When Peaceful Protest Became Treason in Pakistan

Source: YouTube

Pakistan is a funny country. We have been taught as citizens growing up by state propaganda to pledge our unity under one flag and that all the people in Pakistan are equal citizens. However, as we grow up and the reality of the country dawns on us, it becomes evidently clear that some people are more equal than others.

Perhaps no political movement has revealed this notion in recent years more than Manzoor Pashteen’s Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. It has become perhaps the largest non-violent civil rights movement of its kind in a country that has largely discouraged democratic ideas and protests. However, it would be unfair to say that the people of Pakistan have not been democratic or focused on civil rights, considering the various progressive movements, albeit failed, throughout the history of Pakistan. In that tradition, the stand that the young leaders of the Awami Workers Party has taken has been nothing short of heroic.

When Pakistan is declaring bright young political leaders such as Ammar Rashid as a traitor. There were around two dozens other political workers who were arrested during a non-violent and peaceful protest demanding the release of Manzoor Pashteen in Islamabad. The brutal police crackdown made a mockery of the claims of the current government’s claims of democratic values.

Source: Awami Workers Party

Ammar Rashid and other young AWP workers were arrested and charged with sedition and terrorism. Earlier, the organizers of the Student Solidarity March were also arrested and charged with sedition, and those arrested included Lala Iqbal, the father of Mishaal Khan, the martyred progressive student of the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, for alleged blasphemy.

The authoritarian regime in Pakistan is trying to intimidate anyone who has a dissenting voice, especially anybody going anywhere near the message of Manzoor Pashteen. A person like me would think twice and neither do I care enough about Pakistan to spend a night in jail, let alone two weeks like Ammar. Undeterred, Ammar and his comrades displayed courage in the face of harassment and intimidation and endured the harsh jail term

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We certainly have bigger civil rights resistance heroes like Manzoor Pashteen, Ali Wazir, and Mohsin Dawar, but Ammar Rashid is most certainly a hero for progressive politics and the cause of the people of Pakistan. Ammar’s struggle is important because someone from the strongholds of the Punjabi ethnic majority needs to stand up for the civil rights of all Pakistanis too. Ammar is one of such political leaders, although not well known by most of the voters in his constituency of NA-53 in Islamabad. Not only that, He has always been on the forefront by demanding people’s rights from issues such as rescuing Islamabad’s razed Afghan refugee slum to protesting against the Blasphemy law and the rights of students to form political unions, he has always led the right causes for civil rights.

I don’t know about others but Ammar Rashid has truly earned his vote for me as a progressive leader pursuing civil rights.

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.”

State Killers for Hire?

Source: YouTube video capture

Extrajudicial killings by state entities have become a norm in Pakistan. When the supposed exceptions of the excessive force by the state will be given free passes, those will eventually become the practice.

Indeed, on the other side of the picture, the same state offers complete impunity to violent rioters when it suits its political agenda to undermine civilian politicians. But unfortunately, the draconian iron hand of the state law enforcement goes far behind this.

This weekend, a family was allegedly shot dead, including a father and a mother and their teenage daughter, in front of the younger children that accompanied them, by the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police on their way to Burewala from Lahore on the motorway near Sahiwal to attend a wedding. The shooting has been termed as collateral damage by the Law Minister of Punjab in an alleged operation carried out to capture a suspected terrorist with links with the Islamic State. Even if this is true, the sanity of such an operation can be questioned, even though pretty much all the official narratives have been negated by evidence surfacing on the social media and the account of the children and eye witnesses.

This is an extraordinary occurrence in Punjab of its kind but the rest of Pakistan might not agree with it. Initially, many estimated that it could be the result of familial or tribal animosity. This may still very well be the case but the involvement of the state law enforcement changes the equation.

Does this mean that a sitting political chief in Punjab was involved in settling a personal score through state machinery? It also raises some serious question mark about the administration of the incumbent PTI who has been criticizing other parties who have remained in power to abuse police for their vested interest. The only problem is that it has probably never been used in a darker manner before.

The deceased family – Source: pakobserver,net

This situation is even more disconcerting than the Model Town massacre of the at the compound of the protesting Pakistan Awami Tehreek, which was a public affair in comparison. Regardless, even that was the use of, albeit in the name of restoring law and order over.

Either way, the factor that always gets buried in the politics of these extrajudicial killings is the lives that are ruined. Many were recalling the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi and rogue cop Rao Anwar getting a free pass. And while you don’t get to see that impact with the murder of just another young man in some remote corner of the country which includes Karachi ironically, the cruelty of the Sahiwal killing was well publicized on the local and social media. Perhaps also because of the sheer brutality of this heartless act too, which involved the shooting of parents in front of the eyes of their little children and leaving them behind.

None of us can remotely claim to understand, let alone feel, the grief of the surviving children. Google the pictures and videos of the surviving children to know what condition they were left in. But don’t, on the second thought. Even I could not stomach taking a peek at the video. It’s simply unbearable.

But this is what you get for not asking enough questions of the state authorities. And rest assured, there are still way too many people telling the outraging dissenters to hush up. Especially because this concerns the image of Pakistan.

 

A Heroic Verdict from a Dark Judiciary

Source: aleteia.org

Finally! Asia Bibi has been acquitted of committing a non-crime.

Imagine the agony of the nine precious, irreplaceable years that the people and the state of Pakistan have taken away from her. Imagine the pain she and her family have been going through. As a nation, we have truly abused, harassed, and silenced her.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar is a complex character. He is a judicial vigilante with an exaggerated sense of self-importance and probably believes that he has been sanctioned by divine authority to carry out some special task. This probably explains his bizarre behavior as the office-bearer of the highest judicial position in the country. However, his latest action, or at least the bench under him, has resulted in a historic heroic verdict from what has been an otherwise dark judiciary under him.

As heroic this verdict is, you can still read its full text and laugh at some of the ridiculous religious articles found in its initial arguments, especially conceding that the penalty for blaspheming against the Holy Prophet should be death as per the Islamic teachings. Not much you can blame the judges for considering the nature of the cases they are dealing with. However, going deep into it, you would wonder how the lower courts found Asia Bibi guilty based on the testimony that the current Supreme Court found untrustworthy and not having legal standings. This speaks volumes about how dangerous the blasphemy law and its usage in the judiciary. It is shocking how such interpretations of judges could be the difference between the life and death of a person. Especially in ridiculous offenses such as blasphemy.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa closes his judgment with a particularly interesting remark.

Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religionand religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixingtruth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PeaceBe Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous. It is ironical thatin the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’ but inthe circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in thewords of Shakespeare’s
King Leare, “more sinned against than sinning”.
– p. 55, Criminal Appeal No. 39-L of 2015, October 31, 2018

Of course, following this verdict, pandemonium ensured across the country. The lunatic goons of the Tehreek Labaik Ya-Rasool Allah (TLP), a murderous cult of fanatics ran loose in the streets. The clerics of the movement openly called against the murder of the Justices who made the verdict and even called for the military rule on the condition of overthrowing Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who is commonly “alleged” to be an Ahmedi, which is a total abomination in the Pakistani society. As we speak, the TLP is ruining the traffic in my town by staging a sit-in protest at Faizabad.

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The newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, who ignored the clear merits of blocking roads and suddenly realizing that it hurts the poor, condemned elements such as the TLP and warned against stern action, even referring to them as “treasonous.” This bold piece of leadership also deserves a lot of appreciation.

Despite all their shortcomings and theocratic leanings, the Supreme Court justices managed to pull off not just a sane but heroic verdict under the circumstances. Their courage for keeping up the values of justice in the face of murderous religious fanatics is indeed praiseworthy.

Let’s hope these small steps of courage can lead to the eventual demise of the blasphemy law.

The Mockery of the Law and Constitution

Source: The News

Probably never before in Pakistan have we witnessed such a reckless and irresponsible judge. A deluded man from the bureaucratic elite who considers himself to be a godsent Messiah for the people now stands on the edge of criminal violations of the Constitution of Pakistan.

There is an entire history of the ridiculous statements that he has made which has brought disgrace to the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. However, he sunk to a new low by threatening to try the dissenters who might resist the construction of dams under Article 6 or the charge of treason. He also added that he has “begun to study” the Article 6 of the Constitution.

He made these statements while taking action against water bottler corporations. While we wish that everyone from the elite bureaucrats would have such a bleeding heart for the common people, he can spare us his twisted sense of populist justice. He should instead run for office after he will thankfully retire, hopefully on the due date in January.

Considering the concerns about the Indus Delta shrinkage, it only makes sense for people to raise questions about the dams he so fiercely advocates. Dams can be environmentally disastrous and there are certainly better ecological solutions than the large and wasteful dams, which can adversely alter the natural flow of rivers.

The honorable Chief Justice even ups the ante by vowing to build the controversial Kalabagh Dam which has been the bone of contention in Pakistani politics for decades. Now whether that is the bureaucratic establishment’s way of reinforcing the Punjabi supremacy. However, it remains to be seen if the unspoken military establishment has yet become strong enough to force the construction of the Kalabagh dam despite the protest from Sindh and the ANP.

But you wonder when is enough going to be enough. You wonder when will people have enough of this insane man at the helm of the highest judicial body in the country. You wonder when people will start challenging his nonsense. Which is particularly becoming difficult with a spineless Prime Minister paying tributes to his dam fund and has actually called for donations for building the dam himself.

Where is the outrage?

Where are the protests? Where are the dharnas?

We either are too afraid to see the inside of a local jell cell or probably we all have just stopped believing in Pakistan.

There is no reason why both can’t be true.

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.

Another Victory for Islam in Pakistan

Source: @Ehzan

The religiosity of the devout Muslims in Pakistan is a remarkable phenomenon. On one hand, the religious conservative Muslims maintain that people of other faith cannot possibly have a safer abode than a Muslim society and yet they will insist on further cornering marginalized community. They will openly express their hate and while this must not be the case with fringe liberal Muslims,

To remind the bigotry of a regular orthodox conservative Muslim in the holy month of Ramadan, a mob in Sialkot destroyed an Ahmedi mosque, which according to Ahmedi pages was 150 years old. The video of the aftermath of destruction is shared by people whose posts are full of derogatory slurs against Ahmedis.

According to American Ahmedi activist, Kashif Chaudhary, the mob consisted of the members if the extremist Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah. While they are the usual suspects ideologically, the word on twitter, at least as per Rabwah Times, local PTI leader Hafiz Hamid Raza was also involved.

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The news will not be found anywhere in the mainstream Pakistani news media of course, which preaches faux tolerance when it is not spreading hate and bigotry or is calling people to report instances of blasphemy. A more substantial footage of the incident was shared by the Ahmedi page The Rabwah Times. It is immensely important to both report and record incidents such as these because most of the time you will find Pakistani social conservatives even denying their occurrence altogether.

In Pakistan, a lot of fuss is made about security, justice, and law and order. As evident from the speech of the leader of the mob, the members of the district administration were not only present at the site of this incident but were apparently supervising the demolition. But if the federal government accepted defeat on the very same issue to the goons of Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah after the sit-in protest about six months back in November 2017, this is a small violation in comparison. Ideologically, the Government of Pakistan and its law enforcement backs this religious bigotry.

It is important to point out that this incident is committed by a community that is outraged to this day by the demolition of an obscure Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in India. That incident was undoubtedly a clear example of Hindu extremists in India and resulted in their strained relations with the Muslim community. However, you would expect some level of understanding from the orthodox Muslim groups. Not the case in Sialkot.

But it is also liberal naïvety comparing it to Babri Mosque incident. You need to see the incidents from the eyes of Sunni Muslims too. The mosque belonged to a community which is not supposed to have a mosque according to the Pakistani law. They have only done justice in their eyes.

Again, in the proud history of justice in Pakistan, this incident will shine as yet another example of the exemplary state of civil rights in the country.

How could things possibly be wrong in an Islamic Republic?

This was just another victory for Islam in Pakistan.