Article 370.

There is little doubt that this project was instantly initiated and completed because the Pakistani military was behind it because such efficiency cannot be expected from the PTI administration. You also cannot expect the PTI administration to have the courage or imagination to launch such a huge infrastructure project. This is why it is unfortunate that such projects with India can only be initiated and realized when Pakistani generals push the idea. Otherwise, any civilian leader like Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who also tried taking similar initiatives, were dubbed pro-Indian traitors by the deep state.

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But is it a project initiated completely out of malice? And can Indians trust the Muslims of Western Punjab with their strangely newfound love for their Sikh brethren? These are not unreasonable questions to ask. At the same time, it is the kind of passion that only a Punjabi can understand. This project was completed out of the shared love and reverence of Baba Guru Nanak, who is revered by both Sikhs and Hindus and even Muslims. He is an undisputed saint, if not a manifestation of God. It is out of reverence for him that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi swallowed his pride and inaugurated the Indian wing of the Kartarpura Corridor in Eastern Punjab in the presence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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With all its misgivings and flaws, and perhaps even the evil intentions of the Pakistani military establishment, Kartarpura Corridor is worth it. It has made possible for Western Punjab to celebrate a Punjabi religion in the 74 years of its post-partition history, or in my living memory at least. It is also evident by the Government of Pakistan taking initiative to mint commemorative coins on the 550th Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev. These words from Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu perfectly elaborate it, eulogizing his friend Imran Khan for making history with this huge step.

The memories of United India are still etched somewhere on our DNA. Those forgotten moments come to life again with Kartarpura Corridor. No words can describe what seeing our own pilgrims returning home feels like. I never thought this would make me emotional but it did. Perhaps we could never appreciate what it means to be together until we are separated. Muslims and Sikhs massacred each other for a partition based on faith and are today embracing each other for the same faith. It is surreal.

 

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The Kartarpura Corridor only reminds us of the sheer disaster that was the partition of Punjab, and the partition of India in general. When we see Punjabi brothers and sisters from both sides of the borders embracing each other, we realize what our shortsighted forefathers have taken away from us out of their bigotry and insecurities.

They have taken away from us that little India that existed in every town and village in United India. They have taken away our Sikh and Hindu brothers and sisters in our neighborhood. They have taken away our shared celebrations of Eid, Diwali, Holi, Dussehra, Vaisakhi, and Gurpurab. And it simply cannot be put back together even if we unite Punjab and India again. It is a venom that even Shiv’s throat cannot hold.

It is the kind of hate that even God cannot contain, let alone undo.

The New Face of the Islamic State

Source: Amag/CNN

After the disintegration of the physical Islamic State from Iraq and Syria, the organization has found refuge in Islamist pockets around the world. The ruthless Easter bombings, killing at least 359 and injuring scores more, shocked the entire world for the sheer damage it did to a peaceful community. This was a coordinated series of at least 8 bombings hitting both churches and a couple of luxury hotels. Right away, the thoughts of the remnants of the LTTE groups came to many a people’s minds but many were deliberately trying to avoid even suspecting a Muslim group.

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Many usual critics of Islamist groups, including Tarek Fatah, were suspecting the Islamic State or an affiliated local group right from the start. No other entity would have the motivation to pick Easter and target churches and hotels in such an organized and cold-blooded manner. It indeed turned out that the Islamic State finally took the responsibility for the heinous attacks which was carried out by perhaps the strangest of their allies.

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Source: Sebastian Church/CBCP News

All the suicide bombers were found to be Sri Lankan nationals and suspected to be a part of the local Islamist group National Tawheed Jamaat. This .group featured a number of well to do Sri Lankan Muslims who bought into the agenda of Islamism, which aspires to a pan-Islamic world implementing God’s will on the earth. They believed they were doing their bit in Sri Lanka after pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State and its caliph Abubakar Al-Baghdadi. Shockingly enough for many, one of the suicide bombers was Fatima Iqbal, a wife of a Sri Lankan millionaire, also involved in the attacks. Something which proves that poverty has nothing to do with what motivates these Islamist terrorists, a part of whose agenda is to attain paradise through “murderous martyrdom.”

This is what the challenge of the Islamic State has become now. While the horrors of the physical Caliphate have been pretty much addressed, something which had become a major global crisis around 2015-16, the activities of the group have now turned it into the second Al-Quaida. And other than their non-Muslim victims worldwide, the real cost of this crisis will be paid by the local Muslim community.

In the end, the onus will again fall on the peaceful and well-meaning Muslims all around the world. Because sadly, this virus is incubating among their brotherhood and has begun to eat not only the people outside but within it. Following the shocking Easter bombings in Colombo, the Muslim minority in the country is already feeling tightened scrutiny. But none of it should come as a surprise.

Just like the overwhelming response of solidarity from New Zealand following the Christchurch Mosque massacre, the Muslim community needs to reach out to the world too. Not just in their words, but with their actions, they must reject the cancer of the Islamic State and their allies propagating violent political Islam. Though what are you going to do when they actually do point out the problem as early as 2014 and those too eager to not hurt the community’s sentiment completely ignore these warnings. The signs for the Sri Lankan Easter bombing were coming for a very long time. But they need to keep vigilant.

There is no easy way of dealing with them.

How Pakistan is Treating Its Hindus

Source: geo.tv

It is an open secret that the hate against the Hindu community and the larger idea of Hinduism are well ingrained into the hearts and minds of people all over Pakistan. This is particularly true for Punjab where the percentage of Hindu population is almost non-existent with the exception of a handful of prominent active temples. Even in the school textbooks, the tone used against Hindus in history mentioning ironically the time of the Arab and Turkic invasions is often antagonistic if not on the verge of being purely hateful. This upbringing indeed has its consequences.

This probably should not be the case when it comes to Sindh where the Hindus make a majority of the population. But you don’t have to be an expert on Sindh to know how the community is largely treated over there. But things enter a different, surreal zone when it enters the realm of the federal government expressing its views on this community. Earlier this month during the confrontation with India, such an incident occurred.

PTI Information and Culture Minister for Punjab Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan has developed a bit of a reputation of being a loudmouth. In his state of fury and emotions, he forgot to censor himself enough during a public speech and ended up spewing insults against Hindus that many Pakistani Muslims like him casually believe.

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Now he ironically himself is from Hindu ancestry, as are most people living on the eastern banks of the Indus river, if he is really from the family with that surname (Chauhan as shared by the Rajput warrior Prithvi Raj Chauhan). He represents the converted native Hindu people who have become self-haters and have started imagining themselves a part of an invader’s foreign culture.

Pakistan used to be a part of the larger Hindu culture of India and many important Hindu sites are located in the country. The land occupied by the Pakistani state has undeniable Hindu cultural roots. But ever since independence, it is safe to say that the community has been systematically cornered and driven out of the country. Only a few years ago, mass exodus of dozens of families to India occurred due to the trend of abductions and forced conversions that target teenage Hindu girls.

So when Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chauhan says something like this, it is the reflection of the mindset of a nation which is effectively eliminating a people who are supposed to be a part of it. Chohan later apologized and Imran Khan’s ruling party PTI momentarily did some firefighting by immediately sacking the minister. People appreciated the gesture across the board but like most PR shenanigans of the party, this one had a short-lived effect too. Recently, Chauhan has been reinstated as a Minister, this time for the Local Bodies. This move should have people wondering, especially the morally constipated followers of PTI, whether the party was wrong to sack him earlier or was it wrong to “promote” him, in columnist Marvi Sirmed’s words.

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Meanwhile, the Hindus in Pakistan continue to be targeted by the majority Muslim community with forced conversions of young girls of the community. Recently, the case of Reena and Raveena will be the

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The sisters Reena and Raveena, who were allegedly abducted on Holi Day, appeared at the marriage with the men who had taken them. Apparently, it was a case of the girls eloping. Many of the social conservative and nationalist Muslims are saying that the conversion was voluntary. Nevertheless, people who have reported from the courts where they appeared and had the first contact with their parents have a different story to tell. But the problem remains that the girls are underage and their marriage remains inappropriate and legally dubious, to say the least.

But this was hardly a solitary case. Even since the Holi day, quite a few girls have been abducted for the same reasons too. And only teenage girls are targeted by Muslim boys. The Hindus of Pakistan have no choice but to find themselves at the mercy of the majority community and watch what happens next with frustration. And while people will invoke all the violence and intimidation the underprivileged Muslim population of India is facing these days in the Hindu Rashtra mania triggered by Modi’s administration, unlike the Muslims in India, there is no one to stand for them in Pakistan.

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The good that could possibly come from this situation is that the civil society and the Hindu community itself have decided to speak up and protest. They are pressuring the politicians to legislate a ban on forced conversions and underage marriage. They are letting Pakistanis know that they have had enough of the nonsense. So whether Pakistan moves to become a Secular State or start pursuing the mirage of the “Medina State,” the sort of mindset that has resulted in the culture of forced conversions, it needs to address the protection of the Hindu community. In an Islamic Republic, the Hindus will take any political deal they can get.

What is Killing Our Teachers

Source: TRT World

When we start losing our teachers so casually and commonly to the cancer of Islamic fundamentalism, it is time to do some serious soul searching as a nation. Even the most religiously and socially conservative of our society can agree that the unhinged murder of our educated intellectuals is wrong. Clearly, there are conditions to that position, as we have seen with the unending killings of Shia and Ahmedi intellectuals and educated professionals over the years. It is the same rationale that is behind the shocking killing of a Bahawalpur Associate Professor Khalid Hameed, who was stabbed to death by his own student.

The event occurred in the public institution called Sadiq Egerton College in Bahawalpur, a more religious conservative South Punjab district than usual. The video interview of the student Khateeb Hussain, a BS Student, who was taken into custody at the site of crime is chilling and gives a clear insight into the sort of mindset that enables students to act with such impunity. Viewer discretion is advised.

The student shows no remorse because according to him, the English literature Professor used to speak ill of Islam. That gave him enough reason to commit the crime but another reason that escalated the situation was the professor organizing a welcome party which was a mixed gender event. Pakistan is a society with significant gender segregation in public spaces, which is sanctioned more by religion than any social norms.

We also recall the time when Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) or the student wing of the Islamist Deobandi Jamaat-e-Islami held protest rallies in Quaid-e-Azam University against secular professor Pervez Hoodbhoy. It is a relief that he had been spared because the mindset that has been as caustic in those days as it has been today. However, the difference has been the public encouragement to vigilantism by the Tehreek Labaik Pakistan ever since the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by Mumtaz Qadri. Furthermore, the possible debate on whether a Barelvi is more likely to take such action is also interesting. This post could be Exhibit A for the arguments for a Barelvi likelihood to commit a righteous kill.

Like always, there were posts like this on the social media that celebrated this great feat of bravery. The post above celebrates the murderer as well as his mother who gave birth to such a lionheart “Ghazi,” the Islamic term for surviving victor. There is a slight nod to Khadim Hussain Rizvi in the post as well. The post also features the trademark Barelvi slogan “Gustaakh-e-Rasool ki saza, sar tan se juda” or beheading is the only punishment for a blasphemer. It is not shocking that tragedies like these occur when such venomous theological venom goes unchecked.

One of my friends Shujaat Hussain, also an English literature Professor, was immigrating to a Western country. He must have his own reasons but in general, I used to feel sorry for the loss of the country for losing such brilliant, free-thinking minds. But when I see such fundamentalism plague our educational institutions, it is probably better for intellectual teachers like him to leave this society to its own devices.

Perhaps the Bahawalpur teacher should have immigrated to a foreign country too.

A Moment of Silence for a Nation Without Conscience

Source: Sky News

The final verdict has finally been delivered on Asia Bibi case, or so we think. It has finally been established by the highest court of the land that the poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy around 8 years ago in an obscure Punjab village was innocent of any of the allegations. Interestingly enough, it was not Asia Bibi but the moral conscience of the entire nation which was on trial. All I can have is just a moment of silence for those who would have done anything to see her hang and are now silent in retreat. Just imagine if they would have been successful in hanging her.

We have seen some of the most disgusting and vile displays of brutality with which certain circles of the society have reacted to her case. While this case was far from the only instance where this trend has been observed, the case has effectively established how the cult of the Prophet in Pakistan has gone totally out of control. This case resulted in the murder of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was the only politician in the country who had the courage to defend her publicly. He was gunned down by his Barelvi guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was widely celebrated by the followers of the cult of the Prophet. It was partially this case that actually became the basis of the rise of arguably one of the craziest political movements in the country. The extremist Barelvi party called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah or Tehreek Labaik Pakistan.

Fully backed by the Pakistani deep state to put the then popular PML-N of Nawaz Sharif out of power, the recent law enforcement operation against it could lead you to believe that they are a fringe group. This catchy yet vile anthem of the political party offers an insight into the mindset of a Tehreek Labaik Pakistan voter. There are dozens of fan uploads in which you can see the noose next to Asia Bibi’s photograph.

As a matter of fact, the line in this song about hanging Asia Bibi was covered by dozens of young boys and girls for a mobile video sharing platform. These indeed are no extremist clerics but regular, fun-loving, otherwise peaceful Pakistani Muslims whose conscience bears no guilt over this vulgar display of religious righteousness.

Today, many liberal optimists in Pakistan are saying that justice has been served by the eventual Supreme Court ruling by Justice Khosa. But before making such rosy statements, it must be appreciated how Asia Bibi had been ordered to hang to death even by the high court and the lower courts and how the entire nation had been out of her blood on the streets. Even the expression mass hysteria does not capture the violence and evil in this case. But perhaps they are right, even this ruling by the Supreme Court is nothing short of a miracle.

These are shocking realities that the Pakistani people are not willing to face. Until they address the darkness in their hearts which is at the center of their religious beliefs, until they abolish the atrocious blasphemy law, and until they are not willing to adopt a Secular Constitution, cases like Asia Bibi will keep on surfacing.

All we can hope is for them to surface instead of swept under the carpet.

A Decade of Shattered Hopes

Source: Financial Express

Ten years ago, perhaps the worst terrorist attack in India’s modern history was carried out. Most likely by terrorists who planned it in Pakistan and crossed the border from the Western neighbor of India. The man who led the assault, Ajmal Kasaab, was put to death but even that has not healed the wounds left that day.

Nothing is more important on this day than the memory of the 165 innocent people killed in the Mumbai attack and all those who suffered injuries in the attack. However, still it is not insignificant to account for the massive tax that this terror attack had on the world, especially on India and Pakistan. Not only did the attacks see almost immediate suspension of relations between the two nations, despite Pakistani Prime Minister’s eagerness to send the Pakistani intelligence chief to New Delhi (later forced to retract), but also resulted in tensions that have not subsided since then. As a matter of fact, India has insisted on talking on terrorism before any other issue with Pakistan. The only development made on Pakistan’s end was the government allowing the alleged perpetrator Hafiz Saeed’s political party to run in the elections.

It is hard to believe that it has been a decade since this incident. However, it only goes to show how the irresponsibility of the Pakistani state and India’s failure to address its own domestic concerns are plaguing the lives of a billion people in the region. It is nothing short of a tragedy that India and Pakistan could not progress since the development in their relations since 1999 and before 2008, especially with India having ignored offenses such as the Kargil War and the attack on the parliament.

Perhaps the darkest day since the darkness of 1947 and, many would argue a consequence of that great historic accident.

The only difference is that since then hopes of the people of the region to have a better life have been shattered even more. The hope to move freely across both borders. The hope to trade and the hope to make new friends. And most of all, the hope to have access to and ownership of all India as an Indian citizen. And things are not looking to improve any bit.

Free Asia Bibi

Source: Vatican News

So the moment of the decision of Asia Bibi’s appeal was this month. Surrendering to the terror created by the purpose-built gang Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which again stormed the capital to protest the possible acquittal, the court has delayed the verdict indefinitely. There is nothing the tortured and abused Christian community, or anybody else can do about it.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan must realize the moral significance of this verdict. If they uphold the verdict, they will be forever upholding the ruthless apartheid against non-Muslim citizens in Pakistan. If they uphold the verdict, they will be forever upholding the absolute lack of religious freedom for the citizens of Pakistan who are not Muslims.

The fact that we are not able to raise our voice against this unacceptable injustice, and obviously that includes me, speaks volumes of our insensitivity and a lack of morals. Even an acknowledgment of this wrongdoing should not let us sleep in peace at night. It is absolutely a joke how we go on raving about democracy and human rights in a country and then have the nerve to complain about the treatment of minority Muslims in other countries while we go on to slaughtering human beings in ours.

It is a joke that countries such as Pakistan, which should actually be facing sanctions for its draconian blasphemy law, are now members of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Or probably worse, it is a shame that a nation of 200 million morally constipated people has no power to do anything about this grave injustice. Until we adopt a secular constitution, religious clerics will keep on abusing the law to threaten the lives of non-Muslim minority citizens in Pakistan. It’s an absolute shame.

If indeed Asia Bibi is put to death, a 53-year-old mother of four, Pakistan will not be able to bear the burden of her blood.