Friday January 19, 2018
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Holi in Pakistan: Why declaring public holiday is not enough

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Holi
Image source: wordpress.com

By Faraz Talat

The adoption of a resolution in the National Assembly proposing public holidays on Diwali, Easter, and Holi in Pakistan has been met with much enthusiasm among our progressive citizens.

In a country, where even symbolic gestures of goodwill towards the minorities are fought tooth and nail by the political right, these small victories are dearly cherished.

One hopes not to dampen our spirits too much, but among a list of concerns about the well-being of minorities in Pakistan, how significant is the need for public holidays on Holi and Easter?

To say that you want minorities to have their rights, but not a secular structure is to say that you want minorities to have their equal treatment as long as they don’t get in the way of your first-class citizenship.

2016 has been a good year for Pakistan:

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won another Oscar, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif officially addressed the problem of honor killings, and the need for action against it.

Shahbaz Taseer was recovered.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act was passed.

This was followed by the resolution to declare special public holidays for minorities’ festivals. Note that the government has not yet issued a notification concerning the actual declaration of these holidays, although Sindh has taken the liberty to declare March 24 a public holiday anyway.

The backlash to these events is nothing to sneeze at.

“Enemies want the country to become a secular and liberal state,” said Hafiz Saeed, as 35 religious parties gathered in Mansoora to not only protest the Protection of Women Act, but issue an official deadline of March 27 for it to be withdrawn.

However, these moves have found strange defenders across the aisle.

In an episode of NewsEye with Meher Bukhari, scholar and televangelist Aamir Liaquat sarcastically said:

We say that there’s democracy in Pakistan. Then a bill is presented in the Assembly, which is passed in a democratic manner. And then they (the coalition of religious parties) threaten the institution with a deadline (for amendment), saying we’ll do this and that if you don’t listen to us. Okay, fine! Hand everything over to them! Make Pakistan a theocratic state! Let’s end this debate once and for all.

Nationalist social media icon Hamza Ali Abbasi approved public holidays on Holi, Easter and Diwali, but did so by assuring his followers that the move had nothing to do with secularism.

Mr Abbasi often calls for the protection of minority rights, while simultaneously criticizing secular reforms.

Mr Aamir Liaquat’s remarks are fascinating, in the way that they inadvertently defend secular democratic liberties — which we don’t have.

Meanwhile, political commentators like Abbasi don’t seem to recognize how essential secular reforms are to the cause of equal rights for minorities.

The argument that an Islamic system ensures rights to women and minorities may well be true, but that’s not the point.

The point is the political entitlement of the Muslim majority, particularly men, over all other groups.

To say that you want minorities to have their rights, but not a secular structure is to say that you want minorities to have their equal treatment as long as they don’t get in the way of your ideological preferences, and your first-class citizenship.

It is to say you may have your rights and security, but my group still gets to be the one in total control of that decision. My race, religion, caste, or gender gets to stay on the pedestal and yours doesn’t. This country is basically ours, but not to worry — you’ll find us to be quite hospitable!

To counter this mindset of entitlement we need systemic reforms to put us on the path of equality for marginalized communities.

Winning social liberal skirmishes is great, but they must not distract us from the mountain we are meant to climb and a larger egalitarian movement we’re hoping to energize.

A bill to give a woman a right to wear mascara bears little relevance in a system where women are denied reproductive rights, equal wages and career safety.

It is a state system adorned with laws that target religious minorities and deny them marriage licenses; a country where the deck is stacked against the non-Muslim minorities and their religious preferences, in the legislature; a country where an entire Christian community has to flee Mehrabadi in terror when a single person is accused of blasphemy; a state where forced conversions and denial of job opportunities on the basis of religion, are commonplace.

In such a system, a public holiday to squirt colored water at one another is, at best, a humble consolation prize.

Source: DAWN

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American Friends of Balochistan welcomes Trump’s Tough stand on Pak

The American Friends of Balochistan (AFB) issued a statement Monday welcoming Donald Trump's stand on US-Pakistan relations, calling it a vindication of its own stand.

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Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons
Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons

Washington, D.C.– The American Friends of Balochistan (AFB) Executive Committee issued a statement Monday welcoming the President’s stand on US-Pakistan relations, calling it a vindication of its own stand.

The AFB said President Donald J. Trump has called out Pakistan’s constant bluffs with the US and pointed out a big chunk of American assistance was used against people of Balochistan in a secret, dirty war instead of the Taliban.

Khwaja Wali Kirani in Balochistan. Wikimedia Commons

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!,” President Trump first tweet of 2018 reads.

The tweet was loved by nearly quarter-million Americans and retweeted 83,000 times in less than 24 hours.

The AFB executive committee said the US remains Pakistan’s top foreign aid donor, in addition to the money paid in expectation of cooperation in the Global War on Terror. Yet, for many years now, serving officers in the US Armed Forces have repeatedly spoken out about Pakistan’s perfidy in Afghanistan, which has cost the US lives, money and strategic credibility in the world’s eyes. Pakistan also remains a training ground for terrorism and a prime proliferator of nuclear weapons technology.

No country’s development and democracy have suffered more from Pakistan’s interference via state-sponsored terrorism than Afghanistan. US efforts to help the Afghans rebuild their nation are constantly sabotaged by reeling instability. India is another well-known target.

The AFB said Balochistan is a region rich in natural gas. It that has seen several bloody cycles of insurgency ever since Pakistan forcibly annexed the autonomous Baloch state of Kalat in 1948 in violation of a Standstill Agreement. A portion of historical Balochistan also sits on the other side of Pakistan’s border with Iran. Further, it borders Afghanistan to the north-west. Pakistan’s brutal record in this strategically located province that forms the northern lip of the key Straits of Hormuz has spiked in recent years.

“People of Balochistan tried their very best to work with Pakistan’s false promises of integration after forceful accession, but instead gave genocide to Balochs,” said the statement.

The AFB monitors the situation in Balochistan closely and is in touch with freedom and democracy activists on the ground. The AFB reiterated their call to the Pakistani government to cease violating the physical security of Baloch people, their freedom of expression, and end the policy of economic exploitation and genocidal violence.

A slow-motion genocide in Balochistan has claimed the lives of 35,000 Baloch people, 6,000 of whom were buried in mass graves while 21,000 are Victims of Enforced Disappearances, according to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons. “The enforced disappearances situation in Balochistan is no different than what it used to be in Chile and Argentine in the 1970s and 1980s,” the AFB executive committee noted.

The AFB executive committee chimed in with similar sentiments expressed by policy experts in academe, veteran politicians, diplomats, intelligence chiefs, and human rights activists. Among them were former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, leading South Asia expert and former Pakistani ambassador Hussain Haqqani, several Baloch freedom and human rights activists cutting across party lines, former head of Afghanistan’s Directorate of Security Amrullah Saleh, and even normally fierce critics of President Trump’s administration such as Prof. Christine Fair, Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

The AFB executive committee consists of Jane Eastwood Weisner, Najeeb Khan, Krishna Gudipati, Soumya Chowdhury and Habiba Ashna. The organization was founded by veteran Baloch journalist Ahmar Mustikhan, who is the president.

Hope and doubt have been expressed on whether the US president’s tweet and words will translate into actionable legislation. Mustikhan published a survey of some of these thoughts in an article titled “Wave of joy sweeps across Afghanistan, Balochistan & India over Trump’s first tweet of 2018”.