New Age Islam Edit Bureau
11 August 2016
Quetta Bleeds Again
By Adnan Aamir
Redefining Civil Society’s Role
By Amir Hussain
Forced Conversions In Pakistan: A
By Nasir Saeed
The National Minorities Day: A Mere
By Kaleem Dean
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
August 11, 2016
On the first day of the week, the lawyers
of Quetta left their homes early in the morning in a hurry. They not only had
to reach the courts but also participate in the election campaign of the
upcoming bar elections. They did not know that almost all of them would not
return home that evening.
First, Bilal Anwar Kasi, the president of
the Balochistan Bar Association, was gunned down in broad daylight. When
lawyers gathered to collect his dead body from the Sandeman Provincial Hospital
a powerful suicide blast wiped out the cream of Quetta’s lawyer’s fraternity.
According to official sources, 73 people have died so far as a result of the
blast while non-official sources put the death toll to well over 100. The
suicide attack, which took out the entire leadership of lawyers in Quetta, was
claimed by an Isis-affiliated splinter group of the TTP.
The first thing to consider in the
aftermath of the bomb blast is that it was indeed a security failure and that
the provincial government and law-enforcement agencies are responsible for
that. The perpetrators of the attack used a very evil tactic – to first target
a lawyer and then attack when people gathered over his dead body.
This is not the first time something like
this has happened in Quetta. In fact, it is the fourth such incident. In the
past, similar tactics have been used in the Bolan Medical Complex (BMC) attack,
the Police Lines blast and also in the same Sandeman Provincial Hospital.
This time around the provincial government
failed to pre-empt any such attack despite past precedents. There was no
effective security arrangement at the entry of the hospital; this was the main
reason for the high death toll. So, without any doubt it was a massive security
failure and the provincial government can’t be absolved from responsibility.
The second point to discuss is the lack of
life-saving health services in the city in case of such attacks. The victims of
the blast were transported to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Quetta
Cantonment. CMH also has limited capacity and cannot accommodate victims in
case of powerful blasts like the one on Monday.
According to claims by relatives of the
bomb blast victims, some of the people lost their lives because they were not
provided timely emergency aid after the blast.
All of this could have been avoided if
there was a functional trauma centre in the heart of Quetta city. Surprisingly,
there is a fully constructed trauma centre inside the Sandeman Provincial
Hospital where the attack took place. This trauma centre is well-equipped but
not functional even after having been completed. It is alleged that the trauma
centre has fallen victim to political disagreements. If true, this is really
tragic and criminal. Petty self-interests and egos are preventing life-saving
treatment from being provided to the victims of such bomb blasts.
Third, this blast has once again generated
debate over who is responsible for it. The chief minister of Balochistan was
quick to blame RAW for the blast. Different people came up with different
theories. Some blamed sectarian elements who are again gaining a foothold in
Quetta, while others termed it as an act to sabotage the $46 billion CPEC
project. However, notwithstanding the dubious claim made by a splinter group of
the TTP, the people of Quetta will most certainly never know who was behind
this attack. There is also no real hope that the perpetrators of this attack
will ever be brought to justice.
Likewise, never in the history of Quetta
has anyone been held responsible for such attacks. Those who are responsible
for protecting the people of Quetta should also be held accountable if they
fail to do their job. This is the basic principle of a functional democracy
with a proper governance structure.
The day after the attack, Quetta seemed to
be a deserted city except for crowds outside homes of the slain lawyers where
people were coming to offer condolences. What is worse is that this is not the
first time something like this has happened – and God-forbid it is least likely
that it will be the last time.
The idea of social development is as old as
human civilisation itself, with a perennial objective to promote the welfare of
the common people in a polity. Social development has contextual, spatial and
temporal attributes both as a concept and as praxis and has intrinsically been
linked to the politics of the age throughout history.
However, the genesis of our contemporary
notions of social development goes back to the rise of capitalism and its
corollary, the nation-state. The term ‘social’ refers to associational life and
the collective being of individuals – the collective life of citizens in the
sense of the modern nation-state.
The term ‘social’ then becomes redefined as
‘civil’ in the modern sense, which includes all citizens of the modern polity –
the nation-state. Social development at times, therefore, becomes synonymous
with development for the citizens, who are constitutionally, legally and
politically part of a state and who are both the right-holders and duty-bearers
within the political system they live in.
From the altruism of old monarchs to the
institutional accountability of modern democracies, the evolution of theory and
practice of social development essentially remained a key instrument for
subjects and citizens respectively to attain power, voice and representation of
popular will in the cultural, socioeconomic and political life.
Coming back to the modern notion of ‘civil’
with the popularity of the classical liberal economic theory and distinction of
political and economic domains, social development started to shape up as an
autonomous domain of citizens during the last two centuries in the West.
This third domain as intermediary between
citizen, state and market was termed as ‘civil society’ to protect the
interests of citizens against a Leviathan state and profit-oriented socially
indifferent logic of market. Civil society, thus evolved, gave rise to the idea
of an autonomous space for citizens as a harbinger to protect democratic values
in the face of a Weberian bureaucratic state and profit-oriented market
The key premise upon which the Western
concept of civil society is founded is primarily driven by this triangle of
state, citizen and market which found strong expression in the writings of
Alexis de Tocqueville, Robert Putnam and Antonio Gramsci. For Tocqueville and
Putnam, erosion of social capital, lack of civic engagement and low
participation in political life jeopardised democratic virtues while for Gramsci
civil society provided the space to contest the ideological hegemony of the
state which if left to its own devices will protect the capital and, hence, the
interest of the bourgeoisie.
Unlike Tocqueville and Putnam, for Gramsci
civil society is not an autonomous domain of citizens but a political space
which the ruling classes use to establish ideological hegemony. Without
contesting this ideological hegemony, qualitative transformation of societies
becomes impossible because the hegemonic power spreads false consciousness to
dilute the spirit of social change.
Thus the evolution of discourse of civil
society in modern history is full of inner strains and critical thinking and is
essentially a Western phenomenon that runs parallel to the evolving socioeconomic
and political institutions under capitalism.
Elsewhere in the non-Western world, in
particular in post-colonial societies, the civil society debate remained
rudimentary in the sense that it could not emerge as a countervailing ideology
to political and economic oppression. There have been attempts to articulate
the post-colonial critical theory led by the Subaltern Group but it could not
percolate to popular idiom.
According to James Ferguson, civil society
has become like education, development or environment – no sane person can
oppose it to look like a “reasonable individual”. This “often ahistorical and
uncritical use of the concept of civil society serves to help legitimate the
hegemonic and at times anti-democratic transitional politics”. Ferguson wrote
this in the context of African politics but this has striking resemblance to
what is happening in Pakistan in the name of civil-society activism.
Civil society cannot be reduced to NGOs
only, but in reality these non-governmental donor-funded entities dominate the
scene with their resources and ability to manipulate the discourse through
conventional and social media. This tendency is reinvigorated by outside
policymakers for whom the civil society of postcolonial societies is a set of
NGOs, most of which are funded by bilateral and multilateral development donors
or by international NGOs.
Some of these NGOs have grown large enough
to become a quasi state – they effectively take over some of the state
functions in health or education, for instance. Ferguson argues that “the
reason the civil society concept is unhelpful in such cases is because these
NGOs neither challenge the state nor the corporate interests but they instead
become ‘horizontal contemporaries’ of wider institutions of transactional governmentality”.
In Pakistan, civil society activism has
favoured military dictators like General Musharraf in recent history simply for
his Westernised lifestyle. The Westernised, liberal and foreign-educated civil
society lot of Pakistan is far removed from the political imagination of the
common citizens of this country. And that is exactly why we are left with
conservative, fundamentalist and backward elements (whatever term one may like
to describe them) providing an alternative politics by resisting state and
The so-called ‘uncivil society’ shows
civility while the proponents of civil society become isolated as irrelevant
and as allies of Western imperialism –as conservatives put it. Comaroff rightly
argues that “there is a Eurocentric tendency to limit civil society to a
narrowly defined institutional arena”, which runs counter to Hegel’s original
insistence that the civil sphere of relatedness has its origins in the
historical particularities of the capitalist mode of production and exchange.
Even promoting local civil society through
community-based participatory development has a strong Western lens that needs
to be rethought, in particular when Pakistan has seen decades of this
developmental paradigm with no visible impact on poverty and rural development.
There are sporadic events of community-based institutions displaying the spirit
of local transformation but this has been led by the self-selected activists
rather than a broad-based consensus and aspiration of local people for change.
However, this should not imply that
community-based participatory development is not a desirable development
objective. It is only to suggest that this approach needs a critical
rethinking. Societies do not operate in vacuums as there have always been
social arrangements for socioeconomic and cultural transaction – no matter how
primitive, kinship based or tribal they are.
Under the rubric of community
participation, development practitioners tend to play down the role of power
relations, patronage and heterogeneous nature of community itself in terms of
power, social status and political millage etc. Village-based organisations
created through development organisations are grafted in a complex local
reality with little attention to existing evolutionary processes of indigenous
institutions and their interconnectedness with local economy, culture and
sociopolitical life as a whole.
Rather than imposing exogenous paradigms of
participatory development to generate participatory numbers with a project
implementation approach, it is vital to build on indigenous institutions that
are organically linked to the popular imagination.
To unleash the transformative potential of
the wretched classes in Pakistan, we need a more vibrant, counter-hegemonic and
politically conscious civil society that has the ability, will and interest to
say truth to power, and promote and protect democratic values.
In order for this type of civil society to
flourish it is vital to contest both the Eurocentric unbridled and
un-thoughtful liberalism as well as the brutal barbaric alternative discourses
of religious fundamentalism. We ignore this important socio-political space of
civil society only at a great peril.
Forced Conversions in Pakistan: A Dark
Every year in Pakistan, hundreds of young
Christian and Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam, but our media very
rarely highlights their stories. However, many of these stories can be easily
found on social and in the international media. The stories of Zeba Masih and
Pooja are among the few on the BBC website, but today I wish to share with you
the very unfortunate story of the hearing and speech disabled Christian girl,
Asma, who is from Sialkot. According to her lawyer, Hafiz Ateeq-ur-Rehman, she
was kidnapped a few months ago by her neighbour, Ghulam Hussain, a very
influential person. Despite knowing who the abductor of his daughter was,
Gulzar Masih knew he was helpless as he did not have the resources to fight for
his daughters. Masih had lost hope of seeing his daughter again, but Asma
somehow managed to escape. Now her captors are demanding that her father hand
her back to them, but she has refused.
To prove the legitimacy of his forced
marriage to Asma, Hussain has produced certificates of her conversion to Islam
and her marriage to him. And although the papers do not match her name and even
surname, Hussain still insists on her being sent back to him. It is a common
and a very alarming fact that with money such documents can be easily made and
verified in Pakistan. To pressurise the family and gain support from religious
leaders, Hussain has resorted to other tactics, and has even brought religion
in, claiming that since Asma has converted to Islam she is not allowed on
religious grounds to live with her Christian parents anymore.
I am not aware of the existence of such
laws in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world that forbid people of two
different faiths to live together. And moreover, here it is simply a matter of
a father-daughter relationship, which no social order has the right to break
up. In this or other cases, evidence that is forged to cover up crimes that
could lead to several years’ imprisonment cannot be condoned.
When Gulzar Masih took a stand to save his
daughter and went to the local police station, instead of listening to his
grievance and helping him, the police officer pressurised him to send his
daughter back to her abductor. What a mockery of the law that the person who
should be charged and put behind bars for kidnapping and raping a young
Christian woman is being supported by the police. It is not just the police but
in such cases even the courts often ignore the law, and instead of deciding the
case on merit, resort to giving out decisions based on a prevalent opinion, or
because of pressure from religious extremists.
I remember the case of two Christian
sisters, Saba Younis, aged 13, and her sister, Anila Younis, 10, who were
reportedly kidnapped in 2008 from Multan whilst on their way to their uncle’s
house. Their abductors claimed that Saba voluntarily entered into marriage, and
that both girls had agreed to convert to Islam. As far as I understand, both sisters
were minors and their statements for marriage and/or conversion could not be
accepted by law. But the district court judge in Muzaffargarh dismissed a
petition by the parents to regain custody on the grounds that the two sisters
had “converted in a legitimate manner to Islam,” and that the marriage of the
elder sister was legitimate. Such legitimacy can be seen only in Pakistan.
Now Gulzar Masih who has no hope for
justice and in order to save Asma has sent her to an undisclosed location, but
I am not sure if she is going to be safe for a long time. Making a mockery of
the law and abuse of power is a common practice for influential people, and
especially in such cases where religious groups get involved and laws are
Unfortunately, the police and courts whose
job is to dig into the matter to bring the truth out and dispense justice
disregard the victim’s circumstances, and choose to believe documents and
statements of the abductors. And instead of giving kidnapped girls’ custody to
their parents/families, in a warped dispensation of “justice,” at times, the
custody is given to their captors, their kidnappers. In some cases, these
girls/women are sent to Dar-ul-Aman (women shelter). Either way, their lives
These girls/women who are not converted to
Islam in the first place are never allowed to reconvert to Christianity, and
re-join their family. Sadly, if any girl reconverts to Christianity, she is
accused of apostasy, and while the state does not prohibit any citizen from
converting or reconverting to any religion, the reality in our society is
altogether different. Despite having knowledge about this practice, the state
has never made any tangible efforts to stop it because it is a matter that
concerns minorities. And the rights of minorities do not matter.
I have had the chance to speak to some of
these girls personally, and according to them, their thumbprints are taken on
blank papers, or some sign under duress as they do not have any other option
but to comply with what they are asked to do. Mostly, their parents seem
helpless too because the police side with the captors, and often pressurise the
victims and their families.
One example is Shazia, a married woman, and
a mother of four from Pattoki, who escaped her captors and re-joined her
family. But she was not as lucky as Asma, as her captor — an influential
landlord — implicated her family in a false case, and forced them to return her
to him, claiming her first marriage was no longer valid. Such a blatant
manipulation of justice can only be seen in Pakistan, and only in the case of
minorities. I fail to understand how and under which law Shazia’s first
(Christian) marriage became annulled. Mothers like Shazia are not even allowed
to see their children. Their misery is endless.
If somebody is able to take such a case to
court, there is still no hope for justice. Last year, Boota Masih, father of
24-year-old Sobia from Lahore, took her case to court with the support of an
NGO, but it was all in vain. He filed a petition of habeas corpus through his
lawyer in the Lahore High Court. The honourable judge ordered the concerned
police officer to recover and produce Sobia before the court. Instead, the
officer in charge of investigation appeared before the court, and submitted
Sobia’s marriage and conversion certificates. The concerned judge asked the
parents to withdraw their petition, and despite the lawyer arguing for
permission for Sobia and her father to meet, unfortunately, the court had to
dismiss the request, and the case was withdrawn.
If the kidnapper of a girl of a minority
faith feels any threat from her family, he starts to issue threats to their
lives, and in some cases, the threat continues until the father or brother of
the girl is killed. This is what happened to 14-year-old Mehwish from
Faisalabad. Her father was killed when he was considered a threat, and made
every effort to take his daughter back. Her mother, Najma, a poor and
resource-less lady who even knows the abductor, has no hope that one day her
daughter will be returned, as she has been told that Mehwish has converted to
Islam and she cannot prove that she was abducted and forcibly converted to
Islam by her abductor.
Nasar Masih, father of 16-year-old Sonia,
has also lost hope of seeing his daughter again.
The growing threat is making lives of
minorities increasingly hard. They live with a constant feeling of insecurity,
and having little recourse in the face of violence, they are forced to leave
the country their ancestors equally struggled for.
Converting to any religion is the
fundamental right of every human being, while forcible conversion to any
religion is a crime even under Pakistan’s penal code. Since Pakistan’s laws do
not prohibit anyone to change their religion it is the responsibility of the
state to ensure and guarantee every citizen freedom of religion and belief.
Pakistan is under obligation to bring its law in line with international
conventions ratified in relation to women and religious freedom and belief. The
Convention on Elimination of All Forms for Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
clearly establishes state obligation to respect, protect and fulfil women’s
rights. Under CEDAW, it is the responsibility of the state to take appropriate
measures to eliminate laws and practices that directly discriminate against
women, and also to create an environment in which women’s rights can be
fulfilled and protected.
There are no indicators to prove the
success of Pakistan’s endeavours to promote human rights, and prevent the
ongoing persecution against minority women; rather, it is on the increase. Such
atrocities against minorities’ women are not hidden from anyone as several
reports have been published about this abominable issue. Even the Senate
Standing Committee on Religious Affairs has declared the forced conversion of
minority girls to Islam as un-Islamic, and has asked the government to adopt a
comprehensive mechanism for protection of women belonging to minority
communities. Chairman of the committee Hafiz Hamdullah said: “Forced conversion
of girls to Islam is against the teachings of Islam and also a violation of the
law in the country.” He further said that religion is a personal matter of
every individual, and no individual can be converted by force.
Last year, Senate’s Functional Committee on
Human Rights recommended to criminalise forced religious conversions, and to
prevent misuse of the blasphemy law, but the government seems disinterested,
and nothing has changed.
Since the police and courts have failed to
uphold the law appropriately, the problem will continue to grow, and people of
a particular mindset will continue to commit such crimes without any fear.
Although according to the Constitution of Pakistan all citizens are equal
before the law, but clearly some are considered superior on the basis of
Many Christians believe that the government
of Pakistan deliberately tolerates such lawlessness as a way of marginalising
the Christian minority. Since there is an urgent need, and minorities have a
longstanding demand, now even the Senate committee has once again recommended
that instead of blaming media and NGOs for defaming Pakistan, government must
bring this matter to parliament, and introduce legislation to stop the ongoing
forced conversion of girls and women belonging to minority religions.
The National Minorities’ Day is being
observed on August 11 in Pakistan to reiterate determination to secure
fundamental rights of minorities of Pakistan. In 2009, 11th August was
designated as the minorities’ day by the then PPP government. The efforts of
Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian minister of minorities who was shot dead in 2011
by fundamentalists, were the leading spirit behind this decision. His objective
was to get reassurance from government for fair treatment of minorities in the
light of the famous speech of the founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
On August 11, 1947, Jinnah said: “You are
free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or
any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any
religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
Indeed, this was the beacon that inspired Bhatti to convince the PPP hierarchy
to announce August 11 as the day of minorities. While declaring August 11 as
the National Minorities Day, Asif Ali Zardari, the then president of Pakistan
said: “August 11 has a special significance in the national calendar. It was on
this day in 1947 when the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali
Jinnah, in his historic speech to the members of the Constituent Assembly of
Pakistan, had laid down the foundation of a modern, tolerant and progressive
Pakistan in which everyone will have equal rights regardless of creed, caste,
Zardari added, “The Minorities Day is an
opportunity that reminds us to reaffirm solidarity for the betterment of
humanity and for a prosperous Pakistan.” This statement by the president in
2009 was indeed an encouraging one for minorities discriminated in the country
since 1947. Many minority leaders and thinkers started believing that after the
recognition of a minorities’ day in Pakistan, the situation would be better.
On August 11, 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif said: “On commemorating the Minorities Day I wish to reiterate the
unflinching resolve of my government to protect the rights of minorities living
in Pakistan without consideration of fear or favour. I have always stood by the
principle of furthering minority causes in Pakistan with a view to ensure
interfaith national harmony.
government is very conscious of the views expressed by the Father of the Nation
in this respect, which very emphatically spell out the mode of mutual
coexistence for all peoples living in the length and breadth of Pakistan.
Emulating the Quaid’s vision in letter and spirit the government of Pakistan
observes August 11 each year as the Minorities Day to reaffirm our commitment
to all our minority fellow citizens. I am sure that our minorities will
continue to play their respective role in national development. I wish them all
the best in their future endeavours.”
The views expressed in 2009 by the then
president of Pakistan are not different from last year’s message of the prime
minister of Pakistan on the occasion of the National Minorities’ Day. The
message was almost the same: reassurance and reaffirmation to safeguard rights
of minorities. Now let us see some unfortunate incidents that happened against
minorities between 2009 and 2015.
In 2009, militants grabbed homes and shops
of 35 Sikh families in the Orakzai Agency in FATA. In May 2011, two Ahmadi
mosques were attacked, and more than 70 people were killed. In 2013 in
Peshawar, the All Saints Church bombing killed 80 innocent Christians, injuring
hundreds. In 2015, suicide bombers in a church in Youhanabad claimed 15 lives,
and injured 70. In April 2016, the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park carnage was another
example of the brutal treatment of minorities in Pakistan.
Reportedly, more than 1,000 girls and women
of minority faiths are forcibly abducted and converted to Islam every year.
Incidents of of persecution are a frequent occurrence, most of which remain
unnoticed and unreported. Minorities are not free to elect their
representatives in national and provincial parliaments. Nominated/selected
minority members are not popular among masses. A kind of social apartheid is
prevailing in a highly polarised society.
Reaffirmation of safeguarding minorities’
rights cannot be ensured until and unless a strong narrative is adopted to
protect an integral part of society. Minorities play their vibrant and
exclusive role in the development of the country. Their loyalty cannot be
questioned. It is a common phenomenon that deprivation and frustration compel
youngsters to get involved in terrorism, but minorities despite living in
abysmal conditions remain loyal and dedicated citizens of the state. The sad
state of minorities is not only felt in Pakistan but reports in international
media also comment on maltreatment of minorities in Pakistan.
Celebrating the minorities’ day has become
a mere formality, and that is not what Shahbaz Bhatti envisioned. Practical
steps are required to be taken: right to elect members and representatives;
five percent recruitment quota for minorities; practical provision of
scholarships to minority students; fair legislation to amend the blasphemy
laws; unbiased promotions of minority officers in bureaucracy, judiciary, and
establishment; protection measures for worship places of minorities; and equal
rights in an open society.
This year too, Federal Minister for Human
Rights Kamran Michael has announced the National Athletics Festival for
minorities. The objectives of this programme have not been made clear by the
said ministry, but it would be a good idea to have such programmes regularly
organised on a national level to discuss the challenges faced by minorities.
Recommendations should be sent to
government for bringing a real change in the lives of downtrodden sections of
society. Minorities are anticipating another statement from the office of the
prime minister, which would have another reassurance of fair treatment of
minorities. What real effect would that have on the harsh reality of the plight
of minorities? For national development, all sections of society should be
treated equally. By ignoring a small but important section, the dream of a
prosperous Pakistan may not be materialised.