Browsing "Salmaan Taseer"

What Pakistan needs to do in wake of Peshawar incident

Though extremely tragic, the Peshawar incident managed to do something that national tragedies like death of Benazir Bhutto, siege of Mehran Base and many suicide attacks couldn’t do. It made people question many long held beliefs and there emerged some dissenting voices which are questioning the way things have been run so far. It is not much, but it is encouraging. If we really want to address the issue of terrorism that is plaguing the country for a good quarter of a century, we will not only need to revamp our policies and strategies but will also have to let go of long held ideologies.

For starters, the people of Pakistan in general and the armed forces in particular need to understand that Pakistan does not face an existential threat from India. There are other smaller countries neighbouring India and they are surviving all right. Former East Pakistan and India’s eastern neighbour Bangladesh is doing extremely well despite being a much smaller Muslim country (In comparison with India) in the sub-continent. In fact, Bangladesh is outperforming Pakistan in key indicators of education, women’s contribution in GDP, maternal and child health, and value added exports. It is about time that we also divert out attention and resources from seeing India as a menace to our survival and pursue a policy of economic cooperation which will benefit everyone. Cold War real politics and support of Western allies allowed Pakistan an artificial parity with India. But the story of 21stcentury is very different. India is an economic and political power with the highest growth rate in the region. Its defence budget is three times that of Pakistan and as soon as Pakistani military understands its status and place in the new regional dynamics, the better it would be for both the region and the country.

As a country, we need to let go of our collective religious and nationalist denial. To say that Pakistanis and Muslims cannot commit such heinous acts is the denial of highest order. Musilms have a long history of turning against each other. Yazid’s army that attacked Imam Hussain’s family was Muslim, and so were Mughals who fought against Delhi Sultanate. Closer to home, the army that killed many Bangladeshi civilians in 1971 was financed out of that taxes paid by those very civilians. Why do we make this exception for Taliban and try to come up with clues that perpetrators of suicide bombings were either Indian or Israeli agents even Taliban openly admit it that they have committed those crimes and their dead bodies get buried in Bonir and Kahuta! This denial does not offer way out of the quagmire we have dug ourselves in, it only make us look moronic in front of the world.

Military power is not the only way to strengthen a country, investing in its people is the way to go in the modern world and Pakistan – with its youth boom – would do well in diverting resources towards building that future instead of fortifying its geographical boundaries against dormant threats. It must be noted that it could not keep those boundaries intact even during the cold war era.

With the formation of European Union, it has been established that we are living in a post nation state society where most threats to a country are non-national. Clinging to 1980s notion of strategic depth has brought too much grief to the country. It is about time that this idea is put to rest once and for all and a more stringent counter terrorism policy is devised against all the groups that has the capacity and inclination to use force against the country. You do not only need expensive and modern hardware to survive in 21st century, you need an understanding of changing patterns of modern society and willingness to take measures to address those new problems.

Pakistan army needs to get rid of its slogan of ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah’. No other Muslim country’s army has that slogan because the army’s allegiance should not be to a religion but to the country and its tax paying population. Army’s first and foremost duty is the defence of its people – both at the borders and within the country – and not the safety and security of the militant groups that are used to create ruckus in neighbouring countries.

The world thinks of Pakistan as Jihad Central. Not only Pakistan trained jihadis are fighting in Afghanistan, they are also waging the “Holy war” in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere. It is in Pakistan’s national interest that we distance ourselves from this policy of jihad and concentrate on reclaiming and rebuilding the country because if we continue the way we are going, we may not even have a country to save after a while. Pakistani army has created the militant groups that are either active in other countries or are preparing themselves for acts of terrorism. The problem with these groups is that they modify and mutate with the passage of time and change of leadership, even if they were loyal to the state at one point, it is quite obvious that many of them have gone rogue and need to be dealt with as a national priority.

Wars between countries cannot be fought by ideology driven groups. States traditionally have gone to war for something tangible and then have achieved peace through dialogue and bargaining. Unfortunately, there is no bargaining with the religious ideologue. It is their way or the highway.

Take the case of extremist groups in Pakistan. They all want their version of Shariah implemented in the country and would not stop at anything else. Even when the majority of the population does not agree with their version of Islam, there is no room for dialogue or bargaining because they genuinely believe their version is unassailable and supreme and if the state opposes their decree, they go to war with the state.

One such example of the difference between a state ordered responsibility and an ideologue’s action is that of the murder of Salmaan Taseer. Former governor of Punjab was murdered by the police constable who was supposed to guard him. His official duty was to save Salmaan Taseer against any probable attacks but his personal ideology propelled him to disregard his official orders and murder the man he was sworn to protect. It means that when ideology trumps state’s official business, chaos ensues.

Most of us who raised voice against extremist right wing forces in the country have been labelled unpatriotic liberal fascists in the past. Some of us were killed or attacked or have received threats to life for our nonconformist views. Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in broad day light, Raza Rumi was attacked and driven out of the country and the rest of us have been threatened to keep quiet by someone or the other. It is about time the national narrative embrace the moderate and dissenting voices and involve them in dialogue which is most necessary for a healthy society. Pakistan have been poorer for drowning down those voices in the past, it should not repeat that mistake.

Originally written for The Nation


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Jan 4, 2012 - religion, Salmaan Taseer    19 Comments

Why fantastical will always win against rational in Pakistan

With Salmaan Taseer’s first death anniversary approaching, people started talking about that incident again and one of the strangest stories, validating the murder, came from a LUMS graduate (I, of course, do not mean to shame other LUMS graduates, I am just genuinely astounded at the limitations of formal education). 
So this guy I know, an acquaintance, said that his friend’s friend – a lawyer and someone he never met – went to see Mumtaz Qadri – the Salmaan Taseer murderer – in his cell to offer his services as a lawyer. According to the lawyer dude, Mumtaz Qadri met him with great humility but refused his services because a big name lawyer had already offered his services which Qadri had accepted earlier. Though heartbroken to not represent Qadri, the lawyer ended up having a cup of tea with the man in the cell. The lawyer was suitably impressed with Qadri and reported that his cell smelled of rose petals and agar battis (Incense sticks). When asked where he gets the rose petals and agar battis from, Qadri said that he does not have either agar batti or rose petals; the smell follows him around wherever he goes because he is blessed by Allah for killing Salmaan Taseer. My acquaintance and his lawyer friend were both convinced afterwards that Qadri was indeed the chosen one and he had done a great service to mankind by killing the former governor of Punjab.
My acquaintance is a graduate of what is now considered to be the best university in Pakistan and works for a telecom company, yet he chose to believe a half baked story when he heard one from a not so reliable source with absolutely no justifiable evidence. When I asked the telecom guy if his lawyer friend had actually checked the cell for any hidden agar battis and rose petals or checked with the guards if the room has been recently swept and the smell of flowers and incense stick lingered on or if there was any smell to begin with, I was given this incredulous look and he said that I will never get it because my faith is not strong enough. I did not say much afterwards because I literally get sick when people take no time in jumping to judge me for my weak or nonexistent faith. 
Not just this educated guy who is considered smart by all accounts, but the lawyer, who is supposed to view everything with skepticism, chose to not only believe a murderer, but also perpetuated the myth of Qadri being connected to a higher power with incense sticks, probably embellishing the story to make it even more fantastical to support his argument. 
Is there ever any hope of winning an argument based on logic, rationality and clarity of thought in Pakistan? I think not. It was Ayn Rand (no, I am not a neo liberal fangirl of Ms. Rand) who said that when opposite principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side. If the same logic is applied to the conflict between the secularists/humanists and religious bigots/mindless followers in Pakistan, then the irrational side will triumph. Basically, we are in a race to become more irrational and obnoxious to win the argument and those who can be more irrational, fantastical and obnoxious are clearly in the lead. 
Here is to fun times ahead. 

Killings and kidnappings: a day in the life of a Pakistani

While driving in Rawalpindi yesterday, I came across a series of wall chalking on Tulsa Road demanding the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the infamous murderer of one Salmaan Taseer. I was kinda sad with all things wrong with this country where people not only demand the honorable release of a murderer; they openly declare him a hero. I shook my head and drove on.  
Near Tulsa Road, Rawalpindi

Earlier this morning I discussed this with a friend and we both lamented the fact that even with repeated confessions, the murderer will probably get away with it because no judge who wants to live in this country would dare award any sentence to Mumtaz Qadri. We know that the cleric, Muhammad Afzal Chishti,  who led his funeral prayers had to fleethe country owing to death threats so no judge/judicial bench with an ounce of self preservation instinct would even think about going anywhere near Mumtaz Qadri. Such is the stateof affairs of Pakistan. 
As if this was not enough, Shahbaz Taseer, son of the late Salmaan Taseer was kidnappedearlier today. According to the police, there is no evidence linking the murder of the father with the kidnapping of the son. If a rich and well connected (they have connections with the men in two of the most powerful houses of the country; Presidency and PM House) family like Taseers is facing so much grief vis-à-vis security, rule of law and justice in the country, imagine the plight of a common man. Be it Karachi or Jamrud, the Taseers or any other poor family, the state is failing its citizens again and again and is doing it with impunity.
Here is wishing Taseers that Shahbaz makes it back unharmed.

The space for secularism in the national narrative

Pakistan is a strange country; the people who garner maximum news coverage are often shady. If January was the month of Mumtaz Qadri, then February and March definitely belonged to Raymond Davis and the man who hogged all the headlines across the globe in May was Osama Bin Laden. Last but not the least was Illyas Kashmiri who was killed in a drone strike in June.

It is even stranger that though all four of them were shady characters – murderers to be precise – the response of the popular media to their deeds, lives, and reasons have ranged from high praise to utter ridicule. While Davis was lynched by our media for killing two Pakistani men, Qadri was praised by a certain section of media as the saviour who, by shedding blood of another human being, has somehow restored balance in the universe and saved the religion, humanity and galaxy. The kind of debate bin Laden and Kashmiri spark is the stuff of legends. People have called them terrorists, warriors, messiahs and everything in between depending on their ‘ideological’ and ‘idiological’ leanings.

But the strangest common factor in all the cases is that the popular media has developed the narrative and catered to the incidents surrounding these characters on the basis of religion. All the discussions and responses on the subject have been based, not on the news worthiness of the issue, but on the perceived religious reasons for the actions of the perpetrators and on the basis or lack of their religiosity.

Qadri was hailed as a hero because he was defending his faith. Even his critics were at pains to point out that he was mislead because the religion was not interpreted in its true spirit by who so ever was inspiring him. The only person, Sherry Rahman, who actually said that this law needed to be amended, had to stay cooped up in her house for the fear of her life. The fact that a man was killed was either ignored or the victim was blamed for his own death. The focus of the discussion stayed on religion and religion inspired laws and how essential they are to the survival of this society. The condemnation of that murder was subdued because vociferous denunciation would have challenged the religiosity of the narrative. Even before the death of the slain governor, one anchor decided to act as the prosecutor, jury and the judge and held a public trial of Governor Salman Taseer. With media pandering to the dictates of the overtly religious groups, presenting secular arguments in mainstream media is neither desired nor is considered safe.

Davis, an American guilty of the same crime homicide, was labelled the devil incarnate because he was an infidel who killed two Muslim men in the land of pure. The fact that it was Federal Shariat Court supported Qisas and Diyat Law that saved him in the end was again ignored. No one either wrote or spoke against the law in the popular media. The fact that perpetrators of the same crime can have different punishments depending upon their social standing and the amount they are willing to shell out to stay out of the prison and that the law actually supports the criminal with a sizeable bank account are largely ignored by our esteemed media persons and anchors.

Apart from these cases, the television debates usually centre on the quest of making the country a “true’ Islamic state instead of a working state. How many times have we seen sanctimonious anchors and so called experts discussing whether a legislation or a verdict by the courts is religious enough or not. Hardly have we seen any debate on whether a course of action is workable or not, which basically gives all the governments the license to do as they please irrespective of the consequences of the bad governance practices they employ.

There can be two probable reasons for such glaring omission of the secular content in any news debate in Pakistan. The country was created on the basis of religion, when the raison d’être for a country is its official religion, then any ideology contesting it kind of gets lots in the narration. The other is that there are some secular voices but they either submit to the views of majority for the fear of retaliation or they think that their voice will get lost. In either case, secular voices end up ceding political space and jeopardizing their own long term future.

This is not limited to the fourth estate. The other three pillars of the country – Legislators, executives and judiciary are as much to blame as the media for it. Last year, the Chief Justice of Pakistan expressed ‘concern’ about Parliament’s ability to redraft the constitution in such a manner that it will make Pakistan a secular republic. It was painful to note that the secularity of the constitution was seen as a threat by the man presiding over the most august court in Pakistan. The chief Justice’s concerns were obviously unfounded because the parliament is housed with likes of Shiekh Waqas Akram, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Rehman Malik who have repeatedly vowed to deal with anyone who dare speak against legislation based on theology.

In addition to them, the armed forces, perhaps the most powerful group in the country, owe their acceptance and popularity with the people on their stance as the defenders of not only the geographical boundaries of the country but also as the defenders of the faith. People are willing to forgive the armed forces for gobbling up the lion’s share of the resources in the country as long they stay vigilant against the threat of the infidel. That is why Pakistani nuclear capability is sold to its people as “Islamic atomic bomb” – a pan Islamic achievement rather than a national one.

Secularism cannot be pulled out of thin air like a genie. Just like fruitful discourse needs secular input, secularism cannot survive without debate, political space and social acceptance. It will not germinate in a vacuum but will arise out of liberal interpretation of theology and questioning the dogma which are not possible in current Pakistani milieu. Liberal research of the religion is virtually nonexistent. A few random liberal scholars like Dr Farooq Khan and Ghamdi were either killed or had to relocate to stay alive. If the country has to survive as a viable entity in future, its political, judicial, military and bureaucratic leadership must realize that giving space to dissenting voices is as necessary as bowing down to the wishes of majority.
Religion, in whatever way, has always been part of the discourse. Apart from Madrassah students, Islamic studies have been an integral part of the syllabus everywhere in Pakistan, from elementary school to degrees courses. The concept of secularism, on the other hand, has never been formally introduced in academia. We cannot move forward if this disparity is not addressed.

Originally written for Dawn

Jan 29, 2011 - Salmaan Taseer    9 Comments

MQM’s identity crisis

This is a brief rant but I have to get it off my chest.
What is wrong with MQM? Is the party suffering from a serious identity crisis? If there is one party that is swinging from this end of the pendulum to the other, it has got to be MQM. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it the party which was most vocal against the Ahmadi killings last year? Was it not the party that (ostensibly) kicked out Amir Liaquat for making anti Ahmadi remarks on TV? Even though their voters are not all secular (come on, how many people living in Gulistan-e-Jauhar  or Lines Area or even Clifton for that matter, would know what secular actually means, this is Pakistan after all) the party was careful about creating an unambiguous secular voice.
Come 2010 and something spooked them. After years of presenting a secular image, they decided to hijack what used to be Jamat-i-Islami and Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s pet project. They took out a rally demanding the release of Qaum ki Beti Dr Aafia Siddiqui. An MQM insider told me that the reason they took on Aafia Siddiqui (albeit half heartedly) was to counter ANP. Some quarters in Karachi believe that ANP has taken money from Uncle Sam to stay quite about drone attacks in KPK and FATA. In exchange, Uncle Sam would fund their “activities” in Karachi, no matter how questionable they are. According to the same insider, MQM has not shifted ideologically by taking on the case of Aafia Siddiqui, nor did it jump into the popular politics bandwagon for the sake of it, the party just wanted to remind Uncle Sam that they too can play a role in further demonizing them if need be. To an observer, it looks like MQM does not want to leave anything for their opponents to get political mileage from. If an issue can be milked to garner public support – no matter how far removed it is from the political ideology of the party – it will be used. Aafia Siddiqui is one such case.  
Come 2011 and MQM is seriously losing the plot. Yesterday, an MQM Senator refused to offer fateha prayers for slain governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. Senior MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said that it was the senator’s personal position and had nothing to do with party’s stance on the tragic death of Gover Taseer but he should know that it is sending a different signal to people. As if that was not enough, Altaf Bhai went ahead and asked for Qaum ki beti Aafia Siddiqui to be repatriated to Pakistan in exchange of diplomatic immunity for Raymond Davis, an American who killed two Pakistani citizens on Pakistani soil.
From bonfide secular credentials to using Aafia Siddiqui for popular political rhetoric, the party has taken a 180 degrees turn. If they continue the way they are going, it will be difficult to point out an MQM from Jamat-i-Islamis and Tehreek-i-Insaafs of the world. If MQM is resorting to using Aafia Siddiqui, it means things are as gloomy as they can be for secular politics in Pakistan.

Are we next in line after Salmaan Taseer?

Just when you thought you have seen it all and are now uncomfortably numb, something else jolts you and makes you wonder if indeed you are living in a horrendous wonderland because none of it makes any sense at all.

Jamat-ud-dawa, a supposedly “banned” outfit which ideally should not be issuing any statements at all has also jumped in and said that Salmaan Taseer’s assassin be tried under Shariah courts. Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Maulana Amir Hamza, who is the convener of Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool (and we thought there was just one outfit fighting for the noble cause of khatm-e-nabuat) not only wants Qadri be tried in accordance with the Islamic law and the “sentiments of Muslims” he is all praises for the maulvis who refused to lead funeral prayers for the slain governor.

His statement can also be construed as a veiled threat to the judges presiding over the case as he commanded them to respect the wishes of the people who think like him. His exact words are, “The courts must respect our sentiments,” and we all know what happen to people who not pay attention to such threats. Sherry Rehman has already been warned by none less than the interior minister himself to leave the country. Those of us who choose to stay here should be well aware than they can come for us anytime.

PS: A few of my readers emailed me and asked me why I do not use the prefix of Shaheed with Salmaan Taseer if I respect his stance so much. The answer is quite simple, it is our national obsession with martyrdom that has given birth to crackpot fanatics like Qadri. I am sure we can do with a little less martyrdom and more pragmatism. 

PPS: Pasted below is the reworked version of my previous post for Express Tribune.

What irony!

Just a few weeks before Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated brutally, he said that illiterate maulvis cannot decide if he is a Muslim or not. True, but they sure could decide to spew venom against him in Friday sermons across the country and gun for his blood, which they did. They issued edicts against him, they burned his effigies and they called for his blood and, as a result, Salmaan Taseer is no longer among us. He was killed because of his liberal views and his stand against the blasphemy laws, as confessed by his murderer.

Governor Taseer was probably the highest profile victim of the blasphemy law. He was shot dead because he believed  all citizens should be treated fairly. He decided to support a poor Christian woman on death row and he was chastised, ridiculed and threatened for supporting minorities. If there is justice in this country, every person who issued fatwa against him, who protested against his opinion and who burned his effigies and who incited bigotry on television should be named in the FIR and held accountable for his murder. In addition, all PPP ministers playing to the populist gallery, who defended the blasphemy law, should be hauled along with the other culprits.

In a society where dogma is the currency to get populist support, Salmaan Taseer was a refreshing rationalist and humanist. His death will be mourned because he was a voice of sanity, he was one of the few good men who wanted similar rights for everyone irrespective of their religion, caste, gender and ethnicity. He was an entrepreneur, a politician, a great wit and a positive man who believed in this country. After his brutal murder, there are many of us who are not too hopeful about this country, which will now be branded as one where people cannot dare to speak their mind. If the felicitations about his death are any indication, we are a truly doomed lot that celebrates a murder most foul.

Anyone who thought that the governor’s dreadful demise will bring a positive change, needs to wake up and smell the putrid cesspool that passes as our society. Members of the Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat Pakistan have asked the good Muslims of the country not to offer funeral prayers of Governor Taseer and have paid tribute to his murderer. Taseer’s death sends this message to the handful of Pakistanis who are openly liberal: that they need to get their act together or they could be next in line to have their guts splattered on the roadside by a fanatic who thinks doing so will take him to heaven.

Governor Taseer, may you rest in peace. You were a brave, brave man and you will always be remembered as one.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2011.

Jan 4, 2011 - Salmaan Taseer    53 Comments

Salmaan Taseer, you brave brave man, may you rest in peace


Yes, they got another one.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was attacked and killed in a firing incident in Islamabad’s Kohsar market. Governor Taseer was leaving his residence when one of his guards shot him in the chest. The guard named Qadri, who apparently was part of Rawalpindi’s elite force, shot him 9 bullets in the chest (he was shot a total of 26 bullets). Qadri stated that he killed the governor because of his liberal views and his stand against blasphemy laws.

Governor Taseer is probably the highest profile victim of the blasphemy law. He was shot dead because he was brave, he believed that all citizens should be treated fairly and he died for holding that belief. He decided to support a poor Christian woman on death row and he was chastised, ridiculed and threatened for that. In the end, he was even killed for that. All the PPP ministers such as Khurshid Shah and Babar Awan who defended the law should be hauled along with all the maulanas who burned his effigies and issued fatwas against him for this brutal murder.

I am sitting in my office, unable to move, mourning his death in solitude. I never knew him personally and only communicated with him on twitter but I mourn his death because in a deeply rightist society, he was a voice of sanity. I mourn his death because he was one of us, Pakistanis who want similar rights for everyone irrespective of their religion, caste, gender and ethnicity.

Governor Taseer was an entrepreneur, a politician, a great wit and a positive man who believed in this country. Just a couple of hours before his death, he tweeted this:

Mera azm itna bulund hae Parae sholon se dar nahin.
Mujhe dar hae tu atish e gul se hae Ye kahin chaman ko jala na dein

Salman may have believed in Pakistan, but after his brutal murder, I am truly hopeless about this country; he was shot dead because he was man enough to say what he believed in. Just like Salman Taseer, we too should wait for some lunatic to come and gun us down and win his stripes for 72 virgins in heaven.

Governor Taseer, may you rest in peace. You were a brave brave man and you will be remembered as one.