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

Engaging Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law


*First posted on Laaltain.

From Aasia Bibi, Rimsha Masih to Shama and Shehzad; blasphemy in Pakistan hangs like a sword over Pakistan’s religious minorities.

However, amid the cases, there is a concerted effort underway to push for reform regarding the blasphemy law in Pakistan, by the name of Engage.

 

A non-profit research and advocacy organization, Engage is pushing for the reform through research and dialogue, by way of which it aims to impact and change the discourse; legal, social and cultural frameworks surrounding the issue of blasphemy in the country.

Unlike the usual frameworks, such as those of human rights, used to structure debate and discourse against the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan, Engage is rooted in the singular framework of Islamic tradition for the pursuit. During his recent talk at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, researcher Arafat Mazhar, who is one of the main individuals associated with the organization, continuously reinforced that authority has to be established in order to counter the dominant narratives prevailing on the issue in the country; and that this authority and evidence has to be derived from the same source which is used as a legitimating basis for the Blasphemy Law i.e Islamic tradition.

Picture taken from Engagepakistan.com

Engage, therefore, pursues the important deconstruction of what it calls the erroneous basis of the law through Islamic tradition; chiefly through Imam Abu Hanifa’s position that blasphemy is a pardonable offence for non-Muslims.

Moreover, Mazhar spoke of Ismail Qureshi, architect of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan’s, and his disastrously incorrect reading of Ibn-e-Abideen (1836) whom he referenced to lend weight to the law. It was Ibn-e-Abideen, who, in fact, pointed out the line of false narration regarding the Hanafi position on the issue of blasphemy by non-Muslims.

And as written in his articles for Dawn, he reinforced the significance of this Islamic tradition by mentioning that the position of blasphemy as a pardonable offence for non-Muslims was approved and signed by no less than 450 of the most prestigious names in the Hanafi ulema, not just from South Asia, but around the world” (which included Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, founder of the Barelvi school of thought to which, ironically, Mumtaz Qadri belonged).

The organization’s site is prompt to state that:

 “Our research actually shows that the law is built on erroneous religious foundations including misquotations and misrepresentations of authoritative classical Islamic jurists.

[and by demonstrating the abovementioned through informed, thorough research and historical evidence]

It is only when this narrative – the public sentiment– is reshaped that legal reform can be addressed.”

In Mazhar’s words, “legal reform cannot take place in a vacuum in Pakistan” without addressing the popular social and cultural acceptance and prevalence underlying the Blasphemy Law.

In short, Engage aims to make use of solid research in Islamic tradition to delegitimise the basis of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and engage the general public, society, culture, institutions such as the government, judiciary, religious scholars and groups such as non-governmental organizations and the civil society in Pakistan along with the international community of Islamic scholars, in order to push for reform of the law.

As part of its efforts, Engage has established a Fatwa Drive which seeks scholarly endorsements recognizing the erroneous position on cases of blasphemy relating to non-Muslims; that if an alleged blasphemer seeks pardon, he should be forgiven.  The Fatwa Drive includes visiting major madrassahs, masjids, Islamic jurists and scholars for the purpose.  For Engage, this is based upon the idea that “Together, the moral authority of these opinions can be used a force for legal and popular reform.”

Well-aware of the ire, controversy, dangers and suspicions such a campaign can and does invite, Engage seeks to maintain a clean character of its campaign – free of affiliation, association with different interests – by seeking funds to support itself and its objective through crowdsourcing.

Engage’s campaign can be contributed to at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/engage-reforming-pakistan-s-blasphemy-law

Arafat Mazhar can be contacted on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arafatmazhar

And truly, if Pakistan is to chart a peaceful and pluralistic future for its citizens and religious minorities, it is essential to engage with and overcome all that sustains the Blasphemy Law.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

No Time for Knee-Jerk Solutions


*Originally published in The Daily Times.

It has become a routine affair to read and hear headlines announcing the impending or ordered suspensions and dismissals of officers as an answer to lapses of security, administration or general mismanagement these days. More or less the decisions held within them have come to be recognized as an instrument of redress and governance. After the recent incident involving Sikander in Islamabad, the Interior minister also announced that he had ordered the concerned authorities to suspend all those police officials who allowed Zamarud Khan to take such a foolhardy chance and breach the cordon.

But it needs to be asked, are these instant suspensions and dismissals the solution to problems?

The public acceptance of this sort of management of affairs can be attributed to a handful of reasons a prime one being the sentimentality of the Pakistani nation which gives in quicker to emotions of rage, excitement, incitement than to ceding ground to thought and reasoning.
Such decisions in wake of unpleasant occurrences sate public agitation rather rapidly, seeming to be severe deserving penalties, on the face of it, that shall act as preventions of replications in the future.

Similarly, this serves the politicians well too. By ordering such actions and in the context of the public reaction as mentioned above, elected representatives emerge as leaders with a stringent and prompt fashion for imposing discipline and negligence at the expense of the people.
The sensational wrapping of these measures as news by the media only adds to their hollow luster.
SuspendedSplash3
However, a degree of public acceptance of such measures must not blur its nature from being recognized which is but a knee-jerk phenomenon part of the larger system of governance in Pakistan that resorts to cosmetic fixes when confronted with the need to deal with deep-rooted troubles.

Immediate dismissals, suspensions of officials upon notice of a tragedy; dereliction of duties or a  miscarriage of administration is in itself, a miscarriage of governance and administration.                                                               
In his article titled ‘PML-N vs. The Channels of Non-Delivery’ in The News on July 10th 2013, Mosharraf Zaidi excellently highlighted the direction the government needs to adopt if it hopes to succeed in the resolution of the country’s difficulties:

‘If the PML-N is serious about sustaining democracy, it has to deliver sustainable change. To do so, it needs to invest heavily not just in the big-ticket outcomes it needs for re-election, but crucially in the procedural coherence and integrity of government.

5-21-2013_22991_l_TDramatic reforms in the civil service, in local governments, and in public financial management are essential to the outcomes politicians seek.
Without such reforms, any outcomes Pakistani democrats achieve will be difficult to come by – they will be temporary, and they will be unsustainable. In the medium- and long-term, failure to reform Pakistan’s channels of delivery is the single most dangerous threat to Pakistani democracy.’ 

It is therefore, evident and imperative that the problems and shortcomings within Pakistan’s system must be addressed rather than quick fixes to the problems that are their spill-over; structural reforms are needed now more than ever. The recurrence of unfortunate occurrences, either in the shape of the recent collision of a rickshaw with a train or security lapses, all are part of the larger system of structural defects and failures in Pakistan that continue unabated.

The knee-jerk reactions of governance and redressing can act has hasty bandaging of seepages of the system’s weaknesses and loopholes but only perpetuate the cycle that abets it.

The 17 young lives that perished in the school bus tragedy in Gujrat can not be brought back or done justice to by the mere arrest of the driver or the suspension of his license to drive but other lives can be protected from being lost with greater legislation against gas cylinders in vehicles and its effective implementation along with safety regulations.

What is needed instead of or beyond numerous instant dismissals and suspensions is a tightly-timetabled, impartial thorough examination and investigation – even if it shall lead to the same end as the suspensions and dismissals – of the incidents; with a complete account of the contexts of circumstances, people and causes involved. Not only will this course of action aid swift retribution of those found to be responsible but also provide for introspection of the system itself, identification of its faults and options for correction, it shall pave path for sustainable prevention and reform.              

Prevailing structural inertia and incompetence that sprout regrettable and ill-fated incidents can only be dealt with immediate reforms instead of immediate, perennial short-term measures to compensate for these sporadic occurrences that only cause them to appear somewhere else again, and again. And only then can Pakistan be alleviated from the morass it remains bogged down in.

 – Hafsa Khawaja