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Pakistan’s mullahs are on the rampage

BY Neha Tara Mehta

Feb 09 2011

SHE HAS two fatwas on her head for speaking up against Pakistan’s blasphemy law. She has been arrested under both General Pervez Musharraf and Asif Zardari — Pakistan’s present government sent two truckloads of policemen in the dead of the night to arrest her on March 11, 2009.

But Tahira Abdullah, 57, Pakistan’s most vocal human rights activist, isn’t one to be silenced easily. Her fragile appearance packs in a lot of firepower.

Abdullah’s was one of the most strident voices against the government at the just-concluded Karachi Literature Festival. And she was one of a handful of speakers to take an unequivocal stand against growing extremism in Pakistan.

“The mullahs are on the rampage,” Abdullah said to this correspondent on the sidelines of the lit fest. “There are very few people who are speaking up against the blasphemy law in public,” she added.

Pointing to the fear psychosis that has gripped the country’s public intellectuals and people at large, Abdullah said: “The vigils we organised for [slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer] didn’t get more than 100-200 people in Islamabad, which has a population of 1 million, and about 500 in Karachi, which has 18 million people living in it.”

Though her fellow panellist Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to America and Britain, slammed her for “sloganeering”, Abdullah was the clear favourite at the festival.

Invoking Urdu poetess Zehra Nigah’s verses, Abdullah declared: “Even the jungles have a better law and order system than us. Lions don’t eat lions, rabbits don’t eat rabbits, and rats don’t eat rats.”

in economist who worked with the UNICEF and UNFPA “many hundreds of years ago,” Abdullah said she first realised she was doing something right when she was arrested by “both Musharraf and Zardari”.

Holding Pakistan’s former dictator Zia-ul Haq responsible for sowing the seeds of extremism in the country, she said, “It took an entire generation for the eggs to hatch. The chickens are coming home to roost now.” Presenting her vision for Pakistan, Abdullah said: “We need to move from the present national security state to a human security state.” For this, she had a tip or two for both India and Pakistan.

 “Pakistan’s military expenditure needs to come down together with India’s and spending on the social sector needs to go up. Pakistan’s army has to stop sympathising and supporting jihadi elements and India has to stop the atrocities against women in Kashmir,” she said.

Asked why she doesn’t employ security or keep a low profile even after Taseer’s assassination, Abdullah said, “I am a fatalist. I will go when I have to go.”

That’s one voice Pakistan’s increasingly voiceless civil society can’t afford to lose.

Source: Mail Today