New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 September 2017
Pakistan: Extreme Right’s Electoral
By Umair Rasheed
Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan: A Stellar
By Israr A Kasana
Have Civilians Only Got The Second
Fiddle To Play?
By Zulfiquar Rao
Mashal Khan’s Father Has Been
Eloquent In Voicing His Fears
By Kamila Hyat
Radicalising The Mainstream?
By Talimand Khan
Politics of Religious Animosity
By Imtiaz Alam
Elections And Democracy
By Rasul Bakhsh Rais
To Totally Destroy North Korea
By Harlan Ullman
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Three religious groups — from different
schools of thought — have expressed willingness to contest next general
elections in the country. Two of them have already fielded independent
candidates in the NA-120 by-poll to test the waters, as the issue of their
registration with the Election Commission of Pakistan remains unsettled for
now. The third — Pakistan Ulema Council — has just recently announced its
intention to contest the elections.
How does this change the electoral dynamics
in the country?
NA-120 result has confirmed that the
extreme right has on average no more than about five and 10 percent vote bank
in cities across the country. But the election outcome has also showed that —
given the electoral system continues unaffected — there is hardly any worry for
this share to swell further.
The reasons are primarily political but
also economic. In urban areas, mainstream parties have organisational
structures that have over the years enabled their leaders to strengthen their
ties with constituents in return for making state institutions deliver goods
and services needed for continuance of everyday life without much turmoil.
Similar patron-client relations dictate the logic of electoral politics in vast
swathes of rural and suburban Pakistan. The key difference being that
electables or constituency-level politicians serve as patrons, instead of party
organisations. This makes it hard for new comers to attract voters without
investing in effective organisations or building movements around
socio-economic issues of the electorate.
A vast segment of the country’s population
harbours extreme and intolerant disposition on issues like blasphemy and the
Ahmadi community’s rights. But not all of these Pakistanis seem convinced to
enter electoral politics on these singular issues alone
Take the PTI as an example: it could only
win one national assembly and a provincial assembly seat from Lahore in 2013
despite all the hue and cry surrounding its tabdeeli slogan. The protest
politics on rigging allegations between 2013 and now has enabled the party to
shorten the PML-N’s winning margins and convert what were strongholds in 2008
and fairly safe seats in 2013 into competitive constituencies ahead of 2018.
But the crucial factor in this has been the PTI leader’s persistent campaigning
against the ruling party and the Sharif family on the issue of corruption. The
issue resonates with vast segments of the urban middle class professionals and
its deployment by the PTI has been a factor in bringing many more voters to
polling stations in Lahore and other cities in 2013 compared to previous
Among the two new entrants, only the
Jamaatud Dawa’s political wing has expansive organisational structure that
allows it to dispense goods and services in areas where state institutions
remain either absent or ineffective. But importantly, this structure has been
serving as a substitute or a complement to the state. It does not, and is
unlikely to, enable the JuD leaders to serve as intermediaries between state
institutions and the electorate — a task performed fairly easily by mainstream
parties and electables. This leaves the JuD with only the work its
philanthropic wing [Falah Insaniyat Foundation] has done to canvas for votes.
It is extremely unlikely that this charity work alone will enable the JuD men
and women to achieve anything similar to what PTI has achieved between 2007-08
and 2017 in just a year.
It will be even more difficult for the
Barelvi party — Labbaik Ya Rasoolullah (LYR). First, it does not have anything
even remotely close to the JuD’s organisational structure. Second, its
political imagination remains confined to a singular issue that does not
resonate much with material conditions of the electorate. And thirdly, LYR
needs to be seen as just one among several organised expressions of Bareli
school of thought. And there is hardly any evidence to suggest that LYR is
dominant among these tendencies. The established clerics and their seminaries
and organisations have been active in electoral politics all along under the
Jamiat Ulema Pakistan banner. They’ve either contested elections on their own
or have allied with mainstream parties like the PML-N. It is the upstarts like
Khadim Rizvi and Ashraf Jalali who have turned towards electoral politics
following the mobilisation done over confessed assassin Mumtaz Qadri’s
conviction and death sentence. This still leaves Barelvis associated with
missionary organisations like Dawat-e-Islami and those with the lucrative
economy around Mehfil-E-Sama and Mehfil-E-Naat. In his speeches during NA-120
campaign, LYR leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi made it a point to denounce this particular
expression of Barelvi thought. He made passionate statements against those
[Barelvis] ‘whose love for the prophet was limited only to Naat recited for
The PUC’s organisational strength derives
from its network of mosques and madrasas. This network is useful mostly for
expressing street strength and has not been used to manage electoral campaigns.
Additionally, the PUC is a coalition of clerics from multiple schools of
thought and its concerns have mostly been related to foreign affairs and
keeping the public opinion in favour of the Saudi monarchy.
Finally, if allowed to contest elections,
all three of these parties are likely to design their campaigns around
anti-India and possibly also anti-US slogans with frequent references to
persecuted Muslim groups in the Middle Eastern region and Myanmar. There will
be frequent references to an imagined liberal lobby out to reform blasphemy
laws. This rhetoric has been deployed in electoral politics of this country
time and again but, purely on its own, it has never delivered much in terms of
election victories. The other contributing factors are related to secular
concerns of the electorate and the three parties appear unlikely to present
themselves as viable options for settling those concerns.
None of the foregoing is to deny the fairly
obvious fact that a vast segment of the country’s population harbours extreme
and intolerant disposition on issues like blasphemy laws and Ahmadi community’s
rights. But not all of these Pakistanis seem anywhere remotely convinced to
enter electoral politics on these singular issues alone. Additionally,
intolerance is a social problem requiring political solutions that can pave the
way for a pluralist society. These solutions will come out of measures like
re-imagination of the education system such that critical thought is encouraged
and an empirically correct reading of national history is promoted. Other
measures will involve dismantling of militant factions of religious or
political parties and the twin processes of reinstating the monopoly of state
institutions over means of violence as well as — the more difficult and
important task — ensuring perfect oversight of the executive agencies equipped
with these means by institutions that represent the will of the Pakistani
This agenda against intolerance and for
pluralism will necessarily mean that the electoral arena cannot be opened to
those canvassing in the name of confessed assassins sentenced to death by a
court of law or those accused of crimes against humanity. But this standard
should also be extended to those canvassing for former military dictators. For
if Qadri and Hafiz Saeed have violated domestic and international laws, the
latter have abrogated the country’s Constitution. And their interventions in
affairs not meant for them have directly contributed to the social problem of
intolerance that has produced men like Qadri and Saeed.
So the debate on the issue should not be
about banning or allowing these groups to contest elections. It should,
instead, be about the standards to be met by any group — religious or otherwise
— with electoral ambitions.
September 27, 2017
Much of the controversy surrounding the
country’s blasphemy laws stems from the utter lack of understanding shown by
left leaning parties and individuals regarding the exalted status of Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Islam and in the lives of the vast majority of
Muslims. This often puts the state in an awkward position.
The Holy Quran enjoins us to show
unconditional obedience to the Prophet (PBUH) and tells Muslims that he has a
greater right on them than they have on themselves. Since the Prophet (PBUH) is
a paragon of excellence and an important pillar of the very edifice of Islam,
he is more sacred than everything, including their lives. They love him more
than anything else as it is an integral and fundamental part of their Eeman
This issue has ignited long, intense debate
and many times violence has flared with mobs demanding instant punishment for
the offence. There are quite a few on death row and waiting for their trial.
For decades now there has been hue and cry about this whole issue and demands
were made to address this complex situation head on. Finally we have some good
In a recent landmark and historic judgment,
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court has dilated on this
phenomenon and explained as to why Muslims see blasphemy as a critical issue. I
believe it is a landmark judgment because it has also sought for a review of
the law so that false accusations could be made an equally punishable offence.
He has recommended that parliament amend the law to seek the death penalty for
those who falsely accuse people of blasphemy. The judgment complains that there
is currently a small punishment for falsely accusing someone of blasphemy. I
think this part has made this 116-page judgment not only historic but will help
resolve this longstanding issue, keeping in view the harsh criticism made
regarding the misuse of this law. That is precisely the reason why even the
opponents of this law have welcomed the judgment, including Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan chairman Mehdi Hasan.
In classy Urdu, the lingua franca of
Pakistan, the judge has discussed pretty much every related matter in this
report, arguing in favour of stopping the exploitation of the law instead of
repealing it altogether, which is perhaps too tedious and delicate a task for
the national and provincial legislatures.
Quoting various writers, columnists,
scholars, religious experts, Justice Siddiqui, at the outset, builds an
argument about the stature of the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam. More importantly, he
refers to different verses of the Quran to prove his point, for instance, Ayah
61 of Sura Tauba, which says: “And those who abuse the Messenger (PBUH) of
Allah (SWT), for them is a painful punishment”, Sura Al-Ahzab Ayah 57, in which
Allah (SWT) says: “Undoubtedly, those who annoy Allah and His Messenger,
Allah’s curse is upon them in the world and in the Hereafter and Allah has kept
prepared for them a degrading torment. And in Sura Noor Ayah 63, “Do not
consider the summoning of the Rasool (PBUH) in the same manner, as you consider
the summoning of one another among yourselves. Allah knows those of you who
slip away, concealing themselves behind others. Let those who disobey his
orders beware, lest some trial befall them or a painful punishment be inflicted
The ruling has different instances quoted
from the life of the Prophet (PBUH) to prove as to how he was respected by his
companions. The honourable judge also talks about the Naat and names different
personalities of the distant and recent past who showed their highest respect
for the Prophet (PBUH) through their poetry.
It also argues that the blasphemy law is
not a product of any emotional outbursts of some religious segments of the
society rather it is based on the spirit of Islamic law. The British introduced
this law in the CrPC of the subcontinent in 1860 and it has evolved ever since.
The ruling dilates on the issue of Constitution as an organic whole and urges
that it is incumbent upon us to look at everything in the light of the
Objectives Resolution which talks about the supremacy of Islam in every sphere
of life. Quoting founders of Pakistan like the Quaid-e-Azam, Allama Iqbal,
Bahadur Yaar Jang, etc, it establishes the relevance of Islam in the overall
scheme of things.
Talking about the media and its
responsibilities, the judgment not only quotes Article 19 of the Constitution
but also urges the government authorities to publish an advertisement in the
newspapers showcasing Article 19 to create awareness among the public. Article
19 says: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and
expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable
restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity,
security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with
foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt
of court”. The same applies to social media as well in the present day and age.
Rights come with responsibility. Quoting
the Declaration of Rights of the French Revolution, among other historic
documents, the ruling says: “The free communication of ideas and opinion is one
of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak,
write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this
freedom as shall be defined by law”.
While emphasising the importance and
sanctity of human life, the honourable judge says that in no circumstances can
a person take the law into his own hands as this is the responsibility of the
state. He also points out their failure and urges the state institutions to act
proactively in addressing any situation in future and wishes that people
working for these institutions had more knowledge, awareness and love for the
Prophet (PBUH) of Islam.
Many senior jurists, including former chief
justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, have lauded this judgment.
Iftikhar Chaudhry counts it as a landmark judgment and sees it as a piece of
correct interpretation of constitutional and legal provisions on the subject.
This ruling could usher in a new era of
peace and calm in the country — provided it satisfactorily meets the approval
of all sections of society, especially the religious clerics. I personally hope
that the public can take ownership of this verdict.
In view of this judgment, it is incumbent
upon parliament to immediately take practical steps to legislate and change the
blasphemy laws so that the person who falsely accuses someone also gets the
death penalty. It will definitely reduce, if not stop, the misuse of the law
which we have seen so many times in the past and also make it more acceptable
to all segments of society. It will surely spare many innocent lives in future.
That is the spirit of this landmark judgment. Parliament must now act fast.
April 1977 was the last time Pakistan saw
its prime minister, Z A Bhutto, still calling shots. Since then, no Prime
Minister of Pakistan could have a sway over foreign policy and national
security. Those who dared to reclaim their rightful prerogative in a
parliamentary democracy were shown the door on one pretext or the other. While
Bhutto exercised all due powers as late as April 1977, he had already faced a
similar fate in 1966 when Ayub Khan threw him out of favour without any
hesitation in the backdrop of Tashkent Agreement.
In January 1966 Russia had brokered an
Indo-Pak peace deal in Tashkent following the September 1965 war; some time
later, unhappy with the agreement Bhutto publicly criticized it, which
contradicted Ayub. By doing this he had crossed the limits set by the Field
Marshal. So by mid-June that year Bhutto was conveniently eased out of Ayub’s
favor and the cabinet. Luckily, his populist views on the Tashkent deal had
endeared him to the masses that were already fed up with Ayub for his despotic
rule and his election rigging against Fatima Jinnah. His rising led him to
found a new party. Interestingly, the quarters within the military too had
started seeing Ayub as more of a liability; so when Bhutto created his party
PPP the military establishment, if not out rightly supported it, found it
A constant state of fear doesn’t let a man
prosper nor a country
In the elections of 1970 Bhutto was
completely aligned with establishment, and after the elections, if military
leadership had wanted it they could have assuaged him and let Mujeeb, with
majority seats in the assembly, form the government and perhaps could also have
saved the country. Following cessation of East Pakistan, when Bhutto got at the
helm, the military was for sure demoralized; that led to act more as an
imperial ruler. He exercised power rather recklessly, yet he could not rule
undeterred since the constitution of 1973 gave provisions for a parliamentary
When he decided to hold early elections in
1977, his mind was to change the constitution of the country to presidential
form so he could rule undeterred as the President than as a Prime Minister.
Here again he was going beyond where the military establishment hadn’t liked to
see him as by now the military had come out of the stigma from 1971 war and was
no longer lacking in confidence. The rest is tragic history.
Another military dictator General Zia had
handpicked Muhammad Khan Junejo as his prime minister following general
election on non-party basis in 1985. However, when Junejo tried to conduct himself
like a real chief executive of the country he was warned. But two incidents in
April 1988: Ojhari Camp Disaster and the Geneva Accord over Afghanistan sealed
Junejo’s ouster for his independent stance on these events. Zia removed him in
May 1988 on the flimsy charges of inefficiency and breakdown of law and order
in the country.
The decade of 1990’s saw the parties of
Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto only busy in suicidal confrontation which could
hardly have given them the strength and confidence to disturb the military
establishment led foreign and national security policy. Except for last
government of Nawaz in that decade which was removed for his pro-peace
overtures towards India and his displeasure at military’s Kargil adventure,
thrice the governments were removed for local political disputes. While the
Prime Ministers under General Musharraf’s regime were so completely his lackeys
to deviate from his line.
Fourteen years later, when Nawaz Sharif was
again elected as prime minister with popular vote in 2013, he was a changed man
with even more crystalised vision for peace with neighbours, and peace and
development in the country. Nevertheless, by now the military establishment had
completely monopolized both foreign policy and the national security paradigm.
While the Nawaz government was busy resuming dialogue with India and improving
relations with Afghanistan, these efforts were effectively scuttled with
terrorist attacks inside India and Afghanistan by Jihadi and sectarian outfits
operating in Pakistan. The international media finds them close to the military
establishment. Besides, his government had to face a charade of political
Dharnas and the farcical Dawn Leak scandal as warnings.
With these significant instances, it seems
the military establishment is bent upon reducing popular civilian leaders to
just play second fiddle. But let’s not mistake, a military led foreign and
security policy will always keep this country in perpetual need to defend
itself as you just see things through a security lens. A constant state of fear
doesn’t let a man prosper nor a country. Otherwise locally, over 58 percent of
our people wouldn’t experience food insecurity and 44 percent of school-going
age children wouldn’t be out of schools; and diplomatically, Pakistan wouldn’t
be a recluse.
Mashal Khan’s Father Has Been Eloquent
in Voicing His Fears
September 28, 2017
When parents send their children to schools,
colleges and universities they do not expect them to be locked in anything that
resembles a battle – beyond, of course, the ordinary debate that should be a
part of any learning environment. Yet, in recent years, too many parents have
found that the classrooms or the campuses within which they stand can prove to
be extremely dangerous places.
Iqbal Khan, the father of Mashal Khan – a
23-year-old who was killed at the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan earlier
this year – says his daughters no longer attend any educational institution
even though they are brilliant students. He has explained that while no direct
threats exist, the girls themselves are fearful after witnessing their older
brother’s fate. As a parent, Mashal’s father is reluctant to send them into an
environment that he can no longer believe is safe. Iqbal Khan has said that he
had never expected his son to be brutally killed on campus and is now unable to
trust his own judgement – even as he awaits at least an apology from the
university administration over what happened to Mashal.
The father of Sharoon Masih, a 16-year old
boy who was beaten to death in a different classroom many miles away from
Mardan in Vehari, had also not expected that an attempt to offer an education
to his son would result in his death. Sharoon was allegedly called a choorrah
by the teacher at the government boys school that the 16-year-old attended in
Vehari as the school in his native village did not offer secondary education.
Since he was a student with top grades,
Sharoon’s parents and teachers felt that he should be encouraged to continue
his education. This decision brought disaster. Sharoon told his parents soon
after beginning classes at his new school that he felt ostracised and isolated
as the only non-Muslim at the institute. A skirmish in the classroom apparently
broke out after a few boys hit Sharoon for drinking from the same water cup as
the other pupils. Some of his peers attempted to stop the violence. But it was
too late. Sharoon died as a result of the injuries inflicted on him while the
teachers failed to intervene.
The police report regarding the incident,
which states that a fight broke out over a mobile phone, has been rejected by
Sharoon’s family and an appeal has been filed. Whatever the truth is, the fact
remains that Sharoon did not feel safe at his school and the staff failed to
protect him from his peers. The incident would have also scarred all the other
boys involved in the episode.
There are other stories as well. When
13-year-old Ahmad – a student who scored 97 percent grades in his final exams –
began the eighth grade at a private cadet college in Larkana after the summer
vacations, his parents would never have expected that their active, healthy son
would within a day have to be collected from the institute in a critical
condition. The administration of the cadet college has, once again, answered no
queries. But Ahmad was found badly beaten – apparently by a teacher – and had
been left paralysed and unable to speak.
In November last year, after the
intervention of the provincial government, he was sent to the US for medical
treatment in the hope that this would enable him to walk again. Since then, he
has returned to the country after many months of treatment and is in a somewhat
better condition. Naturally, his parents have not readmitted him at the cadet
college. But even now, his future remains somewhat uncertain as he struggles to
overcome the physical difficulties that he still suffers. Doctors believe that
he may never fully recover.
Other incidents include a boy who was
killed in January 2014 while defending his school from a suicide bomber. Of
course, the parents of over 130 schoolchildren who died in a massacre at the
Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 had never intended to send them
out to battle militants. Calling them martyrs is then something of an anomaly.
Essentially, they were victims who could do little to defend themselves against
the men who invaded their school.
We have essentially seen our schools turn
into battlefields rather than places of learning and thinking. This process
continues on many campuses. Students who dare to dissent from the dominant line
of thinking have said that they face threats, warnings and even physical
violence. We have seen this happen at Punjab University where the Islami
Jamiat-e-Talaba holds sway. This has also been witnessed at other campuses all
over the country.
Even students from prestigious centres of
learning such as the Quaid-e-Azam University have said that they felt compelled
to drop out because of the hostility they faced as a consequence of the
opinions they voiced or the ideas they expressed.
This is a highly dangerous situation on so
many levels. Schools and centres for higher learning should offer a safe
environment for every pupil. Of course, an inevitable accident of some kind may
occasionally take place. But when young men are beaten to death by their peers
or left crippled by their teachers, there is something severely wrong.
There is also something wrong with a society
that attempts to paint young children as heroes engaged in a battle rather than
as members of society who deserve protection and care. This care should include
providing them a space to express their views and act on their individuality
Instead, the opposite has happened, with our campuses turning into places that
hold many different forms of danger.
We need to make an effort to restore
playing fields and classrooms as the places where children can thrive and reach
their full potential. This is currently not happening.
Sharoon’s teachers told us that he was an
immensely talented pupil. Those who heard Mashal Khan speak at rallies or
interacted with him on other occasions say the same. For many others who have
died in their schools or other places of learning, we will never be able to say
what they may have achieved later in life. What we do know is that when their
parents sent them to acquire an education, they did not expect that this
process would be followed by funerals or the other painful rituals that
Such acts of violence on campus, which have
impacted many lives, should never have taken place. There are so many examples
of parents who were simply compelled to remove their children from educational
institutions because of the discrimination they faced. The added dimension of
violence is a new feature of our society. A strategy needs to be devised to
hand classes and campuses back to the young people to whom they belong. If they
are not able to develop as individuals and as human beings in these spaces, we
are confronting an unfortunate state of affairs and now live in a precarious
Mashal Khan’s father has been eloquent in
voicing his fears. There are undoubtedly other parents across the country who
feel the same but do not know how to act or what to do. Control over the lives
of their children has been taken away and those assigned to protect them are
failing to deliver. Our playgrounds have turned into frontlines and this
presents a particularly serious concern for the future.
Radicalising the Mainstream?
The participation of Milli Muslim League
(MML) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)’s candidates in the by election of NA-120
indicates our security establishment is going to add another feather to its
history of short-sightedness so that the latter comes full circle in the form
of Frankenstein. Both the candidates contested the by-election as independents
because they were not yet registered as political parties with the Election
Commission of Pakistan. However, apparently they belonged to the prohibited
organisations and used its slogans. More importantly, the pictures of Hafiz
Muhammad Said and Mumtaz Qadri adorned their election banners and posters. The
US had announced a bounty of $10 million against Hafiz Said in 2012 while Qadri
had been hanged by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the murder case of Punjab
governor, Salmaan Taseer.
The aftermath of the United States new
strategy for AF-Pak announced by President Trump on August 21, 2017, during his
twenty six minutes speech indicates the seriousness of the US regarding our
security and foreign policies. Yet such moves can be translated by the
international community, particularly by America and its allies as outright
defiance which may produce dire consequences for the country as well as for the
Although, our security establishment
formulated polices in the past with double edge use like the Afghan jihad
policy requiring religious extremism as a tool to be a front-line state against
the evil empire, those policy measures were also used as an edge in the
regional power game as well as for domestic political control which resulted in
constant political instability and social — religious polarisation.
If we could not achieve our maximalist
objectives in Afghanistan and South Asia in the 1990s, when the West was
dazzled by the aura of defeating the evil empire, how is it possible today in
such a hostile international and regional environment?
Alas, policy audits, introspection and
accountability in the case of policy failures never crossed the mind of
overzealous patriots whose mantra of accountability began and ended with
selective financial accountability of civilians.
We expect that the world to recognise our
strategic fantasies as legitimate policy concerns. Our declared policy in the
1980s was to help the free world in defeating the Communist empire in the form
of the Soviet Union that not only posed, according to our narrative, a threat
to the free world, but also a dire existential threat to the Muslim Ummah.
However, after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, we expected that the
western world, particularly the US, would acknowledge our right to use the
residue of the Afghan jihad as policy tools.
Is this only a psychological problem
preventing our policy makers to come out from the decade of 1990s? Why have we
put all our eggs of regional policy in one basket making it a do or die
mission? Foreign policy is the most intricate business wherein the state not
only deals with its own citizens but with other states and adversaries within
it. And therefore, the states are employing more than one option and
alternatives to avoid ending up in an impasse.
Instead of changing our policy tools,
realigning policy options and objectives, the policy makers seem to crawl in
the same rut that leads them nowhere.
Currently, if the radicals of a certain hue
have been provided political legitimacy in the mainstream media, how can the
state deny it to other groups tomorrow?
What would be the long term domestic and
institutional consequences of a policy that only focusses on short terms
domestic political objectives to truncate assertive political forces?
So far, our state and its institutions were
trying hard to persuade the world that extremism and radicalisation were not a
societal issue but a peripheral ripple effect, along with other social and
political costs of our efforts for Afghan Jihad, the majority of Pakistan’s
population was moderate. Their voting for mainstream secular political parties
has been presented as evidence of moderation. In case the MML takes electoral
roots, like the MMA benefiting from the expertise of election engineering of
our institutions, with their political outlook and slogans, what is the
guarantee that mainstream politics would not get radicalised and what would be
our explanation to the world? How, can the state prevent the MML not to become
a political umbrella for other radicals like Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesperson for
On the other hand, we are working hard to
remind the world to acknowledge our sacrifices, though why and how the
sacrifices were made had never been debated either in the parliament or media.
But how can we expect the world to listen to us any more on the subject if we
mainstream the elements and ideology against whom we portrayed as an
existential threat and fight them? Such schemes of mainstreaming political
inclusion and exclusion can promote sectional interests and certain institutional
control over the polity but at a huge cost to the state in the long run.
“When even suffering is ignored, there will
be seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades, embitters and enrages” said Aung
San Suu Kyi – rightly so – in her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
And that is what has been happening right
before her eyes under a dominating military junta against the Rohingya Muslims
in Myanmar. Instead of blaming her – though she is partially responsible as
well for her timidity – the world should have targeted the real culprits behind
the ethno-religious cleansing and military-led genocide of the Muslim minority:
the fascist Myanmar Army Chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing who exclusively controls the
internal and external security policies and powerful security apparatuses over
and above a besieged and relatively powerless civilian government.
The history of persecution of ethnic
minorities in Myanmar, including Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Karen, Chin, Mon and
others, is as long as the brutal domination of a military junta which ruled for
over fifty years. Their plight is further reinforced by the Chinese and Indian
interests and rivalries. A transnational pipeline had been built connecting
Rakhine with Kunming, China, and a deep-sea port was built in the same state by
India connecting Mizoram state with the Bay of Bengal.
The disenfranchisement and annulment of the
citizenship of Rohingya Muslims was the result of the 1982 Citizen Law that was
premised on their exclusion from the population census. For its prolonged rule
and expropriation of vast mineral and other natural resources, the military
junta has been forcefully displacing large sections of population from various
minority ethnic groups who have been fighting the expropriation of natives’
resources by successive military regimes. Successive military juntas in Myanmar
took ideological refuge behind Burmese Buddhist nationalism/fascism for the
self-aggrandisement of the sprawling garrison and to suppress the forces of
democracy and indigenous minorities.
Such is the racist discrimination against
the Rohingya that the Burmese Buddhist nationalists term them as alien Bengalis
not recognised by Bangladesh as such. The Rohingya are Indo-Aryan people, like
most of us in the Subcontinent, with roots beyond the 8th century, and are also
called Arakanese Indians. They have been a victim of various Burmese dynasties
and colonialists who have been using them as slave labourers. The word Rohang
is derived from ‘Arakan’ and they call their homeland Rohingaw – the former
name of the Rakhine state. They are concentrated in the Maungdaw district
bordering Bangladesh, which is separated by a river. They sided with the
British imperialists against the Japanese fascists in World War-II, like Netaji
Subhash Chandra Bose in India; the Japanese were supported by the Burmese
Buddhists to get freedom from British colonialism.
In the post-Independence period, the
Rohingya continued their struggle for autonomy or secession. During 1947-61,
the Rohingya mujahideen wanted autonomy for the Mayu Peninsula in Northern
Arakan or to secede to the then East Pakistan. Faced with the democratic
resistance of the Bengali majority, the military junta headed by the then F M
Ayub Khan didn’t respond to their calls; rather, successive military dictators
in Pakistan built affinity with their fellow Burmese military juntas. The
isolated Rohingya resistance intermittently faced military suppressions in
1978, 1992, 2012, 2015, 2016 and now a mass eviction and fascist cleansing in
2017. It is Bangladesh – which we continue to ostracise despite our crimes
against its people – that is providing refuge to over 450,000 Rohingya
Before the latest racist cleansing, burning
of Muslim localities and killing of hundreds of innocent people, the popularly
elected State Counsellor Suu Kyi, after two decades of incarceration and
sweeping the last elections, had appointed an Advisory Commission on the
Rakhine state on September 5, 2016 under former UN secretary general Kofi Annan
to settle the ethno-religious imbroglio. Yet another commission was formed
after the brutal attacks on the Rohingya in the Maugdaw district. Both the
interim and final reports ensuring civil and human rights to the Rohingya were
submitted to Suu Kyi’s office and she on August 23, 2017 formed a high-powered
inter-ministerial committee for the implementation of the Annan-led
commission’s recommendations with immediate effect, despite the rejection by
the Gen Min Aung Hlaing who in a military junta-written constitution has
absolute sway over home and security ministries; and one-fourth of seats are
reserved for serving military officers in parliament.
Suu Kyi, due to a popular support-base
among the Buddhist majority, was under great pressure from the Buddhist
nationalists and extremists, as well as opposition from a powerful army. The
pressure came from both the army and the Buddhist extremists and from among her
Buddhist followers who suffer from a majoritarian ethnic chauvinism like the
Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists in Sri Lanka. As a result, she earned the ire of
her admirers across the world. Malala Yousufzai and another Nobel Laureate,
Desmond Tutu, had to speak against her initial silence as the price was “too
steep” for accession to highest office. Yet she formed the Annan-led commission
and decided to implement its recommendations.
But on August 25 – two days after the
implementation of the commission’s recommendations – 150 members of the Arakan
Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), known as the Harakah al-Yaqin, simultaneously
attacked 30 police stations and a Light Infantry Battalion Base in the Rakhine
state – resulting in the death of 71 people, including 12 security personnel.
This provocative violent act subverted the Suu Kyi-led political solution and
facilitated the military junta to go for the final military kill which then
resulted in unprecedented casualties and a mass exodus of the Rohingya. The
leader of ARSA, Ataullah Abu Ammar Janooni, was born to a Rohingya refugee
family in Karachi and grew up and was educated in Saudi Arabia; some of its
other leaders are Saudi emigrés. It is said that these militants were trained
in the camps of various terrorist outfits.
While the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty
International and the international community reacted very sharply against the
atrocities, we in the Muslim world showed our usual disgust for Western apathy;
and sectarian rivals competed in rhetoric to compensate for their hypocrisy. As
this human tragedy ignited a mass reaction among the Muslim populations,
religious extremists have exploited their sentiments to promote their own
terrorist agendas. Banned extremist outfits, including the Taliban and Daesh,
have become super active to raise funds and recruit volunteers to wage jihad in
South East Asia after the demise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In a
call for jihad, a leader of banned the JeM has – under his pen-name Saadi –
written in the weekly magazine, ‘Al-Kalam’: “Myanmar’s soil is essentially
waiting for the thundering sounds of the footsteps of the sacred conquerors”.
As human beings and champions of civil and
human rights, we must condemn the fascism of a section of a majority community
in Myanmar against a minority, the Rohingya, and demand their safe return to
Rakhine with equal rights as citizens. We must also look into our own
discrimination and fascism against our religious and ethnic minorities, while
not allowing religious extremists and terrorists to exploit the plight of the
persecuted Rohingya for their own designs. Let us remind ourselves of an IS
flag raised in Islamabad as well as Daesh’s desperate forays into South East
Elections and Democracy
Kaptaan’s call for snap elections is not
without merit, and will not go against the spirit of democracy. Elections have
many social and political functions among which resolving conflicts, ending
polarisation and determining legitimacy and mandate are the most important
ones. There is no doubt that Pakistan is politically polarised today and there
are serious questions about the integrity of the leadership of the two major
political parties — the PML-N and the PPP. But will the act of advancing the
election date by about six months or so end the political conflict, principally
between the PTI and its well-established political rivals?
Before answering this question, a few
misconceptions about parliamentary democracy and elections need to be
addressed. The first is that the government has a five-year tenure and it must
complete it. While I would support the argument that elected governments
shouldn’t be thrown out of power and challenged to the point of collapse, in
parliamentary democracy the tenure of parliament and of the government which it
elects is flexible. A government can stay in power as long as it has confidence
of the house.
Interestingly, it is prerogative of a
government to call for snap elections anytime it wishes to, well before the
parliament completes its tenure. Usually, the governments in parliamentary form
call for fresh elections when they believe they can win overwhelming majorities
to push for some controversial agenda.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called
for fresh elections in June to strengthen her position in Brexit talks.
Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced fresh elections
recently to take advantage of stronger political support to deal with the
security threat posed by North Korea.
The other fallacy about parliamentary
democracy in Pakistan is that mid-term or early elections would weaken
democracy, as claimed by leaders of the PPP and the PML-N in responding to the
demand of Imran Khan. In fact, elections strengthen democracy by providing
fresh opportunity to the electorate to judge the performance of governments and
parties in power. As mentioned above, the parties in power would never shy away
from elections before the end of parliament’s tenure if they stand to benefit
from it. The several parties that appear to be opposed to holding elections at
this time have different motivations, but share a common element of uncertainty
about their victory.
The parties in power have a pragmatic
interest in defending the tenure, and such, any resistance to fresh elections
is as democratic as the demand for calling new elections. The demand and
resistance to early elections is driven by the struggle for power more than the
principle of democracy. The PTI sees the leadership of the PML-N seized by a
number of problems — disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, his accountability in
the courts and visible division within the party on critical issues.
The problem of the PTI is that it remains a
lonely fighter for a cause that other parties don’t share. As time passes, the
consensus would be that elections are held next year — on time. As there are
conflicting evaluations of the performance of governments led by different
parties, it will be fair that they should stay in power and complete their
tenure and complete the projects they have started.
In transitional democracies such as
Pakistan, completing tenures serves two important functions — consolidation of
democracy and raising the political consciousness of the electorates to judge
the parties on the basis of performance. Voting may not resolve all political
conflicts, but the quality of democracy is likely to improve with each
successive electoral run.
London: Last week’s presidential speech at
the UN General Assembly conclave in New York City was marked in particular by
Donald Trump’s threat ‘to totally destroy North Korea’ if the US and its allies
were attacked or threatened by Kim Jung Un. Aside from the poor grammar, this
declaration is not without precedent. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev promised
that ‘we will bury you’ many decades earlier. However, Mr Khrushchev was
referring to the ideological and strategic competition between east and west
and not a fight to the death in a war that almost certainly would have seen the
use of thermonuclear weapons.
Given North Korea’s (DPRK) aggressive and
defiant actions to test both nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in the
face of overwhelming condemnation by the international community including
Russia and China, the promise by the United States to ‘keep all options on the
table’ certainly has not removed the threat of military of force from
consideration. National Security Advisor Lt-Gen H R McMaster made that clear in
televised interviews two Sundays ago. Secretary of Defense James Mattis noted
but did not elaborate on military options that could prevent North Korea from
making devastating strikes on the south.
Since all options are seemingly on the
table if only as leverage to hasten diplomatic solutions, one question must be
asked and answered. If war were to come, what would the Korean peninsula look
like once hostilities ended? Of course, how the war started and whether mass
destruction weapons were used or not must be part of any answers.
One possibility is the Korean War (1950-53)
model. The north could launch a sudden attack and overwhelm the defenses. South
Korean (ROK) and American forces could find themselves forced to retreat to the
equivalent of a Pusan Perimeter in the southeastern-most tip of the peninsula
gathering strength to repel the DPRK forces.
Given Pyongyang’s defiance in testing both
nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in the face of overwhelming
condemnation by the global community including Russia and China — the US pledge
to ‘keep all options on the table’ hasn’t removed the threat of military of
Equally, even if the North attacked first,
the huge firepower and technological advantages of US and ROK forces could rout
the offensive, plunging the North Korean army into full retreat as occurred
after the famous Inchon Landing encircled the enemy in late 1950. But where
would the combined forces stop? Remember, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
ignored China’s repeated warnings to halt the rush to the Yalu River that
marked the border with Korea. A million Chinese intervened and the war drew to
a stalemate around the 38th parallel.
Make no mistake: nuclear and chemical
weapons could also be used. To the degree that the US must destroy North
Korea’s nuclear, missile and artillery capabilities in any war, conventional
weapons might be insufficient. That would lead to employing so-called tactical
nuclear weapons to obliterate Kim’s capabilities as well as the massive
20,000-pound MOAB or ‘Mother of All Bombs.’ Nuclear fallout would spread north
The DPRK understands these strategic and
military interactions. Hence, its nuclear arsenals no doubt are secured in deep
underground facilities that might not be totally destroyed or even greatly
damaged. Nor does Kim need an ICBM to strike America. The equivalent of using
FedEx would work. Smuggling a nuclear device into the US — a recurring security
nightmare and plot for countless television shows and movies — is not
impossible. And the same applies to using nuclear weapons against the US and
ROK militaries and the cities in the south.
By all accounts, the US and South Korea
would ‘win,’ if winning means annihilating the Kim regime and imposing a peace
on the north. However, China would have a huge stake in this outcome. So would
Russia. And Japan would not like to be excluded particularly it Kim had been
able to hit it with missile strikes.
Would a new and democratic North Korea be
created? Would a UN administered regime be put in place? Or would Korea be
united? And who would pay for reconstruction as the peninsula would surely be
devastated especially if nuclear weapons were used.
In Vietnam and of course in Iraq in 2003,
the ‘what next’ question was not asked or answered. As North Korea continues
along its nuclear path and all options are indeed on the table, the next day
question must be addressed. If there is a war, what would the peace look like?
If we refuse to address this question and find a suitable answer, then all
options should not and cannot be on the table.