Monday October 23, 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

Zeenat Shahzadi, Missing Pakistani Woman Journalist Fighting For Jailed Indian, Found After Two Years

A Pakistani woman journalist who was allegedly kidnapped while pursuing the case of an Indian engineer two years ago has been rescued

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Zeenat Shahzadi
Zeenat Shahzadi had allegedly been kidnapped in Pakistan's Lahore city in 2015. Twitter.

Lahore October 21:  It was reported by PTI that A Pakistani journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi had “forcibly disappeared” while working on the case of Indian citizen Hamid Ansari.

  • A Pakistani journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi who was allegedly kidnapped two years ago has been rescued.
  • Zeenat Shahzadi, a 26-year-old reporter of Daily Nai Khaber and Metro News TV channel, was kidnapped by unidentified men while she was reaching her home in Lahore on August 19, 2015.
  • She was pursuing the case of an Indian engineer jailed in Peshawar on espionage charges.

The chief of Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal said that Shahzadi was retrieved nearby the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on Thursday night. He also mentioned the key roles of tribals from Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces in her recovery.

Zeenat Shahzadi
Rescue of Pakistani Journalist is celebrated in Pakistan. Twitter.

Ansari, a resident of Mumbai had been arrested for illegally invading Pakistan from Afghanistan to meet a girl he had befriended online in 2012. He was convicted to three years imprisonment on charges of spying and entering Pakistan illegally.

On Shahzadi being kidnapped, her brother Saddam Hussain committed suicide in March last year, making the situation an importance by the media.

Human rights activists, including former Secretary General of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, IA Rehman, have raised their voice to set Ansari free since he has completed to serve his sentence.

Next Story

Pakistan Elected to UN Human Rights Council along with 14 other countries

The new members will serve a three-year term from January 1, 2018

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un human rights council
UN General Assembly elect 15 new members of Human Rights Council. Wikimedia

United Nations, October 17, 2017 : Fifteen countries, including Pakistan, have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council by the UN General Assembly.

In a vote on Monday, Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine were elected, a Foreign Office statement said.

They will serve a three-year term from January 1, 2018. (IANS)

 

Next Story

Pakistan Electoral Body Bars Political Party Due to Terror Ties

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Sheikh Yaqub
Sheikh Yaqub (C) candidate of the newly-formed Milli Muslim League party, waves to his supporters at an election rally in Lahore, Pakistan. voa

Pakistan’s Election Commission (ECP) on Wednesday rejected the registration application of a newly established political party with alleged ties to a banned militant group in the country.

Milli Muslim League (MML) has been disqualified to participate in the country’s state and general elections.

The electoral commission’s decision is said to be based on a request made earlier by the country’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, stating that Milli Muslim League is a front organization for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S.-designated terror sponsoring organization in Pakistan.

“The government is vigilant and under no circumstances will allow any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to spread their extremist ideology through democracy and political means,” Tallal Chaudhry, Pakistan’s minister of state for Interior Affairs, told VOA.

Saif Ullah Khalid, president of Milli Muslim League, dismissed the election commission’s decision and said the party will take the matter to the country’s judiciary.

Political wing

Milli Muslim League was established in August 2017 as a political wing for the controversial Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is believed to be a front organization for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group led by Hafiz Saeed.

Saeed was accused of masterminding Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

The U.S. government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Saeed has been reportedly under house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore for the past eight months.

In September, during an important by-election in Lahore, when the National Assembly’s seat fell vacant following the disqualification of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the newly launched MML backed an independent candidate who finished fourth in the race for Sharif’s seat.

At the time, Pakistan’s upper house of parliament strongly criticized the country’s election commission for allowing JuD’s political wing, MML, to participate in the Lahore by-election.

Some experts were concerned about the emergence of militant groups joining mainstream politics in Pakistan. They maintain that the political trend seen in Lahore’s by-election, where parties linked to militant groups are able to mobilize and generate sufficient numbers of votes within a very short period of time, as alarming.

“There should be a debate on this sensitive issue through social, political and media channels. By allowing militant-based political parties to integrate into mainstream politics, it will only escalate radicalization in the society,” Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar based political analyst, told VOA.

“There are people who believe with the merger of such militant groups into politics, we’ll provide them an avenue to maintain a political presence without leaving their extreme ideologies,” Hussain added.

Army’s support

Earlier last week, Pakistan’s army acknowledged they are mulling over plans to blend the militant-linked political groups into the mainstream political arena.

Some analysts side with MML, arguing the party should be allowed to participate in elections.

“I do not understand in what capacity the election commission has rejected MML’s application to register as a party,” said Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, the head of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).

“Did they (MML) break any law? If not, how can you bar MML from entering the mainstream politics when they’re doing it through legitimate ways,” Mehboob emphasized.

Zubair Iqbal, a Washington-based South Asia expert, also raised concerns over the validity of the decision.

“This is how democracy works. … There are some extreme groups, some moderate groups and no one should be stopped because of their extreme ideologies,” Iqbal told VOA. “The extremist groups can be barred from entering into the politics only through people and democracy.”

“Unless these parties and individuals are allowed to participate in the political system they might never change their extreme ideologies and might continue operating underground which will prove to be more dangerous,” Iqbal added.

International pressure

In the past few years, Pakistan has faced escalating pressure from the international community for not being able to crackdown on militant groups enjoying safe havens in Pakistan and launching attacks in neighboring countries.

In his recent speech on the region, U.S President Trump put Pakistan on notice to take actions against safe havens in Pakistan. Pakistani officials deny the existence of safe havens on its soil.

Pakistan is also accused of being selective in its pursuit of terror groups. It allegedly goes after only those groups that pose a threat to the country’s national security, ignoring others that threat India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan rejects the allegations and reiterates its stance of having no sympathy for any terror group operating in the country.(VOA)