Thursday December 14, 2017

Pakistani Christians’ predicament

can the victimization end or the power game will continue?

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a Pakistani Christian mob
BY RABIA MEHMOOD
AL Jazeera

It was midnight in Youhanabad – a neighbourhood of majorly Pakistani Christians in Lahore. Men and women, both young and old, were keeping watch. Some sat on charpoys and wooden benches, while others walked about patrolling the streets.

The songs of prayers intermingled with the thump of the dholak – or drum – through the haunting darkness of downtrodden streets.

The residents of Youhanabad were protecting their men from the police – three weeks after a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, had executed twin blasts, the very state institutions that were supposed to protect them were the ones that they feared.

“We trust you. Believe me, we do. But please, do not photograph us,” the woman singing hymns said to me when I approached her with my camera. Despite seeing me with the neighbourhood’s senior priest – who had vouched for me – they were too afraid to let anyone know about their night watch, or let anyone see their faces in photographs. This was in 2015.

The fear of abandonment

Today, fear and a sense of abandonment by the state resides in the collective consciousness of the Pakistani Christians. While Christians poured on to the streets following the last twin bombings against their community, this time they remained indoors.

The community and several rights activists think that the silence of Christians after last week’s bombings in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park is not only out of fear of militants.

Unlike the recent suicide blast by the Pakistani Taliban, which intended to target Easter celebrations at a park in Lahore, the blasts in Youhanabad last year prompted local Christians to come out of their homes in droves to call for justice. In the heat of the moment, two Muslims were killed.

By the time I visited the neighbourhood in April 2015, more than 150 men and boys had been arbitrarily detained by the police for murder and vandalism.

Families and rights groups did not know about the locations of their loved ones for at least a month and a half after the detentions.

The state’s “picking up” of Christian men from their streets and beds in the middle of the night continued till October 2015. Today, 43 Christians remain in jail on murder charges of two Muslims, according to the lawyers, rights activists and members of the community I spoke with.

Flawed system

On the face of it, arresting and charging a group of men for murder looks legal and reasonable. But, Christians in Pakistan are among some of the poorest and most marginalised populations in the country.

This marginalisation manifests itself most violently through the ill-application of a justice system, and legal redress is tenuous at best.

The widespread detentions during the protests in Youhanabad were not the first experience that Christians had with especially heavy-handed law enforcement.

In 2013, after twin bombings at the All Saints Church in Peshawar which killed at least 80 people, a large number of young Christians agitated in Lahore and Karachi.

Multiple arrests by the Punjab police followed, resulting in a heightened sense of insecurity and vulnerability among Pakistani Christians. Some even applied for asylum abroad, citing state persecution alongside militant violence.

Anger expressed by the community in demonstrations represents its pleas for justice and security.

Protests by the Christian community that were never so destructive as to harm the lives of Muslims, turned aggressive and then subsequently violent in the past few years only.

In addition to becoming victims of militancy, these protests were also consequences of years of abuse faced by the community through blasphemy cases and arson attacks by Muslim protesters on Christian settlements and villages.

Like African and Hispanic Americans in the United States, Christians in Pakistan are victims of an unjust system and structural violence.

Christians are not only “soft targets” for the militancy, but also victims of socioeconomic and political exclusion.

Historically, many Christians are said to be former members of Hindu communities who converted to escape systematic caste oppression in colonial India.

They have since inherited the socioeconomic marginalisation of their former caste, and continue to work as janitorial and domestic workers. Politically, many remain vulnerable to Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. They are also not fully integrated in the political process in Pakistan.

From the biases in school textbooks to everyday poverty, Christians eke out a living on the edge of our world, the world of a Sunni Islam majority.

Deepening disempowerment

This marginalisation of the Christians means protesting against brutal attacks by militants or the insecurity becomes nearly impossible. In fact, the violence against this community indicates that the operation launched by the state against militants in the Punjab province will not make much of a dent in the lives of ordinary Christians.

Tough crackdowns on disempowered Christian people after the protests in the wake of attacks on their community have pushed Pakistani Christians up against the wall. This year, they barely brought out demonstrations after the suicide attacks.

Back in Youhanabad I had met 60-year-old Javed Hidayat, a Christian mechanic. In the aftermath of the protests, the police had raided his home in the middle of the night and taken his son away without an arrest warrant.

When I spoke with him, he told me that the police charged his son not just with murder, but terrorism. In his desperate attempt to reclaim his son, he lost hours and days of work to solely focus on his son’s bail.

Bilqees, his wife, is so sick with grief and depression that she cannot visit their son in prison for the bi-weekly meetings that are permitted. Their other 15-year-old son left school to earn enough money to feed his family at least twice a day.

After the Easter blasts in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park last week, I thought of Javed. When I dialled his number, his words to me were, “On Easter after the blasts, Bilqees cried for hours. I feel like we are marked by the cruelties and violence inflicted upon us forever, and we will never be able to take off this mark.”

Rabia Mehmood is an independent journalist and researcher based out of Pakistan, with interest in religious persecution, gender and human rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Next Story

Pakistan : Law Minister forced to step down, Is the notorious Islamic nation on way to collapse?

With growing influence of Islamic extremists on one hand and separatist movements on other hand, it is really a tough road ahead for Pakistan. The den of terror is on way to collapse

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Islamic Terrorism
Supporters of the extremist Tehreek-e-Labaik party Pakistan (VOA)

After few weeks of ongoing drama Pakistan government on Monday made a deal with leaders of an extremist Islamist protest movement, agreeing that Pakistan law minister would step down from his position in return for an end to violent protests that had resulted in brutal clashes and immobilised the Pakistani capital since last few weeks. The law minister, Zahid Hamid, whom protesters had accused of blasphemy, resigned as part of negotiations overseen by Pakistan’s military. Law Minister Zahid Hamid had been accused by clerics of committing blasphemy due to a change in the wording of an oath taken by parliamentarians. The extremists, led by Rizvi, believed the change in wording as representing a softening of the state’s position against members of the Ahmadi sect, who are not permitted to identify themselves as Muslims in Pakistan. Like many times in past once again in Pakistan the government surrendered to the extremists. A dozen of people were killed and around 250 people were wounded in clashes between protestors and security forces.

“On the assurance of the Chief of Army Staff, we are calling off the sit-in,” Muslim extremist and protest leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi representing radical “Tehreek-e-Labaik” told a crowd of around 2,500 demonstrators in Islamabad on Monday.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

This is not the first time when Islamic extremists have highjacked the government in Pakistan. Not a single Prime Minister in Pakistan has been allowed to complete his tenure since the country’s inception 70 years ago. The political situation in Pakistan has never been a swift ride ever since 1947, as four times democratic governments were thrown away by military dictators, one prime minister was killed while another one was hanged by judiciary, many were sent home by presidents and two were dismissed by the Supreme Court, the latest been Nawaz Sharif.

The recent developments have again proved that Pakistan’s democratically elected government has no authority, it is the islamic extremists who hold the jar of power dictating government what to do and what not to do. Few days back only, a judicial panel ordered the release of Islamic militant leader Hafiz Saeed who was the mastermind of deadly Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 from house arrest. Hafiz Saeed have a huge following and popularity in Pakistan, and was to take up leadership of a political party which he planned to start. The matter of concern is future of Pakistan with such terrorists penetrating in power corridors.

With growing extremism on one side, separatist movements are also growing in Pakistan. Baloch freedom movement is gaining pace and a large section of Pashtun population are also demanding an independent Pashtunistan. There are several similarities between the Pakistani Army committing hideous crimes in Bangladesh (what was then East Pakistan) and Balochistan & Pashtunistan. Mass killings, the rape of women, laying human habitations to waste, targeted assassinations – Bangladesh saw it all during its Liberation War of 1971. Balochistan and Pashtunistan continues to witness these horrors. Religious minorities are also often targeted including the Shia and Ahmadi muslim population.

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With growing Wahhabism on one hand and separatist movements on another hand its really a tough job for Pakistan’s government to keep the country intact. Pakistan should now understand that there is no good terrorism and bad terrorism. [bctt tweet=”Pakistan should now understand that there is no good terrorism and bad terrorism. The snake you raise in your backyard is more likely to bite you before it bite your neighbour.”] In such grave situations, civil society of Pakistan must ponder over the state of affairs and should reject terrorism against India, only then a progressive Pakistan can exist. A progressive and stable Pakistan is equally important for neighbouring countries.

–  by SHAURYA RITWIK, Shaurya is Sub-Editor at NewsGram and writes on Geo-politcs, Culture, Indology and Business. Twitter Handle – @shauryaritwik

2 responses to “Pakistan : Law Minister forced to step down, Is the notorious Islamic nation on way to collapse?”

  1. Good analysis, Pakistan must look within and stop religious extremists before they take control of whole nation.

  2. That is a very good and deep analysis. Pakistan is imploding from inside, religious extremist groups have the upper hand while ethnic suppression is igniting separatism. Ethnic Pashtun and Baluch nationalism should be empowered to put an end to the terror-producing machinery in Pakistan that means total collapse of Pakistani dysfunctional, apartheid and panjabi fascist failed state.

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Analysts in USA and India Not surprised by Release of Hafiz Saeed by Pakistan

While the news of Saeed’s release has caught worldwide attention, some US experts on South Asian affairs say Pakistan's move was bound to happen - sooner or later.

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Hafiz Saeed has been released from jail by Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistan's Jamaat-ud-Dawa group waves to supporters at a mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, Nov. 24, 2017. VOA

Anti-terrorism analysts in Washington and New Delhi are critical of Pakistan’s decision to release a man accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 160, but some say they are not surprised by the move. U.S. officials say Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist.

He was set free by Pakistani authorities after 11 months of house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday. Earlier last week, a judicial panel of Lahore High Court said there was not enough evidence to continue Saeed’s detention.

Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan
Supporters of Hafiz Saeed, head of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, shower his car with rose petals as he leaves a court in Lahore, Pakistan, Nov. 21, 2017. VOA

While the news of Saeed’s release has caught worldwide attention, some experts on South Asian affairs say Pakistan’s move was bound to happen – sooner or later. “I see Saeed’s release as totally unsurprising. This is a story that’s played out multiple times in recent history: He is put under house arrest only to be released,” Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based South Asian analyst associated with the Woodrow Wilson Center told VOA.

“Pakistani legal authorities had said all along that there was not sufficient evidence to keep him detained, so it was just a matter of time before he was released,” Kugelman added.

Hafiz Saeed is the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa group (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat foundation (FIF), both of which have been declared terrorist organizations by the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is widely believed to be the front of Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) which was included into the U.N.’s terrorist groups list in 2005.

US ‘deeply concerned’

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Saeed should be arrested and charged for his crimes. “The United States is deeply concerned that Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed has been released from the house arrest in Pakistan. LeT is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens,” Nauert said.

Mumbai Terror Attack
FILE – People hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of a terrorist attack, in Mumbai, India, Nov. 29, 2008. The attack took a total of 160 lives. VOA

India, which alleges Saeed was mastermind of Mumbai carnage in 2008, has also reacted strongly to his release. India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that a “self-confessed and U.N.-proscribed terrorist was being allowed to walk free and continue with his evil agenda.”

Some political analysts in India also seem to be agitated by Saeed’s release and say it will only further complicate the already strained relations between the two rival nations.

“His release only reinforces the popular belief in India that the Pakistani establishment is either not interested or it’s incapable of putting Saeed on trial in the Mumbai case,” Vinod Sharma, Delhi based political editor of the Hindustan Times told VOA. “In either case it increases the trust deficit between the two countries.”

Insufficient evidence, says Pakistan

Lawmakers in Pakistan dismiss the allegations and maintain India and the U.S. provided insufficient evidence to put Hafiz Saeed behind bars or declare him a terrorist.

“The criticism by the United States is wrong and India’s anger makes no sense as Pakistan is a democratic country where courts are powerful and work with full authority,” Abdul Qayyum, a prominent member of the ruling party PML-N told VOA. “Until and unless there is solid evidence against Hafiz Saeed, how can you arrest or punish him? We have strict rules for terrorists and we do not spare them at any cost,” Qayyum added.

Some experts on South Asian affairs point out that Hafiz Saeed’s release orders came out within days after the U.S. Congress removed a provision from the National Defense Authorization Act 2018 that delinks Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) from the Haqqani Network to reimburse Pakistan for its cooperation in the war on terror.

Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington called the amendment an “unfortunate move.” “It will give Pakistan a way to differentiate between good and bad terrorists and they will make less effort to satisfy the United States against the war on terror,” Tellis told VOA.

Aman Azhar of VOA’s Urdu Service contributed to this report.

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Re-arrest Hafiz Saeed: USA tells Paksitan

Hafiz Saeed was designated a terrorist by the U.S. Justice Department, which has a $10 million reward for his capture or killing. He was released from house arrest before dawn Friday. After being freed, Hafiz has vowed to fight for Kashmir.

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Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, gestures outside a court in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. A Pakistani court has rejected the government’s plea to extend for three months the house arrest of the former leader of a banned militant group allegedly linked to 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

The United States has issued a statement condemning the release of Hafiz Saeed by Pakistan authorities, the mastermind of Mumbai terrorist attacks and has asked that he be rearrested and charged for his crimes.

Pakistani authorities have released a U.S.-wanted militant cleric who allegedly masterminded the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed 168 people.

On Wednesday, a court in Pakistan rejected the government’s plea to extend the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed for three months and ordered his release, saying the government had failed to substantiate the charges of terrorism.

Saeed was designated a terrorist by the U.S. Justice Department, which has a $10 million reward for his capture or killing. He was released from house arrest before dawn Friday.

Saeed ran the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organization, believed to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group that was behind the attack in Mumbai, India.

Pakistan put Saeed and four of his aides under house arrest in Lahore in January following increased U.S. pressure on Islamabad to rein in militant groups. Saeed’s aides were released earlier.

On Thursday, India condemned the decision of the Pakistani court to release Saeed from house arrest.