New Age Islam Edit Bureau
11 May 2016
A Women’s Jirga
By Rafia Zakaria
After Threats from Religious Groups and Militants, the Pakistani Media Faces a New Menace
By Razeshta Sethna
Murders Most Gruesome
By Zahid Hussain
By Mahir Ali
Peace Process: Hostage To Haqqanis?
By Imtiaz Gul
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
A Women’s Jirga
By Rafia Zakaria
May 11th, 2016
WHEN interviewed by Reuters, Zardad Khan, from the village of Makol to which 16-year-old Ambreen belonged, said, “This barbarity has never happened before.” The teenager was killed, her body put in a van and burned.
His words may be true for the village of Makol but not for Pakistan in general. Over recent decades, village after village and, in particular, jirga after jirga, has been implicated in ordering murders and even rapes of women under the pretext of preserving ‘honour’. Over a decade ago was the famous case of Mukhtaran Mai, ordered raped and humiliated in Meerwala. More recently, a tribal Jirga in Kohistan condemned four women because they were seen clapping and singing apparently in the company of men in a grainy mobile phone video. They had been attending a relative’s wedding.
The numbers are probably greater than most imagine and, as is the case with crimes against women in Pakistan, difficult to tabulate with real accuracy. Pakistani society, at all levels, is adept at cover-ups for the crimes of men, at subterfuge supporting the easy erasure of women. The status of the Jirga- or Panchayat-ordered killing, an ironic form of ‘justice’, is a sub-category within the larger compartment of ‘honour killings’, both populated with the lost lives of women who died to sate the anger and bloodlust of men.
Functioning as instruments of communal justice, jirgas often dole out sentences unfettered by the constraints of the laws of the country. As Ambreen’s tragic end reveals, they can carry out their sentences. Outcry, if it follows at all, takes place after the object of their wrath is already dead. In many cases, once outcry and attention have faded, all those indicted for the crime (if they are indicted at all) are often freed to live their lives. In a country where a woman’s life has meagre worth, why should men be punished for taking it? Given the regularity with which women are ordered killed, there seems to be implicit agreement on this point.
The Sister’s Council represents a promising answer to a difficult problem.
In their current form, Jirgas are composed almost entirely of men and unbound by the limits of the law of the country. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the form of justice doled out by them is misogynistic and brutal. In simple terms, a community’s need for expedient dispute resolution is manipulated by its powerful men and then used to order and enforce punishments that serve their own interests. The weakness of the state’s own legal system, the cost involved in availing oneself of it and the deadly delays that ail it further bolster the reach and mandate of local jirgas. Even for the villagers of Makol, which isn’t far from larger towns and cities, the court system, it seems, was too far away, too distant from the lives of Makol’s inhabitants.
It does not have to be this way. The work of one woman in the valley of Swat reveals how the actual need for justice and the provision of it at a communal level can be harnessed to protect and empower women, rather than leaving them at the mercy of ruthless and self-interested men. Three years ago, Tabassum Adnan inaugurated a Sister’s Council or ‘Khwendo Jirga’ in the village of Mingora.
According to Adnan, who was herself married at the age of 13 and endured domestic abuse, the existing tribal councils in her community did not permit women to join them. Fed up of this decision, she got together a group of women and began discussing the issues and concerns of the community with them. The women then pressed the men on the jirga council to take their decisions and consensus into account. According to Adnan, nearly 1,000 women in the area are now involved in the Sister’s Council by bringing their problems to it and participating in its processes.
Tabassum Adnan’s work has received international acclaim. She has received the International Women of Courage Award and just last month was also awarded the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machele Innovation Award. Her pioneering strategy deserves attention and implementation beyond Swat. A council where women of a community are empowered to intervene and participate in communal decision-making can be a crucial and pressing form of intervention in a situation that has become increasingly untenable.
Tabassum Adnan’s Jirga does not currently receive any kind of monetary support from the government or from any other source, but its work and powers of enforcement could be enhanced even further if the state invested resources and empowered its leaders. The Sister’s Council, with its grass-roots and women-centred agenda, its rootedness in the community, represents a promising answer to a difficult problem.
Not only have honour killings continued in Pakistan, many women’s organisations report that their numbers have increased. One reason for this is that while there have been various legislative measures to try and combat the persecution of women and their relegation to the status of objects that can be exchanged or extinguished, there has been no effort towards actually bringing about change at the community level. Honour killings continue despite laws and campaigns against them, because those committing these crimes continue to believe that they are doing the right thing. They will not stop, unless others in their community speak up, and these others have to be women.
Ambreen was killed at the behest of a Jirga; she is just one among so many Pakistani women who have lost their lives in similar ways with community collusion and consensus. A change can only occur if women from communities are empowered to create their own alternate Jirgas whose decisions are binding on the community as well.
To help these women’s Jirgas gain credibility within communities, the state should invest in them, recognise their leaders and incentivise participation. Male Jirgas have made Pakistan a home for grotesque and brutal crimes, women’s Jirgas may actually make it a more just and equitable place.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
After Threats from Religious Groups and Militants, The Pakistani Media Faces A New Menace
By Razeshta Sethna
09 May 2016
Veteran journalist Shahzada Zulfiqar is almost midway through his third stint as president at the Quetta Press Club in a province where it is preferable to stay silent to remain alive.
In Balochistan, a good story is not one that is well-documented by local reporters. Instead, it is one that mitigates risk. Local journalists think twice about doing stories likely to infuriate state and non-state actors, making self-censorship the norm.
Journalists are often summoned for a "cup of tea" with intelligence officials, adept at monitoring and criticising reporters, according to Zulfiqar. He has been warned a number of times against sharing his political views.
Another Baloch journalist, living in exile, explains: “It is strange living away from Pakistan yet being dominated professionally by fear. For every article I write, I spike ten others. It’s intellectual genocide. I’m not writing Jihadi literature. Jihadi supporters have all the freedom of expression, even on television. I have respect for human rights, peace and reconciliation. Why can’t I pursue my profession?”
The Balochistan Union of Journalists claims 41 journalists have been targeted in the province since 2008. Much is dictated informally by the state, militants and the military, say those in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
Still Under Threat
Pakistan has been ranked 147 on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, and fallen by more than 10% on the “media environment and self-censorship” indicator from 2013 to date.
As independent news coverage is precarious for privately-owned media because of threats by religious groups and militants, as well as a large-scale propaganda machinery under the state, the media resorts to self-censorship.
Impunity for offences against the media has been rising because the government avoids prosecution of suspects linked to the state or militant groups, according to Bob Dietz, Asia Programme Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Although independent local reporters were close to the frontline (Waziristan) in 2002, they were unprepared to report on a war that was being fought on their home turf.
More than a decade later, the media is still under constraints because the reporting done at the height of the “war on terror” continues to invite threats and warnings.
‘Lake Of Crocodiles’
The 2005 murder of North Waziristan-based Hidayatullah Khan, after he photographed fragments of a US-made Hellfire missile that killed Al Qaeda’s Hamza Rabia, is a case in point. Contradicting the government’s version was anathema to the authorities.
Like Hidayatullah, Safdar Dawar too hails from Miramshah, North Waziristan. As a former president of the Tribal Union of Journalists (2011 and 2012), he has defied the Taliban’s "directives".
The time when he refused to expel member journalists, branded by the Taliban as spies working for VOA and Mashaal Radio, was unnerving. Covering Fata after 2002 was akin to “reporting from a lake of crocodiles”.
The sight of resident Taliban leaders sauntering into the Miramshah press club was not unusual. On the other side, the Taliban don’t see journalists as neutral and unbiased, having silenced quite a few for allegedly writing against them (Zaman Mehsud was killed in November).
Tweeting a warning that “everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media”, they have supposedly made hit-lists naming journalists.
Owais Aslam Ali, from the Pakistan Press Foundation, ascribes the fall in the number of journalists killed (two killed between May 2015 and May 2016) to the growing self-censorship. In spite of the falling number of deaths, the threat level has intensified, according to the CPJ.
“Killings have certainly not ended. Numbers fall into the same statistical range of the past decade, some years are worse than others. Balochistan has emerged as a danger spot, or at least the world has become more aware of its terrible situation. Suspected perpetrators come from the same pool of malevolent actors. The government either cannot or will not stop the problem, despite their blandishments and concern. At the management level, the WhatsApp-based Editors for Safety, is a good example of an indigenous initiative required,” Mr Dietz says.
Launched in December 2015, this initiative has a clear objective: an attack on an individual media professional or organisation is an attack on the entire media.
The new threat to the media comes from informal government directives on dissemination of information.
“Instructions by Pemra under the code of conduct are a disguised form of the draconian ‘press advices’, reminiscent of the Ayub era," said Ali. "The media has far more experience to allow the government to interfere in coverage. The directive to ‘act responsibly’ cannot be interpreted as asking for a blackout.”
There have been convictions to date for the murder of four journalists – Daniel Pearl, Wali Khan Babar, Abdul Razzak Johra and Ayub Khattak. Last year, Rasool Dawar stopped reporting on militancy and security issues after being detained and interrogated on multiple occasions about his stories. He refused to disclose "70% of what happened" to him, in February last year.
“You will read ‘another journalist killed by unknown assailants’ if I tell you everything,” he said. He’d been reporting from North Waziristan since 2007.
The reality that journalists are increasingly becoming characters in their own stories is a bad sign for media.
Murders Most Gruesome
By Zahid Hussain
May 11th, 2016
THE three cold-blooded murders that shook the nation last week had no links with each other. Yet those three separate incidents have something in common. A young schoolgirl killed and her body burnt (there are also reports she was burnt alive) in Abbottabad on the orders of a local jirga for helping her friend run away from home; a political activist tortured to death in custody by Rangers in Karachi; and a rights activist gunned down in the metropolis by an unknown assailant.
Sixteen-year-old Ambreen was yet another victim killed in the name of honour; Aftab Ahmed is the latest addition to the long list of custodial murders by the security agencies; and Khurram Zaki is the newest casualty of what appears to be religiously inspired militancy that he had dared to challenge. While the reasons behind these gruesome acts are different, they manifest a culture of violence perpetrated not only by groups and individuals but also by the security forces. Most worrying, however, is the tolerance of and indifference towards such heinous crimes.
It was certainly not the first or the last case of a girl being killed in the name of honour. But the cruelty reported in the case of Ambreen is unheard of even in this country where life comes cheap. She was dragged from her home, injected with sedatives, strangled, her body tied up in a van and then burned. It was a gruesome murder in which some of her family members were also believed to be complicit.
More than a dozen people have been arrested in connection with the crime. But the most important thing is what the administration does to prevent such brutality from occurring again. There is not much to show for the government’s resolve to make an example of the murderers.
Law-enforcement agencies are not expected to resort to the same methods as criminals and terrorists.
Just as brutal was the death of Aftab Ahmed, an MQM activist in the custody of the Rangers. The pictures of the dead man circulated on social media showed terrible bruises and abrasions all over and toenails pulled out. It was hard for any human to have survived such extreme brutality. He had already succumbed to torture when he was brought to the hospital. After initial silence, Rangers officials conceded that he had been tortured.
Ahmed was arrested a few weeks ago and was remanded in the Rangers custody for 90 days. But over the past year, Karachi has seen tortured bodies being dumped in desolate places after ‘disappearing’, a euphemism for being taken away by the security and intelligence agencies. Many are still missing. There is a criminal silence over those mutilated bodies.
It was hard for the Rangers to refute the allegation of torture after Aftab Ahmed’s post-mortem report. The chief of army staff has ordered an inquiry and those involved in the interrogation have reportedly been suspended. But is this enough? Could security personnel employ torture during interrogation without the approval of their superior? The DG Rangers said that paramilitary personnel had violated the rules. But it was not the only case of torture. What about the mutilated bodies of ‘missing persons’? The responsibility lies at the top.
There is no denying that the Rangers have done a great job in bringing some kind of normality back to Karachi. But the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances mitigate the good work. Hundreds of people have been killed in so-called encounters that include alleged TTP militants, members of the Lyari gang war and MQM activists.
It may be true that many of them were involved in crimes and terrorist activities. But they must have some identity too. Why are the names of those killed in encounters never made public along with their criminal records? Any deviation from human rights that are enshrined in the country’s Constitution fuels lawlessness.
Surely the MQM, particularly its militant wing, has been involved in the violence that turned Karachi into a killing field. But incidents like the custodial death of Aftab Ahmed and the dumping of tortured bodies feed into the party’s victimhood image. Law-enforcement agencies are not expected to resort to the same methods as criminals and terrorists. The misuse of the sweeping powers given to the security agencies under the National Action Plan could defeat their purpose. These powers have been granted for fighting terrorists and lawbreakers, and not for terrorising ordinary citizens.
Furthermore, the involvement of the intelligence agencies in political manipulation makes the situation more complicated. Such tactics had failed in the past and certainly cannot succeed in the future. Those involved in any criminal and anti-state activities must be brought to justice.
Custodial killings and media trials do not provide a solution to the Karachi problem. Such actions only strengthen the culture of violence and further shrink the space for sane and moderate voices. One glaring example is the murder of rights campaigner Khurram Zaki. He was gunned down at a restaurant where he was sitting with his friends. A TTP faction reportedly claimed responsibility for the murder as revenge for his campaign to have Maulana Aziz of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid arrested.
An Islamic scholar, Khurram Zaki stood fast against militancy and sectarianism. For that he paid with his blood. He was shot dead two weeks after the first death anniversary of Sabeen Mahmud, another brave rights activist, and days after Aftab Ahmed succumbed to the extreme torture inflicted on him while he was in the Rangers’ custody.
There is surely no connection between the two deaths in the city. Nevertheless, it raises the question as to how the extremists continue to operate in Karachi, despite the claim that TTP cells in the city have been wiped out. No one has been arrested so far for the murder of Khurram Zaki and perhaps the internal investigation against the Rangers personnel involved in the torture of Aftab Ahmed will never be made public.
The three deaths with no connection to each other are symptomatic of a society where the rule of law is becoming extinct. There is little hope left when law enforcers turn lawbreakers.
Zahid Hussain is an author and journalist.
By Mahir Ali
May 11th, 2016
IN a speech marking Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, the Israeli army’s deputy chief of staff offered his compatriots an uncomfortable reminder.
“If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance,” Maj-Gen Yair Golan noted, “it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then — 70, 80 and 90 years ago — and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.”
He added: “There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate. There is nothing easier than to behave like an animal and to act sanctimoniously.” Golan’s intervention stirred a predictable response in Israel: there was some support for his words, but it was almost drowned out by vituperative, and occasionally hysterical, condemnation. Inevitably, some have demanded his dismissal.
For all that, drawing parallels between the European mindset that facilitated the Holocaust and current trends in Israeli society is a somewhat less fraught enterprise in Israel today than it is across much of Europe; more than one commentator has noted, for instance, that had Golan been a member of the British Labour Party, his comments would have warranted his immediate suspension.
There is growing support for right-wing extremism.
It is not just Israel, though, that should be alert to the echoes of the 1920s-30s. The political processes unfolding in Europe — a combination of economic despair and a rising tide of xenophobia — ought to be ringing far more alarm bells than has thus far been the case.
The series of profoundly worrying developments continued last month with the far-right Austrian Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer taking the lead in the first round of his country’s presidential election. The sense of impending crisis was exacerbated on Monday by the unexpected resignation of the country’s social democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann.
Post-war Austria has hitherto elected only mainstream conservative or social democratic presidents. For the first time, neither of those parties is in contention: on May 22, Hofer faces a run-off against Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Green running as an independent. The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but with potential political powers that Hofer has vowed to exercise.
In Germany, meanwhile, the relatively new Alternative fur Deutschland party, which demonstrated its growing popular appeal in three state elections in March, has adopted an explicitly anti-Muslim platform. Its leader, Frauke Petry, has in the past suggested that German border guards should be permitted to shoot refugees. It is complemented by the Pegida movement, which tends to demonstrate its power on the streets.
A refusal to perceive in these phenomena echoes of the Nazi past would require a remarkable blindness to recent history. To their credit, plenty of Germans seem to be well aware of this, and mobilisations by the far right frequently attract counter-demonstrators in far larger numbers. That rarely occurs to the east of Germany, however, and much of the greatest cause for alarm emanates from nations where the extreme right is either already in power or thrives on state backing.
The administration of Viktor Orban in Hungary offers perhaps the worst instance of neo-fascist tendencies, and it thrives on the support of the racist Jobbik party, which won more than 20pc of the vote in the 2014 general election. Orban shares the view of his Slovak counterpart, Robert Fico, Europe must defend its “Christian heritage”. Fico is ostensibly a social democrat, but on crucial issues his views coincide with those of Marian Kotleba, the leader of People’s Party-Our Slovakia, who until recently paraded about in a Nazi-era uniform.
In Poland, authoritarian tendencies are on the rise under the ruling Law and Justice Party, whose leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has accused refugees of bringing “cholera to the Greek islands, dysentery to Vienna”. Similar rhetoric is increasingly common throughout the continent.
From France to Russia, there is hardly a country in Europe that does not register growing support for organised right-wing extremism, all too often with mainstream conservative and social democratic parties — not least François Hollande’s Socialists and hitherto progressive parties across Scandinavia — shamelessly pandering to xenophobia and other deleterious tendencies.
Last year’s massive refugee influx is obviously a key factor behind this trend, as are the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, not to mention the appalling criminal assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Let’s not forget, though, that extremist tendencies manifested themselves much earlier in 21st-century Europe: the Austrian Freedom Party entered government as a coalition partner at the turn of the century.
Although many of the far-right parties include distaste for the European Union in their smorgasbord of pet hates, which feature the Roma people, Jews, Muslims and especially Muslim refugees, no coherent response can be expected from Brussels. Continued failure to learn from its history may well condemn Europe to repeating it in the years ahead.
Peace Process: Hostage to Haqqanis?
By Imtiaz Gul
May 10, 2016
The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate
Going by the current official and private narratives out of Kabul, it is obvious that the bilateral relationship as well as the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) process is now practically hostage to the Afghan government’s expectations of a direct Pakistani action against the Haqqani network, which has emerged as the literal lynchpin of the al Qaeda-inspired Taliban insurgency.
A string of events and statements clearly underscore this development. A public announcement issued in the capital on May 10 stated: “Insurgents from the Haqqani and Taliban networks are known to be planning attacks on the Afghan people” in the northeast provinces of Parwan, Kabul, Logar , Khost, Paktia, Paktika (greater Paktia region).
“The Taliban are currently being commanded by [the] Haqqani [network]. We believe Haqqani and al Qaeda are two different names for the same terrorist organisation,” Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters in Kabul. He said Afghan security forces and military strategists are aware of the terrorist threat and are dealing with all of them as common enemies of Afghanistan.
Only a week ago, officials in Kabul had blamed the Haqqani network for plotting a Taliban bomb-and-gun attack on a facility linked to the Afghan intelligence agency NDS that killed nearly 70 people and wounded 347 more. They said the militant group is operating from Pakistan and has links to that country’s intelligence apparatus. Almost simultaneously, officials at Nato’s Resolute Support mission in Kabul, too, warned of the threats coming from the Haqqani network and dubbed it as “the most lethal” and “most competent” terrorist organisation in the area.
“Siraj Haqqani has been named the number two for the Taliban. And we think that he is increasing his day-to-day role in terms of conducting Taliban military operations,” US Army Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, deputy chief of staff for communications for Nato’s Resolute Support mission said. “And we think that he is trying to exert more influence really, on the leadership with some of these shadow governors in some of these other places [in Afghanistan].
But he also underscored concerns about the Haqqanis branching out from their traditional area and then focuses on high-profile attacks like the one that killed nearly 70 people in Kabul last month. As of now, terrorist outfits in Afghanistan are the prime target of Nato’s Resolute Support Mission, while the Afghan National Security Forces are responsible for dealing with various brands of the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqanis.
Where does this leave Pak-Afghan relations and does it really help the peace process? In fact, the Afghan-US convergence on the Haqqanis as the most lethal and the biggest threat jeopardises both. This convergence also feeds into India’s storyline on Pakistan. Haqqanis are now to Afghan-US officials what Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat ud Dawa is to India. This convergence also further limits Pakistan’s options and shrinks its leverage — whatever that means — with the Afghan Taliban, although officials in Kabul consider it to be considerable. This synergy of thought may redraw the US into combat mode as an unavoidable consequence of its mission i.e., counter-terrorism.
The Afghan Ambassador, a special envoy to Islamabad, Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal says the situation may still not be lost; we need an open discussion on our mutual grievances and need to look at potential benefits for both countries, rather than harping on the negatives. An end to the state of denial as well as to the mistreatment of Afghan visitors and refugees could be the first “baby-steps” to reduce acrimony and mitigate mistrust. Zakhilwal wants Pakistan to disentangle Afghanistan from its relations with India. According to him, Pakistan needs to look at Afghanistan as a sovereign country not as an Indian proxy. He wouldn’t concede that geopolitics does muddy bilateral/multilateral relations, creating space for non-state actors. He insists that the India factor wouldn’t weigh heavy on a constructive Pak-Afghan dialogue.
The most crucial step, Zakhilwal says, would be to take demonstrably credible actions against the Haqqani Network, pretty much in line with the commitments Pakistan gave as part of the QCG. Making the Pakistani counter-terror narrative credible in Afghanistan would not be possible without hitting the Haqqanis’ social and business interests here, the ambassador says.
Should we wait for the Afghan or any other ambassador to tell us what is necessary to correct Pakistan’s image abroad or repair relations with his country? Certainly not. It, however, takes two to tango; regardless of what Afghan leaders say the India-factor remains imposing in Kabul’s governance and security structures. It drives apprehensions — however misplaced — in Islamabad. Alleviating those apprehensions in a credible way would probably be the key to turn a leaf in bilateral relations.
The Mayor of Lahore
By Harris Khalique
May 11, 2016
It is but natural to feel happy when you see a woman or a man who shares your origin, whether currently s/he is a citizen of your country or not, becoming successful in any field of human endeavour anywhere in the world. You will be even more delighted if s/he makes it to an elected political position.
Being elected is hugely significant because it demonstrates the trust of so many others in your ability and potential. It is not a simple feat to get hundreds of thousands of votes from people who are not known to you personally. Therefore, Pakistanis feeling elated on Sadiq Khan becoming the mayor of the city of London – one of the most important cities in the world in all respects – is both natural and understandable.
However, what I find ironic is that many of those jumping with joy in Pakistan while celebrating Khan’s win in London will not, for a single moment, lament the gruesome fact that something similar can never happen in Pakistan in the foreseeable future.
Sadiq Khan was born to a working class family, his father being a bus driver and mother a seamstress. Of course, working people in the UK are much better off than the working people in Khan’s ancestral country. That must have been the reason his parents left Karachi sometime around 1970 and settled down in London. But they remained a part of the lower echelons of British society in terms of their access to riches when Khan and his siblings were growing up.
However, the British welfare state and Sadiq Khan’s personal merit both helped make him a successful lawyer and popular politician. He has climbed up the economic ladder over the years but certainly comes from a working-class background and is a South Asian Muslim meaning that he belongs to both an ethnic and religious minority in the UK. He is neither from a Christian denomination nor of a European or White Caucasian origin.
Let us look at the working class and the downtrodden in Pakistan. They had little chance at the time when Sadiq was born and they have little chance for changing their fate even now. Exceptions are there to prove the rule, although few and far between.
The son of a peasant remains a peasant, the daughter of domestic help will become domestic help, the children of a janitor will start cleaning toilets and mopping floors even before their limbs are fully formed, the son of a bus driver will start as a conductor and then graduate to becoming a driver like his father, and the daughter of a beggar on the street will either continue to be a beggar or turn into a cheaply available commercial sex worker.
I don’t know what Sadiq Khan’s parents did for a living when in Karachi. But if his father had been a rickshaw or bus driver in Karachi or Lahore – an honest, upright man who would earn his living with pride in his hard work – and his wife had been a seamstress, would Sadiq Khan, or any of his siblings, have had a chance to become the mayor of their city?
Even today, the working people of Pakistan, who find it hard to make their ends meet, spend a large part of their income on school fee and related expenses for their children. But the schools they can afford to send their children to, both public and private, offer extremely low quality education. Almost half of the children of school-going age in Pakistan are out of school anyway.
The US, where the basic healthcare programmes are not seen as the responsibility of the state by many, provides free public education for its children. In Pakistan, whatever the rhetoric we hear from powers that be, education is not a priority. Without access to quality education for all, the classist and caste-ist Pakistani society will continue to marginalise its working and lower income classes.
More than him being a Pakistani, many people around me are rejoicing the fact that Sadiq Khan is a Muslim. Well, to an extent, that is natural too. Muslims around the world have been at the receiving end for a long time now due to a combination of reasons, including the desire of the rich Western nations to exploit their resources as well as the imposition of wars on lands where they are in a majority or for their own obscurantism, irrationality, ignorance and disregard for human rights – irrespective of whether they are the majority or minority community.
In this context, when you see a Muslim woman or a man rising to prominence in a largely non-Muslim society you feel like have received some respite from the happenings around you. But then you find those in Pakistan predicting that Muslims will eventually dominate the secular societies of the world as if it is preordained and there has been some divine intervention. What a paradox!
Talented Muslims can come to the top in Britain or other countries in the world where they are in a minority because of the very presence of a secular polity and plural society in these countries. I find it terribly strange that people in Pakistan do not want Donald Trump to win elections in the US but would support a right-wing political party in Pakistan. Or they support Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party when in London but Aleem Khan and Imran Khan of the PTI when in Lahore.
There is an aside here. Imran Khan publicly supported his friend and former brother-in-law Zak Goldsmith in his campaign for mayoral election against Sadiq Khan. Goldsmith went all out to declare his opponent an extremist and a terror sympathiser, to the extent that even his own party comrades objected to the nastiness of his campaign. That furthers the irony for Pakistanis as here is someone claiming to transform Pakistan, a self-proclaimed messiah, supporting a right-wing, conservative candidate in London simply because he is a friend or a relation.
Those Pakistani Muslims who are happy for Sadiq Khan being a Muslim may also think about how a comparable situation in Pakistan would look like. The news about that situation will read: “Inayat Masih, 45, a human rights lawyer who was first elected as MNA from NA 125 beating both Ayaz Sadiq and Imran Khan in 2018, wins the election for the mayor of Lahore in 2020. He will immediately resign his National Assembly seat where a by-election will be held within two months.
“Inayat Masih’s father, Barkat Masih, was a rickshaw driver in Lahore who grew up in Badami Bagh and his mother, Venus Masih, was a seamstress who grew up in Mariamabad, district Sheikhupura. Inayat Masih went to a government boys’ school in Kot Lakhpat, Forman Christian College and Punjab University Law College. He taught law at his alma mater for a few years before receiving a scholarship from the Higher Education Commission for a post-graduate degree from the UK. He came back to Pakistan and practised both corporate and human rights law besides actively pursuing community work and political campaigning.
“Masih has thanked the citizens of Lahore for posing their trust in his person and politics by electing him to the coveted office of the Mayor of Lahore. He says he will continue to serve all communities and turn Lahore into a women-friendly city.”
Will we be ready to elect Inayat Masih on a general seat for the National Assembly in 2018 and then elect him in 2020 as the mayor of the city he grew up in?
Harris Khalique is a poet and author based in Islamabad.