The Sham of “Never Again, Never Forget”


“Never again”
“Never forget”

For most of us, this is a mantra recited every 16th December.
And while we speak of the 141, we forget that those really left behind were 141 shattered families.

Amid their immeasurable pain, sorrow and loss, these families, gathered immense courage to knock at the doors of power.

The APS attack, which the so-called “paradigm shift” and the grand National Action Plan were predicated upon, has actually been the subject of a concerted and brazen campaign of silencing and harassment which has been directed at these parents who have been tirelessly and bravely demanding an inquiry and investigation into the ghastly attack.

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Who does an inquiry threaten and why?
What dangers does it pose?

An investigation and a probe will provide no closure to the insurmountable grief of the bereaved, but an investigation will provide some semblance of accountability, answers, and a degree of insight that may be used to prevent further lapses and failures which endanger countless lives.

The APS attack doesn’t warrant the spectacle of mawkish speeches and songs, grand commemorations and empty and insincere vows declared every 16th December, the APS attack doesn’t demand this sham and farce which humiliates rather than honors and remembers the loss.

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As long as an inquiry into the attack is not conducted, the sham of justice, the sham of “never again” and “never forget” shall continue.

And today, let us also remember these parents, and salute them for their resolve and courage, for not bowing to numerous pressures and intimidation, for being the only ones to never forget.

The National Inertia Plan


*Originally published in The News.

Nearly a month back the attack on Bacha Khan University brought back torment of what is perhaps the most traumatic experience in Pakistan’s collective national memory: 16th December 2014.

The Charsadda attack has been followed by beefing up of security in educational institutions, including the conduction of security drills, trainings for guards and personnel, and even the temporary closure of schools. In assailing the pursuit of education by an environment and atmosphere of fear and militarization, the horror of the APS attack reverberates in educational institutions and students across the country.

This is a militarization that has familiarized students with the grim possibility of never returning home as they leave for schools each day; a militarization out of which schools, colleges and universities have emerged morphed into high-security fortresses; and this is a militarization that has forced revered purveyors of education like Tahira Kazi and the 33-year old chemistry professor Syed Hamid Hussein to build passage for the future of Pakistan not by illuminating the way for students but by extinguishing the very light which was to shine the path: their own lives. It is a dismaying reality that the trauma which accompanies an entire generation of children and youth today, upon which hover fear and threat of death and loss in spaces where only learning, education and hope should thrive, will be an enduring casualty of terrorism in Pakistan.

In wake of the Charsadda Attack, there also appeared to be a dispute between the educational institutions and the government on the issue of security provision. While a legitimate demand to a certain extent, the government’s pressure on the administrations to provide and take charge of all security arrangements once again attests to the government’s willingness to pass the buck, surrender and assign surrogates for what is chiefly the state’s key responsibility; the protection of the lives of its citizens.

In an article based on analysis of school attacks in Pakistan, Rana Muhammad Usman draws focus to alarming trends and figures; including the fact that in four decades South Asia has witnessed 1,436 attacks on education, out of which 60% occurred in Pakistan. Only nine days after the attack on Bacha Khan University four police personnel were shot dead on the Munir Mengal Road in Quetta by the TTP. There is little doubt that violent incidents have slid down the frequency scale since last year but the continued occurrence, even if sporadic, of such attacks and assaults calls attention to unfinished business for both the terrorists and the state. Writing for The New York Times, Mohammed Hanif nails the matter at hand:

“Security experts, a group likely to find a silver lining in hell, say that the Taliban are targeting schools because these are soft targets – and that this is proof the Taliban have been weakened and can no longer attack cantonments or airports. Apparently, we are supposed to take solace in the slaughter of our children because our cantonments and airports are safe.”

However, beyond the issue of schools and security, the Bacha Khan University attack has brought to fore a number of disconcerting realities that remain unchanged since 16th December despite grand proclamations of will and resolve to obliterate them.

The grand National Action Plan which was devised as a comprehensive programme for tackling extremism and terrorism appears to be in tatters today. Banned organizations and ‘assets’ still operate freely, and while the interior minister prevaricated and bemoaned a fictional lack of evidence needed to act against him, the brazen-faced and contemptible Abdul Aziz spat on the writ of the state by informing the nation of his ‘negotiations’ with the agencies regarding his case. Even in this announcement, he continued to spout and spew his hate, accusing a brigadier in ISI of ‘the other sect’ of ‘conspiring’ against him.

Recently, news of the Sindh government’s consideration of Friday sermons’ regulation has also surfaced. While the regulation of sermons is certainly a significant step in examination of the influence sermons wield and exercise, there still persists a pressing need to stem the seeds that require the regulation of sermons in the first place: ideologies of extremism, hate, strife and violence. It is ideology that beckons back to the necessity of madrassah reform, a contentious and difficult issue in a country where any attempt at reform and regulation of religious institutions or religion-inspired laws is seen or perhaps cleverly construed and concocted as an attack on Islam itself.

Madrassah reform is a daunting task but the consequences of not dismantling ideological and territorial sanctuaries that maintain an infrastructure of extremism are even more disquieting – for which every organ of the state has to be united and mobilized in orientation, policy and action, until which all gains against terrorism in Pakistan will be tenuous at best, as the targeting of Bacha Khan University has shown.

Most importantly, the Charsadda attack has accentuated the urgency of a thorough inquiry and investigation into the Peshawar attack, which the parents of the APS students have been tirelessly demanding despite numerous attempts to thwart and silence them. Why is it that the demands for an investigation are being spurned, who does an inquiry threaten, and why does it threaten them? Although it will provide no closure to the insurmountable grief of the bereaved, an investigation will provide some semblance of accountability, answers, and a degree of insight that may be used to prevent further lapses and failures which endanger countless lives.

It is therefore crucial that the narratives of success in the drive against extremism and terrorism, being continuously churned and fed by the government and military, are constantly and consistently questioned because no longer can the inaction, inertia and apathy endemic to the state and government, but inimical to Pakistan, be afforded.

– Hafsa Khawaja

They Were Not Numbers


*First published by Hum-Aahang. On seven months since Peshawar:

Majid Maqsood is a 16-year old student who has just passed his matriculation with 80% marks and is headed towards college. He loves music, football, writing and composing songs, and rapping. Incredibly polite and rather mature, he is brilliant young boy, but most importantly, a brave one.

Majid is a survivor of the Peshawar Attack.

When the attack began, Majid was in the auditorium with students of the 8th, 9th and 10th grade for a medical lecture. Soon they heard the sound of firing as three terrorists entered shooting, at the sight of which he sat down to take cover; the best he could do to hide. They went firing from chair to chair, now remembering which Majid is surprised that he managed to survive. He recalls that in those eight to ten minutes of firing, more than a hundred students were killed.

Ten minutes.

A hundred children.

Ten children killed in every minute. Ten families shattered forever, in sixty seconds.

Ten minutes. A hundred children. Each with a name, a face, a family, a future.

They were not numbers.

“They were the future of this country; someone was a brilliant doctor, one an army officer, one an engineer, one an actor, one a musician , one a politician – everyone was pursuing his dream and working hard,” he recalls. “Each one was kind, intelligent and smart”.

He remembers the last time he played football with Mubeen Shah, but in particular, he remembers his close friend Usman Abbasi. “We used to play together, sit and talk, go out. He was a really mature guy and more intelligent than me. He was a sharp but he had different dreams and goals too.”

He wants people to not just remember Peshawar [attack] as Peshawar and all that is conventionally associated with the city, saying those who were killed were “were not only Pathans or from Peshawar, it was an army school so students from all over the country were studying. Even I am not a Pathan. On the 16th, the dead bodies went to almost every part of Pakistan.”

The dead bodies.

Dead. For once they lived; they breathed, they played, they hoped, they dreamed.

They were not numbers.

I asked Majid if he felt people had forgotten the attack, and he was quick in expressing his sense of the briefness of outrage after Peshawar, the short-lived grief and the hollow promises, “After the 16th [of December] I learnt a lot, that there’s no one for you, no one cares about anyone.”

But as a survivor, despite the scars of trauma and sorrow, he believes he has emerged stronger than before, “After losing my friends and teachers, now I am afraid of losing others. All I went through is beyond describing; all those dead bodies of friends, lashes of blood, shouts and screams, but that day really made me strong because now I am no longer afraid of such cowardice. That day revealed the value of a single life to me.” He now wants to do a tribute song for the APS attack victims.

No 16 year-old who loves music or writes songs, should ever be thinking of channelling the expressive power of these passions into a tribute for his fallen friends, peers and teachers.

No 16 year old, and no child, should ever be required to be this brave.

Yet Majid’s maturity only strikes with the harsh acquaintance survivors and victims of the APS attack had to make with the hideous realities of life; of blood, death, and loss. A reality birthed by consummate barbarity.

But he continues to have lofty ideas and plans, “I am focused on my own work, and I have many aims and dreams in life but not just for me but for my country, its people, everyone.”

Majid is not one boy; he is one of many, many who were usurped forever from us.

They were not numbers.

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They were made of blood and flesh. They had hopes, fears, zeal and dreams. In them were poets, painters, singers, soldiers, artists, sportsmen, philanthropists, doctors, and leaders. They were tomorrow’s Faiz, Manto, Wasim-Waqar, Gulgee, Jahangir Khan, Moin Akhtar, Ahmed Shah Bokhari, Nur Khan, Adeeb Rizvi, Abdus Salam and Alvin Cornelius. They were to scale the mountains and to soar into the skies. They were to imagine, to create, to heal. They were to pave the path for a better, peaceful, a just tomorrow. They were the promise of a tomorrow.

Seven months on, Majid is right to assert that, “Time heals but we [the survivors] don’t want this.”

Let us allow this wound to deepen. Let us stare into this abyss of loss. Let us never let the pain of Peshawar subside.

Let us realize that December 16th 2014 made us forever poorer.

Let us never forget, for they were not numbers.

– Hafsa Khawaja

The Night is Dark


*Originally published in The News. Unedited version below:

Five Hazaras were gunned down in Quetta on 7th June. Numbering 500, the bereaved families and members of the Hazara community later protested on the streets with coffins of the deceased. In vain.

Aftab in his youth

Aftab in his youth

Aftab Bahadar was hanged on 10th June. Sentenced in 1992 for a murder along with Ghulam Mustafa, the plumber for whom he worked, he had been painfully waiting on the death row since 22 years. However, both Ghulam and the eyewitness who testified against Aftab only recently repudiated the claim that Aftab was complicit in the crime. According to Guardian and human rights organization Reprieve, Aftab said that when he was arrested the police asked for a 50,000 rupee bribe and said they would let him go if he paid. He couldn’t.

What lies between these deaths is hollowness, a hollowness of promises and vows that continues to jar louder each day since 16th December 2014.

With a seriously flawed judicial system and reportedly the world’s largest number of inmates on death row, believed to be over 8000, the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan was controversial from the start. Yet all reason was jettisoned in an attempt to subdue and satiate the seething fury and mourning after the Peshawar Attack. The decision was oblivious to logic in disregarding the fact that the very desire of terrorists resides in death and the anticipated ascension to heaven; and that an ideology as toxic, bloodthirsty and pervasive as that of extremism cannot be bound, let alone defeated, by the mere physical elimination of its members. Nonetheless, the restoration of the death penalty was made to appear as a seemingly bold and big step against terrorists; symbolic of the state’s newfound deadly and steely resolve against terrorism. However, the reinstatement of the death penalty was but a grand eyewash and façade used to deflect from taking real action on the fronts that demanded immense political will, honesty, courage and tenacity. A reality starkly reflected between the unabated killings in Quetta and the hanging of Aftab Bahadur at Kot Lakhpat.

The comprehensive National Action Plan that emerged in January as the government’s guide to countering terrorism and extremism seems to have been an act of plain political grandstanding since it remains far from any noticeable implementation.

A critical statement on the state of madrassah education by Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed was enough to evoke a spate of hate and attacks against him, prompting fears for his safety. Pervez Hoodbhoy succinctly spoke of the controversy’s implications in his Dawn article ‘The Pervaiz Rasheed Affair’“Not a single voice in government defended the information minister. By refusing to own the remarks of its own information minister the government has signalled its retreat on a critical front — madressah reform.”  Such are the hazards and hurdles associated with the problem of extremism in Pakistan that a mere statement can shackle the government from action. As for the minorities Shikarpur, Youhanabad and Quetta suffice to mention. They continue to be hounded while militant outfits such as LeJ and SSP continue to run amok with their lust for blood.

On the other hand, decisions taken in wake of the Peshawar attack such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s permission to allow teachers weapons inside schools resonate with the coarse nature of political imagination in the country. The prevalence of such poor governance that determines this slipshod management of alarming issues and knee-jerk reactions to them has only recently taken the life of a 12-year old pupil in Swat who was accidentally shot dead by the teacher while he was cleaning his pistol.

Despite the monstrosity that bloodily usurped the lives of 141 children, the government’s reaction has been marked by the customary national cycle of temporary outrage, condemnation, protest, forget and repeat. The recent killings of the Hazara in Quetta and the execution of Aftab Bahadur serve to illustrate the lack of any decisive, solid or substantial government and state action against terrorists and extremists, and the superficiality of the steps taken, such as the restoration of the death penalty, in curbing the cancer.

Little has changed six months since the Peshawar Attack, most of all the captivity of Pakistan and its collective consciousness by political, ideological, social and moral paralysis.

At such a moment in time, one must listen to a dead man speaking from his grave; Aftab Bahadaur’s words from his last letter (translated and published in The Guardian a day before his execution):

“While the death penalty moratorium was ended on the pretext of killing terrorists, most of the people here in Kot Lakhpat are charged with regular crimes. Quite how killing them is going to stop the sectarian violence in this country, I cannot say. I hope I do not die on Wednesday, but I have no source of money…I have not given up hope, though the night is very dark.”

The night ended for Aftab as his last, but for Pakistan, indeed the night remains very dark.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

~ Tyranny of Everlasting Sorrow


On 16/12/14, to which it has been six months yet nothing has changed but the deepening of 141 wounds inflicted upon every single Pakistani till the end of time.

On the mother in a bloodied and tattered green and white.

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Oh beloved mother,

Bloodied and bruised,     

From the tyranny of misfortune,

Your children wished to nurse you tomorrow, 

Yet what trampled you forever, prevailed yet again;

The tyranny of misfortune triumphed,

Into the tyranny of everlasting sorrow. 

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Let Us Count No More


*Originally published in The Nation.
Unedited version below:

Some tragedies are difficult to erase from national memories.  Some wounds are difficult to heal. What happened in Peshawar was a monstrosity beyond evil, a calamity beyond tragedy. The calculated, cold-blooded murder of helpless, defenseless, innocent children will always remain, neither a wound that heals, nor a stain that fades, but a scar right in Pakistan’s heart that shall only deepen with time. It will remain forever.

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar

In an air of seething anger, mourning and vengeance, the government decided to lift the moratorium on death penalty. As understandable as this is for the savages who have torn through Pakistan’s soul, it must be realized that the lifting of the moratorium is once again a cosmetic attempt to defeat terrorism.

Pakistan can no longer do without recognizing that the monster of terrorism has multiple heads and tackling it honestly.

For once, the state and military establishment must end the dubious, contradictory and damnable distinction between the “good” and “bad” Taliban, for the advancement of ‘Strategic Depth’ that has become the death of us. It is important to mention the late Eqbal Ahmad, whose prophetic warnings regarding Pakistan’s future vis-à-vis the policy in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan war were made little use of, penned in an article, titled ‘What after strategic depth?’ in Dawn on 23 August, 1998:

“The domestic costs of Pakistan’s friendly proximity to the Taliban are incalculable and potentially catastrophic The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan.”

The scourge of extremism and terrorism cannot be defeated if Pakistan’s military establishment pursues policies of duplicity; with a selective fight instead of an all-out war against all terrorists without distinction and second thought, since the alternative is clearly at the expense of Pakistan’s peace, stability and future.

As vital it is to battle the Taliban physically, it is even more crucial to battle them ideologically, culturally and socially.

Pakistan’s mosques must be regulated and rid of the hate speeches made against other religions, religious minorities, sects and the West, that pass for sermons. These have converted the country’s mosques into sanctuaries breeding hate, bigotry and intolerance with bloody repercussions.

Jibran Nasir: The quiet lawyer and activist who is taking on Pakistan’s Taliban (The Independent, photo taken by Mosharraf Zaidi)

The people must reclaim their mosques, just as the brave Jibran Nasir led people in Islamabad rallying for FIR against and the arrest of Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid for his audacious refusal to condemn the Peshawar massacre in clear words live on television. It is hoped that this spirit inflamed by rage and sorrow crystallizes into a sustained campaign and movement by the citizens to reclaim Pakistan; for any ‘maulana’ or ‘mufti’ whose tongue stutters to clearly condemn extremists and terrorist acts of atrocities must be taken to task by the people and state; and if the state does not take them to task, the people must take it to task too. Let it be clear today that a lack of condemnation is an act of complicity. Pakistan has paid enough for terrorist apologists in its midst.

The media must also stop the sensationalist and luxurious provision of airtime to such men in the guise of interviews and calls; offering them opportunities to shamelessly propagate their views and promote the cause of the extremists in turn. Pakistan cannot and must not tolerate any terrorist apologists from any sphere, be it religious, social or political since they are in abundance.

Furthermore, Pakistan cannot envision the eradication of extremism and terrorism unless the political patronage of militant organizations like the SSP, LeJ and ASWJ are explicitly ended. It is this country and nation’s misfortune, that not only does it have leaders who are spineless and irresolute in the face of a cancer that continues to consume Pakistan; but also have links; concede, pacify and pander to organizations that are proud ancillary warriors to the ideological evil.

Death penalties may satiate our desire for justice, but these cannot compensate for the alarming flaws plaguing Pakistan’s judicial system that is unable to prosecute, convict and punish terrorists. Mentioned in Chris Albritton’s Daily Beast article, the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 states:

“Intimidation by terrorists against witnesses, police, victims, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges contributed both to the slow progress of cases in Antiterrorism Courts and a high acquittal rate.”

According to Dawn, since 2007, over 2,000 alleged terrorists have been freed by the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) and even re-joined terrorist outfits. Therefore, as long as Pakistan’s courts are not empowered and let murderers like Malik Ishaq walk free with the blood of hundreds of Shias on his hands; death penalties will only remain a superficial step taken in the stride for serving justice.

Moreover, the curriculum and textbooks taught in Pakistan must be reviewed and revised to replace the patchwork of intolerance, hate, bigotry, xenophobia and jingoism it has currently bred by one which fosters a pluralistic national mindset of tolerance, inter-faith, inter-sect, inter-ethnic harmony. The distortions and crass obfuscations in the textbooks may have served the state well but they have certainly not served the country and nation well.

Pakistan must also recognize that the disease of extremism and terrorism is home-grown. The hordes that attended Arshad Mehmood’s funeral after his hanging were our people, they were Pakistanis. Those who fund, abet and sympathise with these are Pakistanis. Arshad Mehmood and his ilk was Pakistani. The hundreds of children slaughtered in Peshawar were Pakistani, this is Pakistan’s war.

Lastly, as a people, we must rupture our resilience. Let us let it be known that we will not forget nor forgive; we will neither recover nor rest until we win this war; a war within us. We must no longer be quiet; we must let the pain of Peshawar never subside if Pakistan is ever to remain alive. Let us feel the loss that can never be undone. Let us walk on the blood-splattered shards of Peshawar, let us never forget what happened there; let us not wash this away from our hearts and minds by the flimsy cloth of resilience.  Let us know that our silence and resilience is now complicity.

Let us find it difficult to sleep every night knowing this soil is fresh with the splattered blood of its beautiful children. Let us count the 50,000 which 140 more have joined.  Every inch of this land is soaked with the blood of its own.

Let us be resilient no longer if we are to count no more.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Blasphemy in the Name of God


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif recently visited the family of the Christian couple burnt alive by a mob in Kot Radha Kishan for allegedly desecrating pages of the Holy Quran. He announced Rs5 million as compensation for the bereaved family as well as 10 acres of land. A three-member committee has also been ordered to investigate the matter. Although commissions and committees in Pakistan have come to represent a confirmed course for consigning an issue to oblivion, the inadequacy of the aforementioned measures resonates for larger reasons.

Earlier this year in Gujranwala, an angry mob set fire to a house killing three Ahmedis including eight-month-old Hira, and five-year-old Kainat.  From Ahmedis, Hindus to Christians, religious minorities in Pakistan are vulnerable and widely exposed to threats, intimidation and violence. This is a reflection of not just crass state failure but an alarming societal disease.

Shama and Shahzad Masih

Pakistan faces an underlying, entrenched disease that can neither be cured with ‘compensations’ of millions nor commissions. A disease that has been manifesting itself as several bleeding sores on the national body in the form of Gojra, Joseph Colony, Gujranwala and now Kot Radha Kishan.

It is astounding how, in a society as intolerant and violent as Pakistan’s, where the state is impotent in its protection of citizens, individuals of religious minorities can even gather the audacity to commit blasphemy in this glorious bastion of Islam where pious believers are ever eager to reconstruct hellfire as done with Shama and Shahzad Masih.

The brutal murder of the couple, which has left behind three little children, has all the elements that perpetuate such cruelties; which are ironically, blasphemy itself in the name of God.

It is reported that the mob was incited by a local cleric, much in line with what is the custom in such cases. Just as PM Sharif has instructed the revision of curriculum in national institution to inculcate values of constitutionalism and democracy in order to defeat the dominant narratives resulting from decades of military dictatorships; narratives of hate and extremism emanating from the loudspeakers of mosques and teachings at madrassahs must also be countered. State-licensed campaigns and clerics united by an ideology and purpose of fostering harmony, tolerance and inter-community peace must also be considered. Pakistan’s madrassahs and masjids have become breeding grounds of hate, bigotry and intolerance which, until effectively monitored, checked and combatted, will only lead to need for further Zarb-e-Azbs in the future.

Writing for Dawn, Cyril Almeida points out another important aspect of the victims of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law: ‘Blasphemy victims are disproportionately the marginalised: often poor, mostly the wrong denomination and always vulnerable.’ Almeida further mentions that those in the national and social mainstream are not threatened by such instances, which is why ‘the system doesn’t need to swing into action and correct a perversion.’

More importantly, Hassan Javid’s article, published on the 9th of November in The Nation, on this recent blasphemy case echoes with the banality of evil in Pakistan:

‘However, focusing solely on these actors [the military, government and extremist organizations] obscures the fact that there is a ‘banal’ aspect to the bigotry and hatred that we are witnessing around us….it is ‘normal’ people who are increasingly complicit in these unspeakable acts of evil. Shahzad and his wife Shama were not burnt alive by Taliban fighters or sectarian extremists; they were tortured and killed by the people who lived and worked around them. The mobs that attacked Gojra and Joseph Colony were not comprised of foreign fighters sent to Pakistan by Al-Qaeda; they were ordinary villagers and citizens who presumably went back to their families and homes once their dark deeds were done.’

pakistan blasphemyThis involvement of ordinary people in such acts does much to underscore the extent, gravity and ideological and cultural facets of the prevalent challenge of extremism confronting Pakistan.

Pakistan faces a glaring reality marked by discrimination, bigotry and blood that screams to be seen; which the state and society both deal by averting gaze from. Therefore, to constitute commissions, order probes and register FIRs is merely to bandage an infected gash than treating it. The country can no longer do without systematically addressing and reviewing laws, chief of which are the Second Amendment and the Blasphemy Law (a proposal which is seen as blasphemy itself in Pakistan’s increasingly intolerant and polarised society), which sanction or condone such wanton violence and barbarities. The murders of Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and the dangerously absurd allegation grounded in blasphemy recently hurled at Khurshid Shah for his remarks on the term muhajir merely emphasise the wide dangers to which this law and its ideological popularity open doors to. Pakistan can also not ignore the urgency to battle extremism and bigotry on the ideological, societal and cultural fronts. Until that happens, the murders of Shama and Shahzad will perish in the same old cycle of media coverage, commissions, committees for investigations, muted protests and outrage; and eventually, collective national amnesia. Until then, Pakistan shall continue to be disfigured by a diseased society with deceased humanity committing blasphemy in the name of God.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

National Clutter


*Originally published in The News.

It’s been over a month since the dharnas came to the capital.

And although Imran Khan warns of a civil war, the political temperature has come down considerably but not after exposing the bare and weak bones of Pakistan’s make.

To start off, with rumors and fears of a coup abound earlier; a most alarming reminder has been the persisting existence of the Third Umpire on the political front. Including a counsel of restraint on both sides, advocacy for facilitation of negotiations and advising the government not to use force, Dawn’s editorial published on 2ND September spoke on this string of the army’s statements and inaction towards the protesters that attacked the Parliament despite Article 245 as:

‘The carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the army leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis has been torn apart.’

The fact that army had to issue these statements and later another to assert its neutrality brings out a sneering irony.  

It is obvious that redressing the civil-military imbalance is urgent and yet perilous since the Third Umpire will not be leaving a field it has dominated and played on since decades anytime soon.

Secondly, while mudslinging and uncivil rhetoric has been and is an inherent component of Pakistan’s chaotic political culture, the current developments have assisted their swift mainstream resurgence; lest we forget Imran Khan’s volley of countless allegations and accusations against the sitting prime minister, ministers, parliamentarians, judiciary, police, journalists, bureaucrats and the media; and his free and open use of “oye”, “main choroon ga nahi” to “geeli shalwars”. The on-going rumpus has assisted and promoted the crude rhetoric of violence and slander in Pakistan’s political culture and discourse to once again rear its ugly head.

More importantly, a tweet by Mosharraf Zaidi on Imran Khan’s audacious release of his workers arrested by the police accentuates a disquieting issue:

‘One can blame PM Sharif to a certain extent, but delegitimization of the state machinery is now the unwitting PTI project. Disturbing.’

This act of Imran Khan’s may be hailed as bravado by his supporters, who condemn and decry Anjum Aqeel in the same breath, but since its declaration of civil disobedience, promotion of hundi; attempts to storm state buildings with PAT and this forceful release of arrested workers, PTI and its workers have certainly pursued a path of delegitimizing state apparatuses by way of blatantly defying the law.

With such a course of action, PTI has helped muddle up the distinction between the state and the government; attacking the former to shake the latter.

This is but a dangerous phenomenon in a country struggling for stability and security; adding a political plane to the constant challenges to the writ of the state by a plethora of groups including the TTP.

In the domain of the government, the consequences of ignoring political protests, as PML-N initially did with Imran Khan’s, have been dramatically revealed. Governments, especially that of parties like N which conveniently adopt smug complacency when in power, can no longer afford to be dismissive of opponents’ demands or perform sluggishly.

Moving on, as with every national occurrence, the media’s role has been of vital significance amid the inquilabi and tabdeeli mayhem. With fear-mongering, misinformation and sensationalism media houses flagrantly picked stances and sides. This glaring functioning of Pakistan’s media as propaganda houses for political parties with little room for impartiality and responsibility has been unfortunate. Media coverage has also been concentrated on the capital, with hardly any slot for the plight of the IDPs and later, the flood victims. All of this has once again lent weight to the idea that Pakistan possesses a vibrant, free media but a fledgling one not free from biases, unethical practices and oblivious to responsible, meaningful journalism.

Public discourse has also been affected, albeit with the curse of intense polarisation. With each lot sticking to its viewpoint and party loyalties with charged political self-righteousness, little room has been left for debate and discussion, let alone poor old nuance. All who oppose PTI’s politics are now ‘jahil nooras’ and all those who criticise PML-N ‘youthias’. And with debate and discussion shut off like this, this only strengthens the intolerance that is already embedded in Pakistan’s society and national mindset.

Another societal characteristic emerged amidst the dharnas, namely misogyny and hypocrisy. Appropriated into mainstream political discussion thanks to Maulana Fazul-ur-Rehman invoking the infamous fahashi narrative inside the Parliament, the dancing by women at Imran Khan’s dharna became a part of the political salvo against him.

A non-issue with no political weight or ramification, it is, as columnist and writer Abdul Majeed Abid, wrote:

‘One can disagree with the ‘dharnistas’ on dozens of accounts, without any mention of the term ‘vulgarity’….. this is important only in bigoted, misogynist societies such as Pakistan.’

It is astounding how women and men dancing at rallies can be an issue when there is a war being fought at home and a million Pakistanis are displaced from their homes, left for destitution.

This is a fine encapsulation of the clutter Pakistan is in today.

At the end, it is palpable that the political confrontation which began in mid-August sparked off a tense interaction between Pakistan’s politics, institutions, society and culture; the results of which are unsettling. A close to the current events may be uncertain but what is certain is that as a country aspiring for democracy, stability and prosperity, Pakistan has a long and difficult path to tread if it is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

No Country for Nuance


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog, posting the unedited version here:

As yet another political crisis brews in Pakistan, political discussion and arguments steam through it.

Emotions are high, and arguments equally heated and intense.

It is often assumed to be the case among Pakistanis that any existing political support must encompass all aspects of a party regardless of personal agreement or disagreement. In other words, support has to be uncritical or it doesn’t fit the definition. If figure, institution or idea has to be supported, all that comprises them has to be backed; and whoever or whatever is to be opposed, must have the hate whole.

This is no country for nuance.

However, the problem is not limited to Pakistan, as Turkish writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol writes on Al-Monitor regarding the discourse on Erdogan in the country:

As Bekir Agirdir, the director of a polling company and a political commentator, noted, it has become impossible to reasonably discuss even Istanbul’s water problem, because Erdogan supporters will deny it, whereas Erdogan opponents will exaggerate it.

With the political turmoil pitting PTI right against the PML-N, any argument seems to define opposition to Imran Khan’s politics as ‘Noora’ support for Nawaz Sharif; and any support for PML-N, the institution of government and the state as support for a corrupt Pakistan. Any acknowledgement of Asif Zardari’s political genius and success of Machiavellian politics is taken as jiyala praise for PPP’s lacklustre performance.

Independent political opinions or thoughts are now refused to be seen without suspicion of political affiliation and loyalty lurking beneath to dictate them; and allegiance is expected to be, as aforementioned, complete, uncritical and whole.

Similarly, the dichotomy of discourse has monstrously grown to swallow all civility.

The bitter and brash assertion and argument of opinions has taken over discussions and conversations completely with derogatory words among which are jahil, noora, noony, anti-Pakistan and beghairat. Relations are publicly souring on social-media platforms and in lounges and drawing rooms, as respect is being trampled by charged political self-righteousness.

Any support for a party must be based on solid, logical reasons and if it indulges in socially, ethically or politically reprehensible pursuits; it must be condemned. Pakistan’s interest, not personality cults, must direct party support.

But in the current atmosphere no word against the holy saints of Raiwind and Bani Gala is brooked.

Social media-user and activist Meera Ceder pertinently points out:

‘Blind following or blind allegiance to anything makes one truly blind. I hate the fact that everything is seen from a black and white lens. Everything is an either or and if you choose to condemn two wrongs then you are “clearly” taking sides. Not everything can or should be seen in binaries.’

It is either this or that, with us or against us, black or white. Binaries are the order of the day.

Socially, any sign of broad-mindedness that challenges redundant conservatism on issues such as female education, attire, careers is characterised as ‘modern’ or ‘liberal’ with negative connotations. Religiously, General Zia’s toxic legacy of Islamization reigns as people consider any interpretation of Islam apart from their own to be heretical. This has been a polarisation that has had bloody effects by physical demonstration in the form of terror groups and extremism having slaughtered 50,000 Pakistanis till now.

The ideological textbook propaganda found in Pak Studies on the creation of Pakistan, its culture and religion does also not help by its distortions of history and the truth. These have been so well-indoctrinated by now that they not only, unfortunately, shape much of Pakistani national and political discourse even today, but any attempt to challenge them is undermined, ignored or thrown to the bin of numerous Pakistani pejoratives that include liberal-fascist, anti-Pakistan, RAW agent etc.

All of this spells our penchant for polarisation.

Polarisation is not merely a disappointing national phenomenon, it is a dangerous one. After all, it is polarisation which breeds intolerance and a parochial mentality by shunning debate and discussion. Being cut off from debate and a diverse range of different and dissimilar views has the effect of intellectual insulation and isolation; plus a lack of respect for opposing opinions. This creates a hostile, suffocating environment for all people to be heard, understood and respect. This might explain why many segments of the nation such as the Baloch, the Pashtuns, and the religious minorities et al are misunderstood. They are either never heard, lent an ear to be heard or their voices are hushed.

Debate, civil argument and discussion are keys to a more pluralistic, open, tolerant society; and the very heart of democracy itself, which is why polarisation is the cancer at the heart of Pakistan.

As the state transitions through challenges, so must the people by developing a pluralistic rather than a polarising environment, discourse and attitude – if Pakistan is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

The Breeze Amid Political Heat


*Originally published in The News.

Since the past one month, the political temperature has been rising by the day. Attacks against the government have grown only to culminate as an intentioned final blow in the form of marches to the capital to unseat the PML-N government.

Imran Khan’s PTI and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s PAT are driving their respective marches and inquilabs.

Any political crisis is inevitably a breeding ground for opportunism, point-scoring, mud-slinging, propaganda, vendettas and agendas. The case hasn’t been dissimilar in Pakistan where the two-seater Chaudhrys of Gujrat, and the lone-parliamentarian Sheikh Rasheed have been hanging on inquilabi coattails.

However, amid the political chaos and uncertainty has been a positive development.

From JI, PPP, JUI-F, ANP to MQM, there has been a perceptible manifestation of political maturity. Having placed their own political agendas, differences and issues on the second rung of priority, they have come together in their advocacy for political dialogue; advice of negotiation, concession, flexibility and reconciliation to the government; and in the process, palpably demonstrated the spirit of democracy.

Publicly speaking on the dangers posed to Pakistan, its nascent democracy and hopes for a democratic future by current developments and the government’s response to them, many notable members and leaders of these parties such as Khurshid Shah, Raza Rabbani, Aitzaz Ahsan, Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira, Mehmood Achakzai, Hasil Bizenjo, Zahid Khan and Afrasiab Khattak have emerged.

With separate visits made by these parties to the ruling government’s leaders and members, imparting advice and help to them in dealing with the marchers; this political engagement has been a welcome occurrence.

The government’s decision to allow passage to both marches was a prudent abandonment of the jitters and edginess it had been demonstrating by the placement of containers, barriers and other measures that were characteristic of its tendency to overreact and create crises; and making monsters of minions.

In Hamid Mir’s recent show of Capital Talk, Federal Minister Saad Rafique revealed that the government’s decision to allow passage to Tahir-ul-Qadri for his march was reached in consultation with the PPP.

It seems that the parties have learned from their mistakes and the lessons of the past which dictate that political infighting, politicking and the politics of destabilization only benefit and strengthen the forces against democracy at not just their cost but of the country too. 

It is also quite remarkable how JI has emerged as the voice of sanity and sense in the prevailing political chaos; a credit that clearly goes to Siraj-ul-Haq for practising his political leadership responsibly, thereby bringing the party to the forefront of the battle against potential destabilization in Pakistan.

Adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in America, Arif Rafiq agrees by saying:

 “Siraj-ul-Haq has been playing a solid role despite being in a tricky situation [coalition partner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa]. They have a long way to go on the rights of women and minorities. But change on that front isn’t impossible.”

Political unity and maturity augurs well for Pakistan.

In the current crisis, it has attempted to function as a conduit between an obstinate opposition party and a sluggish government. Provided success at the end in the form of a deal out of this political pandemonium, this is sure to set a solid precedent as solution to future political tangles. Previously, it was witnessed in the signing of the historic 18th Amendment under the PPP government which effectively defanged the president by removal of the infamous 58(2)b that long stifled Pakistan’s democratic sprouts in the 90s; and enhanced political autonomy – all of which was a stride in Pakistan’s transition to a proper parliamentary republic.

Similar was the case during Tahir-ul-Qadri’s ‘inquilab 2013’ in Islamabad, which was deflated by the PPP government’s shrewd and sensible handling in cooperation with fellow political actors.

The late Eqbal Ahmad wrote in one of his articles that military intervention in politics only ends when ‘the legitimacy of the civilian system of power is established over a period of time.’  However, he went onto reason the unending military intervention and interference in Pakistani politics as, ‘We have been lacking both the political framework and leaders capable of investing the civilian system of government with authority, and taming the warrior class.’

Democratic continuity is the root of this much-needed establishment of legitimacy of the civilian system of power, a cause for which some of the prominent political parties have now been seen to be standing up for amid current political problems through active engagement with the government; PTI and PAT.

Therefore, if it flourishes, this political solidarity, maturity and sagacity can strengthen, empower and invest the civilian system of government with the power, will and dynamism it sorely lacks to face challenges and set Pakistan on the road to prosperity.

Political unity, maturity and sagacity are undoubtedly essential complements to Pakistan’s democratic evolution.

And one hopes they prevail at the end of the current political turmoil; and democracy triumphs.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

At the Cost of Pakistan


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

Embroiled in a war at home and a plethora of political, economic and national crises, Pakistan is nearing a tumultuous 67th year in existence.

Imran Khan’s initial demands for electoral recounts in particular constituencies have now snowballed into the demand for the departure of the entire PML-N government or badshahat; and mid-term elections that he, once again, expects to sweep.

230636_43698242For many, this transformation of demand indicates Imran Khan coming out for what he has really wanted all along for a government that he refuses to believe was not given to him to lead. All set to head as prime minister, a development he was sure enough to have declared it on national television on Hamid Mir’s show, Khan Sahab’s romantic expectations defied entrenched Pakistani electoral dynamics and intricacies leading to a result he did not anticipate.

In a developing, chaotic and overly-politicised country like Pakistan, there are no doubts that the elections of 2013 were not without irregularities, problems and issues. All of which lends greater gravity to the need for electoral reform.

However, to deem the entire election ‘stolen’ and call for re-elections is to repudiate the will of those who voted for the government. Some of the top electoral rigging claims of PTI have been debunked for political claptrap, most recently done by Zahid F. Ibrahim in his Express Tribune Op-Ed ‘Ten Truths about Electoral Rigging’ which takes each claim and factually counters it.

It is also quite peculiar that, according to the PTI, the entire elections were a dishonest affair with the Election Commission, caretaker government, media, judiciary actively colluding – and it is yet to present evidence and prove how exactly this collusion transpired – to prevent its victory in all of Pakistan; but in KPK. With this in mind, it really does seem to be the case then that the PTI is protesting against winning in the ‘wrong’ province.

A recent video of PTI Deputy Information Secretary Fayyaz Chohan does not only accuse Kayani of rigging; but also goes far to point to an international electoral conspiracy including the USA, UAE, KSA and India.

Popular blog Kala Kawa also writes:

‘That the PTI is demanding mid-term elections on the back of evidence that Election Tribunals have found insufficient speaks solely to the damaging lust for power Imran Khan has found himself in.’Pakistan-Gallup-Nawaz-PPP-PML-N_4-12-2014_144335_lAs evident is the callow approach of the PTI operating under the ‘Azadi March’, which seems to be exactly as Ammar Rashid, an independent researcher and information secretary Awami Workers Party (Islamabad/Rawalpindi), called out to be: PTI standing for little more than making Imran Khan PM at all costsa – equally astounding is the performance of the government in its first year that has largely been characterised by lethargy. The PML-N has come to power at a time when Pakistan is the convergence tip of crises; which does not grant the government the allowance of incompetence and lassitude. With increasingly-unbearable power shortages, huge numbers of the unemployed, persisting poverty, a sluggish economy and fear of a terrorist backlash of Zarb-e-Azb; this is a moment demanding sharp and decisive decisions, policies, works and implementations. The Sharif government must realize that gone are the days when it was till the ballot box that a party had to prove itself; in today’s competitive political environment, it is now beyond the ballot box that parties have to prove themselves with performance; or risk being pounced on by opponents.

With blockades and containers around Lahore, and the decision to invoke Article 245, the government’s panicked response to the planned marches of the PTI and PAT is congruent with its disappointing tendency to overreact and create crises; that it needs to learn to avoid.

Similarly, it is essential for Imran Khan to accept that his expectation of becoming the prime minister was not fulfilled to by the majority of the people as demonstrated by the ground realities which hit him hard in elections. Having broken the shifting political monopoly between the PPP and PML-N, PTI holds immense potential to be potent force of opposition in the parliament, an attacking but constructive role augmenting the democratic plinth in Pakistan; but its present politics of fixation, immaturity and obstinacy are not only destructive for Pakistan’s nascent democracy but for PTI itself.

It needs to channel its potential and power as a formidable political force in Pakistan; as opposition, keeping the government with their socks pulled up all the time; and as the provincial government, focusing its strength and vision in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and practically presenting itself as a plausible alternative to other parties in Pakistan. PTI should focus on developing KPK as a model of its governance; it should compete with the PML-N government through governance, for the last thing Pakistan needs right now is destabilisation.

As Adnan Rasool mentions in his article in Dawn:

‘The way the system works is that the opposition, irrespective of how small it may be, asks the tough questions and projects an alternative ideology, instead of trying to leave the system because of being beaten in the elections. They need to make the government work hard for a reputation.’

Columnist Gul Bukhari raised a pertinent point on Twitter commenting that the Sharifs seem to have lost all interest in governance and adopted a singular programme of reacting to Imran Khan’s relentless pursuit of power.

Protesting is one of the most important constitutional rights, even more significant for the exercise by the opposition; however attempts to topple a democratically-elected government and seeking to sink the system merely because your dominance is denied in it are no rights whatsoever.

The system in Pakistan has problems, Pakistan’s budding democracy has problems, but to set the stage for instability, destabilisation and the Doctrine of Necessity in the pursuit of personal political and party interests is never the solution.

Imran Khan’s bare demand of fresh elections coupled with his obstinacy project a sure stalemate. However, if the government displays political maturity and level-headedness in handling this delicate situation with cautious care and control; if the army stays at the battle front; if other political parties like PPP, JUI-F, JI, ANP and MQM recognize what is at risk and come together in interest of Pakistan and democracy; if better sense prevails, the situation may still be able to be salvaged.

Just last year, Pakistan witnessed the term-completion of a democratically-elected government for the first time in its history. And the Elections were expected to augment this democratic tradition, however ensuing political attitudes inclined towards infighting seem to push Pakistan back into the 90s which was an era of intense tug-of-war, and we all know where that led to.

All at the cost of democracy and Pakistan.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja

Zafarullah Khan & the Tragedy of Palestine and Pakistan


*First published in Pakistan Today.

“This is a solemn moment, solemn in the history of the world, in the history of this great —let us hope, at least—great Organization. The United Nations is today on trial. The world is watching and will see how it acquits itself— again, perhaps, not so much from the point of view of whether partition is approved or not approved, but from the point of view of whether any room is to be left for the exercise of honest judgment and conscience in decisions taken upon important questions.”

-Sir Zafarullah Khan’s Address to UN Security Council on the issue of Palestine. (October 7, 1947)

The Gaza death toll is nearing a bloody 1000 as Israeli barbarities continue.

Since the atrocious bombing began, torrents of sympathy and solidarity with Gaza have been released from all quarters all over Pakistan.

And with them, there has been an outburst of lament relating to Pakistan and the Muslim world’s sickly response to the barbarities in Palestine.

However, what has been rendered unknown today is that Pakistan once played a significant role on the international stage.

Born on 6th February 1893 in Sialkot, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan rose to become a leading politician, diplomat, an international jurist (he led the International Court of Justice) and one of the founding fathers of Pakistan.

The man behind the famous Lahore Resolution, Zafarullah Khan went on to be appointed as Pakistan’s first foreign minister by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1947.

Hardly two months after its creation in 1947, he represented Pakistan in the United Nations General Assembly as the head of its delegation and soon emerged as the most excellent spokesperson for the Muslim and the Third World.

Through his unwavering championship of such causes, he became a prominent advocate of peace, freedom, liberty, human rights, democracy and justice. From 1948 to 1954 he represented Pakistan at the Security Council (UN) and actively spoke for the liberation of Algeria, Libya, Northern Ireland, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Malay, Morocco, Nigeria, Indonesia and occupied Kashmir.

His unsurpassed and principled diplomacy practically put Pakistan on the map of the world and brought it into the notice of other nations.

Zafarullah Khan also presented the cause of Palestine and Kashmir at the UN. Including a speech which went on for 7 hours, it was largely Zafarullah Khan’s efforts which materialized into the UN Resolutions on Kashmir.

His promotion of the Palestinian cause garnered enormous appreciation, acknowledgement and reverence from almost all Muslim countries and leaders at that time. His speech of October 1947 on Palestine is considered one of the most powerful cases presented for it.

Realizing the lack of national recognition for him, several blogs and publications by his community have sprung up and sought to compensate for it by detailing his life, services and legacy themselves. One such blog post quotes from what it has identified as the editorial of The Statesman, Delhi, dated October 8, 1947:

“For the first time the voice of Pakistan was heard in the counsels of the United Nations on a burning topic of world-wide significance when leader of this country’s delegation, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, addressed the United Nations Palestine Committee at Lake Success on Tuesday. It was a telling speech which tore into shreds the specious pleas put forward by the advocates of the partition of Palestine. Chaudhry Zafarullah did not merely indulge in rhetoric when he described the partition plan as `physically and geographically a monstrosity’, he proceeded to prove this by unassailable arguments. Answering the contention that the migration of more Jews into Palestine should be permitted because the Jewish displaced persons desired to go to that country, Pakistan’s spokesman asked whether the Americans would consent to relax or abrogate their own immigration laws if displaced persons of various other nationalities desired to enter the United States and settle there? Would America, he further asked, agree to take in the five million displaced persons of the Punjab if they desired to leave the scene of their suffering and cross over to the United States. We have little doubt that the Arabs will rejoice to find the voice of Pakistan so powerfully raised in the United Nations in defence of their cause. The addition of the independent sovereign state of Pakistan to the comity of free Muslim peoples of the World is already beginning to have its effect on international affairs”.

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King Faisal’s expression of gratitude to Zafarullah Khan for his representation of the Palestinian case at the UN.

Mr. Fadhel Jamali, a late former Foreign Minister of Iraq is also said to have penned in a tribute in Al-Sabah of 10th October, 1985:

 “In fact, it was not possible for any Arab, however capable and competent he may be, to serve the cause of Palestine in a manner in which this distinguished and great man dedicated himself. Mohammad Zafarullah Khan occupies a pre-eminent position in defending the Palestinians in this dispute. We expect from all Arabs and followers of Islam that they will never forget this great Muslim fighter. After Palestine, the services of this man for the independence of Libya also deserves admiration.”

In his book ‘Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, the False Messiah’ (Volume I), distinguished British journalist Alan Hart mentions Zafarullah Khan’s thoughts after the vote on the partition of Palestine. Zafarullah Khan viewed the partition as a result of bribery and pressure, and Hart deemed Khan’s thoughts to have been the best expression of what majority of states felt that day regarding the injustice.

To date, none have come into sight who could rival the towering statesman; who was honoured and held in the highest esteem by numerous countries, leaders and nations, especially Muslim.

Honoured by all but his own.

Because of his faith.

He was an Ahmadi, and like all, he has been disowned by the state and people.

In a post for All Things Pakistan in 2007, Yasser Latif Hamdani poignantly wrote:

Ironically, today Jinnah’s most trusted lieutenant is not even remembered by the state which owes him so much, including its own founding document.

Today, Sir Zafarullah’s speech on Palestine reads as a tragedy for both Palestine and Pakistan. It resonates as a striking reminder of the injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians, and the injustice Pakistan has inflicted upon itself; the injustice of ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and myopia.

As the saying goes:

“Poor are nations that do not have heroes, but beggared are those who forget them

Militants Lose, Militants Gain


*First published in The Nation. Posting the unedited version here:

Pakistan’s momentous decision to battle militants in North Waziristan under the banner of Zarb-e-Azb has struck a decisive hour for the country and nation. However, while the dominant focus has been on the on-ground offensive, remaining aspects of the fight such as the ideological prevalence of the extremist ideology in the state and society, and the implications of the decision have been seemingly blurred into insignificance.

The military operation has come with a large human cost that is generally dehumanized to lump up as Internally Displaced Persons.

Over half a million IDPs have been registered so far, with the numbers expected to swell and exert pressure on the government’s capacity and capability to ease their massive predicament.

Rashida Dohad, programme director at the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, penned the plight of the fleeing IDPs while explaining the languor nature of response to it in her article in The News titled ‘Displaced, Disowned’:

The state’s ineffective response can be partly attributed to the proverbial high number of cooks that spoil the broth. The federal government authorised the operation, which is being carried out by the military in NWA leading to an exodus of local people from Fata who are taking refuge in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

So who is in-charge? At times, all appear busy – the federal government, the military, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the administration in Fata. More often none assume responsibility, with each blaming the other for the suffering caused to the people of NWA, who are not just displaced, but also disowned.’

But while the Pakistani government’s response to various emergencies and crises has traditionally been slow, sluggish and therefore, often ineffective; this fresh crisis of displacement has given rise to immense ease and access with which extremist and militant organizations are being allowed to operate as relief groups – which can potentially have grave implications.

In a recent report by Taha Siddiqui for Dawn, the troubling development is shed full light on:

‘The FaIah-e-Insaniyat Foundation volunteer quickly serves one IDP after another, and then moves back to the relief camp set up just outside the sports complex — the only one in the vicinity — for a refill. There’s a huge banner which states: “In these tough times, we are standing with you [the IDPs] — Jamaatud Dawa.”

The organisation has over 200 volunteers distributing aid across Bannu, with 25 ambulances on standby. Sarfaraz says they have given out more than 112,000 food packets, and provided medical treatment to over 10,000 patients.

And it is not just JuD that is free to operate in this region. Just half a kilometre before the sports complex, a large banner in blood-red colour bears the name of Masood Azhar, and calls him the Ameer-ul-Mujahideen. The camp, which provides water and medical facilities, also has a queue of people waiting to see the doctor.’

This is not the first time this occurrence has surfaced. When the devastating floods of 2010 wrecked the country, displacing millions, the same extremist and militant organizations stepped up to provide aid as the then-Pakistan People’s Party government stumbled in the effort.

Published on August 23rd 2010, Corey Flintoff’s report on NPR titled ‘In Pakistan, Militants Use Aid to Seek Support’ described a similar situation:

‘There are a lot of reports of extremist groups stepping up to provide aid,” says Molly Kinder, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to reducing poverty.

Kinder, whose work focuses on the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid, says the government of Pakistan “has clearly lost the war” in terms of winning credit for its relief efforts. “Even if the reports are exaggerated, the extremists have created the impression that they care about ordinary people,” she says.’

The same month, the Daily Beast also reported on Jamaat-ud-Dawah’s proud claim of providing relief to more than 250,000 flood-affectees.

It is in such instances when the government limps to act that such groups find fertile ground to posit themselves as alternatives in front of the people, especially those in need of help, building popular bases of support and converting their ambitions into influence and power; through which they gain the audacity to later pose a challenge to the entire state and society.

As Zarb-e-Azb rages on, it must be realized that it is not just an Operation, it is a war with multiple battles. And while the main front is North Waziristan, it has opened another front within the IDP camps as extremist and militant organizations capitalize the crisis.

It might be the case that Pakistan is supplanting one extremism with another in this hour of crisis as the organizations assert themselves through practical measures, presenting themselves as saviors of the IDPs; winning their sympathy, good-will and trust in contrast to their disillusionment with the government. And later managing to channel the discontent to recruit soldiers and supporters for their perverted causes and twisted ideologies; which one day might acquire enough strength to require another Zarb-e-Azb for its eradication.

360880-IDPsphotofile-1333739202-428-640x480As Rashida Dohad continues in her piece:

‘While the state fidgets or forsakes, dangerous non-state actors are quick to fill the vacuum. Banners displayed in Bannu, claiming that Jamat-ud-Dawa stands by affected people in their hour of need, mock the ban placed on this organisation. Unconcerned, JuD is also reportedly fully engaged with the IDPs.

Their agenda is less visible. What is clear is that the state’s failure to cope is giving them unrestricted access to people who are displaced and distraught – likely earning their trust, contrasting sharply with the anger the IDPs feel towards the government.’

The free and open aid operations by ostensibly ‘banned’ organizations such as JuD truly does jeer at the government’s writ, and cheers at this sort of patronage that they enjoy at the hands of the state.

Moreover, as Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has stated there to be no time-frame for the completion of the Operation, it becomes all the more important to recognize the need to stem the tides of extremism from all sides; one of which might be gaining potency by the initiation of the war and its human costs.

If the government has taken the decision to go to war, it must stand by it and brave to adequately manage its consequences. It does not have the luxury to flail or fail now.

The government must leave no stone unturned in establishing itself as the dominant body spearheading efforts for succouring the IDPs – the people of FATA who have already long suffered under the draconian rule of the FCR, a pressing problem that also must not be ignored by this government if it seeks to ensure the welfare of the people of Pakistan – and tighten its grip on them thereby leaving them little space to substitute for the government in relief and aid work; which, if left unchecked, can yield disastrous implications and consequences.

At the end, the words uttered by Shah Mehmood Qureshi who was the Foreign Minister at the time of the 2010 floods must be repeated:

“If we fail, it could undermine the hard-won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.”

 

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Zarb-e-Azb and Pakistan’s Other Battles


*First published on Pakistan Today.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a much-anticipated statement on June 15th 2014 announcing the decision on the directions of the government to launch a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists in North Waziristan; Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

The decision has been largely welcomed by both the segments of the nation which were divided over confrontation with the Taliban: those who, from the very beginning, questioned the logic of negotiation in the face of an expansionist and extremist force; and those who favoured negotiation only to be left disillusioned as the militants refused to cease their assaults on the country, the latest being the Karachi Airport Attack.

army-operationA state of war, as it is now, it is hoped that this would lead Pakistan’s political parties and the government to consider the gravity of the situation and demonstrate sheer seriousness by practicing maturity, sensibility and putting their squabbles aside. The complete opposite of which has been witnessed in Model Town, Lahore in the fight between PAT supporters and the Punjab Police; and Imran Khan’s incessant drive to push forward his rusty political agendas against the government by seemingly unending  jalsas.

The government and other parties must realize that now is not the time for political gimmickry, point-scoring and bickering. While the media should realize that responsible journalism, instead of sensationalism, is the need of the hour.

The government should leave no stone unturned for aiding the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), ensuring their easy transportation and suitable accommodation. It needs to have concrete plans for their rehabilitation, especially since the holy month of Ramzan has begun and the scorching heat is yet to subside. More importantly, the IDP crisis and the government’s sluggish response is being capitalized by several militant and extremist organisations who are stepping up to provide relief and aid to them, which could have potentially grave implications if the state continues limping. The participation of the ordinary people, the civil society and NGOs will also be vital to the efforts for the help and assistance of the IDPs, as has always been.

The Operation against the militants does not only involve our courageous jawans,but this fight demands that the entire nation stands together in this decisive hour.

The late Eqbal Ahmad, whose prophetic warnings (‘the chickens of Jihads’ once sponsored by imperialism and the state are likely to come home to roost’) regarding Pakistan’s future vis-à-vis the policy in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan war were made little use of, penned in an article of his titled ‘What after Strategic Depth?’ published in Dawn on 23rd August 1998:

The domestic costs of Pakistan’s friendly proximity to the Taliban are incalculable and potentially catastrophic. More importantly, the Taliban’s is the most retrograde political movement in the history of Islam. The warlords who proscribe music and sports in Afghanistan, inflict harsh punishments upon men for trimming their beards, flog taxi drivers for carrying women passengers, prevent sick women from being treated by male physicians, banish girls from schools and women from the work-place are not returning Afghanistan to its traditional Islamic way of life as the western media reports sanctimoniously. They are devoid of the ethics, aesthetics, humanism, and Sufi sensibilities of traditional Muslims. To call them “mediaeval” is to insult the age of Hafiz and Saadi, of Rabi’a Basri and Mansur al-Hallaj, of Amir Khusrau and Hazrat Nizamuddin. The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan’.

Pakistan will have to revise its policies if it wishes to effectively eradicate this cancer for once and for all today. Two contrasting policies, one which advocates a fight against the Taliban (“bad Taliban”) at home while going soft on the Taliban in foreign lands such as Afghanistan (“good Taliban”) in order to extract some sort of advantages is bound to ensure neither peace nor stability in Pakistan and come back to bite us, as it is today.

And while the nation wishes the armed forces success in the Operation, light must be also be shed on an equally important side of the battle: the TTP’s ideological prevalence in our social, religious and political sphere which is far more dangerous, in that it spawns and reproduces the fodder for bloodletting in the form of so-called jihadis which today Zarb-e-Azb is designed to defeat, and even more difficult to destruct.

The hate sermons that often blast from many mosques’ speakers against minorities and certain sects; the dangerous indoctrination that occurs in the madrassah; the open distribution of leaflets, pamphlets and issuance of fatwas that incite murder and hate; the consonance between the mindset of many ordinary Pakistanis and the Taliban regarding minorities, the West, democracy and modernity; a pregnant Farzana Bibi’s stoning in broad daylight; the existence of Taliban apologists and sympathizers in our political arena and their ideological and political patronage of the ancillary warriors of Al-Qaeda such as the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba; a certain High Court Judge planting a proud kiss on Mumtaz Qadri’s face during his trial for the murder of the late Salman Taseer – are all stark testaments to the ideological pervasiveness of the Taliban in Pakistan today.

Humayun Gauher in his article ‘The Enemy Within’ published recently in Pakistan Today says:

‘Finally, the army is launching a mini operation, but only in North Waziristan and perhaps the rest of the tribal areas. Big deal. The terrorists have reached every nook, cranny and neighbourhood of the country, even the houses of the rich and powerful. The operation has to be countrywide if we are to be rid of terrorism once and for all. ‘

Chris Cork also makes a striking point in his op-ed in Express Tribune titled ‘The Jihadi Spring’:

‘Subsequent air strikes are said to have killed many ‘foreign fighters — and that may well be true but it is not the foreign fighters that are the real problem.

That lies far from North Waziristan and is in the seminaries and madrassahs that give support and succour to the men who fight in the mountains. The anonymous compounds that are the rear-echelon for extremist groups. They provide rest and recreation, logistical support, are planning hubs and quite probably arms caches as well. All hiding in plain sight, all well enough known to ‘the authorities’ — and all apparently sleeping easy in their beds today. Which — if this huge operation in the mountains of the North were really about countering terrorism in Pakistan — they should not be.

Terrorism needs to be fought holistically, it is never going to be ‘defeated’ militarily (ask the Afghan Taliban about that one) and as long as the arteries of money and doctrine and patronage flow freely — as they are today — it will always persist.

Today Pakistan faces not a single but multiple threats of militancy, terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and violence, as identified by the government’s National Security Policy of 2014-18, all of which are heads of a single monster; only one of which the state as decided to take on now, to defeat which each would have to be destroyed. And for Pakistan to rid itself of this plague, it is an essential imperative to win both battles against the militant extremists: the one on the ground and the one in the state and society, the ideological front.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Humanity as Morsels


I am, as always, deeply infuriated by the typical comments people in Pakistan make when an international crisis of human loss emerges; that mourning or outraging about the deaths of Palestinians is mutually exclusive with outraging when Shias, Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis in Pakistan are targeted and persecuted. Some of the views within this line seem to advocate displaying complete disregard for whatever is being perpetrated around the world, and ‘focus on Pakistan’ and ‘your own home’.


As I once wrote: true, that condemnation and outrage in Pakistan rests on whatever perpetuates one’s narrative or beliefs. Even within Pakistan, there is no uniformity, but selectivity in outrage. And it boils my blood too.
But usually, some attempts to rouse attention or sympathy towards an ignored happening seem to degenerate into diminishing the value of and disregard for the lives lost in the first one, because the entire concept of comparing and contrasting deaths reeks of obscenity. 

I wrote, that surely when deaths are made to compete to be mourned, fouled and disregarded heartlessly to be given ascendancy over another; exploited to strengthen personal political arguments; ignored due to indifference and the solemnity they command consigned to oblivion; it signals nothing, but the death of a nation itself.

persecution-jani-freimannI understand that you’re trying to challenge people’s indifference, that may be deliberate or simply a product of their ignorance, but ironically, the course you take tumbles into the same cast that it seeks to break. It appears to advocate selective outrage too; one that is contained by Pakistani borders. To challenge Pakistani indifference, you need not mock sympathy for the other people, Gazans in this case.  The social rot of selective outrage can be battled with awareness, tolerant arguments, taking action, protesting – and demonstrated without mocking, insensitive sarcasm and jeering.

Humanity doesn’t come as morsels for which mouths of different crisis and atrocities must be selected for it to be fed to. I grieve, vociferate for my brethren persecuted and oppressed in Pakistan, be they the Shia or the Ahmadi, and I will grieve for every other human – be he Muslim or not, Pakistani or not – tyrannized in any other land.

If you want to counter selective compassion, empathy, sympathy and outrage; loudly advocate compassion and humanity for all, everywhere and anywhere with no thought for borders, races, ethnicity, religions and sects, both in Pakistan, and outside Pakistan.

Standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, Kashmiris and the persecuted in Pakistan and around the world. Always.

~ Hafsa Khawaja