A Moment of Silence for a Nation Without Conscience

Source: Sky News

The final verdict has finally been delivered on Asia Bibi case, or so we think. It has finally been established by the highest court of the land that the poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy around 8 years ago in an obscure Punjab village was innocent of any of the allegations. Interestingly enough, it was not Asia Bibi but the moral conscience of the entire nation which was on trial. All I can have is just a moment of silence for those who would have done anything to see her hang and are now silent in retreat. Just imagine if they would have been successful in hanging her.

We have seen some of the most disgusting and vile displays of brutality with which certain circles of the society have reacted to her case. While this case was far from the only instance where this trend has been observed, the case has effectively established how the cult of the Prophet in Pakistan has gone totally out of control. This case resulted in the murder of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was the only politician in the country who had the courage to defend her publicly. He was gunned down by his Barelvi guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was widely celebrated by the followers of the cult of the Prophet. It was partially this case that actually became the basis of the rise of arguably one of the craziest political movements in the country. The extremist Barelvi party called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah or Tehreek Labaik Pakistan.

Fully backed by the Pakistani deep state to put the then popular PML-N of Nawaz Sharif out of power, the recent law enforcement operation against it could lead you to believe that they are a fringe group. This catchy yet vile anthem of the political party offers an insight into the mindset of a Tehreek Labaik Pakistan voter. There are dozens of fan uploads in which you can see the noose next to Asia Bibi’s photograph.

As a matter of fact, the line in this song about hanging Asia Bibi was covered by dozens of young boys and girls for a mobile video sharing platform. These indeed are no extremist clerics but regular, fun-loving, otherwise peaceful Pakistani Muslims whose conscience bears no guilt over this vulgar display of religious righteousness.

Today, many liberal optimists in Pakistan are saying that justice has been served by the eventual Supreme Court ruling by Justice Khosa. But before making such rosy statements, it must be appreciated how Asia Bibi had been ordered to hang to death even by the high court and the lower courts and how the entire nation had been out of her blood on the streets. Even the expression mass hysteria does not capture the violence and evil in this case. But perhaps they are right, even this ruling by the Supreme Court is nothing short of a miracle.

These are shocking realities that the Pakistani people are not willing to face. Until they address the darkness in their hearts which is at the center of their religious beliefs, until they abolish the atrocious blasphemy law, and until they are not willing to adopt a Secular Constitution, cases like Asia Bibi will keep on surfacing.

All we can hope is for them to surface instead of swept under the carpet.

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Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2018: Manzoor Pashteen

Source: Rahat Dar/EPA/The Guardian

In a year that has been widely recognized as one of the darkest, if not the worst ever, in terms of free speech in Pakistan, only someone who could take on the state could be the most important free speech hero.

As Pakistan becomes more and more of a police station since the Taliban insurgency and the War on Terror, the state is doubling down on authoritarian security measures. However, in the name of national security, you will often find the voice of political dissidents suppressed.  Such has been the case with Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement is a protest political movement against the active racial profiling against the Pashtuns in Pakistan as well as the missing persons abducted in the aftermath of the Waziristan operations carried out by the Pakistan military. Perhaps this movement would not have gathered such spontaneous support across Pakistan had the discrimination against Pashtuns not reached such pan-national scale. The boiling point came with the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, which triggered nationwide outrage from the Pashtun community, except for the ones too uncomfortably close with the state establishment.

Manzoor Pashteen is important of perhaps all the free speech heroes in Pakistan due to the influence he has been able to exert in a very short time and with no resources at all. And he managed to get under the skin of the Punjabi establishment, a sign of which was the state-backed propaganda against the movement on the mainstream media. The Punjab government even featured his image in an advisory against terrorists. And such state behavior ensued while no action was taken against the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which made openly rebellious statements and perhaps contributed to pushing the limits of free speech in Pakistan itself.

The PTM is a completely grassroots movement and primarily making use of the social media, the PTM leadership rose and rallied its supporters and sympathizers and now even have two MPs in the parliament. Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, whose names were recently included in the Exit Control List for a while, have been just as vocal about the issues. However, they lack the central attention that Pashteen has been able to garner with his unlikely charisma. His trademark Pashteen cap has become a symbol of defiance and resistance among the PTM supporters.

ANP veterans and secular progressives Senator Afrasiab Khattak and former MP Bushra Gohar were suspended from party membership due to their sympathy for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and outspoken rhetoric against the military establishment. They are doing their bit to make the PTM grievances more mainstream, while also sending a message how the movement is larger than partisan agenda, considering how the state has been portraying Manzoor Pashteen as more or less treasonous. Whether his campaign will be any more effective than it is, considering how politically passive the rest of Pakistan is becoming under a strict suppression of dissent, it is yet to be seen.

It was not just the pro-PTM lawmakers who had a hard time in terms of expulsions and blacklistings on the Exit Control List. Award-winning human rights activists were not immune from the penalty too. Gulalai Ismail, an ethnic Pashtun who has been recognized by the Government of France on her work on her NGO project “Aware Girls” was the biggest victim in the anti-PTM witchhunt by the state. A girl who used to be a hero is now interrogated by the FIA on arrival and her name has been put on the Exit Control List.

In a year that saw major assaults on free speech in Pakistan, there is no shortage of heroes here. The Pakistani journalist, in general, suffered a very difficult year in 2018. This year marked the violation of the boundaries of the Karachi Press Club, something which had never even occurred in the darkest days under General Zia according to Ghazi Salahuddin. Journalists Taha S. Siddiqui and Gul Bukhari have been two major names as well. Taha was assaulted and chased by armed men in civilian clothing but who obviously had the state’s agenda to carry out against journalists who were doing inconvenient reporting. Before his name could have been put on the Exit Control List, he managed to make a safe exit to France. The clearly pro-PML-N Gul Bukhari, who was also abducted briefly by similar mysterious people, has been vocal against the military establishment and the incumbent PTI government. Both of them are still vocal against the state establishment on social media.

Source: The Daily Times

Another great free speech hero that cannot be commended enough not only for his contribution to free speech in Pakistan but for his service in general to humanity is Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer of Asia Bibi. Asia Bibi was sentenced to death according to the It was his tireless efforts and advocacy that eventually helped overturn the death sentence of Asia Bibi and paved way for the Supreme Court to acquit her of the alleged charges. Now considering how hospitable Pakistan is to any such citizen, it is not a surprise that Saif-ul-Malook had to leave Pakistan and has now reportedly taken temporary asylum in the Netherlands.

Ali Raza Abidi, the former MQM MP, who has been openly critical of the incumbent government and was also estranged with the MQM leadership, also got silenced by unknown forces this Christmas. His assassination is a reminder that individual thought and secular liberal minds remain to be an endangered and threatened species in this country.

Finally, probably the greatest free speech hero we will ever have passed away earlier this year. Asma Jahangir who will remain to be the guiding beacon for people pursuing

As long as Pakistan remains a battleground for free speech, we will continue to see such obvious and unlikely heroes emerge.

Read about the Pakistan free speech hero for the year 2017 here.

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.

Minorities Gasp for Air in a More Undemocratic Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Seventy years since Muhammad Ali Jinnah made his famous August 11 speech about the freedom of religious minorities, Pakistan has become a much darker place than what its founders intended to be. His understanding of the logical consequence of founding Pakistan is astounding to anyone with even a remote understanding of the reasons for a separate state for the Muslim community. However, his words remain to be a beacon of inspiration for those who intend to make the social contract in Pakistan fair and humane, even though in reality it is nothing more than a speech.

The founder of the nation must have been shocked out of his senses seeing the covert military dictatorship that goes on behind democracy. The way the deep state has been censoring and manipulating the electronic media has been so astounding that even mainstream journalists could not resist raising their voices on alternative media sources. While the military and bureaucratic regime of the country has not yet considered social media such a threat, but as we have witnessed a couple of instances before, it is not beyond the Pakistani deep state to deprive its citizens of this modern but basic source of self-expression.

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It is an even greater disgrace, and perhaps a consequence of the authoritarian regime, that the current election was held as a virtual referendum on the discriminatory and undemocratic Second Amendment. The military and the theocratic mullah establishment clearly joined hands against one political party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which had taken a relatively secular turn of late. Some Sunni clerics even went so far as to declare voting for the party haraam or forbidden according to Sharia. The two million votes and two Sindh assembly seats for the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan are a testament to the fact.

This is the consequence of establishing a constitution that requires Pakistan to be an Islamic Republic. It is a travesty that in such a country people would even claim that the religious minority citizens have equal rights. And then to maintain that Islam offers the best alternative to secularism. It is because of these faux intellectuals and theocratic bigots that Pakistan is in such a dismal state of civil rights and individual freedom. Relatively more liberal and progressive parties such as the PPP continue to offer representatives from religious minority groups opportunities on general seats but all of this remains meaningless unless constitutional reforms are brought into place. Something that remains impossible due to more nationalist and populist elements coming to power.

People continue to be killed in the name of blasphemy. Forget the minority religions, even members of the majority religion are not safe either. Recently, a Sindhi artist Qutb Rind was pushed from a building in Lahore because of an alleged blasphemy. To my mind, artists such as Rind are indeed minorities in an obscurantist nation blinded by bigotry and religious hate.

I can only be ashamed of being a citizen of such a country where minority communities are treated with such brutality and hang my hand low in shame this independence day.

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.

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.

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.