Posts Tagged ‘Violence’

Pakistan Goes to the Oscars

Image from the Guardian: Dr. Jawad examines Zakia's Face

Tomorrow is Oscar day. If you are anything like me, you watch as many Oscar-nominated films as humanly possible (while still, of course, maintaining some semblance of a life) and hope your favorite movies walk away with the coveted trophy.

The Oscars are it, the last pit stop in the awards season, the culmination of all that was brilliant in film that year. This year, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy became the first Pakistani to ever garner an Academy Award nomination. Her documentary, Saving Face, co-directed with Daniel Junge, is up for the Oscar in the short documentary category. The film delves into the issue of acid attacks through the lens of the women affected by tragedy and the doctor trying to help them. In Pakistan, there are 100 acid attacks reported each year, but many cases go unreported, the victims instead relegated to the shadows of society.

Saving Face follows two women who chose not to remain silent. Zakia was horrifically injured after her husband, a drug addict, threw undiluted battery acid on her after she tried to divorce him. In the film, Zakia’s husband, who was in jail following the crime, called the charges against him a “conspiracy,” stating that his wife was his and it was “a matter of dignity.” The crimes against Rukhsana, who is just 25 years old, were also perpetrated by her sister-in-law and mother-in-law, who lit her on fire and locked her in a room. When asked for his account of the attack, her husband Yasir claimed Rukhsana had a temper and high blood pressure and threw acid on herself. He added, “99 percent of [these women] throw acid on themselves.”

The stories are woven into the larger narrative, but also are documented as a journey for retribution. Dr. Mohammed Jawad, a plastic surgeon in London, works to help these women become a part of society again. On Zakia, he performed the first surgery of its kind in Pakistan. The Guardian noted, “He used Matriderm to smooth her ravaged face, gave her a pair of glasses with a painted eye and attached a prosthetic nose, allowing her finally to show her face in public.” The results are extraordinary for a woman who had stopped showing her face in public (instead covering it with a burqa and sunglasses), whose life had previously been stolen by her husband’s atrocities.

The beauty of Saving Face was in its very human and nuanced portrayal of all its characters. Zakia was not just a victim of an acid attack, a faceless woman both literally and figuratively. She was a survivor, someone strong enough to fight against the system. During the film, her husband was found guilty of his crimes, receiving two life sentences. Her case was the first to be tried under the new law passed unanimously by Pakistan’s Parliament (and tirelessly pushed forward by the Acid Survivors Foundation and  MNA Marvi Memon). Rukhsana’s story was more bittersweet but reflected the tragic reality facing most acid victims. Many, like Rukhsana, are forced to live with their attackers, mainly for economic reasons.

This speaks to the complexities that exist in societies like Pakistan, where attitudes towards domestic violence (honor-related or not) and victims, are a very large part of the problem. Lack of economic opportunities, social stigma, and safety problems among others all act as significant obstacles for survivors of these attacks. While passing legislation to give their attackers life imprisonment is an important top-down step, there is much more that needs to be done to address the symptoms behind this problem. We need to do more than just be prescriptive.

I watched the film yesterday evening. I expected to cry, to be horrified and indignant for the state of our society, for the crimes committed daily against women in their own homes and by their own family. But I did not expect to also walk away with a deep and lingering sense of hope. Dr. Jawad’s compassion and charm jumped off the screen, and his deep relationships with both Zakia and Rukhsana were touching. After having a baby boy, Rukhsana told Jawad she had named him Mohammed with hopes that he would grow up to be a doctor just like him. Zakia’s son was also a strong but silent character woven beautifully into the narrative. Though he did not speak during the film, he stood constantly by his mother’s side, a small example of how all is not black and white in these stories.

In a segment for NBC News, Sharmeen, who has previously won an Emmy for her documentary Children of the Taliban, told NBC’s Amna Nawaz, “I fell in love the first time we put the cameras on, and it was because I could see the colors, the textures, the language, the beauty and the heartache that could just transcend all barriers.” The purpose of this documentary, she noted to the Washington Post, was to educate people about acid attacks in Pakistan, but also to recalibrate attitudes towards honor violence. She said, “We wanted men to know they think it is manly to throw acid, but in fact it was the most unmanly thing to do.”

As a Pakistani, I am incredibly proud of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and her much-deserved nomination. But I am also proud of the characters in the film, who were all larger-than-life in their capacity to love, to fight, and to live. We all can learn many lessons from them. At the end of Saving Face, Dr. Jawad noted, “I’m part of this society that has this disease. I’m doing my bit. Come join the party.”

The Oscars will air tomorrow evening (EST), and Saving Face will be shown on HBO on March 8th. Sharmeen, you have an entire country behind you. And we are all rooting for you.

UPDATE 2045 EST: Sharmeen just won the Oscar – AHHHHH!!! Pakistan’s first Oscar – SO PROUD!

Horrible quality photo, but I was too excited to take a good one of my television!

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Via AfPak/FP

For those of us on the outside looking in, Karachi’s violence seems exceedingly complex. I’m often left perpetually confused. But last October, journalist Huma Yusuf told me that the mechanics of the conflict are often the same – ethnically driven conflict over turf and power in the city. As we continue to delve into the underlying causes of each upsurge in violence, we observe this same pattern in different iterations. In a modest effort to break down the most recent conflict, in which more than 700 have been killed so far, 200 in the last month alone, I give you Karachi Violence FAQs Part III (Click here to see Part I, and here to see Part II).

FAQ: Who are the main parties in this conflict and how did it escalate out of control?

In Karachi Violence 101, which I wrote back in January 2010 [Note: this is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the violence over the past year, just a summary of what we’ve covered on CHUP], the main players in the conflict were workers or gang members associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the political party which controls Karachi, and the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP), who were then vying for control over land. Violence at the time was concentrated in Lyari Town in Karachi.

In October 2010, (see Karachi Violence 102) – tensions between the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP) had spilled over in part because of the assassination of MQM’s Raza Haider and the subsequent by-election to replace his then-vacant seat. Violence and tensions were then concentrated in Orangi Town, one of Karachi’s largest and poorest slums, where the MQM had held the provincial seat since 1988 but where it was also considered the “tensest district divided between Mohajirs and Pathans,” noted Yusuf. So, again. Turf/Power = Violence [simplistic version].

In the most recent conflict, violence erupted after the murder of an ANP activist triggered an all-out war between the party and the MQM, noted Shaheryar Mirza in Caravan Magazine‘s “Karachi’s Turf Wars” (a must-read). The killings were once again first concentrated in Orangi, and became so escalated that media outlets called July, “the deadliest month in almost two decades.” (Although some sources claim the number was more than 200 killed, other outlets say it was upwards of 300.) On Tuesday, news agencies reported that in 24 hours, 26 people were killed, of which 18 were victims of targeted killings.

FAQ: So the violence this time around is between the MQM and the ANP, but where does the PPP stand in the conflict?

As with many of Karachi’s past escalations in violence, all three parties in the PPP-MQM-ANP trifecta appear to have some role in each iteration of the cycle. Last month, Sindh Minster and PPP member Zulfiqar Mirza caused an uproar after he made provocative remarks against the MQM’s Altaf Hussain, calling the leader of a breakaway MQM [MQM(H)], “the true leader of the Muhajirs” while accusing the main MQM of trying to divide Sindh. He further stated, “I call upon the people of Karachi and Hyderabad to get rid of these lowlifes.” The Express Tribune reported, “Mirza’s rant sparked an almost instant outburst of violent protests throughout Karachi, with aerial gunfire heard in nearly every part of the city.”

But wait. There’s more on the PPP dynamic in this conflict.

During a brief period between June and July, Sindh’s “longest-serving” Governor Ishratul Ibad resigned from office, after the MQM pulled out of the ruling coalition in protest over the postponement of elections of two Karachi seats in the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly.  In the Friday Times, Ali K. Chishti wrote,

During the brief period in which the Sindh governor was away, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) undid the Local Governments Ordinance of 2001 and revived the 1979 Local Bodies Ordinance, restoring the magistrate system to manage the districts through commissioners and deputy commissioners.

Chishti added, “The PPP, which represents rural Sindh, wants to consolidate its position in the cities against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which represents urban Sindh.” Fellow blogger Umair Javed, on the tense MQM-PPP dynamic, wrote, “Those of you who’ve been following PPP-MQM relations over the last few years would know that agreeing on a time line for local government elections has remained a major thorn for the coalition,” [read the rest of his post to learn more].

So, incendiary remarks by a PPP member (though other party members distanced themselves immediately), and tensions surrounding the local government issue – both factors that make the conflict all the more exacerbated and intense. In regard to the current violence, the ruling party – the PPP – have  been watching from the sidelines this increasing breakdown of law and order. Bilal Baloch wrote last month for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel,

The dilemma is thus: How should the government respond effectively and objectively to the violence when it is the very political actors tasked with governing and solving Karachi’s problems that are themselves protagonists of the quagmire? When the workers and supporters of the MQM and ANP… are slaughtering one another, who should the ruling partner PPP, crack down on? They could move against the ANP, but this would effectively lead their government to collapse. Perhaps the government could use their iron fists against the MQM, but battering this powerful party, long the overlords of Karachi, traditionally results in political suicide.

Just this past week, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, “We will take every possible action to restore peace in Karachi,” adding that results of the government’s action will be visible soon. In the meantime, calls for peace by the government and political parties have so far fallen on deaf ears. Finally, on Tuesday, the Pakistani government “authorized paramilitary forces to conduct raids in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods to try to restore order,” reported the NY Times.

FAQ: Calling in the [paramilitary] troops? What does that mean, exactly?

This is not the first time the government has called in the Rangers to curb the violence, nor is it the first time that the political parties involved in the conflict have asked for these forces to be deployed, [Ahsan from Five Rupees questions how the MQM could even do that in this post]. Back in January 2010, a journalist source told me, “The rangers that have been sent in with the police won’t make much of a difference, particularly since the police is politicized and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the city government. Dawn‘s Huma Yusuf noted last year, “…the MQM’s request for the Rangers, the army and intelligence agencies to maintain law and order in the city is akin to slapping a band-aid on a deep, infected wound.”

Interesting how history repeats itself, don’t you think? Or how I can cite analysis and statements made a year and a half ago during a different iteration of the violence and it still holds true today?

In terms of the role of the police in the situation, Baloch wrote in another AfPak piece this week, “Yet it is not the police themselves who are entirely to blame for the breakdown of law and order, but rather a system whereby politicians are able to use the police according to their whims…A revolution in police affairs needs to take place with regards to the relationship between the police and the province’s politicians.”

All of this further emphasizes how violence continues to be used as a political tool for intimidation and power. Mirza noted in the aforementioned Caravan piece how both parties take advantage of this, but the MQM tends to have the upper hand, particularly since they are more media savvy than their counterparts and can therefore demonize the other side more aptly.

FAQ: Amid the escalating violence, is there a potential solution?

So far, we have seen temporary solutions to a very endemic problem, a problem that is far too complex to be linear, far too brutal to be easily forgotten. The call for the Army and Rangers may quell the violence temporarily, but it is only a matter of time before Karachi erupts once again. A truce among the parties may also soon occur, but this also appears to be a short-term concession rather than a long-term solution.

On Monday, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged in a statement, “While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order…they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups, and it is they who hold the key to peace.”

As Karachi continues to burn, Shaheryar Mirza noted poignantly, “Land is priceless in this growing metropolis, but lives have become increasingly worthless.”

Here’s praying for you, Karachi. 

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Source: The News

On Wednesday, news outlets report that a young man was “brutally murdered” in an extrajudicial killing that took place in Benazir Park in Karachi. According to Express, the man was accused to be a “snatcher,” or a robber, and was arrested by police who then handed him over to Ranger personnel who cornered him and then shot him in the stomach, despite the man’s pleas. The man is reported to be a ‘matric’ student, as well as the brother of a Samaa television reporter, and he died on the spot.

News outlets continue to play the footage of the shooting over and over again on television, which garnered much discussion on Twitter. Ammar Yasir tweeted, “Just watched the Samaa footage and I feel like throwing up. This happened in Karachi, imagine the extrajudicial murders in Balochistan,” while Tammy Haq noted, “Pakistan is a state of anarchy. Anyone can do what they like and get away with it.”

Express 24/7 reporter Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9) tweeted, “Nothing shocking about this killing. What’s shocking is that it was caught on tape. Rangers have done this countless times before.”

As details unfold, it also is evident that Ranger personnel and police officials previously lied about details of the shooting, previously stating that the young man was armed and that 15-20 witnesses could testify to that. But, thanks to the footage, we now see that he was unarmed. In other words, noted Mirza, they were “caught red-handed.”

Hundreds of people have organized a “peaceful sit-in” outside the Chief Minister’s house in Karachi in protest of the killing.  MQM leader Wasay Jalil told Express, “Karachi has seen in its past extrajudicial killings…but the people of Pakistan will lose further confidence in the police…and law enforcement officials.”

CHUP will continue to provide updates of this tragic killing as more details come in, but feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comment section.

UPDATE 1745 EDT: Express reported, “Five men from the Ghazi wing of the Rangers are said to be involved in the incident, of whom two have been arrested.” The news agency further noted, “Initially, the police and Rangers had claimed that they were informed that a dacoit had held a family hostage in Benazir Bhutto Park. The security personnel claimed that they went inside the park and asked the man to surrender. When he refused to do so, the Rangers shot at him in retaliation. Shah was injured and died after reaching Jinnah Hospital, security personnel said.” Obviously, that was not the accurate report of the incident.

UPDATE 6/9: According to the Associated Press, Pakistani authorities are now investigating the video “as hundreds of angry mourners attended his funeral.” Here’s the account of the shooting:

It showed a man in civilian clothes wrestling what appeared to be a gun out of Shah’s hand and kicking him toward a group of Rangers. Shah said it was just a toy gun as he pleaded with a Ranger who pointed his rifle at his neck.

“I am helpless,” he said to the Rangers.

The men surrounded Shah and pointed their guns at him. He moved toward one Ranger with his arms outstretched, saying “No, no, don’t kill me brother.” He was pushed back and shot twice in the hand and leg.

Shah fell to the ground screaming and begged the Rangers to take him to a hospital, a longer version of the video posted on YouTube showed. They stood by as he writhed in an expanding pool of his own blood.

Shah was eventually taken to a local hospital but died shortly thereafter from “profuse bleeding,” said Seemi Jamali, director at the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College.

The really sad part? Rehman Malik claiming the boy was a “criminal,” as if that somehow justifies this killing. Disgusting:

UPDATE 6/9 2000 EST: Another video is out (via Rabayl). So sad and disgusting:

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Via the Huffington Post

Just two weeks ago, Pakistan’s Supreme Court delivered a stunning sentence – acquitting five of the six men who had gang raped Mukhtar Mai, a woman brave enough to not only tell her story, but give voice to other voiceless and abused victims of sexual violence. Despite the news cycle unanimously shifting its attention to the death of Osama bin Laden, the recent developments surrounding the Mukhtar Mai case are still newsworthy, and deserve continued attention. Below, Hamza Khan, a political consultant based in Washington, D.C. who tweets @TheModernRumi, weighs in with his opinion on the decision:

On April 22, the Pakistan Supreme Court issued a decision acquitting five convicted gang-rapists in the Mukhtar Mai case, citing “a lack of evidence.”

The decision was a horrific ending to a courageous woman’s nine year struggle for dignity and justice in a country that appears to value neither.

In the face of overwhelming physical evidence, hundreds of witnesses, and even a signed confession, a bench of three men acquitted without merit five out of six other men convicted of the gang rape of a woman who has since been subject to harassment, illegal detainment, and psychological torture in her decade long struggle for justice.

My mother is a Pakistani, and I was in Pakistan visiting family when Mukhtar Mai’s case broke in the news. Today, I write as her son to share my vitriolic outrage, and to say that this case is personal for me. It’s personal for sons who have mothers, and all brothers who have sisters. The story of Mukhtaran Mai is the story of all women–and men–who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence.

Mai’s ordeal began in 2002 when a ‘panchayat‘ [assembly] in her native village of Meerwala decided to punish her 12 year old brother for either disrespecting or having an affair with a female member of the Jatoi clan–the allegations have not always been clear.

The subsequent ruling by this alternative judicial forum was two-fold: Mukhtaran Mai’s brother would be anally raped (sodomized), and she would be gang-raped by six men in front of onlookers and made to parade naked in the streets.

What’s curious to mention here is the blatant disregard for proving the allegations against Mukhratan Mai’s brother to be  true. The panchayat made no attempts to verify the presented evidence, and instead proceeded on hearsay– ironically similar to how the Supreme Court of Pakistan would later rule that its lower courts convicted the panchayat‘s members without hard evidence.

Moreover, while the conviction of Mukhtaran Mai’s brother by tribal and local elders had no solid evidence beyond hearsay, there were over 50 witnesses to the gang-rape itself, and over 100 witnesses stood by as a naked, humiliated Mukhtaran Mai emerged from the hovel where she was raped. This recent Supreme Court decision is therefore tainted by male privilege and petty revenge.

These ills are rooted in something much more repugnant than cultural tradition. Pakistan is a country where less than five percent of all cases of violence against women end in conviction.

Mukhtar Mai is just the latest victim of a vicious political cycle dominated by boys with toys whose indifference towards women puts to shame even the misogyny on display by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s Amazonian Guard or Italian premier Sylvio Beresculoni’s incessant affairs with teenagers.

Last year, reports show a double digit increase in gang-rapes across the country, and one-third of all victims in Pakistan were raped by multiple persons (i.e., gang raped). More than half the country’s rapes were minors,  and 43% of rape victims last year were under the age of 16. Every two hours there is a rape in Pakistan. Every eight, that rape is a gang-rape. We are witnessing in real-time the moral decay of an entire nation, and no one seems to know just what to do to stop it.

Mukhtaran Mai has announced her decision to appeal the apex court’s verdict for review. Whatever the outcome, she now lives only a few miles away from the tribal elders who took her as property and object, not flesh and bone like their own mothers. It is only until Pakistanis confront the deep enmity their society is developing for their mothers and sisters and wives that the country will truly begin to heal from the disasters it has faced in succession over the past few years.

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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AP: A Nation Burning.

Late last year, Aasia Bibi became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The events that have unfolded since then – the tragic assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the escalated street protests – highlight not only how sensitive this issue has become, but also how polarized. Many people, particularly minorities, have been persecuted under these laws, and while it would now be unproductive to get rid of the law completely, a proper dialogue and potential reform must occur. Below, Sahar Khan, a doctoral student in political science at University of California-Irvine, delves into a discussion on the law and how it’s been misused over the years:

According to the 2010 Freedom House Policing Belief on Pakistan, 695 people have been charged with blasphemy from 1986 till April 2006, while Dawn reported that 964 people have been charged with blasphemy out of the 5000 cases that have been registered from 1984 to 2004. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, that documents blasphemy cases, reports that majority of the cases involve Muslims, followed by Ahmadis. Yet, according to legal scholars, from 1960–2007, 41 cases have fallen under Section 295-C. Out of these, the religious profile was as follows: Ahmadis: 15; Christians: 5; Muslims: 20. This indicates that a little less than 50 percent of the cases involved Muslim violators of the law but when considering the minute size of the Ahmadi and Christian communities, the 15 and 5 cases represent a huge proportion.

Religious minorities have called on the judiciary to protect their constitutional rights—rights that they have been stripped off—but have mostly failed. In 1985, in Mujibur Rahman v. Government of Pakistan, the Federal Shariat Court upheld the constitutionality and validity of Ordinance XX [barring Ahmadis from associating themselves with Islam] and stated that the Parliament had acted wholly within its authority when declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan made a similar decision in Zaheeruddin v. State, and stated that restricting the religious practices of Ahmadis was constitutional for two reasons: 1) by declaring themselves as Muslims and simultaneously not believing Mohammad to be the last prophet essentially means they are committing fraud and are misrepresenting themselves while aggravating the majority Sunni population, and 2) by publically using Islamic epithets as non-Muslims, they would potentially be violating company and trademark laws, and so they should try to “coin their own epithets.” By doing so, the Supreme Court created a legal parallel between trade and religion despite obvious differences between the two. The decision was not only self-serving and dishonest but showed the judiciary surrendering before the ascendant forces of religious reaction and abdicating judicial protection of religious minorities.

In addition to judicial reluctance to overturn the laws, they suffer from four major design flaws. First, they are designed to only protect Islam and no other religion, which is clearly discriminatory. There have been calls to increase the scope of Section 295-C to include other prophets but theoretically it would only protect Abrahamic religions, and not others like Buddhism or Hinduism. Realistically, it is more likely to increase the potential for further persecution of minorities. Second, the requirement of a deliberate or malicious intent is missing from Section 295-C and except for a few exceptions in which the courts say that intention is absent and have granted bail, they mostly remain silent, which basically results in the laws being interpreted like strict liability offenses. Also, the lack of specificity of Section 295-C, and the explicit targeting of Ahmadis in Section 298-C makes their scope and applicability virtually limitless. Third, there are no exceptions for any person who is charged with blasphemy. Hence, the mentally ill and imbalanced can be charged and jailed for years.

In 1996, Zaibunnisa, a woman declared mentally ill, was charged and jailed for 14 years after being wrongly charged with blasphemy. Cases like these highlight the abuse that follows from a lack of intent requirement but also the insensitivity of the courts—especially the lower courts that deal with these cases more—regarding sick individuals. And finally, even though Section 295-C calls for punishment by death, hard evidence is not required to successfully indict someone. This is mainly due to the fact that lawyers and judges—and on occasion even their families— who demand hard evidence are often harassed, threatened, and even killed.

The laws also violate numerous international conventions. First, they are in conflict with Articles 7 (on equality before the law and protection against discrimination), 18 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion), and 19 (freedom of expression) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This is sad and ironic, considering Pakistan was a staunch advocate of UDHR during its early years and is a signatory. Second, even though Pakistan is not a signatory, it is important to note that the laws violate Articles 18, 19, 20, and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because Pakistani jurists consider the ICCPR as an affirmed international norm that Pakistan should follow and have used it in judicial opinions. Third, they violate Articles 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 of the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief. Fourth, they violate Articles 2 and 4 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. And finally, the death penalty for blasphemy violates the first clause of the UN Economic and Social Council that has provided safeguards for the rights of those facing capital punishment and states that: “capital punishment may be imposed only for the most serious crimes, it being understood that their scope should not go beyond intentional crimes, with lethal or other extremely grave consequences.” Pakistan is one of the few remaining countries to retain it along with China, Iran, and the United States.

Judicial reform is not only important but necessary. The laws are usually misused at the lower court level because the local judges fear reprisal. While some decisions have gotten overturned at the appeals level, majority of the cases do not get reported, and of those that do, very few actually make it to the appeals stage. Furthermore, even if they do and the accused are acquitted, religious mobs drive them out of their homes and/or villages and even on occasion the country itself. As more are charged under the blasphemy laws, the clearer it becomes that the judiciary has actually endorsed these laws and increased their legitimacy. Parliament also needs to make amends and reform or eliminate the laws. Strong and vocal voices of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti unfortunately have been silenced. But instead of being afraid, legislators should use their assassinations as a calling for reform that cannot wait any longer. Sherry Rahman is such a voice—others should and must join her in her quest to reform or even eliminate the laws. Reforming or eliminating discriminatory laws will not magically reduce the violence within Pakistan but it will eliminate a tool that has been used too often to target minorities.

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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AFP/Express: Relatives see the bullet-riddled car.

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs was shot dead in Islamabad. According to news agencies, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the Federal Cabinet, was on his way to work “when unknown gunmen riddled his car with bullets.” Al Jazeera English noted that Bhatti’s driver was also wounded in the attack, and correspondent Kamaal Hyder reported, “They asked the driver to get out of the vehicle and then peppered the minister with bullets…He was on his way to a cabinet meeting.”

Express reports that the Tehreek-e-Taliban had claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, which reportedly took place outside Bhatti’s parent’s house in I-8/3. In leaflets left at the scene of the shooting, the militants “blamed the government for putting Bhatti, an ‘infidel Christian,’ in charge of an unspecified committee, apparently referring to one said to be reviewing the blasphemy law,” noted the Associated Press. The pamphlet emphasized, “With the blessing of Allah, the mujahedeen will send each of you to hell.”

Soon after Salmaan Taseer‘s assassination, Bhatti voiced fears that he was “the next highest target,” given his statements against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Back in January, he told the AFP, “During this [Aasia] Bibi case I constantly received death threats. Since the assassination of Salmaan Taseer… these messages are coming to me even publicly.” Bhatti reportedly requested more security, and was provided four guards from the interior ministry. However, news agencies report that Bhatti’s security detail “were not with him at the time of the attack.” Although this fact raises significant concerns, Islamabad’s Inspector General (IG) insists this was not a security lapse because Bhatti “had apparently instructed his security to wait at the office in I-8/4.” Durrani told reporters, “The squad officer told me that the minister had directed him to wait for him at his office. He used to often visit his mother’s house without a squad…We are investigating the matter from different angles.”

If this is indeed the case, then Bhatti’s assassins were still well aware of when the minister wasn’t accompanied by his security detail. That is still a potential concern.

And of course, there can’t be an act of violence without some accompanying conspiracy theory. According to Express, after news agencies reported the Taliban claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s death, former MNA and chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Sindh chapter Asadullah Bhutto told reporters the assassination “was an attempt by the CIA to divert the attention of masses from Raymond Davis.” In the statement, Bhutto further emphasized,

Accepting the responsibility of killing the minister soon after the incident by ‘Punjabi Taliban’, as reported by media, is ample proof that the CIA is behind this crime because the US spy agency had been staging such ‘dramas’ of ‘Punjabi Taliban’ after committing the crimes of same nature earlier.

Bhatti’s death today is an immense tragedy, another nail in the coffin for those willing to be truly courageous in this country. Both Taseer and Bhatti may have spoken out openly against the blasphemy laws, but just as this legislation has become a larger-than-life symbol, so has this type of bravery. After today’s assassination, Pakistani politicians issued the expected condemnations, but not one person even mentioned the laws. In fact, voices against the blasphemy laws have dwindled considerably. Political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais told the AP today that Bhatti’s death “further weakens a government already seen by many as corrupt and ineffective.” He emphasized, “They’re not interested in providing citizens with what they need. We don’t have good economy, good society, good education or good security.”

Bhatti was well-aware of the danger he was in, and taped a farewell message to be broadcast in the event of his death. Despite the threats he received, he said in the tape, he would not be deterred from speaking for “oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities” in Pakistan. “I will die to defend their rights. These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles.”

CHUP will provide further updates to this story as it develops.

UPDATE 1000 EST: Via @beenasarwar, there will be protests over the Bhatti assassination held today 5.30 pm [PST] Karachi Press Club, 3.00 pm [PST] Lahore Press Club.

The Christian Science Monitor quoted Mehdi Hassan, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who said Pakistan’s political parties are so bitterly divided it makes it extremely difficult to unite against rising extremism. “Our political leaders do not view security as a top priority problem.” Thoughts?

Bhatti’s farewell tape/interview:


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RIP Salman Taseer

AP/NYT: Outside Kohsar Market

Pakistan lost a brave man today.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer died after he was shot nine times by his bodyguard outside of Kohsar Market in Islamabad Tuesday, reported news sources. According to the Guardian, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the gunman, Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, told police he had killed Taseer for “criticizing the country’s blasphemy legislation,” calling them kaala qanoon (“black laws.”)

Taseer became increasingly vocal against the blasphemy laws after Aasia Bibi became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death, allying “with rights activists, critics and several government officials in urging the government to repeal or revise” the legislation. His courage to stand up against the religious intolerance in the country was met with protests, and the NY Times reported that effigies of the Punjab Governor were burned in protests last Friday.

But Taseer would not back down, encouraging others to take to the streets against the laws [to learn more about this upcoming protest in Karachi on January 15th, see Five Rupees]. Just last week, he tweeted to his followers, “I was under huge pressure… 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing.”

His words, though chilling, should remind us all of Salman Taseer’s bravery, his conviction, and his determination to stand up against the intolerance and discrimination that has long crippled this country.

I am deeply saddened by this tragedy, but I am also disgusted by those who continue to hide their own blasphemous faces behind the blasphemy laws, who use violence to mask their own cowardice. I am disgusted that Salman Taseer was one of only a few brave enough to stand up to the religiously bigoted, while others stood silent.  And finally, I am disgusted by those who would rather speak ill of the dead and defile Taseer. Put aside your pettiness and have some respect.

Salman Taseer died a martyr today, and our condolences and prayers go out to his family. His death is a tremendous loss for Pakistan and for the fight to amend the blasphemy laws, but it is one that should mobilize us all to take a stand. Or else we all will have blood on our hands.


RIP Governor Taseer.

For a profile on Salman Taseer, see here. For great posts written by others in the Pakistani blogosphere, see Huma Imtiaz, Shahid Saeed, Five Rupees, and Tazeen.

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The WTF List of 2010

LOL Cat's like, 2010. WTF.

It’s New Years Eve today, and what a year it’s been. 2010 has been littered with many a Pakistan-related WTF moment, and I thought it best to go beyond the “Top Philosophical Things You Should Be Doing With Your Life” type lists (mainly because they make me feel bloody inadequate) and give you a list of the developments, quotes, and fuzziness that really made me go, “What the EFF,” [for the first WTF-related CHUP post, see here]:

WTF #1: Politicians. They iz catty mean girls. Ok. We knew this already. But certain moments made this year seem particularly ridiculous, from MQM’s Waseem Akhtar calling PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar “Mr. Bean” this week (via @desmukh) to the Facebook comeback kid Pervez Musharraf calling Nawaz Sharifbrainless” (while making a dig at his hair plugs), there were no shortage of name-calling and cattiness. Back in June, there was even a physical cat fight, when two female legislators from the PPP had an all-out brawl before a budget session. Rawr. (That was my cat noise.) Let’s not even get started on the Wikileaks’ release and the comments made by foreign dignitaries about each other. I mean, really. Who needs trashy reality shows when we have this for entertainment?

WTF #2: Corruption. They all haz it. Corruption is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. God no. But according to Transparency International, perceptions are worse than last year (The CPI ranked Pakistan 143 in the world), arguably meaning that we increasingly view this as a problematic issue. According to a Pew poll released in July, 74% of Pakistanis polled say corrupt political leaders “are a very big problem,” compared to 71% last year, 64% in 2007, and 58% in 2002. However, if you’re PPP’s Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, you’d contend that corruption is every politician’s “political right.” Because that’s what politicians are elected for, apparently. To plunder the country. Just call them political pirates, arrr. WTF, matey. [thanks to Twitter friends for the Jatoi reminder.]

WTF #3: Integrity. Not many haz it. This year, scandal erupted over the shocking number of fake degrees claimed by Pakistani parliamentarians. Over the summer, “Up to 160 elected officials [were] accused of faking their degrees in order to meet a requirement for holding office,” reported Al Jazeera English. Regardless whether the education requirement first put in place caused this onslaught of fake degrees, [another debate entirely] the scandal caused some pretty justifiable WTF outrage, particularly when politicians like Aisam Rabbani told reporters, “a degree is a degree whether it’s authentic or fake,” or when the ever-charming Jamshed Dasti, with a fake Masters in  Islamic Studies, couldn’t even multiply 4 times 2 (let alone name the first 15 suras of the Quran). CHUP contributor Usman Zafar used a choice quote from Aesop in his op-ed on the topic, “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

WTF #4: Cricketz. They no haz it either. Where to even start with the Pakistan cricket team? In August, The News of the World broke a spot-fixing scandal, implicating seven players on the team, particularly Salman Butt (Captain) Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. The development further highlighted a long history of fixing in Pakistani cricket, but also the inefficiencies of the systematically corrupt Pakistan Cricket Board and the strong presence of the gambling syndicates [see Shaheryar Mirza’s contribution here]. Couple that development with ball-biting a la Shahid Afridi, steroids galore, and more than a few disappointing losses, and you get one, giant, WTF. [Also see Five Rupees for this great piece, “Why It’s Really Hard to Care About Cricket Right Now.”] All I have to say is, thank GOD for tennis player Aisam Qureshi. I hearts him.



WTF #5: Gary Faulkner iz Jack Bauer iz Chuck Norris. I mean. How could we not dole out a big, jovial, WTF to the Bin Laden Hunter? Faulkner was recently found near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border this summer, claiming he was searching for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It was his eighth trip to Pakistan, and the police who found him (who originally thought him “mentally deranged”), said he was carrying a pistol, a dagger, a sword, and night-vision goggles. This man is my hero. Favorite Gary Faulkner joke? Gary Faulkner destroyed the periodic table, because Gary Faulkner only recognizes the element of surprise. Boo yah.

WTF #6: Blasphemy laws & mob mentality. No LOLz. Since their introduction in the 1980s, the blasphemy laws have been arbitrarily used to legitimize the violence and persecution of Pakistan’s minorities. This year, the case of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, sparked outrage and media headlines, further illustrating how often our legislators cow tow to the cacaphony of the religiously ignorant. There was increasing violence as well, [see this piece I wrote for the AfPak Channel], when more than 70 people were killed when gunmen launched attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. Just last month, police gave credence to intolerance and prejudice over reason and sensitivity, forcing an Ahmadi family to exhume a relative’s body from a graveyard. The Aasia Bibi and the Ahmadi graveyard examples further illustrate not only the ugliness of ignorance, but also how often mob mentality overruns reason. This was also evident when two brothers were brutally tortured and beaten to death in public in Sialkot back in August.

(Bravo to politicians and figures that did stand up against the blasphemy laws, like Asma Jehangir, Sherry Rehman, and Salmaan Taseer, to name a few.)

WTF #7: Mushy likez Facebook. LHC no likez it. Former President Pervez Musharraf announced his return to politics this year with the formation of his political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) and saying his (nearly 372,000) Facebook fans “wanted him to come back to Pakistan.” Status messages were abound with, “OMGZ. APML Foreva! Lulz” as Mushy played Farmville with fans and “liked” his own link uploads and photos (before APML fans start creating a Facebook application where users throw darts at my face, just remember I’m joking. Musharraf doesn’t even like Farmville). The Lahore High Court, on the other hand, was the Debbie Downer of the Facebook world, when, in response to the South Park controversy (when an episode was censored for featuring the Prophet Muhammad, and sparked an ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!’) and numerous protests, they ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to block Facebook across Pakistan temporarily. So, Comedy Central censorship ultimately led to more censorship. An ironic WTF.

WTF #8: The floods this summer in Pakistan affected over 20 million people in the country, and rehabilitation and recovery will take years. Many argue that the government was ineffective in its response to the disaster, paying lip service and shedding crocodile tears, rather than truly attending to the millions whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed, [PM Gilani even visited a fake relief camp in August].

I realize that this list could be endless, and I have undoubtedly missed many choice WTF’s of the year, so I invite you, dear readers to add your own in the comment section. [Also check out these great lists by Blue Rickshaw and Huma Imtiaz at Dawn.] Happy New Year all!

For your entertainment, and to end the year with a laugh, here is a brilliant video of our favorite right-wing red beret Zaid Hamid showing off his karate skills in 1985 [via @kaalakawaa]:

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Working Girls

The working girls of Mad Men.

This past weekend, the NY Times published a video report by Adam Ellick, which delved into the growing number of lower-class women in Karachi entering Pakistan’s service industry. In the accompanying article, he wrote, “The women are pressed into the work force not by nascent feminism but by inflation, which has spiked to 12.7 percent from 1.4 percent in the past seven years. As a result, one salary — the man’s salary — can no longer feed a family.”

In the last five years, the female employment at fast food chain KFC has risen 125 percent. KFC Pakistan CEO Rafiq Rangoonwala told Ellick, “It’s not just the economic need, but need of the nation. Otherwise, Pakistan will never progress. We’ll always remain a third-world country because 15 percent of the people cannot feed 85 percent of the population.”

The story is interesting because of its commentary on women’s foray into the workplace, how employment leads to economic empowerment, and how this subsequent independence is considered a threat to the gender status quo. It is the age old power struggle. In the case of these Pakistani women in the service industry, they have faced constant resistance from “harassing customers and disapproving male relatives,” as well as much more conservative traditional and religious values. One woman told Ellick that her brother’s biggest stance is, “Our sisters don’t leave the house, God forbid they get ahead of us, or that they earn so much that we don’t have any importance…”

These women are therefore walking a thin line between earning a living and challenging societal norms, facing constant opposition from men who are threatened by this growth and continuing to view them as objects. Ellick noted that some KFC female employees were reluctant to smile for fear that male customers would think they “were easy,” while other men may label female workers as prostitutes or worse. Such perceptions are damaging, resulting in broken engagements and numerous safety concerns. In fact, one customer was so taken by a female worker’s smile, noted Ellick, that “he followed her out the door and tried to force her into his car.”


From the NY Times

This issue is certainly present in this society, but it’s also a universal problem. How many times have we all heard, read, or seen stories of rape or assault in which the victim has been blamed for her clothing choice, her profession, or the way she looked overall? How many times have we heard the phrase, “She was asking for it?In the case of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and the rape allegations in Sweden, he shockingly considers himself a victim of “revolutionary feminism,” even noting that one of the women was wearing a “revealing pink cashmere sweater.” No words, [though check out this great piece over at New Wave Feminism, “The Handy Guide to Not Raping People in Seven Easy Steps.”]

If you’ve been watching the Pakistani news over the past few weeks, then you also heard that very statement uttered by police officers and Sharmila Farooqi (see Sana Saleem’s brilliant open letter here), after a young woman in Karachi was gang raped. Rather than siding with the victim and protecting her privacy, Farooqi revealed her identity and proceeded to malign her character based on irrelevant details, causing the girl to withdraw the case.

Such attitudes are infuriating and ignorant, and further perpetuate the cycle of gender-based violence and discrimination.  In  television shows like Mad Men, set in an advertising agency in the 1960s, the evolution of women in the work place in the U.S. is continuously illustrated and is a reminder of how universal these issues are. In Pakistan, as Ellick noted, employers are reluctant to hire this growing generation of lower class women because of the subsequent investment, though supermarket chain Makro currently spends $8000/month on offering free transit services for its female workers, “to protect them from harassment and to help persuade them take jobs where they may face hostility.” As a result, Makro’s female employment has quadrupled since 2006.

Other employers are reluctant to hire women because of the high turnover rate, particularly given the expectation that many stop working after they get married. Again, a familiar scenario, not that different to the evolution of workplaces in the West or even among women working in higher-end jobs in Pakistan (though obviously the cultural and religious nuances add more layers to this situation). It is a constant struggle and debate about entrenched gender roles and how, as women become more economically empowered, the status quo begins to shift. Therefore, it is important to note the intrinsic link between economics and feminism (via empowerment).

Zeenat Hisam, a senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research told the NY Times, “We’re a society in transition. Men in Pakistan haven’t changed, and they’re not changing as fast as our women. Men want to keep their power in their hand.” The question of course remains, is how to reconcile these differences in order to preserve such modes of empowerment without endangering these women’s safety – at home and in the work place.

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NYT/Reuters: Children Taken to Hospital After Karachi Bombing

A version of this piece first appeared in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, in a series called, “The Hidden War: The Stories You Missed in 2010”:

The persecution and targeting of religious and sectarian minorities has occurred throughout Pakistan’s history, but a number of attacks in 2010 highlight a qualitative shift in this trend. The scale, location, tactics, and claims of responsibility for attacks on minority religious institutions have changed dramatically between last year and this one, showing that Pakistan’s minorities are an increasing target of the region’s extremist groups.

On May 28, 80 people were killed and over 90 injured in coordinated attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. On July 2, two suicide bombers attacked a Sufi shrine in Lahore, killing at least 50 and wounding more than 170. Three bombs targeted a Shiite religious procession in Lahore on September 1 during the month of Ramazan, killing at least 35 and injuring around 250. On October 25, two suicide bombers killed eight people and wounded over 60 in an attack on a Sufi shrine in Karachi.

According to numbers based on calculations from the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, news reports, and other sources, there were 25 attacks on mosques in 2009, and 11 of those incidents targeted sectarian minority mosques and institutions. In comparison, there were 19 attacks in 2010, with 10 targeting minority religious institutions.

Although the number of recorded attacks against minorities seems not to have changed much between 2009 and 2010, other key factors changed significantly. In 2010, attacks on minority religious institutions were for the most part large-scale, resulting in significantly higher death tolls than those in 2009. For instance, the average number of people killed in minority-related mosque attacks in 2009 was three. In 2010, the number ballooned to 18 (the average number wounded was 24 in 2009 and 61 in 2010).

Many of these 2010 attacks occurred in Pakistan’s major cities, such as the Sufi shrine bombing in Karachi and the Ahmadi mosque attacks in Lahore. In 2009, comparatively, such attacks were mostly concentrated in the country’s northern areas, including the tribal areas and smaller towns in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The type of attacks also shifted between 2009 and 2010. Last year, militants used mainly IEDs (improvised explosive devices), VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices), and grenades in their attacks on minority religious institutions; in 2010, on the other hand, suicide attacks were more common, a reason for the larger death tolls.

Finally, there was a shift in groups claiming responsibility. While there was no claim of responsibility for many of the attacks in 2009, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed more attacks this year, including the bombings of the Sufi shrine in Karachi and the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore (though TTP spokesmen denied they were behind the Sufi shrine attack in Lahore in July).

As Cyril Almeida, an assistant editor and columnist at Dawn Newspaper in Pakistan, noted, “The [Pakistani] military suggests that the success of its operations in the tribal areas has disrupted the militant networks. This has made it more important for TTP to be seen to be ‘active‘ and still posing a threat. This might explain why we have seen a rise in the claims of responsibility of minority religious institutions this year.”

But the TTP, despite what it claims, may not be behind all these attacks. Instead, groups belonging to the Punjabi Taliban, with more reach into Pakistan’s urban centers, could be working with the militant umbrella organization to carry out these attacks. By claiming responsibility, the TTP is in effect perpetuating the perception that there is one centralized larger enemy rather than a more manageable cluster of nameless militants operating independently. The increasing number of large-scale suicide attacks occurring in Pakistan’s major cities, not just in the northwestern areas, is also important in the perceptions war because these incidents garner more media attention and exacerbate the notion that the threat is close by, stoking greater instability and fear in the country.

Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia advisor for the United States Institute of Peace, further emphasized, “Terrorist strikes on minority religious institutions are now overall more well-coordinated. More groups are involved in each strike, and better-trained cadres are sent to high-value targets than in the peripheral areas.”

The shift in the nature of these attacks on minority religious institutions also mirrors increasingly heightened anti-minority sentiment in the country. Religious and sectarian minorities have long been marginalized, targeted, and persecuted throughout Pakistan’s history, though the introduction of the blasphemy laws in the 1980s added further legitimacy to this intolerance. Among the most recent victims of these laws is Aasia Bibi, who recently became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death because of a conviction under the blasphemy laws, and whose story has sparked polarizing reactions from human rights groups to religious organizations.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom‘s latest annual report, “[D]iscriminatory laws, promulgated in previous decades and persistently enforced, have fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities, including Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians. Government officials do not provide adequate protections from societal violence to members of these religious minority communities, and perpetrators of attacks on minorities seldom are brought to justice.”

In the case of attacks on minority religious institutions, the trend in the past year further illustrates how sectarian violence has intensified to a new level, and are perpetrated on a larger-scale by increasingly well-coordinated militant groups. If these groups want to destabilize Pakistan, noted Yusuf, then attacking minorities’ places of worship adds a further “sectarian dimension to that instability.”

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