New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 February 2016
What the Charsadda Attack Reveals
By Muna Adil
World Disorder on Human Rights
By Fawad Kaiser
By Reema Omer
Schools under Siege
By Hajrah Mumtaz
By Haseeb Ahsan Javed
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
What the Charsadda Attack Reveals About
February 1, 2016
In the face of the latest in a series of
attacks carried out on our soil, there are certain truths that we need to take
heed of. Through careful introspection we must try to understand where we went
wrong and what the attack on Bacha Khan University reveals about Pakistan.
First, the attack proves that we have
learnt nothing from the past. If the TTP can carry out a very similar attack
only 25 days after the first anniversary of the APS horror, then we have failed
every student who dares attend a school, college or university in this nation.
There is danger that the much-coveted National Action Plan might end up in the
same dusty archives where impotent bills and committees established to tackle
one problem after another now reside. In any other country, the first call of
action post a tragedy of this nature would be to examine the methods employed
to protect the sovereignty of the nation, and to analyse and critique them
where they have failed us. A terror attack that leaves 21 dead is as big a
failure as it gets. Not surprisingly, the criticism of lapses of the security
establishment is missing. Will we ever demand an answer from those responsible
for our safekeeping?
Second, the aftermath of the attack reveals
our inability to admit our failures. It seems that it’s never our fault. The
speed with which we blamed external forces for the attack and thus freed
ourselves of any responsibility was astounding. Within a few hours of the
attack, hashtags such as #RawBehindCharsadda were trending on Twitter. All sensible
dialogue is shot down when even the educated class makes comments such as the
one made by a respected television anchor on Twitter: “Strategic Mastermind’s
goal is to continue definining Pakistan as ‘Epicentre of Terror’ to enforce
global isolation; now who wants that, guess?” Read: India, Jewish lobby, the
US, and so on. A flurry of politicians and influencers, not least former
interior minister Rehman Malik, raced to news channels to declare that India
was to blame. We’ve always been at loggerheads with India, and I don’t think
anyone doubts the existence of Indian proxies in Afghanistan. I also don’t
doubt that various outfits in the region, such as the TTP, Lashkar-e-Taiba,
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, al Qaeda and even the Islamic State would be easy pickings
for any enemy of Pakistan. But for the sake of everything that we hold dear,
Pakistan must wake up and smell the coffee. Let’s start by taking a long hard
look at the banned organisations that, to this day, operate freely on our
streets, and ask ourselves: are these people our allies? Every nation has
enemies, and in this moment we need to focus on protecting ourselves instead of
playing mindless blame games. The bottom line is this: India isn’t responsible
for the safety of our people; we are.
Third, we see a tendency towards glorifying
martyrdom. This growing fixation seems to almost overshadow the stark finality
of death. A mother who loses her child to terror should never be described as
‘lucky’. It’s all well and good to honour martyrs in their absence, but please
let us not forget harsh realities. I say this with the utmost respect and
responsibility: we need to stop this culture of glorifying death. It isn’t
enough to pay tribute to our martyrs. Feelings of grief, remorse and admiration
must be followed by those of fury and defiance, and most importantly,
meaningful action. To do otherwise is an insult to the memory of the very
people we shed tears for.
Lastly, this tragedy once again proves that
we are braver, stronger and more resilient than we realise. Every time a
calamity occurs in this part of the world, I am amazed by the resilience of the
Pakistani people. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan has
never, in its young history, breathed free. We have always been on the defence.
The few periods of respite in between appear to be nothing more than time
allotted to prepare for the next misfortune to befall us.
Yet mothers will nudge awake sleepy
children tomorrow, dress them, and send them off for another day of learning.
Life goes on and we persist, and in this lies our greatest victory.
Muna Adil is pursuing an MA in Journalism at the University of Central
Lancashire in the UK
February 01, 2016
“Order! Order!” Rarely does this vocal
stamping of the foot succeed in restoring courtroom lawyers to reasoned debate
for long. In the same way, foreign policy analysts have been pleading for
something they call “world order”. In a world where so many challenges
transcend borders: threats to the stability of the global economy, climate
change, cyber conflict, terrorism and risks to reliable supplies of food and
water, to name just a few. Today the world seems uncommonly hard to manage. The
international fabric is fraying. Whether it is the Saudi-Iran conflict, mayhem
in Syria, Russia’s seizure of parts of Ukraine, China’s pushy tactics in its
extended coastal waters or Islamic State (IS) threatening to wreak havoc in the
Middle East and beyond, the world is coming apart at the seams. In 2016, the
call for world order will be partly met but, as with the honourable judge’s
exertions, a sense of impending chaos will endure. You would think something is
wrong when foreign policy pundit Henry Kissinger writes a book called World
Order warning that “chaos threatens”.
Quite remarkably, in the light of world
history, at a time when the US enjoyed unprecedented and unequalled power, its
leaders used it to fashion a world order based on treaties and global
institutions. But today that world order is increasingly contested and left
unused as world disorder, impotent to deal with the emerging threats to world
peace and stability. Today, the virtues of an open world, of democracy and the
universality of human rights and personal liberties, as enshrined in the UN
Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are under threat even in
countries that have embraced democratic ideals.
Likewise there is a tendency to forget that
there are two aspects of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which focus both
on political and socioeconomic rights. In a world experiencing a war and an
existing order based on barbarism, intolerance and neo-colonialism it is of
great importance to establish alternatives and take active responsibility or
risk becoming either passively or directly involved in supporting today’s
prevailing insecure and inhumane order.
Seen in a historical perspective, issues
like human rights and promotion of world peace cannot be divorced from
international power relations and the growing problems of uneven and unequal
development. In fact, the poverty and wealth dichotomy is the prime source of
the world’s instability. In other words, as long as the north-south gap continues
to grow the prospects for increasing peace and human rights are bleak indeed
and as long as the west is fighting the so-called terrorist threat with
military means it is not just losing the fight against terrorism; it is
fuelling it across the globe.
Many believe that laws related to
international human rights are one of our greatest moral achievements. But
there is little evidence that they are effective. A radically different
approach is long overdue. Pakistan is considered to be among the major human rights’
violating countries. Every year, more than 100 killings by police, very likely
summary executions, according to Human Rights Watch, take place in Punjab
alone. The prohibition of extrajudicial killings is central to human rights’
law and it is a bitter truth that Pakistan flagrantly violates it not as a
matter of official policy but as a matter of bad, unaccountable police
practice. Pakistan is hardly the only country where this takes place; others
include India, the world’s largest democracy, South Africa, the Dominican
Republic, Brazil and Iran. These countries all have judicial systems and most
suspected criminals are formally charged and appear in court. But the courts
are slow and underfunded, so the police, under pressure to combat crime, employ
extrajudicial methods, such as torture, to extract confessions.
We live in an age in which most of the
major human rights treaties have been ratified by the vast majority of
countries. Yet it seems that the human rights’ agenda has fallen on hard times.
In much of the Islamic world, women lack equality, religious dissenters are
persecuted and political freedoms are curtailed. The Chinese model of
development, which combines political repression and economic liberalism, has
attracted numerous admirers in the developing world. Political authoritarianism
has gained ground in Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela. Backlashes against
gay and transgender rights have taken place in countries as diverse as Russia
and Nigeria. The traditional champions of human rights — Europe and the US —
have floundered. Europe has turned inwards as it has struggled with a sovereign
debt crisis, xenophobia towards its Muslim communities and disillusionment with
Brussels. The US, which used torture in the years after 9/11 and continues to
kill civilians with drone strikes, has lost much of its moral authority. Even
age-old scourges such as slavery continue to exist. A recent report estimates
that nearly 30 million people are forced against their will to work. It was not
supposed to be like this.
Universality of human rights is facing the
strongest challenge yet. Double standards and selectivity are becoming the
norm. Security cannot and must not take precedence over human rights. The
biggest danger to human rights is when political and economic interests are
allowed to drive the human rights’ agenda. However, as Amnesty International
has noted several times during the past decade or so, the biggest problem is
that the world’s only superpower, the US, deploys a hypocritical stance of not
recognising the extent to which human rights’ abuses are going unchecked in its
own territory. The US government has a selective approach to human rights,
using international human rights’ standards as a yardstick by which to judge
other countries but consistently failing to apply those same standards at home.
Furthermore, the US’ governmental policies often lead to human rights being
sacrificed for political, economic and military interests, both in the US and
abroad, by providing weapons, security equipment and training to other
countries. The USA is responsible for the same abuses it denounces in its State
At a time when human rights’ violations
remain widespread, the discourse on human rights continues to flourish. The US
and Europe have recently condemned human rights’ violations in Syria, Russia,
China and Iran. Western countries often make foreign aid conditional on human
rights and have even launched military interventions based on human rights’
violations. The truth is that human rights’ law has failed to accomplish its
objectives. There is little evidence that human rights’ treaties, on the whole,
have improved the wellbeing of people. The reason is that human rights were
never as universal as people had hoped and the belief that they could be forced
upon countries as a matter of international law was shot down by misguided
assumptions from the very beginning. The human rights’ movement shares
something in common with the hubris of development economics, which in previous
decades failed to alleviate poverty by imposing top-down solutions on
developing countries. But where development economists have reformed their
approach, the human rights’ movement has yet to acknowledge its failures. It is
time for a reckoning.
Fawad Kaiser is a professor of Psychiatry and consultant Forensic
Psychiatrist in the UK.
THE killing of at least 20 students and
staff of Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, disturbingly reminiscent of the
attack a year ago on the Army Public School in Peshawar, has once again brought
into focus the efficacy and legitimacy of the National Action Plan. This
includes at the forefront the controversial move to establish military courts
to try civilians for terrorism-related offences.
Since the 21st Amendment passed in January
2015, Pakistan has established 11 military courts to hear terrorism-related
cases. These courts have sentenced 36 people to death and given life sentences
to four persons. Eight civilians convicted by military courts have been hanged
after secret trials.
The operation of military courts has come
at great cost to human rights and the judiciary’s independence, which has been
argued in detail on these pages. The promised ‘quick results’, however, are yet
to be seen. This is not surprising, as the very rationale behind the
establishment of military courts is flawed, if not deliberately deceptive.
The operation of military courts has come
at great cost to human rights and the judiciary’s independence.
The premise of the 21st Amendment was a
hastily constructed narrative that ‘civilian courts have failed’. This claim
was supported by assertions that civilian anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) have
high rates of acquittal and judges deliberately let ‘terrorists’ off the hook,
either because of fear or sympathy.
Notwithstanding the fact that equating
justice with the rate of convictions is abhorrent to the rule of law (only in
authoritarian regimes lacking an independent judiciary are there no
acquittals), curiously, none of the advocates of military courts, whether in
parliament or in the media, presented any evidence to demonstrate why the civilian
judiciary is incapable of bringing perpetrators of terrorism to justice.
While it is true that ATCs have a high
acquittal rate ranging from 80pc to 90pc, the reasons for this are far more
complex than the half-truths and hurried conclusions presented before
parliament and on television screens.
Justice Faez Isa discussed in detail some
of these reasons in his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court judgement on
the challenge to the 21st Amendment. He regretted that “important matters such
as the proscribing of terrorists, lodging of cases against them, collection of
evidence and conducting a thorough prosecution have been largely ignored, and
it has somehow been concluded that the reason terrorism continues unabated is
because trials are being conducted by the anti-terrorism courts….”
An assessment of some of the judgements
where allegedly ‘known terrorists’ were acquitted or set free by courts
supports Justice Isa’s view. In July 2011, in a much-criticised decision, the
Supreme Court granted post-arrest bail to Malik Ishaq, the leader of
Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, after he had spent 13 years in jail. The express reason
behind the grant of bail was not fear or sympathy, but lack of admissible
evidence. The court stated “we cannot brutalise justice in the name of
terrorism if no legally admissible evidence has been shown to us”. (Malik Ishaq
was extra-judicially killed by police in July 2015.)
In another case, Sufi Mohammad, a cleric
from Swat and chief of the banned Tehreek Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi, was
acquitted of sedition and incitement to violence charges by an ATC in April
2015. The reasons given for acquittal included an unexplained delay of three
months by the police in lodging an FIR after the alleged incident and the
failure of the prosecution to produce any recordings or evidence of the
allegedly seditious speech. (He is still facing trial for other charges.)
As these cases demonstrate, a major problem
in convicting perpetrators of terrorism in Pakistan is the weakness of police
investigations and prosecutorial efforts, which often do not provide the
evidence necessary to meet legal thresholds for criminal conviction.
Empowering military courts to try terrorism
cases does not acknowledge, let alone resolve, any of these problems. Instead,
it is yet another example of the state’s resort to ‘exceptionalism’ to justify
a knee-jerk response to terrorism that Pakistan has been guilty of many times
The International Commission of Jurists’
2009 global study on state responses to security threats examined in detail the
dangers of the ‘exceptionalism doctrine’, which justifies a departure from the
normal legal processes and human rights protections on the basis of the
‘exceptional’ character of the threat. In time, many of these measures became
permanently incorporated into ordinary law, blinding governments to the actual
reasons behind the lack of accountability for terrorism and serious crime.
The rationale for constituting military
courts was stated to be an ‘extraordinary situation’ that demanded ‘special
measures for speedy trial’. The same justification was given for the Protection
of Pakistan Act, passed in July 2014 (just six months before the 21st
Amendment), as well as the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997.
The ATA, which promised ‘speedy justice’ at
the cost of some basic fair trial rights, progressively displaced the regular
criminal justice system, with cases of ordinary murder, robbery, kidnapping and
rape regularly being tried by special ATCs constituted under the act. Slowly,
the ‘exception’ became the norm, and the weaknesses in the operation of the
regular criminal justice system remained unresolved.
The frustration with impunity for terrorism
and serious crimes in Pakistan is legitimate, but there are no overnight
solutions to a crisis caused by decades of neglect. Ensuring justice — as
opposed to securing a large number of convictions without the fair and
impartial adjudication of responsibility — will require major rethinking and
reform of the criminal justice system. It will require learning from the
successes and failures of other jurisdictions that face similar security
threats; ensuring that minimum guarantees of the right to a fair trial are at
all times protected; and drawing from the actual everyday experiences of
judges, lawyers and investigators, not hasty, ill-conceived measures motivated
by the desire for revenge at the cost of the fundamental principles of
The establishment of military courts does
not provide any of these reforms. Their continuing operation does not help counter
the very real terrorist threat facing Pakistan, but it will further erode the
effectiveness of the country’s administration of justice and the rule of law.
Reema Omer is a legal adviser for the International Commission of
February 1st, 2016
A MESSAGE circulating over the internet
amongst Pakistani circles in recent days is titled ‘How to survive a school or
university shooting until response’. The 10-point guide advises running away if
possible and adds: “Grab any weapon like [a] sharp scissor or any other thing
which you can use in case the attacker is on your head.” People in the line of
fire should “play dead as a last resort”, it says.
And thus it is that across the country,
parents and guardians are wondering whether, and how, to broach the subject,
with their young children, of what to do in case their educational institution
is attacked by militants. In terms of older students — more than, say, seven or
eight years — such grim talking points are already under debate; the threat is
impossible for even the younger ones to be unaware of.
The country’s schools and colleges, the
places of learning where the future is shaped one building block at a time, are
under direct assault. The fear is real and palpable, and was most obviously
evidenced by the chaos last week when many institutions across the country shut
down temporarily, one after the other, in many cases without any notice. The
closures did not occur as a result of any centralised or uniform decision by
the governments at the centre or the provinces; it seems to have been a case of
It would be no surprise if our schools
began to resemble prisons.
And why not, one could argue, given the
statement that was issued in the wake of the Charsadda attack by the TTP
vis-à-vis its intentions about those attending places of learning. The
distinction is important: schools have been blown up in various parts of the
country for years, so that the phenomenon became, in a way, old news. Malala
and her colleagues were shot; but now the threat level has escalated to a new
Ramping up security at and fortifying the
boundaries of educational institutions has become necessary, as has perhaps the
need to enter into difficult conversations with young people who should have no
truck with weaponry. But this situation raises other distressing talking points
as well. It is appalling that children, especially younger ones, walk into
school under the shadow of snipers and gunmen. The presence of weapons on
campuses, whether in the hands of guards or teachers, raises the possibility of
accidental shootings, a few such cases having already occurred over the past
year. The heads of students and teachers should be filled with possibilities,
but not the possibility of an armed assault.
Add to these terrible difficulties the more
prosaic ones: educational institutions must be protected, and it is primarily
the responsibility of the state apparatus to achieve this (including
engineering a peaceful environment). But clearly, dismantling the
militant/terrorist network is a painful, long-drawn-out task, having been
allowed by no less than the state itself to grow to such monstrous proportions.
Meanwhile, there is a limit to how many law-enforcement personnel can be pulled
off the street and deputed outside schools and colleges.
Institutions have been instructed to ramp
up their own fortifications, including metal-detection gates, barbed wire and
trained guards; in recent days alone, over 230 have been ordered shut for
failing to come up to standards. But most schools do not have the
resource-margin to achieve this, and there is a limit too on how much of the
cost can be passed on to those paying the school fees.
In the foreseeable future, Pakistan’s
schools might look less like places of learning and more like maximum-security
prisons; it is no exaggeration to say that they are under siege.
There is a precedent, though, of sorts.
During the 1971 war, because of the threat of air raids, students were made
aware of what it meant to be at war; they underwent evacuation drills, and many
learned emergency response and first aid techniques as well. Several
institutions saw trenches dug on their premises.
Trenches will do no good in Pakistan’s
current war. But perhaps there is benefit in the state and citizenry, no less
than the defence forces themselves, recognising in this new, escalated, phase
of conflict a threat to the country’s future existence that is as formidable as
a traditional assault of occupation by a rival power.
The rhetoric so far has been that Pakistan
is mainly alright, there’s just a problem of militancy that needs to be sorted
out. But Pakistan is the opposite of alright, and the threat is greater than it
has ever before been in nearly seven decades, more so because it comes from
within and carries no badge of the enemy.
If this were recognised, we might produce
the sort of pressure needed to force those at the helm and the defence forces
to undertake a permanent sea change in policy in addition to dealing with the
threat as it exists now.
Hajrah Mumtaz is a member of staff.
While Pakistan is fighting against all
sorts of terrorists, being hit by more tragic and more severe incidents every
time this bereaved nation raises its head, natural incidents, as a result of
the negligence of the state, are not giving this unfortunate country any
relief. Among the many series of events, the most recent and unending incident
is that of the famine and drought in Tharparkar that, on a daily basis, is
claiming the lives of children and elders alike. The irony about this event is
that no advocates of human rights and no rights organisation have taken any
stance to support the helpless people of Tharparkar, except maybe a few
journalists who have been trying to conduct surveys in this regard. More
importantly, the provincial government has turned a deaf ear to the incident.
Unfortunately, we are a nation whose
citizens, residing in urban areas, are too ‘advanced’ to be bothered by the
natural calamities that affect poor people who live in remote villages like
Tharparkar. The people of Thar are illiterate and poor, and are dying of thirst
and hunger because they have no health related services at their disposal.
Everyone has their cross to bear though; in the cities we fear for our children
and do not send them to school while their children are fighting for their lives
against malnutrition. One the one hand, we are being forced to make our schools
fortresses against militants and, on the other hand, hospitals in places like
Thar have the least number of incubators for children to survive the onslaughts
nature. No one owns up to these dead bodies.
Constitutionally, it is the responsibility
of the state to ensure a good life of the citizens, along with the provision of
basic necessities, both in the fundamental rights (specifically Article Nine of
the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973) as well as in the principles of policy
(particularly Article 38 of the Constitution). The Constitution specifically
prohibits the deprivation of life of any person, subject to any law. The same
provision has been construed by the superior courts in a broader sense and has
been interpreted in a way that the right to life, as provided by the
Constitution, includes the right to lead a good life. Similarly, Article 38 (d)
specifically mandates the state to provide the basic necessities of life irrespective
of any discrimination on any grounds whatsoever, although not enforceable
through a court of law.
Regardless of the constitutional and legal
position, it is an admitted fact that we, as a nation, have gone through such
tragic and heartbreaking events that the victims of natural deaths do not
matter to us anymore and, as a result, we are no longer concerned about deaths
that come as a result of natural events and calamities. Indeed, our fight with
terrorism, as a nation, should be our top priority but as a state we have
forgotten our responsibility towards every other individual who is dying not by
a bullet but by famine and draught.
As per the reports floating in the media,
around 95 people have died this year as a result of the fatal famine. It has been
reported by the media that the resources being sent to the affected are not
reaching the population and that the government of the province of Sindh has
miserably failed to fulfill its responsibility.
It is pertinent to point out that the only
hospital actively working to combat this dire situation is Mithi Hospital,
which is serving around one million inhabitants of the Thar area. As has been
reported in the news and the surveys conducted by different organisations, it
seems that neither the scarce resources nor poor medical facilities are killing
individuals; instead it is bad family planning and lack of education, which the
key problem areas are resulting in these deaths.
The irony, in this regard, is that the
politicians as well as the bureaucrats are blaming the very people for the
deaths of their minor children instead of taking up the responsibility to
provide the basic necessities of life and its welfare. It has further been
reported that the representatives sitting in provincial houses are blaming the
media for wrongly reported the deaths. This reasoning of these elitists is
against the norms of being a public servant employed for the benefit and
welfare of the people.
The quantum does not matter; even a single
life is precious. Whether one person is dying or 100, it is the state, and its
organs that are completely responsible for providing necessary facilities,
including medical services that definitely include proper education regarding
healthcare. More importantly, the issue here is not what the cause of these
deaths is, the question is what they, as the elected representatives of the
people, both in the province as well as in the federation, are doing for their
people to stop this stream of deaths. Where is that mother like state who ought
to love each one of its citizens?
What we need to realise is the following:
merely taking notices is not the solution; blaming the individuals who are
already victims is neither going to solve the problem nor raising allegations
only against the provincial government will do good in this regard. The people
dying in Thar are Pakistanis first and then they are Sindhis under the
unfortunate governance of the government of Sindh. Turning a deaf ear, the
federal government and the provincial government are not owning up to their
responsibility, which will further exacerbate this devastating situation.
Haseeb Ahsan Javed is a Lawyer based in Lahore. He has a degree in law
from Lahore University of Management Sciences.