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Religion

‘Strong parallels exist between eastern Sufi and western Enlightenment thought’ – Jawaid Bhutto

Hyderabad: Sufism transcends differences based on caste, colour, creed, ethnicity, language, culture and political affiliations. It is an amalgamation of love, sacrifice, tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Sufism also possesses the enormous potential to serve as a powerful antidote against all forms extremism and terrorism.

These views were expressed by Sindh University vice chancellor Dr. Fateh Muhammad Burfat, while making his presidential speech at a special talk given by US- based Sindhi scholar and former SU Department of Philosophy chair Javed Bhutto on “Understanding Sufism”.

Dr. Burfat said that he was extremely glad to meet Javed Bhutto who was once his batchmate at Karachi University from 1976-1982.

“I am indeed delighted to be here, to meet Mr. Bhutto and to hear his erudite views on mysticism,” Dr. Burfat said.

Citing German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, Dr. Burfat said that there were strong parallels in the conceptual framework of Sufism in the east and those of enlightenment philosophers of the west.

“I understand today’s talk leaves us with a strong message to extend the borders of our love, acceptance, patience and tolerance for one another; and to extend one another honor, respect, help and cooperation.

“Today’s take-away is friendship. Sufism teaches us to ascend out of our shallow cocoons, to overpower our inflated egos, and to transcend taboos that limit our love for one another and blur our vision to see one another beyond the biases,” he stressed, adding that social media platforms had transformed traditional battle zones, and that words not bullets wounded people in modern times.

“If you want to smear anyone’s reputation or credibility today; all you need to do is to make one smart move of placing a picture, posting a status or uploading an update that ill-suits that particular person and you can have his or her image turned into tatters,” he explained.

Dr. Burfat thanked Javed Bhutto for sparing time for the talk at the varsity, complimented STAGS director Dr. Sumera Umrani for efficient coordination and arrangements; and Amar Sindhu and Dr. Ayaz Mugheri of Department of Philosophy for their collaboration.
Earlier, Bhutto said that Sufism cherished and promoted two core values of love and friendship, upon which, he said, the entire idea of world peace was based.
Bhutto said that the best of Sufi thought had spread in the world through art and literature, especially through verse, as both were the most powerful media of expression of human passions.
“Sufism is a passionate, relentless and unyielding striving of human soul to recapture its essential, original identity; to retrieve its lost innocence, glory and divine stature.
This is exactly what heroines in Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s verse symbolise- all six out of seven heroines tend to lapse on one account or the other like us all modern people and then go about reclaiming lost attributes. We must also endeavor to retract our essential nobility and Sufism is the path, the method and the navigation route that will take us there,” Bhutto reiterated.
Paying tribute to Allama I.I Kazi and Esla Kazi, Bhutto said both had made poetry, thought and philosophy of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai an unwavering focus of their intellectual quest and spiritual ascend.
Bhutto thanked the Dr. Burfat, the faculty of Department of Philosophy and STAGS officials for inviting him to deliver the talk based on his scholarly engagement.
Columnist Amar Sindhu later presented a vote of thanks. The session was moderated by Dr. Sumera Umrani and Dr. Ayad Mugheri.
Published in Daily Times, April 15th 2018.

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Civil Society Religion Women

A Princess Vanishes. A Video Offers Alarming Clues

BEIRUT — The princess known as Sheikha Latifa had not left Dubai, the glittering emirate ruled by her father, in 18 years. Her requests to travel and study elsewhere had been denied. Her passport had been taken away. Her friends’ apartments were forbidden to her, her palace off-limits to them.

At 32, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum went nowhere without a watchful chauffeur.

“There’s no justice here,” she said in a video she secretly recorded last year. “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.”

So it was with a jolt of astonishment that her friends overseas read a WhatsApp message from her last March announcing that she had left Dubai “for good.”

“I have a very uncomfortable feeling,” one of them, an American sky diver named Chris Colwell, messaged back. “Is this real,” he added. “Where are you.”

“Free,” she responded. “And I’ll come see you soon.” She added a heart.

Her escape — planned over several years with the help of a Finnish capoeira trainer and a self-proclaimed French ex-spy — lasted less than a week.

Within a few days of setting sail on the Indian Ocean in the Frenchman’s yacht, bound for India and then the United States, the Sheikha went silent. She has not been seen since, except in a few photos released in December by her family, which says she is safely home after surviving what they said was a kidnapping.

Yet thanks to the video she made before fleeing, the sheikha’s face and voice have made their way around the world, drawing more than 2 million views on YouTube, spurring avid news coverage and marring Dubai’s image as a world capital of glitz and commerce like a graffiti tag.

Like the young women who have fled Saudi Arabia’s restrictive regime, Sheikha Latifa has made sure no one can forget how few freedoms are allotted to women in the Middle East’s most conservative societies — or how costly crossing Dubai’s ruler can be.

For all its megamalls, haute cuisine and dizzying skyscrapers, Dubai can flip at speed from international playground to repressive police state. It has drawn headlines in the West for detaining foreigners for holding hands in public and drinking alcohol without a license.

Last year, it was widely condemned for holding a British academic, Matthew Hedges, after accusing him of being a British spy. In recent years, the authorities have also intensified a crackdown on internal dissent.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ordinary Emirati citizen or a member of the royal family or an expat from a close ally like the U.K.,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If you’re harming that carefully tailored image,” she added, “you will face the consequences.”

Over the video’s 39 stark minutes, her voice composed and forceful, Sheikha Latifa described in fluent English her life of constricting privilege and stunted hopes. She hoped it would change if she could win political asylum in the United States.

“I don’t know how, how I’ll feel, just waking up in the morning and thinking, I can do whatever I want today,” she said. “That’ll be such a new, different feeling. It’ll be amazing.”

Fearing for her life if she was caught, she said she was recording the video in case she failed.

“They’re not going to take me back alive,” she said. “That’s not going to happen. If I don’t make it out alive, at least there’s this video.”

Sheikha Latifa first faced rigid restrictions after her sister’s failed escape attempt years earlier.

When she was 14, her older sister Shamsa escaped from her family’s security detail on a trip to England. Her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, owns a large estate and a prominent thoroughbred racing stable, Godolphin, there.

Hervé Jaubert, right, spoke at a news conference in London after Sheikha Latifa was captured aboard his yacht. He said he was helping her escape. Sheikha Latifa’s father said Mr. Jaubert had kidnapped her.

Hervé Jaubert, right, spoke at a news conference in London after Sheikha Latifa was captured aboard his yacht. He said he was helping her escape. Sheikha Latifa’s father said Mr. Jaubert had kidnapped her.

News reports at the time said Emirati personnel eventually tracked Shamsa to a street in Cambridge, forcing her into a car. When a Scotland Yard detective began investigating her case as a kidnapping, Dubai authorities refused to let him interview her. The case dead-ended there.

Sheikha Latifa said Shamsa, the only of 30 siblings to whom she was close, had been drugged into docility ever since, “basically like walking around with a cage following her.”

Horrified by Shamsa’s treatment, she said she tried to escape across the border to Oman. Retrieved almost immediately, she said she was held in solitary confinement for more than three years.

Emirati family law allows women to be punished for disobeying, and she said she was frequently pulled out of bed to be beaten, deprived of medical care and, until the final few months, even a toothbrush.

Even after she was released at 19, her life was defined by her family’s constraints as much as by its wealth.
She lived in a palace behind high walls, with 40 rooms spread over four wings — one for each female relative who lived there, said Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish woman who began training Sheikha Latifa in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira in 2010. There were about 100 servants and an athletic compound with its own swimming pool and spa. Wherever the sheikha went, a Filipino maid went too.

But hers was a life of enforced, confined leisure. She could spend her money only on hobbies and sports including horseback riding and scuba diving, or on treating friends to lunch or manicures. She was not allowed to study medicine as she had wanted, friends said.

Nor could she travel, even to the next-door emirate of Abu Dhabi, one of seven city-states making up the United Arab Emirates. She pressed friends to describe every trip for her “like she was traveling with me,” said Stefania Martinengo, her friend and skydiving coach.

She was also barred from visiting any nonpublic places, even friends’ homes. An avid sky diver, she once parachuted secretly into an unapproved part of the city for 20 minutes of kayaking with Mr. Colwell.

When friends rode along in the boxy black Mercedes that often ferried her around, she put on headphones and sat in silence, refusing, in front of the driver, to say a word.

Skydiving was her chief distraction.

Dropping into the sky, “you’re equal to everyone,” Ms. Martinengo said. “You don’t talk, you’re just flying. I think she enjoyed being free in the sky.”

At first glance, she seemed neither fabulously wealthy nor wildly unhappy.

Introducing herself as Latifa, she was often taken for just another local woman. Under the all-covering abaya she wore in public, she usually dressed in T-shirts and athletic pants. She demurred her way out of most photos. She listened rather than talked. She never outright complained about her situation, friends said.

She never spoke about her family. Dubai’s dazzlingly wealthy flaunted their lives on Instagram; she was barely Googleable.

But she fantasized about running her own life. She talked about starting an Emirati skydiving team, hoping her father would let her travel to international competitions. A vegan who had become passionate about wellness and detox, she planned to invest in a yoga-and-juice center in Europe with Ms. Martinengo.

When Ms. Martinengo asked how she would help run the business without traveling, she said, “I have a feeling things might change.”

Almost no one realized until later that she had been planning to run for several years.

She first contacted Hervé Jaubert, whose website describes him as a former French intelligence officer and “no ordinary man,” who had once managed to escape Dubai in a small rubber boat by dressing as a woman.

She then enlisted Ms. Jauhiainen. At one point, they trained to dive and swim to Oman via underwater scooter.
Ms. Jauhiainen said Sheikha Latifa wanted to help other women who had been trapped in similar situations, and she wanted to get Shamsa out. If necessary, she thought she could work as a skydiving instructor.

To show that she was safe at home, the government of the United Arab Emirates distributed this picture showing Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, left, with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, in December.

To show that she was safe at home, the government of the United Arab Emirates distributed this picture showing Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, left, with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, in December.

“I’m ready to flip burgers or do anything as long as I have my freedom,” she told Ms. Jauhiainen.

A few days before they left, she sneaked out of a mall to record the video at Ms. Jauhiainen’s apartment.

“I’m feeling positive about the future,” she said. “I’m feeling like it’s the start of an adventure. It’s the start of me claiming my life, my freedom, freedom of choice.”

“I’m really looking forward to that,” she said.

The morning of the escape, Sheikha Latifa was driven to eat breakfast with Ms. Jauhiainen at a restaurant, as she often did. According to Ms. Jauhiainen, they got into her car and made for Oman, where they rode an inflatable raft, then Jet Skis, out to Mr. Jaubert’s yacht. A selfie they took in the car shows Sheikha Latifa grinning behind mirrored sunglasses, elated.

“We’re like Thelma and Louise,” Ms. Jauhiainen joked, referring to the 1991 American film.

“Don’t say that,” Sheikha Latifa protested. “It has a sad ending!”

As they sailed toward India on the evening of March 4, the women were getting ready for bed below decks when they heard loud noises. They locked themselves in the bathroom, but it filled with smoke. The only way out was up.

On deck, armed men whom Ms. Jauhiainen identified as Indian and Emirati pushed Mr. Jaubert, Ms. Jauhiainen and the Filipino crewmen to the ground, tying them up and beating them. They told Ms. Jauhiainen to take her last breath. Ms. Jauhiainen saw Sheikha Latifa on the ground, tied up but kicking, screaming that she wanted political asylum in India.

Before long, an Arabic-speaking man boarded. He made it clear, Ms. Jauhiainen said, that he had come to retrieve the sheikha.

“Just shoot me here,” she cried, Ms. Jauhiainen recalled. “Don’t take me back.”
Then she was gone.

Her father, Sheikh Mohammed, did not address her whereabouts until December, when the BBC was about to air a documentary. His office issued a statement saying that she was safe in Dubai, celebrating her 33rd birthday with family “in privacy and peace.” (Ms. Jauhiainen said the sheikha had not chosen to spend her birthday with family in years.)

The statement accused Mr. Jaubert, whom it called a “convicted criminal,” of kidnapping her for a $100 million ransom.

Sheikh Mohammed did not reply to a request for an interview sent to his office. The Emirati embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Things have only gotten stranger since.

On Christmas Eve, Dubai released the first public photos of Sheikha Latifa since her disappearance. They showed her sitting with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who confirmed that she had met the sheikha at her family’s request.

Ms. Robinson said Sheikha Latifa was safe with her family, but said she was receiving psychiatric care, calling her a “troubled young woman” with a “serious medical condition.”

“This is a family matter now,” Ms. Robinson said.

The sheikha’s advocates were taken aback that a respected human rights crusader had seemingly embraced Dubai’s official line. They disputed that she had a psychiatric condition, apart from any she might have developed because of imprisonment or drugging.

“I know 100 percent for sure that she doesn’t need mental care,” Ms. Martinengo said. “Maybe now, after all these treatments, but not before. How can you think that a person who’s been in prison for nine months wouldn’t seem troubled?”

Friends also found Sheikha Latifa’s appearance in the photos — slightly dazed, her eyes missing the camera — concerning.

With negative attention thickening around her, Ms. Robinson issued a statement saying that she had made her assessment “in good faith and to the best of my ability,” adding that the sheikha’s “vulnerability was apparent.”

By mid-January, a lawyer who had been working with activists left the sheikha’s case without explanation.

Several friends still in Dubai said they were too frightened to speak, while Mr. Jaubert abruptly stopped responding to requests to be interviewed for this article.

Sheikha Latifa had little doubt about what would happen to her.

“If you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing,” she said in her video. “Either I’m dead, or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.”

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Religion

Pakistan works to stop Asia Bibi leaving after blasphemy protests

Pakistan’s government has been accused of signing the “death warrant” of Asia Bibi after it said it would begin the process of preventing her leaving the country.

Bibi, a Christian farm labourer, was acquitted of blasphemy on Wednesday. She had spent eight years on death row after she drank from the same cup as a Muslim, prompting false allegations that she insulted the prophet Muhammad.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Mulook, has reportedly since fled the country amid fears for his life, telling AFP: “I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Asia Bibi.”

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration signed an agreement with the anti-blasphemy group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) on Friday night, giving in to many of its demands in the face of massive, countrywide protests calling for Bibi to be put to death.

In a document signed by the PTI’s religious affairs minister and the TLP’s second-in-command, Pir Afzal Qadri, the government promised not to oppose a court petition to reverse Bibi’s release. It also pledged to work in the meantime to put her name on the exit control list (ECL) which would prevent her leaving the country.

“Placing Asia Bibi on the ECL is like signing her death warrant,” said Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association. Bibi, a mother of five, remains in the same prison where last month two men tried to kill her, although she has been shifted out of her windowless cell.

The agreement was a “historic capitulation”, tweeted analyst Mosharraf Zaidi. On Wednesday night, the prime minister and leader of the PTI, Imran Khan, defended the verdict acquitting Bibi and suggested the government would clamp down on protesters it termed “enemies of the state”.

The TLP has agreed to call off its protests, which saw thousands of Islamists blockade the country’s major motorways, burning cars and lorries and chanting that they were ready to die to protect the honour of the prophet.

Meanwhile, the government has promised to free any TLP workers arrested during the three-day protest. The group has only apologised for the damage it caused, the cost of which one government official estimated at $1.2bn (£900m).

Afzal Qadri told the Guardian “the government has almost accepted our maximum demands” and that if it backtracked “we can come [out on the streets] again”.

Islamists poured on to the streets after Friday prayers in a show of force that briefly unified extremist groups from the majority Barelvi sect, which the TLP springs from, and the more traditionally hardline Deobandis. Terrorist-linked outfits including Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat held rallies in Islamabad, alleging that the EU had pressurised the government into releasing Bibi.

While the protests were ongoing, unknown assailants stabbed Sami ul Haq – the leader of the Haqqania madrasa known as the “father of the Taliban” – to death in his own home.

The spokesperson for Pakistan’s army, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, said that the military’s chief condemned the assassination and expressed “grief and condolences” for the ul Haq family. Earlier in the day, Ghafoor released a statement about the protests which avoided criticising the TLP, despite its leaders calling for soldiers to mutiny.

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Religion

Pakistan unveils 1,700-year-old sleeping Buddha, evoking diverse heritage

A reflection of the diverse history and culture of the South Asian country, the ancient Buddhist site in Bhamala province was first discovered in 1929. Eighty-eight years on, excavations resumed and the 14-metre-(48-foot)-high Kanjur stone Buddha image was unearthed, and opposition leader Imran Kahn presided over Wednesday’s presentation.

“This is from the 3rd century AD, making it the world’s oldest sleeping Buddha remains,” Abdul Samad, director of Bhamla’s archaeology and museums department, told Reuters.

“We have discovered over 500 Buddha objects and this 48-foot-long sleeping Buddha remains,” he added.

Khan said: “It’s a question of preserving these heritage sites which are an asset for our country.”

The region was once the center of Buddhist civilization that took root under the Mauryan king Ashoka 2,300 years ago.

The presentation of the Buddha image coincided with a lockdown of major highways around the nation’s capital to contain a rightist protest against a perceived slight to Islam by members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

A general view of main stupa, is seen after it was discovered and unveiled to the public, during a ceremony at the Buddhist-period archeological site near Haripur, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, Pakistan, November 15, 2017.

Minority communities in Pakistan are often targeted by right-wing groups and successive governments have in the past been reluctant to embrace the country’s non-Muslim heritage.

But recent attempts to improve Pakistan’s image have included overtures to minority communities by the PML-N.
In January, then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the restoration of Hindu temples at Katas Raj in Punjab province.

Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, along with the members of the media, looks on during the unveiling ceremony of the Buddhist-period archeological site near Haripur, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, Pakistan.

Considered a conservative figure, Khan has stressed dialogue with Islamist hardliners including the Taliban but on Wednesday said the preservation of sites like Bhamala could promote religious tourism.

“It’s a world heritage site (and) because of it people can come for religious tourism and see these places,” he said.

Khan dismissed the protesters in Islamabad, seeking to project a more tolerant image of Pakistan. “It’s a very small part of what is happening in Pakistan. The majority of the population wants to see such (Buddhist) sites restored.”

Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is hoping to make big gains at the 2018 elections as the PML-N has been increasingly embroiled in corruption investigations.

Sharif resigned as prime minister in July after the Supreme Court disqualified him for not declaring a source of income and faces trial before an anti-corruption court.

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Religion Women

A disaster in the making’: Pakistan’s population surges to 207.7 million

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — For years, Pakistan’s soaring population growth has been evident in increasingly crowded schools, clinics and poor communities across this vast, Muslim-majority nation. But until two weeks ago, no one knew just how serious the problem was. Now they do.

Preliminary results from a new national census — the first conducted since 1998 — show that the population has grown by 57 percent since then, reaching 207.7 million and making Pakistan the world’s fifth-most-populous country, surpassing Brazil and ranking behind China, India, the United States and Indonesia. The annual birthrate, while gradually declining, is still alarmingly high. At 22 births per 1,000 people, it is on a par with Bolivia and Haiti, and among the highest outside Africa.

“The exploding population bomb has put the entire country’s future in jeopardy,” columnist Zahid Hussain wrote in the Dawn newspaper recently. With 60 percent of the population younger than 30, nearly a third of Pakistanis living in poverty and only 58 percent literate, he added, “this is a disaster in the making.”

The chief causes of the continuing surge, according to population experts, include religious taboos, political timidity and public ignorance, especially in rural areas. Only a third of married Pakistani women use any form of birth control, and the only family-planning method sanctioned by most Islamic clerics is spacing births by breast-feeding newborns for two years.

Even if the birthrate slows, some experts estimate that Pakistan’s population could double again by midcentury, putting catastrophic pressures on water and sanitation systems, swamping health and education services, and leaving tens of millions of people jobless — prime recruits for criminal networks and violent Islamist groups.

But instead of encouraging fresh ideas to address the population crisis, the census has triggered a rash of arguments over whether certain areas have been over- or undercounted, or reclassified as urban instead of rural. These squabbles amount to fights over political and financial spoils, including the number of provincial assembly seats and the amount of funding from the central government.

A few people, however, are paying close attention to the larger picture. One is Shireen Sukhun, a district officer for the Population Welfare Department in Punjab province. Her mission is to persuade Pakistani families to have fewer children and offer the families access to contraceptive methods — but she is keenly aware of the obstacles.

“The fatal combination we face is poverty and illiteracy,” Sukhun said. “It takes a long time to change people’s mind-sets, and we don’t have the luxury of leaving it to time.”

One outpost in her campaign is a tiny, bench-lined room in Dhoke Hassu, a congested working-class area of Rawalpindi. Inside, Rubina Rehman, a family welfare worker, listens all day to women’s problems with feverish babies, painful deliveries and other woes. Once they feel comfortable with her, she broaches the topic of contraception.

It has not been an easy sell. All the clients are Muslims, and most have little education. Some have been taught that God wants them to have many children. Some have husbands who earn too little to feed a large family but keep wanting another child. Some would like help but are too shy to discuss a taboo topic.

“When we first opened this post, women were frightened to come, and some people asked why we were against increasing the ummah [Muslim masses],” Rehman said. “But we explained how the prophet taught that you should have a gap of 24 months between each child, and that you should consider the family’s resources when making decisions. Now we do not face such opposition.”

On Thursday, a dozen women crowded into Rehman’s office, some carrying infants or toddlers. Several leaned close and whispered to her, then slipped packets of birth-control pills into their purses. One woman named Yasina, 35, explained proudly that she had gotten an “implant” — a hormone dose injected under the skin that prevents conception for several years.

“I already have five children, and that is more than enough,” she said. At first she had agreed to a tubal ligation, which the government arranges at no cost, but her husband, a laborer, would not allow it. “So I got the implant instead, and I didn’t tell him,” she said, bursting into laughter as the other women smiled.

Outside, the markets and alleys of Dhoke Hassu were teeming with a mix of Afghan refugees, migrants from rural Punjab and government workers. Some expressed confidence that God would provide for any children that came. But many said that it was important to balance family size with income and that their Muslim beliefs did not conflict with such practical needs.

“If half of our population is young, what will happen to their lives, their jobs, their needs?” mused Rizvi Salim, 29, a government railways employee carrying his only child, a 2-year-old girl, in his arms. Salim said that he was raised with seven siblings but that today, “things have changed. We do believe that God will take care of us all, but we also need to plan for our futures.”

But upwardly mobile urban communities are more open to such perspectives than rural areas, where two-thirds of all Pakistanis live. In village life, the influences of traditional culture and Islamic teachings are stronger, and the reach of public media campaigns about baby spacing is much more limited.

Attempts to open rural family welfare offices are often met with community suspicion and political opposition, but health officials say more mothers are asking about birth control. The remaining major taboo, they said, is permanent contraceptive practices such as vasectomies or tubal ligations.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the population nearly doubled, from 17.7 million in 1998 to 30.5 million this year. The province is home to several million Afghan refugees, numerous Islamist militant groups and conservative religious leaders suspicious of supposed foreign plots to sterilize Muslims. But their views, too, are evolving.

“Islam does not contradict the idea of family planning, but it challenges the Western concept of birth control,” said Mufti Muhammad Israr, a religious scholar in Peshawar, the provincial capital. He said Islam allows “natural family planning” via breast-feeding but not “stopping the reproductive system permanently. The prophet Muhammad asked believers to marry and produce children.”

Hospital officials in Mardan, a large district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said this month that they frequently deal with cases of child malnutrition and often see mothers with several very young children. They said that although more married couples are seeking family-planning services, women still have difficulty getting their husbands to cooperate.

One pregnant housewife waiting to see a gynecologist in Mardan had a small child on her lap and a 5-year-old girl by her side. All looked weak and malnourished.

“My husband doesn’t care about my health or the health of our children. He can barely support us, but he wants more,” said Zarina Bibi, 34. She said that a doctor had advised her to take a break from childbirth for several years but that she had no choice. “My husband doesn’t want birth control.”

Correction: The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the rate at which Pakistan’s population has grown.
Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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Religion

My Son, the Jihadist

Birmingham — Britain’s most multicultural city, with a mix of white, Asian, Somali and Arab communities — seemed a good place for our children to feel integrated. Despite the typical challenges of growing up in an inner-city area, Rasheed was a straight-A student. He went to college for a while but then signed up for an apprenticeship in electrical engineering. He seemed to flourish and would talk about how he wanted to set up his own business.

Early in 2014, things began to change. My husband and I were having marital difficulties, and Rasheed began to withdraw. My funny, lighthearted boy slowly turned into an aloof 18-year-old. He grew out his sleek hair into an unruly mane. He had worn faded jeans and hoodies, but now he chose loose jogging pants with a traditional long tunic.

Rasheed even insisted I shorten the hem of his trousers, so that they’d sit above his ankles. Being a fashion-conscious mother, this grated on me. But it also bothered me because I knew it was a look favored by those who adhered to strict interpretations of Islam.

Rasheed had been in the habit of attending the local mosque with his father. It was a moderate mosque, serving both first- and second-generation immigrants from Asian and Arab countries. But Rasheed began to grow impatient with the older, more cultivated attendees at this mosque and sought out a younger congregation at another one known for its more conservative teaching.

He had been a rather lazy reader, but Rasheed became avid, bringing home Islamic literature by authors I’d never heard of. He also started fasting more — outside the Ramadan norm. This caused tension because it meant absenting himself from family meals. With our relationship already strained, I didn’t push the issue because I didn’t want another reason for an argument.

It was a fraught year, and I was distracted with the ups and downs of our marriage. My husband and I eventually worked through our differences, but Rasheed withdrew further. As the months passed, he seemed only more drained and preoccupied, as if the effort of keeping it together was too much.

At times, I felt I didn’t recognize him anymore, but then I’d spot some flash of his old self. I felt hopeful that Rasheed was still there, underneath the teenage angst. Finally, in December, I thought daylight had returned. Rasheed suddenly became more relaxed and upbeat. He began hanging out with his old friends again. I felt relieved: He’d overcome it, whatever it was.

One day, Rasheed left a gift on my pillow: a diamond necklace with a note that read: “To Mama, No matter how much gold and how many precious stones are used, it’s never enough to show how precious you are to me. Love, Rasheed.” I had my son back.

Only later did I realize that his change was anything but a recovery, but something sad and sinister. Rasheed had entered the phase of radicalization when a person prepares to leave. It’s similar to when a depressed person decides to take his life; his mood can seem to lift with the decision, lulling family and friends into a false sense of security.

I now know that Rasheed’s gift was his way of saying goodbye.

Friday, May 29, 2015, started out like any other day, but it was the last time I’d ever see my son. There were no kisses. Not even a note. He was just gone. Rasheed walked away from his life with us with just the clothes on his back, leaving behind everything he knew.

Full of apprehension, we reported his abrupt departure to the police. As the police conducted their investigation, a cloud hung over us. We understood why they had to question us, but we felt the weight of their suspicion: Did we know more than we were saying? This only added to our guilt that we should have read the signs better and somehow been able to stop him.

The police asked us to view surveillance footage from the airport of a young man preparing to board a flight for Turkey. As I stared at the grainy pictures, there was no doubt. It was Rasheed.

I veered from numbness to rage. How could he have done this to me?

After 10 distressing weeks, Rasheed finally contacted me via WhatsApp. He said he was in Syria. Once I heard that, I knew I had to prepare for the worst.

But I also had to make a choice. I could hold onto my anger at Rasheed for the decisions he’d made and run the risk that he’d never contact me again. Or I could try to stay calm and keep our relationship alive in the hope that he might ultimately see sense. I chose the latter course.

Occasionally, there seemed a ray of hope. In one conversation with his sister, he said, “If I’m wrong about this choice that I have made, pray to God that I’m guided away from it.”

Was he having doubts? Was this his way of asking for help, a way out?

As I communicated with Rasheed over the following months, through phone calls and texts, I tried desperately to win the battle for my child’s heart and mind. I clung to the bond we’d once had. The boy I’d raised was gone, yet when we spoke, he never stopped calling me Mama.

One day, he told me awkwardly that a senior Islamic State leader had proposed finding him a jihadi bride. He spoke of his nervousness at meeting the young woman and the idea of marriage. He asked what I thought. What could I say? Despite everything, he still wanted his mother’s approval.

He and his group lived under constant fear of airstrikes, after which they’d have to search for survivors among the rubble. He told me how they were forced to watch public beheadings, which served as a stark warning for anyone considering desertion. He never told me about the things he was called upon to do — his phone calls were monitored — but when his father probed, he said one time that he had been sent out of the Islamic State’s eastern stronghold, Raqqa, to “visit Bashar al-Assad.” We took this to mean he had been involved in fighting against Syrian government forces.

I knew Rasheed could be killed at any moment, and I grappled with the anticipatory grief. There is no parenting manual for this.

Then I got the call.

Since Rasheed’s death, I’ve combed through every detail of every memory, searching for clues for what made him leave home to fight in Syria. What had I missed?

The clues were difficult to decipher; their contexts always allowed for other, perfectly innocent explanations. In my quest for answers, I have met families across the world who have experienced the same problems with identifying warning signs. Quite frequently, there is some previous history of mental health trouble, so parents see an increase in agitated behavior, heightened anxiety or social isolation through that prism, rather than as signs of radicalization.

In Rasheed’s case, there was his altered appearance and his decision to attend a different mosque. With hindsight, I should have questioned more his distancing of himself from his usual social group — and, possibly, the watchful eye of his father. Naïvely, perhaps, I had passed off the changes in Rasheed as his exploring and forming an identity away from his parents. It was the biggest mistake and regret of my life. But ask any parent of teenagers: Would you have done better?

I cannot bring Rasheed back. But I have found solace in my work of helping other families with experiences like mine process theirs. We need a place where families can feel heard and understood, and talk without fear of prejudice, judgment or shame. It’s in the building of trust between families, communities and governments that we can find the resilience we need to defeat terrorism.

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Religion

Eight-day sit-in: Army chief helps end Parachinar protest

PARACHINAR, June 30: Hundreds of protesters in Parachinar on Friday ended their eight-day long sit-in after Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa assured them of better security, according to protest leaders and the military.
The protesters had been staging a peaceful sit-in following twin blasts at a market last Friday that left over 70 dead, the latest in a series of bloody attacks that have targeted hundreds in the Kurram tribal area.

Since then, demonstrators flocked to Shaheed Park, the venue of the sit-in, with residents arriving to take part in the protest from across the Kurram tribal district.

The standoff came to an end after a visit by the army chief concluded with protest organisers announcing that their demands had been met.

Parachinar protest enters sixth day
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had announced that every family of the Parachinar victims will receive one million rupees in compensation but the protesters rejected the offer, saying victims of attacks in other places got more.
“We are immediately ending protests in all parts of Pakistan,” leaders of the Dharna committee including Allama Muzammil Hussain, Shabbir Sajidi, and Saqib Bangash, told reporters.

Hussain said most of their demands were accepted.

They said a committee that included General Hassan and Brig Malik Ameer besides some members of the Dharna committee had been constituted which will oversee the implementation of demands.

Army chief announces safe city project for Parachinar: DG ISPR
In a lengthy statement, the ISPR said Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Parachinar on Friday. “The COAS [has been] briefed in details about [the] security situation and recent terrorist incidents. [The] COAS interacted with local tribal elders and representatives of the sit-in.”

The army chief expressed his grief over the loss of precious lives in the terrorist attack in Parachinar last Friday and prayed for the departed souls, the ISPR said.

The army chief said he was out of the country and when he returned, bad weather delayed his attempt to visit Parachinar.

Gen Qamar said, “We as a nation have given unprecedented sacrifices in the war against terrorism and we shall succeed. Our enemies shall never succeed in lowering our resolve or dividing us.”

Bad weather postpones COAS’ Parachinar visit
Appreciating the FC and local administration for their efforts, Gen Bajwa acknowledged their contributions.
So far, 126 soldiers of the FC K-P alone have sacrificed their lives and 387 were injured while performing their duties in Kurram Agency.

“The FC K-P is a professional force inclusive of all tribes and sects performing their duties selflessly,” the army chief remarked.

Speaking on the occasion, tribal elders expressed their complete confidence in Pakistan Army and its leadership. “We stand with our security forces and our blood is for our motherland. We all are Pakistanis and Muslim,” the elders remarked.

Parachinar protesters reject PM’s compensation offer
Gen Qamar vowed that Pakistan Army would continue its efforts to restore normalcy in the country, adding that the threat continued to reside across the border in Afghanistan with the Islamic State gaining strength there.
“We need to remain united, steadfast, prepared and vigilant against this threat which has an agenda of exploiting the sectarian fault-line,” he noted.

“Our security forces are symbol of national integration so is our security apparatus; we are one nation. Also, a greater Pakistan-Afghanistan border coordination and security cooperation is required in this regard.”
Later, the army chief also met the representatives of the sit-in and listened to their concerns.

Death toll in Parachinar soars past 60
“While administrative concerns will be pursued with the executive body, suggestions regarding security mechanism are being incorporated forthwith. We can only be effective when locals are part of security and vigilance,” the army chief said.

The COAS announced the following steps:
• While there are clear evidence of hostile foreign hands in recent incidents, local facilitators and abettors have been apprehended who will be tried in military courts.
• Additional army troops have been moved in Parachinar to enhance its security while Frontier Constabulary (FC) troops are being beefed up on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to seal it effectively. Toori Razakars are also being dovetailed on check-posts.
• A safe city project for Parachinar by installing CCTV cameras in line with the ones in Lahore and Islamabad will be undertaken.
• The fencing of border is already in progress. More sensitive areas of Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are being fenced in Phase 1 while the complete Pakistan-Afghanistan border including the portion falling in Balochistan will be fenced in Phase 2.
• Firing by FC troops while handling the mob situation post-blast is being inquired and those responsible shall not be spared. The FC commandant has already been changed. Notwithstanding the irreparable loss, four martyrs and those injured in firing have been compensated by the FC.
• The Army Public School Parachinar is named after Maj Gulfam Shaheed and it will be upgraded to a Cadet College in due course.
• A trauma centre will be established in Parachinar by the army while the area’s civil hospital will be upgraded for better medical care by the civil administration.
• The government has now announced compensation for Parachinar victims at par with other such victims elsewhere in the country. All Pakistanis are equal.
• The army fully supports mainstreaming of Fata – which is being pursued – and its early implementation is essential for enduring peace and stability.
Commander Peshawar Corps Lieutenant General Nazir Ahmed Butt and IGFC Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were also present on the occasion.

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Foreign Affairs Religion

Trump accuses Iran of fuelling ‘fires of sectarian conflict and terror’

US President Donald Trump on Sunday urged Islamic leaders to take a stand against violence done in the name of religion, describing the struggle against extremism as a “battle between good and evil”.

In a highly anticipated speech in Saudi Arabia, Trump lashed out at Iran, accusing Tehran of fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” and calling for its international isolation.

Saying he came with “a message of friendship and hope and love”, Trump told dozens of Muslim leaders that the time had come for “honestly confronting the crisis of religious extremism”.

“This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil.”

The speech came on the second day of a visit to Saudi Arabia, part of Trump’s first foreign tour that will take him next to Israel and the Palestinian territories and then to Europe.

The White House has sought to draw a clear distinction during the visit with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, who Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies saw as lecturing and soft on their rival Iran.

“From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region,” Trump said.

“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it.” He appealed to Muslim nations to ensure that “terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil” and announced an agreement with Gulf countries to fight financing for extremists.

Introducing Trump, Saudi King Salman called Iran “the spearhead of global terrorism”.

Unlike the Obama administration which would often raise concerns over civil liberties with longstanding Arab allies, Trump had made no mention of human rights during his visit so far.

“We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live… or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values,” Trump said.

Some 35 heads of state and government from Muslim-majority countries were in Riyadh for the Arab Islamic American Summit, mainly from states friendly to Saudi Arabia.

Much of the focus during the summit was on countering what Gulf states see as the threat from Iran, which opposes Saudi Arabia in a range of regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen.

‘Tremendous’ first day
Trump’s speech was touted as a major event — along the lines of a landmark address to the Islamic world by Obama in Cairo in 2009.

It was especially sensitive given tensions sparked by the Trump administration’s attempted travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations and his previous remarks on Islam.

In December 2015, Trump told a campaign rally he was calling for a “total shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”.

His words shocked many Americans, with Trump detractors noting that the US Constitution prohibits religious discrimination.

“I think Islam hates us. There is a tremendous hatred there. We have to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said in a March 2016 interview with CNN.

Still, Trump was welcomed warmly in Saudi Arabia, where he and first lady Melania Trump were given an extravagant reception by King Salman and the rest of the Saudi royal family.

The first day saw the announcement of hundreds of billions of dollars in trade deals, welcome news for Trump as he faces mounting troubles at home linked with the probe into alleged Russian meddling during last year’s election campaign.

Among the agreements was an arms deal worth almost $110 billion with Saudi Arabia, described as the largest in US history.

The trade deals announced on Saturday were said to be worth in excess of $380 billion, and Trump proudly declared the first day of his visit “tremendous”.

On Sunday he held a series of meetings with other Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Bahrain’s King Hamad.

Warm talks with ‘friend’ Sisi
The meeting with Sisi — an avowed fan of the president — was especially warm and Trump said he would “absolutely” be putting Egypt on his list of countries to visit “very soon”.

Trump referred to Sisi as “my friend” and Sisi said the US president was a “unique personality” and “capable of doing the impossible”, to which Trump responded: “I agree!” Trump even complimented Sisi on his footwear, saying: “Love your shoes.

Boy, those shoes. Man…” Sisi has faced harsh criticism of his human rights record since he led the military overthrow of Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Trump, who travels on Monday to Israel and the Palestinian territories before visiting the Vatican, Brussels and Italy for Nato and G7 meetings, is taking his first steps on the world stage as he faces increasing scandal at home.

The last week has seen a string of major developments in Trump’s domestic woes, including the announcement that James Comey, the former FBI chief fired by Trump, has agreed to testify publicly about Russian interference in the US elections.

Reports have also emerged that Trump called Comey “a nut job” and that the FBI has identified a senior White House official as a “significant person of interest” in its probe of Russian meddling.

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Foreign Affairs Religion

Nawaz Sharif set to attend ‘Arab Nato’ summit in Riyadh

ISLAMABAD/WASH¬INGTON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will travel to Riyadh on Sunday to attend the first-ever Arab-Islamic-American Summit being held to develop a security partnership against a growing threat of violent extremism.

Mr Sharif is among the 54 leaders who would join US President Donald Trump for the summit being held on Sunday.
On Friday, President Trump left Washington for Riyadh for a visit that he and his allies hope could lay the foundations for an “Arab Nato force” to push back Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East as well as combat terrorism.

The decision to choose the Muslim holy lands for Mr Trump’s first foreign visit has been noted with interest in Washington but his decision to speak about Islam in his address to the summit in Riyadh has generated even more interest, and some derisions too.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz invited Mr Sharif for the summit. The invitation was delivered by Saudi Information Minister Awwad bin Saleh al Awwad, who visited Islamabad last week.

The official website set up by the Saudi government in connection with President Trump’s trip, while explaining the objective of the summit, states: “US President Donald Trump and leaders of the world’s Islamic nations will meet to address ways of building more robust and effective security partnerships to counter and prevent the growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism around the globe through promoting tolerance and moderation.”

The Arab-Islamic-American summit is one of the three Riyadh has planned for President Trump’s visit. The other two summits being held on this occasion are the Saudi-US Summit, and Gulf Cooperation Council-US Summit. The purpose of the entire exercise, apparently, is to reassert the Kingdom’s position as the main political and security force in the region. The eager Saudis have been running a countdown clock on the website for the trip, which started late on Friday night.

‘Fantasy of Arab Nato’
Pakistan is one of the closest allies of the Kingdom. The two maintain a strong defence partnership. The Pakistani government granted special permission to the former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif to lead the multinational military force being created by the Saudis. British journalist Robert Fisk, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, in his article in the Independent wrote that Mr Trump’s visit was for realising “the fantasy of an Arab Nato”.

Mr Sharif, while accepting the invitation for the summit, has reaffirmed Pakistan’s alliance with the Kingdom by recalling the commonality of views of two countries on most regional and international issues and their collaboration for achieving common interests and objectives.

It is unlikely that Prime Minister Sharif would get a one-on-one bilateral meeting with President Trump on the sidelines of the summit. At least, Mr Trump’s schedule does not show any possibility for such an interaction. The Foreign Office was silent on chances of a speculated meeting between the two.

The Washington-based Pakistani media, however, have learned that the Saudis are backing Pakistan’s request for a brief Sharif-Trump meeting before the US president flies out to Israel and then to Europe for more talks with America’s Nato allies.

Diplomatic sources in Washington say that since scores of world leaders are attending the summit, it would be difficult to arrange exclusive meetings between the US president and other leaders but “Americans are trying to find space for a very brief one-on-one between Mr Sharif and Mr Trump”.

“Unfortunately I don’t have anything for you,” a State Department official told Dawn when asked if the two leaders were going to have an exclusive meeting. Officials at the Pakistan Embassy said that since this matter was handled in Islamabad, they had no information about this.

The summit is being discussed at every forum in the US, from Congress to think tanks and the media. The US media and think tanks pointed out that days before the summit, the Trump administration announced two major arms deals: $1 billion worth of missiles for the UAE and a much larger, $100bn deal with Saudi Arabia.

Media reports pointed out that these weapons would be used to equip “a Muslim Nato army,” headed by Saudi Arabia. The reports also noted that Gen Raheel would lead this force.

An anti-Iran alliance?
Reports also pointed out that while 54 leaders from across the Arab and Muslim worlds had been invited to the summit, Iran has been kept out. Commentators in Washington noted that Iran’s absence made it look like an anti-Iranian alliance, despite its declared aim of fighting terrorism.

And President Trump’s meetings and conversations with Arab and Muslim leaders opposed to Iran’s growing influence in the region, particularly in Syria, consolidated this impression.

A readout of President Trump’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates at the White House said that the two leaders did talk about “the threat to regional stability posed by Iran.”
The US media reported that the UAE Crown Prince, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of his nation’s armed forces, is helping prepare Mr Trump for the summit. This was his second visit to the White House since Mr Trump took office.

They also discussed “steps to deepen our strategic partnership and promote stability and prosperity throughout the Middle East,” said the White House. “Bilateral defence cooperation, counterterrorism and resolving the conflicts in Yemen and Syria” were some of the other key issues that the two leaders discussed.

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Religion

Mardan lynching: Judicial inquiry ordered, police find no evidence of blasphemy

PESHAWAR: Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak has ordered judicial inquiry into the Mardan lynching incident and a summary has been signed in this regard, KP government spokesperson Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani said.
The spokesperson said the summary has been forwarded to the Peshawar High Court.

Meanwhile, the postmortem report of Mashal Khan has confirmed that he died of bullet injury before beaten to death.

The police have yet to find evidence suggesting that he committed blasphemy. According to DIG Mardan Alam Shinwari, in the initial investigation, there has been no evidence found which points to Mashal committing blasphemy.

Mashal, a student of journalism at Abdul Wali Khan University, was brutally killed by an angry mob on Thursday over blasphemy allegations.

Family seeks justice
Muhammad Iqbal, father of Mashal Khan, had said that it was the responsibility of the institutions to investigate the incident. He said that his neighbours knew that how he had groomed his children. “I want justice as my son was innocent. I cannot even imagine that he will have committed blasphemy,” he maintained.

His grieving sister told reporters that Mashal Khan wanted her to complete her education. “It’s a conspiracy against my brother and it must be unearthed,” she added. Mashal Khan’s mother was also in mourning and extremely sad due to the sudden tragedy that befell her family.

How it happened
A report compiled by the university said that on April 13 at about 1:00pm, a group of students in the form of a mob stormed the Journalism and Mass Communication Department in search of three students, namely Mashal Khan, Zubair Khan and Abdullah.

It added that Provost Fayyaz Ali Shah, director administration and security in-charge, along with police official entered Journalism and Mass Communication department to bring the situation under control. However, the report added that the mob turned violent and beat up the students.

According to the report, Chief Proctor Dr Idrees and Ziaullah Hamdard, who is lecturer at Journalism Department, and director sports were already present in the office of the chairman Journalism Department. Later, the mob attacked Hostel Number 1 and shot Mashal Khan dead and were about to torch his body when the police arrived. It said investigation was being carried out and a detailed report would be submitted soon.

Case lodged
The police nominated 20 people including students, employees of the university and outsiders in the first information report (FIR). Four employees of the university and an elected councillor were among those charged in the case. Some of those nominated in the FIR were identified as Ali Hussain, Wajahat, Sani, Mujibullah, Imran, Anees, Shoaib, Nawab Ali, Arif Khan, Ali Khan, Afsar Khan, Sajjad, Afsar Afridi, Nasrullah alias Nasir Afridi, Ajmal Mayar, Immad, Abbas and Suhrab.

Meanwhile, the university also formed a six-member committee to probe the incident. It was also learnt that the university administration had earlier rusticated Mashal Khan, Abdullah Khan and Zubair Khan on the complaints of students that they were committing blasphemy.

Fake account
The issue of Mashal Khan’s Facebook account too has generated controversy. Mashal Khan during his life had alerted that his account had been hacked and was being misused.

No evidence
The chief minister said it was a brutal incident and nobody should be allowed to take law into their own hands. He added the reports so far received had no proof that the slain student had committed blasphemy.

“I am in contact with the police. The cops are collecting evidence and the judicial probe would be announced once the inquiry report is completed,” he told the lawmakers. He said it could be an act based on personal grudges or revenge as the slain student’s mobile phone data so far checked had no evidence of any derogatory remarks against anyone.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/198768-Judicial-inquiry-ordered-into-Mardan-lynching-incident

Categories
Religion Terrorism

ISIS Hates Our Saint Because He Belongs to Everyone

LONDON — Last Thursday a suicide bomber affiliated with the so-called Islamic State attacked Sehwan Sharif, one of the most revered Sufi shrines, in the southern Sindh Province of Pakistan, killing more than 80 people, including 24 children, and wounding more than 250.

Why the terrorists hate Sehwan is why we love it. The saint and his shrine at Sehwan belong to everyone, to Sunnis and Shiites, to Hindus and Muslims, transgender devotees, to believers and questioners alike. The inclusiveness, the rituals and music born of syncretic roots make shrines like Sehwan Sharif targets in the extremist interpretations of the Islamic State and other radical Wahhabi militants.

As a child in the late 1980s and early ’90s, I would visit the town of Sehwan with my family on our way from Karachi to Larkana, my family’s hometown. After driving along bumpy roads deserted but for palm trees and solitary men standing on the open highways selling lotus flower seeds, we would stop near the western bank of the Indus River to visit the shrine of Sehwan’s patron saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th-century Persian mystic and poet who was a contemporary of Rumi.

Qalandar, whose real name was Syed Mohammad Usman Marwandi, is adored in music and poetry as the Red Falcon. As you drive through the narrow, dusty streets of Sehwan, the air becomes perfumed with the scent of roses, sold in small plastic bags and body-length garlands that devotees lay at his tomb.

I was 7 when I first saw Sehwan during Ashura, when Shiites mourn the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain, who was killed in 680 by an unjust ruler at Karbala, in what is now Iraq.

I remember thousands of men and women together in collective, ritualized mourning in the courtyard of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine. They walked barefoot over glass and the embers of burning cigarette butts, their black shalwar kameez drenched in sweat, their palms striking their chests rhythmically. Even as a 7-year-old, I found something hypnotic, something fierce, something pure about Sehwan.

Over the years, I kept returning to Sehwan to sit in that courtyard, the shrine illuminated by red and green fairy lights, its golden dome and turquoise minarets soaring above a town of modest roofs.

The cool tiled floor of the shrine is often carpeted with devotees, some carrying tiffins of food on outings with their children, others in fraying and torn shalwar kameez prostrate in prayer. Even wealthy urbanites visit to lay their anxieties at the feet of the buried saint, tiptoeing gingerly through the crowds. In a country built and maintained on immovable divisions of ethnicity, gender, class and belief, the shrine at Sehwan welcomed all. It was an egalitarian oasis formed by the legacies and practice of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism merging into one.
On Thursday evenings people congregate to listen to the religious songs called qawwali and perform a devotional dance, dhamal. They arrive with offerings of bruised rose petals, sugared almonds and what money they can spare. They seek solace from their pain; pray for safety in a harsh, unjust world; beg for an answer to a forgotten prayer. Those who can’t offer anything arrive empty-handed. Sehwan’s shrine promised the weak, the worried and the poor that they would always be safe here.

Every time we visited the shrine, a deaf and mute man named Goonga welcomed my brother, Zulfi, and me. A servant and a guardian of the shrine, Goonga wore his hair in a turban and had a matted beard. On the breast pocket of his shalwar kameez, he sometimes wore a picture of Hussain. Goonga would walk us through the shrine that was his home and refuge.

In the courtyard of the shrine, men in flowing robes and long dreadlocks sing:
Shahbaz Qalandar – Qawwali journey to Sehwan Sharif with Fanna-Fi-Allah Video by Tahir Faridi Qawwal
O laal meri pat rakhio bala Jhoole Laalan,
Sindhri da Sehwan da, sakhi Shahbaaz Qalandar,
Dama dam mast Qalandar,
which translates to:
O red-robed, protect me always, Jhule Lal,
Friend of Sindh, of Sehwan, God-intoxicated Qalandar,
Every breath intoxicated by you, Qalandar.
No matter how far from Sehwan I have traveled, how far from lands where Urdu is spoken and heard, just to hear “Dama dam mast Qalandar” is to be transported home.

My brother called me after the attack on the shrine. “Goonga,” he asked. “Is he alive?” We were trying to find out. But no one had seen Goonga since the blast. We Pakistanis always believed our saints protected us. In Karachi, where we live by the sea, we believe that the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, overlooking the Arabian Sea shore, saved the city from cyclones and tsunamis.

Before Qalandar arrived here, before Islam came to the subcontinent, Sehwan was known as Shivistan after the Hindu god Shiva. In time, the town’s name was changed, but Sindh has long remained a home to all faiths. At the annual festival of Qalandar, a Hindu and a Muslim family together drape a ceremonial cloth over Qalandar’s grave. A lamp-lighting ceremony reminiscent of Hindu rites is also performed.

The shrine in Sehwan was attacked because it belongs to an open, inclusive tradition that some in Pakistan would rather forget than honor. Though it was founded as a sanctuary for Muslims, in its early incarnation, Pakistan was a home for all those who wished to claim it. Parsis, Sikhs, Christians and Jews remained in Pakistan after the bloody Partition in 1947.

Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s brutal military dictator in the 1980s, aided by Saudi money and supported by the United States, destroyed Pakistan’s progressive, syncretic culture. In the 11 years that General Zia presided over Pakistan, our textbooks were rewritten, exclusionary, intolerant laws were passed, and primacy was given to the bearers of a closed, violent worldview. Pakistan never recovered. Only pockets of the country still imbibe the generous welcome once afforded to all faiths. Sehwan is one of them.

After the attack, Pakistan’s military closed the border with Afghanistan and complained that the attackers had been given haven in Afghanistan. In retaliation, 100 people accused of being terrorists have been killed by the military.

Sehwan has no proper hospital, no trauma centers. For all its historical, religious and cultural significance, it was — like so much of this wounded country — abandoned by those who rule the province. There is no real governance here, no justice and no order. For life’s basic necessities, people must supplicate themselves before dead saints.

On the morning after the blast, the caretaker rang the bell, just as he always had. Devotees broke through the police cordons and returned to dance the dhamal on Saturday. Zulfi texted, “Goonga is alive.”

On my last visit to the shrine, after Goonga walked me through the crowded marketplace selling food and offerings, I sat on the floor besides a mother who had brought her son, crippled with polio, in the hopes that her prayers would ease his suffering. I had come to the shrine to see the blue and white floral kashi tiles, to walk around the perimeter and to be in a part of Pakistan that still operated on that rarest of currencies: hope.

Fatima Bhutto is the author of the memoir “Songs of Blood and Sword,” about the Bhutto political family, and the novel “Shadow of the Crescent Moon.”

Categories
Religion

Seattle judge blocks Trump immigration order

SEATTLE/BOSTON – A federal judge in Seattle on Friday granted a nationwide temporary restraining order blocking U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent action barring nationals from seven countries from entering the United States.

The judge’s order represents a major challenge to the Trump administration, which is expected to immediately appeal. The judge declined to stay the order, suggesting that travel restrictions could be lifted immediately.

The challenge was brought by the state of Washington and later joined by the state of Minnesota. The Seattle judge ruled that the states have legal standing to sue, which could help Democratic attorneys general take on Trump in court on issues beyond immigration.

“It’s a wonderful day for the rule of law in this country,” said Washington state solicitor general Noah Purcell.

The decision came on a day that attorneys from four states were in courts challenging Trump’s executive order. Trump’s administration justified the action on national security grounds, but opponents labeled it an unconstitutional order targeting people based on religious beliefs.

Earlier on Friday, a federal judge in Boston on Friday declined to extend a temporary restraining order that allowed some immigrants into the United States from certain countries despite being barred by U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent executive order.

Also on Friday in Virginia, a federal judge ordered the White House to provide a list of all people stopped from entering the United States by the travel ban.

The State Department said on Friday that fewer than 60,000 visas previously issued to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen had been invalidated as a result of the order. That disclosure followed media reports that government lawyers were citing a figure of 100,000.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Virginia ordered the federal government to give the state a list by Thursday of “all persons who have been denied entry to or removed from the United States.”

The state of Hawaii on Friday joined the challenge to the order, filing a lawsuit alleging that the order is unconstitutional and asking the court to block the order across the country.

The new Republican president’s order signed on Jan. 27 triggered chaos at U.S. airports last weekend. Some travelers abroad were turned back from flights into the United States, crowds of hundreds of people packed into arrival areas to protest and legal objections were filed across the country.

The order also temporarily stopped the entry of all refugees into the country and indefinitely halted the settlement of Syrian refugees.

On Friday the Department of Homeland Security issued additional clarification of the order, stating that there were no plans to extend it beyond the seven countries. The DHS also reiterated that the ban did not apply to permanent residents, or green card holders, and some others, such as those who have helped the U.S. military.

In the Boston case, U.S. District Judge Nathan Gorton denied the request, after expressing skepticism during oral arguments about a civil rights group’s claim that Trump’s order represented religious discrimination.

(Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York, Brian Snyder in Boston and Lawrence Hurley, Lesley Wroughton and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Rigby)

Categories
Foreign Affairs Religion

Barack Obama ‘heartened’ by scale of protests against Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban

In a blasting criticism of Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban, former president Barack Obama has said he “fundamentally disagrees” with discrimination that targets people based on their religion and was “heartened” by the protests that have been sparked across the country.

“President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country,” said a statement issued by his spokesman Kevin Lewis.

“In his final official speech as president, he spoke about the important role of citizens and how all Americans have a responsibility to be the guardians of our democracy – not just during an election but every day.”

Mr Obama has not weighed in on a political issue since leaving office on January 20 and making way for his successor – something that is usual for most presidents.

He has said he plans to give Mr Trump room to govern but has also said he would speak out if the New York tycoon’s actions violated basic US values. Thousands of protests across the country have taken part in demonstrations against the order, insisting that his Muslim travel ban does breach fundamental US values.

In the statement, Mr Obama said was pleased with those citizens who are exercising constitutional rights to assemble and “have their voices heard.” He also drew a distinction between his policies and those of Mr Trump.

“With regard to comparisons to President Obama’s foreign policy decisions, as we’ve heard before, the president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion,” it said.

On Monday, it had emerged that dozens of US envoys located around the world had prepared a “dissent memo”.

This ban … will not achieve its stated aim to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” says the draft, obtained by lawfareblog.com.

It also said that Mr Trump’s “knee jerk” executive order was based on misguided notions about terrorism in the United States.

“Despite the order’s focus on them, a vanishingly small number of terror attacks on US soil have been committed by foreign nationals who recently entered the US on immigrant or non-immigrant visa,” it says. “Rather, the overwhelmingly majority of attacks have been committed by native-born or naturalised US citizens – individuals who have been living in the US for decades, if not since birth.”

It adds: “In the isolated incidents of foreign nationals entering the US on a visa to commit acts of terror, the nationals have come from a range of countries, (such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia), which are not covered by the order.”

Categories
Civil Society Religion

Trump’s Order Blocks Immigrants at Airports, Stoking Fear Around Globe

WASHINGTON, Jan 28 — President Trump’s executive order on immigration quickly reverberated through the United States and across the globe on Saturday, slamming the border shut for an Iranian scientist headed to a lab in Boston, an Iraqi who had worked for a decade as an interpreter for the United States Army, and a Syrian refugee family headed to a new life in Ohio, among countless others.

Around the nation, security officers at major international gateways had new rules to follow, though the application of the order appeared uneven. Humanitarian organizations scrambled to cancel long-planned programs, delivering the bad news to families who were about to travel. Refugees who were on flights when the order was signed were detained at airports.

“We’ve gotten reports of people being detained all over the country,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project. “They’re literally pouring in by the minute.”

There were numerous reports of students attending American universities who were blocked from returning to the United States from visits abroad. One student said in a Twitter post that he would be unable to study at Yale.

Another who attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was refused permission to board a plane. A Sudanese student at Stanford University was blocked for hours from returning to California.

Human rights groups reported that legal permanent residents of the United States who hold green cards were being stopped in foreign airports as they sought to return from funerals, vacations or study abroad.

The president’s order, enacted with the stroke of a pen at 4:42 on Friday afternoon, suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Department of Homeland Security said that the executive order also barred green card holders from those countries from re-entering the United States. In a briefing for reporters on Saturday, White House officials said that green card holders from the seven affected countries who are outside the United States would need a case-by-case waiver to return to the United States.

Legal residents who have a green card and are currently in the United States should meet with a consular officer before leaving the country, a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told reporters. Officials did not clarify the criteria that would qualify someone for a waiver from the president’s executive order, which says only that one can be granted when it is “in the national interest.”

But the week-old administration appeared to be implementing the order chaotically, with agencies and officials around the globe interpreting it in different ways.

The Stanford student, a legal permanent resident of the United States with a green card, was held at Kennedy International Airport in New York for about eight hours but was eventually allowed to fly to California, said Lisa Lapin, a Stanford spokeswoman. Others who were detained appeared to be still in custody or sent back to their home countries.

White House aides claimed on Saturday that there had been talks with officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security over the past several weeks about carrying out the order. “Everyone who needed to know was informed,” one aide said.

But that assertion was denied by multiple officials with knowledge of the interactions, including two officials at the State Department. Two of the officials said leaders of Customs and Border Protection and Citizenship and Immigration Services — the two agencies most directly affected by the order — and other agencies were on a telephone briefing on the new policy even as Mr. Trump signed it on Friday.

At least one case prompted a legal challenge as lawyers representing two Iraqi refugees held at Kennedy Airport filed a motion early Saturday seeking to have their clients released. They also filed a motion for class certification, in an effort to represent all refugees and other immigrants who they said were being unlawfully detained at ports of entry.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, the interpreter who worked on behalf of the United States government in Iraq, was released. After nearly 19 hours of detention, Mr. Darweesh began to cry as he spoke to reporters, putting his hands behind his back and miming handcuffs.

“What I do for this country? They put the cuffs on,” Mr. Darweesh said. “You know how many soldiers I touch by this hand?”

The other man the lawyers are representing, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, remained in custody as his legal advocates sought his release.

Inside the airport, one of the lawyers, Mark Doss, a supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project, asked a border agent, “Who is the person we need to talk to?”

“Call Mr. Trump,” said the agent, who declined to identify himself.

The White House said the restrictions would protect “the United States from foreign nationals entering from countries compromised by terrorism” and ensure “a more rigorous vetting process.” But critics condemned Mr. Trump over the immediate collateral damage imposed on people who, by all accounts, had no sinister intentions in trying to come to the United States.

Peaceful protests began forming Saturday afternoon at Kennedy Airport, where nine travelers had been detained upon arrival at Terminal 7 and two others at Terminal 4, an airport official said.

The official said they were being held in a federal area of the airport, adding that such situations were playing out around the nation.

An official message to all American diplomatic posts around the world provided instructions about how to treat people from the countries affected: “Effective immediately, halt interviewing and cease issuance and printing” of visas to the United States.

Internationally, confusion turned to panic as travelers found themselves unable to board flights bound for the United States. In Dubai and Istanbul, airport and immigration officials turned passengers away at boarding gates and, in at least one case, ejected a family from a flight they had boarded.

Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, a promising young Iranian scientist, had been scheduled to travel in the coming days to Boston, where he had been awarded a fellowship to study cardiovascular medicine at Harvard, according to Thomas Michel, the professor who was to supervise the research fellowship.

But Professor Michel said the visas for the student and his wife had been indefinitely suspended.
“This outstanding young scientist has enormous potential to make contributions that will improve our understanding of heart disease, and he has already been thoroughly vetted,” Professor Michel wrote to The New York Times.

Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which represents many of the biggest public colleges in the country, said he was “deeply concerned” about the new policy. He said it was “causing significant disruption and hardship” for students, researchers, faculty and staff members.

A Syrian family of six who have been living in a Turkish refugee camp since fleeing their home in 2014 had been scheduled to arrive in Cleveland on Tuesday, according to a report in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Instead, the family’s trip has been called off.

Danielle Drake, a community relations manager at US Together, a refugee resettlement agency, told the newspaper that Mr. Trump’s ban reminded her of when the United States turned away Jewish refugees during World War II. “All those times that people said, ‘Never again,’ well, we’re doing it again,” she said.

On Twitter, Daniel W. Drezner, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., posted an angry message for Mr. Trump after the executive order stopped the arrival of a Syrian family his synagogue had sponsored.

In an interview on Friday night on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, he expressed sorrow for the fate of the family and apologized for cursing in his Twitter message.

“I can’t quite describe the degree of anger that I felt as a reaction to this, which then caused me to curse at the president on social media,” he said, adding, “which is probably something I should not do as a general rule.”
It was unclear how many refugees and other immigrants were being held nationwide in relation to the executive order.

A Christian family of six from Syria said in an email to Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, that they were being detained at Philadelphia International Airport on Saturday morning despite having legal paperwork, green cards and visas that had been approved.

In the case of the two Iraqis held at Kennedy Airport, the legal filings by his lawyers say that Mr. Darweesh was granted a special immigrant visa on Jan. 20, the same day Mr. Trump was sworn in as president. Mr. Darweesh worked with the Americans in Iraq in a variety of jobs — as an engineer, a contractor and an interpreter for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and Mosul starting shortly after the invasion of Iraq on April 1, 2003.
A husband and father of three, he arrived at Kennedy Airport with his family. Mr. Darweesh’s wife and children made it through passport control and customs, but agents of Customs and Border Protection detained him.

In Istanbul, during a stopover on Saturday, passengers reported that security officers had entered a plane after everyone had boarded and ordered a young Iranian woman and her family to leave the aircraft.

Iranian green card holders who live in the United States were blindsided by the decree while on vacation in Iran, finding themselves in a legal limbo and unsure whether they would be able to return to America.

“How do I get back home now?” said Daria Zeynalia, a green card holder who was visiting family in Iran. He had rented a house and leased a car, and would be eligible for citizenship in November. “What about my job? If I can’t go back soon, I’ll lose everything.”

Categories
Foreign Affairs Religion

Donald Trump refugee ban: ‘arrivals from targeted countries stopped at US airports’

The International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the organisations involved in a legal challenge against Trump’s executive order banning refugees from certain countries, has said the policy is “irresponsible and dangerous”.

The organisation said in a statement: “Denying thousands of the most persecuted refugees the chance to reach safety is an irresponsible and dangerous move that undermines American values and imperils our foreign relations and national security.

“IRAP works with hundreds of the most vulnerable refugees – children with medical emergencies, survivors of gender-based violence and torture, and Afghan and Iraqi allies to U.S. forces, to name a few – who will be left in immediate life-threatening danger.

“For many of them, resettlement in the United States is their only option to live safely and with dignity.”

Yousif Al-Timimi, a Case Worker at IRAP and former IRAP client who had to flee Iraq in 2013 because of his service to the US government, said: “Those who helped the U.S. mission in Iraq are thankful to be here in the United States as refugees or through the Special Immigrant Visa program; however, for them, the fear is not over.

“Their families are still in Iraq where they might get hurt or killed just because they have ties to a person with a U.S. affiliation and are looked at as traitors. Many of them, like me, try to help their parents and siblings to get out of the country for safety.”

A legal challenge has been filed against Donald Trump’s executive order, which imposes a three-month ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries and from Syria permanently.
The New York Times reports that lawyers representing two Iraqi refugees detained at JFK airport filed a challenge against the measure on Saturday, demanding their clients be released and proposing a class action in a bid to represent all refugees and migrants affected.

One of the refugees detained was named as Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who is said to have worked on behalf of the US government in Iraq for 10 years. The second detained refugee, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was reportedly travelling to New York to join his wife and young son. They had both arrived in the US on Friday night, travelling on seperate flights.

The complaints are said to have been filed in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Centre, the National Immigration Law Centre, the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organisation and the law firm Kilpatrick, Townsend and Stockton.

Mark Doss, one of the lawyers representing the pair, told the paper: “These are people with valid visas and legitimate refugee claims who have already been determined by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to be admissible and to be allowed to enter the US and now are being unlawfully detained.”

Cairo airport officials reportedly told Reuters seven US-bound migrants, six from Iraq and one from Yemen, were prevented from boarding an EgyptAir flight to New York’s JFK airport.

The officials said the action Saturday by the airport was the first since President Donald Trump imposed a three-month ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The officials said the seven migrants, escorted by officials from the UN refugee agency, were stopped from boarding the plane after authorities at Cairo airport contacted their counterparts in JFK airport.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

Google would not confirm or deny reports that it has recalled staff travelling overseas back to the US.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, in a memo to staff seen by Bloomberg News, said more than 100 company staff are affected by the order.

The company has reportedly told these staff to get back to the US.

The employees in question normally work in the US but happened to be abroad when the order was made. The concern is that even if staff have valid visas, they may still be at risk if they are from one of the seven countries targeted by the order and they are outside the US when the order kicks in.

Google would not comment on whether staff had been recalled. It issued this statement:
We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the US. We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.

The Liberal democrat leader, Tim Farron, has drawn parallels between May’s visit with Trump and her meeting with Erdogan. calling the pair “unsavoury leaders”. In a statement he said:
As Theresa May seeks trade deals with ever more unsavoury leaders, she ignores the simple point that the most successful countries around the world respect human rights – economies flourish in free societies.

There are tens of thousands of people in Turkish jails without fair trial who in many cases have committed no crime, other than daring to disagree with President Erdogan. Theresa May should address this as a priority in her meeting today.

Yes, the Prime Minister should seek to promote British trade, but at this time her priority should be to secure a long-term trade deal with our European neighbours by fighting to stay in the single market.

CAIRO:
Five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni were barred from boarding an EgyptAir flight from Cairo to New York on Saturday following President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, sources at Cairo airport said.

The passengers, arriving in transit to Cairo airport, were stopped and re-directed to flights headed for their home countries despite holding valid visas, the sources said

Categories
Civil Society Religion

Pakistan bans religious TV host Aamir Liaquat Hussain over blasphemy allegations

Pakistan’s television regulator has banned a well-known talkshow host for hate speech, after he hosted shows accusing liberal activists and others of blasphemy, an inflammatory allegation that could put their lives at risk.
Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Muslim-majority Pakistan that can result in the death penalty. Even being accused of blasphemy can provoke targeted acts of violence by religious rightwing vigilantes.

Aamir Liaquat Hussain, who describes his programme aired on Bol TV as the country’s leading television show, had been at the forefront of a campaign to discredit liberal activists who went missing this month, as well as those defending them.

In a document sent to Bol TV and seen by Reuters, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said Liaquat’s show “wilfully and repeatedly made statements and allegations which (are) tantamount to hate speech, derogatory remarks, incitement to violence against citizens and casting accusations of being anti-state and anti-Islam.”

Liaquat did not answer calls to his mobile telephone on Thursday and representatives of Bol TV were not immediately available for comment.

He had blamed several prominent Pakistanis for an anti-state agenda and being either sympathetic to, or directly involved in, blasphemy against Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad.

In 2011, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards after he called for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws.

Many in Pakistan felt that the governor’s critique of blasphemy laws made his death, if not justifiable, understandable – and others went even further.

Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed but not before becoming a hero in the eyes of the religious right.
At least 65 others have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from the Center for Research and Security Studies thinktank and media.

Liaquat, famous for combining religion and gameshows, has often courted controversy. He once gave away abandoned babies during a broadcast and caused uproar by airing vitriolic hate speech against the Ahmadi minority.

One of the targets of Liaquat’s show was activist lawyer Jibran Nasir, who filed a police complaint under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law on Thursday charging him with “running a defamatory and life-threatening campaign”.
Classical dancer Sheema Kirmani received death threats after Liaquat targeted her on his 19 January broadcast.
Classical dance was banned and associated with obscenity under the regime of military dictator Zia ul Haq, who pushed for greater “Islamisation” of Pakistan in the 1980s.

The situation is potentially worse now than during the Zia era, Kirmani said. “Previously the government could close the auditorium, or arrest you, but now anyone sitting in the audience can decide ‘I am not going to allow this.’

Categories
Religion Terrorism

TTP claims responsibility for Parachinar attack

PARACHINAR, Jan 21: Around 21 people have been killed and over 50 are injured in a powerful explosion that ripped through a crowded marketplace in Parachinar Kurram tribal agency, according to officials.

Kurram Agency’s political administration has confirmed the death toll and said the injured were shifted to the agency headquarters hospital. There is shortage of doctors and medical facilities in the hospital. The death toll is expected to rise. Dr. Sabir Hussain at the Parachinar main hospital said 11 critically wounded people who were brought from the vegetable market blast site died while being treated. He said several of the wounded were in serious condition and being shifted to other hospitals for better care.

Soon after the incident, the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban has claimed responsibility for the blast in Parachinar. “Saifullah alias Bilal carried out the attack in Parachinar on Saturday,” TTP spokesperson Muhammad Khorasani said. He further said the blast was in retaliation for killing Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Asif Chotu, along with three others in an encounter. It was to avenge the killing of our associates by security forces and to teach a lesson to Shiites for their support for Bashar al-Assad,” said the group’s spokesman Qari Saifullah, referring to the Syrian president.

Saifullah warned that his Sunni Muslim group will continue attacking Shiites if they back Assad, whose regime is entrenched in a civil war that began in 2011 and has claimed more than 310,000 lives.

The explosion occurred at 8:50AM at the city’s Eidgah market, where a large number of people were shopping for fruit and vegetable. An IED that was placed in a vegetable box which blew up.

Shahid Khan, an assistant tribal administrator, said the explosion took place when the market was crowded with retailers buying fruits and vegetables from a wholesale shop. He said the attack was being investigated.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing, said ’20 shaheed and 30 Injured.Injured being shifted to CMH and LRH Peshawar through Army helicopters. Army and FC troops are under taking relief and rescue operations. It was carried out through an improvised explosive device (IED).

“Army and FC Quick Reaction Force reached at incident site and cordoned off the area. Army helicopters flown for medical evacuation of injured to hospitals,” said the ISPR.

President Mamnoon and PM Nawaz Sharif has expressed grief over the loss of life and directed concerned authorities to provide medical treatment to the injured at all costs.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has condemned the blast and ordered for a detailed report regarding the incident. He further said that those involved in the gruesome incident would not be spared.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra has also condemned the blast, and sympathized with the bereaved families.

Governor said the war on terror will continue until the last terrorist is eliminated. He said the cowardly terror attacks cannot weaken the nation’s resolve against the menace. Militants cannot lower courage of nation by such cowardly attacks, vowing to end terrorism from the country soon. He said the war against militancy will continue till ending of every single terrorist.

Information Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mushtaq Ghani said that emergency has been imposed in Peshawar, confirming that the blast was carried out by a remote control device planted in a vehicle. He said the blast was carried out at a busy market in order to target highest numbers of civilians. He said they are ready to help any sort of to their tribal brothers.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan condemned the blast saying citizens would not accept any such attacks and those who are attacking peaceful enemies of nation. He said culprits would be brought before the justice. He directed the provincial government to provide best medical facilities to injured people in the blast.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari also condemned the blast saying terrorists would not be succeeded in their nefarious aims.

Chief Minister KP Pervaiz Khatakk, CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and JUI-F chief Fazul-ur-Rehman have also condemned the attack in strongest words.

“We received 21 bodies of the local tribal people killed in the blast,” Turi said, adding that there would be a mass funeral and then a demonstration over the attack. About 40 others were wounded in the blast in Kurram region, near the border with Afghanistan, said Sajid Hussain Turi, member of the National Assembly from the region.

Another Kurram official, Sabzali Khan, said early reports had suggested that a suicide bomber was responsible for the blast.

Ashiq Hussain, who was lightly wounded, was being treated in Parachinar hospital. He said he was purchasing fruits and vegetables loaded on a van when the explosion took place. “There was big bang and dark cloud of smoke and dust I saw before passing out. There was no ambulance, and people had to carry the injured in cars and private pickup trucks to the hospital,” Hussain said.

After coming back into his senses Hussain said he saw bleeding bodies, severed limbs and heard cries. “I was just bleeding from my leg,” he said. “Thank God I am alive.”

A list of names have been released regarding people who have been killed or injured in the attack.
No group has immediately claimed responsibility of the attack.

According to a Shiite leader Faqir Hussain, all the bodies have been brought to a Shiite mosque.

Taliban militants have been active around Parachinar in the past, ad the town has also suffered sectarian tension between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.

A similar blast at the Eidgah Market in December 2015, killed 25 people and injured 70 others. Parachinar is mainly a Shiite area of Pakistan’s Northwestern Tribal Belt

Categories
Civil Society Religion

Pakistani right cries ‘blasphemy’ to muzzle progressives

A virulent social media campaign to paint five disappeared Pakistani activists as blasphemers deserving execution has spotlighted how right-wing efforts to muzzle liberal voices using the country’s draconian laws have found a powerful new platform online.

The five men had stood against religious intolerance and at times criticised Pakistan’s military, with several of them running progressive Facebook pages.

They vanished within days of each other earlier this month, sparking fears of a government crackdown. No group has claimed responsibility. Security sources denied being involved.

As publicity surrounding their disappearances grew, with protests in major cities, observers such as Digital Rights Foundation founder Nighat Dad began to notice a worrying trend online.

“There are people trying to label these missing bloggers blasphemers. And the people supporting…(them) are being labelled blasphemers,” Dad told AFP.

The allegation can be fatal in deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan, where at least 17 people remain on death row for blasphemy.

Rights groups have long criticised the colonial-era legislation as a vehicle for personal vendettas. Even unproven allegations can result in mob lynchings.

And now such accusations targeting the disappeared activists are multiplying on Facebook and Twitter.

“The group of atheists committing blasphemy on Facebook… have been defeated,” said a recent post by Pakistan Defence, a powerful pro-military Facebook page run by anonymous right-wing elements which has 7.5 million likes.

The post, liked more than 5,400 times, triggered a flood of threats including one suggesting the activists’ “bullet riddled corpses should be found beside any gutter”.

Other pages such as ISI Pakistan1, with 192,000 Facebook likes, called for such “enemies of Islam” to be “eliminated”.

– Self-censorship –
The attacks are perpetuated by right-wing trolls such as 25-year-old Farhan Virk, who admits he has few real friends but has 54,000 followers on his verified Twitter account.

By re-tweeting the blasphemy charges against the activists, Virk gives them a prominence on social media that can influence the mainstream news agenda.

A number of NGOs and observers believe the campaigns to silence progressive voices are carefully coordinated.

Digital rights activist Dad points to what she says is a periodic surge of new right-wing Twitter accounts with just a handful of followers whose “only purpose is to attack us.”

The end result is often self-censorship, with the online attacks following a well-worn pattern.

Journalist Rabia Mehmood criticised Pakistan online after human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud was assassinated in 2015.

Mehmood received a barrage of death and rape threats on Twitter and Facebook, including many from newly created accounts, accusing her of being anti-state and an enemy of Islam.

“Overnight there were tweets warning me that there were bullets with my name on them for criticising the military and the intelligence agencies,” she said.

“Since then I have started watching what I say.”

The new wave of blasphemy charges that followed the activist disappearances prompted a number of liberal online commentators to close their accounts completely.

– Shrinking space for dissent –
Pakistan used its legal agreements with Facebook and Twitter to temporarily remove a slew of left-wing accounts in 2014, and enacted a cybercrime law last year that critics say will stifle genuine dissent.

Meanwhile, pages such as Pakistan Defence appear to operate freely, despite content that would appear to contravene basic community standards.

A Twitter spokesman said support teams have been retrained on enforcement policies, “including special sessions on cultural and historical contextualisation of hateful conduct”.

Facebook said it routinely worked to “prohibit hateful content and remove credible threats of physical harm”.

Observers say the blasphemy allegations against the missing activists have already put their lives in danger of vigilante attack.

In 2011 a liberal governor who criticised the laws was gunned down in Islamabad, while in 2014 a Christian couple falsely accused of desecrating the Koran were killed by a mob, their bodies burned in a brick kiln, to cite just two examples.

“If they come back I don’t think they have a life in this country,” said Shahzad Ahmed, director of campaign group Bytes For All. “They will have to leave.”

Categories
Civil Society Religion Women

Death threat, warning to media spray-painted on Karachi murals

The walls of Karachi Press Club — which had recently been painted with colourful murals of several progressive civil society activists and journalists — were vandalised last night allegedly by members of politico-religious parties.

The messages left by the vandals were spray-painted over the portraits of nearly all women activists featured on the wall.

Though the vandals remain individually unidentified, the walls have the initials of politico-religious parties Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (PST) and Tehreek-i-Labbaik (TLY) sprayed on them.

A call for executing Asia Bibi, currently on death row as a blasphemy accused, was written in large black letters next to the portrait of Yasmeen Lari, a prominent architect, historian and humanitarian aid worker.

Lari’s portrait had been defaced with crude marks spray-painted on her face. A line in Urdu below the painting read:”Immediately arrest and hang Shaan Taseer or you’ll be responsible for the consequences.”

Shaan Taseer is the son of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was gunned down by his guard for speaking against Pakistan’s blasphemy law and in favour of minorities’ rights. Shaan recently repeated his father’s stance on the blasphemy law, and has been criticised heavily by the religious right for his views.

The portrait of Zubeida Mustafa, a renowned journalist and the first woman in Pakistani mainstream media, had been defaced with the words “Curse on the Jewish media” sprayed across her face. Her quote: “Women’s lack of empowerment condemns us to social problems,” had been defaced with a profanity.

PST’s initials could be seen spray-painted on a mural honouring Perveen Rehman, who was killed in 2013 allegedly for standing up to Karachi’s powerful land mafia. She had been working on documenting land-use around Karachi, and this may have upset entrenched criminal elements in the city.

Her quote: “Development should mean human development,” has been sprayed over with a religious slogan.

The mural dedicated to Fatima Surraiya Bajiya, a playwright and social worker, had likewise been defaced with profanities directed at the Taseer family and demands to release Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who was among more than 150 individuals arrested by authorities in Lahore yesterday for trying to gather for a pro-blasphemy law rally on the day of Salman Taseer’s death.

Categories
Religion

Pakistan PM celebrates scientist from minority sect, risking hardliners’ fury

Pakistan’s prime minister has risked enraging religious hardliners by ordering one of the country’s top universities to honour a Nobel prize-winning physicist from a minority sect whose members are banned from describing themselves as Muslims.

In an announcement that surprised many, Nawaz Sharif said he had given approval to rename the National Centre for Physics at the capital’s Quaid-e-Azam University as the “Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Physics”.
A fellowship programme to support five physicists a year to study abroad for their doctorates will also be named after Salam.

The recognition comes 20 years after the death of a scientist who won the Nobel prize in 1979 for his work in theoretical physics.

Despite the international esteem in which he was held – and his role in helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons – governments in his homeland have not dared embrace a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.

The sect, established in British India in 1889, is regarded as heretical by strict Muslims because Ahmadis believe the movement’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet. A central tenet of Islam is that Mohammad, the religion’s seventh-century founder, was the final prophet.

Because of the theological dispute, Ahmadis were declared to be non-Muslims in a 1974 constitutional amendment and further criminalised in 1984 when they were banned from “posing as Muslims”.

It means Ahmadis run the risk of imprisonment if they are caught calling their places of worship “mosques”, participating in the annual Eid animal sacrifice or even using common Islamic greetings.

Like those of many others buried in the town of Rabwah, a major centre for Ahmadis, Salam’s gravestone has been defaced so that the word Muslim is not visible.

In a recent reminder of the enduring passions surrounding the issue, the new chief of Pakistan’s army was falsely accused in the days before his appointment last month of having Ahmadi relatives.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist who has campaigned for 20 years for the facility at Quaid-e-Azam to be renamed after Salam, said Sharif’s action was a “tremendous development” that came after the prime minister saw him talking about the issue on a television show. Later, Sharif’s office urged Hoodbhoy to make a formal request to the government for Salam to be honoured.

“This shows that the most persecuted community in Pakistan is getting some kind of recognition,” he said. “Nawaz Sharif has shown courage and an astonishing degree of enlightenment.”

He added that the former leaders Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, both avowed liberals, had never risked praising an Ahmadi.

During general elections in 2013, the opposition leader Imran Khan went out of his way to reassure voters that he had no intention of changing the laws that discriminate against Ahmadis.

Sharif however praised Salam as a “great Pakistani” in January this year. A month previously police in the prime minister’s political base of Lahore took down anti-Ahmadi posters in one of the city’s shopping markets.

Hasan Munir, deputy education director for the Amhadi community in Pakistan, said it was a “small but positive step in the right direction”.

“There is not even a single road or university that has been named after him, all because of pressure from the clergy,” he said.

Although there is a centre named after of Salam at Government College University Lahore, the name board has been taken down from public display.

Maulana Allah Wasaia, head of Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, an anti-Ahmadi group, accused the government of trying to “please its foreign masters”.

“If a matter has been constitutionally decided then the government should not make it part of larger debate,” he said. “We should recall that Dr Salam himself left Pakistan in protest after Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims. Naming a physics centre after a person who did not like Pakistan is strange and is a wrong message here.”