Pakistan in the Shadow of 9/11 (Excerpt from Aboard the Democracy Train)

It was 9:15 am on September 11, 2001 when the phone rang. There was a strange urgency to the ring. It made me spring out of bed in my tiny apartment in Sunderland, Western Massachusetts and run to the other room to quiet it.

JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressing a rally in Pakistan. Photo Credit: Dawn

It was my relative, Shabnam, who had left Pakistan decades ago and lived in Houston, Texas. In the instances when we met on either side of the globe, I shared with her my adventures as a journalist. Given our mutual background, she reveled in the exciting stories I told her as a reporter for the nation’s leading newspaper.

Evidently, she knew me well enough to sense that this day – a day that changed the US – would change my life as well.

“Quick, turn on the television,” she said.

Alas, I told her, we didn’t have a television. My husband and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment and had only the sparse belongings of new immigrants.

We had arrived about a year ago from Pakistan and I had just finished teaching a course at the Women Studies Department in Amherst College, Massachusetts on Gender Politics in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The trade towers in New York are burning. They say it was hit by an airplane,” she was saying.

Sensing it was a terrorist act, I rushed to turn on the radio. I was immediately drawn into the drama unfolding in downtown Manhattan, where I had worked as a journalist for two years during the 1980’s.

National Public Radio contributor, Ginger Miles, whose apartment overlooked the World Trade Towers, was on air.

I knew Ginger from my reporting at WBAI radio in New York. There was unmistakable excitement in her voice, sounding like journalists do when they inadvertently turn into part of the story.

Ginger fought her way through the smoke and debris blowing in through her windows as she spoke.

Her commentary about thick ash, which blew into her apartment from the collapsing trade towers, conjured up vivid images of the attack into the heart of capitalism.

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

There’s Much More To Daniel Pearl’s Murder Than Meets the Eye

AMHERST, Mass.–Nine days ago there was an alarming indication of upheaval in Pakistan — a crackdown on the press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the government pressured the owner of an influential English language newspaper, the News, to fire four journalists. One of them, the paper’s editor, Shaheen Sehbai, said the trouble started after his newspaper reported a link between the prime suspect in the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and recent attacks on the Indian parliament in Delhi and in the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar. When Sehbai asked the paper’s owner to identify who wanted to sack them, Sehbai said he was told to see officials at the ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Instead he resigned and left for the United States.

I suspected that the crackdown on the media was associated with Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. Even from the United States, where I am right now, I could tell that Pearl’s slaying was more than an indication of a new level of political violence. It was also a stark reminder of the tenuous position of journalists in Pakistan — especially when they tread on the delicate topic of the country’s mysterious intelligence service, its link to Islamic groups and its power over the government of Pakistan.

For the past month, as a former reporter for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, I have been sifting through the evidence trying to figure out what Pearl’s murder was really about. It was not just a matter of his being an American and a Jew, though that was certainly part of it. In setting out to investigate the possible connection between alleged shoe-bomber Richard Reid and the Islamist groups in the region, Pearl had entered dangerous ground.

It was ground that few Pakistani journalists would even attempt to cover: exploring the complex ties between the militant Islamist groups and the many intelligence agencies. Local news organizations are so infiltrated by intelligence agents that they can do little independent reporting on this subject. Moreover, as the latest crackdown on the press illustrates, Pakistani governments, past and present, have been using intelligence agencies to twist the arms of publishers, editors and journalists who dare to expose their dirty secrets.

I don’t know how much Pearl found out. But I know full well how likely journalists are to become the targets of the intelligence agencies. I found out the hard way in September 1991. It had been only two years since the country had returned to democracy and a free press was only barely tolerated by then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. I began writing about the tactics his government was using to coerce opposition politicians to change their loyalties and indict their leader, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

My investigative reports led me into a maze of competing intelligence agencies. One day in late September, we journalists in Karachi rallied against the stabbing of Kamran Khan, one of the reporters under fire at the News, who is known for using sources among the intelligence agencies and who also works as a special correspondent for The Washington Post. That night, as I reached home, I saw two men — knives glinting in their hands — approaching my car. Sensing danger, I raced back to the office. Coming after a spate of attacks on journalists, the incident generated new protests — with rallies and demonstrations by media organizations throughout the country culminating in newspapers suspending publication for one day.

The latest crackdown suggests that the Pakistani government may be hiding some of the facts on the Pearl case. For Pakistan, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have forced the military government to begin the very difficult process of disassociating itself from the Islamic militants with which it has traditionally kept close ties. These linkages were strengthened during the Cold War when the Reagan administration and the Saudi government used Pakistan’s military dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, to funnel billions of dollars’ worth of arms and ammunition to the Afghan resistance through Pakistan’s Islamic parties. At home President Zia promoted conservative Islamic officers to generals in the army. As a result, the ISI grew powerful enough to sideline the subsequent civilian governments of Sharif and Bhutto and become the chief architect of the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Even after Pakistan got on board with the U.S. anti-terrorist coalition, the intelligence agencies did not sever ties with the Islamic parties. Then, as the United States stepped up pressure, the agencies began reducing their support for these parties. In December, I saw a pro-Taliban demonstration in Islamabad that attracted fewer than 100 people. Only a month ago earlier, thousands of violent pro-Taliban demonstrators had rampaged through the streets, even though they failed to find support from the masses. In fact, Pakistan’s Islamist parties have never won more than 2 percent of the vote in any democratic election — and have therefore looked to the military to capture power. In turn, the military — and their multiple intelligence agencies — have found the parties useful for reining in opponents.

As Pearl’s kidnapping and murder show, Musharraf’s task of quelling Islamic militancy is a daunting one. To recognize that challenge requires not only understanding the anti-Western, anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Islamic extremists, but also the flash point of Kashmir. That is a grievance that can unite Muslims who believe the disputed territory should be freed from Indian control, and it provides a battleground for fundamentalists. It is clear that Pearl’s suspected kidnappers have taken that cause to heart.

Remember the Indian passenger airline that was hijacked from Kathmandu, Nepal, in December 1999 and made a series of stops in Pakistan and Dubai before finally landing in Kandahar? There, the Taliban surrounded the plane and gave safe passage to the hijackers. They were demanding that India release three members of a Pakistan-based Islamist group, which was launching attacks against the Indian military in Kashmir. The Indian foreign minister traveled to Kandahar and handed over the political prisoners, who included Masood Azhar and Saeed himself.

Once freed from jail in India, Azhar and his entourage returned to Pakistan and remained untroubled by government security forces. I well remember how, with their long beards and turbans, they swaggered into the Karachi Press Club in March 2000 for a news conference. They told the assembled journalists how they had been carrying out jihad against the Indian military in Kashmir. Azhar announced that they were changing the name of the group from Harkat ul-Ansar to Jaish-i-Mohammed — which literally means “Army of Mohammed.” Harkat ul-Ansar had by then been declared a terrorist organization by the United States.

We journalists were curious why Azhar — the newly appointed chief of Jaish-i-Mohammed — had chosen this moment to make a public appearance. President Clinton was about to visit Pakistan on a stopover from India. Three months beforehand, Musharraf had taken over Pakistan’s government in a military coup — and this had not sat well with the U.S. administration. Hinting at a rift in Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, one reporter asked Azhar if his appearance was intended to embarrass Musharraf before Clinton’s visit. I asked the same question more bluntly: “Are you being supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence?” Azhar answered both questions with a curt “No.” It was the answer we expected, but it did little to allay our suspicions.

Since their release from Indian jails, Azhar, Saeed and their supporters have moved freely in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Azhar was put under house arrest last fall only after the United States put pressure on Pakistan to curb jihadi groups. Pakistan turned down a U.S. request to extradite Saeed, despite his known role in kidnapping Western tourists in New Dehli in 1994. Soon after he turned himself in in January, Saeed confessed to his role in Pearl’s abduction — though he later denied it. Many other Kashmiri and Sunni militant groups are still operating freely in Pakistan, and the latter have intensified sectarian killings inside the country.

The U.S. war on the al Qaeda network has signaled a new phase for the reorganization of militant Islamic groups in Pakistan. As the United States bombed Taliban targets, the Pakistan-based Kashmir militants began slipping home through the porous Afghan borders. Among them were the Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, some of whose members were killed by the U.S. bombing in Kabul last October while holding a meeting. When the bodies of the “martyrs” were brought to a mosque in Karachi, thousands of people attended the funeral processions — and promised revenge against the United States.

That revenge came in the form of an innocent victim, Pearl, whom the shifting militant forces saw primarily as an American and a Jew. The militant groups now identify Western journalists with the enemy. Traveling with a group of Western journalists to the Afghan border in December, I witnessed firsthand the anger of the defeated Pakistan supporters of the Taliban as the U.S. troops bombed Kandahar. Our convoy was making its way from the winding hills of Chaman in Pakistan (about two hours from Kandahar) when our vehicle was pelted with stones from angry Pashtuns. A BBC film crew traveling with us was also attacked. But the worst hit was British print journalist Robert Fisk, who appeared the next morning at our Quetta hotel with his head swathed in bandages.

As Saeed’s ties with intelligence agencies become exposed, there are growing concerns among Pakistani analysts that he could be killed in custody in order to destroy evidence of his linkages. In fact, Saeed is being moved from one place to another — reportedly to prevent him from being killed. Another cause for concern is the widespread corruption in Pakistan — where police alternately fabricate and destroy evidence, depending on pressure from above. The net result is that even prominent murder cases have dragged on for years in the courts without leading to any convictions.

A decade ago, it was the unity of journalists that enabled me to put the frightening knife attack behind me and to focus on getting out the truth. At that stage, I’d been predicting that unless we maintained unity, journalists could be killed for investigative reporting. Pearl’s murder came as a blow to independent reporting in Pakistan. His brave wife, Mariane, has spoken about how his case highlights the importance of joining hands to fight terrorism. Whether this is achieved through the extradition of Saeed and his accomplices to the United States or through monitoring the court process in Pakistan, it is imperative that the culprits be punished. The frightening fact is that Pearl’s murder has uncovered the tip of an iceberg. The challenge now is to continue the work he began — and investigate how terrorist forces are realigning in the region to threaten civil society.

Nafisa Hoodbhoy, who worked for 16 years for Dawn newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan, teaches at the University of Massachusetts with a focus on women, politics and the media in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Source: The 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

Musharraf’s emergency upends Pakistan’s courts

KARACHI, Pakistan — A month after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, the country’s once-independent judiciary is in disarray and still under attack, making it unlikely that America’s closest ally in the war on terrorism will have a functioning democracy anytime soon.

Police lines surround the principal courts, unfit judges are taking over the judicial apparatus and the enormous number of lawyers on hunger strikes has slowed the wheels of justice.

When Musharraf handed down his “Provisional Constitutional Order” on Nov. 3, the federal Supreme Court was about to declare unconstitutional his plan to run for another term as president while remaining the army’s chief of staff. Musharraf said he couldn’t find a solution within the Pakistani Constitution, so he took “extraconstitutional measures,” with the judiciary a prime target. “Some judges by overstepping the limits of judicial authority have taken over the executive and legislative functions,” he said in the order.

Even though he’s given up his post of army chief of staff, donned civilian clothes and promised to end the stat of emergency by Dec. 16, Musharraf has said he won’t reverse his takeover of the judiciary.

He put Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, under house arrest and demanded that all other judges swear under his order that they don’t have the power “to make any order against the president or the prime minister.”

Out of 17 Supreme Court judges, 12 refused to take the oath, a pattern that judges in the country’s four provinces followed. Musharraf’s military government has had to devise unusual ways to fill the vacancies. In Sindh province — whose chaotic capital of Karachi, population 15 million-plus, is Pakistan’s biggest city — the process usually begins with a telephone call from military intelligence to leading lawyers, according to Sindh High Court lawyer Shaukat Hayat.

Sabihuddin Ahmed, who’d been the chief justice of Sindh, said he’d rejected “overtures” from the government to remain in his post because the army chief of staff wasn’t allowed to issue emergency orders under Pakistan’s Constitution.

When Sabihuddin stepped out of his home to drive to the Sindh High Court on Nov. 5 — two days into the emergency — he found police cars barricading his street.

The officer in charge was apologetic but told him that the police “were merely following orders.”

The authorities quickly installed new judges who were willing to promise that they’d never challenge the president or prime minister, in some instances abandoning the usual appointment process and administering the oath “within half an hour,” said Justice Majda Rizvi, a retired judge of the Sindh High Court.

Rizvi, the former head of the government’s Commission on the Status of Women, was offered a ministerial post in Musharraf’s caretaker Cabinet, but said she told the authorities, “I couldn’t accept, after what you’ve done to the judiciary.”

In other instances, the military has resorted to severe arm-twisting. In Sindh, where less than a third of the judges took the oath under the emergency, the intelligence agencies have taken the lead role in what critics say amounts to blackmail. Rizvi said government officials had even made use of files they kept on corruption cases pending against lawyers in Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau.

After Sabihuddin was ousted from his post as Sindh chief justice, the government hurriedly appointed three other High Court judges: Khawaja Naveed had been the advocate (attorney) general, Qazi Khalid an additional (assistant) advocate general and Rana Shamim an officer in a government institution before they took their oaths as judges.

Other lawyers in the Sindh High Court often have criticized the flamboyant Naveed — known for his cheerful smile and mop of curly hair — for his attempts at humor: giving a “thumbs up” sign and uttering phrases that television presenters use, such as “be back soon.” Human rights groups aren’t amused by a remark he made while presiding over a rape case: “Where was I?”

The biggest scandal surrounds the new chief justice in Sindh, Afzal Soomro. According to several former judges, Soomro was forced to resign as a judge from the Sindh High Court about nine months ago because of psychiatric problems. Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, a retired Supreme Court judge, described Soomro as “mentally deranged” in a speech Nov. 14 before the Karachi Press Club.

Lawyers nationwide are astonished at the new appointees’ lack of qualifications. The secretary general of the Sukkur High Court Bar Association, Shabbir Shar, said there was “anarchy” in the courts, since lawyers refused to appear before judges who were appointed under Musharraf’s state of emergency.

Sindh Bar Council member Noor Naz Agha, released after 18 days of house arrest, said lawyers wouldn’t rest until the emergency was revoked.

Still, economic pressures and the pressure by clients to get their cases resolved are slowly forcing lawyers to appear before the new judges. That’s plunged the legal community into disarray.

Outside the Sindh High Court building — a British-built brownstone that still has its colonial grandeur — baton-carrying police seated under leafy old trees keep a vigilant eye out for protesters. Not long ago, the police had been there to protect the court. But after the new directives passed, police officers rounded up large numbers of lawyers and bundled them off to nearby jails. Most of them have been released now, according to the government.

Two streets away from the High Court is the Karachi Press Club. Military vehicles and police cars are parked outside, and plainclothes intelligence officials watch the movements of leaders. Every day there’s a peaceful hunger strike by journalists outside the club. Inside, civil society groups hold protest rallies; street protests are put down by force.

The news media and the judiciary are being forced into a virtual alliance. Private television channels filming the “humiliating treatment” meted out to judges and lawyers have been blacked out, said Faisal Aziz, the secretary general of the Association of Television Journalists.

Meanwhile, the government’s reconstituted Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, has dismissed petitions challenging Musharraf’s eligibility to be president and has validated all his orders. A caretaker Cabinet will oversee parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8.

(Hoodbhoy is a special correspondent for McClatchy.)

Source: McClatchy

In the Line of Ire: Free Speech and Civil Society in Pakistan

If President Gen. Musharraf has plans to write a second book about his tempestuous last five years, he would do well to title it `In the Line of Ire.’

In the last few years the general has antagonized all three smaller provinces, Sindh, Balochistan and the Northwest Frontier Provinces with an autocratic style of governance that relies on a policy of` `shoot first and negotiate later.’ The general turned president may have met his Waterloo since March this year, when thousands of people began rallying around the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he fired on “corruption charges.”

The movement against Musharraf — who wears two hats as President and Chief of Army Staff — has acquired new meaning because this is election year in Pakistan. The President’s reelection grew controversial when he announced he would present himself for a vote of confidence from the present assemblies while still in uniform. It set in motion a campaign by political parties to keep the military out of politics.

Over the last three months the drama around the Chief Justice has acquired an intensity that shows no signs of ending. It all began on March 9, when an unsmiling Musharraf in military uniform served the Presidential reference to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Known for his independent verdicts, the Chief Justice had appeared unlikely to endorse Musharraf for President so long as he remained in uniform. To the chagrin of Musharraf and his Prime Minister, the Chief Justice refused to resign and instead became the lightning rod for change.

The movement around the Chief Justice was initially begun by prominent judges and lawyers. Former Supreme Court judge and ex Governor of Sindh, Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim told me that the lawyer community had felt “insulted” by the manner in which the government cut off the phone lines of the Chief Justice and kept him house bound. The legal fraternity struggled to get him released, after which his rallies and speeches began to attract people by the thousands.

Thereafter, the motorcade journey by the Chief Justice, chauffeured by his lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan became the turning point for his role as populist leader. The eight hour journey from Islamabad to Lahore took 22 hours to complete because of the sea of people who flocked out of their towns and villages to welcome the Chief Justice. The new private television cameras captured the welcome awarded to the man who had stood up to Musharraf, amazing viewers by the apparent referendum against the government.

Since then, the military regime has grown increasingly unnerved with the effects of granting freedom to the media covering the Chief Justice. Television cameras capturing support rallies for the Chief Justice have been smashed, their studio furniture trashed and transmission services cancelled while journalists covering the opposition rallies have been put on the hit list and delivered envelopes with bullets inside.

The ruling party spokeswoman, Mahnaz Rafi has defended the ban on media freedom. In a candid interview with me, she said that criticizing the military amounted to assaulting the nation and weakening it from inside. In her words, a nation with low literacy levels like Pakistan could ill afford to criticize the military, especially when “conditions were not right.”

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has now written to the managements of private television channels, barring them from airing programs which are “likely to encourage and incite violence or contain anything against maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national and anti-state attitude.”

It has also forbidden live talk shows and discussions on the reference sent against the Chief Justice. PEMRA has quoted legal reasons: presently the Supreme Court is hearing the Presidential reference against the Chief Justice on a day to day basis.

Meanwhile, with the new restrictions on media, the camera personnel of television stations pre-record live rallies of the Chief Justice and the management censors them before screening. Cable operators have publicly warned television stations against screening footage that the government might consider objectionable. All this hasn’t stopped the Information Department from intermittently pulling television transmissions off the air.

It has led the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists to name Pakistan as topping the list of nations that have taken a “back slide” on freedom of the media.

Despite the curbs on media, the movement for change in Pakistan keeps growing. There is a hardy patience among people that promises to make the summer of 2007 a long hot one. Inflation, unemployment, electricity outages and rising crime are only some of the undercurrents that are from time to time creating waves against the present regime.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan’s close cooperation with the U.S. in the `War on Terror,’ has created a lop-sided society. With a growing military-corporate sector on the one hand, millions of people are sliding into poverty. Although since September 11, Pakistan gets $1 billion U.S. assistance every year, the bulk of that is in the form Coalition Support Funds for the `War on Terror.’ That has left the Pakistan government only US $900 million for health, education and social services – or a paltry $1 per year to educate every child.

The situation is ripe for fomenting fundamentalism and the movement against Musharraf – who is widely perceived in Pakistan as advancing U.S. military interests in the region. While the people’s movement against Musharraf is secular today, if thwarted it can over the long haul be hugely exploited for terrorism against the West.

In recent weeks, the movement against military rule has turned bloody. On May 12, armed gangs put up barriers in Karachi and shot at political party workers and ordinary people who came out to receive the Chief Justice at the airport. Analysts describe it as the fall out of the political blunder by Musharraf, who has allied himself too closely with the armed ethnic party, MQM with which he rules in a coalition government in Sindh.

On that bloody Saturday, the MQM came to the violent rescue of their patron by blocking supporters of political parties who traveled in caravans to the airport to greet the Chief Justice.

When I questioned the MQM’s thin, wiry bespectacled leader, Shoaib Bukhari as to why Karachi was the only location where the rally for the Chief Justice turned violent, he attempted to explain the uniqueness of the situation. In his words, the Chief Justice had made a mistake to ally himself with political parties who had no popular mandate and who merely wanted to assert who controlled Karachi.

And so, to quote the MQM leader, the May 12 carnage became a display of who really controls Karachi. The battle lines were drawn when the administration in Sindh used trailers to block the path to be taken by the Chief Justice from the airport to the city. Undeterred, party workers from the different political parties fought their way through the hurdles. They were fired upon by MQM workers shooting from road sides and bridges. Political leaders told me their workers fell before their eyes — leaving 50 dead and scores of others injured from both sides.

In the backdrop of the Karachi carnage, the scenes transmitted that evening by television channels in Islamabad were a study in contrasts. They showed President Musharraf addressing a rally in Islamabad from behind a bullet proof stand, claiming the people stood with him. Apparently unwilling to be outshone by the Chief Justice, Musharraf’s party men had bused in people from the adjoining areas to enable their leader win the popularity contest.

Afterwards, although the government refused to order an inquiry into the deaths of the Chief Justice’s supporters, the Sindh High Court took notice to investigate the uncalled for bloodshed. It was a bold step, showing the legal fraternity was once again asserting its independence.

Meanwhile, as the political turmoil goes on, the sight of thousands of people lining up to support the ousted Chief Justice is being closely watched by the two ousted, exiled Prime Ministers of Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Both the former Prime Ministers have vowed to go back to Pakistan this year and contest for the top job. And yet, both experienced rulers are biding their time carefully, knowing that the chance of coming to power will depend on the good wishes of the top army brass, and the U.S. establishment.

The Pakistan People’s Party, whose chairperson Benazir Bhutto was until recently reported to have struck a “deal” with Musharraf is now more cautious about allying with an apparently unpopular President. Watching the political scenario from her Dubai home, Ms. Bhutto has said that a President in uniform would be unacceptable. That, coupled with her statement that she plans to return to Pakistan earlier than scheduled has led to speculations that Musharraf could exit the scene.

But for civil society – which has dug in its heels for the long haul – the questions are not about a change of face in military leadership. Rather, the movement leaders tell me they are trying to bring back rule of law through the leadership of the legal fraternity and civil society. It is an issue worth facing in a nation whose destiny has constantly been shaped by military coups.

Source: Toward Freedom

Pakistan: Identity Crisis

Pakistan is one of the Bush administration’s close allies in the war against terrorism. Yet anti-American sentiment there has been growing with unprecedented force since the US conducted a war in Iraq, another Muslim country in the neighborhood.

In March, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the start of the war. While the coalition of Islamic parties in the United Council for Action (MMA) led the opposition marches in major cities, they won considerable support from secular forces. The anger has been growing since 2001, when hundreds of ordinary Pakistanis living in the North West Frontier Province lost their lives in the US-led military operation against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Even President Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf and his rubber stamp parliament, led by Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, have been forced by public pressure and opposition politicians into condemning the US invasion. Although certainly not pro-Saddam, most Pakistanis see the war as an assault on another Third World Muslim country. That has temporarily united the opposition and the government, otherwise at odds over the military’s attempts to consolidate its grip over the nation.

Musharraf’s government has played a front-line role in the war against terrorism since September 11. Faced with anti-American sentiment, however, the military has grown more secretive about its role in helping the US ferret out al-Qaeda elements. Public resentment centers on Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, which picks up locals at the instigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and interrogates them about their possible links with the terrorists.

In picking up al-Qaeda suspects, the Pakistan military has attempted to prove links with the nation’s leading Islamic party, the Jamaat-i-Islami. The government stepped up efforts to portray the party as having terrorist ties after a senior al-Qaeda leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was captured from a Jamaat supporter’s home in a middle class suburb of Rawalpindi. Earlier, the FBI had picked up Jamaat member Ahmed Javed Khawaja and his family for alleged al-Qaeda links. Their case is in Pakistan’s courts.

However, Qazi Hussein Ahmed, the Jamaat-i-Islami chief who heads the MMA, has argued that the government is using the current scare to crush the Islamic alliance because of its opposition to US policies in the region. He claims that individual members of Jamaat, not the organization itself, have lent support to al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan.

Avoiding the Issues

Apart from picking up terrorists, the US appears to be paying little attention to rising anti-American sentiment. This superficial approach ignores the fact that the country is currently fertile ground for Islamic militancy directed against the West. For example, the Bush administration has ignored Pakistan’s request to replace thousands of madressahs (Islamic schools) by strengthening its education system. Instead, public education deteriorates, while madressahs thrive with the help of Zakat (Islamic charity) and Saudi funds. They are a by-product of the last two decades, particularly the need to infuse youth with Islamic fervor during Pakistan’s proxy war in Afghanistan.

Reversing two decades of support for Islamic militancy, Pakistan’s Western-educated army demonstrated its flexibility after September 11, arguably becoming the US’s closest ally in dismantling the schools. On the other hand, the military also maintains its hold on Kashmiri militants, supported by sectarian extremists, who are waging a war against Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir territory. Local militants have become cannon fodder for al-Qaeda extremists who have shifted to the region since their ouster from Afghanistan.

Despite its political inconsistency, Musharraf’s regime has earned the support of the Bush administration through its cooperation in hunting down al-Qaeda. Thus, since 9/11, no embarrassing questions have been asked about democratizing the country. Instead, Pakistan’s strategic usefulness in bolstering the pro-US regime in Afghanistan has allowed it to win $305 million in US aid and debt relief totaling $1 billion.

In a thinly attended April 2002 referendum, General Musharraf had himself elected President for the next five years. As in Turkey, a Legal Framework Order (LFO) gives the army a constitutional role in politics. Amending the 1973 Constitution, Pakistan’s LFO authorizes Musharraf to dissolve the Cabinet, National Assembly and Senate, dismiss the prime minister, and hold fresh elections. Opposition politicians are demanding an end to the LFO, but the government has warned them personally to back down or face the consequences.

Just before the October 2002 elections, the LFO disqualified the other major politicians and former premiers, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan Muslim League (PML) head Nawaz Sharif along with Mohajir Qaumi Movement chief, Altaf Hussein. At the same time, the military helped to create the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) by offering incentives to former supporters of Nawaz Sharif who were willing to defect from his party and support Gen. Musharraf.

Nevertheless, the PPP won the most votes in the October elections. In response, the military encouraged party defections within the PPP Ñ effectively stopping Benazir Bhutto’s supporters from being elected to cabinet posts in the national government and preventing it from forming a government in Sindh, its home province in the south.

The army has also increased its meddling in domestic politics. As the Senate elections were about to be held, a leader of the PML, the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was kidnapped by the Inter Services Intelligence, the external secret service agency, which is also interfering in domestic politics in hopes of forcing him to change his loyalties. Other opposition politicians allege that the government attempted to intimidate them into supporting Prime Minister Jamali.

After 10-15 days, during which there were rowdy scenes in the National Assembly, the opposition took the oath of office, but privately replaced LFO wording with the 1973 constitution.

Losing Control

Since the 2002 election, the army-backed government doesn’t have enough opposition support to pass two laws that could curtail press freedom Ñ namely the Code of Ethics and Press Council. As if anticipating this problem, the military imposed an Anti-Defamation Ordinance just before the October elections, mandating a fine of $900 and three months imprisonment to journalists whose writings offend the government.

In March, Brig Ijaz Shah, Home Secretary of the Punjab, summoned the editor of the Weekly Independent, an English newspaper, then pressured him not to run anti-government reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to the government, expressing concern about the Home Secretary’s threat to act against the paper for opposing the “national interest.” Sindhi newspapers, which tend to be far more critical of the military, allege that attempts are being made to control them by withdrawing government advertisements.

As anti-US sentiment approaches epic levels, opposition political parties, led by the MMA Islamic alliance, are set to mount their biggest challenge yet to the Musharraf government. For the first time, the MMA has been able to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to protest Pakistan’s support for the Bush administration. Just before the US invasion of Iraq began, nationwide protests climaxed with a million man march, convened by the MMA in Lahore.

Faced with rising anti-Americanism, state authorities cancelled a visit by US-supported Afghan president Hamid Karzai at its Pakistan Day celebration on March 23. A meeting between President Bush and Prime Mminister Jamali was also cancelled.

US war in Iraq raises the specter of increased support for Islamic extremists throughout the Muslim world, including Pakistan. TV images of civilian casualties in Iraq, beamed daily into homes through cable and satellite, has already provoked anger and fueling increased Islamic militancy.

Once upon a time, support for al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was confined to Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and Balochistan provinces. Conservative Islamist Pashtuns live in these provinces and contiguous tribal areas which border Afghanistan. They form the bulk of supporters for the Taliban Ñ which sheltered al-Qaeda during their six year rule of Afghanistan. Now Islamic extremism is growing in other parts of the country.

In the face of armed aggression in Iraq, more and more people are reaching the conclusion that Islamic militancy is justifiable. How ironic. The Bush administration used the threat of terrorism to attack Iraq, but its policies are also fueling the urge to retaliate, in the US and abroad.

Source: Toward Freedom

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

Bank workers resent layoffs, curbs on union activity

KARACHI, Aug 7: Hundreds of bank and other financial institution employees have been transferred, retired, sent on forced leave, retrenched and offered the golden handshake even while their union offices have been closed over the last few months, bank union leaders have claimed.

The union leaders from Habib Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank, Allied Bank and foreign banks interviewed by Dawn maintained that the insertion of Section 27-B, Ordinance LVII of 1962 passed by the National Assembly on May 26, ahead of the privatization of banks, had been a blow to trade union activity – setting back its most active component in the banking sector.

Section 27 B states: “No officer or member of a trade union in a banking company shall use any bank facilities, including a car or telephone, to promote trade union activities… or carry on trade union activities during office hours… nor shall he be a person who is not an employee of the banking company in question.” According to the union leaders, who claim to have lost contact with one another after the closure of the offices, the Services Tribunals (Amendment) Act 1997 had further prevented them from having access to the labour courts, appellate courts or the National Industrial Relations Council, with all labour disputes now to be sent to the Services Tribunal.

“We are expecting the worst after August 14, when there will be retrenchment and the golden handshake will be offered to bank employees ahead of privatization,” said Habibuddin Junaidi, president of Habib Bank General Workers Front Pakistan. Foreign Banks Employees Federation president Mohammed Ajab Khan, secretary-general Mohammed Saghir and finance secretary Farrukh Saleem Khan told Dawn that already the foreign banks, Al Mashriq, Bank of America, Standard Chartered, Hongkong Shanghai and ANZ Grindlays banks had retrenched 30 per cent personnel, foremost amongst them being peons and security guards and replaced their services by personnel from private companies.

Foreign banks union leaders said they had refused to comply with government instructions to vacate union offices and had, instead, filed a writ petition against evacuation in the high court. Muslim Commercial Bank union general secretary Saeed Ghani alleged that while hundreds of employees had been transferred from the MCB (where only 780 out of 14,000 employees were opting for the golden handshake, “pocket unions” were being promoted by the management in a clear cut example of unfair labour practices. At the same time, the union leaders alleged that a number of collective bargaining agents (CBAs) has been bought over by the management. Saeed Ghani, who was in the forefront of the campaign launched during March/April by the Federal Organisation of Bank Employees and Financial Institutions (FOBFI) led by Mohammed Ali Memon of Habib Bank Employees Union (CBA), told Dawn that the top leadership of FOBFI had since advised his MCB union not to go on strike.

While trade union activity is in doldrums, its scattered leadership sharply criticized the government’s appointments of non-technical bank presidents and executive vice presidents “with fantastic salaries” as well as the discretionary powers given to banking heads to advance millions of rupees in loans – “part of which are being used as advances to finance their personal businesses.”

Mushtaq Ahmed Khan Changezi, secretary-general of Habib Bank Progressive Officers Union, alleged that while more than Rs1 billion had been given out in loans by Habib Bank during the last three-four months, only a tiny percentage of the Rs34 billion HBL loans had been returned by defaulters. As a result of the lack of success in recovering defaulter loans, the government had extended the deadline for Habib Bank until September 5, union leaders said.

Mr Junaidi blamed past governments, bureaucrats, bank managements and union leaders for their collective “corruption and incompetence” in bringing banks to the present state of financial ruin. He demanded that while all those who had contributed to the decline of the banks and DFIs should be brought to trial and the “working class should not be victimized.”

In particular, the Workers Front president called for a referendum in Habib Bank. According to him, while the Habib Bank unions had played a leading role in trade union movements from 1974 uptill today, any deviation by the CBAs could only be blamed on the government’s failure to hold referendum since the last four years.

Source: Dawn

Edhi not happy over decline in donations

KARACHI, Jan 14: The onset of the holy month of Ramazan has become a test of popularity for veteran social worker Abdus Sattar Edhi whose Edhi Trust suffered a decline of 40 percent in donations last Ramazan and whose daily receipts have fallen in the same proportion over the last couple of years.

Mr Edhi told Dawn that although cheques for Zakat, clothes and rations had begun to arrive at his head office in Mithadar since Ramazan began on Jan 11, by the 20th of Ramazan he would have a better idea whether donations fetched during the holy month would match up to the funds normally brought in each Ramazan.

Interviewed at his humble Mithadar office, Mr Edhi related that last Ramazan the contributions to the Edhi Trust fell from Rs 40 million to 25 million – with his charitable organisation still not recovered from the set-back. This year, he assessed the situation to have become bad enough to defer the payment of staff salaries till after Ramazan. However, apart from Ramazan, Mr Edhi has suffered loss of ‘khairat’ (charity) normally given by the middle class and business class, with donations falling from an average daily of Rs 700,000 to Rs 400,000. The sharp decline in donations coupled with the severe fall in the value of the rupee has, according to him, forced him to cut down his network of social services across the country.

The experienced social worker said there was a “very small class” that donates to the Edhi Trust. With everything so expensive, they too had been holding back on donations.

Mr Edhi traced the downslide for his Trust as beginning in January 1995 when he returned from a month-long exile in London, undertaken to escape the pressure groups who had been bent on overthrowing the government. He had secretly left on Dec. 8, 1994 to escape the groups (amongst whose leaders he had named Imran Khan and Maulana Israr Ahmed), to prevent them from using him to topple the government.

The veteran social worker said that since the PPP government had been in power at that stage, his departure had created the wrong impression that he was a supporter of the PPP. This was despite his categorical assertion that “I am not a politician”. Mr Edhi declared that he had temporarily fled because he could never collaborate with the vested interests who were dividing people on the basis of being Sindhi, Baloch, Mohajir and Pakhtun. During the ethnic riots, he stressed, his ambulances had been picking up bodies regardless of ethnicity. Despite this, he alleged that “narrow-minded people had been spreading the poison of ethnic differences”.

He was also critical of the Jamaat-i-Islami, claiming that the latter was intent on “bringing the nation to the brink of disaster”. For him, “The only religion I know is that of serving humanity”.

Two years from Edhi’s self-exile, the Edhi Trust is in the throes of a financial set-back, Edhi claiming he is being “punished for speaking out”. He regretted that on its 50th anniversary this year, Pakistan was still far from its goal of achieving unity and the mission elaborated by the Quaid-i-Azam for a comprehensive social welfare system.

Source: Dawn