A Wake Up Call for the Interior Minister

Source: Dawn

Ahsan Iqbal is easily one of the most dignified, educated, and well spoken politicians in Pakistan. He is a visionary and has been promoting a progressive economic vision since the earlier terms of PML-N.

He became an unlikely candidate for the position of Interior Minister when the self-righteous Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, an ultra conservative pro-establishment PML-N dissident, stepped down. When the Prime Minister was also disqualified, the tensions got even more intense and paved way for Ahsan Iqbal’s rise to the powerful but controversial position of becoming the civilian security boss of the country. Many expected that the position will not suit him well, a man of a scholarly background. Especially because it was in this current tenure that the social media was blacked out during a protest for the first time in history in Pakistan.

Back in November, when Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was occupying the parliament square in Islamabad, the greatest test came of his leadership. His resolutions to the problem drastically failed when due to the unwillingjness of the military, a half backed operation ended up further strengthening the hands of the rogue Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah, a radical Barelvi political cult whose agenda is to reinforce the laws about the Finality of the Prophethood and to make life further miserable for the already marginalized Ahmedi community of Pakistan. Ahmedis are perceived as a threat by orthodox religious Muslims in Pakistan to the tenet that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, even though the Ahmedis respond that they share the same belief.

The recent controversy over the Ahmedi oath for the parliament members sparked the protest in the first place with the blame falling on the , apart from generally on the entire leadership of PML-N. Sunni clerics even issued fatwas that voting for the party was haram or forbidden.

Despite the threat to the party, and some would say that particularly because of it, the PML-N federal government decided to appease the extremist Muslims by making laws about blasphemy and speech even stricter. The Ministry of Interior, as well as the National Counter Terrorism Agency, are running campaigns that openly call for people to hunt for perceived blasphemies in the guise of acting against hate speech. While such narrative has not been started by the Government of Pakistan so proactively, as you can thank the narrative of the local cleric for that, it has emerged with full force as a countering reaction to unpopular speech on social media.

Today, hours ago actually, Ahsan Iqbal was shot at by an angry citizen in a meeting with the constituents in his native Narowal District. Fortunately, the bullet only brushed his arm and his life was spared. The would-be assassin Abid Hussain has been captured and he has confessed to have made an attempt on the Minister’s life because of the “Finality of Prophethood” or “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” issue.  While this complex term may not mean anything to most people, it is the article of faith of the Muslim population, and takes an extreme in the more radical elements of the Barelvi sect that is particularly devotional to the Prophet.

Source: Times of Islamabad

While the Minister has been lucky, all the citizens hunted by the extremists such as his assailant are not so much. Especially when the one putting them to death is the judiciary. The 30 year old blogger who got convicted by the court for just expressing himself was not so lucky. Often people tend to forget how harmful and dangerous these so-called responsible information campaigns are. And it is important to remember that government campaigns calling for reporting blasphemy are as dangerous in creating the mindset that resulted in the attempt on the life of Ahsan Iqbal as the hateful teachings in the mosque.

I wish the Interior Minister will consider this unfortunate event a wake up call. We are very happy that he is safe but it is time that he starts thinking about safeguarding the speech and lives of his citizens. Of course, he can’t fight the atrocious courts in Pakistan but at least he can tone down the explicit witch hunt. Or the same poison that stung him today could get just about any one of us.

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The Calls for Revolution in Lahore and State Censorship

Source: Dawn

We are living in fascinating times.

Never before a civil rights movement that is about something as fundamental as the demands for the recognition of the Pashtuns of the tribal areas has emerged on this scale. To add insult to the injury of the authoritarian state which does not recognize the legitimacy of the movement, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement decided to hold their congregation in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, the majority ethnic province the population of which traditionally makes up most of the bureaucratic establishment that runs the Pakistani state.

While Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of democracy, few would have thought that the kind of draconian measures that were imposed during Zia’s term would still be around. Especially when another dictator Pervez Musharraf, who had started imagining himself an elected leader after his sham referendum. But after that period of euphoric media freedom the likes of which the people of Pakistan had never seen before, who would have thought that you would see absolute control of speech on TV and censored, deleted newspaper articles.

After Express Tribune censoring the articles from New York Times about blasphemy years ago and more recently Mohammad Hanif’s article criticizing the military establishment for its covert support to the Islamist militants, a new phenomenon is underway. Published newspaper articles going missing.

Renowned journalists, analysts, and columnists are being prevented from writing about the Pashtun

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One such article by Khan Zaman Kakar was deleted by The News, which was later shared on his profile by Ahmed Waqas Goraya. Nobody wants to hear anyone calling the PTM a non-violent movement. Especially when the state is so responsive and cooperative to Mullahs threatening violence and rioting to fulfill their demands.

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Apart from an organized defamation movement against the movement of Manzoor Pashteen, accusing it of collusion with enemy countries, the mainstream media is deliberately blocking all mention and all news.

Very few in Pakistan know that the City District Government of Lahore, working under the domain of Government of Punjab, released sewage water in the ground near Lakshmi Chowk in Lahore where the congregation had to take place. The movement workers had to get rid of the flooding on their own to make the event possible.

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If this were not enough, the state resorted to arresting the leadership of the political movement ahead of the rally and after it. You could argue that it is a blatant violation of the Constitution but we can only thank our stars that the government did not shut twitter and facebook down. The crackdown on the TLYRA Protest in Islamabad on November 26 last time has shown us that the government can even go to that limit when twitter and facebook saw a temporary blackout. Sadly, our Supreme Court and judicial activist Chief Justice would remain silent on these constitutional violations.

But who will know about these constitutional violations when no one is going to learn about them? And when the press will be prevented from covering such news?

Yes, press censorship is back in full flow and the freedom of press is dead.

Furious About Malala Returning Home?

Malala and family with the Prime Minister – Source: VOA

Who would have thought that we would see the day when Malala would be able to return home?

Well, that day has finally arrived. Reminding the entire patriotic nation of what a traitor she is and has been and that instead of welcoming her back, it is the perfect time to condemn her for being a Western, “Zionist” agent.

Believe it or not, this is the way a good number of social conservative nationalists are actually reacting to Malala Yousafzai returning to Pakistan.

The local conservative media, many of them backed by the military, is actually on the forefront of spreading propaganda against Malala. It is ironic because Malala is used by the military to promote its anti-Taliban stance. There are also no shortages of endorsement of the military by Malala, who tries her best to steer clear of controversy.

The Private School Association has actually declared the day of Malala’s return to be observed as a black day. What is worse, some schools are going as low as forcing young and vulnerable minds to

Here is a little specimen whether you talk about the local schools or some of our conservative nationalist news pundits.

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I am lost for words. The allegation is that Malala has tarnished the image of Pakistan and its armed forces, as heard in this video. Could be but I can hardly recall the last time Malala made a negative statement about Pakistan. Ironically, her returning to Pakistan is one of the rare times when a positive headline about the country made it to the international market. Maybe Malala should change her strategy.

Source: AFP

But of course, when Malala gets together with another alleged “traitor” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, obviously she is going to attract a lot of flak.

The conspiracy theory among Malala-hating social conservative nationalists is that the incident of her getting shot was fake and was set up by the NGO mafia. Apart from the insane fact that Malala will never be the same again and it is a miracle that she is even alive considering the hole the bullets had put in her head, there is one way this “drama” could have actually worked. It has worked in exposing the filth in the collective minds of the conservative nationalist mindset in Pakistan.

Now imagine if you were a nine year old and were shot by terrorists and were forced to live away from your home for years and would be deprived of a normal childhood. But then again what is the point of arguing with people who are furious that a young girl has returned to her home after forced to leave it for several years.

Calling for Sharia in the Capital

Source: tanzeem.org/Twitter: @syousuf71

To most people in Pakistan, there would be nothing out of the place about demanding Sharia in a country which was made in the name of faith. While a lot of people don’t even agree with the statement that Pakistan was established on the basis of faith but on the basis of the protection of the rights of a community, the distinction does not even matter considering the established narrative in Pakistan.

Throughout the Muslim majority world, you would find Islamist groups blackmailing the local population for enforcing Sharia, the Islamic law that eliminates a likelihood of establishing a fair secular social order and is widely known for persecuting women and minority groups. Granted, you might call for Sharia while also asking for the abolition of any secular order in a country alleged to be created in the name of religion but not in a democracy. Because those calls are by very definition

For the entire past week and even on the day when I write this post, the citizens can see signs from the self-proclaimed revolutionary Islamist group Tanzeem-i-Islami or Islamic Organization with inflammatory messages condemning secularism and democracy and calling for the Caliphate and enforcing theocratic Sharia.

Source: Original

There are following posts in Urdu language, which hope to incite an already tired and frustrated population to rise up against the democratic order, which barely exists in a country with a ruling bureaucratic oligarchy. Messages would barely translate to:

“Secularism will only lead to slavery and humiliation while only the Sharia can deliver.”

“Denying the ideological (theocratic) state is tantamount to ideological apostasy.”

Here it is important to remind that apostasy or “irtidad” is an offense in traditional Islam that apostates, or those converting out of Islam, should be put to death. Many Western liberal Muslims will deny such a rule even exists but it is the majority consensus in the Sunni or orthodox sect of the religion and you often hear antithetical critics quote it during debates. Now, equating the denial of the theocratic basis of the creation of Pakistan to a charged word like apostasy is clearly a threat.

There are many more messages like this which you can find throughout the length of some of the most modern sectors in Islamabad. The Tanzeem,  founded by the late Dr. Israr Ahmed and led by Hafiz Aakif Saeed, calls it the “Strengthening Pakistan Campaign” and cites Jinnah’s irrational quotes about the religious law as the basis for their faith in a theocratic version of the Ideology of Pakistan. And clearly, they are no fans of democracy as their very message displayed as the cover image for this blog reads that the idea of the rule of people is counter to the monotheistic beliefs of the sole right of worship of Allah or God.

If you go through their statements, they essentially present the Ideology of Pakistan as an article of faith, as if disagreeing with it, as the likes of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did, would qualify you for apostasy. This is the promotion of an extremely dangerous idea in a nation which has already been blinded beyond control in terms of their approval of violence for blasphemy.

In a democracy, extremist entities such as anti-democratic theocrats and Islamists can exist and possibly practice their politics. Another instance is the Neo-Nazis in the Western democracies. However, when their ideas are so clearly undemocratic that they lead toward the harm of the people and the democratic system of law that threatens the very fundamental rights and liberties that offer them the chance to thrive, it is going beyond that acceptable line.

But never do you ever see such extremist groups becoming active electorally and come even close to representing the people in the legislature to affect the law and the constitution, unless that nation wants to give an opening for it to become Nazi Germany or Islamic Revolutionary Iran.

Some progressive and conservative liberals actually advocate actively pushing back these groups because they are a threat to democracy and fundamental rights in whatever capacity they exist. However, it is important to respect the principle on sheer emotion. Nevertheless, it is time to think about seriously banning such an organization when they start threatening democracy by taking their hate speech to the mainstream and by threatening to take electoral seats away from democrats just because they enjoy the sympathy of theocrats in the public.

Tanzeem-e-Islami is doing its job. I don’t wish them all the best but I do respect that they are taking their message across peacefully, even though a very violent and brutal message. However. what I am astounded at is the Government of Pakistan, the ever-present bane of our existence. A Government that openly asks for people to report social media posts for blasphemy, but would take zero action against an organization that is openly talking about enforcing theocracy and eliminating democratic freedoms, the very freedom it is exercising to take away their freedoms paradoxically.

In such a scenario, you can’t help but think that indeed Pakistan was formed for establishing a theocracy and is ruled by people who want such a policy to be enforced, even including the elected democrats.

What Pakistan Day Says to the Minority Groups

Source: aaj.tv

While it is, and it is easy to write from the position of privilege from a very safe distance, I found myself horrified this Pakistan Day. Often equated as the Republic Day because some of the constitutions were deliberately passed this day to coincide with what it is actually celebrated for. The Lahore Resolution in 1940. The event which laid foundation of the division of India on communal lines. But worse than that, it laid the foundation of Pakistan becoming virtually a theocratic state. Something which happened and which people blame on the “untimely” demise of the founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

This day became a celebration of the toxic idea that Pakistan was a country acquired for the protection of the rights of a certain community which happened to be a minority in the United British India at the time. While many of their concerns were valid in the context of a Hindu majority, many, especially in Punjab, questioned the sanity of such a demand until Muslim League won the reluctant state over in the 1946 elections.

However, the idea remains that if you happen to be coming from a different background, then this country is neither meant for you, nor is it going to be a comfortable place for you anyway. So I am not sure if it is something to be too proud of. There are apologist nationalists and history revisionists who would really want you to believe otherwise, but the history of Pakistan tells a different story altogether.

And it feels even more embarrassing when you see them believing in the idea of Pakistan, an idea which actually took away their rights and freedom. And that makes it all the more difficult because somehow as a citizen you feel the pressure that you have been responsible for it.

So I am not sure if I can be so proud about the day until l can look some of my other fellow countrymen and women in the eye.

Well, you can be. But if you really ignore those and forget about the discrimination that has long become a norm.

How much insensitive do you need to be?

A New, Compromised PTI

Source: Samaa.tv

Today has been a fascinating day by all means.

Who would have thought they would see a day when Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain would be sitting right next to Imran Khan and would announce joining the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI)?

Others would say it is not a surprise considering Aamir Liaquat Hussain’s career on the hawkishly pro-establishment Bol Network after his exodus from Geo TV and MQM. This can be said for the reason .

Aamir Liaquat Hussain obviously has no shortage of his haters. While I personally thought that his Geo TV leaks showed more of his human side, it also shed light on the hypocrisy of his self-righteousness as was the focus of most people analyzing them. As a matter of fact, that revelation had actually liberated Aamir Liaquat Hussain, making him more sarcastic, more fearless, and far more caustic and candid in his approach to his public conversation. As if he was almost relieved that the cover of his “holy religious figure” was blown.

Though what you can argue about Aamir Liaquat is that he is a survivor who knows how to make the best of every situation, or at least to make a lot of money. Seeing Aamir Liaquat Hussain should not be such a big surprise on his part. It is not something that is beyond him. Actually, he has been at it before. However, it does reflects on the PTI which claims to set very high moral standards for themselves. Though one thing that has come off as a constant with this party is that the only wrong they think in this world is financial corruption.

Still, this development hit a number of influencing PTI followers hard who would not have imagined in their wildest dreams that someone like Aamir Liaquat will join the party. Many people who would go to great lengths to defend the party and its morally uncompromising stance are backing off. Salman Ahmed of Junoon is just one example.

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However, Imran Khan is finally showing signs of going beyond his brand of politics of uncompromised principles, which probably means he is taking the upcoming election very seriously and he better. Particularly in the Senate elections in which he believes he scored by preventing having a Senator elected from either PML-N or PPP, (which is not much of an achievement as the Supreme Court had already grounded the party affiliation of the PML-N candidates) while working with the PPP in terms of getting the vote to the same candidate for the position of Chairman Senate. However, with all the talk of the military establishment behind all their recent Senate moves, and not being able to say no to Aamir Liaquat Hussain is a factor that still casts a shadow of doubt over the softening of their stance.

There is little doubt that the PTI can hardly do anything to counter the PML-N juggernaut unless they make an electoral alliance with the PPP in the parliament. And they should try whatever possible legal tactic to do so, even when it comes to welcoming people like Aamir Liaquat Hussain in the party.

The number of people who passionately defend PTI is falling sharply. Obviously, there are still diehard Imran Khan fans, even I have him as a childhood hero, so yes they are going to stick no matter what but as long as he is heading the party.

Liberalism in Crisis in Pakistan

Source: Awami Workers Party facebook page (The slogan on banner reads: Progressives Unite!)

With the death of Asma Jahangir, you can find a sense of panic amid the circles of liberals in Pakistan. In a state of social conservatives, where we see the religious fundamentalists with more impunity than ever, liberals seem to be on the retreat.

This probably happens on the death of every prominent Pakistani liberal figure. And there is a good reason for that.

Liberals in Pakistan are in such small numbers that even the departure of a single person can create such a massive blackhole which might not even be filled in a generation. Though it depends on the liberal that has passed. And sadly in the case of Asma Jahangir, it is unusually massive.

Some of my friends such as @BenignDirector are beginning to worry about the future of liberalism in Pakistan and call on all liberals to come together. This, of course, led him to explain the troubling definition of liberalism in Pakistan. He also reflected on the meaning of the word in Pakistan, including the “lifestyle liberals” who would otherwise remain distant from political activism and disapproved of interference from religious social conservatives. It is complicated but I agree with his larger point.

The trouble is that in countries with medieval tribal societies such as Pakistan, just about anyone who thinks about something for themselves can possibly qualify. Now that is a good thing. But considering the conventions of the orthodoxy among nationalist social conservatives, this trait is a dangerous adventure. It is not really as rare as you would like to believe, but considering the conservative “masses,” this small minority becomes a precious perversion to celebrate and one which obviously needs better protection. Outspoken folks like Raza Rumi should remain miles away from the borders of this country.

But liberalism is truly in crisis in Pakistan, no matter the rays of hope would like to identify themselves as liberals or not. To my mind, it has been on a constant decline since the creation of Pakistan among the society that had been manufactured in the new nation state. A great deal of this decline can be attributed to the enlightened higher-ups in the ruling class who preferred separate rules for their echelons and different for the peasants, laborers, and especially those vulnerable at the hands of clerics. These criminals allowed the country to become a constitutional theocracy and eliminated any chance of a functioning electorate.

The 1971 civil war was the only and first major battle for the soul of a liberal democracy in Pakistan. It resulted in the loss of the then larger chunk of the country’s population with the humiliation of our countrymen allying with archenemies India against the immaculately great cause of the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims. Well, wouldn’t you say Pakistan would have been a logical consequence of that? As much as people would like to make it a Bengali-Punjabi-Pashtun-Hindustani war, it was more about secular democracy against a morally bankrupt theocratic authoritarian oligarchy.

Ever since the Pakistani liberals have been cornered, let’s hope not forever, so that another uprising like Mujeeb’s does not show its face. The Rawalpindi conspiracy case being another instance when they could have come close. But the leftists that had emerged in 1950s, perhaps as a reaction to the pro-American autocratic elite, had been completely displaced from their original form. Especially with the ban on the Communist party. Probably a blessing in disguise for liberal scum like myself who have always been dumbfounded by the extreme political choices between the reds and the Jamaatiye (members of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami or Pakistani affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) but no such option is acceptable when Jamaat-e-Islami roams free. How can they contest elections in a democracy? Then what is the choice but to be a leftist?

Or you could be a “liberal” like the intellectual bureaucracy of Pakistan that fashioned its lifestyle in the manner of Jinnah but asked everybody else to follow Maududi, a Jamaat-e-Islami cleric who was behind the worst Islamic clauses of the atrocious 1973 constitution. These enlightened ones, as mentioned before, would raise toasts in private parties and will ask women of their countries to cover their heads. They fed the elaborate visions of Quranic Apocalypse in Ghazwa-e-Hind to prepare an entire generation of Jehadi soldiers which they had no intention to recruit among their ranks to keep and expand the influence of the state. There really is no end to this disaster which carries on in just like evolution and natural selection.

The crisis in liberalism in Pakistan is that we consider the Jamaat-e-Islami as the solution to offer Islamists an opportunity to participate in mainstream politics so they don’t start blowing themselves and others up. The crisis is that we think that Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah contesting the elections is an improvement from their ridiculous antics in the sit-in protest. The crisis is that raging mullahs can set cities on fire to get what they want but the liberals, whether leaning conservative or progressive, can’t even imagine doing that. The crisis is that we keep confusing Bahria Town with free market capitalism. The crisis is that we think a separate nation state for a single community was a good idea.

So in these state of affairs, yes, I really don’t care about the various political and economic positions as long as they stand for secularism. I will attend the February 24 tribute to Asma Jahangir by the leftist Awami Workers Party, a party that you will find standing for the right issues more often than not, just like I have joined them to protest the killing of Sabeen and Mashaal Khan. I will stand by their side and endure slogans targeted at me for being a traitor-friend of the United States of America. I will still not join it but will cheer for their passionate volunteers and wonder about our dark future and pointless, wasted lives in that surreal moment and what toilets in Pakistani jails would look like.

Anybody who is for secularism is an ally. In Pakistan, you could argue all of them are liberals. Sorry, if you don’t like the label.