New Age Islam Edit Bureau
23 September 2017
Asia Bibi and the Sakharov Prize
By Kaleem Dean
CPEC: Launch Pad for An Alliance
Amongst China, Russia And Pakistan
By Beenish Altaf
Disaster in the Making?
By Abbas Nasir
Deradicalising Our Universities
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Global Wave of Terror
By Mahrukh A Mughal
A Kitchen For The Stateless
By Murtaza Shibli
The Good General’s Latest Outburst
By Miranda Husain
Rakhine Or Another Srebrenica?
By Dr Shaista Tabassum
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Here in Pakistan, Asia Bibi remains a
Christian prisoner of faith. Yet as her seventh year on death row draws to a
close - it seems that the outside world has not forgotten about her. For she
has been nominated for the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought
The Prize is an initiative of the EU
Parliament and is awarded to those individuals or groups battling to defend
fundamental human rights. Asia Bibi is in good company. Among this year's
nominees are: a Guatemalan human rights campaigner, two members of the Kurdish
Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and
writer and a Burundian human rights activist.
Asia Bibi has suffered long and hard. Her
status as a prisoner of faith was taken up by the European Conservatives and
Reformists (ECR), a political group that enjoys strong presence within the EU
Parliament. And it is this backing that has made her a serious contender for
the Sakharov Prize.
Indeed, the ECR's Peter Van Dalen has gone
on record as saying that the Asia Bibi case is of symbolic importance for
others who have endured simply for expressing freedom of religion. "It is
good that my colleagues and I continue to defend the rights of Bibi and many
Religious as well as rights groups at home
and abroad have exploited Asia Bibi’s case and the narrative surrounding it.
This has led to an inevitable backlash from fanatic forces in this
country. All of which has impacted the
Each and every day that Asia Bibi spends
incarcerated only strengthens her cause for freedom of religious expression.
For let it not be forgotten that at the time of her conviction she said this:
"Our Christ sacrificed for our sins, our Jesus is alive." Sadly,
however, this has opened the way for Christian religious forces as well as
human rights groups at home and abroad to exploit Asia Bibi and the narrative
surrounding her case. Thus have they seized upon Pakistan's constitutional
safeguards that are meant to ensure freedom of speech and freedom to profess,
practice and propagate one's religion. This has led to an inevitable backlash
from fanatic forces in this country. All of which has yielded an additional
impact upon the judicial process itself.
For bluntly put, Pakistan's courts have
failed to recognise the severity of Asia Bibi's case. At the heart of which
rests not just the plight of a single individual - but that of the entire
Christian community. Everyday minority groups in this country face persecution;
some of these are registered, an overwhelming number are not. Thus the
gentleman from the ECR was right when he said that Asia Bibi's case is of
symbolic importance. For it is tragically indicative of the insecurity faced by
all minorities when it comes to their fundamental human rights.
Nevertheless, while we appreciate the EU
parliament's efforts to the highlight the ordeal faced by Asia Bibi and
nominate her for an award - we must not forget that it was before this very
assembly that Kamran Michael, a so-called minority representative, thoroughly
humiliated Pakistan. For not only did he spectacularly fail to defend the
country's fast crumbling human rights record he also saw fit to walk out of the
still sitting session of the EU Committee of Human Rights. Resultantly, I, for
one, am unsure as to whether we should appreciate the nomination of Asia Bibi
or, rather, if we should feel nothing but embarrassment at how the outside
world views Pakistan.
If she succeeds in being awarded the
Sakharov Prize, which is named after a Soviet scientist, Asia Bibi would
receive 50,000 Euros. Yet at stake is more than money, though, of course, she
does deserve to be compensated for what she has been through and continues to endure.
The nomination itself is recognition of something most of us know: the reality
of freedom of religion in Pakistan has no semblance to the country's
constitutional provisions. Back in 2016, the Supreme Court could have easily
wound up this high-profile case. Instead Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman chose
to withdraw himself, pleading that he had been part of the bench that had
decided the Salman Taseer case and that the two were directly linked. Since
then, Asia Bibi has been left languishing in the darkness of uncertainty. And
the longer it takes the courts to reach a verdict - the more ground do they
concede to those who would misuse Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
The government is burying its head in the
sand, all the better to shut out the anguished cries of minority communities,
who, too, are part of the citizenry; a citizenry to whom it is directly
answerable. Yet the Centre has left them to fend for themselves before a
mercurial judicial process. This is not hyperbole. For unlike other criminal
cases, blasphemy charges are an instrument of what has become state oppression
against minorities. Yet the religious right refuses to have these despotic laws
amended. Which tends to suit governments of the day who hide behind the threat
of the forces of fanaticism to say to the international community that they can
be only pushed so far. Thus minorities become the sacrificial lamb. Time after
time. Indeed, nearly eight years on from Asia Bibi, a 17-year-old Christian boy
was just butchered to death by Muslim classmates. His 'crime' was to drink
water from the same cooler as they.
Criticising the West is all the rage in
Pakistan. Yet it only takes one incident such as the death of Ariel Sharon or
the unlawful detention of Asia Bibi to shake international governments to the
core. Last year I wrote a piece on the Rohingya of Myanmar. Back then, I was
pretty much a lone voice. Today, the entire country is up in narrative arms
about the ethnic cleansing of that minority group. And it should be so. Every
individual on this planet has the right to live according to their religious
beliefs. And this includes the minorities of Pakistan. Who want nothing more
than to have a stake in this beloved country. The saddest part is that this is
easily doable. If only those at the helm had both the courage and the vision to
reform the blasphemy laws, revamp the prevailing human rights structure as well
as do away with certain constitutional barriers that currently prevent
minorities from participating in the life of the nation as free and equal
citizens of the state.
Let us hope that Asia Bibi's nomination for
the Sakharov Prize is a timely wake-up call.
CPEC: Launch Pad for an Alliance amongst
China, Russia and Pakistan
The addition of the China-Pakistan Economic
Corridor(CPEC) in the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is a good example of
how a leader, in this case Xi Jinping can turn an idea into reality. OBOR and
Pakistan's membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) also makes
the upcoming regional changes relevant to Russia. CPEC isn't just a trade
route. It is also about the construction of major projects. The scheme has
given impetus to China and Pakistan to cooperate in many fields of
infrastructure, energy, agriculture and communication. There are several
reports which suggest that the corridor will be host to an oil pipeline that
will carry one million barrels of oil to China per day. This will be a welcome
change for China, which currently imports about eight million barrels per day.
Out of the eight million barrels, six million come in through sea routes.
It is still important to discuss whether
CPEC can actually bring some measure of financial stability to Pakistan and how
the Chinese will want to be repaid for it if it does. Some argue that the
benefits CPEC will bring to China will be so great that the Chinese will
happily take a number of financial losses involved in the development of CPEC.
However, Pakistan should still be wary as it is unlikely to be able to pay for
a number of costly CPEC projects.
Russia has long desired to have access to a
warm water port. And it seems Gwadar suits it just fine
It is predicted that the project, which
costs over 50 billion dollarswill not only be a game changer for Pakistan but
Asia as a whole. There is also apprehension that India would start a military
confrontation over CPEC. But that greatly depends on how many countries stand
to benefit from CPEC. At the moment, the probability that India would be so
reckless is very low.
As far as Russia is concerned, it is
important to remember the relationship that country has with India. It has been
a key weapon supplier to India for decades. Would it join an alliance with two
of India's biggest rivals? There are some indicators that it might actually
leave India behind to enter an alliance with China and Pakistan in order to
benefit from CPEC. Russian Intelligence Chief Alexander Bogdanov has already
made a visit to Gwadar and reportedly, he showed great interest in Russia
becoming a part of CPEC. Intelligence officials from both countries have also
expressed interest in strengthening defence and military ties. This shouldn't
come as a surprise to anyone. After all, Russia has long desired to have access
to a warm water port. And it seems Gwadar suits them just fine.
Russia and Pakistan weren't exactly the
best of friends during the cold war. But the two nations have made great amends
in their bilateral relations in the last two years. Russia is also well aware
of Pakistan-India dynamic in the region, and their leadership is quite aware
that a closer relationship between Moscow and Islamabad will probably upset
India. But it seems like the CPEC offer just might be too tempting for them to
Russia and Pakistan also share strategic
interests in Afghanistan. The so-called Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan can
easily spill over into Chechnya. Russia, like Pakistan is also against the
presence of United States forces in Afghanistan. These shared interests give
Pakistan the opportunity to strengthen its position by forging an alliance with
another nuclear power and to counterbalance India's growing influence in the
region, specifically after the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement
(LEMOA) between India and the US, which seems to have made India the US's
linchpin in Asia and the Indian Ocean.
Indian access to US weapons and supports
for Indian naval operations is an alarming development for Pakistan. This isn't
to say Pakistan shouldn't maintain its relations with the US. Pakistan's shift
to strengthen its alliances with China and Russia shouldn't come at the cost of
Pakistan-US relations. The objective is simply to counterbalance India's
hegemony in the region.
September 23, 2017
HOW the visionary leadership of this
unfortunate security state experiments with the delicately balanced political
system in the country in the quest for positive results can only be seen as an
Over the past three decades alone there are
multiple examples of this near-suicidal self-harm because key state
institutions seem to have an endless appetite for acquiring and exercising
power way beyond that visualised by the Constitution.
Military rulers Zia and Musharraf felt so
constrained by constitutional provisions in wielding absolute authority that
they introduced changes in what should have been a sacrosanct document to meet
their individual needs/whims.
History will also judge the superior
judiciary harshly for being complicit in these crimes against the nation as in
the blink of an eye most of its members became no more than rubber stamps for
the power-hungry despots.
Yes, it has become extremely fashionable to
condemn civilian politicians for their real and perceived shortcomings and
crimes. I don’t advocate any less opprobrium for their follies and crimes of
omission and commission where these are real, corruption included. But to heap
blame for all of the country’s woes on their shoulders is a travesty not least
because over the past three decades, notwithstanding small periods that may
qualify as exceptions to the rule, the politicians have been hamstrung by the
overpowering presence of other institutions in critical policy areas.
Apart from engineering via military coups,
then judicial intervention, which would have been enough of a cause for
concern, there have been other attempts also to ensure what Gen Ziaul Haq
famously termed ‘positive results’ in elections.
It has become extremely fashionable to
condemn politicians for their real and perceived shortcomings and crimes.
Having analysed the general election
results of 1970 and 1977 and the various local bodies elections up to the 1988
election, the electoral engineers decided that to stop the march of their
despised PPP (with a consistent share of vote at well below 50 per cent) all
that was needed was a platform to bring together all whose fragmented vote
meant defeat in the first-past-the-poll system.
The result was the IJI which the then head
of ISI, Lt-Gen Hamid Gul, later owned up to having created as he felt a huge
win for the Benazir Bhutto-led PPP would rock the boat, given that the army had
serious reservations about her. These were his words.
While this alliance did deny the PPP a big
win, the party nonetheless emerged as the single largest party in the country
and staked a claim to power after the 1988 polls. The few days to the formation
of the provincial assembly saw a dirty campaign mostly fanning parochialism
which tilted the result at least in Punjab in favour of the IJI.
To this day, the reason(s) for the
military’s visceral hatred for the PPP isn’t clear as the party founder
Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto strengthened the institution and modernised it to try and
make it into a potent fighting force.
He rehabilitated its shattered image
post-December 1971 to the extent that what was a demoralised force then, a mere
five to six years later, had no issues with staging a coup against the elected
government and later hanging the deposed prime minister after a sham trial.
The Zia years saw systematic patronage of
two kinds of elements. One, political forces opposed to the PPP, and two,
religious leaders with the latter being drawn into an alliance of sorts through
not only the so-called Islamisation programme but also to fight the Soviet army
It bears no repetition that the success of
the so-called Mujahideen in Afghanistan then served as a prototype for similar
‘low-cost, high-yield’ groups elsewhere and was made into a tool of attaining
foreign and security policy objectives.
With the changed global environment today
when it is getting more and more difficult to use non-state actors as pawns of
official policy, there seems to be an equally disastrous desire to ‘mainstream’
such elements in the country’s politics.
This desire may well be prompted by the
security establishment’s assessment that it cannot take on these well-trained
and armed and, perhaps more significantly, heavily indoctrinated cadres. But
who knows, there might be other considerations.
In terms of civil-military relations, the
situation may have come full circle from when a Nawaz Sharif-led grouping was
introduced to halt the PPP’s march into power. Today, the security
establishment seems to harbour similar fears of the Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N.
Hence, a new strategy (or a remarkable
coincidence?) that the IJI model is being deconstructed with not just the
militant Ahle Hadith and Deobandi groups being mainstreamed as separate
political entities but the more militant Barelvi groups being nudged down a
similar path too.
Political pundits with far more knowledge
of constituency NA-120 have analysed the loss (11 pc) of PML-N’s vote
percentage (even though it won the by-election) compared to the last general
election. Admittedly, this was in a reduced turnout as is the norm for
But to me, the PML-N’s lost percentage
equalling the cumulative percentage of the two candidates backed by militant
Ahle Hadith and Barelvi parties is significant.
You would be justified in asking what
problem I have with the mainstreaming of militant religious groups. Well, none
if they agreed to renounce violence, to decommission their weapons and strictly
adhere to the electoral code of conduct.
But will they? There is so far no evidence
of even one of their members giving up arms. Also the political rhetoric of the
militant Barelvis who have raised governor Salman Taseer’s executed murderer to
the status of a martyr is alarming to say the least.
If the mainstreaming project was about
making democrats of militants it would be a laudable objective but if it means
mainstreaming hate, sectarianism and intolerance then Pakistan will certainly
be staring at another disaster soon.
LAST week’s exposure of a terrorist hive
inside Karachi University (KU) prompted a remediation proposal by the chairman
of the Higher Education Commission. His solution: if parents “switch off TV and
internet early at night and send children off to bed”, university students
could be shunted away from terrorism. (The reference to adult students as
bachas [children] is not unusual — university-going adults are generally
considered kids incapable of independent thought.)
If flippant, this proposal trivialises
terrorism. But if meant seriously, one fears for the future. HEC’s current
counterterrorism strategy is to establish a “directorate of students” within
universities so that challenges faced by “students and staff would be
registered, analysed and resolved”. Extracurricular activities — football and
cricket chiefly — will supposedly keep students away from guns and bombs.
Should one laugh or cry?
Down the chain of command it’s no better:
Karachi University’s vice chancellor denied responsibility even after being
presented police evidence that a terrorist network Ansarul Sharia Pakistan
(ASP) was operating from KU. The ASP has killed several policemen and a retired
army colonel. But the vice chancellor and KU’s faculty say terrorism is the
security agencies headache, not theirs.
Security agencies disagree, having
encountered well-educated terrorists now for many years. The police chief says
the ASP’s head and fellow militants received BSc/MSc degrees from the applied
physics department at KU. Others are from various universities in Karachi and
Balochistan. The unsuccessful assassination attempt on Sindh Assembly’s leader
of the opposition led to one suspected attacker being killed. He held a PhD.
Football and cricket are supposed to keep
students away from guns and bombs. Should one laugh or cry?
GHQ is worried — as it should be after
losing thousands of soldiers in anti-terrorist operations. So last May ISPR
organised a meeting ‘The role of youth in rejecting extremism’. It was
addressed by the COAS and DG ISPR. The COAS demanded “cleansing these
barbarians from their potholes”. Surprisingly, some well-respected liberal
voices were also invited to address the army audience. But disappointingly —
judging from contents posted by ISPR — their meandering analyses did not point
to anything actionable. The exception came from the single invited student
speaker (who I’ll mention later).
Why is terrorism growing by leaps and
bounds in Pakistani universities and colleges? Common sense — not rocket
science or high erudition — is enough for an answer. What must be done is also
First, dismiss the activist
preacher-professor. He wields authority over captive audiences and broadcasts
his message inside classes and outside. Students from various universities
complain that some begin class with long prayer recitations, turn briefly to
whatever technical subject they are paid to teach, and then return to
proselytising. Certain radical websites and Facebook pages are suggested as
How rampant is this? There’s abundant
anecdotal evidence, present and past, but no real data. I got to know well in
the 1980s an activist colleague at Quaid-i-Azam University (I quite liked this
Columbia-educated guy!). A staunch Jamaat-i-Islami member, he left for jihad in
Afghanistan. Little else was known until one day some newspapers reported his
arrest for having facilitated the attack on GHQ in 2009. As with Ehsanullah
Ehsan — the man who oversaw the Army Public School massacre — official silence
means one cannot say exactly what has happened to these individuals. They may
well be thriving.
No less dangerous are certain
‘motivational’ guest speakers. Brought weekly onto campus by jihadist
professors colluding with sympathetic university administrators, they stir up
students with concocted conspiracy theories and jingoistic hype. Earlier years
saw the fanatical Laal Topi Wala who described Hindus as Paleed (unclean), 9/11
as a Jewish conspiracy, and called for eternal war with the West. Presently
popular speakers hide their militancy under a fig leaf. University
administrators — in cases I am aware of — fiercely resist deradicalisation
speakers from visiting their campuses.
Second, the boundary between religious
devotion and religious radicalism is blurry and badly needs demarcation. While
there is deep reluctance to debate religious issues, ignoring them doesn’t make
them vanish. Surely fighting with arguments is better than with guns.
Take the case of Ansar ul Sharia Pakistan.
The organisation’s name bespeaks its goal — that to make Pakistan a Sharia
state. Although deemed terrorist, ASP shares this objective not just with
banned organisations like TTP, Al Qaida, and the militant Islamic State group
but also with legal parliamentary parties such as JUI-F and JI. Indeed, a PEW
survey showed 86 per cent of young Pakistanis want Sharia. So, on democratic
grounds, what precisely did ASP do wrong?
Until such questions are satisfactorily
debated, young minds will remain befogged. Universities are precisely where
these debates must happen. Confusion can be reduced through properly moderated
open discussions. Student unions must be unbanned, albeit conditionally.
Depoliticisation and reduction to helpless
apathy — such as Mashal Khan’s lynching being left undiscussed on any campus
except at QAU — is not the answer. Consider that KU is pondering whether to
demand a police certification from each new student applicant. So imagine that
a student is interviewed for his political views. He knows he’ll be in trouble
if he says Pakistan should be secular. But after the ASP crackdown he might now
be in hotter water if he says he wants Sharia. His safest bet is to claim that
he is tabula rasa — a blank slate to be written upon at will. Is such apathy
Third, culturally deprived young Pakistanis
are desperate for joy and freedom. The lone student invited to the GHQ meeting
was brilliant. This Hijab’ed young woman from Islamia College (Peshawar) spoke
wistfully of a Peshawar that her generation has never known — one where there
were cinemas, sports galas, fun fairs, and declamation contests. Her dad tells
her that doctors from Khyber Medical College (both females and males) could
once set up a fun fair on campus. Yes, there were music events, theatres,
colours, and poetry. Even dancing! Cultural desertification is now so total
that no foreign tourist wants to — or dares — visits.
Nature is said to abhor a vacuum. The likes
of Taliban, Al Qaeda, and IS through their less violent cousins such as JI and
JUI-S are filling the cultural vacuum on campuses. No, Mr HEC Chairman, please
wake up! Sleep is not an option. There’s real work to be done.
AFTER the Barcelona terrorist attack in
August 2017 which left 13 people dead, the IS praised the act and in a
propaganda video released by the SITE intelligence group, an IS member
described the Barcelona perpetrators as “our brothers“ and threatened Spanish
Christians to return the country to the “ land of the caliphate.” Coming to the
background of war and terrorist in Middle East one must not forget Afghan war
where Jihadist were prepared and nourished by the West, then attack on Iraq,
Syria and Libya also ignited the wave of terror. Muammar Gaddafi didn’t just
‘fall’, his state was relentlessly bombarded for seven months by international
forces until he was dead and his state broken, the fragments handed over to
rebel forces on the ground. British politicians (with some honourable
exceptions, including Jeremey Corbyn and John McDonnell) voted for the 2011 bombing
and enable the triumph of Salafist Jihadism in Libya.
Gaddafi always said the West was supporting
Al-Qaeda, and it is hard to believe that they did not know this is what they
were doing. The killing of children is always tragic, whether they are in Manchester,
Syria or anywhere else. But politicians don’t treat them all equally. While
president Trump and Theresa May condemn the cruel murder of “beautiful babies”
they are both busy selling billions of pounds worth of weaponry to the
government of Saudi Arabia, who use them to bomb thousands of civilians in
Yemen, including over 900 children killed. Millions of those who survive are
being starved into submission by a Saudi military blockade. The arms sales
branch breach British law, which bans sales where “There is a clear risk that
the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of
international humanitarians law”-as the repeated Saudi bombing of schools and
hospitals clearly is.
Jeremey Corbyn’s attempt to draw a link
between Britain’s foreign policy and terror is disingenuous. Over the past few
years, though there has been an explosion in the frequency of terrorist attacks
against western countries, and in the lethality of these events from a brutal
urban- warfare style assault as Paris in November 2015 (130 dead) to the March
2016 bombings at the Brussels airport and the Maalbeek metro station (32 dead),
to a cargo truck plowing through crowds celebrating Bastille Day on a promenade
in Nice (86 dead), to a truck striking a Christmas market in Berlin (12 dead)
and the Ariana Grande concert, the message is that no place-no matter how
familiar, beloved, or associated with the young and innocent is truly not safe.
The very events that would end up propelling the current spike in terrorist attacks
were widely misread about six years ago as the solution to Jihadism.
Peaceful revolutions brushing aside
Authoritarian governments and ushering in newly democratic regimes were
supposed to show that the violence of Jahadists movement in the Arab world was
unnecessary which swept across the Arab world. In his memoir The Great War of
Our Time, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell regretfully explained that
his agency “thought and told policy makers that this outburst of popular revolt
would damage (Al-Qaeda) by undermining the group’s narrative.” In fact, the
Arab revolutions and their aftermath provided the Jihadist movement an
unparalleled boost. The extraordinarily bloody civil war in Syria and the
post-Muammar Gaddafi wreckage left behind in Libya have placed Jihadists on the
front lines of some of the world’s major conflicts. IS was able to use social
media to popularise its cause- a sickening mirror of the way protesters turned
out to oppose Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia or Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
The proxy wars between US & Russia and
Iran-Saudi proxies also promoted terrorist groups. West is responsible for
terrorism in the Middle East and particularly in Syria. Syria politician Fares
Shehabi correctly identified the terrorists as NATO/Al-Qaeda. He is correct.
NATO’s Al-Qaeda/ al Nusra front terrorist are responsible. All of the death and
destruction in Syria is a direct result of the West’s criminal “regime change”
military operation. Part of the West’s criminality involves war propaganda, a
very lucrative industry, funded by west, to deceive western, and world
citizens. So terrorism which strikes Europe today comes mostly as a result of
the West’s policies committed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. There has always
been a disconnect in the minds of people in Europe between the wars in Iraq and
Syria and terrorists against Europeans.
This is in part because Baghdad and
Damascus are exotic and frightening places. But there is a more insidious
reason why Europeans do not sufficiently take on board the connection between
the wars in the Middle East and the threat to their own security. Now West
cannot live with its dual policy if it want to save its civilization, a clear
cut policy has to be devised. All counter terrorism measures will fail if the
root cause of terrorism is not addressed. It’s a wake-up call to the world
community to uproot the causes as well as the main financial and ideological
sources of extremism and violence, which are clear to everyone.
A Kitchen for the Stateless
Sikh volunteers from Khalsa Aid, a UK-based
charity, have established emergency kitchens to prepare hot meals for the
impoverished and battered Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh. This has
been aptly called guru ka Langar, a concept of community kitchen developed by
Guru Nanak – the founder of Sikhism – as part of the institutional framework
that has since then become the core of the Sikh faith and an inseparable part
of Gurudwaras, the Sikh places of worship, around the world.
For several centuries, Gurudwaras have
served people of all faiths and persuasions with free meals, Langar, in their
premises. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner and even nightly
accommodation for wayfarers.
The Khalsa Aid team is camping at Teknaf,
the border town in Bangladesh where refugees are pouring in by the day
following a gruelling journey to find safety that is marred by unending
deprivation. Initially, they distributed packed food items and water to the
refugees. After gaining official permission, they started their hot meals
service on Shahpuri Island – one of the main spots in the Bangladeshi territory
for the Rohingya refugees to converge after fleeing from their country.
According to Amarpreet Singh, the managing
director for Khalsa Aid, India, their initial target is at least 35,000 meals
per day. Describing the miserable state of the refugees – mainly the children
who hadn’t eaten for days – he told the Indian Express that it was difficult
for his team to decide where to start and admitted that the meals they offer
won’t be enough to feed everyone. A team from the UN refugee agency that met
the fleeing Rohingya in Bangladesh “found people suffering real hardship and
some of the most difficult conditions seen in any current refugee situation”.
There are also some Muslim charities,
particularly Turkish NGOs, that are doing some wonderful work and hundreds of
Bangladeshis are also working in their individual capacities. But Khalsa Aid has
stood out for its dedication. Last week, a photograph of one of its volunteers
clad in a dark blue turban offering water to a young refugee girl evoked strong
hate reactions from the Hindutva extremists, who have been cheerleading the
Myanmar Army for their ethnic cleansing.
A self-proclaimed “politically aware
Hindu”, with more than 100,000 followers on the Twitter, reacted with a
heartless display of hate as she tweeted: “I can see that you are going to
[the] Myanmar border to feed [the] Rohingya. Can you also go to Pakistan to
save Sikhs [who are] paying jizya?” A Delhi-based lawyer, who also claims to be
a public speaker with a large online following, accused Khalsa Aid of being a
Khalistani group, conflating them with the pro-freedom Sikh insurgents of the
yore. He also tweeted the accusation that they’ve been collecting money for the
Rohingya at the Shri Bangla Sahib, a prominent gurdwara in Delhi.
Scores of other Hindu extremists trolled
Khalsa Aid’s Twitter account, asking them to send these refugees to Pakistan or
even the UK. Others tried to fan the Sikh-Muslim hatred, calling Sikhs naïve
and reminding them that “Islam killed their Gurus”. Earlier, Tathagata Roy, the
governor of Tripura, a province in northeast India bordering Bangladesh, condoned
the genocide. Roy, who was handpicked by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
for the gubernatorial assignment, called the ongoing genocide as a form of
justice. He tweeted: “A bit of historic justice. Buddhist retribution for Hindu
and Chakma genocide in East Bengal. The wheel grinds slowly but surely. Nice,
Khalsa Aid’s response to these foul and
offensive attacks was that of utmost dignity and honour. Through a series of
tweets, it highlighted its previous work, reminding the hateful trolls that its
volunteers had helped the Hindus during the 2005 earthquake in Gujarat, the
2009 drought in Maharashtra and last year’s floods in Chennai. They also showed
their work for the refugees in Syria and the Yazidis who were forced to flee
Iraq when Isis targeted them for their faith.
The Sikhs have a glorious tradition of
serving people, irrespective of any distinction. They have done this on a daily
basis without fail. The Golden Temple, the sanctum sanctorum, offers free meals
and accommodation for thousands of people daily. I have myself eaten there on
umpteen occasions and marvelled at the dedication of hundreds of Sikh devotees
– women and men – who cook and serve in the kitchen.
I have availed the service at various other
Gurudwaras around the world – from Europe to Africa – and their spirit to serve
humanity remains pristine. Several years back, while driving from Nairobi to
the coastal town of Mombasa, the only place that welcomed me with warmth and
wonderful food was the Makindu Gurudwara, about 160 kilometres from Nairobi.
In Lahore, Gurudwara Dehra Sahib Sri Guru
Arjan Dev in the walled city of Lahore is no different. Sadly, no locals are
allowed inside. But I have been fortunate to gain entry a couple of times after
I produced my ‘foreign passport’ and spoke in a tone that somewhat resembles a
British accent. The warmth of the place continues to fill my heart and taste of
the Prasad still lingers in my mouth.
Back home in Bijbehara, my hometown, the
Gurudwara Guru Nanak Dev Ji stands tall with its yellow walls and a large flag
bearing the Khanda – the symbol of the faith – besides the mighty Chinar trees
of the historic Padshahi Bagh. Tara Singh, the Granthi, shows me four large
halls to accommodate more than a hundred people. “Anyone can come anytime to
eat and stay here,” he says.
As a show of gratitude for his
indefatigable spirit of love, I tell him a little secret. About 20 years back,
when this Gurudwara was being built, I worked as a volunteer for half a day as
a labour with another friend Manzoor. “We wanted to show respect to our friend,
Rajpal Singh,” I explain. Tara Singh becomes little emotional and gives me a
tight hug. I say goodbye to him with a loud shout: Sat Siri Akal! (True is the
name of God).
Gen (rtd) Musharraf, it seems, has
something in common with a certain American singer who, in her heyday, mused at
the futility of a life off-camera. For the former military strongman certainly
only appears to recall the truth when recasting himself in the role of talking
Yet this time, he really has outdone
Asif Ali Zardari was behind the murders of
Benazir Bhutto and her brother Murtaza. Not only that - the former civilian
president was working in cahoots with both the late Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP)
chief Baitullah Mehsud and quite possibly former Afghan President Hamid Karzai
and his intelligence services. And to think it was poor Karzai that the
Americans found delusional.
Thus the plot thickens.
Except that it doesn’t.
For not one iota of evidence does the
one-time enemy combatant provide. Admittedly, being the COAS at the time of
Benazir’s assassination would likely make him privy to certain classified
intelligence. Which, if we are to play along with this latest charade, begs the
question: why, then, not come back to face a closed-camera trial and dish the
dirt before the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC)?
If Musharraf had to go down this path in a
concerted effort to deflect attention from the murder charges that the courts
last month handed down in the Benazir assassination case - it might have been
more prudent to have dropped this ‘bombshell’ back then. Instead of the risky
gamble he took whereby he reminded Trump - who at the time had likely been busy
rolling up his sleeves as he painstakingly penned by his own hand his carefully
crafted address to the UN in which he threatened to, like, totally destroy
Pyongyang - that Pakistan had sold nuclear secrets to the North Korean Rocket
Man. Not to mention two other axis-of-evil alumni, Iran and Libya.
Musharraf would do well to keep one thing
in mind. Back in 2007, the year that Benazir returned to the country, a US
intelligence report said for the first
time that Al Qaeda was in Pakistan. Which naturally raises questions as to who
really was responsible for Benazir’s murder?
Fortunately for this country — it seemed
that no one was really listening. The whole world had heard it all before.
This is not to say that the latest
Musharraf attempt to secure the limelight might not be borne of a genuine
caring and sharing sensibility that comes with doffing the hardman uniform.
After all, he will always be a man who cherishes the institution that brought him
to power and that kept him there for just under a decade. And he likely thinks
that he is helping at a time when Pakistan has arrived at a critical juncture
regarding its anti-terror record. Meaning that while PM Abbasi was at the UN
asserting that he would never let his country be scapegoated by the usual
suspects for the military and political stalemate across the western border in
Afghanistan - Musharraf was pushing the point home that he, personally, would
fight to the bitter end to ensure that our men in khaki would forever be
vindicated. And that he would not allow an Afghan war to be fought on Pakistan
soil. Quite possibly someone leaked to him the PM’s speech. After all, he may
still have friends in high places even with the odious Blair out of Downing
Yet what this does suggest is this: the
game is up. Our media is out of control. It strengthens not the democratic
process when a former head of state wanted for murder is allowed to regularly
pop up to offer sound bites and more. When, that is, he isn’t hosting his own
talk show from abroad. He won’t come back to face the music but PEMRA is happy
to let him be white noise. Unless, of course, the media regulator considers
gagging him tantamount to tarnishing the Army’s image. And in other words sees
him as the latter’s ultimate reformed asset. Whatever the case may be the media
is playing a dangerous game. For it is interfering yet again in the tenets of a
free and fair trial. Just as it did over the summer when Nawaz Sharif was on
trial for corruption.
Yet Musharraf would do well to keep one
thing in mind. One of these days, one of his attention-grabbing outbursts might
just land Pakistan in hot water. For back in 2007, the year that Benazir
returned to the country, the US National Intelligence Estimate report said for
the first time that Al Qaeda was in Pakistan - the federal capital, no less -
and not just in Afghanistan and Iraq. Which naturally raises uncomfortable
questions as to who really was responsible for Benazir’s murder?
The world community has finally come into
action following the UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence in
Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The situation is becoming graver by the day. More than
400,000 Rohingya Muslims have already fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
This resolution from the most authoritative
body of the United Nations was long awaited despite some of the worst reported
violence in Myanmar in a decade. The present Security Council resolution is
strong since it has covered all pertinent challenges. It has called for a
de-escalation of the situation, reestablishment of law and order, protection of
civilians and a resolution of the refugee problem. Before the UN reached any
consensus, many prominent international non-governmental organisations have
been complaining about the blatant violation of fundamental legal rights of the
people. These include the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR),
the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Children’s
Fund (Unicef), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and 16 major non-governmental
aid organisations, among them Oxfam and Save the Children, have complained that
the Myanmar government has restricted access to the conflict areas. No
humanitarian assistance could reach the victims of genocide until they crossed
the borders into Bangladesh.
This delay in moral and political support
has raised many questions. Even though the UN had started to discuss the issue
as early as November 2016 and concerns were shown, those attempts were blocked
by China and Russia. The international community had not taken serious notice
of the issue until this month.
Although violence broke out in northern
Rakhine state on 25th August, when militants attacked government forces. In
response, security forces supported by the Buddhist militia launched a
“clearance operation” that left at least 1,000 people dead and forced more than
300,000 to flee their homes. Several rights groups had earlier said that the
Myanmar military’s response was “clearly disproportionate” to insurgent
attacks. It was very clear from the beginning that Myanmar’s treatment of its
Rohingya minority was aimed at ethnic cleansing of Muslims. Bangladesh’s
foreign minister, Mahmood Ali, said unofficial sources put the death toll at
about 3,000. More than 310,000 people had fled to Bangladesh by 11th September.
In this context one cannot help but recall
the memories of war in Bosnia and the response of the international community
which ultimately led to the military operation by Nato. It is a sad story of
1995 when the US and other countries failed to stop the ethnic cleansing, the concentration
camps, and the massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Bosnia — the
majority of whom were Muslims. Before August 1995 many earlier attempts to get
involved in Bosnia were half-hearted in execution and thus ended in failure.
The situation became serious in April 1993, when Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde
in eastern Bosnia were declared three of six UN “safe areas”. The United
Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) deployed troops and the Bosnian Serb Army
(VRS) attacks were temporarily stopped. But the town remained isolated and only
a few humanitarian convoys reached it in the following two years. Then in March
1994, the US-brokered agreement ended the Muslim-Croat war and created a
Muslim-Croat federation. But the year 1995 proved a decisive year for Bosnia’s
future. In March, Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic ordered that
Srebrenica and Zepa be entirely cut off and aid convoys be stopped from
reaching the towns. After four months on 9th July 1995 Karadzic issued a new
order to conquer Srebrenica, a small village near the eastern border with
Serbia, swollen with some 60,000 Muslim refugees. Despite the UN flag flying
over the enclave, the Bosnian Serb assault in July 1995 met no UN resistance
either on the ground or from the air.
Within 10 days, tens of thousands of Muslim
refugees streamed into the Muslim-controlled city of Tuzla. Missing from the
stream of refugees were more than 8,000 men of all ages, who had been executed
in cold blood — mass murder on a scale not witnessed in Europe since the end of
World War II. The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague indicted Karadzic and
Mladic for genocide for the siege of Sarajevo. Finally in August, Nato started
air strikes against Bosnian Serb troops. The international community could not
reach consensus on the deployment of Nato forces, the delay in decision-making
proved costly as it allowed the Serbian authorities to carry out the mass
killing of Bosnians.
What is happening in Myanmar is alarming.
Several aid agencies have already warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in
overstretched border camps, where water, food rations and medical supplies are
fast running out. Although the UN Security Council has expressed concern but
all of its actions are subject to the approval of five permanent members. Any
difference on any unimportant issue may linger on the final decision for
peacekeeping mission to come in action. The Buddhist establishment is already
very conscious of the international pressure gradually developing against the
military operation and wants to conclude the genocide as quickly as possible.
In case of delays Rakhine state might well become another Srebrenica.