How We Treat Our Heroes

Source: Pakistan Today

The people who are at the helm of communication and authority in Pakistan often seem to be worried about the image of the country. They would go to great lengths to try, devoting all their energies to divert attention from all the bad news about Pakistan.

However, the same people would turn a blind eye when the heroes earning a good name for Pakistan are treated in a horrific manner if they ever differ from the state sanctioned views. Only recently, the way Gulalai Ismail has been treated with her passport confiscated and her name put in Exit Control List is just an example. All because of her support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

This has been just a glimpse of the greater decay at the heart of the Pakistani democracy. A lot of commentators are saying that they have not witnessed such an assault on free speech even in the days of the Zia regime. Perhaps for the first time ever, armed guards from a security agency violated the sanctity of the Karachi Press Club.

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What is even worse, supposedly the most progressive parties are shutting their most brilliant and outspoken leaders down because they are expressing dissent with the Pakistani establishment. ANP has just recently suspended membership of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar. This is what it comes down to when you talk about democracy in Pakistan.

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It probably would not have been half as much disappointing if it was just a case of Pakistani people giving up on democracy. Because unfortunately, that is what has been happening for decades now. Despite all the sacrifices from brave pro-democracy leaders, achieving what people like me cannot even remotely imagine about. What really breaks your heart is that this is how we treat our heroes.

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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.

Another Defeat for the State?

Source: samaa.tv

So the Pakistani state capitulated to the religious extremists again?

Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah won again.

However, the best part is that it only took us 3 days of mindless violence and rioting to get there. At least it saved the nation the weeks of inconvenience that the PML-N government had subjected the citizens to last year. At least this time we did not see a shutdown of the social media.  And especially because there was no attempt of a violent police operation against them. Actually, politically it works perfectly for PTI.

You know, it’s wise to settle these matters more tactfully and avoid violence on the protesters at all cost. Even if they burn the entire city down. It is very important not to stir any tensions or hurt any sentiments.

And it is perfectly fine to tolerate a “political party” that is calling for the death of alleged committers of blasphemy in their party anthem.

This time the protesters did something even cooler than before. They called for open rebellion against the State of Pakistan, asked for the 3 justices who acquitted Asia Bibi to be murdered and asked the military to impose martial law after deposing the Army Chief who is alleged to be an Ahmedi. Especially after this sort of rhetoric, forget the almost billion dollars they managed to waste with all the rioting, that they will not be forgiven this time around.

The difference is that instead of dispensing stipends among the miscreants, our security institutions are now in the hunt for people who did all the damage. And that is in strike contrast with the military not moving in despite requests from the defeated Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal last year, and particularly with the infamous optics of a Rangers official distributing money among the TLP protesters to apparently pay for their trip home.

But what has not changed and what will probably not change in the near future is that the state is not strong enough to stand up to the blasphemy cult, which is essentially Islam as sanctioned by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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The daring speech of the Prime Minister turned out to be dud after all as he, holding the Interior Ministry portfolio, had left for China for a reprimand debriefing for his previous stance on the CPEC before the TLP matter could be resolved. The matter resolved on its own with the PTI government conceding to most “reasonable” demands of the TLP and pushing them to apologize for killing a couple of people and destroying a billion dollar worth of property of innocent and defenseless private citizens and of the government.

Also, the government in principle agreed to the idea of putting Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List to ensure that she is killed by a Pakistani civilian even if the state acquits her.

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All liberals were able to achieve was getting the twitter account of Khadim Hussain Rizvi blocked.

Meanwhile, the fate of Asia Bibi continues to hang in balance.

And Khadim Hussain Rizvi keeps on getting stronger every day.

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.

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.

A New Low for the Pakistani State Every Day

Source: rferl.org

Just when you thought that the Pakistani state could not stoop any lower, it surprised you with its latest achievement. Although you really shouldn’t be surprised and probably many were not when they learned about the arrest of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail. Gulalai is a young Pashtun woman who has been vocal about women’s digital rights and free speech and has been recognized for her contribution abroad as well.

The cause for Gulalai’s arrest was her support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Pashteen, who has largely been dubbed as a traitor by the Pakistani state establishment. Gulalai was arrested immediately on her arrival in Islamabad from her tour and her name was put on the Exit Control List, a blacklist supposed to prevent citizens from traveling outside Pakistan. While she has been released on interim bail, the case against her by the FIA stands as her home in Swabi was also raided for her arrest.

Gulalai is a well-respected figure not just in Pakistan but globally for her work in human rights. Founder of NGO Aware Girls, focused on women’s rights and leadership, she has received the Chirac Prize for conflict prevention in France and there was no wonder it wasn’t long before Amnesty International was calling for her release.

It only goes to show the impunity of the Pakistani state and their sheer disregard of not even sparing human rights activists of an international repute. You can only imagine how the authorities must be treating more obscure political dissenters and human rights activists. You can accuse people like Malala and Gulalai of privilege as compared to their fellow citizens, even though that would be unfair, but figures like them become symbols of resistance when the struggle of the common man goes unnoticed.

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The way the Pashtun population has been treated in recent years, especially since the recent Swat and Waziristan operations and the APS incident, has been a disgrace, to say the least. They are particularly discriminated against at military check posts and the way the Punjabi establishment has been painting non-violent grassroots leaders like Manzoor Pashteen as terrorists in their public broadcasts has been simply unacceptable. Such an ad has been airing of late and the embarrassed Punjab government was forced to pull it off.

The Pakistani state must seriously reconsider the way it treats its citizens and must put an end to its long history of undemocratic authoritarianism if it wants democracy to flourish. That clearly has not been the goal of the civil and military bureaucratic establishment in the country.

Pakistan must keep in mind before lecturing other countries on human rights.

Indus Blues is finally here

The film that I had worked almost all year now with filmmaker Jawad Sharif has been finally completed. Now, the release of the film is upon us. And tomorrow will see the first public look at the trailer of Indus Blues, which will give us a broader and better idea of how the public will react to the film.

Indus Blues was the idea of director and producer Jawad Sharif, whose approach to documentary filmmaking is truly refreshing among independent filmmakers in Pakistan. The project has been at least three years in the making. I am proud to have been a part of the team and particularly for collaborating with Arieb Azhar, someone who I truly look up to in terms of their contribution to art and culture in Pakistan, apart from being a big fan.

The film features 9 folk musical instruments from various cultures all across Pakistan and features some of the last remaining maestros playing these instruments. These include the likes of Sachu Khan, Faqeer Zulfikar, Mumtaz Ali Sabzal, Zohaib Hassan, and Ejaz Sarhadi among others. The film is different because it not only features musicians but also the craftsmen.

Source: indusbluesfilm.com

We are very proud that the film has already been nominated for two documentary feature awards at two international film festivals. However, more important than such recognition is spreading the word about the struggle of survival of these indigenous musicians and craftsmen. The film is the production of Foundation of Arts, Culture and Education (FACE) and Bipolar Films.

My personal comment on the film is that it is important because it reminds Pakistanis to appreciate the indigenous humanism in the cultures of the Indus, as well as the remarkable cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity in Pakistan that is often ignored. Indus Blues also captures some of the most memorable performances of folk artists such as Sachu Khan who is in the twilight of his career and battling heart disease.

Please follow Indus Blues on its social media accounts on facebook, instagram, and twitter. Check out its official website at:

http://www.indusbluesfilm.com

And also, watch out for the official trailer release on Monday, October 1, 2018 at 2000 HRS.