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The Non-Muslim Public Holidays Debate: New Age Islam's Selection, 19 March 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

19 March 2016

The Non-Muslim Public Holidays Debate

By Yaqoob Khan Bangash

Why Repeatedly Charsadda?

By Mohammad Ali Babakhel

How Not To Stop Trump

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

Only In Karachi

By Irfan Husain

The Kamal Challenge

By Abbas Nasir

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


The Non-Muslim Public Holidays Debate

By Yaqoob Khan Bangash

March 19th, 2016

Over the past couple of days there has been a lot of media reporting on the resolution passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan, tabled by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani. This has been reported as far and wide as the Huffington Post and Time. While the resolution is a good effort, in reality nothing has changed in Pakistan. Let me explain why.

First, this is simply a resolution and not an act of parliament. Hence, it is not legally binding on anyone. It is just a statement of intent — good intent, but that is about it.

Secondly, and most importantly, it seems that in the excitement over this ‘dramatic’ change, no one has actually read the resolution itself. The resolution as tabled by Dr Vankwani on March 15, 2016 read: ‘This House is of the opinion that the Government should take steps to declare Holi, Dewali and Easter as closed holidays for minorities.’ Every single commentator ignored the part where it said ‘for minorities’ only. So this resolution never even asked for these festivals to be declared national (for all) holidays. It merely opined that the minorities should be given these holidays.

Thirdly, and ironically, these holidays already exist for minorities, so the resolution itself was redundant and there was no point in passing it in any case. Every year the Interior Ministry of the Government of Pakistan publishes a list of ‘gazetted holidays’ which includes public as well as optional holidays. The public holidays are for everyone while the optional list includes about twenty holidays which can be availed by minorities and different Muslim denominations. The notification further says that minorities can avail up to three optional holidays a year, which is exactly the same number this resolution was calling for. While the optional list is primarily for government offices, most private sector employers also follow it and therefore, there was always provision for such holidays for minorities. In fact, the current optional list allows the minorities a wide range of dates on which these three holidays can be taken, hence giving them more room to manoeuvre from year to year.

With the issue of the redundant resolution cleared, let me make one further point. This is not the ‘first’ time Pakistan had approved holidays for the minorities. In the first decade after independence, Pakistan did observe religious days of Hindus and Christians as national public holidays. For example in 1955, Good Friday, Janamashtami and Dussehra were national holidays, while Durga Puja and Sri Panchami were holidays in East Pakistan only. By 1958, only Good Friday and Dussehra had survived, to be dropped completely by the ‘revolutionary’ government of General Ayub Khan which removed all non-Muslim holidays (and some Muslim ones too) from the official calendar. Since then, they have been on the optional holidays list, to be availed by non-Muslims only according to significance, etc.

Since the resolution has now garnered enough good press — even in India — perhaps it is time for the Government of Pakistan to seriously think about making at least one or two of them national public holidays. One each from Christianity and Hinduism will give a positive signal to the world, as well as to other Pakistanis, that Pakistan respects and celebrates the festivals of all of its citizens, not just Muslims. This year has bided well for Pakistan generally; so let us take this additional step in realising the dream of our Quaid and treat all our citizens equally.

Yaqoob Khan Bangash teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.

Source: tribune.com.pk/story/1068336/the-non-muslim-public-holidays-debate/


Why Repeatedly Charsadda?

By Mohammad Ali Babakhel

March 18th, 2016

By carrying out a suicide attack outside a court’s premises in Shabqadar, militants once again registered their presence in Charsadda. Through an attack such as this, the militants not only wanted to inflict damages but also send out certain clear-cut messages. In the backdrop of the Army Public School (APS) and Bacha Khan University (BKU) attacks, law-enforcement agencies primarily invested their energies in the enhancement of security of educational institutions. Consequently, an over-reactive approach was witnessed. On the part of militants, a change of target from schools to courts seems a cunning move. This time round, the unfortunate target of the wrath of extremists was the premises of a court, where victims of crimes seek justice. Therefore, the attack was also an attempt to erode the trust of citizens in the justice system. Although the courts are an integral component of the criminal justice system, hitting such a target also affects its equation with the police.

Charsadda, also known as Pushkalawati and Hashtnagar, is spread over 996 square kilometres and divided, administratively, into three tehsils with a total population of 1.62 million inhabitants. It is surrounded by Mardan, Nowshera, Peshawar, Malakand Agency and Mohmand Agency. Being adjacent to defacto tribal areas and Mohmand Agency, Charsadda is an easy target for militants. For decades, the area remained a hub for Pashtun nationalists. Thus, by targeting BKU, they not only challenged the writ of state but also Pashtun nationalism and the right to education.

Charsadda also carries imprints of suicide attacks. At a public meeting in April 2007 and during Eid prayers in December, the same year, the chief of the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) was targeted. Though he remained unhurt, a total of 91 innocent souls in both incidents fell prey to the onslaught of suicide attackers. In 2008, four suicide attacks were registered and in 2009, the police post in Harichand was attacked with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, resulting in the death of 18 people. In March, 2011, the cavalcade of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam — Fazl chief was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing 12 people, the prime target remaining unhurt. In May, 2011, in a twin-suicide attack, the cadets of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) were targeted, leading to the loss of 90 lives, including 73 recruits of the FC. In March, 2012, in the Shabqadar area, a motorcade of the QWP’s chief was targeted .Though he managed to get away unhurt, two people were killed. In April, 2015, the fourth attempt of a suicide attack on the QWP’s chief failed, but resulted in the loss of three lives.

In the recent past, the motorcades of two heads of Pashtun nationalist parties and one of a religious political party were targeted by suicide bombers. Luckily, in all such attacks, the principal targets remained unhurt. The situation warrants a modification in security arrangements catering to the protection of national leaders.

Regarding the presence of extremists in the area, no one views the situation from socio-economic and demographic perspectives. In the backdrop of Operation Rah-e-Rast and Operation Brekhna, Charsadda went through a silent transition. Migration from certain areas of Malakand Division, Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies, challenged the socio-cultural values and demographic balance of Hashtnagar.

In K-P, Charsadda was once known for big landholdings; but in the 1970’s, the landlords of Shabqadar and Tangi tehsils were confronted with the challenging factor of a peasant-led Mazdoor Kisan movement.

Political waves of the 1970’s and the Afghan jihad of 1980’s infused democratic and religious fervour, hence both are instrumental in making a crystal clear divide between the haves and have-nots.

The Mazdoor Kisan Tehreek (a workers’ and peasants’ movement), inspired by Marxist and Maoist passions, infused thrill among the peasants and posed a challenge to the Khans of Charsadda. Such a challenge not only weakened the Khans, but also strengthened the clergy. The movement advocated that excess land be taken from big landlords and be distributed among landless peasants. Such elements not only prevailed on the political landscape, but also claimed the ownership of land they had been cultivating since decades.

The Mohmand Agency shares borders with Kunar and Nangarhar provinces. Turbulence in Afghanistan and the Mohmand Agency causes ripples that impact the stability in Charsadda. The killing of nine personnel of the Khasadar Force in two separate incidents last month in Mohmand Agency, was an indicator of the extent to which the aggressive intentions of the militants were underestimated.

It was not the first-ever attack on a court. Prior to the recent attempted attack on a Shabqadar court, judicial complexes in Islamabad and Peshawar were also attacked. In 2008, in a suicide attack outside the Lahore High Court, 25 people, including 17 policemen, were killed. In 2014, the Additional Sessions Judge, Shabqadar, narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Since 9/11, militants hit at all the components and actors of the criminal justice system, including police stations, police lines, police training centres, courts, prisons, policemen, judges, jail staff, prosecutors and lawyers. But there seems to be no realisation that dealing with such a menace requires synchronised endeavours. Instead, after every such incident, a game of apportioning blame and discrediting others ensues. Such attacks also warrant the redesigning of the security infrastructure of courts and the security apparatus of judges.

In the post-APS attack scenario, in the presence of apex committees’ coordination with the police, administration and intelligence agencies improved tremendously. However, coordination between the political district administrations and its translation at police station-level requires more effort.

Since numerous transit routes connect Charsadda with settled and tribal areas, there must be an intensified presence of the police and the FC in the outer-most parts of Charsadda. On the operational front, intelligence-led operations in Prang Ghar, Munda Headworks, Shakoor, Sarki, Mandani and defacto areas, are inevitable.

Attackers and perpetrators would not be successful if they were not facilitated by the community. Therefore, the inability to identify the facilitators is a major failure on the part of the community and law-enforcement apparatus. The identification and arrest of facilitators is not possible unless the community is provided with an education. Such preparedness can be achieved with the effective inclusion of clergy and elected local government representatives.

Mohammad Ali Babakhel is a senior police officer posted to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Source: tribune.com.pk/story/1067699/why-repeatedly-charsadda/



How Not To Stop Trump

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

March 19th, 2016

A spectre is haunting the United States of America and it is not Hillary Clinton. Donald J Trump’s unbelievable rise as the most probable Republican nominee for the presidential race has many worried. The Economist Intelligence Unit has dubbed his potential presidency as a global threat (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-presidency-global-threat-economist-intelligence-unit-warns-n540416). On a scale of one to 25, it has awarded a President Trump a 12, the same number given to the possibility of a terrorist destruction of world economy.

News establishments, throughout the country and elsewhere, are also in panic mode. CNN’s website repeatedly reminds us that Trump cannot, but should be stopped. The Economist dedicated a cover to Mr Trump dressed in Uncle Sam’s costume with the caption: “Really?” The leader in the very edition was titled: “Time to fire Trump” (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21693579-front-runner-unfit-lead-great-political-party-let-alone-america-time-fire-trump). But all this is not helping and Mr Trump still keeps rising the ladders of success. This actually reminds me of a Pakistani apocryphal story about negative political advertising that was once narrated to me by a senior journalist. A leading politician in the time of Ayub Khan went to the owner editor of a leading publication with the complaint that his mammoth-sized rallies were not being covered. After a long debate, the editor confessed that if he even tried doing that the dictator would ban the publication and cancel its declaration. The far-sighted politician then wrote a huge cheque and asked the editor to ensure that any negative story about him should be carried as lead or super-lead. The man eventually became ruler of the country until he was hanged. I could not independently verify the veracity of the story but it drives home a basic point. More attempts to stop Mr Trump in this fashion only gives him what he desires — more attention.

Fortunately, a better and cleverer way still exists to stop him. But more of that a bit later. First let me tell you why I also think he needs to be stopped. Mr Trump has a certain celebrity, owing to his very successful TV show and I too once was his fan. I even developed a blind spot for his birther controversy just because of that. But then he started his campaign, opened his mouth and brought me out from denial. He has the uncanny gift of bringing out the worst in people including, as we recently witnessed, in an otherwise admirably cool and suave Bernie Sanders. His campaign image is far worse than his potential presidency and threatens to destroy the very core of American society. In a previous piece (http://tribune.com.pk/story/1041093/americas-hobsons-choice/) I pointed out that if it turns out to be a race between Sanders and Trump America will fracture into two irreconcilable halves, something the country cannot afford.

The solution is one word: Hillary. In a striking contrast to Mr Trump, former secretary of state has brought out the best even among the neocons, who we knew unlike the people at Fox and in the Tea Party movement, were always smart. But democrats don’t need to worry about them. Sane people are rallying around her because her centrist position unites America.

Now only an investigation against her stands in her way to the White House. A 400 men strong National Security Division at the Department of Justice created by Bush junior and vestiges of his rule in the security apparatus, including intelligence agencies, seem hell-bent to stop her. They need to be convinced to stand down before the country melts down and loses its soft power. But what if they don’t?

A democratic response, instinctively, has come in the shape of Bernie Sanders. While there is nothing wrong with him, that is not the solution you are looking for. There is an undisclosed bias among voters, against every form of socialism that is not accessible to pollsters but will backfire on election day. In my view, Clinton beats Trump easily and Trump beats Sanders with comfort. An early nomination and a stable running mate like Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary John Kerry, is the answer.

Farrukh Khan Pitafi is an Islamabad-based TV journalist

Source: tribune.com.pk/story/1068371/how-not-to-stop-trump/


Only in Karachi

By Irfan Husain

March 19th, 2016

THE first word my nephew Nadir uttered as a child over 25 years ago was ‘tanker’. Hardly surprising as the arrival of the vehicle carrying water to his home was a regular event.

Over a quarter of a century later, things have only got worse. While having lunch with two friends the other day, one of them remarked that he was being forced to spend around Rs50, 000 a month for tankers; the other one said she had to spend even more.

Both live in Karachi’s Defence Society, one of the country’s most expensive localities.

For the majority of houses here, buying tankers is the only means of getting water. But while residents in the more exclusive areas of the city can afford this, many who live in poorer districts have to queue up at public taps to fill containers to take home.

Last summer, there were water riots when the temperature soared to lethal levels. Luckily, our family home is in an older part of the city, and is still supplied through the main pipeline. But over decades now, as Karachi has grown exponentially, many of its residents have had to buy water from the tanker mafia.

And yet, nobody actually dies of thirst. The lawns of the rich are well-watered, and their swimming pools remain full. So clearly, enough water is reaching the city; the question is why the city can’t and provincial authorities supply it to homes? The answer lies in the vast amounts collected by the owners of the numerous tankers that ferry water around the city.

Our graveyards are a perfect metaphor for the chaos here.

The word on the street is that many of these belong to powerful bureaucrats and politicians, and they certainly will not deliver water through our taps. Rumour also has it that control over many of the hydrants used to fill these tankers is with the Rangers, and they extract their share from the profits.

I would have liked to blame the PPP and the MQM for this state of affairs, but military governments have come and gone as well without addressing the problem. So accustomed have we become to this state of affairs that we don’t even complain about it, considering it as normal as our filth-ridden streets.

In Lahore, garbage collection has been assigned to private companies, and as a result, you don’t see piles of rubbish everywhere. I am told by a town planner who has gone deeply into the matter that two mafia dons control the city’s garbage, and pay off the relevant officials for this duopoly.

They assign hundreds of young scavengers to go through the rubbish and separate items that can be recycled. Crows, kites and stray dogs account for anything even remotely edible.

Recently, I was at the Defence Society graveyard to lay a beloved aunt to rest. Even though this cemetery is relatively better organised, I still found myself clambering over graves on my way out. But the Tariq Road graveyard, where my parents and brother are buried, is a ghoulish nightmare by comparison: graves jostle each other, and many new ones are created by emptying out old ones.

Each time I go, the topography has changed and I risk life and limb, scrambling over tombstones to make my way. What should be a quiet, contemplative experience as you remember the dead becomes an obstacle course. Although this graveyard was declared full many years ago, the staff there manages to find a spot for a hefty payment.

In fact, our graveyards are a perfect metaphor for the confusion and chaos in Pakistan today. To this day, we continue to argue about the so-called ideology of Pakis­tan. Sectarian and ethnic strife has engulfed our society, and politicians, generals and judges all march to the beat of their respective drummers.

And where else would you see huge posters of Mumtaz Qadri plastered all over the city? Here is a convicted murderer, hanged after due process and the rejection of his mercy petition, being lionised after death. His face on the posters, surrounded by a sea of rose petals, was a sickening reminder of the mindset shared by many mullahs and their followers in the country.

And let us not forget the lawyers who showered Qadri with flowers whenever he appeared in court.

Considering the PPP is in power in Sindh, and the man Qadri assassinated was Salmaan Taseer, a party stalwart and governor of Punjab, one would have expected the provincial government to crack down on those demonstrating in favour of the hanged convict. But rallies were permitted, and mullahs ranted undisturbed against the government for carrying out the death sentence.

These are only some of the trials and tribulations the people of Karachi go through every day. Yet somehow, almost miraculously, life in the city goes on. And if I am honest, there are few other places I’d rather be.

Source: dawn.com/news/1246586/only-in-karachi


The Kamal Challenge

By Abbas Nasir

March 19th, 2016

Is Mustafa Kamal’s open challenge to MQM leader Altaf Hussain a repeat of the 1992 formation of the Haqiqi faction and will it meet the same fate is a question many political commentators have been trying to answer for more than a week now.

There are similarities no doubt as in essence both were rebellions. There are many dissimilarities too the foremost being that in 1992 Altaf Hussain was present at Nine Zero in Karachi and his stranglehold over the party’s rank and file was complete.

One could argue that the loss of Afaq Ahmad who, till then, used to run the enforcement arm of the party was far more debilitating. However, within a matter of weeks then senior leader Saleem Shahzad (who too is currently out of favour with the leadership) reportedly recruited and trained a force of highly motivated young men, said to be mostly teenagers from Orangi numbering around 300, to take on the dissidents.

Soon, Afaq was besieged in his Landhi stronghold. A journalist who rode in a police armoured vehicle into the area gave a vivid description of the noise when dozens of bullets rained on the vehicle as it came under fire by Altaf loyalists shooting from multiple directions near Afaq’s headquarters, the ‘White House’.

A little later, I also remember leaving The News office one day, where I worked then as a reporter, when a colleague stopped me on the pavement outside and introduced a well-built moustached man of medium height as Afaq Ahmad.

Believe me, for the 10 minutes we stood chatting and discussing the city’s politics I remained quite tense, fearing a hit squad of the people Afaq Ahmad had challenged would try to take him out, and us in the process, as he had exposed himself on the street totally unarmed.

Afaq Ahmad is known to have had the support of the military’s intelligence agencies as also that of the paramilitary Rangers. Thus, he managed to survive the onslaught on his stronghold and was also able to hit back at Altaf loyalists in areas under his control.

But, at no point, did this translate into political support as subsequent elections demonstrated in even his strongholds of Landhi, Korangi and Lines Area. The Altaf-led MQM was soon able to create alternative structures to replace the loss of the Afaq-led militant wing and establish its physical domination once again. This was consolidated during the carte blanche the party got during the Musharraf years.

To anyone who follows Karachi’s politics it is clear that Mustafa Kamal & Co do not pose a serious threat to Altaf Hussain.

Now let’s look at the challenge of Mustafa Kamal & Co. They demonstrably did not return to stake a claim to the city riding the Rangers APCs (armoured personnel carriers) but the fact that MQM insider Anis Kaimkhani is backing the former mayor indicates that the dissidents have muscle on their side too.

The first few days after the duo’s announcement have seen some known MQM faces joining them and if this were to continue party leader Altaf Hussain, or those who run the party from London on his behalf, will have a serious headache.

One factor that needs attention is Mustafa Kamal’s call that an amnesty be considered for the party activists who are in custody or whose arrest is being sought by the authorities. Side by side with reports (though entirely speculative in nature as we speak) that some key members of the former Karachi Tanzeemi Committee are also likely to join, that makes for interesting reading.

It was only last year when Karachi Tanzeemi Committee-backed militants had taken on the armed wing of the party loyal to Altaf Hussain. It seemed to have lost ground and disappeared from the scene. Nonetheless the challenge in itself was significant and seen as the direct consequence of running the party by remote from London.

Some say people like Hammad Siddiqui of the former KTC are currently in Dubai and poised to return. This despite Siddiqui being cited in the so-called JIT of the Baldia Town garment factory fire where it was alleged that the incident was the result of arson after attempts at extortion failed.

Given that the Rangers seemed to have defanged the militant wing of the party and neutralised it how would an attempt to rope in former militants make any sense? Well, the only scenario in which it would make sense is if the exercise at creating or engineering a new leadership to take over from the current MQM top guns is different from such exercises in the past.

Who knows if the national security architects are trying to apply the same argument that they seem to be applying to Lashkar-e-Taiba and certain similar organisations: encouraging them to morph from their terrorist ethos into more acceptable democratic entities. Experts call it mainstreaming.

While the evidence of any success of this mainstreaming project is hard to come by, what has happened in the case of the religious-based militant parties is that while some of their leaders may agree to be mainstreamed after appeals to their patriotism, their rank and file doesn’t readily abandon the path of jihad as they see it.

The effect of mainstreaming on more secular yet equally tightly run militant cadres is an experiment whose results at least I will keenly await if it is actually being attempted. It would make an interesting case study.

To anyone who follows Karachi’s politics it should be clear that Mustafa Kamal & Co do not pose a serious threat to Altaf Hussain as no matter how accurate their charges may be against their former leader, the multitudes in urban Sindh won’t believe them.

So I suppose the success of Project Mustafa Kamal has to be predicated on the removal from scene, whether on health grounds or because of legal reasons, of Altaf Hussain. If that condition is not met the challenge will fizzle out soon.

Source: dawn.com/news/1246584/the-kamal-challenge

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/persian-section/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/the-non-muslim-public-holidays-debate--new-age-islam-s-selection,-19-march-2016/d/106697


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