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.”

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.

Doubling Down on the Judicial Coup

Source: Dawn/White Star

Perhaps the judicial bureaucracy had not done enough to ensure a comprehensive ousting of the PML-N leader, they came up with another strike. The judicial coup was completed by the indictment and sentencing of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and curiously enough, his political heir Maryam Nawaz, who has started to play the defiant Benazir lately. The essentially political verdict statement, like the one of his disqualification, was standing on shaky grounds, to say the least. Especially for targeting Maryam Nawaz so heavily. Also, considering how the same judiciary is allowing General Musharraf to contest elections and has allowed the bail to controversial cop Rao Anwar in an extrajudicial killing case.

All the pieces are falling in place, as the “minus-two” understanding between the state establishment and PML-N leadership rule out any chance of an administration that resists the established order. This involves Shahbaz Sharif, the incumbent Chief Minister Punjab, leading the party and becoming the Prime Minister if PML-N wins. It’s just an insurance policy considering how Imran Khan’s huge ego could get in his way when it comes to submitting to their will, unlike in the case of his newly adopted wife-mistress. However, never have we seen PML-N candidates abandon their party tickets like we are seeing now… all because of pressure from the one that is not to be named.

For the military establishment, it does not matter what signal these measures send to the world. Their global reputation they have never cared about. Their policies despite the FATF grey-list development is a testament to that. The Election Commission’s clearance of fundamentalist religious parties, especially Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League, is a testament to that. However, it is their reputation among the Pakistani people that matters, especially in urban Punjab. It is an uprising in the heartland that it cannot afford.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, their reputation among the people of Punjab has been shaken. Before the clash with the PML-N, Punjabis used to issue certificates of patriotism and treason to Bengalis, Sindhis, Baluchs, and Pashtuns. Since Maryam Nawaz, Punjabi leadership has become a national security threat for the first time. But will the most popular political leadership of the country, the recipient of more votes than probably any entity in the history of Pakistan, going to inspire the people enough to get them out on the streets?

Not likely. Punjab has been traditionally politically dormant but never has the order been shaken in this manner. The recent confrontation is probably a reason enough to forgive Nawaz Sharif for seeking the patronage of a military dictator to launch his career. At least why blame Maryam for it?

But the real threat to the perpetuity of democracy remains to be the citizens who stand firmly behind the state bureaucratic establishment. Once we recognize the judicial coups and stop celebrating coups, we may inch closer to democracy.

The Lesson from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Fall

Source: geo.tv

There are several lessons that could be learned from the fall of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Poor leadership, terrible strategy, abandoning allies, pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, myopia, and having the little foresight of the inevitable. However, the most important lesson is meant more for the Pakistani people who seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the ill-fated triple term Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was brought to prominence during the reign of the mighty General Zia-ul-Haq, arguably the worst military dictator in Pakistan’s history. A reluctant Nawaz Sharif was introduced as the Chief Minister of Punjab, who then rose to power as the leader of establishment-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance in the 1990s against the staunchly anti-establishment liberal visionary Benazir Bhutto.

As Prime Minister Sharif got comfortable in his Jihadi, Islamist social conservative cradle, he would soon attempt to declare himself the “Emir-ul-Momineen.” Who would have thought the one who almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen cannot even qualify as a Sadik and Amin now.

However, he probably never one at heart himself. The trader and entrepreneur in him was always more loyal to productivity and money than religious mirages and made him lean toward peace with India. The secular leader in him switched the national weekly holiday to Sunday from Friday amid protests of his Islamist allies. And perhaps went further to confront the military on counter-productive measures such as the 1998 nuclear tests and certainly the disastrous Kargil War.

Of course, Sharif crossed a lot of limits and does so habitually but you don’t have to do much to fall out of favor with the bureaucratic establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself made the mistake of trusting them the third time around while living dangerously throughout his term, surviving rioting protests from PTI and PAT. Of course, you cannot say that he does not realize who his enemy is but you know there is only so much you can do to save yourself or please them.

While the people do not have the luxury to do much about them either, they also consistently make the mistake of taking their ruling bureaucratic tyrants as their saviors. They also consistently make the mistake of rejoicing over their assault on their right to vote. Many of them cannot wait to completely give up all their rights to their bureaucratic overlord whose meritocracy could not have been a fitter fit for the ignorant Pakistani masses who can’t think for themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may as well be history. But the people of Pakistan need to wonder if they can afford any more lapses in their democratic process. They need to wonder if they are willing to relinquish any more of their rights to the security state.

They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has not even bothered to promise to deliver free education as in the 18th amendment. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has looked the other way when it comes to a national health insurance program while paying their bills out of public money. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has systematically dismantled the honor of their own voice.

They need to do some serious soul searching.

Because the only ones that the bureaucratic machine cares for are themselves.

And that is the biggest lesson.

 

A version of this post was published in the Dunya blogs.

Note on the Disqualification Verdict of the Prime Minister

Source: Reuters/NDTV

And you thought that you would live to see the day when an elected head of government could complete their term.

More than anyone else, it was highly unlikely for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as much as he was the likeliest candidate to make it.

As much as his political party has been able to consistently win more two-third and clearer majorities than any other political party in the history of Pakistan.

As much as he was the perfect compromise for the people of Punjab between the bureaucratic establishment and a socially conservative and economically liberal tilt toward democratic values.

In many ways, it is an end of an era. Who knows? Just like in the 1990s, we might see Nawaz Sharif contesting the elections again. Though not likely after such a unanimous damning verdict, as absurd as it is. But Nawaz Sharif will remain to be the Prime Minister who initiated the Sunday as weekly holiday and constructed the motorway on his initiative.  And at least it offers a chance to Shahbaz Sharif to become Prime Minister.

One way or the other, the judicial coup of one of the most popularly backed elected government is complete. This is how Prime Minister will be dismissed in the post-military coup era.

Right after the farce of the JIT, which has essentially established the civil and military bureaucracy and intelligence as an extension of the judiciary, was put up by the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister was destined to be ousted.  The judges had already made up their minds. The only noteworthy and far from a substantial conclusion that the JIT had drawn, apart from a list of endless conjectures, was that the Sharif family was living way beyond their means.

In the end, the judgment by Supreme Court about the disqualification simply hinted that it was politically motivated. Even some of the most seasoned political commentators, publication editorials, and senior lawyers are analyzing it as such. There was a time under Iftikhar Chaudhary when you had the impression that the judges hear and judge cases after reading the papers. It seems those times have returned.

In other words, we have again had a mockery of democracy and our Constitution. Now at the hands of its guardians. What a shame.

However, there is little to expect from a Supreme Court that instead of safeguarding people’s right to the free internet, chose to uphold the YouTube ban. The bureaucratic institutions yet again let the people of Pakistan down by attacking democratic institutions and the mandate of the people’s vote.

What is worse though is that people who usually celebrate military coups are jubilant over the dismissal of the Prime Minister like they always are. Without realizing that the verdict has come against the mandate of the vote of the people, even though the grounds for qualification were clearly not of corruption. At least not in the least bit to warrant a lifetime disqualification.

Even though it is the day of thankfulness for the supporters of the PTI, I would neither be rejoicing nor be thankful if such a verdict came for an elected Prime Minister of that party. A part of me also wants Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister so that for once, they can be on the receiving end of this type of “justice.” Sadly, the party has been brainwashed to the degree of cynicism that some of them are even willing to see Imran Khan disqualified, being happy to see only the military rule.

But what do I know? Maybe I am missing the plot here. Maybe this is going to be really good for democracy after all.

Perhaps the judges have only lost their minds, or are being overly honest in their overzealousness of being “Sadik” and “Amin” instead of being malicious on purpose.

For once I hope that my friends on the other side are right and I am wrong.

In all seriousness, I would have no problems in conceding that I am at fault here.

 

But if only that were true.

An All Too Familiar Face of Accountability

Source: BBC Urdu

Pakistan is a unique country in terms of governance and politics. Not everything is as it seems and you can often have a hard time discerning who is really at the helm of policy. The case with accountability is not any different. It is often used as a moralizing political tool than a dispenser of justice.

Ever since the office of the Prime Minister was created in Pakistan, the civil and military bureaucrats have been busy inventing excuses to dismiss it. And whether they have not been creative enough in coming up with those excuses, they most certainly have been effective in the ultimate objective.

Ever since General Pervez Musharraf resigned as President, it seems that the coup-ready military of Pakistan has changed its decades-old strategy. It apparently has realized that explicitly taking over the government in Pakistan is either not good for its image internationally or does not garner enough support at home. So now they prefer to move the strings from behind the curtain.

The Pakistani people have been fed a singular dimension of accountability. That the elected office holders or the politicians are the embodiment of all the corruption in the government, while the civil and military bureaucracy is the most efficient machinery in existence. Not only that, they are also the most suitable entities to hold the politicians accountable.

Ever since the revelation of the Panama Papers with the mention of the offshore companies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we are seeing the familiar face of accountability surface. As it came as a welcome relief after the drama around electoral rigging died out. And as before, when the military lies dormant, the judiciary plays its part to be the entity ready to stage a soft coup as in the case of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani. The very tone used by judges, in this case, speaks volumes of their intent. It may or may not materialize, but the way the wind has been blowing is unmistakable.

At least for moral reasons, there have been calls for the Prime Minister to step down. Apart from not qualifying on the mystical constitutional standards of “Sadiq” and “Amin”, there is hardly any reason to until a definite proof of money laundering is produced on his person, as opposed to the conjectures listed by the JIT. But if the Prime Minister does not step down, it would be interesting to see how far his opponents go to bring about his demise. In that case, it is probably better for his purpose to play the victimization card.

However, where his governing achievement surpasses most other parties, his poor political leadership is costing him dearly. The problem with the PML-N has always been that it mistakes its heavy mandate as a carte blanche to alienate political stakeholders around the country. Of course, the incurably cynical PTI is on a saboteur mission to take democracy down with themselves but the rest of the parties can at least listen to the majority party and come to its rescue in case of bureaucratic threats.

What the PML-N does not realize is that its overwhelming majority that it takes for its strength is its greatest weakness. Because it has always been targeted by the bureaucratic establishment for such powerful popular support that no other party has enjoyed over three decades. The way it has been targeted is evident from all three terms of Prime Minister Sharif.

Unfortunately, there are elements in our civil and military bureaucracy, as well as the intelligence community, who do not want democracy to flourish in Pakistan. Not only do they not believe in democracy as a system of government, they strongly resent any hint of power in the hands of the public. The bureaucratic rule has been presented as a solution for the Pakistani people since independence and sadly, a good number of people buy into this narrative surviving since colonial times. And who better to hold the politicians accountable than bureaucrats, as evident from the JIT, which has now rendered military intelligence as an extension of the judicial branch.

Nobody has bothered questioning why the JIT has officially become an extension of the Supreme Court. Nobody has bothered questioning why the range of investigation has been extended beyond the revelations of the papers. Nobody has bothered asking why military intelligence officials are investigating the first family. And above all, nobody has bothered questioning why in Pakistan a panel of judges can undo the mandate of the people instead of impeachment by elected officials.

Of course, accountability should be a part of a strong democratic system. And a fragile democracy is hardly any excuse to forego the crimes of the political class. However, it would have been far easier to trust the high office of judiciary and bureaucracy in Pakistan had they enjoyed a cleaner political track record.

So, who is going to hold who accountable?

Well, let’s start from the politicians again. Now and forever.

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya Blogs.

No Hope for the Citizens of Quetta This Independence Day

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

Nothing makes the idea of security from terrorist attacks more ironic than probably one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in terms of damage since 9/11 in Pakistan. The terrorists struck mercilessly in Quetta, the troubled capital of the troubled province of Baluchistan. Where the state’s strategic assets take precedence over the lives of the people, like the rest of the country, but where the distinction is more pronounced than anywhere else.

The August 8 suicide bombing on the Quetta hospital targeting and wiping out almost an entire generation of lawyers should have shaken the conscience of the nation to the core. It should be considered an attack on our way of life. In a country under constant threat of dark forces constantly trying to implement Sharia which would bring Mullah Fazlullah-like courts operational, the attack is really significant. It irreversibly harmed the secular, legal system that is very unpopular among a rapidly radicalizing local population.

As usual, the attack was all about harming Pakistan’s strategic and economic plan and the CPEC Project. The Taliban and the Islamic State accepted responsibility, but the obvious culprits to the state remain to be RAW operatives. To other demented minds in the opposition, the blame fell almost exclusively on the Prime Minister. As if he enjoys enough influence over the various complex forces to cause terrorist attacks at will. Regardless of the fact, no one seems to be mourning enough about the fact that the top legal minds of a city are no more. Imagine had this happened in Lahore or Islamabad.

This brings us to the realization of priorities when it comes to national security. Imagine the security measures that our military goes through in order to protect the most sensitive and valuable of our military installations. But what good are these military installations if not for the protection of the intellectuals of the country. Even if that does not mean anything for some people, what good is a military if not for the protection of a country’s judicial system?

No matter what happens, our people would not face up the real threat that Islamist terrorism poses. We do not realize that the threat is to the very existence of human civilization as we know it, and Islamist extremists are not going to rest unless it is destroyed and transformed into a form they consider fit. It is an anti-intellectual cult of death and misery that needs to be fought. But that is only possible if we recognize it as a real threat.

In this mental struggle of countering the problem of organized and brutal terrorism, the people of Quetta must be feeling completely helpless. There is no doubt that you cannot possibly guard or police every single square inch of a country, and doing so could itself spark outrage from the citizens. Our security forces often face harsher than necessary criticism for it. However, no one can argue that tragedies such as the August 8 bombing are a failure of those in charge of intelligence.

We may declare people pointing toward this fact as traitors, but it is not going to solve the problem of terrorism. After an experience of fighting terrorism over the decade, we must also come to terms with the fact that there is only one factor that motivates suicide bombings in this region. Shying away from these facts only makes matter worse. The murder of Quetta lawyers is not going to derail the CPEC project a single bit at this stage, but it shows that we are devoting too much security to protect infrastructure and not enough for the most valuable of our citizens.

As the rest of the nation celebrate the Independence Day, there is no hope for the hundreds of families affected from the tragedy and thousands more who have suffered losses. They know nothing is going to change in terms of the protection of their legal institutions. There is no hope of realizing that we are not really independent unless our judiciary is safe and free.

There is no hope except for the same old resilience that has helped us endure tragedy after tragedy since the waves of terrorism since the 2003 Afghanistan War.

Happy Independence Day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.