Remembering Saleem Shahzad – Tribute to a slain colleague


It was Saleem Shahzad’s dedication to investigative reporting and his fascination for the crime-beat that foremost stands out in my memory. Come evening and the slender young man, then working for the affiliate Star newspaper, would enter the Dawn reporters room to compare notes with the crime reporter. His style was single-minded and purposeful – rechecking facts to supplement hours of news gathering for the next day’s paper.

Some 20 years later I saw him again on television. To my shock and horror, his face was mutilated and eyes punched in. It was a stark message, made even more brutal because of its bold display by the electronic media. Investigative journalists who dared report on the murky links of militant outfits in Pakistan, would meet the same fate. The intrepid journalist was not unaware of the dangers. Human rights groups told that for the two days he went missing last May, he had informed them of threats received from the state agencies.

It was a time of flared tempers in Pakistan. On May 1, US Navy Seals had secretly descended in Abbotabad to pick up Al Qaeda’s number one, Osama Bin Laden – found living near a military academy. Unruffled by the international embarrassment caused to Pakistan by that incident, Saleem went on to report on the attack carried out on Mehran Naval base in Karachi – naming ex naval officials for their alleged links to the militants.

His professional development had taken him from being a crime reporter to an international expert on proliferating militant outfits in the region. He had inside information on how Uzbek war lord Tahir Yuldeshev had grown influential within Pakistan – acting on behalf of Al Qaeda to cement the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. It was material that Saleem gathered for his book `Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban,’ – which would provide encyclopedic knowledge on the post 9/11 scenario in the region.

Being an insider, Saleem hobnobbed with militants in a manner that invited real dangers. In 2006, he was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and almost killed on charges of being a spy. When he returned and told me why he had been incommunicado, I called out to him to be careful. He laughed and said, “nothing will happen.”

Saleem’s murder would have a palpable effect on colleagues. As news came in that his tortured body had washed up on the banks of Mandi Bahauddin (some 80 miles from Islamabad) my colleagues told me in hushed tones about an incident that had clearly hurt close to home.

Then, Pakistan’s vibrant media went into action, mobilizing a Tsunami of support to demand that Saleem’s killers be exposed. They held a sit-down strike in Islamabad – dispersing only until the government promised to set up a commission to get to the bottom of who kiled Saleem Shahzad

Eight months later the commission, led by a Supreme Court judge has delivered its verdict. But, despite 41 witnesses, hundreds of e-mail and phone messages, the 146 page report says it was unable to identify the perpetrators of the crime. Instead, it has called on the Islamabad and Punjab police to continue searching for those responsible.

While the similarities between slain US journalist Daniel Pearl and Saleem Shahzad are unmistakable, the differences have grown even more stark. While Pearl’s killers were exposed and some brought to trial, in Saleem’s case no one has even been identified – let alone punished.

Indeed, no sooner had the commission failed to pinpoint to the accused, when a reporter working for US media – Mukarram Khan Atif – was shot and killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It gave ammunition to journalist bodies to criticize the commission for its failure to name names in Saleem’s murder.

Bottom line. The commission’s recommendation that there should be “greater oversight of secret service agencies,” is as current as the clash between military and civilian institutions being played out today… and as age-old as the problems that have plagued Pakistan from its inception.

Pakistan’s PhDs – Cheaper by the Dozen?

AS an Internet user you would have experienced the Nigerian lottery scam. But you may not have heard of the academic scam of the African Journal of Business Management (AJBM) — unless you are in one of the countless management schools that have sprung up in Pakistan since the 1980s.

There it tops the popularity chart. The Higher Education Commission (HEC)-approved supervisors for PhD students in management sciences have published nearly 50 articles in it.

Should one be proud of the four Pakistanis who are on its long editorial board? No! This is so even though the AJBM appears in the (previously reliable) Thomson Reuters listing of journals.

Why? To understand this let’s see how this and similarly dubious business journals work. Its reviewers are recommended by authors. It does not check the relationship between the reviewers and the authors, nor verify the reputation of the reviewers.

If submitting a paper, you can create a fake email, nominate Prof X who does not exist and use the email address you created, where the paper is sent for reviewing, if at all. The journal gets $500 for an ‘accepted’ paper.

The mechanism ought to be clear by now. AJBM, a member of a large family of similarly dubious publications headquartered in Nairobi with over 100 such journals, sends out spam mail to academics globally enticing contributions from writers.

Friends of friends join their editorial board. Members of these boards probably can publish their own articles for free or at a discount, while recommending the journals to others.

Africa is not the only continent maligned by such operations. Down under is the Australian Journal of Business and Management Research on whose board is a Pakistani assistant professor — let’s call him Prof A. (For all we know this journal may have its offices in Faisalabad, which is the hub of many such dubious publications, and of which the HEC was told eight years ago by the writer. But it decided to pay no attention.)

Our Prof A does not operate in isolation. I learned this after informing Prof Susan Taylor, chair of Human Resource Management and Organisational Change, University of Maryland, whose name was displayed as editor of the International Journal of Business and Social Research without her knowledge. Her university’s attorney got its website squashed.

This journal had another Pakistani on its board — let’s call him Prof B — a prolific paper-producer who churned out 20 international publications in 18 months in such dubious journals. What’s even more interesting is that these two professors, A and B, did their PhD under the same supervisor, Prof C.

Prof C clearly practises what he preaches; he is a prolific contributor to such unsavoury journals. In recognition of his work, the HEC gave him, with 56 others, the 2010 Best University Teacher Award.

Such gross violation of academic etiquette prompted me to download the résumés of all 71 HEC-recognised PhD supervisors in management sciences to carry out a rough analysis of their publishing work in HEC-recognised journals. The result is mind-boggling.

These academics fall into two categories: 21 did their PhD in Pakistan; 50 went abroad (to largely second- or third-rate universities).

Of these 71 academics 39 (18 with PhDs from Pakistan and 21 from foreign universities) published 180 articles in dubious journals. Eighty per cent of those with Pakistani PhDs contributed to such journals. Having relatively better training and having learnt higher research ethics the overseas-trained academics contributed less to such publications: 40 per cent.

Overall, the 39 academics involved in such padding of their résumés bagged 4.6 publications each on average.

Undergraduates and postgraduates students trained by such academics are unlikely to learn the high ethics of research, and honest business practices. Surely this ought to agitate the business community and universities. Information about such fake dubious has been provided to the HEC and the documents are available to the reader by writing to the author of this piece.

The writer is an independent researcher.

Book on 2011 Sindh Floods Set for Launch in Karachi

Devastating floods of 2010 and Monsoon Rains of 2011 have completely changed the landscape of Sindh. There was a need to document the issues, reasons, impact and repercussions of these disasters. What monsoon rains 2011 and subsequently the calamity of floods have done to the socio- cultural and economic landscape of Sindh is very well explained in the essays, articles, news analysis, blogs, interviews and comments compiled in this book.

Foreword of the book is written by renowned development practitioner and scholar Arif Hasan. Publication of book is supported by HANDS. 350 pages book is published by Sindhica Academy Karachi. Book will be launched on January 14th, 2012 in Karachi.

Contributors of the book are Najma Sadeque, Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Javed Jabbar, Sherry Rehman, Dr. Manzur Ejaz, Zofeen T. Ebrahim Dr. Sono Khangharani, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Ayaz Amir, Huma Yusuf, Ayesha Hasan, Rina Saeed Khan, Erum Haider, Azhar Lashari, Mohiuddin Aazim, Neva Khan, Noreen Haider, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Mishael Ali Khan, Afshan Subohi, Afia Salam, Sana Syed, Allison Zelkowitz, Dr. Shaikh Tanveer Ahmed, BZU, Shaista Aziz, Farooq Tirmizi, Jamil Junejo, Farooq Abbasi, Nasir Ali Panhwar, Syed R. Ali, Nasir Ali, Shaista Aziz, Mohammad Hussain Khan, Anam Tanveer, Murtaza Razvi, B.Khan, Salman Shah Jilani, Arshed Rafiq, Naseer Memon, Usman Qazi, Jawed Ali, Khan, Shahzad Raza, Ali K Chishti, Nuzhat Saadia Siddiqui, Salman latif, Naureen Aqueel, Amar Guriro, Faris Islam, Tahir Hasnain and Zulfiqar Halepoto

In this compilation, I have tried to collect a wide range of literature written on the different aspects of recent monsoon rains 2011 in Sindh, so that there should be a quality document available for the future use of researchers, development practitioners, organisations and scholars working on disaster related issues. This will also be helpful for a common reader to understand the causes of the disaster. I am of the view that documentation is a must to the past for the best planning for future. So this book is a humble effort to document the stories of worst disaster of contemporary history of Sindh and Pakistan.

Each contributor to this work has something outstanding to share. This compilation based on selected writings volunteers and offers a vision and strategies to the policy and decision makers and development sector working in Pakistan, to seriously review the lessons learnt from floods 2011 and do something to secure Sindh and rest of the disaster prone areas of Pakistan from any future threat.

Pak Senate Passes Pro Women Legislation

The Upper House of the Parliament passed two flagship bills on Monday, in order to protect the sanctity and rights of women living in Pakistan. Both the bills entail significant policies and mandates to protect women from practices such as forced wedlock, honour killing, marriage with the Quran and inflicting pain and torture by throwing acid on them. The bills state that culprits found and indicted of committing any of these crimes will be penalised and subjected to severe punishments.

Over the years, thousands of women in Pakistan have been subjected to the atrocities, which are often unheard of in civilized communities. Women, irrespective of their urban or rural affiliations, have been innocent targets, unable to raise their voice due to the lack of policies safeguarding their interests. Men have stoned, burnt, buried and brutally murdered them for their vested interests and heinous motives, which are an open violation of the human rights policies formulated by the United Nations and other multilateral agencies defending and advocating human rights across the globe.

Passing bills to protect women’s rights in Pakistan is highly commendable and is being appreciated by all the religious, political and social quarters, however, the question remains how noteworthy are these bills? Will they be implemented as easily and efficiently as the cabinet makes it sound? Or will they be discarded just as another tool to obstruct the customs and rituals of our so-called traditional mindset? Do we really think that women in Pakistan will have access to the fair judiciary, which will ensure their protection and rights to live as an individual?

In a country where influential ministers and senators have advocated the shooting and later on dumping women in ditches as a justifiable act, one which requires no punishment and remorse, justice is quite evidently denied to many of the victims. Being a witness to these crimes is merely a sport and an adventure to the privileged few of the rural society. These centuries’ old traditions are not allowed to be questioned and are known to be hushed-up by the feudal lords and the family of the victims as well, as reporting such violence results in severe repercussions for all those involved.

According to a report by the human rights organisation, 300 Pakistani women are torched alive by their husband’s families annually. Unwanted wives are “taken care of” by denying them the right to live, hence the tradition of “burning at the stakes” continues. Every second Pakistani woman is a victim of direct or inadvertent assault which can be categorized as physical and emotional. Our religion gives women the right to demand and get a divorce; however, women are generally ripped off of this privilege when her guardians chalk out the clause specifying the aforementioned right in the “Nikkah-nama.” Uneducated and deprived women living in the rural areas of Pakistan are not the only ones who experience these brutalities. Many educated women in metropolitans such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad have also been victims of domestic violence and harassment at work and on the streets.

Drafting a policy or a bill and getting it approved is a feat but devising an appropriate plan to implement the same is an issue which Pakistan has been battling with ever since the time of its establishment. A document remains a document, if the mechanism to carry out what the document specifies is inconsequential. The biggest catastrophe of Pakistan is that the influentially empowered people, responsible for undertaking the responsibility to ensure that the legal and political decrees are being followed, are the ones who are often responsible for blatantly committing a breach. Is it lack of education or awareness that is forcing us to act in vain or is the fear of empowering the rural population and exposing them to education instigating the policy makers to violate the laws?

Low literacy rate is one of the fundamental issues that we are facing as a nation. Most of the women are unable to voice their opinions and issues because they are not provided with the platform to do so. The dilemma is that their sufferings are considered as a part of the many customs and rituals that we have accepted as a nation. We stopped paying attention to news entailing honour killing, acid thrown victims and forced marriages. They just became a part of our social setup but are we going to stay passive for the rest of our lives? It is time for us to rise as a nation and take individual measures to make these bills successful. Women require respect, protection and equal treatment and as a Pakistani we need to positively reinforce this ideology by abiding by the policies clearly mentioned in the bill.


Engage with Pakistan at Harvard University this Summer

This is the only ‘live’ U.S.-based video con course linking students
with Pakistani leaders and change-makers

Harvard Summer School registration opens in mid-January
Sign up for an email reminder at
Traditional and non-traditional students are welcome

South Asian Studies SAST S-140
Cross-listed in Anthropology and Government
June 25 to August 10, 2012

Prominent on everyone’s radar screen, Pakistan is a land of profound paradoxes. It is a nuclear nation whose development indicators are much lower than those of countries with similar income levels. It elected the Muslim world’s first woman head of state, but still suffers from extraordinary gender inequality. It offers a few youth unimaginable opportunities, yet confines many more to grinding poverty. It is home to Sufism, a religion of restraint, tolerance, and compassion, but plagued by horrific violence that seems to stall and, at times, to derail development.

Pakistan’s most tragic paradox may well be the dominance of a development narrative that overstates instability and underestimates the ways in which participation, cooperation, and civil discourse shape the landscape. As evidence, although Pakistan recently suffered a natural disaster greater than two earthquakes and a tsunami combined, international aid appeals met mute indifference. In this course, we aim to counter monologues on terrorism, corruption, inefficiency, and hopelessness by sampling indigenous voices of persistence, enterprise, innovation, and criticism.

Pakistani experts, advocates, and change-makers will share their strategies for countering inequality and injustice in real-time video conferences. Through conversations with these guests, students will gain grounded insights on culturally attuned and sustainable practices of poverty alleviation and, broadly, on a dynamic human-centered development story. Three-hour modules will focus on education, health care, rural and urban development, microfinance and rehabilitation, media activism, politics and human rights, religious expression, and art as social critique.

The course format will emphasize active learning organized around core readings, informed presentations and discussions, reflective blogging, and individual or team projects.

A National Human Rights Commission in the Making

The News, Dec 4: Finally, the bill that shall give birth to a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is on the National Assembly’s to-do List. Though it will still take some time to pass the bill in both houses, have approval of the President and put the Commission in place, yet it is good news. Many nations have found NHRCs useful for: strengthening norms and values based on human dignity and rights, reducing burden on the justice delivery system and dealing with rigidity of obsolete laws. As ‘The Statement of Object and Reasons’ attached to this bill explains, 56 countries have this arrangement in place recommended by several UN bodies and international treaties.

Besides the significance of reporting this development to the UN Human Rights Council’s session in October 2012 that shall review human rights situation of Pakistan (second time during the incumbency of this government), forming a human rights institution will have an added value in the present circumstances of Pakistan. There is a tremendous potential in this proposition as it seeks to build an institution over universally agreed upon standards of rights and liberties. Minus any expediencies and bureaucratic hurdles, a truly independent and effective NHRC can give new life to the dream for a democratic and autonomous Pakistan, much beyond the political rhetoric.

Nevertheless, it would be a big challenge for the NHRC to function and deliver in the midst of feeble government machinery, massive human rights abuses and high expectations. Just imagine the flood of complaints that is bound to pour in the good offices of the proposed Commission, with given misunderstanding among the citizens on the difference between rights and charity.

The 11 member body is going to need an elaborate arrangement and mechanism to process and respond to a huge number of complaints of human rights violations. While an adequate number of motivated and skilled staff is a must, the provincial governments must either be required to provide an outreach infrastructure to match the needs of a large demographic and geographic spread as Pakistan or legislate to form such Commissions at provincial levels as well. India, for instance, has one for each of its States besides a NHRC. The Provincial autonomy will have to be given a due regard, however, parochial approaches will have to be discouraged. The South Korean NHRC model would be also good to look at that dealt with the aftermath of prolonged autocratic rules in their country.

The impact of this initiative will largely depend on the role assigned to this institution, its formation and autonomy with regard to rules of business. A clause in the bill that requires NHRC to report to the government, which would be some ministry, looks an impediment as far as autonomy of the new entity. It would serve the purpose well if the proposed Commission should only report to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Rights once a year, in collaboration with but without the approval of any ministry.

With the experiences at hand of such Committees and Commissions in the past that could deliver a little and met enormous difficulties owing to the lack of financial and legal autonomy, the parliament will have to abridge these gaps in the bill. Without restricting the mandate of NHRC in the area of human rights, choices will have to be made with regard to its terms of reference. A distinction in gross and systematic human rights violation will help the course of action and modes operandi of remedial as well as investigative work of the Commission. Bringing Directorate of Human Right under the NHRC would be logical. Apart from the logistics and modalities there are challenges regarding the conceptual issues and education of the citizens in human rights?

The biggest challenge is about building a culture for human rights in social, legal and political systems that have become averse to rights and freedoms. What plans the well-intentioned people in the government and in civil society have to go about this? If the political parties claim a commitment to peoples’ rights, this commitment needs to be reflected in serious and result oriented actions.

Along with the proposed NHRC, we need a greater commitment in the form of a parliamentary pledge that this country will never have a law that contravenes the rights of the people of Pakistan, that the country will get rid of discrimination in whatsoever form and manifestation. That equality of citizens is not going to be a bookish concept but it will become part of daily life.

Once the NHRC becomes a reality the two big political parties — PPP and PMLN — can congratulate themselves for having achieved another goal set out in the Charter of Democracy (CoD). As far as institutional reforms, Pakistan also needs to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, something that COD pledged to establish as well. Issues concerning transitional justice are a cause of lurching confusion; be it May 2nd incident or other tragic incidents in the life of the nation. There is a long way to go in structural, institutional and sectoral reforms, through reforming laws and policies. We better make a resolute start and catch up with time.

The writer is executive head of the National Commission for Justice and Peace established by the Catholic Church in Pakistan. He studied Law, Political Science and Rural Development and has been associated with human rights and peace building work for the past twenty four years. He can be reached


Still, Continents Away Immigrants Obey Customary Laws

Women's Action Forum Protest Customary Laws (Credit: Dawn File)
Halfway between Toronto and Montreal, ghastly details of a murder trial are unfolding. The dead are three young Muslim girls and their stepmother. Stand accused of their murder are the parents and the brother of the dead girls.

What makes Muslim parents murder their own children, especially daughters, is a question that has leapt to the front pages of newspapers all across Canada. It is, unfortunately, not the first time that Muslim parents in Canada have murdered a female child. Such murders are known as ‘honour killings’ where parents murder their daughter/s to “protect the family honour.”

It was only in December 2007 when a Pakistani father (along with his son) murdered his 16-year old daughter, Aqsa Parvez, in a suburb of Toronto. Her crime: she wanted to act and dress like other teenage girls in her school. Fewer than two years after Aqsa’s murder, another Muslim father in Canada murders not one but three daughters.

On the morning of June 30, 2009, a car was found submerged in the Rideau Canal in Kingston, Ontario, a small university town some 250 km East of Toronto. Found dead in the car were the three Shafia sisters: Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. Also found dead in the car was 50-year old Rona Amir Mohammad, who was the girls’ stepmother. Weeks later the Canadian police arrested the girls’ parents Mohammad Shafia, 59, and Tooba Mohammad Yaha, their 39-year old mother. The police also arrested the girls’ brother Hamed Shafia, 18, and accused the three of murdering the three teenage girls and their stepmother, Shafia’s first wife who did not bear any children.

A little over two years later, the accused are now standing trial in Kingston. As the trial proceeds, gruesome details emerge about the family that conspired to kill its own daughters. Once again, it is a familiar story where a father is unhappy with his teenage daughters and decides to kill them “to protect his family honour.”

Shafias, originally from Afghanistan, moved to Canada in 2007 and settled in a suburb of Montreal. The court proceedings reveal an overbearing father who was not happy with the way his daughters were growing up in Canada. He was particularly concerned about his eldest daughter, Zainab, who fancied a Pakistani young man of modest means. Mohammad Shafia did not approve of the relationship.

Over the next two years an acrimonious relationship develops between the father and the eldest daughter. Shafia was spying on the daughters and was aware of the digital photographs of his older daughters with their friends. He was not pleased.

While Shafia was away in Dubai for work, Zainab wedded the Pakistani young man in a small ceremony attended by her immediate family members. Missing from the ceremony was Shafia and the groom’s entire family, who also did not approve of the union.

What transpired later in the day after the Nikkah ceremony revealed that Zainab in fact got married to spite her father. According to the Toronto Star, she told her uncle: “… this boy doesn’t have money and he’s not handsome. The only reason I’m marrying him is to get my revenge. I will sacrifice myself for my other sisters. At least they will get their freedom after me.’’ Zainab told her mother after the Nikkah that she would be willing to dissolve the day-old marriage to please her mother. Soon the family was off to a vacation in Niagara Falls. On their way back from vacation they made an overnight stop in Kingston. Next morning, four dead bodies were found trapped in the submerged car.

The police suspected the family from the very beginning. The evidence found around the crime scene suggested that the submerged car was pushed into the water by another car, which also belonged to the family. Further investigations revealed that the four women were dead before the car went into water, suggesting that it was not a freak traffic accident, as was initially claimed by the parents.

The police planted surveillance equipment in the Shafias’ home and car, and also bugged their phone. The taped conversations played in the courtroom revealed a calculated plot by Mohammad Shafia to kill his daughters. They painted a picture of a man who had no remorse for killing his own flesh and blood. Geeti, who was 13, and his first wife, Rona were the collateral damage. Still Shafia is heard on tape saying: “I am happy and my conscience is clear,” and that his daughters “haven’t done good and God punished them.”

Was it really a punishment from God or from a sadist father who killed in cold blood because his daughters disobeyed him? He called his daughters “filthy and rotten children” and expressed his resolve to do the same 100-times over.

While the tapes reveal a merciless man who was a captive of his tribal norms, which he brought with him from Afghanistan, a swoop of Hamed Shafia’s computer by the police also revealed a cunning man who was searching the Internet to plot murders. Other searches conducted on the laptop computer focused on what would happen to one’s business and property if one was incarcerated.

Many in the West associate ‘honour killings’ with Muslim societies. However, the deplorable practice can be found in several non-Muslim majority societies. In India, for instance, the practice is more frequent in rural settings where village councils at times have sanctioned murdering the couple who had eloped or married without the family’s consent. Earlier this week a judge in Uttar Pradesh sentenced eight men to death and 20 others for life imprisonment for honour killings committed in 1991. In May 2011, the Indian Supreme Court had already recommended capital punishment for those convicted of honour killings, thus enabling the lower courts to award stricter punishments.

In Pakistan and several other Muslim countries, female victims of honour killings seldom get justice. While laws against honour killing have been on the books in Pakistan since 2005, however the conviction rate has been despicably low. In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP), a mere 8 per cent of those accused of honour killings were convicted in 2009. *Of the 33 women and 18 men murdered in honour killings in 2009 in KP, 83 per cent of the accused were husbands, fathers, brothers and other male relatives of the deceased.

Research from Pakistan, Jordon, and other countries revealed that often mothers of murdered women approach the sharia courts as their legal heirs and sought and received pardon for the accused father, brother or other male relative of the murdered girl in a Diyat (blood money) arrangement.

The Shafias will have to face justice. Mohammad Shafia’s wealth and property cannot buy him freedom in Canada. He murdered his daughters. It was not an act of passion, but a premeditated one. Shafia thinks he acted honourably.

However, nothing is more dishonourable and cowardly than murdering children.

*Sajid, Imran A.; Khan, Naushad A.; Farid, Sumera. Violence Against Women in Pakistan: Constraints in Data Collection. Pakistan Journal of Criminology. Volume 2, No. 2, April 2010, pp. 93 – 110.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Pak Women Politicians Strike at Customary Laws

Women Politicians & Activists Pushed Prevention of Anti Women Practices Bill 2011 (Courtesy Aurat Foundation)

After twice being rejected by the National Assembly, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 was approved unanimously on Tuesday. Although it still needs to be passed by the Senate, civil society in Pakistan has welcomed the move and praised the efforts of Pakistan’s women legislators in particular.

The bill was first tabled in the lower house by the legislator Donya Aziz during former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure but had repeatedly failed to get clearance from other MPs, who are largely men.

The bill outlines severe punishments for practices such as “wani” and “swara,” child marriage customs, in which young girls are forcibly married to other clans in order to resolve feuds. The law would punish offenders with jail terms of between three and 10 years.

The bill also proposes a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for depriving a woman of her inheritance, and jail terms of between three and five years for bartering a woman. Forcing a woman into marriage will be made a non-bailable offence, if the bill is passed into law.

‘A ray of hope’

Women’s rights activists are delighted, said Mahnaz Rahman, the resident director of the Aurat Foundation. “We have been advocating for the abolishment of anti-women laws and practices for decades,” she told Deutsche Welle. “Finally, we see a ray of hope.”

Rahman also praised President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party for its role in getting the bill approved in the National Assembly, despite the fact that the author of the bill belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League (Q).

“Despite our differences with the PPP on many issues, we believe that women rights in Pakistan are better protected under the current government,” she said.

Pakistani writer and human rights activist Harris Khalique also applauded the PPP, but said it really was the victory of Pakistan’s feminists and civil society. He also expressed concern that the Senate might not approve the bill since it is “more conservative than the National Assembly” in its make up.

However, “if we have such laws, the anti-women and regressive forces will have to think twice about indulging in misogynist practices,” he said. “Take the example of the Blasphemy Law. It is only in the books but it emboldens the Islamists in their mistreatment and persecution of religious minorities. Similarly, if there are progressive laws in the country, they will improve human rights in Pakistan, irrespective of their implementation.”

Although there are number of liberal laws in Pakistan they are not always implemented by the state and law enforcing agencies. In tribal areas, where women bartering is rampant, people often obey their own systems of justice. Past attempts to undo retrogressive laws have been bitterly opposed by the powerful religious right.

Rampant discrimination against women

Women are particularly subjected to discrimination in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan because of tribal and feudal social structures that go back centuries. Anti-women groups were further encouraged by a number of laws that were promulgated in the 1980s by General Zia-ul-Haq.

But Rahman said that women’s rights groups would continue their struggle. “We will act as a watchdog to ensure the women’s protection bill is implemented,” she said but she added that society, and especially men in Pakistan, had to go through a “long process of attitudinal change.”

Author: Shamil Shams

Editor: Anne Thomas


Civil Society in Sindh Resists Religious Extremism

Pak civil society rallies against killing of Hindus in Sindh (Photo courtesy:

KARACHI – Civil society organisations have condemned the November 7 slaying of three Hindus in Shikarpur District, Sindh Province, calling the murders an extremist effort to destroy Sindh’s secular and Sufi fabric.

Three Hindu men, including two doctors, were gunned down November 7 in Char. A Muslim cleric incited Bhayo tribesmen to attack them because they had intervened to help two young Hindu men accused of assaulting a Muslim girl, local media reported.

Denunciation of the violence was swift and came from all levels of society and government.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the “abhorrent murder” and directed authorities to bring those responsible for the killings to justice. Gilani told Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah November 9 that the “perpetrators must be arrested and the law must take its course,” media reported.

Police have arrested 11 of 15 suspects and are pursuing the other four, media reported.

Forced Conversions :

On November 11, more than a dozen representatives of various organisations – including the Pakistan Medical Association, the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan – appeared at the Karachi Press Club and other press clubs and demanded the government protect all minorities.

They expressed concerns over the kidnapping of Hindus in Sindh and Balochistan, forced conversions to Islam, and harassment.

“The Prophet Muhammad didn’t convert anyone forcibly. How could His followers could do the complete opposite?” asked Dr. Samreena Hashmi, president of the Pakistan Medical Association Sindh.

“There is an unfortunate trend of converting Hindus, and in these days, a number of cases have emerged in which girls from the community are forced to convert,” she said.

Her contention was supported by a scholar and a human rights group.

“People of all sects and religions have been living in Sindh peacefully for centuries,” she said, charging that the slaying of the three Hindus represented a conspiracy to divide Sindh along sectarian lines.

“In recent years, hundreds of Hindu girls have been forcibly converted or encouraged to marry Muslims, threatening the secular colour of Sindh society,” Dilshad Bhutto, a Sindhi intellectual, told Central Asia Online, adding that religious groups and institutions have extended moral and financial support to such practices.

In a November 11 statement, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission warned of “very common” forced conversion of Hindu women to Islam in Sindh.

Target killings force docotrs to emigrate :

Targeted killings of doctors are a problem Hashmi said, adding that last year extremists and extortionists killed 8-10 physicians.

“People of all sects and religions have been living in Sindh peacefully for centuries,” she said, charging that the slaying of the three Hindus represented a conspiracy to divide Sindh along sectarian lines.

An increase in faith-based violence, especially in Sindh in the past few years, has compelled members of the Hindu community to migrate to other countries, said Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron in chief of the PHC and former member of the Sindh Assembly.

The frequency of kidnapping Hindus for ransom has risen alarmingly in recent years, forcing many families to emigrate to India and other countries, media reports suggest. One high-profile Hindu who fled is Ram Singh Sodho, a former member of the Sindh Assembly who resigned his seat and took refuge in India following threats from militant groups.

Nobody has compiled statistics on how many Hindus have fled Pakistan fearing for their lives, Vankwani said. However, more than 1,000 such families have left Sindh in recent years, he said.

Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities comprise about 5% of Pakistan’s population, according to official statistics.

Situation worsens since 2007

The situation in Sindh has markedly worsened for Hindus since 2007, Vankwani said, complaining of an increase in targeted killings, extortion, looting, kidnapping, religion-based discrimination, and troubles linked to their places of worship.

The deterioration reversed improvements in tolerance that occurred nationwide from 1999 to 2007, he said.

“The Hindu community has been in Sindh for the last 1,000 years and has major shares in the cotton and rice industry,” he told Central Asia Online. “Also, the community is the highest taxpayer, but today we are being targeted simply because we are peace-loving citizens.”

Extremism stems from the militancy and drives killings and other attacks on minorities, said Anees Haroon, women’s rights activist and head of the Women’s Action Forum.

“It is high time for political parties, civil society, enlightened religious scholars and media to act together to prevent such insanity in the interfaith tranquil province of Sindh,” she said.


Citizens Celebrate 25th anniversary of Literacy Drive for Pakistan’s Children

Citizen’s Education Development Foundation (CEDF) celebrated 25 years on October1, 2011. CEDF is a small NGO with only one goal—Functional literacy for all.

The organization has been imparting literacy to the forgotten children of Karachi through its network of 21 informal Home Schools and the Mobile School. After a year with CEDF, students are assisted with admission to government schools. CEDF provides these students with books and uniforms each year and follows their progress.

An estimated 10,000 boys and girls have been helped by CEDF in the past years. Many have completed their matriculation and are continuing with college or vocational education—still helped financially by CEDF. Some are gainfully employed.

CEDF believes that social equality can be achieved only through quality education, CEDF organized a seminar titled: “Education for Enlightenment and better job Opportunities”. The event was held in the grounds of Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.

This was a unique event because of the nature of the subject and diversity of participants from all sections of society- from the illiterate to the professional. Over 400 persons attended, among whom were domestic servants, their children, housewives, small shop owners, as well as educationists, social activists, scientists, doctors, lawyers, artists and university faculty.

This integration of diverse participants was intended to let the wealthy stratum of society understand the deprivations and injustices faced by the underprivileged class where it relates to lack of schools and poor standard of education, and to engage them in helping to uplift this class.

Describing the gulf between rich and poor classes of Pakistan as being analogous to the first and third world countries, Dr Naseem Salahuddin, founder of CEDF said that this gulf is responsible for the disparities in social structures where the poor serve the rich, where young children are employed in homes to clean and sweep, rather than to help them get education. It is the duty of the privileged class to realize this and inculcate education rather than service.

The Vocation Fest was a novel idea. There were ten stalls put up by different vocational institutes so that information and direction were available to CEDF students after matriculation that would guide them towards job opportunities such as carpentry, electrical, plumbing, computer, hairdressing, nursing, etc.

Potential vocation seekers picked up information of their interest and would contact the organizations at a later time.