negotiation
Another chance for peace?
With the killing of senior army officers in Upper Dir, it would now require a lot of patience and time to rebuild confidence and kick-start the increasingly fragile and controversial peacemaking process
By Rahimullah Yusufzai

The proposed peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban have faltered even before these could formally begin.
By killing a general of the Pakistan Army in the roadside bombing in Upper Dir district bordering Afghanistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has destroyed whatever little trust-building had been accomplished between the two sides through the painstaking efforts of the intermediaries. It would require a lot of patience and time to rebuild confidence and kick-start the increasingly fragile and controversial peacemaking process. 

Clutter in the cabinet
Coalition parties revisit the power sharing formula in the much-delayed Balochistan cabinet
By Muhammad Ejaz Khan

The tribal chieftains rule over their tribesmen in the arid region of Balochistan. They contest elections and get elected by using their sway over electorates, strike deals in the assembly to form a coalition and in the process secure for themselves a slice from the government’s pie. 

Yeh Woh
The language of abuse
By Masud Alam
Pakistanis are a nation in search of a narrative that explains them, that distinguishes them from other nations, that gives them a peg to hold on to, and others to hang Pakistanis on.


understanding
Madrassa voices
The society at large misunderstands the students of the madaris and vice versa. Pakistan Ulema Council under Tahir Ashrafi initiates a series of interactions between the Deobandi madrassa students and other stakeholders including the media
By Aoun Sahi

Twenty-two year old Naseebullah, the eldest of nine orphaned siblings, hails from district Sheerani of Balochistan. He is a student of Dars-e-Nizami in Jamia Qasmia Faisalabad, set up by Maulana Zia-ul-Haq Qasmi. Qasmi was appointed chairman of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) Supreme Council in the late 1990s in Ghulam Muhammadabad, one of the most populous lower-middle-class neighbourhoods in Faisalabad city.

Western phrases local ideologues
The genesis of the unique phrase ‘liberal fascist’ which has gained acceptance and currency in the Pakistani Urdu media
By Tahir Kamran

Jonah Jacob Goldberg, an American Jew and conservative syndicated columnist and author, wields influence on some Pakistani pen-pushers to an extent that is mind-boggling. That influence is epitomised through a unique phrase ‘liberal fascist’, which has gained acceptance and currency in the Pakistani Urdu media in a big way.

Sceptic’s Diary
Rape of our conscience
By Waqqas Mir
Punishments don’t save lives and neither does suo motu action. Electronic media cannot come to the rescue of vulnerable groups — it can only project stories of individuals in a particular case. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

negotiation
Another chance for peace?
With the killing of senior army officers in Upper Dir, it would now require a lot of patience and time to rebuild confidence and kick-start the increasingly fragile and controversial peacemaking process
By Rahimullah Yusufzai

The proposed peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban have faltered even before these could formally begin.

By killing a general of the Pakistan Army in the roadside bombing in Upper Dir district bordering Afghanistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has destroyed whatever little trust-building had been accomplished between the two sides through the painstaking efforts of the intermediaries. It would require a lot of patience and time to rebuild confidence and kick-start the increasingly fragile and controversial peacemaking process.

The death of Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi, the general officer commanding Swat since March this year, Lt Col Tauseef Ahmad and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar in the bomb explosion at Shahikot in the picturesque Binshahi mountainous area shocked the military and the nation, and caused a visible drop in public support for holding talks with the militants.

The resentment in the military following this incident was understandable as difficult questions are now being asked whether it was a sound strategy and morally right to talk to those involved in acts of terrorism targeting everyone, including top army officers.

The incident took place a day after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak announced the phased withdrawal of army troops from Malakand division, beginning with largely peaceful districts such as Shangla and Buner and moving on to the more difficult Swat, Upper Dir and Lower districts. His announcement gave the impression as if the situation had considerably improved and the army could now pull out troops and hand over security to the civilian administration.

The Upper Dir incident would obviously lead to a review of the decision to withdraw the troops. Also, the troops won’t be withdrawn from dangerous places like the areas bordering Afghanistan due to the threat posed by the several hundred Pakistani Taliban fighters from Malakand division and Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies now entrenched in the neighbouring Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan.

The army too would be investigating the Upper Dir incident to find out if complacency and failure to follow standard operating procedures enabled the Swat Taliban to plant the improvised explosive device that caused the explosion and killed Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi.

A day before the Upper Dir incident, the TTP through its spokesman Shahidullah Shahid had argued that the government should take certain confidence-building measures before the peace talks could begin because the Taliban doubted the rulers’ intentions and sincerity. He had specifically mentioned the release of Taliban prisoners and pulling out army troops from some of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to build confidence and assure the TTP of the government’s sincerity in offering peace talks to the militants.

The TTP spokesman didn’t refer to the proposed measures as conditions for talks, but there was no doubt that these were major demands that the government couldn’t accept before the talks without getting anything in return.

This was obviously a toughening of the TTP stand after having earlier responded positively to the government’s talks offer and welcomed the decisions of the All Parties Conference (APC) convened by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Before the government could respond to the TTP’s demands, the Maulana Fazlullah-led Swat Taliban struck from their bases across the Pak-Afghan border to carry out the roadside bombing that took the life of Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi and the two soldiers accompanying him.

The Taliban conditions were unexpected as the PML-N government had earlier given a major concession to the militants by foregoing the oft-repeated demand made in the past by the PPP-led coalition government and the military that the TTP must disarm its fighters before any peace talks could be held. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government was also criticised for making a conscious effort not to antagonise the militants by getting the APC to adopt a declaration that failed to criticise the TTP or other armed groups and their actions.

It was clear that the government was going an extra mile to bring the Pakistani Taliban to the negotiating table as it wanted the peace talks to succeed after having made the offer.

As the militants, unlike the past, had not made the talks offer, they took it as a weakening of the government resolve and started coming up with tough demands.

Despite the provocative TTP attack that killed Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi and certain other assaults in recent weeks on the security forces in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, the Nawaz Sharif government has not yet given up its efforts to find a negotiated solution to the decade-old conflict that originated in Fata and has now spread to not only Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also other provinces.

It has now decided to formally invite the Hakimullah Mahsud-led TTP to talks even though there were credible reports that the militant organisation’s late deputy head Waliur Rahman’s faction under the leadership of his successor, Khan Said alias Sajna alias Khalid Masood, has drifted further apart from Hakimullah Mahsud’s mainstream group and may even want to negotiate separately with the government.

There is no doubt that the militant groups have splintered and civil and military officials now come up with figures of the existence of a staggering number of armed factions ranging from more than 30 to almost 70.

However, the TTP holds the key to the success or failure of any peace talks as it is the umbrella and most powerful militant organisation having linkages with almost all other local factions and also with al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban.

Aware of the newly-elected Nawaz Sharif government’s resolve to hold talks with the militants and the support for this policy by a major political party like Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the military despite its apparent reluctance has gone along with this decision and give it a try. Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s statement after the death of his general was an attempt not only to raise the morale of his troops by reiterating the army’s commitment to fight terrorism, but also reassure the elected government that it supported the political process for peace.

However, he did warn that the terrorists won’t be allowed to take advantage of this process and coerce the government and its institutions to accept their terms. Privately though, senior army officers continue to caution about the risks posed in negotiating with the militants from a position of weakness by reminding that as many as 19 attempts were made in the past to hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban and several peace agreements were signed and violated.

However, it is no secret that the army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spearheaded those peace talks and accords and all were made from a position of weakness and, therefore, went largely in favour of the militants. All such shortcomings would have to be avoided if the talks finally take place and strict monitoring mechanisms would have to be put in place in the unlikely event of a peace accord being concluded between the two sides with widely divergent views and agendas.

 

 

 





 

 

 

 

 

  Clutter in the cabinet
Coalition parties revisit the power sharing formula in the much-delayed Balochistan cabinet
By Muhammad Ejaz Khan

The tribal chieftains rule over their tribesmen in the arid region of Balochistan. They contest elections and get elected by using their sway over electorates, strike deals in the assembly to form a coalition and in the process secure for themselves a slice from the government’s pie.

At least this is how the election process and government formation is understood to be like in Balochistan No wonder, the coalition partners are unable to form a cabinet, even four months after the May 2013 general election — and fulfill the basic constitutional requirement of governance.

The fact remains that the credibility of Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, who took oath of his office on June 9, has badly suffered in the absence of a cabinet. He has stayed in Islamabad for most part of his early months in the government instead of addressing the plethora of problems facing the province — such as, terrorism, sectarian violence, target killings, development activities and many more.

Dr Abdul Malik Baloch’s inability to form his cabinet has begun to worry all people, bureaucrats and powerful political allies. On June 19, he inducted three provincial ministers — PML-N’s provincial chief Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, Nawab Muhammad Khan Shahwani of his own National Party and Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal of the Pashtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). But even they have not been allotted portfolios.

The reason for the delay is stated to be the demand of every coalition partner to get a sufficient share in the cabinet. But the 18th Amendment passed during the previous PPP-led government restricted the number of ministers in a cabinet to 11 per cent of the legislature — which means in a house of 65 in Balochistan there could only be 15 ministers and 5 advisers.

According to the 18th Amendment, “The total strength of the cabinet shall not exceed fifteen members or eleven percent of the total membership of a provincial assembly; whichever is higher.”

In fact, this very amendment appears to be the main impediment in the formation of the provincial cabinet.

The bone of contention among the coalition partners — PML-N, NP and PkMAP — is not just about the maximum share in the cabinet but also allotment of lucrative portfolios. After the general elections of May 11, 2013, the PML-N Balochistan members were in a position to form the government but they could not due to the decision of the party’s high command that the top slot should be given to the Baloch nationalists in an attempt to redress the grievances of the nationalist forces.

Now, the provincial leaders of the PML-N believe that the key posts of Governor and CM are with PkMAP and National Party, respectively. So they propose that important ministries like planning and development, education, health, irrigation, public health engineering, Balochistan development authority, revenue, fisheries, food, mines and minerals, excise and taxation and finance should go to PML-N.

But other coalition partners do not agree to the proposal.

The high command of the National Party (NP) claims that the cabinet would be formed in the next few days — “All the three coalition partners agree to the power sharing formula in the cabinet and it may be finalised in the next couple of days,” says Central Vice President of the ruling NP Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo while talking to TNS.

Contrary to the claims of the ruling coalition, the Leader of the Opposition in the provincial assembly Maulana Abdul Wasay questions the government’s competence to run the affairs of the government when it cannot even form a cabinet.

The central and the parliamentary leaders of coalition parties met in Islamabad on Tuesday last and once again “revisited” the power sharing formula in the Balochistan cabinet. “The cabinet would be formed in the next couple of days”, spokesman of the Balochistan government and leader of NP Jan Muhammad Buledi tells TNS.

Sources in the coalition partners confided to TNS that six ministers and two advisers in the cabinet will be taken from the PML-N, being the largest parliamentary party in the Balochistan Assembly while four ministers and two advisers will be made part of the cabinet from the PkMAP and the remaining four ministers and an adviser will be from the National Party.

Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch is on the horns of a dilemma. He has to decide whether to grant maximum representation and lucrative portfolios to his coalition partners or continue to face the deadlock.

 

 

 

 

 

Yeh Woh
The language of abuse
By Masud Alam

Pakistanis are a nation in search of a narrative that explains them, that distinguishes them from other nations, that gives them a peg to hold on to, and others to hang Pakistanis on.

A narrative is a system of stories. The ‘Jinnah ka Pakistan’ narrative is built on the perception of a secular state and ‘Pakistan ka matlab kia, la ilaha ilAllah’ is based on theocratic notions. The stories weave the narrative over time, and the narrative influences others related to the subject, to create more stories to reinforce the narrative.

There is no dearth of narratives about Pakistan and Pakistanis. But there is none that a majority of us identifies with. They are either epithets given to us by outsiders, or wishful pronouncements and vicious threats articulated by small partisan groups, or initiatives by state-funded intellectuals to create a soft image abroad. We don’t see ‘me’ in any of the popular narratives attributed to us.

When it comes to sexual crimes however, we have strong narratives that are accepted by majority. Take for instance child sexual abuse (CSA), one of the few issues that concerns each and every one of us, and one that is universally condemned and abhorred in a country where even a woman’s rape or a man’s murder is not. Children are the most vulnerable human beings and therefore need maximum protection from the society as well as governments. Forget governments for the moment and let’s talk about yours and mine role in creating a collective narrative of child sexual abuse in Pakistan.

The dominant strain is ‘shame’. This is supposed to be a pious Muslim society that the media and NGOs try to pollute with talk of sexual crimes. To decry rape, sodomy and sexual assault or molestation is to inject filth into the veins of the society. Too bad it happened to you or one of your loved ones, now live with the shame and don’t compound it by demanding justice against the perpetrators. This is the narrative sold to the common citizen. The one packaged for the enlightened social media user is: ‘CSA is an issue with the poor and the dispossessed’ and not with people like you and me’.

It is this narrative and its wholesale acceptance that is responsible for making this country a haven for child abusers and molesters. The fact is we are not concerned enough with the protection of our own children, neither do we demand with enough conviction, punishment for the perpetrators, nor campaign for legislation in this regard. If anything we as a society encourage abusers and condemn survivors with our silence.

And then every once in a while a little child makes it to the front page with his or her story of abuse, and we pretend to be horrified. We make noise on Facebook, we spend precious TV talk-show time to discuss the issue, we write letters to editor, we even get a few dozen people to gather for a protest … Hear us collectively on the five year old girl’s rape in Lahore and you may find nothing but meaningless noise, blabbering of idiots that incites vigilante violence on social media on one extreme and poetically transforms rape into ‘nannhi kali masal di’ in a proper news bulletin, on the other. You’ll also see a bearded man and a ‘liberal’ woman eyeing each other with suspicion as they both condemn the incident unreservedly. You’ll come across those who shout curses and bay for blood.

Mind your language. Trampling of a flower bud is not what just happened. A girl child is sexually abused. A very young human being has been subjected to sexual violence that has caused her internal injuries and may result in lifelong disabilities or medical complications. There is nothing poetic about it. You can’t treat the incident as entertainingly as you treat politics. This is a very real physical act of abuse. Learn to see it for what it is, learn to see it for what it means to you and your children, and then learn to speak out for all children because unless you do this, your own child is not safe, even if you live in a 2, 000 yards kothi in DHA.

Even birds with tiny brains make a lot of noise when they sense a storm approaching. If pretending to be horrified and making noise could sort out CSA in Pakistan, we would have done that when we found out about Javed Iqbal and the 100 kids he had raped, killed and dissolved their bodies in a drum of chemicals. How horrific the CSA incident has to be before we speak two words and speak as one: ‘no more’.

What we need is for us to tell our stories of abuse with a view to challenge the existing narrative that seems tailor-made for abusers and replace it with the one authored by us.

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

understanding
Madrassa voices
The society at large misunderstands the students of the madaris and vice versa. Pakistan Ulema Council under Tahir Ashrafi initiates a series of interactions between the Deobandi madrassa students and other stakeholders including the media
By Aoun Sahi

Twenty-two year old Naseebullah, the eldest of nine orphaned siblings, hails from district Sheerani of Balochistan. He is a student of Dars-e-Nizami in Jamia Qasmia Faisalabad, set up by Maulana Zia-ul-Haq Qasmi. Qasmi was appointed chairman of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) Supreme Council in the late 1990s in Ghulam Muhammadabad, one of the most populous lower-middle-class neighbourhoods in Faisalabad city.

Like several others of his age mates, Naseebullah was sent to a local religious seminary for education at a very early age. Why a madrassa, I ask. “You see, people in our area are poor and they also like religious education more. Then there are not many public schools,” says Naseebullah, clad in typical Deobandi madrassa’s student outfit, a half-collar brown kurta shalwar, a black prayer cap and plastic chappals.

We are sitting in the office of the principal. “I cannot say anything about Hakimullah Mehsud or Taliban,” he looks into the eyes of his teachers for a few seconds before answering my question.

Naseebullah hardly ever gets a chance to step out of his madrassa. He does not even have a single friend besides his madrassa fellows in Faisalabad. Leave alone a woman who was a stranger, he claims he has never interacted with a Shia in his life, “I don’t know much about them. I would treat a Shia as a human being if I meet one.”

He wants to serve the cause of religion after graduating from the seminary. “According to my knowledge, it’s the government agents who have been committing suicide attacks in the country.” He thinks women should stay at home and people should not watch TV. “Implementation of Sharia in a true sense can solve the problems of Pakistan,” he says in a certain tone.

Naseebullah says his brothers, sisters and mother are waiting for when he would start earning for them. “I hope I would land a job after completing my education to earn enough for my family. I don’t know what would I do if I can’t find a job?”

Omar Khatab, 20, who comes from Wana, South Waziristan and is a student of Jamia Qasmia, has also never interacted with the local people in Faisalabad. He had to move to the jamia because “drones used to fly over my madrassa in Wana. It was very frightening, so my family sent me here in 2011.”

Khatab wants to become a maulvi and believes that jihad with infidels is obligatory for Muslims. “I do not know much about Hakimullah. Mullah Nazir group is active in our area.” He wants to get out of the madrassa and interact with people at large but the people are “not friendly. Most of them fear I may be a terrorist. I also want to live a normal life but the government and society do not provide us with equal opportunities. We have a few options available in the tribal areas,” he says.

Naseebullah and Omar Khatab are among around the 1.5 million students of over 17,000 Deobandi madaris in Pakistan. The liberal elements think of them as “the most radical group of society” with a tendency to end up with the extremists or even militants. On the other hand, they consider most liberals as agents of anti-Islamic forces and countries. Both sides suspect each other. In general there is a sense that the society at large misunderstands the students of the madaris and vice versa, with hardly a platform where both can interact with each other.

Such an interaction has recently started, since June this year, in the form of a series of media- and training-workshops of Deobandi madaris students initiated by Maulana Tahir Ashrafi heading the Pakistan Ulema Council. The aim is to provide a platform to students and different segments of society to directly talk to each other about the misunderstandings and ground realities. This particular interaction was arranged by Maulana Tahir Ashrafi in early September in Jamia Qasmia Faisalabad.

It was the fourth workshop of this nature. Maulana Zahid Qasmi, who was made the principal of the jamia in 2001, says that when Ashrafi contacted him and explained the concept, he took no time in allowing him to do the activity. “For the first time ever, invitations have been sent to some speakers belonging to the Shia sect. Activists of a Deobandi organisation have raised objections but I strongly believe that students of my institutions need to interact with all segments of society,” he says.

The jamia has a total of 500 students out of which 200 are hostelites. “We have students from all parts of country except the Sindh province. Every year, around 60 students of my institution graduate. Most of them end as prayer leaders in mosques or as Islamic Studies teachers in small-time private schools,” he says. He admits that some students of Deobandi madaris end up on the terrorists’ side but “it is mainly because of poverty”.

Qasmi holds that the Musharraf government ate up funds worth millions of dollars in the name of madrassa reforms. “Thousands of madaris were set up during Ziaul Haq’s regime to produce footsoldiers for the Afghan jihad. That crop now has ripened and it is being harvested by Pakistan,” he says, adding that a serious effort is needed to change the jihadi narrative of Deobandi students. “This programme is a first step in the right direction. We need plenty of such efforts.”

A step in the right direction because it is initiated from within the Deobandi madaris. It is being led by Maulana Tahir Ashrafi under the aegis of Pakistan Ulema Council which controls more than 500 Deobandi madaris. The purpose of this activity is not only to narrow the distance between the madrassa students and society but also to gauge the educational and social skills of these students.

“In some cases, we have been shocked to know that the students of Deobandi madaris do not even know the elders of Deobandi movement. They think those ulema as their role models who have been involved in sectarian hatred but are nowhere close to our elders in terms of knowledge. It is true that most students of Deobandi madaris have become more radical but they can be mainstreamed with an honest effort. Both government and society would have to play a role,” Ashrafi tells TNS, adding that every year around 50,000 students graduate from Deobandi madaris.

The training workshops don’t just focus on students but also the teachers. “There is no criterion to induct teachers in madrassas. It is up to the principal of a madrassa to hire a teacher of his choice. They mostly hire those who approve of their agenda. There is no problem in the syllabus per se but these teachers teach only those parts which suit the agenda of the high-ups in that madrsssa,” Ashrafi says.

The problem with the Deobani ulema, according to Ashrafi, is that they have not tried to rescue the youth from the dark alleys or influence their thinking. “Ours is a small effort in this regard.”

 

 

 

 

Western phrases local ideologues
The genesis of the unique phrase ‘liberal fascist’ which has gained acceptance and currency in the Pakistani Urdu media
By Tahir Kamran

Jonah Jacob Goldberg, an American Jew and conservative syndicated columnist and author, wields influence on some Pakistani pen-pushers to an extent that is mind-boggling. That influence is epitomised through a unique phrase ‘liberal fascist’, which has gained acceptance and currency in the Pakistani Urdu media in a big way.

Generally perceived as an oxymoronic formulation, the term ‘liberal fascist’ was lifted by rightwing ideologues from Jonah Goldberg’s controversial book, “Liberal Fascism: the Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning”, published in 2008.

While tracing the genesis of that phrase, one is led to a lecture by H.G. Wells at Oxford University in 1932, where such a confused relationship between liberalism and fascism first originated. When H.G. Wells coined that phrase, contends Philip Coupland from University of Warwick, he was under Nazi influence. However, that discussion is irrelevant for present purposes. The content of the Goldberg book, whose mesmerising title held a profound sway over some of Pakistani literati, failed to make any substantial impact. The author has berated the liberal-left as ‘liberal fascists’ when comparing their policies to those of American conservatives like George Bush and his cronies.

Anyone calling for reform in order to alleviate the lot of the common man or woman is cudgelled by Goldberg. The book reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list, but the preposterous central premise of the book incurred scathing reviews from acclaimed scholars who variously described it as ‘poor scholarship’, ‘propaganda’ and ‘not scholarly’.

The point worth pondering here is: why have Pakistani writers espousing militancy gratefully embraced this flawed and fallacious notion from someone who lends unequivocal support to the neo-cons in the US, and deploys all means available to him as a media-man to demean Islam unabashedly. Generally, the root-cause of all the ills that beset our society is traced from the conspiratorial duo of the Hindu-Jewish lobby. America is the latest entrant into that ‘Satanic’ clique, which lately is being designated as the source of all evil.

Thus, a paranoia is found sitting at the centre of the whole paradigm that these commentators never tire of re-imagining. They never suggest a need for introspection in order to address our socio-cultural ailments. With such a simplistic discourse, undoubtedly pervasive and deeply entrenched among rightwing intelligentsia, the appropriation of this example of Jewish-American vocabulary seems quite perplexing.

While exhorting others to be on the guard against Western influences, representatives of the anti-West faction have no qualms accepting Western influences themselves. The irony is hard to miss. Picking up some (epistemic) formulation like ‘liberal fascist’, used in the peculiar perspective of American political history, and using it in an entirely different context is an exercise in utter audacity if nothing else. This also points to the fact that the religious right in Pakistan faces an acute dearth of original ideas.

Despite not letting go of any opportunity to castigate the ‘West’, representing the evils of a ‘Judeo-Christian socio-cultural ethos’ with America at its spearhead, the acquiescence of this band of intelligentsia to the notions conceived and articulated in a Judeo-Christian ambiance seems akin to their being caught up in ‘Stockholm syndrome or capture-bonding’ — a psychological phenomenon in which hostages (rightwing ideologues) express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captor (the West). Those in antipathy towards any imperial power, notwithstanding the subject nationalities and their zealots’ representatives, have come to imagine themselves in the image of the former.

Similarly, the political groups espousing the cause of political Islam like Jamaat-i-Islami don’t have operational autonomy from the political norms formulated by an essentially secular West. That is what makes Humeira Iqtidar contend, in her book Secularising Islamists? Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Pakistan, that Jamaat-i-Islami is an instrument to secularise Islam. Howsoever contentious that assertion may seem, it is not devoid of logic.

The advisable course is to engage with the Western concepts and then try to synthesise them with indigenous tradition and experience. Any attempt to shun the project of modernity altogether or the instances of selective usage of some notions while ignoring the rest is bound to lead us nowhere. The influences of (Western) modernity have permeated deep into our collective self, and we cannot rid ourselves of these influences even if we want to.

It is the ideological unilateralism that is being professed by the religious right, and not liberal values, that will drive us into the cobweb of fascism.

Ideological and cultural multiplicity, if fostered and allowed to persist, will bring about a social harmony and peace which are constantly eluding us. In a state of religious coercion, even religious scholarship cannot flourish, as is being witnessed in Pakistan, where the Ulema fraternity is always there to act as an impediment and not as facilitator of any advancement. This state of affairs has an adverse bearing on the thinking of the general populace. The acerbic response from the Introduction of Comparative Religions as a subject in Lahore Grammar School elucidates quite succinctly the tunnel-vision gripping the minds of even the best-educated sections of our society.

The writer is a noted Pakistani historian, currently the Iqbal Fellow at the University of Cambridge as professor in the Centre of South Asian Studies

 

 

 

 

Sceptic’s Diary
Rape of our conscience
By Waqqas Mir

Punishments don’t save lives and neither does suo motu action. Electronic media cannot come to the rescue of vulnerable groups — it can only project stories of individuals in a particular case.

Nothing can explain the horror of the rape of a 5-year-old girl in Lahore recently. The circumstances in which she was found have shocked whatever is left of our collective conscience. But will the discourse that is merited by the deeper issues go far enough?

There is little hope of that happening.

At one end of the spectrum we have people justifying the death penalty because of this incident. “The strictest punishment” is the answer according to them. But this is deeply flawed since the answer of “the strictest punishment” does not even begin to address the real question.

It is no secret that reporting rape and/or sexual assault against women or young girls is viewed as something that carries a stigma in this society. For a second, imagine being a historian looking back at this patriarchal land: you might notice that the men of Pakistan felt crimes against property merited complaint and legal action but crimes against a disenfranchised gender merited silence. We will have a lot to answer for.

It is easy to be shocked by crimes such as the recent one while also conveniently ignoring that we deliberately keep a blind eye towards most of these crimes that go unreported. And why do they go unreported? We as a society have never made a concerted effort to tell our daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, lovers or women in general that we will support them in challenging patriarchy and its structures.

The contempt for women runs through societal and legal structures. If you have ever watched a complainant in a rape case being cross-examined you will notice how everything from the use of language to the procedure adopted make a woman vulnerable. The law and those framing or adjudicating it have been silent for decades when it comes to protecting women. The victim ends up being the target — her inherent vulnerability becomes a liability and she is often told to deal with it. Notion of consent is often interpreted in ways that respect a man’s animalistic actions. What was she doing with a man in the first place? How loudly did she scream? Did she scream at all and if not then why not? How many bruises did she have?

How many marks on her body are enough to prove that she is innocent and he guilty?

Our politicians, our media moguls and our judges have all asked these questions. You will find court judgments analysing or asking why didn’t anyone hear the woman scream if she was being raped? The burden is on the woman to prove that she is pious. The man just can’t help himself.

 Last year, the courageous activist Tahira Abdullah and the breathtakingly brilliant Salman Raja persuaded the Honourable Supreme Court to issue a judgement that could go a long way towards breaking new ground in rape trials. The judgement related to the Government of Punjab (as one of the Respondents) and if the provincial government implements it in letter and spirit (including but not limited to guarantees of witness protection, ensuring dignity of victim, use of DNA evidence etc.) we might see a marginally better tomorrow. But court judgments are never the real answer since societies change from within — not because of courts.

Religion, as usual, is a central element in this debate. For decades, a highly contentious interpretation of relevant Islamic injunctions relating to zina made it impossible for women victims to even hope for a conviction of the perpetrator. Improvements were made to the law in 2006 but standards of ‘admissible’ evidence and the general reluctance to punish the crime of violence against women complicate matters. It is the 21st century and we still need scholars of religion to answer the question whether the state can use DNA evidence.

As I write this, the sages are deliberating. One lives in hope.

Punishing the odd perpetrator with a once-in-a-while highly-publicised case should not and cannot be our focus. Preventing such crimes and enabling women to report these while ensuring state and societal support to women has got to be the answer. This is of course a long process but what on earth are we waiting for? A hotline or even easy access to a police station is not the answer unless we make a concerted effort to change attitudes.

Speaking of attitudes, the Pakistani media seems to have learned little from the recently-concluded highly-publicised rape/murder trial in India. Even in the case of the 5-year-old child who was raped in Lahore, sections of the media carried graphic images and showed little respect for the dignity of the victim.

The way we disenfranchise women also reflects the way we try and stay silent on the issue of sexual abuse of children. Sexual abuse of children occurs across different segments of society. It happens in silence. And then most of us either look away or worry about every other aspect — except the victim.

So, what is the message here? Is it that every once in a while we will hear of some horrific rape or sexual abuse claim and will act in collective self-righteousness? Is it that once isolated horrific crimes run past their ‘expiry’ date we will continue looking away?

This land of pure patriarchs then watches on silently. It still seems to be asking, “Did you scream? If so, how loudly?” And here is the irony: for a land that judges a woman’s innocence by her screams, we are remarkably deaf.

The writer is a practicing lawyer. He can be reached at [email protected] or on [email protected]

 

 

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