New Age Islam Edit Bureau
January 4th, 2016
• The blasphemy law, Islam and the state
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
• Salmaan Taseer’s murder — the death of reason
By Raza Rumi
• The IS threat
By Huma Yusuf
• Implausible denial
By Express Trubune Editorial
• The business of war
By Dr Asad Zaman
The blasphemy law, Islam and the state
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
January 4th, 2016
The blasphemy law, as enacted in Pakistan in 1986, militates first and foremost against the Islamic principles of justice and here is why: if it is conceived as an Islamic law, is it subject to hadd?
Five years ago today, Salmaan Taseer, the owner and proprietor of this newspaper, the sitting governor of Punjab and perhaps the most courageous man in Pakistan, was martyred for criticising the blasphemy law. It has taken our legal system five years to finally decide the fate of his assassin. In doing so, the Supreme Court (SC) very succinctly laid down that criticising the blasphemy law, which is a man-made law and not the word of God, is not equivalent to blasphemy. It is also laid down that even if blasphemy is committed, no one has the right to take the law into his/her own hands. This is a welcome development because it promises to undo a historic injustice that has been committed in the name of religion.
The second casualty of the events of January 4, 2011 was the healthy debate that had started on the issue. The assassination of Salmaan Taseer silenced that debate. However, that debate needs to happen in this country for sanity to prevail. The blasphemy law, and Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in particular, must be examined to determine whether it is consistent with the principles of natural justice and the requirements of the rule of law. Another thing that must be determined is whether the said law fulfills the requirements laid down by Islam. This determination is important because the argument martialed in its favour is almost always that it is not just a man-made law but the divine will of God.
In my opinion, the blasphemy law, as enacted in Pakistan in 1986, militates first and foremost against the Islamic principles of justice and here is why: if it is conceived as an Islamic law, is it subject to hadd? If it is, then the requirement for tazkia-tul-shahood (the standard of evidence under Islamic jurisprudence) is extremely stringent. Admittedly, that standard of evidence is not followed under Section 295-C. If it is not a hadd offence, it follows that it is subject to tazir. It is important to appreciate the clear difference between the two under Islamic jurisprudence. A hadd offence is subject to strict Islamic punishments and, as mentioned earlier, a higher standard of evidence. The punishment for a tazir offence is left to the judge or the state.
If we say that Section 295-C is a hadd offence, then in addition to the question of a higher form of evidence i.e. testimony of unimpeachable persons of integrity who may have witnessed an offence being committed and not relied on hearsay, we would also have to provide for an equal punishment for those who trivially accuse others of blasphemy. That means anyone accusing another person of blasphemy, who then fails to produce the requisite witnesses for the offence, is liable to be punished under the same law. Obviously, under Islamic law, blasphemy has never been designated a hadd offence but always a tazir. The rulings of the great Islamic jurist Imam Abu Hanifa are absolutely clear on this point.
Now, if Section 295-C is a tazir offence, the most likely case, it changes the scenario altogether. To begin with, it is the discretion of the state to determine the punishment. The question of whether a person convicted of blasphemy is to undergo imprisonment for some time or whether he has to be executed is to be determined solely by the state. It is here that the on ground conditions become vitally important to such a determination. Pakistan is signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which it has ratified. It is bound by its own fundamental rights chapter, which provide for freedom of religion and freedom of expression. If the state, therefore, bound by its international and constitutional obligations, decides to forego the death penalty envisaged under the said provision, it would not violate any tenet of Islam because it is perfectly empowered to do so under Islamic jurisprudence. There is ample precedence for this in Islamic history. Imam Abu Hanifa, for example, exempts non-Muslims from offence of blasphemy altogether. Under Hanafi Islamic jurisprudence only Muslims can be tried for blasphemy and, if they repent, they can be acquitted. Capital punishment, reserved exclusively for Muslim offenders, comes into play only in those rarest of circumstances where a Muslim accused of blasphemy refuses to repent. A non-Muslim on the other hand can only be tried for creating mischief if deemed necessary and the prescribed punishment is imprisonment for a duration. This is the position under the dominant Sunni school of thought in Islamic jurisprudence.
It must also be remembered that no one in Pakistan has been punished under Section 295-C to date. Many, however, have lost their lives simply because they were accused under this law. This points to the impunity that has become rampant in society in the name of the blasphemy law. This is enough reason for us as Pakistanis to coolly look at the facts and re-examine Section 295-C and to improve the law so that it fulfills both the requirements of Islamic jurisprudence and Pakistan’s international and constitutional obligations. This is a problem that needs to be resolved because it has brought disrepute to Pakistan and to the great faith of Islam as well.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Salmaan Taseer’s murder — the death of reason
By Raza Rumi
January 4, 2011
Salmaan Taseer’s brutal murder at the hands of a policeman is a cruel reminder of where we have landed ourselves: in a dark morass of irrationality lorded over by pernicious ideologies. Taseer was a representative of the federation in the largest province of Pakistan. Yet, as his death shows, he was very vulnerable to the deep-seated prejudice within the state and society. A target of the reactionaries and of bigots, he became a symbol of resistance against the Talibanisation of Punjab.
A scion of Urdu’s great poet MD Taseer, he was a self-made businessman and a staunch supporter of democracy in the country. He had a long history of struggle against Zia’s dictatorship. After his political hibernation, Taseer emerged as the PPP’s formidable voice of reason. His recent brave act of leading a campaign against the sentencing of Aasia Bibi rallied Pakistan’s moderate Muslims and its intelligentsia who felt emboldened by his courage. Whilst his party dilly-dallied on the issue of revising the blasphemy laws ultimately succumbing to expediency, Taseer remained firm on his position.
SC upholds death sentence for Salmaan Taseer’s killer
In Pakistan, injustice is the norm and anyone choosing to defy this norm is likely to be crushed. Such is the case with our former governor who will be remembered as a brave man of principles.
The implications of this tragic development are manifold: First, that resistance against the state-sponsored bigotry will further dwindle. Who will dare to take public positions on issues such as discriminatory laws and abuse of religion? Second, the Punjabi jihadis will celebrate this victory and further strengthen their position in the rural hinterland where militancy is bred and exported. Political parties sharing power in the province have appeased the militants or entered into political pacts with them. Third, it appears that a section of the security apparatus designed to protect public functionaries — as it has failed to protect ordinary citizens thus far — is both penetrable and prey to extremist leanings.
Judge, jury and executioner: Can individuals punish blasphemers, asks apex court
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the confounded investigation of her murder demonstrate two things: our civilian investigation and prosecution agencies are dysfunctional and that the security establishment is above the law. Taseer’s murder is yet another blow to Pakistan’s liberals and moderates alike. The worst part is that if they are eliminated, there is no guarantee of a fair investigation and trial. This is why the flawed strategy of appeasing jihadis here or in Afghanistan is so fatal for Jinnah’s Pakistan. Whatever is left of that original vision of Pakistan is now under grave danger.
If the PPP and the PML-N have to survive as political actors and present viable alternatives to the fascists and extremists, then they will have to get this murder investigated, unearth the conspiracy that must have preceded this act of terror and punish the perpetrators.
Salmaan Taseer, RIP. This country did not deserve you.
The IS threat
By Huma Yusuf
January 4th, 2016
The year began with heady rhetoric from Gen Raheel Sharif. Speaking in Quetta on New Year’s Day he stated that this would be the year that terrorism would be eradicated from Pakistan. At roughly the same time, Sindh’s counterterrorism department was arresting in Karachi a recruiter for the militant Islamic State group who reportedly sent three young men to fight in Syria. And a day later, across the border, an Indian air force base was attacked by militants. This confluence of events points to the challenges that remain as Pakistan pursues the goal of eradicating militancy.
The government dodged the issue of IS in Pakistan throughout 2015, with senior government and security officials repeatedly denying the group’s presence in Pakistan. This despite the Safoora Goth attack in May in Karachi, which was claimed by reportedly IS-inspired militants, the recent attacks against media outlets in Punjab after which IS pamphlets were found at the scene, and the emergence of pro-IS graffiti in urban areas throughout the country. Denial can only serve as a counterterrorism strategy for so long.
The country is likely to have to confront a variety of IS-linked militants over the coming year. Some of these will be defectors from other militant groups that have been weakened by counterterrorism operations and are seeking to regroup and rebrand under the IS banner in the hopes of winning new recruits.
Others will adopt the affiliation in Afghanistan, as seems to be the case with the 13 militants recently detained in Sialkot who were operating a recruiting and training facility for IS. Afghanistan has acknowledged that IS-affiliated militants have been contributing to the country’s deteriorating security environment since the spring of 2015, when the group officially launched its Khorasan chapter.
The country is likely to confront a variety of IS-linked militants.
For the most part, IS in Afghanistan comprises former Taliban militants who do not accept the group’s new leadership and are opposed to peace talks with the Afghan government. As such, IS in Afghanistan is likely to remain embroiled in local Afghan dynamics and not pose the same threats as the Iraq- and Syria-based group. However, what begins as local and expedient can lead to long-term ideological and security challenges, as our region’s history has repeatedly shown.
The greatest danger from IS in Pakistan is likely to come in the form of self-radicalised militants intent on carrying out ‘lone wolf’ attacks. These might include middle class and educated youth who will be exposed to IS’s messaging on social media, as foreshadowed by the arrests in recent years of university students — and even professors — suspected of links with militant groups.
Writing last month in the New York Times, David Brooks recalled Eric Hoffer’s definition of radicals to explain the appeal and effectiveness of IS. Hoffer argued that radicals emerge when a society is in a state of decay. They join radical movements because they are frustrated and believe they will not achieve their ambitions, and because in increasingly free societies they have no one to blame for the challenges they think they face.
Summarising Hoffer, Brooks wrote: “the successful mass movement tells such people that the cause of their frustration is outside themselves, and that the only way to alter their personal situation is to transform the world in some radical way.” Radicals are thus drawn to movements that criticise the present and instead valorise a glorious past and a perfect future. Potential IS recruits in Pakistan are likely to be vulnerable to radicalisation for the reasons that Hoffer outlined about 65 years ago.
Despite launching numerous counterterrorism operations over the past year, Pakistan has not yet succeeded in introducing new narratives to compete with those of movements like IS. If anything, attempts to replace the appeal of violent extremism with patriotism have led to reiteration of nationalist narratives that themselves have been used to fuel militancy in a regional context.
Which brings us to the other challenge. At the time of writing, the circumstances of the Pathankot attack remain unclear. What more clear, however, is that anti-India militants have a presence on Pakistani soil. These groups also draw on recruits with frustrated prospects who are seeking to alter history through radical means, including violence. The question is whether these groups will in 2016 be counted among the terror organisations that the state is seeking to eradicate.
In light of the above, it would be sufficient if, during the course of 2016, Pakistan acknowledges the persistent complexity of its militant landscape and the challenges that remain in terms of countering terrorism. We need to focus on sustaining our commitment to confronting these challenges, and devote more energy to coining alternative narratives to those that fuel radicalisation. That might be a more realistic New Year’s resolution.
Huma Yusuf is a freelance journalist.
By Express Trubune Editorial
January 3, 2016
The level of denial by the government and its spokespersons regarding the presence of the Islamic State (IS) in Pakistan has moved from the risible to the ridiculous. The spokesperson for the Foreign Office (FO) holds a weekly briefing for the media, and on January 1 was categorical that the IS has no presence in Pakistan and that even the shadow of its footprint would not be allowed. He assured those present that national security agencies have been alerted to the threat posed by the IS and they would take appropriate action were their shadow ever to appear. Furthermore, he said that “certain elements” trying to associate themselves with the IS have been arrested and investigations are going on. We should not be reassured.
As the FO spokesperson was speaking, there were reports of a statement being given to BBC Urdu by Lahore Deputy Inspector General Haider Ashraf that three women had left Lahore for Syria, along with their children, to join the IS and that previous reports that they had been kidnapped were in error; the women left of their own free will. This report came a day after security forces had reportedly broken up a group of eight people who were trying to recruit for the IS in Sialkot. There are other well-sourced reports in the press regarding IS recruitment activity in and around Lahore, and further reports that some of those who having reached Syria were trying to recruit others via video links on the internet.
These are not unverified tittle-tattle or nebulous anecdotes; these are hard reports containing checkable detail that tell us that the IS is actively recruiting in Pakistan, and to say anything otherwise, particularly if the person saying it is speaking for the government, is bordering on the delusional. There have been reports of IS literature circulating in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab — particularly southern Punjab — and Karachi for over a year. If those reports are in the public domain, it is impossible to believe that the security agencies and the police were not also aware of them. The symbols of the IS are openly displayed on retail outlets at various places in Punjab, including Islamabad, as evidenced by photographs posted on social media. Again, if the man in the street can see these symbols, then so can those whose job it is to guard the security of the state against the threats presented by the IS. At the very least, all of this is a widespread indication of support for the IS if nothing else.
The IS is a powerful and well-resourced organisation that has widened its reach in the last two years. It is able to mount successful sophisticated operations in Western countries and has sympathisers in the US prepared to both kill and die for it. There is ample evidence of the IS using the internet as a radicalising tool that is effective and potent. The ubiquity of the internet means that for the IS, the world is almost literally its oyster. Given that there has long been a climate of radicalisation in Pakistan and extremist elements have considerable public support, it is no surprise to find the IS footprint all over the country because for the terror group, Pakistan will be the happiest of hunting grounds.
It is clear from the arrests noted above that not all the security agencies or the police are completely blind or deaf and are moving on some of those who are both willing to be recruited and those who are doing the recruiting — who if evidence from elsewhere in the world is to be believed will have been radicalised by whatever means and quite possibly received training as well. Just because there is scant evidence that the IS is militarily operational in Pakistan does not mean that it does not have a presence, and an active presence at that. The sooner the government wakes up to that the safer we will all be.
The business of war
By Dr Asad Zaman
January 4, 2016
The highly decorated war hero, Major General Smedley Butler, described a well-hidden secret in his classic book, War is a Racket: “I made Mexico safe for American oil in 1914 … I helped in the raping of a half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street … In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” Butler came to see himself as a gangster, a muscle-man for the protection of business interests. History textbooks fail to mention what Butler saw as the main cause of the First World War: the more than 20,000 millionaires and billionaires created by war profiteering.
Butler writes that a “racket” is a deception: war is not what it appears to be to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows the truth, and makes huge fortunes from war while the masses sacrifice their lives for fabricated causes. A recent article in Foreign Policy re-iterated the message that “War is still a racket” by showing how some groups are making trillions in profits from the perpetual war against terror.
As plans for war against Syria heat up, new myths are being manufactured to support it. In line with Butler’s thesis, we must look past the smokescreens of the Islamic State (IS) and oppression of Syrians, and follow the money, to understand the reasons for the war. In 2009, Qatar proposed to build a pipeline through Jordan and Turkey to supply oil to Europe. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned this down, and instead signed his own death warrant by signing an agreement for an alternative pipeline which would run through Iran, Iraq and Syria. Oil interests opposed to this deal began funding rebel groups to overthrow Assad, to block this possibility. Sympathy for oppressed Syrians has nothing to do with the realpolitik of financing the war against Assad. In fact, the IS came into existence after a coalition of countries headed by the US began to provide arms and money to create a rebellion against Assad.
Exactly parallel to the IS, the origins of the Taliban lie in the massive funding and arms provided by the CIA to local Muslims to engage in jihad against Russia in Afghanistan. But we must dig deeper to find the profit motives behind the Afghan war. The story of the competition between US oil company Unocal and the Argentinian oil Company Bridas for building the oil pipeline through Afghanistan is too complex to describe here. Suffice it to say that when the Taliban became an obstacle to the planned Unocal pipeline, they were removed from the scene. Another major sin of the Taliban was to shut down opium production, which reduced world supply of heroin by more than 50 per cent, and led to multibillion dollar losses to the shadowy global narcotics industry, second only to the world oil industry.
In 1967, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa. By the time he was assassinated, he had transformed Libya into one of Africa’s richest nation. Prior to the US-led bombing campaign in 2011, Libya had the highest Human Development Index, the lowest infant mortality and the highest life expectancy in all of Africa. The country provided effective free health and education services to all citizens. Then Gaddafi committed an unpardonable crime: he announced plans to nationalise Libyan oil, depriving Western oil conglomerates of profits. He was duly punished for this audacity. Following a familiar pattern, rebels were armed and funded to create a rebellion against Gaddafi. The US-EU-Nato bombing blitz of 2011 destroyed hospitals, schools, energy and water infrastructure. As a result, a once prosperous country has been reduced to rubble, while Nato forces proudly proclaimed their success in defending democracy, and in creating a ‘historic victory’ for the people of Libya against an evil dictator.
Similarly, Iraq was one of the most advanced economies of this region. Saddam Hussein did not learn the lessons from history, and angered big oil by attempting to pursue independent policies for Iraqi oil. In line with Butler’s thesis, false pretexts of WMDs were manufactured to cover the real reasons for the Iraq war. Many senior officials confirmed what Alan Greenspan said: “It is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” The regime change operation, mounted for the “benefit of the Iraqi people” has resulted in complete chaos. Massive destruction of infrastructure has returned Iraq to the Stone Age, killing a million and destroying the power, water, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure to make the lives of the remaining 40 million citizens a living hell.
Current war budgets are sufficient to amply provide for basic needs of food, health, housing and education for all people on the planet. Thus learning to live together in peace has huge potential payoffs for humanity as a whole. However, the route to world peace suggested by General Smedley Butler’s analysis is very different from what prevailing myths about the sources of violence would have us believe. The power of big business and the military-industrial complex to control government policy is clearly revealed in the failure of Barack Obama to keep many campaign promises which went against their interests. For instance, Obama promised to eliminate tax loopholes for oil and gas companies, but did not have any success in his attempts to this end. The powerful pharmaceutical industry also blocked his promised proposal to allow imports of medicine to compete with expensive domestic brands. Butler said that to end war, we must end the possibility of profiteering from war. Of his many creative proposals to this end, one is creating a global consensus that armies should only fight defensive wars, on their own territories. Butler’s message remains ignored and unheard, even though it is of central importance to understanding how we can end wars and create global prosperity today.
Dr Asad Zaman is vice-chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. He holds a PhD in Economics from Stanford University