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.”

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)

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

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.”

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.”

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.

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

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.’

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

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.”

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.

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.”