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

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Youhanabad and the Language of Prejudice


*Originally published in The Nation.

Less than four months since the Peshawar tragedy and Pakistan has seen the Shikarpur bombing, the Peshawar Imambargah and Youhanabad attacks.

Blood does not seem to stop flowing in this land.

Much has been said about attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan, and it is often that the violence against them is explained by brushing it into the general epidemic of terrorism afflicting the nation and country; violence that raging yet indiscriminate. Certainly, attacks on religious minorities do add to and reinforce the plague of violence in Pakistan yet they are not one and the same thing. The danger of this explanation is that it is a narrative which blurs a gory reality; that religious minorities face fatal focus from terrorists and extremists; specially targeted and massacred. From the Shia Hazaras in Quetta to Shikarpur, from Kot Radha Kishan to Youhanabad, there is a cold-blooded calculation behind this blood-letting, and these are truly besieged communities.

Ali Sethi’s recent article in The New York Times on the Youhanabad attack states:

‘According to one estimate, in the last two years there have been 36 targeted attacks on Pakistani Christians, 265 Christian deaths from suicide bombings and 21 “persecutions” of Christians under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

What we have, then, is the peculiar despair of a people who are unable to articulate their real grievance, a people who have no political parties or voting blocs of their own, who have only churches and pastors and the eternal motifs of suffering and deliverance to see them through this dark period.’

Moreover, although Youhanabad falls in Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif’s constituency; he hasn’t visited it once since the attack. This does much to demonstrate the crass neglect and disregard prevalent in the ruling party’s leadership on the issue, aggravating the spiralling state failure at the cost of numerous Pakistani lives.

The extremist intolerance and hate that set off bombs in Youhanabad also bred further violence as two men were burnt alive by the resulting angry mob in broad daylight to the glare of photos being snapped and videos being captured through mobiles by the perpetrators.

As gruesome and reprehensible was the lynching, it is important to view the incident clear of the inevitable and intense emotions clouding it. Waqqas Mir, writing for The News on Sunday, offered the needed perspective:

“A mob is a mob and its violent actions need to be condemned for that reason alone. The religion to which violent individuals belong is not helpful in explaining the violence or, more importantly, controlling it.”

Religion can certainly not be held culpable in cases such as these which are clearly not specific to certain groups in the society if we are to recall that the savage lynching of two brothers in Sialkot happened not long ago.

However, the violent turn of events after Youhanabad revealed an equally important aspect contributing to the dismal position of Christians in the country: cultural and social.

The Youhanabad bombing and the mob that horrifically took the lives of two men spurred a rush of reactions. Soon some sentiments morphed into degradation of the Christian community in Pakistan.

Many expressed shock, outrage and despair at the incidents, yet a flurry of tweets and comments also ran along the lines of “chooray chooray hi hotay hain”. The attachment of choora as a disparaging and condemnatory label for the entire Christian community is neither new nor uncommon, and this was put to ample display during the ugly turn many comments took as the news of the mob murder emerged. Such is the extent of its use and commonality that choora rings synonymously with the Christian community in the country for many.

Language is the vehicle of culture, and inevitably, cultural prejudices.

Choora, a pejorative to belittle and degrade Pakistani Christians, is rooted in the utter lack of respect and recognition associated with those who have menial occupations in the society. The comments sought to shamelessly demean the Christian community by way of the label since socially and culturally, little respect is lent to the work of those who toil after the dirt and filth we leave in our wake, not quite different from this filth spouted at the Christian community; a religious minority whose members included illustrious individuals like Cecil Chaudhry, Mervyn Middlecoat, Justice Cornelius and Samuel Martin Burke who lived their lives for Pakistan.

The application of choora in its cultural context therefore ‘others’ Christians by degrading them as some sort of second-class citizens who are unequal to the rest. This is similar to the linguistic treatment of khawaja sira or khusras which is reflective of our societal treatment of them; in the form of exclusion; subjection to humiliation and jokes.

While to some these may ring only as mere words, they are nonetheless expressions of the deep-seated beliefs prevalent in many segments of the Pakistani society; cultural crutches for the bigotry that perpetuates prejudices against the cornered Christian minority. These reflect and reinforce prejudices that manifest as apathy towards their problems, grievances and pleas, and in the most extreme of cases, as bloody sores as in the form of Joseph Colony, Shama and Shehzad’s cruel murder and the Youhanabad bombing.

The white in our flag is soaked red and it is time it is reclaimed; but for that the state and society must work and change in unison; the latter must rid itself of cultural beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that sustain and perpetuate prejudices against religious minorities in Pakistan.

And for a start, we can all begin by challenging and changing the language of prejudice.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

~~

Kashmir Bleeds, Does Anyone Heed?


*Published at Dissident Voice.

Befittingly termed once as ‘Heaven on Earth’, with millions martyred since the past 6 decades, thousands of half-widows, orphans and missing – Kashmir today is a Palestine-in-the-making of Asia.

As the Kashmir intifada continues, anyone keeping a keen eye on the serpentine course of events there is bound to be surprised as to why the coverage and attention of international media does not keep up with the importance and intensity of resistance to the Indian Occupation of the region?

[Read the precise history of the issue under the sub-title of ‘Background of the Kashmir Conflict’.]

For the past six decades, Kashmir has hung in the region as a pendulum of conflict between two countries with only one demand of the Kashmiri people, Azadi or freedom from Indian Occuption and their right to self-determination.

It has been tried to stifle this voice of theirs by bullets, lynching, rape, arrests, arson and humiliation which are what solely today’s Kashmiri youth or the ‘Sang-baaz’ (Stonepelters) have grown up knowing as gruesome child-hood memories.

But what needs to be highlighted, is how the international community is turning a deaf ear to the cries of Kashmir today when they are ringing higher than ever.

 Aalaw (Meaning ‘call’ in Kashur), is a site set-up by ordinary Kashmiris to help show the ground-realities there. It has updated the list of killings in Kashmir since 11th June:

“Summer in Kashmir has been drenched in blood which witnessed killing of many civilians, mostly teenagers, allegedly in police and CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) action mostly since June.”

113 people have been murdered brutally and one can gage if this is the case for 4 months, what really has been happening in Kashmir for the past 63 years.

 

The atrocities in Kashmir can also be recognized by a data included by Pakistan’s Parliamenatary Committee on Kashmir a few years back :

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS COMMITTED BY INDIAN TROOPS IN IOK

 
(FROM JANUARY 1989 TO FEBRUARY 2006)

Total Killings                                  90,776
Custodial Killings                            6,817

Civilians Arrested                        111,269

Houses/Shops Destroyed           105,143

Women Widowed                         22,371

Children Orphaned                     106,616

Women Molested                           9,637

(Source: All Parties Hurriyat Conference)

 

After much happening, recently the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon evinced his cognizance of the savagery in Kashmir by hesitatingly issuing a feeble statement (calling an “immediate end to violence” and pleading for “calm and restraint by all concerned”, thus equating the people of Kashmir with their oppressors)expressing concern over the situation there but by knwoingly not addressing India which should be diretly done as expected from the Head of an organization as the United Nations.

It is pertinent to mention here that Kashmiri population are only demanding that they should be given their rights of self determination under the UN Resolution. That leaves one to wonder what the purpose of the UN is if it lacks the will to exert pressure to execute the process defined under its own resolution leave alone stopping tyranny anywhere.

 

This dispute is also viewed as a possible cause of a future ‘nuclear clash’ between India and Pakistan therefore making the conflict a matter of international importance.

One would concur with what Ms.Maria Sultan wrote :

“The liberation movement is often depicted as a ‘terrorist’ militancy instigated primarily by Pakistan.”

It is doubtless that the foreign media, for a long period, has portrayed the freedom struggle of Kashmir wrapped in a dirty glaze of militancy and extremism (which is exactly what the oppressors in the case : India, have shown to be which would be similar to belieiing what Israel has to say about Palestine) showing the people of Kashmir to be terrorists funded by Pakistan which is certainly irrational to say the least.

 

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated at the UN:

“No one any longer can seriously believe … that Pakistan can orchestrate thousands of people…”

This time, the Intifida in Kashmir is not about men only but it involves women and children, armed with stones and sticks, stepping out to defy the curfew or protest.

 

The Sang-Baaz have taken to the streets and have become a single force mirroring the rise of the third Kashmiri generation in resistance to Indian Occupation.

Tariq Ali wrote a brilliant article ‘Not Crushed, Merely Ignored’  in July over the killings in Kashmir, him being in oblivion about them and the Foreign Media hypocrisy over it :

“….As far as I could see, none of the British daily papers or TV news bulletins had covered the stories in Kashmir; after that I rescued two emails from Kashmir informing me of the horrors from my spam box. I was truly shamed. The next day I scoured the press again. Nothing. The only story in the Guardian from the paper’s Delhi correspondent – a full half-page – was headlined: ‘Model’s death brings new claims of dark side to India’s fashion industry’. Accompanying the story was a fetching photograph of the ill-fated woman. The deaths of (at that point) 11 young men between the ages of 15 and 27, shot by Indian security forces in Kashmir, weren’t mentioned.

Later I discovered that a short report had appeared in the New York Times on 28 June and one the day after in the Guardian; there has been no substantial follow-up. When it comes to reporting crimes committed by states considered friendly to the West, atrocity fatigue rapidly kicks in.

An Amnesty International letter to the Indian prime minister in 2008 listed his country’s human rights abuses in Kashmir and called for an independent inquiry, claiming that ‘grave sites are believed to contain the remains of victims of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other abuses which occurred in the context of armed conflict persisting in the state since 1989. The graves of at least 940 persons have reportedly been found in 18 villages in Uri district alone.’

The figures provided by the IPTK are startling. It claims that the Indian military occupation of Kashmir ‘between 1989-2009 has resulted in 70,000+ deaths’. The report disputes claims that these killings are aberrations. On the contrary, they are part of the occupation process, considered as ‘acts of service’, and leading to promotion and financial reward (bounty is paid after claims made by officers are verified). In this dirty and enduring conflict, more than half a million ‘military and paramilitary personnel [more than the number of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan combined] continue to act with impunity to regulate movement, law and order across Kashmir.”

 

 

M Yusuf Buch, a former adviser to the UN and former Pakistani ambassador wrote an excellent and a must-read piece on Kashmir under the heading of ‘India Fesering Wound In Kashmir’, starting from the beginning of the conflict, India’s reneges and failure to honor its pledges by Nehru, the response of the world to it to the recent-day events there :

[Excerpts;]

“The Kashmir dispute has persisted for more than six decades and, to put it simply, the world has become used to it. Second, the United Nations has been marginalised during the last two decades with the consequence that the Charter is beginning to be looked upon as almost an antique. Third, callousness, if not outright cynicism, has become the reserve fund of diplomacy. A blindness to human reality is reflected in the vocabulary employed when situations of international conflict are talked about. Two adjectives used when an indirect reference (a direct reference, mind you, would be frowned upon by India) is made to Kashmir: the adjectives: ‘historical” and ‘long-standing’. Factually, the adjectives are not wrong. But they come handy because by drawing a curtain over reality, they provide a moral justification for studied inaction.

We might interpose a question or two here. What is ‘historical’ about the young woman who has just been widowed and gang-raped? What is ‘long-standing’ about the elderly man whose only son, his sole support, has been killed? Again, what is ‘long-standing’ about the hordes of unarmed teenagers who are resorting to the practice of pelting the Indian occupation troops with stones in Srinagar and other cities

….. India stations more troops in Kashmir than the United States did or does in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Can this situation be dismissed as ‘historical’ and ‘long-standing’?

If it is being so dismissed at present, the dismissal is aided by the language employed. We are being told of an ‘insurgency’ in Kashmir. The term may not be inaccurate but it promotes a misperception. What is going on in Kashmir is not an insurgency against an authority that was once regarded as legitimate; it is a resistance to alien military occupation.

The uprising in Kashmir has been marked more than once by the entire male population of the cities (excepting only the aged, the sick and children) coming out together in the streets to demonstrate peacefully against India’s military presence in their homeland. Could such a pointer have been mistaken, or would it have been allowed to be mistaken, far less ignored, if it had happened in a Western country?”

It is visible that India has emerged as a vibrant and growing economy in Asia, offering much to the Western countries and this ‘E’ Reason is one of th major causes behind the almost non-existent standpoint on Kashmir of the ‘Superpowers’ and those countries that have claimed to be the torch-bearers of human rights previously. India is a much-needed ally of the USA in South Asia as a counterweight against China, which leaves the sensitive issue to be either vaguely or rarely addressed as to not miff them thus acquiescing with their ‘Atoot Ang’ farce.

Written back in 2005, the article titled ‘The Atoot Ang Farce’ points out :

“India has responded to this uncontrollable situation in three ways: it has isolated the occupied state by denying access to international human rights groups and media; it is perpetrating systematic atrocities in the form of collective punishment, mass killing, mass confinement, inhuman and degrading treatment, torture, starvation, molestation and rape – over 31000 women have been either molested or raped- arson, loot and custodial killings; facts are being distorted and the freedom movement is being propagated as terrorism with support from Pakistan. Indian media has helped its government in camouflaging the reality in Kashmir by churning out lies, fabrications, excuses, blames, abuses and myths.”

If not the International Community, one expects the foreign media to stop its selective coverage and come to show Kashmir as a disputed territory.

In today’s era has become a powerful instrument for sparking awareness in minds all over the world and a catalyst for setting the stage for a change. Its role in covering the diverse incidents of cruelties were vital in making the people and Governments watching them, imbued with the feeling of their moral responsibility to adopt a firm stance on such issues.

Also the Pakistani Media needs to outgrow its immature phase of developing , kicking up an unnecessary rumpus out of every political statement, but help divert the concentration of people towards burning subjects such as that of Kashmir which is as greatly related to Pakistan as it could be. The lack of media coverage from Pakistan’s side on the Kashmir Conflict is facilitating India to brand its oppression and gross human rights violations there as an  ‘internal matter.

Children as young as 8 are being killed in Kashmir, youthful and innocent Kashmiri girls are raped infront of their brothers and fathers yet there is no protest from the world , while when a woman is ordered to be stoned to death on the charges of adultery in Iran – even the First lady of France speaks up. People are not allowed to give blood to their injured or the dying loved ones in hospitals due to curfews. Where is the world on this? All countries that declare themselves to be champions of human rights, equality and freedom? Where are all the activists? Why this silence and bias?

 

Even Indian Civil Society Members have protested against the open genocide in Kashmir. Where is the Pakistani Civil Society? And it should be remembered that Kashmiris are against the Indian Government, not the people, who are in a state of amnesia regarding the promises their revered PM Nehru had made over Kashmir which they failed to fulfill. Mere rhetoric will not do, both Governments need to set Kashmir as a top priority as there can be no peace in Asia along with the establishment of its presence between the two nations, without this quagmire being solved in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiris.

 

KASHMIR BLEEDS, DOES ANYONE HEED?

 

– Hafsa Khawaja