When Aurat March was Attacked by Islamists in Islamabad

Source: Reuters

On March 8, when progressive and liberal women were marching for their rights in Islamabad, and the Islamist parties decided to march alongside them. No, hell did not freeze over. The “Haya March” or the “Honor March” was meant to counter the agenda of the Women’s March on International Women’s Day. And the ingenious Islamabad Capital Administration, which had to be convinced to allow space to Aurat Azadi March, thought it necessary to allow the Islamist rally to be held right next to it at the National Press Club.

A natural consequence of this disastrous setup was chaos, indiscipline, and violence resulting in multiple injuries. Fortunately, nobody lost their life, even though the savage mullahs almost ensured it. And many of us, the citizens of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, were there to witness it.

While I have not favored the idea of attending the women’s march for years, primarily because I believe that men should not occupy women’s space on the occasion. Especially when a lot of enemies of the march had infiltrated just to harass women, as a few cases came out. However, I knew it was different this time because it was more like an ideological battlefield and we had to show up to show solidarity, other than covering it for a documentary. And the protest plot outside the National Press Club sure looked like a battlefield alright.

The March day afternoon was partly clear after a rainy morning and the assembly area was all wet and muddy. A tent fence divided both sides of the road by the Press Club leading to the F6 market and on the far side, the Haya March and its rally were to take place. Before any activity would begin on the progressive side on the assembly area, the Jamaat-e-Islami women were done marching as bus after bus with Jamaat-e-Islami flags would transport workers to the venue. However, the burka-clad women stuck around, apart from the Hijabi types who were also leading a rally, for the speeches by the “Ulema” or religious scholar leaders of the three Islamist groups organizing the march, Jamaat-e-Islami, Sunni Ittehad, and JUI-F.

Throughout the day, inflammatory speeches were heard from the other side. In just about any given speech, women in the Aurat March, just a few meters away were condemned as prostitutes, as women who would sell their bodies to the highest bidder. Despite all the venom, which was left unnoticed by the Islamabad Capital Territory Police, apparently already bracing for a riot by the looks of their gear, no reaction came from the progressive side. Meanwhile, the police did not bother to intervene to stop the hate speech and did not think for a minute what consequences it could possibly have. It is funny how the Islamabad DC was having a hard time allowing the Aurat March but did not lift a finger when the participants of the reactionary Islamist March showed up.

However, after all the speeches of the high officials of the Islamist alliance were over, their women participants, very few of who got to even speak, were ordered to exit the venue. Once they were gone, all the “political workers” positioned themselves to attack the fragile tent curtain partition separating them from the Aurat March. They started throwing large stones, bricks, canes, and shoes at the Aurat March and finally stormed on, barely controlled by the cops.

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A few people even got injured during the assault who were taken for medical help. But perhaps the most dangerous instance was Women Democratic Front leader Ismat Shahjahan who led the fight in Islamabad getting hit by a stone in her head. This could very easily have resulted in anything and the goons from JUI-F, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Sunni Ittehad did not consider the possible consequences of their actions for a moment. They indeed carried out the threats of their leader made a few days ago.

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The most condemnable bit was that Islamabad Police, always pandering to the violent religious forces, had refused the Aurat March participants to go ahead on the agreed-upon route. Ironically, the ICT Headquarters building was right next to the Press Club. Led by Tooba Syed, the march stopped in front of the building and vowed to block the road until the march was permitted to follow its route all the way to D-Chowk near the Parliament House. She, along with many other women activists of the Women Democratic Front, showed immense courage in the face of threats to their lives and had their voices heard.

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Since the Lal Masjid controversy, Islamabad has essentially become a battleground for secular political elements and the established theocratic fundamentalists in the country. Perhaps nothing manifests this conflict better than this single incident during the Aurat March, one which could have so easily resulted in the loss of life.

However, the courage displayed by the women in the face of violence and intimidation, especially the leadership of Women Democratic Forum under Ismat Shahjahan and Tooba Syed, gave anyone witnessing those scenes goosebumps. So many had tears in their eyes on the way forward and on the way back, not because they were afraid, hurt, or intimidated, but because they were proud to be a part of history.

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This is why Aurat March looks like a revolution and perhaps without its moment, it would not have proved so iconic. Bold, confident, emancipated women pissing social conservative mullahs and their allies off so much that they can barely hold themselves back from attacking them. It is simply shocking but that is what defines gender relations in Pakistan today.

The women have spoken up. They are marching and nothing can stop them now.

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.

To Support Maulana’s Azadi March or Not

Source: geo.tv

Life throws some tough dilemmas your way. As if your everyday moral questions were not enough, history brought people to a crossroads which surely disturbed them in one way or the other. And sometimes the choices you make tell a lot about where you stand. Especially if they happen to be Pakistanis who are secular liberals and anti-establishment.

To support Maulana’s Azadi March or not.

There are many secular leftists who have simply rejected the idea of a Maulana vehicle being an ideal platform for the promotion of democracy. The likes of the Awami Workers Party and Jibran Nasir, who are always proactive on social issues, chose not to support the march because of the religious card, bigotry against Ahmedis, and the exclusion of women from the platform, something which Marvi Sirmed also pointed out.

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Most of the pro-establishment and/or pro-status quo or pro-Imran Khan liberals completely reject the notion of the Azadi March because it is being led by a religious party or because of the “religious card.” The religious card here particularly being focus on preserving the finality of Prophethood or Khatm-e-Nabuwat, a fancy name of the anti-Ahmedi movement in Pakistan, and against attempts to amend the blasphemy law. Many of these critics agree that anti-establishment liberals are compromising their principles by cheering for Maulana’s march.

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Other anti-establishment center-left and right liberals, especially those sympathetic to the current cause of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and the emerging anti-establishment leadership of Maryam Nawaz, are not playing so safe. They are fully behind the march and even taking jabs at those sitting out citing the religious card, including the pro-establishment liberals who are subtly supporting the Imran Khan administration.

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The politically incorrect Gul Bukhari is, of course, all for the march and disappointment at the PML-N for their half-hearted support.

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The PTM has distanced itself from the march citing its impact of perpetuating an “obsolete system of government,” albeit supporting their right to protest. PML-N and PPP, meanwhile, are partially participating and avoiding the march for some mysterious reasons only known to them.

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Many anti-establishment seculars tend to agree but acknowledge at the back of their minds that some kind of resistance needs to be offered to the current government.

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There have been no shortages of false comparisons with the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran to discredit the march and even dismissals mentioning that it is no Hong Kong or Beirut protest. Indeed this march is neither. But surely, it has been facing a media blackout which has become the characteristic of the Bajwa-Imran regime. These visuals were nowhere to be seen on national TV.

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As of today, the Awami National Party, which is as secular a party as they come in Pakistan, Another secular nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai had joined the march right from the start in Karachi on October 27.

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The Maulana’s caravans might enter Islamabad any hour now and the procession which was supposed to happen today has been delayed until Friday afternoon prayers, partially because of the Rahimyar Khan train tragedy.

It is clear that Maulana’s party does not see this march as a mission to enforce Sharia in the country, as much as some people trying to make it sound like that. It is indeed not directed against the military but it does channel some of the frustration of the public against the Imran Khan administration, if not against the Bajwa-Imran regime. It may occasionally mention the selectors but it is surely not against them.

So are you supporting the March too? I am not “supporting” a Mulllah’s party either but I sure as well don’t mind it is happening. And pretty much agree with all its objectives other than “protecting the Islamic provisions of the constitution.” If the capital can be paralyzed for the good part of the year for discrediting a legitimately elected government and for rigging allegations for four constituencies, it can surely be shut down for locking up the entire opposition and almost killing a three-times elected Prime Minister. And the latter is my biggest reason to march against the current administration.

The only problem is that the agenda of this march barely mentions that.

Standing Up to Your Government’s Tyranny

Source: Reuters/ABC News

This iconic image means a lot to our generation. A generation that has only heard distantly about dangerous fascist threats in World War II movies and novels does not realize what it means to stand up to that government.

We absolutely have no idea about the courage and bravery of this great figure who decided to stand up to the tyranny and might of his authoritarian government. On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the number and extent of which nobody knows,  It was perhaps the last major push for a democratic China ever since the It is unthinkable that citizens in China today, except for those who witnessed and suffered it first hand, are not even aware of the scale of the atrocities that their government committed that day. ‘

It should only send shivers down our spine as citizens of Pakistan today that we are not dealing with a very different situation with the authoritarian military regime and its installed government in Islamabad. It should particularly unnerve the Pakistani youth with a hope of freedom and democracy in their hearts and minds, that the same Chinese regime that unleashed this tyranny on its people is knocking at the door and is already inside the boundaries of Pakistan in the name of CPEC and Belt and Road. More than ever before, the Pakistani government is adopting their ways to curb political freedom in the country. They are even here with their own version of the internet, which threatens free access to the internet for the people of Pakistan for the time to come.

Pakistan’s unhinged and unaccountable military regime, which does not even hide its intentions to undermine civilian democracy in Pakistan, is not bothered by any such concerns. Its state instruments are cracking down on the dissidents of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement on this very day, beating them and charging them with batons. Only days ago, protestors from the movement were directly fired upon as more stories of their violence on the Pashtun tribals appear on the global media.

At times like these, you cannot but admire the courage of the people who stand up to such tyranny and brutality without the fear of their personal freedom and safety. Especially in a country where extrajudicial detentions are the norm.

Maybe you are driven to be that fearless when you are really left with no choice.

A State of Fascist Silence

Source: Pakistan Today

I shared the news of a family killed by the anti-terrorist police force in Punjab a week ago. There was much hue and cry all across the country in the wake of the incident. The news was all over the media and people were sharing the haunting images.

Days after that incident, the Baluchistan police happened to kill a bright young poet, intellectual and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement political activist Arman Luni. He was killed while allegedly resisting arrest and was assaulted, according to mainstream Journalist Hamid Mir, with a rifle.

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There were very few images of Luni circulating in the social media and many did not even notice unless they happened to have a leftist among their friends. Most Pakistanis are not even aware any such thing happened outside of social media websites. There was a complete blackout in the Pakistan electronic channels. Hamid Mir was the only exception, but given his history, it’s not a surprise. I find this one pretty haunting, although I did not’

Source: YouTube video

I do not know much about Luni and can only express my shock and sadness at his death. But I am sure that his passion came from honesty and sensitivity about his fellow citizens deprived of their fundamental rights. And I do not care if they were necessarily against the state.

Yet another Pashtun individual lost his life in an extrajudicial murder. Nobody, though, would bother to speak for justice for them because they have an “Indian” agenda and are traitors. Such vitriol has been spread from the mainstream media and the social media from the time that the bureaucratic administration realized that simply ignoring the movement is not doing the job for them. A good number of urban population, at least in Punjab and Sindh, have their minds made up about the movement but we will reach a point when it will start tearing the fabric of the federation. This is only possible if Pakistan decides to become more democratic, which unfortunately goes against its core values.

And of course, to add insult to injury, they have cracked down on the non-violent PTM protest rally in Islamabad. No reason was given for the arrests, among which is the highly targeted Pashtun activist Gulalai Ismail, who has probably become the second most wanted person after Manzoor Pashteen. After two days of detention from the authorities, Gulalai was finally released on February 7.

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All I can say is that the current attitude targeting the Pashtun people by the state is not going to end well. Right now, things are moving along without much trouble, but it might not remain that way eventually. And this is where the federal policymakers, who believe in the concept of the Pakistani federation including the military leadership, should get their heads together and think about where the country is headed. The fascist Pakistani nationalists give me shivers when they call our brothers and sisters of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement traitors. And with orders such as the Islamabad arrest, the military and bureaucratic regime gives me the chills and shocks me of the country that I grew up in. It’s like you are living in Iran or Venezuela

Right now, we are in a state of fascist silence and wonder who’s going to break it. The likes of Manzoor Pashteen and Gulalai Ismail are out there to unveil our guise of morality and righteousness.

No wonder they are called traitors.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2017: Mishaal Khan

Source: Dawn

For a country that is so hostile to free speech, it is remarkable how many free speech heroes we have in Pakistan. You might hold a dissenting view or two, but if you have not been menaced by the mobs yet, chances are you are not taking half of the risk that could possibly have an impact on this obscurantist society. However, some go even beyond that knowingly or not and end up exposing the hideous, decaying collective moral state of a people.

Mishaal Khan became a free speech martyr in April this year to a case of brutal flogging by a lynch mob that shook the entire world. It also supposedly shook Pakistani Muslims who suspected that the Mardan University student probably deserved it and paid the price for it.

You don’t necessarily have to be killed to be a free speech hero… or let us just say not killed yet. Anyone who is putting their voice out there. Mishaal Khan, a brave student activist and political worker, did the same despite being surrounded by obscurantist and totalitarian religious extremists, whose views could possibly qualify them as mentally ill and psychopaths in a more civilized society.

The Mishaal Khan’s murder is significant considering how it reveals the sheer brutality and lack of moral sensibility in general in the society in Pakistan. But more than that, because it is shockingly symbolic of the struggle between education and obscurantism, between enlightenment and ignorance, between knowledge and violent superstition. Mishaal Khan, a student, was killed in an educational institute by other students. Perhaps it must take an irony as brutal as this one to help someone understand the battle of free speech in Pakistan.

You could say that people like Mishaal are looking for trouble in an obviously bloodthirsty society. Well, they are better than you and me because they are doing what they are supposed to do without fearing for consequences and despite that knowledge. However, it will be idiotic to say that Mikaal got what he deserved or that he was looking to die. And speaking your mind should not be considered committing suicide.

Mishaal Khan’s family has been as brave as their slain son and the way they have stood by him is the dream of every fighter for freedom of speech in Pakistan. Imagine their helplessness and suffocation, yet another manifestation of the forces of ignorance laying a siege around the enlightened and the freethinkers.

Bushra Gohar speaking at the Mishaal Khan protest in Islamabad

Even though he died alone, Mishaal left many of his allies in unity, albeit with a weak impact on an authoritarian society. There are so many more free speech heroes in Pakistan. People like Pervez Hoodbhoy, Bushra Gohar, Marvi Sirmed and Farzana Bari who were at the forefront of protests against Mishaal’s murder in Islamabad and especially people like Asma Jehangir who are taking on the military establishment heads on. Curiously, some of our politicians also deserve a place in this list in their resistance to the deep state. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif became the first top diplomat in a long time to concede that entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were a burden on Pakistan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who condemned fatwas of apostasy and blasphemy on the national assembly floor. And especially all of those who protested the murder of Mishaal Khan and those of the missing bloggers and activists. A special mention in this post remains to be for the many bloggers resisting the oppressive state in Pakistan but there is a more special place reserved for them.

Pakistan remains to be a battlefield for free speech like so many other countries in the world. But the battle in Pakistan is unique because of the character of this nation-state in terms of its cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity despite the apparently monolithic state. And whether the people win this battle or not, we must not go down without a fight.’

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2016 Qandeel Baloch here.

The Antisemitism Behind the Defense Minister’s Faux Pas

Source: Daily Pakistan

Source: Daily Pakistan

Some people need no reason to hate the Jewish people. For some, it’s almost an instinctive reaction, to others, it is a religious obligation, and for even more people, because Israel.

However, our honorable Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who became the laughing stock of the world when he reacted to a fake news about Israel offered us a unique insight into how he thinks. And believe me, it is pretty anti-Semitic.

First of all, let me commend our Defense Minister’s support for the Syrian people expressed in the same twitter feed. Now, I am not sure if he tweets himself or has a communications professional doing it for him, but it is certainly the work of someone very emotional.

And why the hell not? After all, it is an emotional medium. But not sure if one fit for the communication of a public official, especially one serving in the role of a national statesman whose voice is heard around the world. Especially when they don’t bother to fact check.

Well, the honorable Minister reminded the Israelis that “Pakistan, too, is a nuclear state” when the Israeli Defense Minister supposedly threatened Pakistan with a nuclear attack for sending troops to Syria to fight ISIS. All based on a fake news story. And what is worse, he did not even bother to respond to the clarification from the Israeli Defense Ministry.

I don’t want to see such stories about a Pakistani Minister, for who I have great respect, in the New York Times.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with a high ranking official of such an important country entertaining a conspiracy theory?

Citizens can only hope that some day, Pakistan would give up its anti-Semitic foreign policy. And now we have some evidence that it is fueled by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. I wonder what is going on in the mind of other government, bureaucratic, and military officials.

The Pakistani Defense Minister believed this obviously fake news, that anybody with a little common sense could have figured out, because he is taking this lie for granted that Israel and similar powers are behind the Islamic State. It is as embarrassing as having a 9/11 truther as a foreign minister.

By that logic, he thinks that the Israeli Defense Minister is supposed to be upset at Pakistan acting against the Islamic State, when in reality anyone would welcome it.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

The conspiracy theory is the favorite of anti-Semites. Israel created ISIS. Though, often in the next breath, they would wish an Islamic State terrorist attack on Israel. Just like Israel created so many other evils in the world. You know, like countless scientific innovations. Though I take such inventions to be the common progress of humanity and not belonging to any one country.

Israel might possibly be having some schadenfreude at the expense of its immediate rival, but by no means is the Israeli government or the people supportive of the plight of the innocent people in Syria. Only days ago, Tel Aviv saw one of the more prominent protests in the region against the atrocities committed in Aleppo. Israeli hospitals have admitted several injured Syrian refugees.

Now let me remind you, the Satanic Jews that Pakistanis love to hate so much were not out on the streets because they wanted to see the children of Muslims bleed. But because they are good hearted, decent people who feel for the carnage underway in Aleppo by the ruthless forces of President Assad and by the Russians to some degree.

The only such protests in Pakistan were perhaps held by the Jamaat-e-Islami, thanks to Aleppo being off-limits to the outrage of our progressive liberals. That’s the only common ground that I have ever found with the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Also, Israel is by no means safe from the Islamic State. And if you think it is, then you are suffering from a special kind of delusion. For people who like to cite the lack of threats as evidence of the Islamic State being a product of Israel, they have already threatened Israel several times. And God forbid, they would follow up on their threats if and when they are able to and we must fear that day. As we are in fear and mourning now for the beautiful people of Iraq and Syria.

If a few terrorists from West Bank can devastate Israel with arson crimes, surely the Islamic State can do great damage if it infiltrates even the West Bank settlements. So, you can bet Israel is vigilantly aware of this security threat. And no, Israel is not safe. Despite the allegations that “Jews rule the world.”

Israel has also taken limited action against Islamic State assets when inevitable, but not in as larger scale as they would have. They should have perhaps, as a responsible nation. But then again, the tiny state can hardly defend itself against home-made rockets in Gaza, you cannot expect them to invite a new, much larger, more ferocious enemy to its gates without the much-needed support of more powerful allies.

Where are President Obama’s forces, someone who would go down as the most complacent President to Islamist terrorism in history? Where are the French and German forces? I say President-elect Donald Trump is right to criticize the lack of responsibility of Western Europe for their part in NATO. Where is the Arab coalition against the Islamic State?

Shame on the world. Not just Israel, but the entire civilized world. Shame on all of us.

But most of all, shame on our honorable Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif.

The Pakistani idiot of the year 2016, in my books.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.