New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 November 2015
• Will there be a change of guard in Balochistan?
By Shezad Baloch
• Half the truth
By Babar Ayaz
• Here come the crazies
By Syed Rashid Munir
• Minority matters
By Reema Omer
Will there be a change of guard in Balochistan?
By Shezad Baloch
November 23, 2015
The chief minister of the most volatile province of the country is likely to complete his two-and-a-half-year tenure by the end of December this year as promised under the Murree Deal, inked by the central leadership of the PML-N, the National Party (NP) and the Pasthunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) — the three parties ruling the province. The proposed chief minister, Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, told an impromptu news conference recently that he is going to take oath as chief minister of Balochistan next month after the end Dr Abdul Malik Baloch’s tenure — which, if true, means the incumbent chief minister has just a few weeks left at the helm. The NP has announced it will comply with the Murree Deal, should the federal government want to implement it. Zehri, the PML-N Balochistan chapter chief, is keen on attaining the slot promised to him under the agreement. The current chief minister, on the other hand, seems confident in his abilities and least concerned about the next term, with his government’s efforts being credited for maintaining law and order in the province by both the federal government and the armed forces on different occasions during the last two years.
Thus far, no steps have been taken that would indicate a change in direction other than reports in an Urdu daily by a Rawalpindi-based reporter; but these are believed to be feelers, planted to gauge public reaction to possibly extending the current chief minister’s tenure. Senior leaders of the NP have confirmed that Dr Baloch has not been informed about any possible extension of his tenure nor has he any knowledge of any change in strategy on the part of the federal government. There are several reasons that have forced the PML-N into reviewing the Murree agreement. While the PML-N secured more seats in Balochistan in the 2013 general elections than any other party and while its Balochistan chapter did not enjoy very good relations with the NP, its central leadership had a good understanding with Dr Baloch and Hasil Bizenjo. Therefore, it let the nationalist NP and PkMAP take the lead in forming the government, with the main aim of improving conditions in militancy-stricken Balochistan.
Despite being in government in the past, nationalist parties have been quite open about criticising the military’s and the federal government’s role in Balochistan. However, for the first time in the province’s history, we saw the chief minister, belonging to a nationalist party, highlighting the positive role of the military and openly saying that it is on the same page as the provincial government. The Balochistan government has also been credited for the decline in sectarian violence, targeted killings and kidnappings. The data provided by the provincial Home Department shows a 50 to 60 per cent decline in such incidents. These statistics are also shared by the Department of Home and Tribal Affairs, Islamabad. People in Balochistan can trust these statistics as they can see a genuine improvement in the law and order situation on the ground in districts like Quetta and Khuzdar. The central civil and military leaderships are happy with a non-tribal ‘middle class’ chief minister. While the Hazara community continues to face serious difficulties, it has also shown its support for Dr Baloch’s government. However, his hometown of Turbat, the base of the ruling NP, has not enjoyed as much improvement as the rest of the province. Similarly, the challenge posed by the missing persons issue remains unresolved.
The notion of a minority party running a province is unconventional, yet the tense conditions of Balochistan necessitated it to be so, as the priority was to bring about stability by all means. Back in 1997 as well, the Nawaz Sharif government had designated the rule of the province to Sardar Akhtar Mengal, whose party did not have a majority in the assembly; however, that government could hardly survive 18 months in power and the PML-N was blamed for its dismissal.
Fast-forward to 2015, the PML-N has been forced to contemplate that a change in guard might prove to be counter-productive if the next chief minister is unable to deliver. On the other hand, an extension in the current chief minister’s tenure would wreak discontent in the PML-N’s Balochistan chapter, as it is desperately waiting to take the reins. The PML-N will also have to take into account the fact that Dr Baloch enjoys the goodwill of the military.
In the past, Balochistan has been ruled by coalition governments comprising tribal figures. Such a power structure only served to obstruct development in the province. The 2013 general elections marked an increased support base for the NP, based on the individual support of candidates in their respective areas as opposed to party allegiance. The federal government is treading on eggshells in this matter — whatever it decides. Therefore, its strategy will have to be carefully thought through, with attention to detail.
Shezad Baloch is a freelance journalist based in Quetta and former staff reporter of The Express Tribune
Half the truth
November 24th, 2015
Once again, the debate about civil-military relations is raging in the media. The cue has been taken from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release, which stated that in the last corps commanders’ meeting, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) “while appreciating the progress of the ongoing operation and intelligence-based operations, their achievements and effects, he acknowledged the full support of the nation for ongoing operations to eliminate terrorism and extremism. He, however, underlined the need for matching complimentary governance initiatives for long-term gains of the operation and enduring peace across the country. The progress of the National Action Plan’s (NAP’s) implementation, finalisation of FATA reforms and concluding all ongoing Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) is at priority, were highlighted as issues, which could undermine the effects of operations.”
The country’s history has taught politicians and political analysts to be wary of such statements by the establishment. They could not miss that while the COAS appreciated the army’s success, he underlined the need for matching governance initiatives. Some parliamentarians objected to the ISPR’s press release as it was uncalled for to send a critical message a day after the meeting at the Prime Minister (PM) House in which the nation’s security issues were discussed. It is quite evident that the army must have expressed similar feelings at the meeting regarding “lack of matching governance initiatives” by the civilian government. Such interdepartmental frank discussions cannot be found at fault in any dispensation. However, to publicly criticise the parent government is not in good taste particularly when in the Pakistan context it can stir the feeling of destabilisation of an elected government.
There is no doubt that the Pakistan army is in the forefront of the war against terrorism and many soldiers have lost their lives in the line of duty. The nation has high regards for them and supports the military operation but the real problem is that the army establishment has to act as one of the important departments of the government and not as a parallel government. It is in this context that the PM House had to point out that the NAP goals’ implementation had to be pursued by all national institutions “while remaining within the ambit of the Constitution”.
According to newspaper reports, the areas where the government is lacking in the implementation of NAP goals are: FATA reforms, the return of the Afghan refugees, issues related to the Karachi operation, slow progress on the Balochistan reconciliation programme, controlling terror financing by taking action against hawala dealers and restricting the work of banned jihadi organisations. Indeed, on all these counts progress has been quite slow considering that the country is almost in a state of civil war. But it should also be borne in mind that the much-maligned civilian government has provided the working conditions in which the military operation was made possible: it passed the 21st Amendment giving almost all the powers to the military, powers that are provided in a state of emergency. The military courts were allowed to be established although the same facilities could have been given to the Anti Terrorism Courts (ATCs) as suggested in the Liaquat Hussain case by the Supreme Court (SC). It gave the military establishment the power to arrest terrorists and hold them for 90 days for investigations. It gave police powers to the Rangers who are actually an extension of the military establishment. And, above all, it provides the necessary funds for the military operation against the terrorists from the exchequer. For all practical purposes the country is in a state of emergency, which has been made possible by the civilian setup.
The FATA reforms have been a long pending issue for the last many decades. The government should move on this urgently keeping in mind the wishes of the people of these tribal areas. Most of the political parties that have roots in that area have been demanding the merger of FATA into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This should have been done long ago but most previous governments — military and civilian — wanted to resolve the Durand Line issue with Afghanistan first. All Afghan governments have opposed converting the Durand Line into a formal border between the two countries. Even the Taliban government established with the support of Pakistan did not agree to formalise the border between the two countries.
This issue is closely linked to Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, which are not managed by the civilian government but by the establishment. Had it been left to the civilian governments perhaps they could have normalised relations with all northern neighbours long ago. The media critics who blame the civilians for failing to have a well thought out foreign policy tend to forget that it was mostly handled by the establishment and not by the civilian setups. Not because the civilians were incapable of devising a workable policy but because they have not been allowed to do so by the security establishment.
It is amusing to hear overrated experts on prime time television telling us that the political governments are not geared up to run foreign policy and that the establishment has think tanks and a system of debate that helps in making foreign policy. If the boys were so good all along than one wonders why we erred in 1965 by sending 7,000 insurgents into Kashmir thinking that India would take this infiltration lying down and not attack on the working boundary, why did the military launch an operation against the people of Bangladesh in 1971? Why did General Zia start a 10-year war against Afghanistan in 1979 and allow the intense weaponisation of the country? Why did he allow the drug trade to finance the insurgency beyond the northern border? If the establishment did do its homework then how did General Musharraf attack Kargil, underestimating India’s massive response? If they are so good then why did they fail to stop the jihadis from launching the Mumbai carnage? Why, to the embarrassment of the nation, did they allow Osama bin Laden to hide in the garrison town? Why did they launch the Taliban government in Afghanistan only to realise much later that it would work closely with al Qaeda and provide its territory and resources to Islamist terrorists the world over? The list of failures in the foreign policy managed by the boys is long.
However, that does not absolve the political governments from their omissions and commissions. The media should criticise them so that they are forced to improve but not in a way that paves the way and encourages the establishment to once again take over, something to which we are familiar given the wretched history of democracy in the country.
Babar Ayaz can be reached at email@example.com. He is the author of What’s Wrong with Pakistan?
Here come the crazies
Syed Rashid Munir
For decades now, the international community has looked at terrorism as something external and far-removed. Seldom have there been coordinated and sustained efforts to look at the underlying issues and work towards long-term solutions. Even in cases where terrorism has reared its ugly head and caused much grief, we have tried to douse it with temporary fixes, only for it to re-emerge in new places in more vicious forms.
If it was not apparent before, it is quite apparent to everyone now that terrorism acknowledges no religion and knows no boundaries. It is tragic that this much was realised only after a series of traumatic events in Beirut and Paris earlier this month, but such is the world we live in. Think about all the lives that have been affected by terrorism and try to feel the grief the affected must feel. We are no strangers to the horrors of terrorism ourselves and perhaps this is a true for a lot of other populations throughout the Middle East. But just like the US was shocked after the tragedy of 9/11, so do the French now find themselves astounded over what transpired in Paris on that fateful night.
In times like this, it is painful to point out the vagaries of colonialism or the systemic bias outsiders face in French society as possible culprits. But it does not make such assertions any less true. However, politicians do not have time for such long-drawn political lectures. They, as always, are looking for easy fixes; much to their chagrin, there are none.
Horrific events such as this recent spate of attacks have the power to galvanise support around common causes and make people take action towards addressing the critical issues of our time. But they also hide within themselves a much sinister possibility: causing mass hysteria and clouding our judgments. In one fell stroke, Islamic State (IS) seems to have achieved the impossible: not only has it inflicted irreparable harm on hundreds through its horrific attacks in Beirut, Paris and the like, it has also created a charged atmosphere in western countries that could lead its ranks to swell in an unprecedented manner.
The response from France and other nations — predictable given the panic they face — has been focused towards introducing extremely harsh measures for allowing refugees from Syria and Iraq into their territories. But wait, what about human rights, you ask. Well, apparently, it looks like they are only selectively applicable to some and general admission for the time being is closed. Sadly though, the response has not stopped at that: Muslim populations living within many western countries have also had to face backlash in the wake of recent events. There is a genuine fear that in the face of ridicule and alienation that Muslims will now have to face in Europe and elsewhere, the marginalised religious communities will have no option but to radicalise and walk straight into the arms of IS, a possibility that IS recruiters would doubtlessly welcome.
As mentioned earlier, terrorism is a trans-national issue, one that requires overcoming coordination issues on an unprecedented scale. But the irony is that the more terrorist activity there is, the response from the international community is to further close off their borders and retreat to their safe cocoons, only to be forced out of there by further attacks.
Amidst all this chaos, the question that is on everyone’s mind right now is this: can we address the IS threat in a meaningful way to somehow magically stop the vicious cycle of perpetual violence and terror? To this end, this much is clear: there is no military solution to the IS situation. We can all lament about the tragedies that IS has inflicted upon us all, and we can retaliate with much brutality, but the fundamental truth is that the extremist ideas that drive fanatic groups like IS are not going to simply die out.
In recognition of such limitations, there has been talk of empowering moderate Sunni factions within Iraq and Syria to act as a foil against the IS onslaught but this kind of solution is not grounded in the political reality of the Middle East either. The US and other European countries — all too happy to respond in kind to the fanaticism of IS — are not too keen on getting down to business and really invest their energies in the Middle East. It is not just the western powers that are wary of getting tangled up in Syria and Iraq. All of the regional countries that face a threat from IS are also more interested in resolving other issues rather than pooling their collective wisdom into transforming the balance of power in the Middle East.
Turkey, for instance, is obsessed with the Kurds for now. The Saudis and other Sunni states are more concerned about defeating Iran and its proxies, and Iran is more concerned about the protection of Shias in Iraq and Syria rather than addressing the IS threat head on. In such times, perhaps the only viable solution would be to undo the artificial colonial borders in the Middle East and allow for more ethnic and religious contact amongst the populations.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and our grief and despair over recent atrocities could be an opportunity to not just right a historical wrong but to also create avenues for a better future for the people of the Middle East. By declaring the atrocious Sykes-Picot Agreement null and void, and by allowing for controlled movement along national borders, the despairing refugees from Syria and Iraq can be accommodated in a better manner. Additionally, such mobility could also bring together the moderate forces in the region to address the issue at hand.
But who will ever dare to undertake this Herculean task? It will most certainly not be the powers responsible for creating and enforcing those borders in the first place. So as we wait for a messiah that might never emerge, let compassion and better judgment keep the crazies out and instead let the right ones in.
Syed Rashid Munir is a freelance columnist with degrees in political science and international relations
November 24th, 2015
“I AM the prime minister of all Pakistanis, whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, or any other religion. I will stand by victims of violence and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, even where the perpetrators are Muslim.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s seemingly heartfelt address to the Hindu community at a Diwali event in Karachi last week has immense symbolic importance given the environment of insecurity and marginalisation in which religious minorities live in Pakistan. That all people in Pakistan are equal regardless of their religion is still a radical notion for some, as was illustrated by the condemnation by some commentators of the allegedly un-Islamic views expressed by the prime minister.
However, given the increase in the persecution of religious minority communities in recent years — as illustrated by the torching of a chipboard factory owned by Ahmadis followed by attacks on an Ahmadi ‘place of worship’ in Jhelum on Saturday, reportedly in response to ‘blasphemy’ allegations — what is needed now is a lot more than heartfelt sentiment.
The events in Jhelum come nearly a year after the government adopted a comprehensive National Action Plan (NAP) to combat terrorism and extremism in the country following an attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar, last December. As part of NAP, the government pledged to take “strict action against the literature, newspapers and magazines promoting hatred, decapitation, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance” and to ensure the “protection of minorities”.
State institutions can take concrete measures to address religious persecution.
In June 2014, a few months before NAP was adopted, the Supreme Court in a judgement highlighted the state’s failure to protect religious minority communities and their places of worship from violence. The court found a “lack of awareness about minority rights” among law-enforcement agencies and had observed that attacks against religious minorities could be attributed to the failure by the state to take adequate preventive measures. The court directed the government to carry out corrective responses, including: ensuring that school curricula promote “a culture of social and religious tolerance”; constituting a national council for the protection of minorities to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting rights of religious minorities; constituting a special police force to protect places of worship of religious minorities; and ensuring that action, including registration of criminal cases, is promptly taken to bring to justice perpetrators who abuse the rights of religious minorities.
However, the Supreme Court’s directions and provisions of NAP still remain largely unimplemented.
The current predicament of religious minorities in Pakistan has roots in the state’s use of political Islam for its purported national security and foreign policy interests coupled with an ‘Islamisation’ drive premised on crafting a dominant narrative with non-Muslim Pakistanis as ‘the other’. Reversing this trend will require rethinking the relationship of the state with its non-Muslim citizens and the role of Islam in governing public lives, areas that remain contentious, and even hazardous, to engage in politically.
In the short-term, however, the various institutions of state can take concrete measures, including implementing the Supreme Court’s directions and under NAP, to address the widespread and systematic persecution faced by non-Muslims and members of minority sects within Islam in the country.
One key corrective measure is the substantial amendment of laws on “offences related to religion” in the Pakistan Penal Code, commonly known as blasphemy laws, which include a number of crimes including misusing religious epithets, defiling the Holy Quran, deliberately outraging religious sentiment, and directly or indirectly defaming the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Sentences for these offences range from fines to long terms of imprisonment, and in the case of defamation (Section 295-C), a mandatory death sentence.
Reform of offences related to religion is particularly timely, as the Supreme Court has acknowledged in a recent judgement that people accused of blasphemy “suffer beyond proportion or repair” and has clarified that critiquing or amending the blasphemy laws does not in itself amount to blasphemy.
The operation of blasphemy laws continues to have a detrimental impact on pluralism in the country and feeds into the atmosphere of insecurity and religious intolerance. This is acutely felt by non-Muslims. Ahmadis are particularly vulnerable to be targeted using these provisions. According to data compiled by the National Commission on Justice and Peace, a human rights NGO, 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987. As is evident from the figures, blasphemy laws disproportionately affect religious minority communities, who constitute only 3pc of Pakistan’s population.
In addition to individuals prosecuted for committing offences related to religion, dozens of people accused of blasphemy, their families, their neighbourhoods and places of worship have been targeted by mobs and organised extremist religious groups, particularly where the individual belongs to a religious minority community, and as many as 53 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations.
In their current form, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws fly in the face of human rights guarantees, including the rights to freedom of religion and belief; freedom of expression; and equal protection of the law. In addition, as documented in detail by the International Commission of Jurists in a recent report, blasphemy laws serve as tools for people to settle personal vendettas and achieve political purposes; misuse of the law is facilitated by the vague language in which offences related to religion are framed and the absence of intention in the text of the blasphemy provisions.
Moreover, threats of violence — which are often realised — coupled with bias against individuals accused of blasphemy displayed by various actors in the criminal justice system, including the police, lawyers and most significantly, judges, contribute to making blasphemy trials fundamentally unfair, denying blasphemy accused any real chance at defending themselves.
Yet, the state continues to turn a blind eye to these gross injustices, which are directly attributable to the current blasphemy regime.
Returning to the prime minister’s Diwali speech: he expressed his intention to return to celebrate the festival of Holi with the Hindu community next year. By then he will need to have demonstrated his government’s commitment to protecting religious minorities through action in addition to conveying the correct sentiment.
Reema Omer is a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists.