SC Verdict Leaves Hindu Girls Conversion Issue Unresolved

Hindu Protestors in Karachi (Credit:

ISLAMABAD, April 18: The chief justice was in a hurry for once. In just the second hearing on Wednesday of a case related to the conversion of three Hindu women, a Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, wrapped up the case and announced its judgment.

The three young women present in the court were told to express their ‘true’ feelings about what they wanted to do and Sindh police were ordered to be their ‘protectors’ — ensure their safety and their happiness.

Police were asked to submit reports every fortnight about the wellbeing of the women.

The women did not utter a word during the proceedings. Later they were sent off to the registrar’s office to pour their hearts out.

In between, they were kept apart from their parents; they were taken to the registrar’s office from a different route so that no one would run into them.

The women recorded their statements before the registrar and decided to go with their husbands.

The judgment, however, did not go down well with the hapless parents. For the rest of the afternoon, the human tragedy that is the Hindu minority in Pakistan was played out on the steps of the Supreme Court building and outside as the families spoke to media and protested the verdict. Wednesday did not bring them the justice for which they had travelled from Sindh to Islamabad.

The women who appeared before the court under the watchful eyes of Sindh police were Rinkal Kumari, 19, (now known as Faryal Bibi) of Mirpur Mathelo, Dr Lata Kumari, 30, (Hafsa) of Jacobabad, and Aasha Devi, 19, (Haleema Bibi) of Jacobabad, who earlier was missing but surfaced voluntarily.

“We gave these girls sufficient time to think about their future and we will not force them. They are grown-up and are allowed to go wherever they want to go,” the chief justice observed. He said they were sui juris (one who has reached maturity and is no longer dependent) and, therefore, fully in a position to decide about the future.

“We feel they (the women) stayed in a pressure-free atmosphere at the Panah Shelter Home in Karachi where neither of the parties was allowed to meet them,” the court observed.

The order, however, generated instant commotion inside the courtroom, prompting the chief justice to ask the counsel for different parties to urge their clients to maintain discipline.

Frantic developments were seen soon after the announcement of the verdict. Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), called an emergent meeting to discuss implications of the verdict.

The PHC also filed a petition highlighting abduction of Hindu girls who were then forced to change their religion and married off to Muslim men. The court will take up the case after two weeks.

The disappointed parents of these women and members of the Hindu community, including parliamentarians from the ruling PPP, staged a sit-in outside the Supreme Court for some time and called for giving custody of the women to their parents.

“This is complete injustice in the name of Islam,” shouted Mohen, father of Aasha, outside the courtroom. He asked why the court did not take into consideration a demand by police for payment of Rs1.8 million for recovering the girl — a demand which was raised to Rs3.5 million and then to Rs5 million. “From where we will fetch this kind of money.”

He said the Hindu community was being forced to leave Pakistan.

The mothers of the three women kept weeping and wailing outside the Supreme Court and alleged that the court had never allowed the girls to meet their parents.

Ramesh Lal, a PPP MNA from Larkana, said minorities had lost all hopes in the country’s judiciary and today justice had been buried forever. “Why the judiciary, which never tires of taking suo motu notices against the president and the prime minister, is not taking notice about police demanding money from the victim families to recover the girls,” he asked.

Noor Naz Agha, the counsel for Rinkal, however, welcomed the verdict and said the court had rightly accepted that being adult, the girls had a right to live their lives according to their choice.

But she held the absence of legislation responsible for the rising number of complaints about forced conversions and marriages.

Mian Aslam, son of MNA Faqir Abdul Haq alias Mian Mitho, who was accused of abducting Rinkal, rejected the allegations, wondering “if we kidnapped her then why she was produced before the magistrate to record her will and later handed over to police”.

He brushed aside an impression that the girls were converted to Islam forcibly.

Taliban Rules Return for Afghan Women

Afghan women presenters (credit:

KABUL: Afghanistan has instructed women TV presenters to stop appearing without a headscarf and to wear less make-up, officials said, raising fears about creeping restrictions on the fledgling media.

“All the TV networks are in seriousness asked to stop women presenters from appearing on TV without a veil and with dense make-up,” the information and culture ministry said. “All women newscasters on Afghan TV channels are also asked to respect Islamic and Afghan values,” it added.

A spokesperson for President Hamid Karzai told AFP on Tuesday that the ministry took the decision after coming under pressure from the Ulema council, the country’s highest religious body of Islamic scholars.

Afghan media, essentially non-existent under the 1996 to 2001 Taliban regime, have enjoyed considerable freedom, with more than two dozen TV stations springing up in the decade since the 2001 US-led invasion.

National Assembly Votes in Autonomous Women’s Commission

Women demonstrators (Credit:
SUCH are the paradoxes in Pakistan’s politics, that at a time our politicians are locked in a grim power struggle in Islamabad, the same gentlemen joined hands to pass unanimously the women’s commission bill last Thursday.

Whether this show of unity on a matter concerning women should be interpreted as an act of chivalry or a demonstration of ‘woman power’, it will be widely welcomed. One must, however, admit that it was the clout of the women’s caucus and the determination of the speaker — also a woman — to get the treasury and opposition benches to forge a consensus that ultimately carried the day. The bill is expected to have a smooth sailing in the Senate.

This certainly has been an uphill struggle. When the commission was set up in July 2000, it was widely felt that its mandate was too weak to allow it to function as an effective body. This view was confirmed in July 2001 when Aurat Foundation and Shirkat Gah organised an international conference where representatives from abroad briefed the participants about the powers wielded by similar bodies in their countries.

It became increasingly clear that the announcement made with great fanfare by Gen Musharraf was no more than a gimmick.

The National Commission on the Status of Women (NSCW) lacked the capacity to bring about the emancipation of women and the elimination of discrimination against them.

Hence it was demanded that the powers and independence of the women’s commission should be enhanced to optimise its performance. The participants of the Islamabad conference also called for greater transparency and accountability in the commission’s selection and working.

It took more than a decade and a lot of hard work and advocacy to get the government to consider a change in the status quo.

The new body with the simple nomenclature of the National Commission for Women will certainly have more teeth in some respects as compared to its predecessor. It will be autonomous with the power to raise its own finances. Its composition will be more representative. Thus a bipartisan parliamentary committee will give a list of nominees from which the prime minister will select the members.

The prime minister will appoint the chairperson with the agreement of the leader of the opposition. This would hopefully ensure that the working of the commission is not hamstrung by inter-party conflict. Autonomy should allow the commission to bypass the red tape of bureaucracy and proceed to take up issues it feels are urgent.

The bill adopted by the National Assembly is significant in another way. The commission has been empowered to take up complaints of violations of women’s rights and even hold an enquiry into the matter if it is not being attended to. It can also inspect jails to check on female prisoners. In effect it will have the powers of a civil court. The ordinance of 2000 did not grant this power to the NCSW which could only monitor such violations and individual grievances, and then undertake initiatives for better management of justice and social services through the concerned forums.

In respect of the commission’s power of reviewing and monitoring the laws, policies and programmes of the government in the light of their implications for gender equality, empowerment of women, political participation and representation, the new law upholds the provision of the previous ordinance. It can also recommend repeal, amendment or new legislation as its predecessor could do. As before, it is authorised to sponsor research and maintain a database on gender issues as well as recommend the signing or ratification of international instruments.

The catch in all these provisions is that the commission can only make recommendations. It has no power to enforce its own views. When Justice Majida Razvi was the chairperson of the NCSW she had the Hudood Ordinances reviewed and the commission very strongly recommended their repeal. Her appeal fell on deaf ears. It was only later that the injustice inflicted on women by the Hudood Ordinances was neutralised by adopting the Women’s Protection Law of 2006. Will an autonomous commission have more powers of implementation? Most unlikely.

India’s National Commission for Women has been described as a strong body and yet one of its former members, Syeda Hameed, writes in her book They Hang, “The stories I tell are, of course, stories of women abused and violated by men wielding brute power. But they are also about the National Commission for Women, the nation’s apex body for women vested with the power to summon the highest functionaries of the land and seek redress — yet it remains ineffective for the most part … Perhaps it was ignorable or ignorance combined with indifference, but the truth of the matter is that the commission’s reports and jurisdiction are not binding on anyone, and its jurisdiction stops at its front door.”

Our commission can expect no better treatment from the male-dominated administration. But there is still hope. If the chairperson is an active and experienced person as the incumbent (Anis Haroon) is, she can use her office to draw public attention to the issue that needs to be addressed.

Working in close liaison with women parliamentarians the National Commission for Women can make an impact on the laws.

In other words the battle has to go on. But every victory helps create greater awareness and should be used in the campaign to mobilise women at the grass-roots. That is where lies the strength of the women’s movement wherever it may be.

Reprinted from

Pak Senate Passes Pro Women Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Still, Continents Away Immigrants Obey Customary Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Legislation Outlaws Best Kept Feudal Secret

Sindhiani Tehrik - key player against customary laws (reproduced image)

In 1991, a male colleague and I headed to a small town in interior Sindh, where the peasants and low-income traders were spiritual disciples of feudals in Benazir’s cabinet. We were escorted by guards through a magnificent fortress with high walls and cemented pathways, which wove into a labyrinth. My male colleague and I were taken into a grand drawing room with fine carpets and engraved tables.

The feudal lord greeted me pleasantly – the “honorary male” from a prominent newspaper. Afterwards, when we finished a frank, at times “off the record” type of conversation, he suggested I visit the women’s quarters. Politely, I rose and was escorted by the servant to the women folk. My colleague stayed back; he was after all a “Na Mehram” – a man unrelated by blood to the women.

I walked through a maze that led up to the women’s quarters. Wearing loosely draped chador (a type of veil), the women here lived in an age reminiscent of 16th century Moghul India. Never exposed to the outside world, they did not have a lot to talk about. We exchanged pleasantries; I explained I had come from Karachi to do a story. They did not know what it meant to be a journalist, nor did career prospects seem interesting to them.

When these women from feudal families went outdoors, they donned black veils with tiny holes for their eyes.  Even so, it was the feudal lord who determined the liberties the women of his family could avail; they were required to travel in chauffer-driven cars with black drapes, dress modestly at all times and under no circumstances speak to men outside the family.

I spent a night at this haveli (feudal home) living as the women did, with days and nights of solitude. At night, uniformed guards patrolled their ancient fortress. My ears picked up the changing of guards in the dead silence of the night. “Allah Sain Khair” (by God’s grace), “Maula Sain Khair” (all is safe).

I left the fortress and continued traveling across interior Sindh. My freedom was in stark contrast to the lives of these women – creatures starved even of simple sensory impulses. The time I spent reporting in Sindh would inform me of the importance of the veil. By a process of osmosis, girls grew up to believe that their path to fulfillment lay in marriage and children.

In 1993, I attended a wedding in a small town of interior Sindh. It was a private event but my journalist’s eye took mental snapshots. Women arrived in carefully designed, expensive shalwar kameez and dupattas. with matching jewelry and make-up – all designed to show their standing in the feudal hierarchy.  Chaperoned by male relatives and wearing black veils, the women showed their faces only after they were exclusively surrounded by their own sex. Outside, volunteers stood guard to stop any peeping toms.

The carefully made-up women exposed adaptations of risqué dresses worn by foreign models that one saw on CNN and the Indian ZEE television channels. Captivated by the glamorous images of women, their female viewers copied the fashions in the privacy of their homes and exposed them to other women.

Apparently, the spread of cable television in the remote areas of rural Sindh had created all sorts of unfulfilled desires among the cloistered women. On one occasion, I sat with the young wife of a feudal lord as she watched cable television in a remote town of Sindh. Turning away momentarily from watching a Western film, she sighed wistfully:

“It’s very hard to be locked indoors after living in Karachi.” Still, sensitive to small town gossip about who was a “good woman,” she had never left the house alone.

In the rare case where a young woman from a small town joined a university or medical college, she would likely join the urban women’s movement. Still, societal pressures on women to marry and have children were overwhelming. It left the women blissfully unaware that the military government had passed Islamic legislation that gave them an inferior status before the law.


 Brides of the Quran

Journeying through interior Sindh, I stumbled upon large numbers of unmarried, graying women who lived in ancestral homes located in Hyderabad, Thatta, Matiari and Hala. Time hung heavy on their hands. Equipped with little education and no exposure to the outside world, these women had never been exposed to men in their lives.

In 1992, during a journalistic jaunt, I discovered a horrendous custom that kept these women housebound. Under Islamic law, women inherit property when they marry. But in the absence of male relatives, feudals in Sindh refuse to give their daughters inheritance. Instead, big feudals of Sindh and southern Punjab, who derive their power base from the land, prefer to keep their daughters unmarried.

In a more elaborate example of how feudals manipulate women’s lives for financial gain, the Syed communities – who trace direct ancestry to Prophet Mohammed – have their daughters married off to the Muslim holy book, the Quran. That literally seals their prospects of marriage.  Under this practice – called “haq bakshna” (waiver of rights) women place their hand on the Quran and waive the Islamic right to marry and inherit property.  Even more ingeniously, they are told their virginity gives them a spiritual status and a duty to dispense talismans to sick children.

The paradoxes were stunning. Feudal politicians took orders from a woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto even as they kept their own women locked up or “married to the Quran.” Some of them were superiors in her party and took orders from the woman prime minister to wield power in their own fiefdoms. The big feudals, who form the backbone of autocratic governments, have kept their control of women well-hidden from public view.


Pak Women Politicians Strike at Customary Laws

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

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

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

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

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

‘A ray of hope’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rampant discrimination against women

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

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

Author: Shamil Shams

Editor: Anne Thomas


Revealing a Gap Between the Leaders and the People

WESTFIELD, Mass. – A group of women from India and Pakistan who came here for a peace conference in April returned home to find their countries on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe. One of the delegates wrote back to me about the “horrific atmosphere of war,” which can be averted, she said, only through “sheer good luck.”

Luck, of course, plays a magnified role in the lives of many on the subcontinent who cannot rely on receiving the staples that most Westerners take for granted. But sheer chance is not what anybody wants to think is the only thing between rice-for-lunch-as-usual and a nuclear conflagration that U.S. experts estimate could kill as many as 12 million people.

Yet that is what the escalating political rhetoric has made women like these believe — that the tensions, the saber-rattling, the missile tests and the brutal deaths on either side of the Line of Control in predominantly Muslim Kashmir have less to do with the hopes of the ordinary people than with the self-serving and mercurial goals of their leaders. With a leader like President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in 1999 in a military coup, Pakistanis fear all the more that their country’s response will be a military one. How ironic it was, one Indian delegate pointed out during the conference, that with flights and overland travel between their countries cut off, these women had to travel to the United States — more than 7,000 miles away from home — in order to meet face to face with their counterparts.

The delegates had gathered at the conference, titled “Women of Pakistan and India: Rights, Ecology, Economy and Nuclear Disarmament,” at Westfield State College just as the war clouds were forming over the subcontinent. Tensions had been building since January, when India accused Pakistan of supporting the Kashmiri militants’ attacks on its parliament in Dehli on Dec. 13 — and retaliated by massing its troops on the border. The potential for a nuclear exchange has since been triggered by the Islamic militants’ attack on an army camp in mid-May. The raid killed more than 30 soldiers and family members. That’s when Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rallied troops for an all-out war. In a show of defiance, Pakistan tested three missiles last week (all of them named after Muslim conquerors of India) that are capable of launching a nuclear attack on the Indians. The United States is taking all of this seriously, urging Americans to get out of India and withdrawing all but essential embassy personnel.

For the 10 women from India and Pakistan, coming to Westfield was an occasion to analyze how governments on each side had hijacked discourse to portray the other as the “enemy.” Growing up in Pakistan, I was a witness to the constant hammering by state-controlled television about “Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.” In fact, the phrase masla-i-Kashmir (“the problem of Kashmir”) has for me become a metaphor for any problem that can never be solved.

I heard those thoughts echoed in the views of the Indian women at the conference. Journalist Kalpana Sharma blamed her nation’s worsening relations with Muslims, and by association with Pakistan, on the rise of the Hindu fundamentalists in India — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition partner, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). India, Sharma said, had buckled under fundamentalist pressure and escalated its military budget after the disastrous conflict near the Kargil area of Kashmir that nearly led to war in 1999. And the costs for ordinary people are clear. India has cut back on the social sector, she said, and instituted higher taxes on its people.

For Anis Haroon, director of a women’s non-governmental organization in Karachi, the U.S. support for Musharraf after Sept. 11 “had carved out a permanent role for the army in Pakistan.” This, she said, had come with costs, strengthening the military crackdown on demonstrations by political parties, civil liberties groups and women protesting against discriminatory laws. In early May, for example, Pakistani authorities arrested women gathering to oppose the Hudood Ordinances, which demonstrators say end up punishing female victims of rape.

Civil liberties have taken a beating inside India as well, agreed the Indian women. Ruchira Gupta, a member of a women’s group in Bombay, pointed to the Indian parliament’s passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) on March 26 as an example. POTA was advocated by BJP Home Minister L.K. Advani to counter what he called “the terrorism” launched by Pakistan. But Gupta argued that the act would cramp the press, militarize the society and lead to injustices for Muslim minorities.

Both governments, these women believed, were responsible for recent atrocities. The Indians blamed the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in February following an attack on Hindus in a train on the “frenzy whipped up by the BJP” which forms the central government in Gujarat. The Hindu delegates said that organizations they belonged to had visited the area to distribute food and clothing to Muslim victims. Correspondingly, Pakistani delegates said that the Gujarat violence had not resulted in reprisals against Hindus in Pakistan — showing that such violence is not supported by ordinary people.

Indeed, my experience shows that all too often it is the self-serving leaderships in the two countries that thwart the people’s desire for peace. I saw this firsthand in 1995. As a journalist, I was invited to join the official Pakistan delegation to the Fourth World Women Conference in Beijing. The country was then ruled by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was keen to portray a liberal image at the conference. But we were instructed by a male leader of our group to counter the Indian delegates each time the subject of Kashmir came up. I watched as the leaders of both the Indian and Pakistani delegations engaged in allegations and counter-allegations over Kashmir. Slowly the hall began emptying as U.N. delegates walked out of a meeting that was supposed to unite the women of the world.

The discussions at Westfield did not fracture along these lines because the women were not here to promulgate their governments’ policies. Instead, they discussed how Sept. 11 has caused India and Pakistan to vie for U.S. attention over Kashmir. Even as India conducts its propaganda war against militants, it stopped Kashmiri women from attending our conference. The pressure was coming from the Hindu right wing, who, as Indian delegate Urvashi Batalia noted, had been cashing in on the “demonizing of Muslims.”

U.S. dependence on Pakistan in its fight against terrorism appears to have given legitimacy to the military government, argued Zubeida Mustafa, a senior editor from Pakistan’s daily Dawn newspaper. In Pakistan’s April referendum, journalists observed few voters at the polling booths. A colleague wrotethat a polling officer he visited had recorded only 125 votes by closing time. The officer told him rather casually that he forged the remaining votes after deadline because the local police directed him to show a voter turnout of nearly 900 and to ensure a “yes” vote of around 98 percent, giving Musharraf five more years in office.

With only the facade of being elected, Pakistan’s military government has not had to answer to its people about the failure to improve law and order. Earlier this year, targeted killings of Shia doctors by Sunni extremist groups forced physicians to flee the country. However, no action was taken until last month, when a suicide bomber killed 14 people in Karachi, including 11 French men working on a submarine project. Under severe international pressure, the Musharraf government cracked down on the Sunni militant groupLashkar-i-Jhangvi — which has been linked to the killings of Shia doctors. Later, three members of this same group were accused in the brutal murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

In December, when I last visited Pakistan, I was curious to see how the Musharraf government would rein in Kashmiri militants. The Islamic militants who were brought into the region by the United States during the Cold War had turned to jihad in Kashmir after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Since then about two dozen militant Islamic groups fighting for Kashmir under the United Jihad Council have established headquarters in Pakistan.

It’s not as if Kashmiris welcome such support. One Kashmiri from Srinagar, Farooq Lone, who now lives in Islamabad, told me that Kashmiris are “fed up” with Pakistan-based militants who attack Indian forces and leave the Kashmiris to face the vengeance of the repressive Indian troops. More than 35,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since the militants entered the fray 13 years ago. Lone’s family supports the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, whose moderate Kashmiri separatist leader, Abdul Ghani Lone, was recently assassinated. Although India has never allowed a plebiscite in which the Kashmiris could decide their own fate, the Indian government had been wooing moderates such as Lone for elections planned in Kashmir in September. His murder deals a further blow to any peace prospects. And it is a further example of the voice of the people being stifled.

The issue of Kashmir — left dangling by the British in 1947 when they divided India and then departed without forcing a plebiscite — has come to haunt the United States almost 55 years later. It is an issue that is not going be resolved by luck or through a U.S. admonition to Pakistan to stop abetting militants. Instead, the United States will have to throw its weight behind the United Nations to enable the people of Kashmir to decide their own fate. That appears to be the only choice if the world is to be successful in fighting the roots of terrorism.

Source: Washington Post

A Future Veiled in False Hopes

Twelve years ago, I was astonished by what I found on a trip from my native Pakistan to Afghanistan. I couldn’t have imagined a neighboring Muslim country with so many women in public places. Each morning, the Afghan capital was abuzz with young professionals on their way to work, most dressed in Western clothes and some even in miniskirts and high heels as they vied with their fashion-conscious counterparts in Paris.

Kabul University, where I saw more female than male students, was another surprise. But even then, the occasional gunfire and bomb blasts in the city — ruled by Soviet-supported President Najibullah — were a reminder that these freedoms could prove elusive. Young women on campus, clutching their notepads in the streaming February sunlight, told me apprehensively, “If the mujaheddin take over, they will force us to veil.” The encumbering full-length burqas that women now have to wear have become a symbol for Westerners of the ruling Taliban government’s oppressive policies.

Even President Bush acknowledged as much last week when he condemned the current regime under which “women are imprisoned in their homes, and are denied access to basic health care and education.” But it would be an oversimplification to imagine that simply ousting the Taliban will restore basic human rights to women there. Indeed, in its determination to use whatever means necessary to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, the administration is in danger of exacerbating the rivalries among Afghanistan’s tribes, whose practices are shrouded in traditions few Americans comprehend.

Even though there has been much talk in the West about how to establish a broad-based post-Taliban government that would guarantee the rights of women and ethnic minorities, the United Nations has not seriously begun addressing the role of women in any future form of government. If history is any guide, neither a government led by the exiled former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, nor one dominated by the Northern Alliance would readily grant women freedom. Instead, the dramatic changes in women’s fortunes over the past century are testimony to their fragile position in Afghanistan’s oft-rent social fabric. I got a clear sense of that during my 1989 visit.

Although many Afghan women I spoke with expressed trepidation about a takeover by Islamic fundamentalists, they could not have predicted how oppressive their lot would soon become. After all, they grew up in a relatively liberal Muslim society; many in Kabul and Kandahar had working mothers — nurses and doctors, engineers, journalists, factory workers and, of course, teachers. Soviet forces had withdrawn from the country just two weeks before my arrival, and the question foremost on everyone’s mind was whether the Soviet-backed Najibullah government would survive the onslaught by the Islamist radicals.

As if anticipating his eventual death at the hands of Taliban fundamentalists, the embattled Najibullah was clearly taking no chances — and he was even recruiting women to help him. At a training school in Kabul, I came across a female trainee reserve force engaged in combat exercises. They told me that their job was to arrest and hand over mujaheddin suspects to authorities. They knew full well what a formidable force the mujaheddin had become. With their most radical factions in Northern Pakistan, they were receiving millions of dollars’ worth of arms from the United States, funneled through Pakistan’s military ruler, all directed at the goal they would accomplish a few years later — removing Najibullah from power.

I asked Afghan officials then whether such threats of future instability might put women’s freedom on the line. The president of the Afghan Women’s Council at the time, Massuma Esmaty Wardak, argued that, on the contrary, women’s emancipation was deeply rooted in Afghan history. She pointed out that the country’s most famous reformer, King Amanullah, who was inspired by Turkey’s secular nation builder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, encouraged sweeping changes for women in the early 20th century. He introduced Western dress, she pointed out, sent girls to study abroad, banned the sale of women, raised the marriage age and abolished the tribal custom known as levirate (where a widow is obliged to marry her brother-in-law).

What Wardak and others I talked to failed to mention was that King Amanullah was ousted in 1929, after a brief reign, when conservative tribesmen revolted against his liberal policies. Thereafter, King Zahir Shah, Afghanistan’s longest-reigning monarch (1933-1973) — whom the U.N. has now selected to head the post-Taliban government — slowed down the changes for women. Yes, women came to enjoy greater liberation than in some other Muslim countries, but encouraging freedom also risked provoking a backlash from the conservatives.

Ever since, the role of women has continued to reflect the volatile nature of Afghan society — and of the dangers of trying to alter traditions by imposing outside standards on the people. The Soviet occupation that followed the bloody communist Saur Revolution in 1978 attempted to force top-down changes in Afghanistan. Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) workers fanned out into the villages to stop Afghans from selling their daughters and coerced the girls instead to go to school. Conservative tribesmen retaliated by murdering PDPA workers.

These changes also triggered a vast exodus of Afghan tribes. Some 3 million Afghans fled the country. Many of those who grew up as orphans of war in Pakistan’s refugee camps have become today’s Taliban; others are that regime’s fiercest critics. The most militant Islamist groups who resisted the Soviet influence banded together under mujaheddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Peshawar, northern Pakistan. They objected fiercely to Muslim women not wearing the veil and to their working outside the home. Some of his supporters threw acid on women wearing Western dress in Kabul.

When I interviewed Hekmatyar in Karachi in 1986, I was surprised to find a soft- spoken man who was fluent in English. But his supporters included Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami, the radical Islamist party that enforced gender segregation at Karachi University with acid attacks on female students. (This group has now given an ultimatum to the Pakistani government to stop supporting the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition or be overthrown.) Hekmatyar has refused to join the Northern Alliance now backed by the United States in its battle with the Taliban. But many other mujaheddin leaders are members of that alliance, and even less radical ones than Hekmatyar punish women who refuse to wear a burqa.

The tribal beliefs in the submission of women go far beyond the Taliban. The stability that the Taliban offered when it snatched power from the warring mujaheddin in 1996 came at a further cost to women. Made up of ethnic Pashtuns, the Taliban enforced the strict Pashtunwali code of honor that requires women to be treated as the property of their men. The militia barred women from working in the professions. Without female teachers, schools soon closed. The Taliban issued a decree that forbade all girls from going to school. Women who organized the early protests against the ragtag militia were beaten back.

Only two ways of earning a living were left open to them — beggary and prostitution. Last week I spoke with two Afghan women who have been helping refugees as U.N. staff. They told of women’s isolation, cowering in their houses behind darkened windows so that they cannot be seen from the street. Few can read. Many are depressed. Nafisa Nezam, who was in Northern Afghanistan until last month, said that the Taliban have “brought about a new interpretation of ‘jihad’ to mean fighting women who wear lipstick, nail polish and jewelry.” Some have reputedly had their fingers cut off for painting their nails.

There have been some brave voices of dissent. Afghan women in Pakistan have banded together as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). The group’s members told me in Islamabad in 1999 that they lived in mortal fear of being discovered. They know how the extremists treat women who dissent. RAWA’s founding president, Meena, was murdered in 1987 — allegedly by the mujaheddin — for speaking out against the fundamentalists. About half of the 4 million or so people who fled Afghanistan over the past 20 years are women, and many of them would love to return to their home country once the Taliban is overthrown.

Among them, Tahira Shairzai, a former schoolteacher in Kabul who now works in the United States, told me she favors the U.N. choice of an interim government headed by King Zahir Shah. The 86-year-old exiled monarch shares Pashtun ethnicity with the Taliban, but he is popular because he treated ethnic groups even-handedly during his 40-year rule of Afghanistan. Tahira also holds out hope that the Northern Alliance, which allows girls’ schools to remain open in the area it controls, will take a positive attitude toward working women. However, the past behavior of the Alliance leaders offers little indication that women’s rights will be taken seriously under the next regime.

A mishmash of conservative and more moderate tribal leaders, the Alliance is united for the sole purpose of combating the Taliban. A recent meeting of anti-Taliban leaders in Peshawar demonstrated that women’s rights do not figure in their deliberations. What’s more, as U.S. bombs hit civilians, the Pashtuns are becoming even more radicalized. The United States has had little success in wooing moderate Pashtuns away from the Taliban — a move that the administration recognizes is necessary not only to win the current war but because Afghanistan’s future stability depends upon cooperation among tribal factions.

As the U.S. bombing continues, thousands of armed Pashtun tribesmen are gathering on the Pakistan-Afghan border to fight alongside the Taliban. Political analysts I have spoken with in Pakistan predict that even if the Taliban is routed, it will likely withdraw into the hills and fight the new government. Moreover, the Northern Alliance could plunge into internecine strife. So although there is no doubt in my mind that women will fare somewhat better if the Taliban is overthrown, I wonder what comes next. Unless there is a means of ensuring durable peace, women’s rights do not have a fighting chance in Afghanistan.

Source: Washington Post

Fundamentalism and Social Exclusion

The emergence of fundamentalist movements in Muslim countries, more properly known as Islamism, is being viewed by some scholars as the last wave of anti-imperialism of the 20th century. Muslim fundamentalist movements that show militancy against Western colonial influences include the Hezbollah and AMAL in Lebanon, the HAMAS in Palestine, the National Islamic Front in Sudan, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Khomeinism in Iran, the Jamiat-I-Ulema Islam (with its multiple splinter groups) in Pakistan, the Mujahideen and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

While the Islamists have different interpretations of the Sharia (Islamic jurisprudence), they believe that all Muslim societies are subjugated and subordinated because of their deviation from the true Islamic path. When Islamists blame the West for co-opting their leaders, they also use Islam as a political ideology to mobilize the disenfranchised Muslim ‘Umm’ (community of believers) against the “corrupting” and “self-serving” ways of the West.

Gender and Muslim Fundamentalism

Women form the core of Islamist debate. Muslim fundamentalists across the board agree on restoring complementary roles between men and women based on their biology – men as wage earners and women as mothers and homemakers. Given the traditional, patriarchal Muslim view of women’s sexuality being ‘disruptive of the social order because of her power to attract the opposite sex,’ Islamists demand that women be veiled and segregated from men at every level of society.

The extremist behavior of fundamentalists and Islamists in particular has proved harmful for the rights of women wherever they have captured state power. Their promulgation of “Islamist” laws and policies in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, have introduced even more patriarchal norms into these predominantly feudal and tribal societies, and attempted to erode their existing diversity.

The Veil and Four Walls – Women in Pakistan

The Islamists supported the military government of Zia ul Haq, who took over in a military coup in Pakistan in 1977 and ruled for the next 11 1/2 years. This was the period when the concept of ‘chadar and chardiwar’ (veil and four walls) was pushed upon Pakistan women. Women began being discriminated against in the workplace and in the streets. The state used the electronic media to mount scathing attacks on working women and projected the “Islamic woman” as devoted to home and family.

The Zia government passed a series of laws against women. The Zina Ordinance (part of Hudood Ordinances, 1979) makes sex outside marriage a crime against the state. It also does not give maximum sentence on the basis of women’s testimony. Discounting women’s testimony has to date resulted in imprisonment for thousands of poor women, who have been accused of adultery or even been victims of rape. In addition, the equality granted to women under Pakistan’s constitution was subverted with the passage of the Laws of Evidence, 1984 (in which two women’s testimony is equated with one man in financial matters) and the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, 1985 (in which the blood money for a deceased woman is half that for a man). 1

The effects of the Islamist ideology have seeped into the rural areas of Pakistan where customary laws hold sway. In the last two decades there has been an appreciable increase in tribal customs like honor killings in which the unfortunate woman and her lover can be killed by her immediate family and get away with a lesser sentence.

Religious Minorities in Pakistan

The Blasphemy Laws, passed by General Zia ul Haq have deprived religious minorities in Pakistan – Christians, Hindus and Parsees (Zorastrians) – full citizenship. These laws award the death penalty for anyone charged with ‘blasphemy’ against Prophet Mohammed. At times they have been used as a pretext against non-Muslims who might be involved in a land dispute. Blasphemy charges are also used against the Ahmediya community, who offend the sensibilities of the mainstream Muslims by denying that Mohammed is the last Prophet.

Religious minorities in Pakistan have become further isolated because General Zia’s introduction of separate electorates. The latter requires non-Muslims to elect non-Muslim candidates. With reserved seats for non-Muslims, candidates are now required to contest elections on a countrywide basis rather than from a particular region. This, as non-Muslim voters have testified, makes the candidate unaccountable to his particular constituency and leads to a further neglect of the religious minorities.

The Classic ‘Islamist’ State – Iran

Iran has even less diversity than Pakistan in terms of its religious sects, ethnic communities and women’s movements. The Shia clerics who ushered in Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 had been in power for only two weeks when they decreed that women ought to be veiled and segregated. Iran became the classic ‘Islamist’ state where Khomeni received support from all sectors of society, including women, against the Shah’s pro Western policies. Once victorious, the Shia clerics pushed women into the veil, after referring to those in Western dress as “Westoxicated” and, the “painted dolls of the Shah.”

One of the first acts of the Khomeini government was to suspend the Shah’s Family Protection Act. In one go, women lost all their rights of family law. Although the FPA was restored in amended form in 1992, Iranian laws presently weigh heavily against women. Women are treated as subjects within marriage: men can divorce more easily and remarry without seeking permission from their wives, polygamy is more common, temporary marriage has been re-instituted and child custody made more difficult for women. The legal age for marriage for girls has been dropped to nine years, eliminating their chances for finding a life outside marriage and motherhood.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to middle-class women in Iran is the gender
segregation in education and employment. Female literacy has dropped. At the same time, forbidding girls to be taught by male teachers has significantly narrowed their education opportunities. Women’s employment has increased marginally after the 1979 Islamic revolution, but only because of their induction into sex segregated occupations like teaching, “female oriented” fields of medicine and in government agencies that deal with women.

Since the death of Khomeini in 1988, a relatively liberal breed of Shia clerics (presently led by President Khatami) has encouraged “Islamic feminists”. The latter, who are “deconstructing” the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) work with secular feminists to improve women’s rights in Iran. They have had limited success. Even these “Islamic feminists” occasionally risk the wrath of hard-line clerics by publishing articles by women poets and interviews of filmmakers from outside the mainstream. Even more likely to get arrested are unveiled women or those espousing secular views.

Inside the Burqa – Outside the Decision-Making Process. Women in Afghanistan
The Taliban, a Pashtun ethnic group who have ruled Afghanistan since 1995, rode the wave of Islamic militants brought into the region by the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Though the Taliban has an Islamic fundamentalist image, its practices are tribal rather than Islamic. For example, it allows the ‘Jirga” (consultative body of male tribal elders) to make communal decisions on the basis of the Pashtunwali code of honor and shame. Women are totally excluded from participating in this decision-making process.

Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, they have imposed the ‘burqa’ – a voluminous covering which women must wear from head to foot with only a mesh for the eyes. Women have been barred even from their Islamic rights of inheritance. Instead, the Afghan tribes are now resorting to a pre-Islamic custom whereby widowed women are being inherited by their brother-in-laws or stepsons. Also, stricken by dire poverty, Afghan farmers (who previously received a bride price for their daughters) are now selling their daughters to pay off loans.

Today Afghanistan tops the list of fundamentalists attempting to stamp out diversity. About 100,000 women teachers, doctors, nurses, administrators and civil servants, who worked mostly in Kabul, have been sent home. Primary schools for girls have been closed (for want of women teachers), while Kabul University – once bustling with female students – has been closed to women.

Religious Minorities in Afghanistan

From time to time, the Taliban clashes with the other minorities – Hazaras, Tajiks, and Uzbeks – who remain unrepresented in this Pashtun based government. Tajik leader Ahmed Shad Massoud continues to fight the Taliban from the North of Afghanistan. In addition, the Sunni Taliban and the Iranian Shia militants have been sighting their battles on Pakistani soil. This has created sectarian clashes between the Shai and Sunni population in Pakistan, mostly to the detriment of Pakistan’s minority Shia population.

The Islamic fundamentalists export of terrorism to the West has now come full circle. Indeed, if any lessons are to be derived from the emergence of Islamists, it is to recognize that the West acted short-sightedly in the background of the Cold War and the oil crisis. The U.S. support to the fundamentalist regimes in Pakistan and Afghanistan not only weakened Pakistan and Afghanistan’s civil societies, it sparked the return of illegal immigration, heroin, debt liabilities and terrorism. It is high time the UN, world governments and religious leaders realized that a hard-line approach to the Muslim world will only elicit more fundamentalist responses – to the detriment of all concerned.

Nafisa Hoodbhoy has worked as a journalist for the last 16 years in Karachi, Pakistan for the English language daily newspaper,`Dawn’. In 1995 she was nominated by Amnesty International as a ‘human rights defender. Presently, she is a Visiting Lecturer at Amherst College, teaching a course on the `Regulation of Sexual Activities and Identities’ relating to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

Source: ICSW