issue
Police's order

The court may have taken notice only now but there have been massive violations of the Police Order in terms of appointments for a long time
By Aoun Sahi
A full bench of the Lahore High Court on January 19, 2007 asked the chief secretary and IG Punjab to ensure appointments of police officials according to the Police Order It took serious notice of certain police officials serving on the same post at one station (the provincial capital in this case) for over three years in violation of the Police Order. The chief secretary was reportedly unable to give a satisfactory explanation.

Buyelections!
The result of the recent by-elections in Sindh were evident even before the polling was held -- amid a high-profile campaign run for the PML-Q and MQM candidates
The by-elections held on February 10, 2007 for a National Assembly seat in Karachi and a Sindh Assembly seat in Jamshoro are just another reminder to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) of its inability to hold an election that is free of rigging and government influence. These elections were necessitated after the deaths of MMA's Abdus Sattar Afghani who won the NA-250 Karachi-XII seat in 2002 general election and PPP's Ghulam Nabi Shoro who returned successful in 2002 on PS-71 Dadu-I in Jamshoro [which was upgraded to a district 2005].

Taal Matol
Good News Bad News!

By Shoaib Hashmi
As in the old stories, there is good news and there is bad news, or at least dicey news. The good news concerns the Lahore Museum. If you haven't been to the place in some time, go! You will notice it as soon as you step up to the porch. It is as if a breath of fresh air has wafted through the place and taken away all the cobwebs and the dust of neglect gathered there over a century. The place is bright and bubbling, attractive and alive!

situationer
Time for a showdown?

As the students of Jamia Hafsa refuse to vacate the children's library, Islamabad remains tense
By Noreen Haider
It seems the issue of the razed mosque in Islamabad is far from over. Some people blame the government for giving in to the demands of the protestors. The government claims it tried its best to avert the unpleasant showdown through negotiations. The administration of the madrassa and the female students of Jamia Hafsa insist their demands have been met only partially.

Ambiguous and arbitrary
There certainly are issues plaguing the NGO sector that need to be looked into. However the current Code of Ethics framed by 'consulting foreigners' is not the answer
By Muddassir Rizvi
The non-governmental organisations and their networks forge unity in their ranks as they strongly oppose the government's latest move to 'regulate' or 'control' them through a Code of Ethics -- a document prepared by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education in collaboration with the Charity Commission for the United Kingdom. The government says that the Code will reform the regulation process, improve programme delivery and strengthen financial transparency of the NGO sector.

A 'sensitive' issue
By Omar R. Quraishi
One has to say that the government completely mishandled the issue of razing mosques built on encroached land. When NGO activists and the liberal types take to the streets and organise a protest rally they are dealt with an iron fist by the state. Usually they are arrested as soon as they begin to assemble, baton charged or even tear-gassed and dragged away (the women sometimes held by the hair) into police vans and to the lock-up.

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A full bench of the Lahore High Court on January 19, 2007 asked the chief secretary and IG Punjab to ensure appointments of police officials according to the Police Order It took serious notice of certain police officials serving on the same post at one station (the provincial capital in this case) for over three years in violation of the Police Order. The chief secretary was reportedly unable to give a satisfactory explanation.

As a consequence of the court orders, the Punjab government last week had to make a major reshuffle in police postings, especially in Lahore.

In fact most key police appointments in Lahore until last week were not in accordance with the rules and regulations of police order. A Deputy Inspector General (DIG) ranked officer was posted as CCPO Lahore while according to section 2 of Article 2 of police order Capital City Police Officer should not be below the rank of additional Inspector General of Police. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Aftab Cheema, who has been demoted as SSP-Operations now, was working as DIG-Operations Lahore till a week ago. There is no post of SSP-Investigation according to police order but a police official had been working at that post for more than four years in Lahore.

The situation is not dissimilar in other districts of province. According to Punjab police record Superintendents of Police have been working as DPOs in 20 districts of Punjab. It is also an obvious violation of police order that clearly states that the District Police Officer should not be an officer of below the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police (Article 2 section 7). According to an SP who is also working as DPO in a district in central Punjab there is confusion in police department after the court's order and nobody knows when will he be transferred.

As a matter of fact the Police Order 2002 was never implemented in its real spirit. The most important institutions of police order 2002 like public safety commissions and citizen police liaison committees have not been constituted so far. police order's Articles 11 to 23 clearly state the criteria of appointments of police officials on key posts like Provincial Police Officer (PPO), Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) and District Police Officer (DPO). But in most of the cases these rules and regulations are not observed.

According to section one of Article 11, the provincial government shall, out of a panel of three police officers recommended by the federal government, post a police officer of the rank of Inspector General of Police as PPO of the Province while article 12 reads that the term of office of PPO and CCPO shall be three years from the date of his posting. The law also recommends a certain procedure for transfer of police officials before the expiry of their term of office, but who cares about rules and regulations in Pakistan.

On December 27, 2006 Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz changed Inspector Generals (IGs) of three provinces including Ziaul Hassan who was then PPO Punjab. The reason given for these transfers was to improve law and order situation in the country. Ironically Zia, who was appointed IG Punjab in June 2005, was attending a meeting presided by chief minister Punjab to oversee the law and order situation in the province at the time the directive was issued by the prime minister.

Afzal Shigri, ex IG Sindh and member of the body that constituted police order 2002 tells TNS that the original idea of police order was to improve the command structure of police to begin with and then give more autonomy to police officials. "Both government and police department are responsible for appointments contrary to law," he says.

In Punjab the strength of police has crossed the 120,000 figure and according to police order they have to divide the province in different regions. "A region where the size of police establishment is more than 10,000 shall be headed by a police officer not below the rank of Additional IG of police (the strength of police in Rawalpindi region is far more than that but it is still being headed by an officer of DIG rank). The powers of IG in that region are supposed to be delegated to Additional IG to facilitate police officials and people of that area," says Shigri. He thinks that city policing is a very complex and difficult task and that is precisely why an officer of Additional IG rank is suggested for CCPO with more powers. "All provincial governments including Punjab are not abiding by the law and making appointments on political bases."

Punjab government officials say the only reason for not appointing police officers according to police order 2002 was unavailability of high ranked police officers. "Provincial government had sent recommendations for promotion of some police officials to federal government some time ago. Last week it had approved promotion of seven DIGs of Punjab police as Additional IGs and now provincial government has appointed them on different slots required for senior police officials -- according to the police order," they tell TNS. They also think that theoretically the police order is a very nice piece of rules and regulations but practically most part of it is not applicable in a society like us.

Hafiz Javed, spokesman ministry of Law and Local Government Punjab, says that maintaining law and order is a provincial subject while the police order was formed at the federal level. "There are still many flaws in the police order and Punjab government is working on it and will recommend further amendments in it." Javed admits there were certain political issues regarding postings of police officials according to the police order. "Maintaining law and order in the province is the duty of the chief minister so he should have a right to appoint people with whom he feels comfortable and can develop a good working relationship."

A high official in the federal interior ministry on conditions of anonymity said that taking ad hoc measures like giving additional charges to police officials by making SPs as DPOs will further deteriorate the law and order situation in Punjab. Other officials think that latest appointments have been made under the court pressure and won't work as the provincial administration has not done these according to their own will.

They also say that in Punjab chief minister is also the head of Provincial Public Safety Commission (because he himself is the home minister who is supposed to run it) but in the last four and a half years, he has not arranged even a single meeting of the commission. This shows how committed he is to implement the police order in his province, they say.

 

Buyelections!

The by-elections held on February 10, 2007 for a National Assembly seat in Karachi and a Sindh Assembly seat in Jamshoro are just another reminder to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) of its inability to hold an election that is free of rigging and government influence. These elections were necessitated after the deaths of MMA's Abdus Sattar Afghani who won the NA-250 Karachi-XII seat in 2002 general election and PPP's Ghulam Nabi Shoro who returned successful in 2002 on PS-71 Dadu-I in Jamshoro [which was upgraded to a district 2005].

The result of these by-elections were evident even before the polling was held amid a high-profile campaign run for the PML-Q and MQM candidates run not only by their respective parties, but by the federal and provincial governments. According to PPP's top leaders Qaim Ali Shah, the by-elections were more of a matter of prestige for Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Rahim, who wanted to show his efficiency and effectiveness to his shadowy mentors. In Karachi, it was kind of a similar situation -- MQM had to win the seat to prove its popularity and set the stage for the upcoming general election.

Violations of election rules and procedures were rampant and widespread in both by-election constituencies. Use of official cars, campaigning by ministers, advisors and officials of the federal and provincial governments, expenses beyond prescribed limits by major contestants, postings and transfers, graffiti (even on government buildings that were to be used as polling stations), over-sized banners and billboards and election rallies on main roads were too vivid to ignore. But the ECP managed to ignore them, let alone taking notice of President Pervez Musharraf's visit to Karachi a day before the by-election to inaugurate the six mega projects of the Karachi District Government controlled by the MQM -- clearly an election rally for the Haq Parasts.

In addition to explicit violation of election rules and procedures, the appointment of presiding officers and lack of their training, lax security arrangements, free passage of government-backed supporters as well as powerful locals even belonging to the opposition candidates to enter the polling stations, etc. indicate the incapacity of the ECP to manage election even in two constituencies. Many of the presiding officers were not aware of the election rules and others who knew were too afraid to enforce them for fear of reaction and revenge. Police officials deputed outside polling outside Jamshoro said they were ordered to allow anybody wearing a PML badge to enter the polling station.

As expected, the opposition parties rejected the election as rigged. The PPP even hinted at the possibility of boycotting the next general election. This certainly is not a good omen for democratic development in Pakistan. While political parties are equally responsible for ensuring the integrity of the electoral processes, the prime responsibility lies on the ECP, which is constitutionally mandated to ensure that all political contestants are getting a level playing field.

The inability of ECP to deliver on its constitutional mandate should not be confused with it having little powers; rather it is a matter of the will to assert powers it already enjoys. The weak enforcement of election laws and procedures also inculcates distrust among people who already do not have faith in the power of their votes. Declining turnouts leading to consolidation of political monopolies in a few hands is just one outcome of rigged electoral processes.

The by-election in Bannu due in March provides another chance to the ECP to test and assert its powers. Democratic development in Pakistan hinges on free election, respect and sanctity of vote and writ of election laws.

-- By Muddassir Rizvi

 

Taal Matol

Good News Bad News!

As in the old stories, there is good news and there is bad news, or at least dicey news. The good news concerns the Lahore Museum. If you haven't been to the place in some time, go! You will notice it as soon as you step up to the porch. It is as if a breath of fresh air has wafted through the place and taken away all the cobwebs and the dust of neglect gathered there over a century. The place is bright and bubbling, attractive and alive!

I might have said it is as if the Styx has flowed through it and swept away all the manure deposited there by the thousand horses of King Augeus, but I am too polite to say so -- and offend all the friends who have been in charge of the place for half a century egging the horses on.

And I would also have said it is all probably due to the new curator, who we last noted bringing similar life to the Children's Library on Race Course road, but I will also not say so, for fear of provoking same friends who'd been choking the Museum to a slow death!

The Lahore Museum is one of the oldest in the subcontinent having opened round the end of the eighteenth century, after the Brits had taken over the Punjab from the Sikhs, and the rest from Bahadur Shah and proclaimed the Empire. Museums, of course are a Western phenomenon, we never bothered with such stuff.

And it is notable for plenty of stuff in its possession, including the 'Starving Buddha', a piece that in my view ranks with anything anywhere in the world. In the Museum at the Acropolis, they have a few fragments of the sculpture of a dog, preserved because we suspect it is the work of Praxiteles. We of course have no idea who our Praxiteles was.

It is also notable because of the Museum building itself. It is a striking edifice in what we have come to see as a 'Colonial' style, although that is probably due to its association with one of the most wonderful characters in the history of Lahore.

Bhai Ram Singh was a real 'Renaissance' man, a wood carver and carpenter and sculptor, and above all an architect who successfully brought together local and 'colonial' elements in a marvellous amalgam which is his own peculiar style. He did such wonderful work all over the country that he was eventually invited to come work on the Osborne House, favourite residence of Queen Victoria. He was responsible for some of the most well loved buildings in Lahore including Aitchison College, the Museum and the University, and I don't have to recall all the rest because, most thankfully, Pervez and Sajida have done us all a service by writing a biography of the man which was long overdue!

The dicey news also concerns the Museum! Next door, and across the road there was the Tollinton Market, which has been done up and preserved, although I don't know what for! Anyway behind the market there was a large open space which was long used as a bird and poultry market, selling chickens and parrots and Chirras which mainly managed to stink the place up so bad its still there ten years after the birds moved away.

Blissfully it was decided that the space should be given over to the Museum for an extension which was also long overdue. Then the bliss ended because, as usual, the bureaucracy wanted to throw its weight about. They asked for designs, in such a way that not one of the known architects in the country wanted to join the race!

It is said that only a few demi-official design firms applied, and when they were checked out it appeared that between them they had already designed, and built some of the most hated eyesores. The chief of these is the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad which is such a hideous monstrosity that years after completion it still lies vacant, because no one wants to move in! The senses reel at the prospect of them designing the addition to Ram Singh's building. Fortunately it seems the new committee appointed to look after the project has seen some sense and decided to start all over again. And I am an eternal optimist, but I still have my fingers crossed!

 

situationer

Time for a showdown?

It seems the issue of the razed mosque in Islamabad is far from over. Some people blame the government for giving in to the demands of the protestors. The government claims it tried its best to avert the unpleasant showdown through negotiations. The administration of the madrassa and the female students of Jamia Hafsa insist their demands have been met only partially.

On February 12, the government announced that an agreement had been reached between the government and the ulema and the razed Masjid-e-Hamza would be reconstructed at the same spot with immediate effect. Minister of religious affairs Ejazul Haq laid the foundation stone of the masjid and also offered zuhar prayers there along with the ulema of the negotiating committee.

However the students of Jamia Hafsa have refused to end the occupation of the children's library. According to official claims there are around two thousand male students inside the madrassa preparing for a showdown with the government. If news reports are anything to go by, the government is well prepared to launch a decisive operation against the students and madrassa authorities.

Masjid-e-Amir Hamza a hundred year old small mosque located between Islamabad and Rawalpindi was razed to the ground by the CDA authorities on January 21, 2007. The demolition of the small Hamza mosque triggered a chain of events in another part of the capital.

In the heart of Islamabad is situated the famous Lal Masjid and the adjoining seminary Madrassa Jamia Hafsa. The Jamia was established in 1989 exclusively for religious education of women. It has a total enrollment of 6500 students and 250 female teachers. On January 22, a day after the demolition of the Hamza mosque, a group of around twenty students with batons in their hands, wearing veils from head to toe with only their eyes partially visible, took control of the children's library and stood guard in front of the library gate.

The Jamia was raided by the police right after the London Blasts of 7/7. During that raid the police entered the premises and used tear gas inside. As many as one hundred students were reportedly injured.

Maulana Abdul Aziz the chief executive or Khatib of the mosque and his younger brother Ghazi Abdul Rasheed both having a reputation of being radical Muslims and having strong ties with Talibans are accused of backing the students in their protest. When asked about the role of Lal Mosque authorities in this Ghazi Abdul Rashid said: "The demolition of mosques is a sentimental issue and we cannot be silent spectators while the government fulfills its own agenda and targets the symbols of Islam. Somebody had to take a stand and the girls decided to do just that. We are fully supporting our students as a matter of principle." He denied the charge that they threatened the government with suicide attacks, saying that Maulana Abdul Aziz's statement was misinterpreted. When asked if the illegal occupation of a government property was justified, he said: "It is our way of registering protest and the injured party has to do something."

The first list of demands that came from the students of Jamia included that the president of Pakistan would come on national television and declare the enforcement of Islamic Shariah in the country with immediate effect, the release of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan and some other similar demands.

The latter list demanded that Hamza Mosque be constructed again on the same site; the authorities must ensure that no other mosque would be demolished in the capital; and thirdly a committee comprising religious scholars be formed who should decide about the fate of the illegally constructed mosque in the light of Islamic law.

A showdown was being predicted by most people by the twentieth day of the occupation but the government apparently showed a great deal of restraint. After numerous rounds of negotiations between the government and religious scholars including ulema of Wafaqul Madaris, Ghazi Abdul Rashid, Qari Hanif Jalandhri, Faizur Rehman Usmani, Pir Azizur Rehman Hazarvi and Justice Retd Taqi Usmani it appeared that the issue would finally be resolved.

In a meeting between the ulema of Wafaqul Madaris, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao and Minister for Religious Affairs Ejazul Haq the government also agreed to the formation of a committee which was the prioritised demand of the students.

Talking to TNS Ejaz-ul-Haq said: "The government has shown a great deal of restraint and good will. But the continuous demands of the madrassa administration are bordering on being ridiculous. Especially the ones by the Khatib of Lal Masjid. I have myself laid down the foundation of Masjid-e-Hamza and also assured them the newly formed committee would decide about the fate of other mosques in the capital. Now the illegal occupation of the library is totally unjustified."

Ejaz ul Haq claimed that there still are male madrassa students inside Jamia Hafsa who have come mainly from Mardan and Laki Marwat and have taken positions inside the premises. "If the situation persists naturally some action would have to be taken by the government. People's lives are at risk. The ball is in their court."

Ghazi Abdul Rashid remains unmoved though. When asked why the girls are still occupying the library when their demands have been met he said: "Only one out of seven demands has been met. We are not satisfied at all with the negotiations. We demand that all the mosques that were razed be built again. All the notices issued to the mosques be withdrawn and decision to raze mosques be cancelled permanently. The girls are also demanding the announcement for the initiation of Islamic Shariah in Pakistan and there are other items on the list."

Ghazi Abdul Rashid said that the building codes or rules of CDA did not matter when there is the question of a mosque even if it's on an encroached land. "When a mosque is built on a state land it is sacred and it should stay forever. We don't care what the law says. Even the library issue is not important at all. If other buildings and property of the highups could be legalised, so can a mosque."

Talking to TNS Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said that the madrassa authorities were behaving irrationally. "The real issue is not Masjid-e-Hamza. It never was. The real issue is that they were issued notices against the illegal construction of their own madrassa and masjid and they have managed to stage this 'protest' in order to avert that. Their own behaviour and actions are ghair sharai. The government is not answerable to their unjustifiable demands or threats. The writ of the government must be established at all costs."

As of now the situation remains tense. According to Chaudhry Iftikhar IG Police Islamabad all options are open to the government. "The interior ministry would take the final decision regarding the issue. We are waiting for their decision."

 

The non-governmental organisations and their networks forge unity in their ranks as they strongly oppose the government's latest move to 'regulate' or 'control' them through a Code of Ethics -- a document prepared by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education in collaboration with the Charity Commission for the United Kingdom. The government says that the Code will reform the regulation process, improve programme delivery and strengthen financial transparency of the NGO sector.

"The Code of Ethics will explain how the government will support, advise, and regulate NGOs and how NGOs will be accountable for their activities," said Zubaida Jalal, who is the federal minister for social welfare and special education and is also the prime mover of the Code.

There is no doubt that the mushrooming NGO sector, with organisations increasing to more than 100,000, is not holy. Considering the diversity and scope of these organisations that include madrassas, cultural groups, not-for-profit companies, bar associations, consumer groups, research and policy advocacy institutions, etc., it should not be expected that all these outfits will be running according to rules and regulations under which they are registered.

There essentially are issues of internal governance, transparency, accountability, democracy and overlapping of work that are plaguing the NGO sector and need to be looked into. Many of these NGOs have symbolic boards of voluntary directors with employed secretariat making decisions and running the show. Then there are NGOs which have never seen a head other than the one employed at the time of their inception, which may just be a result of weak internal governance or it may also be taken as one's personal commitment to the cause.

Many NGOs may just be registered and inactive and some of them might be influential enough to draw funding from the government or international donors. Interestingly, corruption is more rampant in very small-sized organisations registered under the Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance, essentially because the local social welfare officers extort money.

There are also private firms and consultancies that are now delving into funds essentially meant to be routed to not-for-profit sector. Another area of concern is also the international NGOs now engaging themselves into direct project implementation, acting as local organisations. Some of these organisations may just be staffed by local staff, but many are run and governed by foreign employees who do not understand the local context and lack ownership and commitment to the issue at hand. The post-earthquake international response has resulted in many such organisations, an area that needs further scrutiny.

The issues facing the NGO sector may be complex and the list can be longer. While all these issues can be taken as grounds for a tighter regulation of the NGO sector, they can also be seen as manifestation of a very ineffective state that has so far failed to enforce the elaborate laws under which it registers the non-government organisations as social welfare agencies, societies, trusts, not-for-profit organisations, etc. A new and parallel administrative or legal mechanism is certainly not the way to go about strengthening a sector that is diverse and heterogeneous in scope, size, outreach and quality. In fact what would be more useful will be direct steps to strengthen the existing mechanisms that are in place to govern the non-governmental organisations.

Although the government is projecting the Code as a simple, straightforward document that provides a blueprint of its future relationship with NGOs, the civil society is certainly seeing beyond words. Many of the NGOs and their networks consider the Code as yet another effort by the government to squeeze their space and control their independence. Their fear may be justified in view of the expansion in the scope of work of many of these organisations into newer and sensitive areas such as democratisation, electoral and political reforms, reforms and accountability of state institutions including military, state's security paradigm and rights of the socially, economically and religiously marginalised communities.

"The state becomes edgy when civil society raises the contradictions of the state and demands accountability of its [State's] actions that are irrational, unjustified and blatant violations of the law of the land," comments Sarwar Bari, who heads Pattan Development Organisation.

It is perhaps against this backdrop that this new Code must be seen. Apparently a benign document, which, according to the government, will be voluntary, the contents of the Code belie the official intentions. For example, the Code grants immense powers to the government to interfere with the working of the NGOs on complaints filed by 'anybody' and take punitive actions against organisations flouting regulations and the provisions of the Code. This punitive action can include freezing of assets, dissolution of the board of directors, appointing government-preferred trustees and officers, and closing down an NGO.

Although the government claims that this accountability mechanism is necessary to protect the assets of the NGOs from being misused by 'criminal elements', the Code does not define what will constitute an 'offence' and who will make a 'perfect offender'. The NGOs do have a right to appeal, but the process remains vague, as much of the Code itself.

There certainly are ambiguities in the Code that are creating confusions and stoking reaction by the non-government sector. What also remains unclear is the need of such a Code when the already existing statutes that provide clear procedures and processes to govern the NGOs. "The government must first put its house in order and strengthen the enforcement of the existing laws," said Shahbaz Malick, who works with the Strengthening Participatory Organisation, in a press statement.

Officials in the social welfare ministry claim that the Code has been evolved after consultation with more than 400 NGOs over the last one year, but there remains a divide between the government and the NGOs over even the basic question of the need of this Code. If the government says that this Code will be voluntary, it must first evolve a consensus on its need for its effective adoption by the NGO sector. Unless the NGOs own the effort, the Code will remain redundant.

The government should take a phased approach, rather than coming out too strong. The issue of criminal financing that may be used for terrorism-related purposes should be treated separately under banking laws as required by the state's international commitments to terrorism. The ministry of social welfare is not the right place nor does it have the capacity to take up this issue. If the government is sincere in its avowed commitment of trying to strengthen the NGO sector, it should set in place an inclusive process and bring on board representatives of NGOs and their networks to be able to rationally identify the issues and constraints.

A voluntary code, if felt needed, can be best devised by indigenous organisations which would also be reflective of the dynamics of development in the country rather than being framed by 'consulting foreigners'. But what is most important will be the breaking of the stick that the Ministry of Social Welfare is so keen to hold on to rein in groups of people who are organised to protect their freedoms and space.

 

A 'sensitive' issue

One has to say that the government completely mishandled the issue of razing mosques built on encroached land. When NGO activists and the liberal types take to the streets and organise a protest rally they are dealt with an iron fist by the state. Usually they are arrested as soon as they begin to assemble, baton charged or even tear-gassed and dragged away (the women sometimes held by the hair) into police vans and to the lock-up.

And then we have the students of the Jamia Hafsa in Rawalpindi who occupied a children's library for days, in protest against what they believe was the government's wrong policy to raze mosques built on encroached land. Armed with sticks (at least), they refused to leave the children's library with the government and Islamabad administration seemingly helpless to act against them.

The controversy began when the Capital Development Authority (CDA) issued notices to the administration of around ten mosques and their adjoining seminaries in that their structures were built on encroached land or illegally taking up green belts in the federal capital. The mosque and madrassa administrations were told to clear the encroachments themselves and were given a deadline of 15 days to do that. But what did they do?

Instead of following the CDA's directive, they chose to adopt a very aggressive protest in which the khatib of one of the mosques, while addressing a large demonstration, threatened to use suicide attacks in response to CDA's directive. That is also when the occupation of the children's library occurred -- with the police and law-enforcement agencies becoming silent spectators as the female students of the madrassa carried out their illegal act.

No matter what one's ideological leanings or political worldview may be, it is clear that mosques are not supposed to be built on land that had been illegally appropriated or encroached. Assuming that the CDA must have done its homework with regard to the technical details beforehand, it would be safe to assume that the mosques were built on encroached land and hence there should be no objection if they are razed. Besides, the Council of Islamic Ideology has already ruled that mosques and/or seminaries built on encroached land are un-Islamic and can be demolished because they are unauthorised construction.

As one writes this (a week prior to its publication), the occupation of the children's library was continuing as was the government's dilly-dallying over the matter. The matter was raised in parliament by some members but they were admonished by some ministers who seemed to remind them that the matter was 'sensitive'. The matter would not have become so sensitive had the government dealt with it promptly and had the law-enforcement agencies under its command prevented the female madrassa students from occupying the children's library.

Calling it sensitive seems to be a pretext to not do anything about it and that is a bad thing because it gives the impression to the rest of the country that it pays to adopt violent methods and extremist positions. It has to be said that the mishandling of this issue also flies in the face of repeated calls given by President Musharraf himself asking people to unite against the forces of extremism and obscurantism.

Given the way that those occupying the children's library have been allowed to violate the law with impunity, it seems that the president's view of resisting and fighting extremism does not have too many enthusiastic supporters in the government or the Islamabad administration. For instance, several days after the occupation began -- and with no sign of it ending -- the religious affairs minister (almost an apologist for the madrassas in the past) met those behind the protests and assured them that their demands would be looked into.

Such a soft approach, coming on the heels of threats of suicide bombings by those behind the occupation is difficult to fathom. If anything, it should have been clear to the government that such a soft approach to dealing with those of the extremist bent of mind had not really paid any dividends in the past and was unlikely to do so now. The extremists and obscurantists usually perceive it as a sign weakness on the part of the government and end up taking full advantage of it, which is exactly what they did in this case (the Lal Masjid khatib, leading the protest, went so far as to basically complain that the government needed to create an atmosphere conducive to talks). The idea should have been to not let them be in a position where they do that and the government ends up looking as if its been held hostage by the extremists -- the impression given by the whole children's library occupation saga.

As for the extremists, they justify their actions presumably under the pretext that (a) the government of the land is un-Islamic itself since it is beholden to and at the beck and call of its so-called 'western masters' and (b) that the building and location of a house of worship cannot be circumscribed by temporal laws. To that all one can say is that one has to abide by the laws of the society one lives in -- you can't pick and choose laws which you want to and don't want to follow by quoting the Holy Scriptures.

 

The writer is Op-ed Pages Editor of The News.

Email: [email protected]

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