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Holi in Pakistan: Why declaring public holiday is not enough

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Holi
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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in Mansoora to not only protest the Protection of Women Act, but issue an official deadline of March 27 for it to be withdrawn.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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Ex-Afghanistan Warlord Claims, ‘No Doubt’ Pakistan ‘Supports’ Taliban

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Afghanistan
Former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks to the media after arriving to register as a candidate for the presidential election at Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul, Afghanistan January 19, 2019. RFERL

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan’s most notorious former warlords, said there is “no doubt” neighboring Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban.

In an interview with RFE/RL in the Afghan capital on April 14, Hekmatyar also expressed hope that talks scheduled this week between the Western-backed Kabul government and the Taliban could prove a significant step towards ending the war.

U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for the militants, a claim rejected by Islamabad.

Hekmatyar forged close ties with Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment and its notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a relationship that was built during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the mujahideen commander was one of the main beneficiaries of Pakistani and CIA money and weapons.

U.S.
Washington has said Pakistan is playing a positive role in the ongoing U.S.-Taliban peace talks in Qatar that are aimed at ending the nearly 18-year war. VOA

“Pakistan has an interest in Afghanistan’s political affairs,” said Hekmatyar, whose Hezb-e Islami militant group signed a controversial peace accord with the Kabul government in 2016. “Pakistan is supporting the Taliban. There is no doubt about it.”

Hekmatyar said Pakistan now sees the war in Afghanistan as “more harmful” than beneficial to its interests, especially because of a crippling financial crisis and growing international pressure on Islamabad to clamp down on the Taliban.

Washington has said Pakistan is playing a positive role in the ongoing U.S.-Taliban peace talks in Qatar that are aimed at ending the nearly 18-year war.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have held several rounds of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, culminating in the basic framework of a potential peace deal in which the militants would prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan in exchange of a withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

That framework deal is dependent on a political settlement among Afghans, including the Kabul government, the Taliban, and opposition figures.

The Taliban long refused to talk with Kabul, calling it a U.S. “puppet,” although Kabul has said a government delegation will meet the Taliban for introductory talks in Doha on April 19.

Pakistan
U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for the militants, a claim rejected by Islamabad. Pixabay

Hekmatyar is a member of the Reconciliation Leadership Council, a new council led by President Ashraf Ghani, that will appoint negotiators for the April 19-21 talks with the Taliban, create their mandate for talks, and oversee their work.

The council is composed of both current and former senior government officials and leaders of political parties and opposition groups.

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The 69-year-old said he hopes the council will bridge chronic divisions among the political elite over peace talks with the Taliban, but warned that Kabul should not sideline powerful opposition figures from the process.

“Peace should not be monopolized,” said Hekmatyar, a candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for September. “Peace is a national issue. An agreement requires us all to engage honestly and unconditionally. (RFERL)