New Age Edit Bureau
11 September 2017
By Lal Khan
By Hajrah Mumtaz
talks: reality & myth
By Riaz Mohammad Khan
law is a farce
By Iftikhar Ahmad
rickety-ride to information
By Naeem Sadiq
By Syed Tariq Fatemi
by New Age Edit Bureau
cleansing of Rohingya Muslims
Dr Muhammad Khan
Recep Tayyip Erdoðan, the Turkish President is the
only international leader, who dared to raise voice against the Rohingya’s
genocide at the hands of Myanmar security forces. Following the recent
organised attacks (starting from August 25, 2017) by country’s powerful
military on the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state of Myanmar, President
Eradogan said in a speech in Istanbul, that, “There is a genocide there.” While
pointing towards oblivious international community, he further said that,
“Those who close their eyes to this genocide perpetuated under the cover of
democracy are its collaborators.” It was not just a condemnation of the
Muslims’ genocide by Myanmar’s so-called democracy, but indeed, he exposed the
reality of those who preach peace, secularism and a free world for all and
above all, those who were given Nobel Peace Prize for democracy.
The eye witnesses say, Myanmar ‘security forces and
vigilantes attacked and burned villages, shooting civilians and causing others
to flee. Contrary to Government claims that, only 400 Rohingyas have been
killed, the fact is that, thousands of Muslims (Rohingyas) have been killed,
injured, brutalised and women folk were gang raped. Only few incidents have
been reported on social media as evidence. After the massive killings of
Rohingya Muslims, there was a brief and vague statement of UN Secretary
General, who said, “The current situation underlines the urgency of seeking
holistic approaches to addressing the complex root causes of violence.” It
indicates a statement of a helpless man. UN Special rapporteur on the human
rights however feels, “that many thousands of people are increasingly at risk
of grave violations of their human rights.” Human Rights Watch emphasised the
Myanmar Government to “stop this offensive” and allow ‘humanitarian assistance’
and neutral journalists to know the facts.
The Washington Post feels that, in Myanmar ‘democracy
dies in darkness’. While Aung San Suu Kyi, the current leader of democratic
Myanmar was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize (which she won in 1991) at a Nobel
ceremony at Oslo’s City Hall on June 16, 2012, a formal genocide campaign had
already started against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. Upon a question
over the killing of Rohingya of Muslims by Buddhist state, this Nobel laureate
even did not condemn the act, which clearly indicates her biases and future
plans. Indeed, a democratic Myanmar (Burma) has proved to be darker than the
Burma under Military Junta.
‘The New York Times’ in its September 9, 2017 opinion
writes, “For the last three weeks, Buddhist-majority Myanmar has systematically
slaughtered civilians belonging to the Rohingya Muslim minority, forcing
270,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh — with Myanmar soldiers shooting at
them even as they cross the border.” This prestigious newspaper considers this
as an “ethnic cleansing”. A prior report; “Yale study” carried out much earlier
than the current wave of violence had ‘suggested that the brutality toward the
Rohingya might qualify as genocide.’ Many international peace prize winners
have joined the movement, asking Aung San Suu Kyi to return the Nobel Peace
Although there is a general silence among the nation
states (both democracies and autocracies) over this organised genocide of
Rohingyas, there are people with conscious, who feel their moral
responsibilities to raise their voices against the brutalities under a Nobel
peace laureate. So far over 400,000 people had signed a petition, demanding the
Award Committee to withdraw the Nobel Peace Prize from Aung San Suu Kyi. People
like George Monbiot, a Guardian columnist emphasised the world to sign more on
the petition “Why? Because we now contemplate an extraordinary situation: a
Nobel peace laureate complicit in crimes against humanity.” This columnist is
not a Muslim, but a promoter of peace and humanity. On its part, the Muslim
world is as insensitive as rest of the world, the modern democracies.
In 2012, on the eve of receiving Nobel Peace Prize,
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said, “Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free
from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world of which each and
every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom
and the capacity to live in peace.” Today she is the architect and mastermind of
the Muslims’ genocide of Rohingya Muslims and doing all reverses. The
international media clearly revealed; “During the crackdown, government troops
were accused of an array of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial
killing, rape and arson.” How can Aung San Suu Kyi deny these undeniable ground
realities, which have been filmed by neutral observers?
Seeing the recent precedence of liberal intervention
by US and West in countries like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, should not there
be an imposition of sanctions against Myanmar over the massive human rights
violations or a demand for a separate state for the Rohingyas on the pattern of
East Timor or South Sudan. Population of East Timor is 1.269 million, whereas,
population of Rohingyas in Rakhine state is 1.3 million with another 1.5
million as diaspora.
A recent UN Security Council meeting remained
inconclusive over this genocide and earlier in March 2017, Russia and China
blocked a resolution over the issue, which led the current massive human rights
violation against Rohingyas in Myanmar. In summary, the harsh realities of
global politics is; there are no human rights for the Muslims anywhere in the
world and international politics is essentially interests based, where major
power decide the issues according to their strategic and economic interests,
rather for the grieved communities. Should an indolent Muslim world, an inert
OIC and acquisitive Muslim elites learn a lesson now?
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International
Relations, is based in Islamabad.
The involvement of highly educated youth from the
middle class backgrounds in the recent terrorist attacks, particularly in
Karachi, is not an extraordinary phenomenon. It has become more of a norm.
There is a long list of high profile terrorists from petit bourgeois
backgrounds. Sarosh Siddiqui was a postgraduate physics student who escaped
last Monday’s attack and Ahsan Israr, who was killed, hada PhD degree and
professor at a private engineering university.
The gang involved in the Safoora Carnage in 2015
comprised of highly qualified graduates from different varsities. Daniel
Pearl’sassassin Omar Saeed Sheikh, Al Qaeda IT expert Naeem Noor Khan, Al Qaeda
operative Dr Arshad Waheed, Time Square bombing planner Faisal Shehzad, Danish
embassy bombing perpetrator Hamad Adil, and hijacker of a navy frigate at
Karachi dockyard Owais Jakhrani also came froma middle class educated elite.
Its also the relatively well-offsections of Muslim diaspora in the West from
which the terrorists involved in the New York the WTC attacks to the Daesh
recruits including young Muslim women in the peculiar Islamicist modernist
fashion mostly come from.
In Pakistan the organised Islamic fanatical tendencies
were fostered by the state at the behest of the US imperialists to launch a
terrorist insurgency notoriously known as the ‘Dollar Jihad’ to overthrow the
left-wing government in Afghanistan after the Saur Revolution of April 1978.
Ever since then this menace has spread in the whole region and is ravaging
societies as far beyond. Pakistan has been plagued for decades by this ‘home
grown’ bestiality. Historically after the failure of the PPP
government’sreforms to deliver in the 1970’s and ebbing of the 1968-69
revolutionary tide there was a certain increase of the reactionary tendencies
that emerged from the resultant despair in society. This was more profoundly
reflected in the educational institutions with violence and killings of the
left student activists mainly by the IJT (Islamic Jamiat a Talaba), the student
wing of the Jamaat a Islami.
The left students organisations had played the
pioneering role in the revolutionary movement of the late 1960’s and had a
strong basis in the campuses where these religious outfits were tiny sects in
the colleges and universities. Ironically the CIA sponsored these religious
outfits. But the student’s politics, elections and students unions at the time
were based more on ideological basis and the role of the proxies of wealthy
financers was limited. After the state power was grabbed by the reactionary
Islamicist dictator Ziaul Haq the religious students’ organisations became more
viler with their lethal vigilantes carrying out heinous brutalities against the
left-wing students activists, unions and organisations. But such was the
resistance and struggle of the left wing students against this vicious
dictatorship that Zia banned the students’ elections and unions first in
October 1979 and then again in 1983.
It’s only through a mass revolutionary insurrection
that this cancer of educated terrorists can be excised and the system
Ever since, despite several democratic regimes being
in power Zia’s ban on students unions has not been lifted. The democratic
rulers of different parties that came to power were as terrified of students’
movements as was the dictator Zia. The judiciary quashes any parliamentary move
to the relief of these democratic rulers.
However crisis amongst students has worsened.
Privatisation of educational institutions has made education an economic burden
for the parents and an ordeal for the students. The semester systems,
relentless examinations and the cutthroat competition in education have made
studyingagonising. The class system of education, disparity in the syllabi and
the lavish flaunting of wealth by students from the moneyed classes creates
inferiority complexes amongst less well-off students. The consequential
infuriation finds no ideological and political outlets. Such strains are bound
to create greater revulsions.
This psychological condition drives, these mostly
lower middle class students, into fundamentalist obsessions and terrorist
tendencies, an escapist shortcut from a traumatisingsystem with ambitions of
heroism without much heroic deeds, abscondingthis cumbersome life.There is only
a veneer of piety and religiosity to camouflage this venturing into realm of
crime and terror.
Religious sectarian organisations are there for the
taking.Funded by the massive primitive capital of the black economy these sects
have become toxic. They have penetrated the state, politics and society. The
clergy has morphed into fabulously rich entrepreneur in all trades. The
sectarian groupings have splintered violently into dozens of rival outfits
escalating terrorist savagery in this harrowing contest for plunder.
Some are still sheltered by the powers that be for
strategic interests. Other splintered groups have become Frankenstein monsters
for the imperialists and the deep state. The Tehreek Taliban Pakistanis in the
forefront. The al Qaeda and the so-called Punjabi Taliban emerged from Wahabi,
Deobandi and Salafists fundamentalist groups.
The state’s response to these terrorist cellsfostering
in the universities has been pathetic. After failing to comb the data of
religious sectarian seminaries, state’s agencies are now planning to scrutinise
students enrolled in the Karachi’s universities. It will only create more
hardships for the ordinary and poor students who have no access to wealth and
connections in state and politics. This is not an issue that can be solved
through administrative means. It’s a socio economic issue of a sick society
drenched in misery and cultural anguish. This fundamentalist terror is the
distilled essence of a rotting system. It’s a cancer that has metastasised into
every organ of thesocioeconomic system and its state.It’s only through a mass
revolutionary insurrection that this cancer can be excised and the system
September 11, 2017
AN acquaintance recently visited one of the largest
bookstores in an upscale area of Islamabad, looking for one basic item that he
thought would be available anywhere: an Urdu qaida, or a primer for children
that teaches the Urdu alphabet and numerals.
To his consternation, the bookstore — which has nearly
an entire floor dedicated to just children’s books — didn’t have any. There
were any number of equivalents in English, from the bright, hard-page
publications designed for babies and preschool toddlers to others graduated
along various reading levels. But in Urdu, all that was available was a couple
of magazines and a smattering of fiction and non-fiction books — mostly the
well-known names such as the poetry of Allama Iqbal or Faiz Ahmed Faiz, or the
novels of Intezar Husain and Quratulain Hyder.
The three other bookstores in the same market didn’t
produce what he was looking for either.
A few years ago I went hunting in Karachi for a puzzle
for preschoolers that bore the Urdu alphabet. I went to upwards of a dozen
shops in several of the various malls and shopping complexes that lie in the
generally affluent fraction of the city that is on the seaward side of Clifton
My search produced no suitable rewards. Wherever I
asked, the shopkeepers tended to look at me in surprise and say that there was
no market for stock in Urdu. Finally, at one shop I found what I was looking
for. It was when I sat down to go over the ‘alif bay pay’ with a child that I
discovered the truth: it wasn’t the Urdu alphabet at all but the Arabic one.
How well is Urdu doing in Pakistan?
Over the years, I have heard many similar accounts.
Reading material, and teaching aids and tools for children in English abound in
our bookstores and toyshops, but Urdu is quite woefully represented. In
schools, too, this situation seems to be being mirrored. Almost all the people
I know lament that while their children study the subject in school for pretty
much the same number of years as they are taught English, which is for many not
even their second but third language, they have nowhere near the same
proficiency or interest in Urdu.
So are all the doomsday seers right when they say that
Urdu is a dying language in the very country where it is also the national
language? Those that believe that under cultural attack from the West and the
East, Pakistanis are losing access to a vast wealth of literature, literary
traditions and heritage? The ones to decry everything from Hollywood to
Bollywood and all that lies in between? From the accounts recorded above, it
would appear that this is indeed the unfortunate situation.
It is also a fact that over recent years, the country
has seen the inception of a number of new newspapers in Urdu. This is true
especially in Punjab, where by some estimates near a dozen new dailies have
started being published, not a small figure when you take it in proportion to
how many dailies exist in the country across all languages spoken here. And not
only are all these new entrants to the newspaper markets selling to various
levels of circulation, they are all in fairly robust financial health. That
would indicate that Urdu is certainly in mass consumption in the country. It is
also a fact that in terms of the sheer number of copies circulated, an
Urdu-language paper almost always beats its English-language counterpart in
And, the Urdu press is flourishing beyond Pakistan’s
borders as well. The number of journalists — writers, subeditors, researchers,
etc — who move abroad in order to work in the same industry in Urdu beats those
who earn their bread through English. In particular, in the US, Canada and the
UK, there are newspapers for the Pakistani diaspora, and they are in Urdu
(though these dynamics appear to be set to change now, as the Urdu-speaking
generation of immigrants is gradually replaced by sons and daughters who might
be able to speak the language, but few of whom may know how to read and write
It is also a fact that while the posh areas of Karachi
or Lahore or Islamabad may not feature bookstores stocking a large choice of
Urdu literature and teaching aids, the Urdu bazaars and Saddars and Anarkalis
have a vast abundance; the publishing industry is doing well.
Is it the upper classes, then, that are increasingly
cutting themselves off from their language and all the profundities and
experiences contained within? Have we reached such an extreme point of
It was an Urdu teacher at an upmarket Karachi school,
after all, who told me that most of their students struggle with Urdu. “But
then,” she laughed, “it is such a boring subject!”
KASHMIR is so deeply emotive that perceptions often
mix reality with myth. This is true of discussions over the United Nations
Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, the Tashkent Declaration, the Simla
Accords, the Lahore Summit Declaration and, most of all, of bilateral efforts
to address the dispute.
On YouTube, I saw Prof Christine Fair snap at a
Pakistani questioner who referred to the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir. She
averred that Pakistan violated the UNSC Resolution 47 (1948) calling for a
plebiscite by refusing to withdraw “tribesmen” from the territory of the state.
This is a half-truth. Pakistan had expressed reservations to the resolution
which led to the formation of the United Nations Commission for India and
Pakistan and finally to Resolution 98 (1952) allowing Pakistan to deploy up to
6,000 troops and India up to 18,000. Pakistan accepted the resolution, but
India rejected it invoking change of circumstances because of reports of an
incipient Pakistan-US defence treaty.
Half-truths and political spin thus cloud agreements
and talks on Kashmir. Politics was played around Tashkent and Simla. A text on
Kashmir, similar to that of the Simla Accords, adopted at Lahore was projected
as a pathway to a settlement. The 2005-06 backchannel negotiations drew
criticism that Pakistan had abandoned its principled position. The fact is that
Pakistan’s position, based on the UNSC resolutions and the Simla Accords, will
remain intact until Pakistan accepts a new international legality affecting
Kashmir. Neither the backchannel nor the earlier inconclusive talks changed
this position. This aside, the plebiscite as conceived in the 1948 UNSC
resolution is as academic today as is India’s claim based on the controversial
Kashmiri sacrifices and suffering must not be viewed
through the prism of our security.
The first variant on the 1948 resolution came in the
1950 Owen Dixon plan for region-wise plebiscites, which was recognition of the
demographic and communal realities in Kashmir. Later, Ayub Khan tried to
persuade Nehru to accept a territorial adjustment; he had the Valley in mind.
The Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks were not about the plebiscite. The Valley is the
heart of the dispute. It represents 55 per cent of the India-held Kashmir
population, where the Kashmiri people have refused to acquiesce to and have
constantly agitated for freeing themselves of Indian occupation. This is the
only pressure that India faces pushing it to look for a settlement. The latest
youth uprising across the Valley lends fresh urgency to our moral response in
support of Kashmiri rights and self-determination.
Moral principles alone provide justification for
Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. Discussions sometimes meander into security
considerations or the need to protect water sources, that Kashmir has tied down
over half million Indian troops; and that Pakistan must remove an existential
threat by securing control of rivers which pass through Kashmir. These are
false arguments. Kashmiri sacrifices and suffering must not be viewed through
the prism of our security; it will knock out the moral basis of our position,
suggesting that we are not interested in a just political settlement. The
argument negates the fact that nuclear deterrence is an equaliser which will
not be altered even if India doubles its military strength. As for rivers, maps
show that the upper reaches of the Indus and the Chenab lie in Ladakh and Jammu
respectively, the two non-Muslim majority regions which are unlikely to accede
to Pakistan under any scenario.
We may ask: what is Pakistan’s locus standi to speak
with India on behalf of the Kashmiris for this or that formula? The question
has logic, yet history imposes a responsibility on Pakistan to seek a solution
that is consistent with Kashmiri aspirations. Otherwise all our efforts,
declarations and resolutions will make little sense. Meanwhile, we must do all
we can to help attenuate the suffering and human rights violations of the
Kashmiris. Personally, I would say that we should be supportive if they demand
azadi provided we can protect our vital interests which, in the strictly
territorial sense, are linked to Gilgit-Baltistan. So, what are the realistic
options for a way forward?
Do we have a military option, or jihadi recourse, or
resort to the United Nations or to diplomacy? Let us focus on the political and
diplomatic options. In the UN and other forums, we always make strong
references to Kashmir, particularly on human rights. This must continue more
emphatically. However, I do not recall any proposal for a resolution or
initiative received from our UN missions since 1993 when a resolution was moved
and then withdrawn in the Human Rights Council. For UN matters, the Foreign
Office normally defers to the advice of our permanent representatives who are
invariably persons with great experience and grasp.
India stubbornly rejects third-party or multilateral
mediation and accepts no such modality to address Kashmir. Bilaterally, the
2005-06 backchannel has been the most sustained effort. I was associated with
it. Doubts swirl around that effort, largely because its deliberations have not
The so-called Four-Point Formula was centred on a
provisional arrangement for self-governance within sub-regions of the erstwhile
state of Jammu and Kashmir. The last draft, received from the Indian
interlocutor in March 2007, included issues yet to be settled. Much of the text
was, however, agreed through exchanges spread over two years, including
sections on self-governance, intra-region movement and trade and economic
activity. Sub-regions were supposed to have similar systems with their own
administration, security, legislatures, police and law-enforcement agencies, in
other words, optimum autonomy. The Kashmiris could freely move and trade across
sub-regions. Joint mechanism related to specified issues such as international
treaties (the Indus Water Treaty), connectivity and travel. This section and
the demilitarisation provision needed further work. However, the process, which
also envisaged political consultations, was stymied by the judicial crisis in
Pakistan and then the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The present circumstances offer little hope for
picking up the threads. The Modi government has even tried to scuttle the IHK
special status under the Indian constitution. If ever diplomacy revives for a
peace plan, its contours will be no different than those outlined through the
2005-06 effort. Political realities and demography impose limits on what
diplomacy can achieve.
Constitutional democracy is an impossibility in the
absence of the rule of law
There is often a confusion that manifests when people
fail to distinguish between notions of the rule of law and law and order.
Speaking of the rule of law, we are not concerned with matters of adherence, but
rather the equality of all in the eyes of the law itself.
Constitutional democracy pivots around the rule of
law. It requires that the state only subjects its citizens to publicly
promulgated laws and subordinate legislation. The legislative function of the
state must be separated from the judicial function and no one, as a matter of
policy, may remain above the law. Modern constitutionalism stems from three
features: limiting the powers of the government, strict adherence of the rule
of law and the protection of fundamental rights.
We regularly proclaim our abhorrence towards
dictatorial and authoritarian rule, harping on about the virtues of
constitutional democracy, and yet many conveniently omit to attach due weight
to the rule of law itself. In fact, our hapless and ignorant masses have not
even been made aware of that fact that a demand for the rule of law is in fact
a demand for the enforcement of fundamental rights. Our colonial past has
hindered us as much as any other factor. The departure of the colonialist
resulted in the passing of the baton of supremacy into the hands of our own
landed aristocracy and establishment. One would have thought that the
perniciousness of military rule and a longing for constitutional democracy
would inevitably prop up the rule of law, but the converse has happened. Our
political leaders have morphed into demigods. It is almost inconceivable that
they could do any wrong and they have hardly ever considered the red lines of
the law as a barrier to the continuing exercise of bloated, excessive power,
all pumped up by the machine of political popularity.
The power of our military, unprecedented in any
constitutional democracy, has cast a shadow over the very fabric of our
society, particularly with its targeted influence in civil affairs. Despite the
brazen hostility between Gen Musharraf and Ch Iftikhar and their questionable
use of constitutional powers, both Gen Musharraf and Ch Iftikhar’s son Arsalan
remained unruffled by the trials and accountability that ensued.
Notwithstanding the virtues of the 18th amendment,
certain features have created a collusive system that links the leader of the
house with the leader of the opposition, in a gentleman’s agreement that they
may flout the law through manipulated appointments of the election commission
and NAB. You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours!
Whether it is the arrest and trial of Dr Asim,
Sharjeel Memon or other close associates of Asif Zardari, the whole process
appears to be a mere sham. Even the Panama Leaks case seems to have dissolved
into thin air after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif. Ironically, the
London flats that are under graft investigation have now become a safe haven
for the conveniently exiled family of the Sharifs. The NAB references may meet
the same fate as that of the Liaqat Bagh firing cases against Mustafa Khar.
The power of our military — unprecedented in any
constitutional democracy — has cast a shadow over the very fabric of our
society, particularly with its influence in civil affairs
Anecdotal accounts of the daily trampling of the rule
of law are unending. The saddest part is the lip service provided by the
champions of the human rights and political correctness. For them, apparently,
their entire scope of human rights campaigning begins and ends around issues of
women’s rights (a legitimate cause, per se) and a hatred of the army. Raising
voices and taking concrete actions against routine violations of the rule of
law doesn’t seem to be a matter of priority in Pakistan. Perhaps people don’t
see any nexus between the fundamental rights and the breach of the rule of law.
The political use of INTERPOL’s assistance and the
abuse of the ECL laws make mockery of the rule of law. After the removal of her
name from the ECL, the circulation of Ayan Ali’s iconic photo, where she sat in
the first class cabin of Emirates Airlines – practically showing two fingers to
all, is essentially the truest comment on our judicial system and the fragility
of rule of law. This even resulted in the tragic assassination of the
investigating officer in Ali’s money-laundering case.
In the absence of the rule of law, contemporary
constitutional democracy is an impossibility. Beyond this essential dilemma,
however, it is still not completely clear what precise characteristics the rule
of law must possess to help sustain constitutional democracy and what specific
role it must assume to find its place as an essential ingredient of equitable
way of life.
If in our society the rule of law loses all meaning
and the current status quo becomes the norm, the overriding goal of developing
just governance and delivering a fair future for our people will remain, quite
simply, yet another Pakistani pipe dream.
Published: September 10, 2017
In 2016, the Swedish and Finnish governments
celebrated the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information
(FOI) law that was passed in Sweden in 1766. Nudged by an Asian Development
Bank precondition, Pakistan made its first FOI law in 2002. Between the
federation and the four provinces, Pakistan today has five independent Right to
Information (RTI) Acts. While gaining political brownie points appeared to be
the primary motive, the composers of these hurriedly put-together documents had
little interest in their content or functionality. No wonder that these five
RTI Acts could collectively inspire no more than a few hundred RTI requests in
the last 15 years. Compare this to India, which received 976,000 requests in
The RTI in Pakistan may best be explained by the story
of the ‘emperor’s new clothes’, where no one wished to say that the emperor was
in fact wearing nothing. We have a hugely overrated and under-performing RTI
system. The state is quite happy to keep it like this forever. There is no
debate for a serious reassessment of the entire RTI system, the faulty laws,
the bureaucratic hurdles and the citizens’ indifference.
The new Sindh RTI Act was passed in 2017. It specifies
that an information commission shall be established within 100 days of
commencement of the Act. So far, the Sindh government has failed to comply with
this requirement. The RTI Act also requires formulation of rules. But no rules
have been made to operationalise the RTI Act yet. The appointment of
‘designated officers’ in each public body within 45 days of commencement of the
Act has also not taken place in more than 90 per cent public bodies.
Punjab passed its RTI Act in 2013. The government,
however, became uncomfortable when the information commissioners began taking
actions against the non-compliant government officials. It was therefore,
considered prudent to neutralise the information commission by neither
appointing any further information commissioners nor allocating funds necessary
to operate the commission. The commission responsible to oversee the RTI
function was thus, made comprehensively inoperative.
The 2005 Balochistan FOI Act is conspicuous by its
under-utilisation. It is loaded with bureaucratic compulsions like using a
specific format for application, giving reasons for seeking information and
attaching a bank challan, which calls for knowing impossible numbers such as
Major Head C0, Minor Head C038 and Detailed Head C03885.
In August 2017, parliament finally passed a new RTI
Bill to replace the outdated FOI Ordinance 2002. The new bill gives ministers
the power to deny disclosure of information. This single clause defeats the
very essence of the RTI. One can only hope that the lower house before passing
the bill will remember to remove the vague and niggardly characteristics of the
bill. The missing definition of the word ‘information’ could lead to additional
possibilities for misuse.
Pakistan has made three fundamental mistakes in the
context of the RTI. It tried to make five RTI Acts instead of opting for the
Indian model of a single RTI Act for the whole country. Next, it did not invest
in building its semi-functional or completely dysfunctional RTI commissions.
Except for K-P, there is no functional RTI commission in any other province.
Lastly, the state has shown no interest in giving awareness, training or
motivation to ordinary citizens on the use of RTI. In a few cases, the donor
agencies assumed this role as if they had a greater interest in Pakistan’s RTI
than our own government.
It calls for courage and truthfulness to admit that we
have a quasi-functional RTI system that will not get better without a major
restructuring. Article 19A of the Constitution will continue to remain a dream
as long as the state is unwilling to reconstruct the three primary pillars of
the RTI. These are developing a single RTI Act, ensuring separate but effective
RTI commissions for the centre and provinces and conducting an on-going
nationwide RTI awareness programme.
From an icon of democratic values and poster child of
liberalism, Aung San Suu Kyi, the de-facto ruler of Myanmar, has fallen to the
status of a conniver in the genocide of the Rohingya population. On her watch
and right under her nose, the country’s Buddhist monks and armed forces have
systematically terminated over 10,000 Rohingya, uprooted tens of thousands and
have created such a tall tower of death for this stateless community that it
would make Hitler go green with envy.
A Nobel Laureate with a high moral ground, Suu Kyi now
stands on the titled stage of dishonour and disgrace. True, the Rohingya’s
systematic cleansing (read: extermination) predates her government’s arrival on
the scene. But the fact that she – the most known face of her country
internationally – has chosen to create a moral equivalence between the killer
and the killed and has thrown her weight behind genocidal policies makes her
look morally deficient and devoid of principles. She has been a letdown to the
millions of her admirers, proving yet again that titles and badges do not make
Can she and the country she controls be turned back
from annihilating the Rohingya? The sheer burden of tragedy has already forced
a slow-moving and compromised international community to take notice of the
slaughter. Yet this is just in words and not in action. As Asma Jehangir,
Pakistan’s celebrated human rights activist and UN rapporteur, pointed out on my
show recently, the existential threat to the Rohingya has been documented since
1992 and more recently the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights
in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has been crying hoarse over the worsening situation.
The media, while restricted and blocked through an iron wall of censorship by
the government, has also chronicled this tale of horror for years. Social
media, even though at times inaccurate and misleading, has served an
exceptionally useful medium to put out incriminating evidence of the Rohingya’s
And yet the killings have gone on unhindered. From
gang rapes to hacking to pushing groups into flowing river waters, unimaginable
atrocities have taken place in recent months. Part of the reason is that
Myanmar is a strategically-located country. As China and the US vie for
influence in the Indian Ocean, it becomes a hotbed of global power struggle
that leaves little scope for its isolation on the grounds of despicable human
rights violations. The Rohingya’s plight is further exacerbated by the fact
that the community has been disorganised and totally impoverished. Their voices
have been weak and wholly dependent on outside support for being heard across a
treacherous land that is now closed to any outside scrutiny and documentation.
In a dog-eat-dog world, this is a ruinous disability. The Rohingya had to die
in their thousands and be uprooted and displaced to be heard.
Besides, the bordering countries, India and
Bangladesh, have regimes whose own track record of handling minorities and
voices of anguish in their midst is abysmal. You don’t expect Narendra Modi of
the Gujarat massacre fame to be moved by the plight of Rohingya. Or for that
matter Madam Hasina Wajid to shed a tear over the tragedy considering her brutal
suppression of opposition at home, including the hanging spree of those she
conveniently dubbed as traitors.
Perhaps the only real-life issue that can bring some
relief to the Rohingya in the days ahead is the fear that most countries in the
region share – that this tragedy might become a magnet for revenge squads of
religious groups to descend from all across and start a new chapter of jihad in
the name of the Rohingya. As a recent report has pointed out, the South East
Asian region will “have to confront the reality of returning Islamic State (IS)
fighters from Iraq and Syria. Experts estimate that hundreds of foreign
fighters have returned to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, while only a
handful have been identified. More are expected to make their way back
following the allied operations in Mosul and Raqqa – the two Islamic State
territories in Iraq and Syria respectively.”
The report also says that “their numbers are said to
be bigger than those who returned from the Afghanistan war in the 1980s, and
subsequently established the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group”.
India and Bangladesh have enough tinderbox at home to
light the fire of an indigenous reaction to the tragedy that has been allowed
to befall the Rohingya. Thailand is already struggling with internal strife
involving Buddhists and Malay Muslims. China has its own issues. The
blood-curdling sight of a Muslim minority being put to the sword without any
effective action being taken by the regional and international countries is a
powerful symbol that can unite many disparate groups. That danger can spread
fast and wide. We have seen it happen in the Middle East. We have seen it
happen in Afghanistan.
Injured sentiments can trigger reactions beyond
imagination. Perhaps this consideration will make the regional countries drive
some humanity in the heads that govern Myanmar. For those who have perished and
whose lives have been damaged among the Rohingya, any action now will be too
little too late but for those who survive any intervention at this point will
still be welcome.
The above sets the context in which we have to analyse
our own reaction and response to the mass murder of the Rohingya. Officially,
the right noises have been made even though practical steps to register this protest
have been conspicuous by their absence. Pakistan remains a distant but deeply
interested observer to the happenings in Myanmar, trying to balance arms deals
with growing public demand to talk tough to the Myanmar authorities. The civil
society and the religious right have both raised voices of concern and
condemnation, which is a reassuring aspect of national life even though the
motivations for both groups seem different and even divergent.
The religious right and their affiliates want to
champion every cause involving religion, even though their application of the
Muslim brotherhood principle has been selective when it comes to tragedies of
the Muslims in say Yemen, Nigeria, and even Iraq and Syria. For the civil
society, the issue is essentially one of human rights and their grave violation
at the hands of a government that has been deaf to reason and humanitarian
appeals. Politically, voices have been heard from all quarters about the
Rohingya but this has been more in the spirit of expressions on a publically
popular subject than any substantive and durable concern about the problem.
Politics in Pakistan continues to revolve around the
NA-120 by-election, civil-military ties and – from today onwards – the
unfolding spectacle of the review petition before a bench whose three-member,
five-member puzzle is making jurists go nuts. Politically, the Rohingya
are/were a fleeting concern worthy of press releases, tweets and Friday
The media has been attentive to the tragedy after its
details and facts became too ugly to ignore. But even there we have witnessed
instances of impotent rage. In one case, an actor-model-turned-analyst (and
that’s a tragic combination) frothing at the mouth heaped scorn over Pakistan’s
passport and suggested that all the Rohingya should be given Pakistani
nationality because, according to his superior logic, Pakistani nationality is
hardly a matter of honour at any rate. Since this character is an
officially-designated super patriot and he made these remarks from the pure
platform of a patriotic channel, his fulminations did not become a matter of
national crisis. Anyone else making such pronouncements would have been
condemned to the same fate that the Myanmar government has reserved for the
But these aberrations aside, it is heart-warming to
see Pakistan debate with great energy and interest an international
humanitarian crisis – something that you will not find happen in most so-called
developed or Islamic countries that miss no excuse to put down Pakistan’s
standing among the comity of nations. There is some humanity left in this world
after all and it’s good to be a significant part of it.
writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo