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.”