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Archive for November, 2010

Targeting the Ahmadis II

 

Image: Express Tribune

On Sunday, Pakistani police forced an Ahmadi family to exhume the body of a relative [identified as Shehzad Warriach] because it was buried in a Muslim graveyard. According to the BBC, “Officials in the Sargodha district of Punjab province say they took the unusual move after anti-Ahmadi Muslim groups threatened peace in the area.” Ghulam Murtaza, a senior police official, told the AFP, “Warraich’s family agreed to exhume the body on October 31 after local people approached us amid protests and demanded that the body be removed from the Muslim graveyard.” The “local people” noted BBC News, were reportedly members of Khatm-e-Nabuwat, “an anti-Ahmadi religious organization that acts as a watchdog on their activities.”

The police, he added, “had to intervene to prevent any untoward situation though we have no law barring burial of a non-Muslim in a shared graveyard.”

So, instead of protecting the interests of a grieving family who had not broken any law, the police catered to the whims of intolerant protesters? I have no words.

However, Aatekah Mir-Khan over at the Express Tribune Blog, does:

Religion is supposed to be something between you and God, even when you are alive. Thus, people who do not give the living that freedom are wrong, but to continue hounding a person based on their religion even when he is dead is detestable. But have we heard a single condemnation from any of the politicians or the religious leaders on the outrage? No. Why? Because commenting on anything that has to do with religion (if it is against what ‘they’ believe) is shunned like playing with fire. There is no way you can leave unscathed if you dare speak up.

Back in May, more than 70 people were killed and 108 were injured when gunmen launched simultaneous attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. Although political leaders condemned the attacks, they stopped short of tackling the glaring inconsistencies and laws that led to such incidents in the first place. In fact, when Nawaz Sharif expressed solidarity with the Ahmadiyya community after the May attacks, calling them “brothers” of Muslims, he was immediately criticized by leaders of Deobandi madrassas, who advised him not to “defy religion for petty political gains.” According to the Express Tribune, leaders of the Muttahida Tehrik-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat even claimed the Lahore attacks “were a conspiracy to repeal laws against Ahmadis” at a meeting that included 13 political and religious organizations like JUI-F and Jamat-ud-Dawa.

It is not surprising that conservative religious clerics and figures spew intolerance and prejudice, peddling the idea that Islam is under attack to further their own power agenda. But it is frankly despicable that we continue to cower to those voices. It happened in 1973, when the Ahmadis were declared “non-Muslims” by the state, and it happened again in 1984, when they were legally barred from proselytizing or identifying themselves as Muslims. It continues to occur every time members of this community [and other minorities] are persecuted without any consequences, without so much as a word from our leaders or fellow citizens. And it happened this past Sunday, when the police ultimately gave credence to intolerance and prejudice over reason and sensitivity, forcing an Ahmadi family to exhume a relative’s body from a graveyard.

We talk constantly about how Islam has been hijacked by radicals and extremists. But cases like these show how much we also allow ourselves to be hijacked. By virtue of doing nothing, we legitimize those voices. We are therefore also to blame.

 

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Last week, The Indus Entrepreneurship [TIE] Conference was held in Lahore, aiming to bring together “a mix of leading local and international entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders” to explore the role of entrepreneurship as a change agent. The News’ Mosharraf Zaidi, who wrote about the conference, noted, “Without a generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, job creation in Pakistan will stay dormant, while our population and its appetite for consumption goes through the roof.” Elmira Bayrasli, a writer working on development issues, recently returned from a trip to Pakistan where she explored similar issues, noting in a piece for Portfolio.com that Pakistani entrepreneurs are driven mainly by a desire “to pull Pakistan out of its political and economic abyss.” Below, she delves further into this topic [which first appeared on her blog, Wonderment Woman, as part of a five-part postcard on Pakistan]:

“Welcome honored donors,” read the banner hanging over the passport control counter at Benazir Bhutto Airport in Islamabad.  That, along with hot, musty air, was my greeting to Pakistan, at 3AM two Sundays ago.  I had arrived, along with my colleagues Phil Auerswald and Sara Shroff to assess Pakistan’s entrepreneurial landscape.

Not far from the banner, there also hung a framed black and white photo of a gaunt man in a dark textured and triangular hat, similar to the one that Afghan President Hamid Karzai sports.  It was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the revered founder of Pakistan – the land of the pure.  Jinnah established the republic in 1947, after gaining independence from the British and breaking from India.jinnah

Jinnah reappeared a half hour later when I entered the lobby of the infamous Marriott Islamabad.  He was there again the next day when we visited the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi.  Jinnah seemed to be everywhere.  The only other place I know of where that happens is… Turkey.  The image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the blue-eyed founder of Turkey, is, like Jinnah’s, ubiquitous throughout Anatolia. Both dominate every government office, school entranceway and public space.

Pakistan and Turkey have a lot in common.  As predominately Muslim nations, both have struggled with secularism and Islam.  Both have had, as a result, numerous military interventions that have overthrown their respective country’s government.  As predominately agrarian societies, Pakistan and Turkey have wrestled with developing their respective economies in order to compete on the global marketplace.  For a long time, it was a tough fight.  Both countries choked under unemployment, debt, run away inflation and rent seekers.  Pakistan still does.  Turkey has broken from that cycle.

It broke as a result of the economic liberalization reforms enacted by late Prime Minister Turgut Ozal in the 1980s.  With less state-control and relaxed trade and banking laws, Turks embraced entrepreneurship.  Overnight, they turned Anatolian cities, more commonly known as “Anatolian tigers,” into textile and manufacturing centers and lifted Turkey’s poor into the middle and upper class.  Today, Turkey holds a seat at the G20 and the UN Security Council.  Despite being continually rejected by Brussels, it has, by the European Commission’s own account, the fastest (and perhaps only) growing economy.  It is an example that beleaguered Pakistan can and should replicate.  It should do so with Turkey’s guidance.

Turkey understands Pakistan’s economic struggles because Turkey once endured them as well. “We have common problems and common solutions,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan while visiting Pakistan just last week.  Part of Turkey’s solution is taken directly from Washington in the form of aid.  *Sigh.*  Fortunately, the other part of Turkey’s solution is precisely what Pakistan will help Pakistan develop: investments.

Rather than a money problem, Pakistan suffers from an investment problem.  The money that Pakistanis possess is caged. It’s used to cover day-to-day expenses rather than being used as leverage to create new enterprises and, most importantly, jobs.  Turkey has discussed opening banks in Pakistan, increasing trade and encouraging its private sector to seek collaboration on construction, infrastructure, engineering, energy, agriculture, telecom and textile opportunities.  That is a good start.  But more can be done. 

Here are two suggestions:

  1. From a historical, religious and cultural perspective, Turkish entrepreneurs and investors are ideal role models and mentors for aspiring Pakistanis with start-up ideas.  They can help advise on operating in a Muslim society where entrepreneurship has not traditionally been encouraged or possible, where risk has largely been absent and where failure has always been the kiss of death.  Both countries could develop an entrepreneurship exchange and mentoring program where Pakistani entrepreneurs spend time working in Turkey and Turkish entrepreneurs in Pakistan.
  2. Turkish investors could establish, along with their Pakistani counterparts, a fund, with manageable interest rates and transaction fees, for Pakistani entrepreneurs.  It is an idea that American venture capitalists would benefit joining as well.  This will help unshackle Pakistan’s paralyzed capital that can then provide the leverage to jumpstart enterprise development and job creation.

It is imperative that Pakistan climb out of its current crisis and into prosperity.  There are signs it is prepared to do so.  The absence of Jinnah’s photo in the sleek and modern offices of the several entrepreneurs Phil, Sara and I met with was the clearest. Pakistan’s younger generation, while deeply patriotic, is not straightjacketed by the past.  They know that while Jinnah may have been their country’s founder, they are its keepers.  For now, they’re pushing their black and white past aside in order to keep their focus on what could be Pakistan’s abundantly colorful and high-definition future.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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