Panchayat and Jirga Justice?


*Originally published in The News. Unedited version below:

A married woman recently set herself on fire in Gujrat upon learning that she was pregnant as a result of being subjected to rape by the order of a panchayat.

In Rahim Yar Khan, a nine-year-old girl was given as Vani to a boy of fourteen as a settlement of a murder dispute by a jirga.

In Umerkot, it was reported that a case of gang rape was “settled” for a compensation of 30 mounds of wheat.

In the capital, a bill called the Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill was passed by the 23 members of the National Assembly who were present that day, in hope that it would lead to “a speedy resolution of petty civil matters and reduce the burden of litigations on the courts.”

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This bill provides legal and constitutional status to jirgas and panchayats. This ADR system is set to settle 23 types of civil and criminal disputes.

Jirgas and panchayats have often been the purveyors of archaic traditions, customs and inhumane practices, which the three cases above only offer a glimpse of.  And it ostensibly in view of this that the government has proposed a number of alterations and adjustments to jirgas and panchayats which the bill contains.

The bill proposes the appointment of mediators or panels of ‘neutrals’ in districts who will, after consultation with the high courts, be drawn by the government from “lawyers, retired judges of superior and subordinate judiciary, retired civil servants, social workers, ulema, jurists, technocrats and other experts..”.

However, it is a point to ponder whether the conflicting parties and the people of the districts will accept the authority of the jirga and panchayat if its leaders are not drawn from their own milieu and their decisions are not in line with their entrenched local traditions and local values, such as those of honor. There might also exist the possibility of opposition by the local elders and elites, which have traditionally constituted and headed these jirgas and panchayats, to this replacement and dislocation of their authority. There may also come into being or already exist parallel jirgas and panchayats which will further contest and complicate the process. Therefore, it is essential for the government to have a plan in hand for ensuring acceptance of the appointed mediators’ authority, adherence to their decisions and neutralizing potential opposition and conflict.

The Law Minister had added that the disputes will “be settled with consent of both parties in the dispute and if any woman feels that she is not being given justice, she can move the court.” It is here that the main issue arises. Alternate mechanisms for justice are important, but it is also necessary to keep the nature and character of jirgas and panchayats in view, which have been notoriously misogynist.

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[Excerpt from an Express Tribune report]

Last year, 16 year old Ambreen was hanged and her corpse set ablaze in Makol on the order of a local jirga after it was learnt that she had facilitated an elopement.

In 2015 in Kohistan, a local jirga’s order for the murder of five women after a video of them dancing at a wedding emerged, made it to international news. One need not elaborate at length the long list of verdicts and orders given by jirgas and panchayats in Pakistan that are repugnant and obnoxious to basic human rights, especially with regards to women. It is precisely for this reason that women’s rights organizations have voiced concern regarding the passage of this bill. The Women’s Action Forum has termed ADRs “in the patriarchal and socially unjust and unequal conditions that prevail in Pakistan” as unacceptable.

To carry on from the Law Minister’s statement, if at the end of the day an aggrieved party has to take the route of the courts, then how exactly is the provision of a legal cover to these panchayats and jirgas a step in the direction of speedy resolution of issues and a lessening of burden in litigation?

In her article on jirgas in 2015, written in wake of Ambreen’s case coming to light, lawyer Sahar Bandial located the need for jirgas and panchayats in the “inaccessibility of and delays in the dispensation of justice by the formal legal system.” Her conclusion is echoed by Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi in his comments to Pakistan Today on the passage of the ADR Bill:  “Justice delayed,” he pointed out “is justice denied. And where a property case can take up to ten years to reach resolution in a court of law, a communal gathering or jirga could bring the matter to a conclusion in a matter of weeks.”

It is evident that Pakistan’s mainstream legal system possesses a plethora of problems and burdens, which necessitate that it is streamlined, and in the meanwhile, alternative avenues for dispensation of justice are provided.

However, attempting to provide legal status to institutions as deeply problematic and flawed as jirgas and panchayats seems to be a solution thought in haste, without a thorough examination of their nature and without an elaboration of the mechanisms to ensure the dispensation of justice by these in its fullest measure. That this bill was passed in the National Assembly by a mere 23 out of the 342 members also tosses doubt upon its legality and emphasises the elected representatives’ scant sense of duty and regard for the institution.

While the passage of the Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill in the Senate is uncertain, the possibility of the dispensation of justice in its fullest measure by jirgas and panchayats, given their history, the existing social and cultural realities and power structures they operate in, the questions given rise to by the provisions in the bill itself, remains equally doubtful.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Ominous Signs


*Originally published in The Nation.

At least six activists have been reported missing within a week.

The editorial in The News was correct in emphasizing “that the near-simultaneous disappearances are linked since all four of the activists shared the same approach, were critical of government and establishment policies and were prominent online and on social media.”

The space for expression and dissent appears to be increasingly shrinking and shriveling. That notable individuals like Salman Haider, a human rights activist and professor at Fatima Jinnah University, can vanish in broad daylight from the capital is a frightening revelation that people’s prominence and profiles can offer no protection or deterrence from the danger and threat of disappearance.

A few weeks back, a small and peaceful demonstration by the Democratic Students Alliance in Lahore, organized in response to the Islam Bachao rally taken out earlier, was stopped and the participants detained at the Racecourse police station for several hours. This crackdown on the peaceful practice of basic constitutional rights and freedoms, along with recent developments, is a grim start to the new year for the country.

Pakistan’s civil society is neither ignorant nor impervious to repression. In fact, it has possessed a history riddled with struggles against censorship, suspension of civil liberties, arbitrary arrests, and persecution under the various dictatorial regimes. However, to witness the revival and replication of these measures and instruments during the stint of a democratic government is an alarming, outrageous and deplorable stain on its claims of a democratic character and credentials.

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A glance back at the last two or three years also yields a bleak picture associated with a deteriorating situation spanning academic freedoms, press freedoms and civil liberties in the country.

With regards to this, a profile of Mohammad Hanif in the New Yorker aptly captured the constraints of the English-language press in Pakistan and encapsulated a series a incidents related to their breach:

“The Pakistani press corps works with a strange mixture of privilege and constraint. Pick up one of the better English-language newspapers—the News or the Dawn—and you will find penetrating coverage of national security, poverty, and governmental corruption. But, beyond shifting and mysterious boundaries, no journalist may stray without risk. In 2010, Umar Cheema, who had written about dissent within the military, was picked up by men in police uniforms who were widely presumed to be I.S.I. agents. They shaved his head, sexually humiliated him, and dropped him miles from his home, with a warning to stop. The following year, Saleem Shahzad published stories asserting that the armed forces had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda. He was beaten to death and his body dumped in a canal.”

In 2015, a scheduled panel discussion on the “history, complications, human rights abuses, and the struggle for justice that has been going on in Balochistan” at the Lahore University of Management Sciences was forcibly booted and cancelled after ‘external’ intervention.

In 2016, there occurred the passage of measures such as the Cyber Crime Bill and the move to condemn Cyril Almeida, after much fuss and furore, to the Exit Control List, after his report on civil-military relations.

It is both interesting and worrying to note that discussions within spheres such as a private, often touted as elite, university in an urban provincial capital, and a leading English language newspaper, which were previously considered largely off-limits to state encroachment, now risk subjection to the control of a state, a political, military and intelligence establishment, that seems to be growing increasingly intolerant of any sign of dissent or criticism.

If the disappearances of these activists has been orchestrated in order to stifle criticism of state institutions and policies, it a short-sighted move since, in addition to protests and rallies across cities, the disappearances are being covered by major national and international media outlets and human rights organizations.

Dissent, criticism, difference of opinion, and activism are critical for a living society, and central to a robust democracy. It appears, however, that some state organs or some actors in the country wish to stem these in their myopic drive to steer Pakistan into ruin.

The sudden spurt of blasphemy allegations and accusations of being “anti-Islam” directed at some of the missing activists also poses a perilous situation for them even if they are recovered, since the mere suspicion of blasphemy is enough to continually and permanently endanger an individual’s life in Pakistan.

It is still hoped that the activists will be recovered safe and sound, however, even if they return, the climate of fear and intimidation engendered by their disappearances will remain. The message of these disappearances is hard to miss: quieten or be silenced.

A strongly-worded editorial in Dawn brought to light an important assumption and accusation operating in this entire issue:

“The sanitised language — ‘missing persons’, ‘the disappeared’, etc — cannot hide an ugly truth: the state of Pakistan continues to be suspected of involvement in the disappearance and illegal detentions of a range of private citizens.”

The matter of “disappeared” and “missing” persons began in Balochistan, and today it has reached the capital. There is no escape for the state from this, for it is either complicit or it is incompetent. And for the rest of the country, these are ominous signs.

-Hafsa Khawaja

#RecoverAllActivists


When dissent becomes danger, when protest becomes a peril, when the word becomes a threat, when a demand for answers becomes unacceptable, when a handful of people and a handful of Facebook pages become a menace, it becomes even more important, it becomes necessary, to raise your voice, to question, to oppose and to disallow the monopolization of narratives, to disallow the perverse and systematic silencing and stifling, and to stand your ground and confront this march of fear.

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At least four activists have gone missing within this week.

If there is any doubt in your mind regarding the need for activism and the need for us, as a people, to exercise our rights and kick up a furor over what is perpetrated in our name, look no further.

During times like these, one is always faced by the dilemma of whether one should lie low and live to speak another day or to speak even louder. Should personal safety and security assume primacy over all else? Yet there is no safety if the safety of another is endangered or violated. When sectarian murderers rally at the heart of the capital, when interior ministers cavort with the heads of “banned” organisations and when people are picked up and “disappeared” in broad daylight, every act, every effort becomes significant in this fight. No matter how small.

Resist.

Every time makes demands on people, perhaps this is its demand from us. And it is certainly worth a try.

As the great Eqbal Ahmad put it, and this is something I wish to live by: “Lack of success does not justify the crime of silence in the face of criminal, arbitrary power.”

If you choose to sit on the sidelines and be “apolitical” during this, that too is a position, and a very political one. Your comfort is complicity.

Today it is them, tomorrow it could be us. It started from Balochistan, it has come to Islamabad. Its appetite for control is insatiable, it’s grip and clasp is huge. Power is unsparing, unrelenting, voracious, unjust. It will stop at nothing until we step in its way.

#RecoverAllActivists

The Holy Cow of “National Security”


It is telling of a country’s affairs when the state becomes a threat rather than a guarantor of freedoms, and when the pen becomes a threat more than any sword.

Democracy may begin with the ballot box, but does not end at it, and if the PML-N government believes otherwise, it is sorely mistaken. Democracy is meant to be demonstrated, but a string of recent actions by the government in Pakistan have only orchestrated a sham of it. The passage of measures such as the Cyber Crime Bill and the move to condemn Cyril Almeida, after much fuss and furore, to the Exit Control List are disturbing signs for freedoms in the country: academic freedoms, press freedoms and civil liberties.

Only last year, a scheduled talk on the “history, complications, human rights abuses, and the struggle for justice that has been going on in Balochistan” at the Lahore University of Management Sciences was forcibly booted out and cancelled after ‘external’ intervention.

It is both interesting and worrying to note that discussions within spheres such as a private (often touted as ‘elite’) university in an urban provincial capital, and a leading English language newspaper, which were previously considered largely off-limits to state encroachment, now risk subjection to the control of a state, a political, military and intelligence establishment, that seems to be growing increasingly intolerant of any sign of dissent or criticism.

A profile of Mohammad Hanif in the New Yorker earlier this year aptly captured the boundaries of the English-language press in Pakistan.

“The Pakistani press corps works with a strange mixture of privilege and constraint. Pick up one of the better English-language newspapers—the News or the Dawn—and you will find penetrating coverage of national security, poverty, and governmental corruption. But, beyond shifting and mysterious boundaries, no journalist may stray without risk. In 2010, Umar Cheema, who had written about dissent within the military, was picked up by men in police uniforms who were widely presumed to be I.S.I. agents. They shaved his head, sexually humiliated him, and dropped him miles from his home, with a warning to stop. The following year, Saleem Shahzad published stories asserting that the armed forces had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda. He was beaten to death and his body dumped in a canal.”

With regards to Almeida’s story, the “PM, army chief and others were unanimous that the published story was clearly violative of universally acknowledged principles of reporting on national security issues and has risked the vital state interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents which had no relevance to actual discussion and facts”.

What exactly are these grand “universally acknowledged principles of reporting on national security issues” are known to none but the government and military leadership alone. Who defined “national security”? And since when did the common and widely-known matter of civil-military relations and imbalance, which have been a constant theme of tension in Pakistan’s history and a determinant of Pakistan’s domestic and international position, conveniently become an issue of “national security”? It is both a ludicrous notion, and as Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9) pointed out, the mark of an “insecure state”.

The rejection and denial of the story by the PM Office also stated that the “prime minister took serious notice of the violation and directed that those responsible should be identified for stern action”. It is a strange state of affairs when militant sectarian organizations and their leaders operate freely, spew their venom and continue endangering Pakistan’s standing in the wider world and the security of Pakistani citizens, who may happen to have been born in the “wrong” sect or faith, but a journalist doing his job (and rational person would consider his report to be a positive sign of change in state policy and resolve) warrants “stern action”.

Ironically, the decision to add Almeida to the ECL, has given more weight to his story and thrust it into international spotlight. If Almeida’s story was seen as damaging for the Pakistani state, this move has provided ample fodder for its embarrassment and for the country’s detractors. So much for the state’s attempts to smother and stifle the story. While this decision acts as a confirmation of the reported rift between the political and military leadership that Cyril had written of, it is also, in ways, a confirmation of the political and military establishment’s unity; a unity and unanimity in silencing critics and challenges to state narratives.

The establishment’s increasing intolerance towards challenges to its monopolization of state narratives and towards criticisms of its machinations is an alarming development. It has has no right to impose its caprices and whims by arbitrarily designating issues of discomfort to itself as sacred and holy matters of “national security”, set them off-limits to public discussion and knowledge, and punish and bar people from their right to speak, write and know about them. Have we not enough of one Blasphemy Law? Have we not had enough of the Holy Cows?

It is highly commendable that Dawn has unequivocally stood by Almeida, but it is not enough. Irrespective of our personal opinions and disagreements with the news report at the core of the case, it is important for all to realize the dangers and threats inherent in the following developments that are relevant to all of us, the future of democracy in the country and the future of Pakistan itself.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Looking to Turkey


*Originally published in Pakistan Today. Slightly edited version below:

Lenin is reported to have said, There are decades where nothing happens—and there are weeks where decades happen.” 2016 appears to be one of these weeks. Spanning a number of events, from attacks on European soil in Belgium and France, the occurrence of Brexit, to the looming specter of a Trump presidency in the United States, this year has been marked by several waves of shock, and further ripples were added to these when Turkey dramatically foiled a coup attempt on the 15th of July.

A Dark Moment in Turkey

As news of the coup was revealed, Turkish people flooded outside to mount a challenge, in what was perhaps the most remarkable moment of the botched coup.

People poured out on the streets and roads, blocking the way of rolling tanks, pushing them back, protesting, resisting.

More than two hundred and fifty lives were ultimately lost but history is sure to record the bravery of Turkish protesters as an incredible act of tremendous courage, rendered in the name of defending democracy. Around the world, people were watching—some more intently than others.

Pakistan and Turkey both share phases of history deeply pockmarked by a series of coups and military regimes. Any upset in the civilian-military relations in Turkey thus inevitably evokes interest in Pakistan’s political and public sphere. And while one must always tread carefully and cautiously in pulling parallels between peoples, histories, countries, and events, the recent developments in Turkey do offer something for Pakistan to consider.

Turkey, Pakistan, and the Military

Turkey’s main opposition parties, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (M.H.P) have been vehemently critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan . Due to the tensions which collapsed the peace process between the AKP government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015, the relationship in the case of the HDP, whose members Erdogan has previously called to “face prosecution, accusing them of being the PKK’s political wing”, has been even more strained.

Despite these tensions, it is important to note that within hours of news breaking that a coup was being attempted, all three parties strongly denounced the coup and voiced unequivocal support for the democratically-elected government of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In contrast to Turkey, Pakistan’s political parties are known to have distributed mithais (sweetmeats)  on the occasion of coups ousting   rivals; a display of petty opportunism at best. Such a political attitude may be attributed to the nature of Pakistan’s political culture which has historically been stunted by decades of military dictatorship and repression; and subsequently disadvantaged by the denial of an uninterrupted, smooth, and gradual . The prospect of gains from collaboration with military governments also propelled this political expediency.  However, this attitude was, appeared for the most part, on the decline following the Charter of Democracy of 2006 which was signed between the late Benazir Bhutto and now-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The CoD formed an alliance between the Pakistan’s People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to end General Musharraf’s military regime, and enshrined a collective pledge to the principle of civilian democratic rule and its restoration in Pakistan.

More recently, a maturation of political attitudes was witnessed during Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri’s PTI-PAT sit-in of 2014 in the capital.  The public protest was organized by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and centered on claims of widespread rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party in the general elections of 2013. The sit-in, which lasted from August 2014 to December 2014, was eventually joined by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, led by Canada-based Islamic cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri. Together the parties and their gathered supporters exerted pressure upon what they called the “illegitimate” PML-N government, calling for the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls across the country.

In wake of this sit-in, political temperatures in Pakistan rose alarmingly. However, they ended up fostering a welcome climate of political unity, solidarity, and practicality by bringing together an entire spectrum of parties under the umbrella of protecting Pakistan’s nascent democracy from imminent danger.

Similarly, the galvanization of masses in Turkey against the coup was also an answer to the surreal call given on a mobile-video app by a Facetiming  Erdogan on CNN Turk for the people to take to the  . While large segments of Turkish society mobilized in defense of democracy alone, the public’s support for Erdogan’s AKP – which helped it garner half of the vote in the elections of 2015 – was also clearly significant in terms of the witnessed mobilization.

Little doubt exists about Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic ambitions and his bid for greater power, evidenced by the sharp streaks of authoritarianism he has exhibited without inhibition when “running roughshod over political rivals, tossing enemies into jail and intimidating the media.” His heavy-handed tactics to repress the Taksim Square protests of   also proved to be ample evidence of his shriveling sense of restraint in dealing with opposition. Erdogan’s oppressive and intolerant tendencies have been emboldened after the coup attempt; most sharply demonstrated by the recent purges, which The New York Times aptly characterizes and reveals as being of an “unprecedented scale” and comprising the dismissal of 9,000 police officers, 21,700 officials of the Ministry of Education, the forced resignations of 1,500 university deans, the suspension of 21,000 private school teachers, the detention of 10,012 soldiers and 2,745 members of the judiciary, and the shutdown of more than 100 media outlets.

So, how has Erdogan been able to consolidate power? In part, the AKP government has overseen solid economic and national development in Turkey during its tenure, while positioning itself as the representative of a large constituency in Turkey , comprising Muslims who have long felt ignored and marginalized by the secular elites and the state, and the segments of society which benefitted from the economic policies of the AKP government. But its greatest asset is the same force that allowed the government to resist the coup—the loyalty of the state police and a large contingent of the military.

It is now clear that the loyalty of the state police and a split within the Turkish military itself, with the acting chief of staff Umit Dundar against the audacious initiative to topple the government, also enabled the failure of the coup.

In her interview with Isaac Chotiner of Slate magazine, Professor  Jenny White, of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, spoke about the supremacy of the military at the time of the AKP’s assumption of power in 2003 and the systematic program of defanging it by the government:

“Initially, when Erdogan came to power in 2003, the army was still all-powerful. They still had a position above the government…together with the Gülen Movement, they [the AKP] initiated a series of high-profile court cases against the generals. They put a lot of the high-ranking officers in jail. All of the heads of the different forces eventually resigned. And at that point, Erdogan reached back into the chain of command and promoted someone up. The end result of that was that the military chief of staff was loyal to Erdogan. After that there was no more uppity-ness. They were demoralized.”

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has seen three military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999, and in the sixty-nine years of its existence, it has been subjected to three decades of military regimes. The last of these was headed by General Pervez Musharraf who resigned in 2008 succumbing to immense political and public pressure and protests which grew after his controversial imposition of emergency on 3rd November 2007 and the ensuing measures.

Pakistan has been under two different democratically-elected governments, one after the other, since 2008. Yet even as the popularity of democratically elected governments waxes and wanes, there appears to be no end in sight to the popularity of the military as an institution in Pakistan. The poster-boy for this traditional reverence for the army is the powerful Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Shareef today, who is often the subject of frequent and curious #ThankYouRaheelShareef hashtags and trends on social media which heap appreciation on his efforts against terrorism, and hail him as a  strong and upright general who has nothing but the best interests of Pakistan at heart. And while Nawaz Sharif and his government may have ostensibly survived the political crisis of 2014, posed by the impasse engendered by the Khan-Qadri protest sit-in, most believe the crisis was staging ground for the army to launch a soft coup; as a result of which the government ceded power over main matters of the state, such as foreign policy and security issues, to the army in exchange for the security and stability of their tenure.

In 1995 the late Eqbal Ahmad penned an article titled “The Signals Soldiers Pick”, offering an incisive analysis of the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan and the environments conducive to tilt that in either’s favor which still resonate. He emphasized that the end of military intervention in politics hinges upon the legitimacy of the civilian system of power [being] established over a period of time.” He also stated that, ‘We [Pakistan] have been lacking both the political framework and leaders capable of investing the civilian system of government with authority, and taming the warrior class.’

In comparison to the AKP, it is patent that Pakistan’s democratically elected governments have not only been unable to enjoy hardly any period of uninterrupted power, most of which were cut short by instability and coups, to establish a democratic foothold – it was only in 2013, after 66 years, that the country had its first ever transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another. When in power, they have been beset by charges of corruption and incompetence, and the threats of military intervention have always hung dangerously close to them. Democratic governments in Pakistan have also continually manifested a complete lack of political vision in terms of their quality of performance and governance, which invest the democratic system with credibility, popular support and legitimacy; that firmly confer upon it the empowering authority it often lacks. This is a challenge further compounded by their lack of imagination, will and courage to take on the military and establish ascendancy of the civilian democratic set-up in the Pakistani state’s equilibrium of power.

Evidently, smooth democratic continuity; a solid establishment of government credibility and stability; and the political will and vision to subdue unbridled military encroachments on the domain of state power are pivotal to democratic durability and authority in Pakistan. The road to it, however, remains rocky.

Lessons for Pakistan from Turkey

The failure of the coup in Turkey owes a great deal to democratic fervor. London-based British and Turkish writer and academic Ziya Meral was quick to praise the “many amazing journalists, academics, activists who are fierce critiques of AKP consistently spoke against the coup attempt.” According to Mustafa Akyol, this occurrence underscores “…that Turkish society has internalized electoral democracy, and Turkey’s secularists, despite their objections to the Erdogan government’s Islamism, seek solutions in democratic politics.”

Many Pakistanis took to social media during the coup attempt, praising the perpetrators and encouraging Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Shareef to lead a similar coup. The existence of this pro-military rule sentiment accentuates the flakey faith some segments of Pakistanis feel towards democratic governments, and the persistence of the military’s age-old, and well-crafted, popularity among the people as the “most trust-worthy institution” in the country – as was also revealed by a survey held last year – especially in contrast to political actors and leaders.

In response to a tweet stressing Erdogan’s authoritarianism, Al Jazeera’s Mohammad Alsaafin replied with, “[Erdogan is] not champion of democracy, but democratically elected.” Alsaafin’s comment contains a principal point; that it is essential to protect, improve and strengthen democracy as the institutional framework for the state and its citizens, despite its imperfections and problems.

As Erdogan unleashes his purges and pillory, the impression that he will entirely squander the support and goodwill he has garnered after the attempted coup, rather than use it for a moment of sensible reflection, is increasingly being lent weight. Nevertheless it is evident that unequivocal political support, the support of the masses and the allegiance of state organs to the belief in democratic civilian supremacy are key to a worthy effort and solid fight, if not bulwark, against the audacity of military adventurism. It is also important for Pakistan to understand that democracy means much more than a current government or a certain crop of leaders. To borrow the idea from Mustafa Akyol’s analysis, the solution to democratic problems must be sought in democratic politics.

Turkey may have had more coups than Pakistan, a gulf of different dynamics, and more turbulent experiences to reach this point, but it is never too late for Pakistan to pick a lesson or two from it.

-Hafsa Khawaja

You, Pakistan


INTERVIEWER

Yes, before 1968, you said, “I love America.”

JAMES BALDWIN

Long before then. I still do, though that feeling has changed in the face of it. I think that it is a spiritual disaster to pretend that one doesn’t love one’s country. You may disapprove of it, you may be forced to leave it, you may live your whole life as a battle, yet I don’t think you can escape it. There isn’t any other place to go—you don’t pull up your roots and put them down someplace else. At least not in a single lifetime, or, if you do, you’ll be aware of precisely what it means, knowing that your real roots are always elsewhere. If you try to pretend you don’t see the immediate reality that formed you I think you’ll go blind.”

You break me often, into pieces, into shards, into tatters and tears.

There are times when I want to escape you, perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally. There are times I want to close my eyes, my ears, my mind and my heart to your suffering, for my own sanity and survival; only to wake up with seething pain realizing that your suffering and mine are inseparable and one.

Each gash and each scar you have is mine, because your soil is my skin. I feel it, I live it. How can I rid myself of my skin but crush my soul? How can one ever disentangle from one’s roots?

Kamel Daoud wrote, “How he must have suffered, poor man! To be the child of a place that never gave you birth” but I wonder, how much does one suffer, to be the child of a place that did give you birth; a place tormented and tortured.

Yet there is no other music to which my heart beats as strongly, to which my heart celebrates and aches, but that of your turmoil, triumph and tumult’s rhythms and rhymes.

You, Pakistan, are my pride and my pain.

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I can’t help hoping about you, because to let go of hope for all that one has is too big a risk to take.

And so I hope and pray today, may fate and future heal your many wounds and that of your many children.

Today I think of Edhi, NFAK, Eqbal Ahmad, Faiz, Habib Jalib, Malala, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Gulgee, Jahangir Khan and countless others who shone brightly upon the world, with their truths and talents, with your name. I celebrate them.

But today I also remember the irreplaceable Sabeen Mahmud, the courageous Shuja Khanzada, the incomparable Amjad Sabri, those taken in the Quetta attack, the 144 that perished in Peshawar, and the 50,000 souls that were usurped from you. Today I think of the Shia, the Ahmedi, the Christians, the Baloch, the people of FATA, the poor, the deprived, the marginalized; all those who seek your justice, your peace; who seek that you to own them as yours. Today I remember them, I mourn them and I honor them, and I pray, I plead: may you be kinder to your people, and may your people be kinder to you.

Against all your afflictions and misfortunes, may you, Pakistan, forever and always prevail.

Faithfully yours.

Remembering Edhi: Let Us Be His Legacy


“So many years later there were many who still complained and questioned, “Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?” And I was still saying, “Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.”

“The Holy Book should open in your souls, not on your laps. Open your heart and see God’s people. In their plight you will find Him.”

“There is no such thing as an illegitimate human being” [On the issue of infants and children being abandoned because they are illegitimate].

Edhi & Bilqees Edhi also take care of the small daughter of the thief jailed for burglary of the foundation in 2014.”

“Day after day, for decades, Edhi and his wife rescued abandoned babies, drug addicts, and victims of political and gang violence. He did God’s Work.

No matter how worse things took a turn for in Pakistan, Abdul Sattar Edhi was one individual, one icon, one saint who gave me, and all, strength and hope. Hope, that there is good in Pakistan, that there is good in this world. And strength, that in him resided the embodiment of all that Pakistan could be. The best Pakistan could be.

I saw in him the Muslim I wish to be, the human I wanted to be. I saw in him the magnificent beauty and purity of humanity.

I knew for every Mumtaz Qadri, there was Edhi. For every Malik Ishaq, there was Edhi.
There was never need for another human being, for he was enough. He was no man, he was an institution.

As we writhed in the pain of our wounds, he healed us.

But he was no hope for the helpless, the beggared, the oppressed, the lowest of the lowest. For the poor laying on the footpaths in the scorching heat, for the beggar limping his way amid traffic, for the infant abandoned for no crime but his birth, for the addicts ostracized, for the victims of a cruel society and an apathetic state -for those who had no one – he was there, he was their everything. He had no education, no riches but he was their food, their clothes, their shelter, their parents, their dignity; their salvation sent from God. 

Edhi healed.

All and everyone.

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(My apologies for lack of credits to whoever this image originally belongs to, I found this on the internet years ago and haven’t been able to trace its owner)

He was Pakistan’s soul and heart, a soul and heart unblemished by hate and division. A heart and soul that did nothing but give kindness and love; and that gave generously and selflessly.

He was one of the greatest Pakistanis, if not the greatest alone. And certainly one of the greatest human beings. To walk the same land as Edhi, what an honor it has been. To breathe the same air as Edhi, what a privilege it has been.

Pakistan is infinitely poorer today. Pakistan is orphaned today.
God knows how this void will ever fill, how this void will ever heal. More than ever, it was today, at this moment in time marked by bigotry, distrust and hate that we needed Edhi Sb’s unblemished humanity and love, his unparalleled courage, his matchless integrity and honesty, his radiant humility and dignity, and his towering principles.

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We needed Edhi now, desperately, but we also needed him forever.

 

As per his wishes, his healthy organs will be donated. Even in death, he has given, he has helped. He has served right till the end, and beyond.

The only befitting tribute to him would be our realization of the humanity he espoused and practiced; a humanity higher than the petty matters of race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sect, politics and prejudice. A humanity higher than the flimsy divisions we have constructed between ourselves; on maps, in borders, in our minds and in our hearts. There is no better tribute to him that our espousal of his principles and his ideals; it is no tribute, it is a duty and a responsibility owed to a man to whom we will forever be indebted.

Raise your voice, stand up, work and act for a tolerant, humane and peaceful Pakistan and world.

For if only we would all strive for even a speck of the incredible humanity he personified and possessed, Pakistan would be a much better place.

Let our actions, not our fortune, lay claim to Abdul Sattar Edhi and his life. Let us be his legacy.

Let us mourn but let us also honor him. Let us be his legacy, in words, actions, in life and in spirit.

Thank you and farewell messenger of humanity, farewell Edhi Sahab.

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Side Note:
I do not wish to write about anything other than the great man and the great loss we have been faced with today, but I find it difficult to sidestep the growing set of comments condemning the Nobel Peace Prize in wake of Edhi Sb’s demise.

You are doing no service to Edhi by reducing his life & work to the trifling recognition of a prize he never sought; he sought nothing. Edhi was in no need of any prize or recognition, and especially not validation. If you want to recognize him, carry the spirit of his work forward. Do not reduce the man and his legacy to some prize or reward, he was above all of these. Do not project the smallness of our minds and hearts onto the greatness of the man. Do not dishonor him like this, please.

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Also:

Let us not forget the role Dr. Adeeb Rizvi and SIUT have played in caring for Edhi. Dr. Rizvi is a man in the same league as Edhi’s, he is an incredible human being, an institution and a living legend.

Original Link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154226167180915&set=a.10152469851790915.1073741828.642145914&type=3&theater

Photo Credits: Usman Ali on Facebook. “Dr Adeeb Rizvi, the doctor who looked after Edhi Sb for last 10 years came to Edhi Sahab’s Janaza without any protocol. He sat down on ground and didn’t make any attempt to move to front rows. People shook hands with him and took pictures. He was so easily accessible. The man whose stature is close to Edhi Sb was sitting like a common man. If there was anyone who deserved VVIP protocol today, Adeeb Rizvi Sb was the first person who should have been considered for it.”

A pity he isn’t known much (although known very well to those who threaten him) but he has been aptly called “Pakistan’s Miracle Doctor” and has saved thousands of lives while ushering in a new era for Pakistan’s healthcare system with SIUT.

Below are excerpts from BBC’s coverage of his work:
“But one public sector hospital in Karachi provides free specialised healthcare to millions, led by a man whose dream was inspired by the UK’s National Health Service. Now the hospital says it has the distinction of performing the highest number of successful renal transplants, dialysis sessions and treatment of kidney stone disease anywhere in the world.
He could have opted to set up his own private hospital. He could have built up his own lucrative empire while keeping his day job at the poorly run government hospital – a path taken by many highly qualified physicians in Pakistan.”