Friday, July 6, 2012

The Pakistan Most Americans Don't Know

"People have become educated, but have not become human." -- Abdul Sattar Edhi, Pakistani mystic and Nobel Peace Prize Candidate

Alice C. Linsley

I have been following events in Pakistan fairly closely for the past 4 years. As a sovereign nation, Pakistan is only 64 years old and is torn by tribal conflicts, government corruption and religious radicals. Corruption within the police forces is widespread, ranging from accepting bribes for registering false complaints or avoiding charges, to intimidation of political opponents, and torture of religious minorities. In 2009 a young Christian, Robert Fanish Masih, who had been falsely accused of blasphemy was arrested and, according to his family, tortured by police. In an attempt to cover up the murder, the man's body was strung up in his cell and the police claimed that he had committed suicide.

Death All Around

Extensive floods in the summer of 2010 reportedly inundated 20 percent of the country and displaced or otherwise affected more than 20 million people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab provinces. The flooding, compounded by the security situation and hoarding, drove up food prices and certain staples became scarce.

Heavy monsoon rains during August 2011 affected over nine and a half million people and claimed an estimated 520 lives in Sindh and parts of Balochistan province. In Sindh province alone, 1.8 million persons were displaced by the floods; 495,000 of whom were still residing in temporary makeshift settlements across Sindh province in October 2011.

Usman Qureshi, a resident of a small village near Khairpur Nathan Shah, said, “I have been stranded here with at least 10 other villagers since yesterday after water inundated our village and we immediately need help and food."

Qureshi, who took shelter at the lone two-storey building in the village used his mobile phone to call for help: “We need help, water and food... We beg you to please contact rescuers and ask them to evacuate us.”

Efforts to deliver food and water to the flood victims were marginally effective. Many trucks were looted and their drivers beaten.

Muslims against Muslims contribute to the spread of violence. Sufi followers and their religious sites have increasingly come under attack by Taliban-aligned militants. This is compounded by the reported inability of the State to provide effective protection against such attacks. On 3 April 2011, a double suicide attack by the Tehrik-eTaliban Pakistan outside a Sufi shrine in Dera Ghazi district of Punjab province, left over 40 dead, including women and children, and more than 100 injured. On 5 March 2011, nearly ten persons were killed and over 40 injured in an attack at a mosque located in the compound of a Sufi shrine in Nowshera district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Many deaths and injuries have resulted from the US drone attacks in the tribal areas. These attacks have dramatically increased during President Obama's term, and US-Pakistan diplomatic relations have soured to the point that there is no trust on either side. Obama was encouraged to increase drone strikes by the Heritage Foundation, which also recommended cutting off aid to Pakistan.

While most Americans rejoice that Osama bin Laden was brought to "justice" by a crack force of Navy Seals, few consider how this incursion is felt as a slap on the face by many Pakistanis.

Political strategist Mike Baker observes: "The Pakistanis want what Obama gives to others at the drop of a hat -- an apology. But the problem is Obama usually apologizes for the actions of other people and the past [Bush] administration. He apologizes on behalf of the American people or for American policies from previous administrations. Have you ever heard him apologize for something he did or he ordered done?"

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accused Obama of ordering drone strikes to boost his political image. "The United States is into the election year and Obama's decision has been aimed at gaining political mileage," the Prime Minister said during a press conference.

Gilani told Al Jazeera television, “First of all I want to inform you that we did not allow or give permission to fly drones from Pakistan."

Pakistan-US relations hit a new low after the Taliban attack on its embassy in Kabul and adjacent Nato headquarters which was reportedly organized in Quetta, Pakistan.  Then there was the Osama bin Laden episodes and speculation in Pakistan about the US military presence at Shamsi Air Base. US officials were quoted as saying that drone launches from Shamsi were halted after a dispute arose between the two governments over the CIA contractor Raymond Davis who killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore in January 2011.

Light in the Darkness

Sadhu Sundar Singh, (1889-1929) was a Christian who converted from Sikhism. During his ministry, God used him to bring many to the light of Christ. Many miracles were performed by God through Sadhu. His witness is an inspiration for all Indo-Pakistani Christians who consider him a saint.

Christian churches have been the target of terrorist attacks in Lahore. Sohail Johnson, a witness who lives close to the churches, said that more than 1,000 worshipers usually attended the Sunday services. In Peshawar in the northwest, a suicide attack on a historic church killed 85 people.

The Pakistan Dawn provides this report of incidents:

On Aug 9, 2002 gunmen threw grenades into a chapel on the grounds of the Taxila Christian Hospital in northern Punjab, killing four including two nurses and a paramedic, and wounding 25 men and women.

In November 2005, 3,000 militants attacked Christians in Sangla Hill and destroyed the Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by Yousaf Masih. The attacks were condemned by some political parties.

In February 2006, churches and Christian schools were targeted in protests over the publication of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Denmark, leaving two elderly women injured and many homes and properties destroyed.

On June 5, 2006, a stonemason named Nasir Ashraf was working near Lahore when he drank water from a public facility using a glass chained to the facility. He was assaulted by Muslims for “polluting the glass”. A mob developed, who beat Ashraf, calling him a “Christian dog”. Bystanders encouraged the beating because it would be a “good” deed that would help them get into heaven. Ashraf was eventually hospitalised.

In August 2006, a church and Christian homes were attacked in a village outside Lahore over a land dispute. Three Christians were seriously injured and one was missing after some 35 people burned buildings, desecrated the Bible and attacked Christians.

In 2009, the Gojra riots took place which was a series of violent attacks against Christian minorities. In June that year, the International Christian Concern reported the rape and killing of a Christian man for refusing to convert to Islam.

In 2010, a Christian woman Aasiya Bibi was sentenced to death in a blasphemy case. The original incident involved a dispute over a trivial matter at a village of Sheikhupura district.

In March 2011, only two months after Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed, when in support of Aasiya Bibi he called the law a black law, Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed by gunmen after he spoke out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The same year in April, at least 20 people including police officials were wounded as 500 demonstrators attacked the Christian community in Gujranwala city.

In March 2013, Muslims attacked a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, where more than 100 houses were burned after a Christian was alleged to have made blasphemous remarks. The incident took place in Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh area, where Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.

In November 2014, a Christian couple who worked at a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan (Kasur), were burnt to death in the kiln fire, ostensibly over blasphemy, but the case still lies in court and the reason is still not confirmed.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, was killed because he was an outspoken opponent of the blasphemy law which has been used to arrest, imprison and execute religious minorities.

Sherry Rehman, the former federal minister for information, who also faces death threats for presenting a bill in parliament to amend the blasphemy law, said that Bhatti's murder “is a reminder to us all that we have not acted enough to protect our minorities.”

Humanitarian outreach does not characterize this Islamic Republic, with the exception of the Pakistani mystic Abdul Sitar Edhi, 84, who gave up everything to devote his life to helping Pakistan's poorest. He founded the nation's first and only private ambulance service which responds to all injured or sick persons regardless of their religion or social status. Edhi believes that Humanity's well-being must be the highest priority of all religions. He established Pakistan's largest network of shelters. None who come to the shelters is turned away. Currently the Edhi Foundation is a home for over 6,000 destitutes, runaways and mentally ill. Edhi says, "People have become educated, but have not become human." (Listen to his story here.)

Such wisdom, generosity and kindness are rare in Pakistani religious figures. Islam is a jealous mistress who shows little mercy. Most religious minorities, such as Hindus, Sikhs and Baha’is, are not able to register their marriages. The lack of a marriage registration makes it impossible to obtain passports or to exercise other civil rights, and affect legal recourse in matrimonial disputes.

An Islamic Republic

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world with a population over 187 million. It is the second most populous country with a Muslim majority. Approximately 95 percent of the population professes to be Muslim – of this 75 percent are Sunni and 20 percent are Shia. The remaining five percent includes Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus. All minorities in Pakistan have been subjected to intolerance and religious persecution, including kidnapping of non-Muslim girls and forced conversion to Islam.

In 1974, under severe pressure from clerics, Pakistan's first elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, introduced a constitutional amendment - known as the second amendment - which declared Ahmadiyya non-Muslims. Ahmadis are prohibited from professing to be Muslims or using Muslim practices in their worship or calling their places of worship "mosques." They may not propagate their faith in "any way, directly or indirectly". Each offence id punishable with imprisonment for up to three years and a fine. The Ahmadis are regarded as heretical because they do not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet.

Shortly after seizing power in a military coup in July 1977, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq embarked on a process of Islamization of the Pakistan legal  system. As a result,  hadd offenses were  introduced into criminal law through four ordinances referred to as the Hudood Ordinances, and the Federal Shariat Court, was established with exclusive jurisdiction to examine whether a law is in accordance with Islam.

The introduction of the blasphemy laws in the Penal Code reportedly promoted an atmosphere of religious intolerance and contributed to the institutionalization of discrimination against religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadi community. The discriminatory nature of the provisions and the severity of the punishments have attracted widespread international criticism.

In 2008, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari expanded his cabinet with 40 members and inducted a very controversial Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri. A few months before, Mr Israrullah Zehri had stood up in the Senate and justified the crime of burying women alive by arguing in the upper house that ‘It is a Baluch tribal tradition (to bury accused women alive) and we have to respect it’.

Five women were buried alive in Baluchistan.  As it was reported, the girls were at the house of Mr. Chandio at Baba Kot village when Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, brother of the provincial minister, came with six men and abducted them with gun point. They were taken in a Land Cruiser jeep, bearing a registration number plate of the Baluchistan government, to a remote area in the vicinity of Baba Kot. There Abdul Sattar Umrani and his accomplices took the three girls out of the jeep and beat them before opening fire with their guns. The girls were seriously injured but were still alive. Sattar Umrani and his accomplices hurled them into a wide ditch and covered them with earth and stones. The two older women protested and tried to stop the burial of the girls who were plainly alive, but the attackers pushed them too into the ditch and buried all alive.

Names of victims
Ms. Fatima wife of, Umeed Ali Umrani, 45 years old
Ms. Jannat Bibi wife of Qaiser Khan, 38 years old
Ms. Fauzia daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani 18 years
and two other girls, in between 16 to 18 years of age

In December 2010, at the request of the Government, the Council of Islamic Ideology reviewed the controversial blasphemy laws and recommended certain procedural changes with a view to preventing their misuse. Under the pressure of large rallies organized by hardline Islamic groups and religious political parties in protest against the bill in December 2010 and January 2011, the Government reneged on its commitment to review the blasphemy laws.Two high profile public figures – Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs were killed on 4 January and 2 March 2011, respectively, purportedly due to their overt opposition to the blasphemy laws.

Bhatti was a Christian and an outspoken critic of the misuse of the Blasphemy Law. 

Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead just yards away from his mother’s house in broad daylight just 57 days after Mr Taseer was assassinated by his own guard on January 4, 2011. Bhatti suffered 30 bullet injuries in his chest, torso and head. Pamphlets were discovered at the scene of the assassination, in which the Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab claimed responsibility for the attack. The group claimed in the pamphlet that they had targeted Mr Bhatti for his opposition to the blasphemy law. Tahira Abdullah, a Pakistani minority rights activist, remained with the bereaved family for some time. She reported that the family was hysterical with shock and grief.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports:

While the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the rights of religious minorities, as well as other fundamental rights such as gender equality, freedom of expression and press, freedom of association and assembly, it effectively segregates the country’s citizens on the basis of religion. The Constitution proclaims Islam as the State religion, and binds the legal system to Islamic law by stipulating that no law should be repugnant to the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, and that all existing laws should be brought in conformity. Fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of expression and press, are also subject to “any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam”. (From here.)

The Pakistan Taliban Grows Bolder

In April 2012, the Taliban pulled off the biggest jail-break in Pakistan’s history. About 150 militants stormed the central prison in Bannu and freed 384 prisoners. among them a man sentenced to death for trying to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.  Bannu adjoins North Waziristan.

According to an official, the militants arrived after midnight on pick-ups and attacked the prison housing after blowing up the main gates with rocket-propelled grenades. The attackers had accurate information about cells in which militants had been kept. The prison housed about 900 inmates at the time. The police official said the attackers appeared to be interested mainly in freeing the man who was on death row for an assassination attempt on former president Pervez Musharraf.
“We have released our men without losing a single man,” Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said.

Pakistan is engaged in military operations against militants in the federally administered tribal area (FATA) and has not been very effective in addressing the Haqqani network's safe havens in Pakistan.

On June 7, 2012, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta expressed unhappiness with Pakistan’s progress in battling the Haqqani network in Pakistan. Dempsey acknowledged that Pakistan is battling other threats within the federally administered tribal area.

During a news conference in Kabul, Panetta said the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan following an attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan, earlier this week. FOB Salerno is the largest base in southeastern Afghanistan - it is highly fortified, and hosts extensive surveillance assets and a US rotary wing task force.

One contractor and dozens of service members were wounded in the attack, attributed to the Haqqani network. One soldier died three days later from wounds suffered during the incident. Members of the Taliban, including several individuals wearing suicide vests, launched a coordinated assault that breached the perimeter of the American facility. A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into the base's fence, and attackers entered through the gap. Fourteen militants were killed in the assault.

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