The Pashtun March and the Right Side of History

Source: Youtube

A day ago, a massive procession took place in Peshawar of a movement that is being shunned by the mainstream media in Pakistan like the plague. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or the Protection of the Pashtuns Movement, spearheaded by young fearless activist Peshteen Manzoor.

The movement started with the extrajudicial killing of a charismatic young man Naqeeb Mehsud in Karachi. It was not long when the Pashtuns started to see a pattern in an almost national scale of profiling. It was not long before it was noticed that people of a certain ethnic and lingual persuasion were being stopped more frequently at the military checkposts.

Of course, there is some recent history to the predominantly Punjabi military being suspicious of rebellion among Pashtuns. The war on terror, the anti-state Islamist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the attacks on high-ranking military personnel, and the latest friction between Islamabad and Kabul have all been a part of it.

Now with the recent xenophobia setting in about the Afghans, it would not be wrong to say that the Pashtuns have never felt more alienated. Traditionally, the Pashtuns have never really considered Afghan a hard border and it has been porous throughout the history of Pakistan. But with the recent military leaders putting stricter fences across it, and the way the military polices parts of the Pashtun majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA considering the Mullah Fazlullah episode.

However, it has been an open secret that the military has been traditionally backing up the Islamist elements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has always considered the secular and leftist elements a threat, as in the rest of Pakistan. People even raise question marks about the way the military operation was carried out against the militants. This leaves the Pashtuns, with a good number far more progressive than the social conservative majority in Punjab, with absolutely no choice but to follow a very narrow path of nationalism that the military establishment approves of.

All of this becomes a disaster and an extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement in Karachi proves to be the last straw. Forget the Balochs, dozens of Pashtun families have coming out with their list of missing persons, which are in all likelihood have been abducted and detained by state security and military intelligence agencies. The state of the federation is not strong indeed.

But it is very important to think beyond the idea of Pakistan or the precarious federation that the nationalists so love to cling on to. It is important to give precedence to human rights over any brutal ideas of nationalism.

Your claims to support the dissenting minorities in governments you don’t like sound hypocritical if you are not sensitive about the rights of your own. And you can’t possibly claim to be a democracy if you are cornering dissenting voices like that. The same happened with Mama Qadeer, who was leading a dissenting movement for the rights of the missing Baloch people. All they want is a day in the court. But then again, the support for democracy, or even the understanding of the idea, is already scarce in a country where you find a great conservative nationalist majority rooting for the military rule.

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People like Zaid Hamid, a pro-military nationalist opinion leader, are already calling Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen a traitor and an agent of India’s RAW. That is the way to further alienate an already wounded community and to push a dissenting patriot out of the circle of debate, especially when he insists that his movement is non-violent and only looking for justice in the court of law. How are those unfair demands? Some say it was the movement that prompted Army Chief Bajwa to visit the slain Naqeeb Mehsud’s home, only five days ago, and the DG ISPR also had to acknowledge Pashteen in his press conference.

Often the idea of avoiding repeating another Bangladesh is brought up when it comes to the rights of the people of provinces other than Punjab, but the Pashtoon Tahafuz Movement is an opportunity for food for thought. Perhaps, there has been a greater disconnect with the Balochs but the Punjabis and Pashtoon live in such an intertwined society that a conflict between them will spell utter chaos. This is why it is important not to push a marginalized group further to the brink and to further escalate tensions by racial profiling, whether subtle or more explicit. It is sad if anyone has respect for a state which promotes such discrimination.

It is very important to stand on the right side of history today because even if you are a Punjabi that sides with Manzoor Pashteen, history might not judge you kindly in the future. This movement for the demands of just being treated fairly needs to reach beyond ethnic lines.

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My Pakistani Person of the Year 2017: The Missing Blogger

Source: Beena Sarwar

Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Salman Haider and the original Bhensa, with all of them largely unrelated but contributing in their own right to the cause of free speech, other than many more bloggers that have been abducted by the Pakistani deep state have made an impact on the society never seen before in the country.

This is the effect of the age of social media.

The year 2017 revealed the ugly, draconian face of the government and the state of Pakistan to its relatively insulated urban population like never before. I came to know first about the urgency of the issue when American scholar Christine Fair tweeted about the safety of Bhensa, a satirical antithetical blogger known for his scathing criticism of Islam in particular, and who obviously got harassed by patriotic bloggers in return.

Pakistan has always been an undemocratic and authoritarian country in its true essence. Meet its figures in the government, even including many in elected office, and their view on state affairs and the people of Pakistan are bound to disappoint the democrat.However, the abduction of the dissident bloggers finally truly revealed the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Pakistan to the entire world, with the most prominent news media around the globe covering the news from the New York Times to the Daily Telegraph.

The civil protest against the abduction of the bloggers still was not quite near as strong as it should have been but it did attract attention around the world. One nightmare that the Pakistani military establishment is not used to is the urban civilian educated population protesting against it.

The way the Pakistani deep state entities have approached the dissenting bloggers really reveal the thought process behind repressing political dissidents in the country. Things were going all smooth with the detention and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch resistance at home but considering the local backlash and the critical coverage in the international media about the blogger issue, perhaps this is the reason why all three of the most prominent bloggers were returned home unlike people finding their roadside corpse as previously found in the case of journalists like Saleem Shahzad.

The page Bhensa reappeared as well. However, there are still question marks behind the true identity of Bhensa thought to be Ahmed Raza Naseer of Nankana Sahib, another one of detained and acquitted bloggers, but one way or the other, the page has arguably never been restored to its original expression since the abduction. On facebook, the Bhensa ID is used to actually run an anti-liberal page.

All the returned bloggers said that they were tortured in their own way. Some like Netherlands based Goraya, perhaps the most defiant of them all, were more vocal and more explicit about what happened to them. He also directly accused the Pakistani military while speaking in the a side event of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Others like Salman Haider were far subtler, being a gentle, poetic soul caught up in the storm.

A national campaign of disinformation was launched by the trolls and journalists on the dark side to accuse the detained bloggers of blasphemy. Prominent news anchors and social conservative anchors, some of which are often the usual suspects for any cause backed by the deep state, were in the forefront to build up public anger and hate against the liberal bloggers.

Something which the state apparatus strongly backs to this day as new ways of legitimizing the hunt to crack down on free speech are being put into effect. Blogger Taimur Raza became the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media by a “counter-terrorism court.” What a joke! Another Ayaz Nizami is under detention for the same accusations. Back in August, even Punhal Sario, a Sindhi activist campaigning for the return of missing activists is thought to go missing himself. Most recently, peace activist Raza Khan has gone missing with no resolution to his case to this last day of 2017.

But it was not revealed who the great souls of justice were who were dispensing justice to the blaspheming bloggers. Only recently have the bloggers been acquitted by the courts of any such allegations due to the complete lack of evidence. Which begs the question why the dangerous tradition of blasphemy hunting goes unpunished and without reprimand in Pakistan. And like always, you could count on the disgusting goons of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah to harass and pelt stones at the activists supporting the bloggers.

However, I do not consider this verdict as a moment to celebrate as such since the legitimacy of these courts has already been tarnished for standing behind the draconian blasphemy law and announcing death sentences to freethinking citizens who committed no offense to humanity.

Despite the efforts of cover up by mainstream media in Pakistan, which is in the complete clutches of the military establishment, and despite other distractions on the political front, the impact the missing blogger has made on the civil society has proved to be the most moving. This issue has raised questions about the conscience of the society claiming to protect free speech and democracy.

They have been currently haunting M. Jibran Nasir, arguably the most progressive voice in mainstream politics, and an honorable mention is due for my Pakistani of the year 2014. The notorious TV Channel Bol Network has been in the forefront of targeting Jibran Nasir for raising his voice for the rights of Ahmedi citizens, which in his opinion is due to his opposition to the acquittal of the murder of a Karachi youth named Shahzeb at the hands of the son of a feudal from the Jatoi tribe. Whatever may be Jibran Nasir’s reasons, I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about changing the Second Amendment, and same goes for Minister Zaid Hamid et al.

In 2017, an elected Prime Minister was disqualified and ejected by the Supreme Court and when a group of Barelvi clerics brought the state down to its knees. But none of that matters and have had an impact on the consciousness of a nation like the missing blogger, perhaps only second to the brutal murder of Mishaal Khan, which arguably was largely ignored anyway.

But these missing bloggers still came from some layers of privilege in the Pakistani society, but as many of them have been pointing out like Sabeen, who is going to care about the struggle of the missing persons in Baluchistan?

Read about my Pakistani person of the year 2017 here.

The Bigger Butcher is the Bigger Patriot

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

We should have no illusions in our minds about the moral standards prevalent in Pakistan.

“Civil rights” is an expression hardly ever heard in public discourse in Pakistan. And those who try to somehow, unconsciously mention a reference to it, are forced to make an apology and elaborately explain how they never meant any harm. Or any good, that is. And we get reminders from time to time of the appalling state of our morals.

The election legislation pushed by the ruling PML-N has somehow raised alarms, led by McCarthyists such as Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and his able patrons, who cried foul play with the country’s law regarding “The Finality of Prophethood.” Since then, officials such as Law Minister Zaid Hamid needs to recite the testimony to faith and the finality of Prophethood every time he makes a public appearance.

This has since started a renewed oath and reiteration of organized, institutionalized bigotry against Ahmedis, a relatively new sect of Islam of Punjabi origins which appears very reformist in its approach to many. Whatever their theology may be, the state of Pakistan has basically taken upon itself since the election of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to wage war on them. They had apparently “settled the Ahmedi question” by introducing the Second Amendment, formally excommunicating them from the faith of Islam by the decree of the Government of Pakistan.

Of course, the Pakistani public does not see it this way, but the Ahmedi population of the country and the diaspora considers this policy as discrimination of extreme proportions. It might be an exaggeration but some Ahmedi activists have even compared the national policy to Apartheid laws in South Africa. Others have compared it to the Nazi Germany, considering the tacit public approval of murdering Ahmedis, and how the state has singled out the community in the process of national identity registration.

And there is no way out of this vicious circle for them. The brilliant thing about the anti-Ahmedi Apartheid laws in Pakistan, which are also known as the “Namoos-e-Risalat” or the “Honor of the Prophethood” are that in order to prove yourself a supporter, you need to denounce Ahmedis and endorse the very basis of state persecution. Even blogging voices raising dissenting thoughts such as this one are only confined to very limited circles as openly questioning this policy implies treason and heresy.

So effectively, the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot. The harsher, more brutal you are in your hate toward the Ahmedis, the more loyal and moral you will be deemed in the Pakistani social and political world.

Take our Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for an example, who had to explain how true a Muslim he was after he was accidentally photographed with an American Pakistani who happened to be an Ahmedi. He had no choice but to deconstruct and explain the situation in the show of a morally constipated anchor.

To makes matter even worse for the ruling party alleged to be sympathizing with Ahmedi, which they later proved that they are certainly not by calling for worsening the discriminatory laws, Captain Safdar spoke out in the parliament. The son-in-law of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for the ban of Ahmedis from the military service, oblivious of the proud history of the service of Ahmedis in the military, perhaps one institute which had not been as invasive in its discrimination toward the community. Hopefully, the move must have worked convincing a lot of bigots in PML-N voters of his innocence following the corruption charges on him.

However, even the record of the military cannot undo the Constitutional dilemma of discrimination and inequality in Pakistan. Something which is growing even worse considering the rhetoric and the affirmation from the DG ISPR that the military will remain to be the guardians of the Honor of the Prophethood. We all know what that means. The discriminatory constitutional amendment is going nowhere.

Even the military seems to be helpless in undoing the damage in terms of the civil rights for minority religious groups in Pakistan. Actually many will argue has been one of the political contributors, if not the source, to the mess along with orthodox mullahs.

What are you to do when the national ethos consists of isolating and even butchering fellow citizens who tend to have a different philosophy and viewpoint?

What are you to do when the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot?

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya blogs.

Why Support Zaid Hamid Against Saudi Arabia

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

A big test of the values that you believe in lies in defending the rights of someone you don’t agree with.

Zaid Hamid is a commentator with radical views which entwine conspiracy theories with religious traditions, which repulse many liberals, centrists, and conservatives alike. He was recently arrested and sentenced to eight years and a thousand lashes. There is no doubt that every supporter of the Caliphate such as Hamid should be criticized, but that does not take away their right to free speech, even if they are demanding something that would kill the freedom to exercise it.

But in this case, the real opponent is Saudi authoritarianism and the consistent abuse of Pakistani citizens at the hands of their abusive state that is supposedly a part of the “Muslim brethren.” Not only have Saudi Arabians barbarically beheaded dozens of Pakistanis for minor alleged offenses, such as drug trafficking, but this time has arrested a citizen for making an inconvenient speech.

Of course, you cannot really expect to criticize Saudi Arabia on their soil and get away with it. Most of us have not heard what the content of his speech was, and it is easy to assume that it would somewhat comprise of hate speech, or at least call for rebellion. Nevertheless, the harsh punishment would sound strange to many in Pakistan, or would it?

But why go out of our way to defend someone whose views the world is better off without?

Because free speech is a value greater than any partisan differences, and also because it is time to show critics and defenders of authoritarianism that free speech is a far superior ideology than theocracy and fascism.

This is why the arrest of Zaid Hamid in Saudi Arabia is a tremendous opportunity to show the traditional opponents of free speech why they are speaking against their own fundamental rights, and why free speech is such an important value to defend.

While you cannot really expect most Muslim conservatives and Pakistani nationalists to even understand, let alone appreciate and value the idea of free speech, but it is important to show them that this value applies to everyone, no matter what their ideological or philosophical position is.

This is why it is of utmost importance that the proponents of free speech, whether liberal or otherwise, should drop their cynicism for a while and support Zaid Hamid in his hour of trouble. It is also important to be concerned for his personal safety, especially because he is a Pakistani citizen, and to call out Saudi Arabia for its brutal authoritarianism and barbaric, medieval penal code.

Months ago I wrote about Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who is still in the custody of the Saudi authorities for speaking his mind about freedom and democracy. Many more Pakistani friends spoke in support of Badawi. Therefore, it is only appropriate that we should speak about this case with the same passion. This should remind everyone that people for free speech are the ones consistent in their positions.

It is not hard to see for anyone, whether the proponents of democracy or the Caliphate, that Zaid Hamid committed no crime and does not deserve such punishment.

It is evident that speech is not a crime. And that is why this is the best opportunity to demonstrate this fact to the people opposed to the propagation of free speech, who dismiss it as a Western idea.

This is precisely why blasphemy is not a crime and should not be considered a crime by any entity. People in the Caliphate camp should remember that.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.