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Islam and Politics ( 11 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Saudi Arabia, Building 200 Mosques Will Not Help the Refugee Crisis: New Age Islam’s Selection from Pakistan Press, 12 September 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

12 September 2015

 Saudi Arabia, Building 200 Mosques Will Not Help the Refugee Crisis

By Noman Ansari

 Women’s Protection: Theory and Practice

By Mohammad Ali Babakhel

 The Noble Art of Gratefulness

By Mehboob Qadir

 The Syrian War Theatre & the Brutal Assad Regime

By Wafa Zaidan

 The Impractical Adoption of Urdu

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

 Pak-Afghan Relations: Hanging By a Thread

By Khalid Aziz

 Katas Raj Temple: Bringing Religions and Histories Together

By Kiran Wali


Saudi Arabia, Building 200 Mosques Will Not Help the Refugee Crisis

By Noman Ansari

September 11, 2015

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in all its benevolent wisdom, has come to the aid of the Middle Eastern refugees lining up on the gates of Germany, by offering to build 200 mosques in the European nation. Yes, this is exactly what these traumatised people need after losing their homes, resources, family members, dignity, and mental and physical well-being – mosques.

Indeed, for those so inclined, it is important for pious refugees to have a place to practice faith, especially in a foreign land where religion can help them feel grounded, but only after achieving stability in their lives. For Saudi Arabia to offer to build 200 mosques in Germany to help the refugee crisis would be like throwing pages of scripture at the survivors of a sinking ship.

Saudi Arabia has always had a naked hunger to spread Wahhabism throughout the world. Their ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, taught in Saudi sponsored mosques, has infected Pakistan like a slow spreading virus. Here are some interesting excerpts from Frontline on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS):

“Many of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-financed madrasas in Pakistan that teach Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam which is rooted in Saudi Arabia. Around the world, Saudi wealth and charities contributed to an explosive growth of madrasas during the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. During that war (1979-1989), a new kind of madrasa emerged in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region – not so much concerned about scholarship as making war on infidels.

It’s Saudi Arabia and its network of charities and the like. The argument I make is that there is an undercurrent of terror and fanaticism that go hand in hand in the Afghanistan-Pakistan arc, and extend all the way to Uzbekistan. And you can see reflections of it in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Indonesia, in the Philippines.

For instance, in one madrasa in Pakistan, I interviewed 70 Malaysian and Thai students who are being educated side by side with students who went on to the Afghan war and the like. These people return to their countries, and then we see the results in a short while. At best, they become hot-headed preachers in mosques that encourage fighting Christians in Nigeria or in Indonesia. And in a worst case, they actually recruit or participate in terror acts.”

Wahhabism not only gave rise to the Taliban, but something far worse than anyone could have ever imagined. A group so dark it even scared al Qaeda.

“On the one hand, ISIS is deeply Wahhabist. On the other hand, it is ultra-radical in a different way. It could be seen essentially as a corrective movement to contemporary Wahhabism.

ISIS is a ‘post-Medina’ movement, it looks to the actions of the first two Caliphs, rather than the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself, as a source of emulation, and it forcefully denies the Saudis’ claim of authority to rule.”

Saudi Arabia probably doesn’t have the audacity to spread Wahhabism through its mosques in Europe. After all, Germany has a very different relationship with Saudi Arabia than Pakistan. While Germany can dictate terms to them, we on the other hand treat Saudi Arabia like the uncle whom we don’t protest against even though he molested us in childhood, because he’s rich.

It would also be something of a sick irony for the Syrian refugees to pray in Wahhabi Arabia’s mosques when many of them have suffered so deeply at the hands of ISIS.

But for argument’s sake, let’s accept Saudi Arabia’s intentions as pure.

This raises another question.

While Saudi Arabia is so eager to build 200 mosques in Europe, how many official churches, temples, and synagogues does it boast?

What’s that? Zero?

As this Islamic theocratic monarchy tries to add to religious diversity in Europe, it itself carries none. The Saudi Grand Mufti, the nice tolerant person that he is, issues statements which could be mistaken for quotes from ISIS sermons,

“The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has said that all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed. The statement prompted anger and dismay from Christians throughout the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, the country which intends to build 200 mosques in Europe persecutes non-Wahhabis on its own soil,

“Islamist police in Saudi Arabia have stormed a Christian prayer meeting and arrested its entire congregation, including women and children, and confiscated their bibles, it has been reported.

The raid was the latest incident of a swinging crackdown on religious minorities in Saudi Arabia by the country’s hard-line Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The 28 Christians were said to be worshipping at the home of an Indian national in the eastern city of Khafji, when the police entered the building and took them into custody. They have not been seen or heard from since; raising concerns among human rights groups as to their whereabouts.”

Major religions aside, there is little freedom to practice different versions of Islam other than what Saudi Arabia preaches,

“No law specifically requires all citizens to be Muslims, but non-Muslim and many foreign and Saudi national Muslims whose beliefs are deemed not to conform with the government’s interpretation of Islam must practice their religion in private and are vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, detention and, for non-citizens, deportation.

Shia’s face systematic and pervasive official and legal discrimination (in Saudi Arabia), including in education, employment, the military, housing, political representation, the judiciary, religious practice, and media.”

The penalty for those converting to another religion seems a little permanent.

“…Conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy and punishable by death.”

Here is how this champion for religious freedom in Germany has been making headlines recently.

1. A Saudi court ruled that a local TV preacher accused of raping and murdering his five-year-old daughter was only guilty of being a harsh disciplinarian.

2. A Saudi diplomat and his Saudi friends were accused of torturing, enslaving, and gang-raping two Nepali women working in the diplomat’s apartment in India for months.

NDTV reports,

“They are a family of six… The mother and older daughter would beat us. They used to be sent outside and then the men would rape us. We would scream and cry, then they used knives,” said one of the women.

“They raped us, kept us locked up, did not give us anything to eat.”

The other woman, 30, said she was stripped, raped and brutalised by “a lot of men who would keep coming to the flat, whose language we never understood.”

Indian Express explains that it was as many as eight men at a time,

“There were days when seven to eight men — all from Saudi Arabia — would assault us. If we resisted, the diplomat and his family would threaten to kill us and dispose of our bodies in the sewer.”

Reportedly, the diplomat shifted from his apartment to the embassy. At worse, he will be expelled to his home nation. This Saudi probably had the audacity to commit such a crime because it is how foreign maids are treated in Saudi Arabia. They are raped, tortured, enslaved, and often pinned for legal offenses they didn’t commit. If they fight back and kill their assailants, they end up on death row.

3. Saudi Arabia this week banned the latest copy of National Geographic within their borders because it showcased Pope Francis.

“The cover story addresses Pope Francis’ reforms and his hope to create a church ‘that is poor and for the poor’. From his bold pronouncements on climate change and divorce, to his recent call for parishes to take in refugees, some see the current Pope as a (relative) revolutionary.”

Why is Saudi Arabia so threatened by this issue? Is it because Pope Francis preaches simplicity, while the ruling class of Saudi Arabia swims in more grotesque excess than Caligula? Or is it because Pope Francis called upon Catholics to take in refugee families while Saudi Arabia’s elite searches for more vulnerable maids from impoverished backgrounds to take advantage of?

4. As reported by, Saudi Arabia has taken in zero refugees, even though it could easily house three million people in 100,000 air-conditioned tents which are unused other than the five days of Hajj season each year.

5. The Economist explains how Saudi Arabia has escalated its war campaign in Yemen. There are reportedly 5,000 dead, leaving Yemen to face a humanitarian crisis. But these refugees need not worry; Saudi Arabia will surely build them a few hundred mosques soon.

It is now becoming increasingly evident that the Saudi monarchy is a family business, Wahhabism was concocted by their marketing department, and their sponsored mosques are franchise outlets. Certainly, the profit margins have been killer.


Women’s Protection: Theory And Practice

By Mohammad Ali Babakhel

September 11, 2015

While the last decade has witnessed an increase in enactment of women protection laws, their enforcement remains a gigantic task. Such a situation has given birth to a growing realisation that mere legislation may not pay the required dividends and that implementation and monitoring of laws is equally important.

Primarily, such legislation is either the outcome of democratic governments wanting to fulfill their manifestoes that require the extending of protective shields to women victims of crime, or the need to adhere to international commitments. At the same time, however, the judiciary, women’s rights organisations and the media have also played historic roles in getting such laws passed.

There are around 20 laws that directly and indirectly concern women. What is needed is awareness regarding such laws, which is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Despite living through an information revolution, majority of women are unaware of these laws. The Guardians and Wards Act of 1890, Foreign Marriage Act of 1903, Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act of 1939, Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, West Pakistan Rules Under the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, West Pakistan Family Court Act of 1964, West Pakistan Family Court Rules 1965, Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restrictions) Act of 1976, Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Rules 1976, Hudood Ordinances 1979, Qanun-e-Shahadat Order 1984, Pakistan Citizenship Act of 1951, Criminal Law (amendment) Act of 2004, Protection of Women Act of 2006, Criminal Law Act of 2010, Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2010, Prevention of Anti-women Practices Act of 2011, Acid control and Acid crimes Prevention Act of 2010 and the Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act of 2011, are included in this exhaustive list.

Where the media has perhaps failed is to create awareness of these legal instruments that are available to women and that can help redress their grievances. Commercial priorities of media organisations, the lack of capacity of media persons and other communication barriers have played a role here.

Before enacting of women protection laws, there has been little assessment of the gravity of the situation vis-a-vis women’s rights, nor has there been any monitoring apparatus to determine the efficacy of such laws and other means to identify the hurdles in the way of their implementation. We have not seen any concrete consultative process being followed before laws are enacted, hence such legislation is a by-product of isolated endeavours. Laws are codified one day and the very next day the public learns about their enactment and salient features, with there being little follow-up by the media to monitor their implementation.

In addition, awareness of these laws and what they entail within the police apparatus is also dismally low, highlighting the communication gap between the framers of laws and the enforcement apparatus, which needs to be bridged.

Owing to cultural taboos, countless occurrences of violence against women go unreported. Statistics regarding violence against women depict that this is perhaps more of an urban phenomenon, but in practice, violence against women is actually a rural issue that framers of law need to take into account.

Simplification of laws and procedures, and providing widespread information regarding these will definitely help improve women’s protection. However, owing to cultural taboos, illiteracy and a male-dominated criminal justice system, women’s access to justice often becomes difficult. The majority of female victims from rural areas are not aware of their rights and lack knowledge on how to seek police help. Consequently, victims of crimes often also become victims of an obsolete criminal justice system.

In Pakistan, the contemporary women policing model was introduced during the tenure of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. This model, however, remained confined to major urban centres only. After three decades, the failure of this isolation-based women policing system was finally acknowledged. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), initiatives have been taken to establish a more collaborative and integrated women policing model with there being the formation of gender crime cells, a women police network as well as the setting up of 35 women police desks in police stations by the K-P police.

To synergise the efforts of women parliamentarians, the creation of the women’s parliamentary caucus is a commendable step. This forum needs to enthusiastically carry out a national study regarding the state of women’s rights, laws and their implementation in the country. Such an initiative requires collaboration with NGOs, the National Police Bureau, the law ministry and the academia.

To extend financial and legal assistance to women languishing in jails, the Senate has passed the Women in Distress and Detention Fund (amendments) Act of 2011. While the original law was passed in 1996, owing to legal and procedural complications, its dividends are yet to be enjoyed by those women who are behind bars.

Another important law was passed a few years ago to address the issue of sexual harassment i.e., the Criminal Law Amendments Act of 2010. The law explains that any person found guilty of sexual harassment is liable to be penalised with imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to Rs500,000, or both. The biggest issue, however, is that in Pakistan the majority of the victims of sexual harassment are not aware of their rights or they are reluctant to report their ordeal.

When it comes to domestic violence, the attitude of law-enforcement officers is of particular relevance. Investigators need to be better trained in dealing with such cases as a majority of them perceive violence against women as a family affair and so they often end up hushing up the issue. Law-enforcement officers need to realise that they have to be subservient to the law, not to traditions.

The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2012 explicitly placed domestic violence within the orbit of the public domain. After filing a petition, the court is required to hear the case within seven days. The next hearing needs to be scheduled within 30 days of the first one. The court is required to rule on the petition within 90 days. This act, however, is restricted only to the federal capital and there is a need for provinces to also enact similar laws.

The issue we face when it comes to legislation related to protection of women’s rights is not of scarcity of resources, but rather the primitive mindset of our society at large and the lack of a will to implement laws. It is this mindset that we need to change so that a humane women protection apparatus can be established.


The Noble Art Of Gratefulness

By Mehboob Qadir

September 12, 2015

Courtesy and courage, a sense of occasion, gratefulness and ability to instantly say sorry are some of the major character traits of noble minded men and honourable societies. Of these, being grateful, if removed, can bring down the whole tent as it has directly to do with the burden and duty of obligation towards others. It is hard to imagine how a society would be if the element of nobility were to be removed from one’s thought and actions. It is not realistic nor is it intended to look for a nation where each member is a lighthouse of character. But it is fair to expect that a particular society, nation or country is blessed with varying degrees of working decency and a living sense of obligation in their particular moral chemistry.

A sound moral architecture is of utmost significance between the interlocutors at any level, official or private. The whole business of life is run on the worth of one’s word, personal credibility and the quality of thinking. Documents and treaties, seals and signatures, and instruments and stamps come later that too for reference and directions to be taken, not to question the first and the foremost intent. This can be called a moral anchor, which can only be installed in the minds of men if the person or state under reference has shown to possess a cognisable character, certain nobility in conduct and residual credibility. Reliability and self-respect are the brick and mortar of this most important construct upon which communities and nations are raised.

Men may acquire these commendable traits by birth, grooming or through self-improvement. But countries and nations are a different matter and much more complicated. Countries are a function of their geography, history and evolution of social values spread over hundreds of thousands of years in many cases. Those on the receiving end of the invasions, both military and demographic, normally develop reactive responses, a genetically baked version of having been wronged and a psychological defensive mechanism to retain sanity under duress and want, which includes an illusion of submission and cooperation. On the other hand, successful campaigners and immigrants develop the hubris of superiority and patronising endowment towards races they ravaged as their historically habitual practice.

Historic heritage makes a great difference in the personality make up and habitual responses of men and nations. Sierra Leone cannot be expected to possess as highly evolved a value system as that of China, Egypt or Greece being the bastions of great ancient civilisations. Sierra Leone had no such privilege. Similarly, Afghanistan cannot be favourably compared with Iran, Pakistan or Iraq as it has had no history of civilisational evolution or being home to one. Iran has a splendid history, Pakistan has been home to the great Indus civilisation for 10,000 years and Iraq belongs to the magnificent Mesopotamian.

Afghanistan’s geo-historic dilemma is understandable, stemming from the accident of its strategically awkward location. Its present landmass is placed between the bastion of powerful military campaigners from the north, which stretches up to Anatolia, and the prized Indian subcontinent whose riches have always proved irresistible. Therefore, well before Alexander the Great’s invasion till the Mughals, the intervening space where Afghanistan is now located, had to be conquered, subdued or simply occupied as a marshalling area and a forward base. Similarly, a few powerful dynasties in the subcontinent had used the same space as a jump off pad for their conquests westwards and farther afield.

The Afghans’ natural volatility and preoccupation with warfare was helpful to the extent that they were mostly inducted as auxiliary troops on the wings of the invaders, who would, off and on, wheel sideways for opportunity plunder and also happily partake of the war booty. However, dangers and deprivations of constant warfare, and attendant scarcity of resources create their own peculiar behaviour patterns among the troops, which is always a curious mix of the sublime and the ridiculous. Afghans practiced this art quite admirably but could not transform it into noblesse oblige like Mughal or Turk campaigners. That must have been because of the strong and well-established home territories that those distant races had, supported by vast fertile spaces and relative security.

In that highly fluid and unstable medieval world no notion of a nation state existed in the inhospitable fringe of Asia Minor called Afghanistan till the 15th century AD. Until then Afghanistan was a war zone between various empires and for internecine warfare between local tribes. It was incipient anarchy in empires around them and ambitions of more powerful Afghan chieftains that encouraged them to set up a kingdom of their own. It was strategically a flawed political decision not supported by their unfavourable geography and continues to have ramifications for the region.

To begin with it became a formal staging zone for invaders of the subcontinent, which was one of the major reasons behind the birth of the infamous ‘great game’. It emerged as a strategic buffer between rival empires, essential to be either physically secured or be a friendly state. Thus, Afghanistan learnt to walk the tight rope quite early on. But this was an unenviable situation to be in. The Indian British Empire’s invasions of Afghanistan during the early 19th century and subsequent Soviet and US invasions were an unfortunate upshot of the same strategic error. Internally, a military-political culture of savage opportunism and a preference for short-term gains vis-à-vis regional countries evolved. In this kind of deliberate distancing and deterring environment, Pakistan found itself as an unwelcome intermediate state ab initio between India and Afghanistan.

For Afghanistan, the creation of Pakistan meant the frustration of their claim with a tinge of finality, to regain territories that they had lost to the Sikh Empire followed by the successor British Indian Empire. Resultantly, they refused to accept their border with Pakistan (Durand Line). Then came the Soviet invasion and, in an ironic twist of history, Pakistan emerged as the saviour and mentor of Afghanistan’s freedom struggle and host to over three million war displaced Afghans. This was a gigantic role reversal very difficult for the proud Afghans to reconcile with. It also created a dilemma for the Pakistani people and administration at the same time. Our administration failed to appreciate that the reversal of roles was a temporary phenomenon that was traditionally and psychologically untenable. This demanded a formal and discreetly non-patronising interaction but quite indelicately we tried to play both the mentor and the tutor. This irked the Afghans immeasurably and continues to do so in many ways. After the Afghan war we wrongly insisted to play the gratitude and brotherhood cards. Both are futile as, according to the Afghans, gratitude and brotherhood is among equals, which they do not find anywhere east of the Hindu Kush right down to the Bay of Bengal.

Mehboob Qadir is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan army


The Syrian War Theatre & the Brutal Assad Regime

By Wafa Zaidan

September 12, 2015

Five years ago, Syria, the country that lies on the shores of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, was ruled by the Assad regime, as is the case now and has been for over 40 years. Violence was prevalent but no one heard about it because there was a painful silence imposed through force. But the waves of change wait for no one, and the calm that prevailed soon tuned into a pitched war. There was a lot of enthusiasm for change but a price had to be paid for it. On March 15, 2011, the revolution began, and the protestors, whom the Assad regime itself admitted were completely peaceful in the first six months, while not expecting to be received with open arms by the notorious regime, still couldn’t imagine the magnitude of the violence and brutality they would be subjected to.

The first response was that of live bullets, fired at the protestors who didn’t call for Assad’s ouster until the death toll reached 3,000 civilians. Defections from the Syrian Army soon increased to 2,000 officers, who claimed that they were receiving explicit orders to kill peaceful protestors indiscriminately.

Assad had in hand a wide range of weapons and torture techniques: skinning, firing live bullets, setting of nail bombs and even Scud missiles. These were merely the early gusts of the gathering storm. Assad was simply warming up for the fierce war to come. In the Syrian war theatre, Russia and Iran, the closest supporters and protectors of the Assad regime, missed no chance to supply it with weapons, military experts and diplomatic support. Syria is Russia’s 40-year-old ally since Hafez al-Assad established close ties with the Soviet Union. Politically, it is Russia’s only remaining ally in the Middle East. It strategically lies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, a pivotal asset for trade, gas riches and influence far beyond its borders. In a way it also protects Russia, where democracy is in decay, acting as a shield to deter the waves of change from reaching it. To Iran, Syria is the cornerstone in its project to spread its influence across the Middle East. Strategically, Syria creates a direct bridge between Iran and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and losing Syria will result in Iran losing that bridge and ultimately losing its two allies in one go.

Numerous countries in the region have plunged into turmoil, but what makes Syria exceptional is the kind of destructive weapons used indiscriminately by the Assad regime, against civilians. Air defence has been assigned the primary task of quelling the revolution, which boils down to randomly dropping explosive barrels from helicopters on heavily populated rebel-held areas. This has caused the complete destruction of cities of historical significance such as Aleppo, Idlib and Deraa. These primitive barrel bombs, which weigh between 440 and 1,100 tonnes, are inexpensive and simple to make, allowing Assad to kill en masse. A Humans Rights Watch report published on August 5 describes them as “a do-it-yourself concoction of explosions and metal fragments contained in an oil canister”. The report asserts that these weapons “inflict far greater sufferings on Syrians than the Islamic State and the chemical weapons combined”. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the number of deaths caused by these barrel bombs has reached almost 9,000 since February, 2014, when the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution to cease the dropping of these bombs, to which Assad turned a cold shoulder.

A diplomatic move was taken on August 14, when France introduced an initiative to create a team to document the use of barrel bombs by the Assad regime and report them to the UN, which will then raise the possibility of using unspecified penalties against the regime. But the US asked France to freeze the initiative until a Russian vote is secured against Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Besides the catastrophe caused by Assad’s barrel bombs, there are also the tragedies that have ensued following the use of chemical weapons in the country. In August 2013, Assad’s forces launched the first chemical attack in Al-Ghouta, killing 1,400 civilians. His regime was then forced by Russia to sign a UN resolution in October 2013, to give up his 1,300 metric tonnes of chemical arsenal. On March 6, 2015, the UNSC adopted a new resolution regarding the use of toxic chemicals in Syria and decided that in case of non-compliance, measures under chapter seven will be implemented. Despite this, weapons of mass destruction made a strong comeback to the Syrian war theatre when, in April 2015, Human Rights Watch published a report accusing the Assad regime of using toxic chemicals during the period March 16-31, 2015, but this time by filling them in barrel bombs and dropping them on the city of Idlib, killing at least 206 civilians. The toxic chemicals-infested barrel bombs have taken the level of atrocities to a higher level, which mirrors the audacity of the Assad regime in mastering new death techniques.

Today the death toll has crossed a quarter of a million, keeping in mind that the UN has given up on keeping up with the death count in Syria since January 2014, and the number of the internally displaced persons and refugees has gone far beyond 10 million. With unstoppable defections, economic and military exhaustion and loss of land under its control, the Assad regime seems to be crumbling, but what keeps it on its feet even now is Russian diplomatic and military support and Iran’s military aid combined with the Al-Quds brigade’s commanding of the Syrian Army.


The Impractical Adoption of Urdu

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

September 12, 2015

A few months ago, I brought to your attention how a few schools are planning to teach Arabic as a foreign language. I also pointed out how this choice belied logic as the language is not only alien to our indigenous culture, it also has shrinking market value and as we struggle to de-radicalise society, there is a fear that the use of colloquial Arabic may bring with it seeds of radicalisation. Don’t forget some of the most troublesome radical groups in the world like Islamic State and al Qaeda rely heavily on the use of the language. And a couple of years ago in my piece “Urdu Hai Jiss Ka Naam”, I highlighted how neglected our national language was in terms of capacity. I discussed how the language, for all practical purposes, has been abandoned in its birthplace India and we, in Pakistan, had done precious little for preserving it. Recent developments have added a sense of urgency to the debate.

On the eighth of this month, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court asked federal and provincial governments to adopt Urdu as the official language of the country. Article 251 was invoked in the judgment which reads: “1) The National language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within 15 years from the commencing day; 2) Subject to clause (1), the English language may be used for official purposes until arrangements are made for its replacement by Urdu; 3) Without prejudice to the status of the National language, a Provincial Assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of a Provincial language in addition to the National language.”In an earlier hearing on July 11, the federal government had informed the honourable Court that a directive had been issued making it mandatory for the president, the prime minister and other office-bearers to deliver speeches in Urdu, both here and abroad. In addition, a short-term strategy paper was also submitted by the government. The directive on the obligatory use of Urdu in speeches, however, deserves close inspection. It is one thing for an office-bearer to talk in Urdu within the country, even though there still are parts of the country where the language is barely understood. It is altogether another to deliver speeches in Urdu at international forums. For a country which at best struggles to get its message across in the world of international diplomacy, is it safe now to deliver its message in Urdu? We are told that the government functionaries of various countries, including China, Russia, France and Iran, talk in their native languages at international forums. But this argument does not take into cognisance how heavily these countries invest in the development of these languages and their promotion abroad. Sadly, we have done no such thing. As things stand today, for us, this may mean only further isolation as many participants on such forums may not even bother to pick up headsets to understand the meaning of what is being said.

The English language, despite its limited local penetration, has an added advantage. Even for many countries that do not use English, its lack of use is considered a handicap. We cannot forget how useful the language is in the global market. Regarding the use of Urdu as an official language, there are two serious concerns. The first is of development. When you want to use a language in universities, colleges, hospitals, laboratories and management, you need a treasure trove of vocabulary. Sadly, that kind of vocabulary hasn’t been developed yet. As I write, the National Language Authority’s dictionary is lying open in front of me and it lacks some basic words. The second concern is one of radical literature. In the past few decades, many sectarian and radical religious works have been translated from Arabic and other languages into Urdu. As the state desperately tries to de-radicalise society, this factor is bound to give it more headaches.

So what should be done? We cannot pretend that Article 251 is not part of our Constitution. When it was passed, the time frame given was realistic. Sadly, however, there was no follow-up. And in case we are serious about enforcing the Article, that is the kind of time we will need.


Pak-Afghan Relations: Hanging By a Thread

By Khalid Aziz

 September 12th, 2015

“O Motherland!

Why are all our tributaries

Of love in tumult

Our rivers of life

In revolt?” — Ejaz Rahim


I WAS recently in Afghanistan to attend the academic forum meeting in connection with the sixth gathering of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference for Afghanistan. It gave me an opportunity for discussion with the Afghan leadership, officials from the Pakistani mission in Kabul, diplomats from different countries, and an enriching interaction with the youth under the young Afghan leaders programme run by the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, Afghanistan.

Many of us had high hopes of a paradigm shift in Afghan-Pakistan relations when President Ashraf Ghani soon after taking office, in a break with the past, visited GHQ on his maiden visit to Pakistan. His gesture conveyed two clear messages; firstly, that he understood the Pakistan military’s paramountcy in the oversight of its country’s foreign policy with Afghanistan, and secondly, he depended on the Pakistan military to deliver the ‘Quetta Shura’ so that a lasting reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban could be achieved.

To this end, an MoU was also signed between Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agencies — the ISI and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) respectively — which aimed at eradicating terrorist safe havens, despite strong misgivings amongst components of Afghanistan’s national unity government.

Efforts required to revive Pak-Afghan relations are missing and urgently needed

Matters were proceeding smoothly when the rapidly developing friendly relations between the two nations were grievously impacted by a series of explosions that rocked the Afghan capital on Aug 7. About 50 Afghans were killed and more than 300 innocent citizens injured. Senior Afghan officials pointed the finger at Pakistan, specifically accusing the Haqqani network for these atrocities. The officials claimed their allegations were based on electronic intercepts and they accused Pakistan of perfidy and dishonesty in its intentions towards Afghanistan.

Two events then followed in quick succession. First, both the Afghan parliament and civil society denounced the MoU that had been signed between the intelligence agencies; second, the NDS criticised the ISI as being less than honest for hiding the fact that the emir of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, had died more than two years ago.

After this, the perceptions of Afghans towards Pakistan became increasingly negative. While interacting with young Afghans in Kabul, I asked if anyone amongst them could summarise in a phrase their attitude towards Pakistan today. A youth studying in Afghanistan University responded by saying, “We hate you in the same manner as the Palestinians hate the Israelis!” It was a sobering exchange indeed.

The fear of violence at the hands of intelligence agents and civilians (there have been instances of intimidation) has forced the Pakistan ambassador to pull his staff into the chancery; I also found that while the rest of the diplomatic missions attended formal gatherings, Pakistani representation was usually absent. This clearly showed that the improvement in Pak-Afghan relations that had begun with so much hope now lies shattered.

What is painful to note is that the effort required to revive relations is also missing; surely now is the time to reach out with a host of visiting delegations from Pakistan to assuage Afghan grievances. This is the accepted cultural norm in the region, and if we don’t know that, then there is a need to take a crash course in Pakhtun social norms to fill the gap if we want to remain relevant.

From my discussions, it became evident that not only is there a huge trust deficit between our two nations at the moment, but that the top Afghan leadership feels betrayed and aggrieved. This is especially so given the perception that the huge truck explosion in Kabul on Aug 7 was meant for the leaders of the national unity government. In short, the perceptions in Kabul towards Pakistan are far from positive.

At another level, there is criticism of the national unity government for failing to address the problems that beset their people. Also of concern is the fact that its leadership is widely diffused within the coalition which appears as a vehicle that is out of sync. Kabul residents quip they have a government with seven presidents — Dr Ghani, Dr Abdullah, two deputies of Dr Ghani, two deputies of Dr Abdullah and Mr Hamid Karzai. The former president continues to enjoy official resources and protection afforded by the government. Obviously, this is a heavy burden on the meagre resources of the Afghan state that is barely able to generate $874 million from taxes and duties, while the cost of maintaining the Afghan National Security Forces alone is $4.3 billion.

Despite the passage of nine months, no defence minister has yet been appointed and corruption levels remain high. People in Kabul speak of a lack of willingness to tackle this menace that is harming Afghan nation-building. It is also important to remember that improved security is vital for Afghanistan to develop into an effective state.

So how does one put Pakistan’s Afghan policy back on the rails? We must understand that Afghanistan is a proud, sovereign nation and cannot be considered a client state: it obviously causes anger when Pakistani security managers respond to Afghan concerns by claiming that their attention was diverted by the Saudi-Yemen conflict.

The most effective step will be to undertake a strategic dialogue with Afghanistan with progress strictly monitored rather than being left on paper alone. Afghanistan needs help and sympathy; in return Pakistan will gain a friend and also enhance its own security. The international community can help create a fire fighting protocol that should come into play the moment any provocation takes place.

It is the region’s bad luck that it abounds in false flag operations that are likely to increase in the days to come, since there are too many spoilers who are taking part in this version of the Great Game.

Khalid Aziz is the convener of the Pakistan Policy Group in the Post-2014 Afghanistan project supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Islamabad.


Katas Raj Temple: Bringing Religions And Histories Together

By Kiran Wali

September 11, 2015

There is a Brahmanical story which says that Shiva was so inconsolable over the death of his wife Sati that the tears literally ‘rained from his eyes’ and ultimately transformed into a holy pool outside the Katas Raj Temple. It is said that Shiva and Sati spent some of their marital life here.

The holy temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is mentioned in Mahabharta as well. The fascinating part is that these are several temples built on a single piece of land close to one another. This complex is situated in Katas village, 40 kilometres from the Chakwal district of Punjab.

Recently, I got a chance to pay a visit to these temples; a place that holds significance not only in Hinduism but in Buddhism as well.

These temples are locally known as ‘Qila Katas’. Though there aren’t any idols present inside the temples anymore, but due to the holy nature of the pool, it is still a place frequently visited by its believers. Hindus residing in Pakistan and those in India visit this site every year as part of their pilgrimage to perform certain religious rituals.

The Pakistani government is considering nominating this temple for the World Heritage Site status, and rightly so, as its history dates back to the time of Ashoka. Furthermore, a Stupa can also be spotted at this site. Stupa, which holds historical significance in Buddhism, is a mound-like structure which has been used by Buddhists since ancient times as a place of meditation.

The site is not only historical but is also serene and attractive at the same time. Therefore, it has the capability of attracting tourists on a larger scale if promoted and maintained well. Thanks to the Pakistani government, the temple is well-maintained and Pakistan should keep up its preservation efforts in the future as well.

Although local tour guides are available for tourists, the government can make the site more tourism-friendly by displaying boards with brief information of every individual temple since each temple has a different name and historical significance.

The pond has been subjected to expansive media attention as well. The historical site can be seen in the frequently aired Q-Mobile adverts. Furthermore, a drama serial named after the temple, ‘Kanpur se Katas Tak’, has also been picturised at this very site.

A few months ago, Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, sent a pitcher of water from the holy pond of Katas Raj to Indian politician LK Advani, who had visited the site back in 2005 during his visit to Pakistan, as a goodwill gesture.

These temples are a true depiction of what an ancient historical place is ought to be – highly captivating and awe-inspiring.

All in all, it is a site worth-visiting and a place that the tourism industry can promote as part of Pakistan’s captivating ancient historical sites.