Hollow Healing


*Originally published in The News.

Newspapers recently reported that a group of students and teachers who survived the Peshawar massacre had been sent on a trip to China ‘aimed at healing the mental scars of their ordeal’; and that the bereaved parents of the 130+ children killed would be sent on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Although officials maintain that the trip was borne out of suggestions and consultations done with psychiatrists regarding the process of healing, reality offers a far difficult road to recovery for Pakistan.

With 50,000 massacred – yes massacred, not sacrificed; let us not romanticise the bloodletting that consumes Pakistan; for a sacrifice is willing and conscious, but a massacre is plain butchery – the sigh between mourning countless tragedies and the breaths heaved between cries is the only peace the nation can prise.

The Shikarpur slaughter that took away 60+ lives has revealed the empty change the Peshawar tragedy spurred in Pakistan in the form of standard hollow condemnations, promises and eyewash.

Palliative measures such as the lifting of the moratorium on death penalty and hangings of convicted terrorists may satiate national vengeance, but do not and should not dampen the need for national justice; for which a solid anti and counter-terrorism policy is essential.

Furthermore, there has naturally been no shortage of the absurd since the KPK government’s decision to allow teachers weapons inside schools stands glaring. As shocking is the decision, it is also a tragic testament to the state’s loss of its monopoly on violence, cruelly emphasised by terrorists, and its reaction to it which seems to border on surrender and acceptance. Such an acquiescent attitude clearly signifies the state’s indifference and inability to protect the lives of its citizens and guarantee their liberty, safety and security. And from the KPK government’s decision, it appears that the solution to this loss of state monopoly has been found in compounding the problem by doling out more and more shares of the monopoly to segments of the violence-ridden society.

More recently, arrests were made of the members of the civil society, which included the dauntless Jibran Nasir, protested in Karachi by holding a sit-in against the Shikarpur imambargah bombing and the ‘outlawed’ ASWJ. The protesters’ demands included naming all banned organisations on media; closing the offices of all the banned organisations, removal of their flags, erasing their wall chalking; taking action against Aurangzeb Farooqi, ending his police protocol; and providing treatment to patients who need care in Shikarpur, Sukkur, Larkana hospitals in Karachi and Hyderabad. Abbas Nasir, while reflecting on the hopelessness prevalent in Pakistan, penned in Dawn:

“The party in power at the centre never staked a claim to any progressive mantle. But the party in power in Sindh claims to be the keeper of the legacy of pro-people, even secular, politics in the country. Look at how it has capitulated to the religious ultra-right.”

The arrests of the protesters served, yet again, as shameful reminder of the state and government being held hostage to non-state actors and organizations such as the ASWJ and SSP; committing complicity in the crimes perpetrated by these individuals and organizations by way of pandering to them and putting up frequent shows of spinelessness when it comes to them.

The persecution and troubles tormenting religious minorities such as the Shias in Pakistan are very much a part of the problem of terrorism and extremism; dealing with which cannot be discounted if Pakistan is to overcome this crisis. The blood that was shed in Shikarpur was in the name of the same ideology that shed blood in Peshawar. Therefore, to ignore or separate the sectarian angle from terrorism and extremism in Pakistan would be to have a blurry and weak vision of the danger the country faces.

Buried under palliative measures, national amnesia, short-lived bouts of outrage; and the empty promises and deliverance that have become the crowning glory of the PML-N government, which seems to be competing against the records of cluelessness and incompetence set by the previous PPP government, are the concrete steps that remain far from being taken in Pakistan’s fight against terror. Concrete steps that disturb the long-cherished equilibrium and existence of policies and trends in Pakistan including the establishment’s notoriously duplicitous policies, the ties of patronage and alliance Pakistan’s political parties pride themselves on with sectarian outfits; and the cowardice that crowds the corridors of powers in Pakistan from taking on extremism and terrorism with sincerity and tenacity.

The trip to China may temporarily divert the children’s attention, but the usurpation of their childhood, that no child should ever have to bear, is consummate and irreversible.

Comparing the response and reaction in Pakistan after the Peshawar Tragedy to the reaction in France and Jordan after the Charlie Hebdo killings and Muath Al-Kasasbeh’s barbaric murder by ISIS of a nationwide outpouring of solidarity and grief coupled with government resolve, the Pakistan Votes page on social media commented with a quote from Waseem Altaf:

“A fractured polity, polarized political entities and a divided crowd of people, with a security establishment which wants exemptions for certain groups (read proxies) and a spineless leadership is what we have to fight the menace of terrorism.”

Sending the children on trips will not suffice, providing them a future better than their past will. And for that, a lot more needs to be done. Until then, all is hollow healing.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Political Expediency & Abetting Extremism in Pakistan


*First published on Borderline Green.

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With the arrival of 2013 and fast-approaching elections scheduled for the year, the political environment in Pakistan is heating up. Recently, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which is in government presently, announced an alliance with the Sunni Ittehad Council.

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In view of the political season, this would be seen as a conventional electoral alliance, except that it isn’t.

In early January 2011, Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who belonged to Pakistan People’s Party himself, was gunned down in broad daylight by his guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri due to his vehement opposition to the country’s controversial Blasphemy Laws. An incident which intensely polarized the Pakistani society, leaving its fault lines exposed; with the people divided over antipathy to the killing and shockingly, raising justifications for it on religious grounds.

A product of this polarization, the Sunni Ittehad Council, amongst the other hordes, thronged to the court where Qadri was later presented to hail, cheer and garland him. Later, they held rallies in his support.

Despite being small, like all religious parties in Pakistan, the Sunni Ittehad Council has great street power stemming from the country being deeply religious (over 95% in Pakistan are Muslims) and have considerable organizational capacity and ability. Although, for reasons otherwise, this power of the religious parties does not translate into a significant percentage of votes at elections.

In 2001, the Sunni Ittehad Council(SIC) launched a *’Difa-e-Pakistan’ (Defense of Pakistan) campaign that was aimed at creating public awareness against NATO attacks on Pakistan’s border military posts in Mohmand Agency. Also involving participation in a ‘Condemn America Day’.

Despite this, it was revealed after SIC’s support for Qadri that the U.S government had given aid to them in 2009 to plan and organize nationwide rallies, demonstrations and protests against militants, suicide-bombings and terrorist attacks.

A report on the matter says:

A US diplomat said that the embassy had given money to the group to organise the rallies, but that it had since changed direction and leadership. He said it was a one-off grant, and wouldn’t be repeated.

The Ittehad council was formed in 2009 to counter extremism. It groups politicians and clerics from Pakistan’s traditionalist Barelvi Muslim movement, often referred to as theological moderates in the Pakistani context.

Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, is a Barelvi. He claimed he acted to defend the honour of Prophet Mohammed.

At its rallies, the group (Sunni Ittehad Council) maintains its criticism of the Taliban even as it supports Qadri — a seemingly contradictory stance that suggests its leaders may be more interested in harnessing the political support and street power of Barelvis than in genuinely countering militancy.

For many, this indicated that Sunni Ittehad Council’s ardent antagonism towards militancy was somewhat, a dollar-fueled programme or play that they merely executed and orchestrated.

In response to the revelation, the head of the council Sahibzada Fazal Karim said:

This propaganda is being unleashed against us because we are strongly opposed to Western democracy and American policies in the region and in the world.. we are against extremism, but we support Qadri because he did a right thing,”

The Sunni Ittehad Council also strongly denounced any move to grant India the status of Most Favored Nation by Pakistan as means of liberalizing trade between the countries which it is firmly against.

Scholars and clerics from the SIC were part of the Islamic clerics in Pakistan which publicly denounced and even issued a fatwa against the Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala Yousafzai. Many people and skeptics see these occasional stances of theirs as a smokescreen to appear religiously moderate and politically progressive.

What makes this alliance stand out is the popular perception, at home and especially abroad, of the Pakistan People’s Party as a liberal or a relatively liberal party in Pakistan: one that has suffered the losses of many of its members and leaders to the rage of extremism, including its chairperson and the Muslim world‘s first female prime minister, the iconic Benazir Bhutto, due to its liberal and staunchly anti-extremist stances. But the  PPP has continually belied this image with its decisions and reactions to events in this tenure, that astoundingly go uncritically unquestioned by Pakistan’s otherwise vocal intellectuals.

PML ASWJ articleIt is not just the PPP which has formed such an alliance, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or PML-N is also widely known to be on cordial terms with and to have reached a political consensus over seat adjustments for the upcoming general elections with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. The SSP, which resurged by changing its name to ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’ in order to display organizational differentiation – from the SSP which was banned under Musharraf’s rule – is an extremist and terrorist organization.  Ineffectively banned by the state, it is primarily concerned with thwarting Shia influence in Pakistan. It is the ideological father of the terrorist militant organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangivi which has been responsible for the slaughter of countless Shias in Pakistan.

These are not isolated events of the electoral season.The formation of these reprehensible alliances by two of Pakistan’s largest and most prominent political parties which have enjoyed stints in power are but a microcosm of politics in this South Asian country:

Playing to the gallery of the religious right, exploiting religion, allying with extremist factions for political gain which inevitably leads to appeasing and patronizing them thus, augmenting their growth and emboldening them.

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These instances of indulgence in political expediency, which reign supreme, have been a potent factor in abetting extremism in Pakistan.

As Pakistan finds itself at a crucial juncture, it is a demand of time that all segments of the state unite to devote themselves, with absolute sincerity, to the battle against extremism and terrorism that has already spilled the blood of over 40,000 innocent Pakistanis and cast the state as a virtual international outcast.

It is mutually exclusive for a party or government which blatantly collaborates and partners with organizations, that are established on the idea of hate and radicalism and promote bigotry, to ever fully commit itself to the war against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. And that is the last that the country needs today.

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*Not to be confused with ’Difa-e-Pakistan Council’ (Council for the Defense of Pakistan) which is an umbrella coalition of more than 40 Pakistani quasi-political religious parties that advocates closing NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and rejects the Pakistani government decision to grant India most-favored nation status.

~ Hafsa Khawaja