Archive | May, 2016

No more

27 May

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has yet again proved that it needs to be either immediately abolished or re-staffed with progressive, Islamic scholars as opposed to the current handful of cavemen that constitute the CII. Since its inception, the CII has made a mockery out of religion and this country. One isn’t sure whether to ignore or react to its preposterous recent proposal for a rather ironically titled ‘women’s protection’ bill.

The contents of this proposed bill include the following:

  • Husbands allowed to ‘lightly’ beat their wives if the latter are defiant (whether this defiance is with regard to being ordered around or a refusal to dress in accordance with their husband’s wishes)
  • Beating is also permissible in the following circumstances:
  • Where a woman refuses to wear hijab;
  • Where a female interacts with strangers;
  • Where she speaks loud enough that strangers can hear her;
  • Where a female provides monetary support to persons without prior consent of her spouse.
  • Ban on co-education after primary education
  • Ban on women from taking part in military combat
  • Ban on women welcoming or interacting with foreign delegations
  • Ban on male-female interaction
  • Ban on female nurses attending to male patients
  • Ban on females appearing in advertisements
  • Abortion after 120 days of conception should be declared “murder”

This is not the first time the CII has endorsed discrimination and violence against women, nor will it be the last until they are, in no unclear terms, shut-down for this shameful proposal. The fact, however, remains that a vast majority of men in Pakistan subscribe to many of these stipulations in any case. This is primarily because we have a dearth of actual Islamic legal scholars in Pakistan and, in the absence of the same, have allowed a handful of uneducated, bigoted and intolerant cavemen to hijack our religion.

Further, there are very few, if any, female Islamic legal scholars not only in Pakistan but in the entire world. Women have, from day one, been the victims of religious misuse resulting in oppression and subjugation. Mainstream interpretations of Islam have largely been shaped by the understanding and experiences of men as opposed to women – something Islam itself never mandated. There is not a single part in the Holy Quran that solely authorizes men to become the custodians of religion and religious understanding. Then why is it that very few women, especially in Pakistan, have allowed themselves to be oppressed in the name of religion instead of providing the alternative (read: female) understanding of Islam, the Holy Quran and Hadith?

The State of Pakistan, despite being an Islamic country (at least in name), has systematically indoctrinated its largely illiterate population with its own warped conceptions of religion, which are often shaped by oppressive cultural norms rather than the essence of religion itself. Globally, religion has been constantly polluted by cultural norms which not only have nothing to do with religion but are in direct contravention of many Islamic principles and stipulations. Some of these harmful cultural norms and practices include Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), ‘honour’ killings, gang-rapes as punishments, child marriage and violence against women generally.

Our Government reinforces, at every stage of our lives, that we are either one man’s property or another’s. Before marriage, we are our father’s property and cannot breathe without his consent and after marriage, we are our husband’s property and the same repression applies. Our narrative against harmful acts and practices against women is centred on the idea that we, women, are ‘someone’s mothers, sisters, daughters and wives’. Why must women be any of the aforementioned to be respected and treated with inherent dignity which is an inalienable human right possessed by every single human being? There is a single word that answers this question and that is fear.

It is inherently human to fear what we cannot control. Whether we fear death or the future, it is a known fact that human beings have a fear of the unknown. Through the systematic exclusion of women from the process of interpreting religion, not only are our interpretations of religion warped but they are also alarmingly violent and discriminatory.

Protection of the orthodox, Pakistani Muslim male ego was initially a personal burden that women had to bear but courtesy of wide-scale misrepresentation and abuse of religion, it is not only institutionalized but embedded within the foundations of our society. Not all but definitely a large number of Pakistani men believe Islam affords them the right to treat women as their property and to use particular verses of the Holy Quran, taken out of context, to justify any force used to protect their property rights.

Owing to the fact that my knowledge of Islam is limited, I am not going to get into a debate on what Islam permits and what it prohibits. However, armed with even rudimentary knowledge of Islam, one is cognizant of the fact that the Holy Quran cannot be quoted in parts as every single line is placed in a particular context. Yet, we see the religious right in Pakistan misusing and misquoting the Holy Quran to justify violence against women and alienation of women from the public sphere. How ironic considering the high degree of respect our Holy Prophet (PBUH) not only demanded for women but also practiced throughout the course of his life.

While the religious right, dominated by bigoted men, wrongly believe that they are following Islam when they talk about beating wives and excluding women from the public sphere, the State is silently endorsing these warped conceptions of religion by allowing institutions like the CII to remain intact.

Considering the fact that Islam is a religion for all human kind, it is time us women step up and take the wheel. The sound of our voices instils fear in those using religion to oppress us because they are well aware of the fact that once we publically take ownership of our religion, their fragile egos will be torn to shreds. That is not to say that all Pakistani men desire the oppression and subjugation of women but those who stay silent in the face of this bigotry are as culpable as those who openly promote it. Those who lock women within the confines of their homes; those who tell women to cover up instead of looking down; those who use fear and force over tolerance and reason – all such persons must be told that we refuse to tolerate this for any longer than we have.

Now is not a time for silent acceptance – now is a time for Pakistani women to come together and actively fight against this oppression and bigotry. We must speak up, loud and clear: there is no God but Allah – and Allah has not once mandated, in the Quran or otherwise, the exclusion, alienation and subjugation of women for the promotion of archaic patriarchal notions being used to protect the fragile ego of the religious right.


The King’s Party

24 May

The Prime Minister addressed Parliament not too long ago. A long-awaited clarification was expected but, as rightfully stated by Khurshid Shah, the address confused more than it clarified. Instead of presenting complete and authentic documentation, the Prime Minister chose to submit a handful of pictures to the Parliament with some Arab men, supposedly showing a purchase being made. No documentation as to these purchases was ever provided or even mentioned.

Worse still, Nawaz Sharif assumed that Parliament was so naïve that he could present an excel sheet with the amount of tax he has paid, without providing any details as to total income or wealth to justify or corroborate the percentage of tax being paid. All in all, there was nothing even slightly impressive about the Prime Minister’s address and definitely no clarification.

The opposition, on the other hand, staged a walk-out which has its merits in that they made a strong statement loud and clear that they would not be validating the Prime Minister’s address. However, they also came out looking less ‘parliamentary’ than a man who barely ever attends Parliamentary sessions himself.

With all this politics being played, confusion and chaos were bound to ensue. To add to the feeling of helplessness and frustration, the Chief Justice refused to head a Judicial Commission without said commission being specifically authorized under a new legislative instrument. The fact, however, remains that this rejection of the Government’s initiative was expected by those sitting in the corridors of power to begin with. It was nothing more than a tactic to buy additional time, in the same manner that Nawaz Sharif’s address was a tactic aiming to do the same.

The PMLN Government has another two years to hold onto their power. Rarely has such an absolute majority and heavy mandate been given to a political party in Pakistan. Instead of strengthening the democratic system that brought them in, the PMLN has chosen to identify itself as the King’s party (of course forgetting what happened to King Musharraf’s party). In doing so, they have created a hurdle for themselves that they could have easily avoided by simply de-linking Maryam Nawaz and the Prime Minister’s sons from the party. Instead, the PMLN Government has chosen to go down with the Prime Minister and his family.

On the other hand, we have recently discovered that Imran Khan, leader of the PTI, has an offshore company of his own. Why he chose not to declare this fact before pointing fingers at the Prime Minister is beyond comprehension. If, as he keeps insisting, there was no wrong-doing on his part, then why did he wait to be outed rather than making this information public at the very beginning? Moreover, even in Mr. Khan’s case, there are certain facts that don’t add up. To avoid paying capital gains tax in the UK, why would someone hire an entire legal team to create an offshore company, which would cost them around the same amount, if not more, than they would be paying in tax?

This isn’t the cherry on top though. The irony of the entire situation is that Khurshid Shah and the PPP are taking a stance against corruption. One has always known that our politicians are ready to compromise national interest for self-interest, but must we remind the PPP that it changed two Prime Ministers just so that they didn’t have to write a letter to the Swiss authorities?

The million-dollar question that remains though is: what will come of this disaster? Will the PMLN continue to identify itself as Nawaz Sharif’s party and not the sitting government that owes its electorate certain obligations that it has been unable to fulfil? Will the PTI take to the streets on its own or will they be accompanied by the entire opposition? What role will the military establishment play in all this and how will it affect General Raheel Sharif’s extension?

One can only assume that the Government will drag on the circus for as long as it can get away with it while the PTI and PPP will try and keep up their alliance for as long as the PPP knows no concrete action will be taken against the corrupt as that would inevitably bring them down with the PMLN. There are, of course, some elements within the PPP hoping that the corrupt within their own party are finally removed from the political scene. Pakistan, as usual, will suffer – economically and politically. After democracy has only begun to take its roots in Pakistan, this instability will likely result in calls for the military establishment to take over as it has done in the past.

While all this chaos consumes us in the Federal Capital, the south of Pakistan is witnessing some alarming but familiar developments. Mustafa Kamal’s return and the emergence of his Paksarzameen party is a reminder of how Altaf Hussain and the MQM initially emerged on Pakistan’s political scene. The monsters we spend all our resources and time fighting are those we create, nurture and facilitate ourselves.

In the meantime, Nawaz Sharif faces immense pressure to come clean by the very same institution that nurtured him under Zia and then threw him out under Musharraf. Bit of a tight spot to be in – conceding space to the military is not a wise option but is the order of the day considering the fact that the PMLN Government has done nothing to reform the criminal justice system. Military courts may need to operate for a longer period than expected, despite the sunset clause within the 21st Constitutional Amendment. Still, the Sharif brothers will continue on fooling themselves with their laptop schemes and motorways not realizing that these cosmetic ‘gifts’ will not matter if there is no one alive, well and able to use them.

To call the status quo in Pakistan a circus is an understatement – and to look for a saviour is instinctive. Accountability must prevail but who will be the sacrificial lamb? If the PMLN wishes to hold on to its government, it might be best for them to extract Nawaz Sharif and his family from the scene and focus on the development of their party as a democratic entity rather than an hotchpotch of the falling King’s men.

Climate change: a reality

24 May


As usual, environmental law and regulation remains the last item on the global agenda, despite the fact that it is the most pressing issue in need of the international community’s attention. There has been yet another massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – this time as a result of a crude oil leak from a Shell facility off the coast of Louisiana. Even more alarming is the fact that Shell was unaware of the leak until the same had been identified by a helicopter.

Shell’s response? Five boats were sent to remove as much oil from the surface as possible. On the 16th of May, Shell and the US Coast Guard agreed to bring to an end ‘skimming operations’ after the 88,200 gallon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Their apology? Well, they didn’t present one. From a statement on their website, they stated instead: “No release is acceptable, and we remain focused on safe operations”. [1] Just to put this into perspective, after nearly 90,000 gallons of oil leaked from their facility, Shell did not have the courage or dignity to apologize for this massive oversight.

This isn’t the first incident of this kind though. Since 2012, around 500,000 gallons of oil have polluted the Gulf of Mexico.[2] In fact, there is a spill in the Gulf every single year – lest we had forgotten the 87-day oil leak caused by BP in 2010. There is often some apparently massive amount being paid by the corporation for its negligence but this amount cannot, in reality, measure up to the loss of human life and the disastrous environmental impacts resulting from these leaks.

Despite this, the international community, barring a handful of environmental organizations and a few promises made by some states at international conferences, seems to accept these oil spills as they occur, assuming that some financial compensation will actually reverse the damage caused by gross corporate negligence. What is a few billion dollars to a huge corporation? Is it really a deterrent? Obviously not, because had it served as a deterrent, we would’ve seen a fall in the number of oil spills the Gulf of Mexico is subjected to each year.

Apart from oil spills though, we seem to have all our ‘priorities’ in order. Examining Pakistan’s policies with regard to environmental law and regulation, it seems that we can’t think beyond this narrow understanding we have of what environmental law is and how we are supposed to regulate under it. Despite massive flooding, intense and prolonged heat waves and average temperatures rising across the country, Pakistan’s efforts in countering, or at the very least reducing, the effects of climate change remain absent.

The only province that has, to some degree, taken climate change seriously is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the Government had launched its ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ programme (excuse the fact that its title is a tad ironic). More recently, they have taken a giant leap, particularly by Pakistani standards, and planned to ban the production, sale and use of non-degradable plastic products. If followed through, this could be a model for the other provinces to follow, provided the existence of political will to do so.

One would have imagined that it wasn’t possible to further weaken environmental safeguards in Pakistan but in a desperate bid to bring in investment, we have lost sight of the fact that this investment will have a higher cost than benefit in the absence of environmental protections in place. There is absolutely no point in bringing in investment if no one, or hardly anyone, will live to reap the benefits of it. Alas, we repeatedly fail to understand that development can and should be sustainable.

After declaring the Paris Agreement a ‘landmark in the history of our planet’, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has suddenly forgotten its existence. Under the Paris Agreement, Pakistan is required to submit periodic reports on its progress with regard to the targets set out by the Agreement. As Pakistan has a terrible track-record with submitting compliance reports to the human rights treaty bodies, one would assume the same non-serious attitude is being adopted with regard to the environment.

What exactly is our climate change policy? From the grass-root level, we see the State’s inability to convey to its population the gravity of climate change. Burning garbage out in the open, widespread and constant use of plastic bags, chopping down trees to build roads rather than investing in public transport – that seems to be our climate change policy.

The fact remains that even if we institutionalize a climate change policy, the real struggle relates to monitoring and enforcement. We have several laws in this country on a range of subject-matter but these remain effective only on paper. Climate change cannot just be addressed by instituting a policy or drafting legislation – there are concrete measures that must be taken to ensure that we address this existential threat.





Mandi Bahauddin & the Blasphemy Law

18 May

The Christian community in Pakistan is under attack yet again. The reason? Well, extremism, intolerance and bigotry of course but more importantly, the infamous blasphemy law that remains intact today. It is strange that a series of provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code are treated as superior to Article 8(1) of the Constitution which clearly stipulates that any law ‘inconsistent’ with the fundamental rights guaranteed in Chapter 1 of the Constitution will be void. These Chapter 1 rights include security of person, safeguards pertaining to arrest and detention, right to fair trial, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom to profess and manage religious institutions and equality of citizens before the law. These are the rights most commonly violated as a result of the use or misuse of the blasphemy law.

Like many other gifts that General Zia bestowed on this nation, the five clauses he inserted into the Pakistan Penal Code are the most dangerous of his gifts. Sections 295B, 295C, 298A, 298B and 298C suffer from inherent design flaws which inevitably result in severe misuse of the blasphemy law. By abolishing the intent requirement in Section 295C, General Zia managed to transform blasphemy into a strict liability offence. Further, the scope of liability was expanded to include ‘words, either spoken or written’, ‘visible representation’ and ‘any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly’. If it wasn’t already obvious, let it be clear that liability for such a wide scope of actions reduces the evidentiary threshold. In other words, the fact that mere insinuation is enough to commit blasphemy virtually places individuals in a ‘my word against his’ scenario.

Often we discuss the blasphemy law without truly explaining or understanding the insanity resulting from mere mention of the law. Let us not forget that when Benazir Bhutto was in the opposition, she had criticized the Shariat Court ‘for stiffening the punishment for blasphemy’. The Minister for Religious Affairs of the sitting government declares Ms. Bhutto an infidel who should be subject to the death penalty.[1] Bear in mind this was not a request by Ms. Bhutto to amend or repeal the law but merely a comment as to the severity of punishment.

Even more ludicrous still is the fact that the practice of our lower courts has resulted in the misuse of the blasphemy law receiving a stamp of approval from the lower judiciary. In the Salamat Masih case (1995), the trial court had convicted Salamat on the basis of insufficient evidence. The question as to how an illiterate boy could write, let alone write blasphemous material, was never addressed. Not that it mattered that the Lahore High Court rectified the lower courts’ disastrous mistake, especially considering that Manzoor Masih, one of the co-accused, had already been killed during the trial. Salamat was acquitted by the Lahore High Court but all did not end well – Justice Arif Bhatti, who had acquitted Salamat, was murdered in his own chambers and Salamat, his family and members of his community had to flee.

For the duration of the Salamat Masih trial, the defence attorney, Ms. Asma Jehangir, was the victim of public outrage: from the vandalism of her car to attacks on her driver as well as four attempted attacks on her amidst serious threats to her family. Not that this sort of vigilantism is ever punished – in case we had forgotten, many others have lost their lives fighting against misuse of this law, including Rashid Rehman. In fact, Rashid Rehman was threatened openly in a court of law where he was presenting his party’s case.

If it isn’t bad enough that around 1,274 people have been charged with blasphemy, as of 2010, what is even more terrifying is that the accused in these sorts of cases almost always has to either flee or remain in police custody.[2] If being kept in police custody for your own safety when you may well be innocent isn’t alarming enough, how about the fact that remaining in said custody does not guarantee the alleged blasphemer protection from violent mobs. In July 2012, a mentally unstable man was arrested for blasphemy in Punjab when a mob of over 1500 people gathered outside the police station and ‘extracted him from police custody, doused him in petrol and set him on fire at the location where he was alleged to have burnt pages of the Quran’.[3] Similarly, in December 2012, a mob in Sindh lynched a 35-year-old man after storming the police station where he was being detained.[4]

If one were to continue to narrate the grave injustices and violations of human rights that have resulted from the existence of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, one would not know when to stop. Rimsha Masih, Aasia Bibi, Mohammad Asghar,[5] Zaibunnissa,[6] Anwar Masih,[7] and so many more names that have been forgotten or blanked out of our collective conscience have still not inspired any compassion or humanity in us to actually move towards amending the law.

Now, we see the same misuse of the law in Mandi Bahauddin and we’ll scream and shout for the next few weeks but nothing substantial will come of it till Parliament has the courage to take a stand and amend the law. While one has little to no faith in the humanity or compassion of Parliamentarians in Pakistan, if for nothing else, can we not see that it could be any of us tomorrow if it is not us today?

[1] “Nearer, my God, to Theocracy.” The Economist, 5-11 September (1992), at 38

[2] “Timeline: Accused under the Blasphemy Law.” Dawn, 18 August 2013. Web, available at:

[3] Husain, Muzaffar. “Blasphemy laws and mental illness in Pakistan.” Psychiatric Bulletin, Vol. 38, Issue 1 (2014), pp. 40-44

[4] Khushkik, Qurban Ali. “Desecration case: Lynch mob kills suspect, burns body in Dadu.” Dawn, 21 December 2012. Web, available at:

[5] Boone, Jon. “Pakistani police officer shoots Briton convicted of blasphemy.” The Guardian, 25 September 2014. Web, available at:

[6] Tanveer, Rana. “Woman freed after 14 years.” The Express Tribune, 23 July 2010. Web, available at:

[7] Amnesty International, Use and Abuse of the Blasphemy Laws, 1 July 1994, ASA/33/08/94, available at:

Half-hearted accountability

13 May

11 military officers were recently dismissed by General Raheel Shareef pursuant to being found guilty on charges of corruption. The move, strategically timed, followed a statement issued by the Chief of Army Staff that ‘across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan’. Much has been said about how the move by General Shareef is important – and indeed, it is. It is not significant, however, that the military has dismissed people on charges of corruption – it is pertinent that officials within the military have the ability to engage in corruption and only be faced with dismissal as punishment. Calling this ‘across the board accountability’ seems a tad ludicrous.

One understands, of course, that General Raheel Shareef has exercised great caution throughout his tenure, ensuring he confines the role of the military to its rightful place, i.e. away from politics. However, it would prove useful to remember that the ‘7-year-itch’ is not a myth. The fact remains that the military establishment still genuinely believes that it has a role to play in the politics of the State. Strange then that we keep blaming our politicians for failing to uphold the democratic system when we have been ruled by the military for most of our past.

Let us also not forget the on-going careful construction of an environment conducive to military takeover; a situation being developed from the north to the south of Pakistan. Zarb-e-Azb has resulted in our saviour complex reaching levels one thought were impossible considering the oppressive remnants of our military past. Coupled together with the inability of our police to deal with ordinary criminal activity in Southern Punjab and sprinkle on top ‘effective’, ‘speedy’ punishment of terrorists through military courts – voila!

As if the aforementioned was not enough for us to open our arms and plead with the army to takeover, the latter has it all covered even in the south. Mustafa Kamal’s return at this juncture is no coincidence. Many have accepted who is pulling Kamal’s strings, but their justification for the same demonstrates the establishment’s successful completion of ‘propaganda 101’. Apparently the MQM’s alleged links with RAW make it acceptable that the powers-that-be are yet again trying to prop-up an ‘alternative’ political force. Need we remind ourselves that that is exactly how the MQM was also founded several years ago?

‘He who fights with monsters should be careful les he thereby become a monster’, holds true now just as much as it has in our past, especially considering that most of our monsters have been created, nurtured and facilitated by those now profiting from waging war against them. Another interesting fact to highlight here is that we are doomed to repeat our history simply because of the manner in which we are taught it: glorification of the armed forces juxtaposed with the inherent incompetence of the civilian government. It seems as though, from foreign policy to school curriculum, much more is shaped by the military than we realize or accept.

From the first dharna to the call for the second, it seems the powers-that-be have ensured that they will not put all their eggs in one basket. After all, if one wants to destabilize a civilian government that came in with an overwhelming majority, it must be done with discretion.

Those talking about accountability must start with themselves. The 11 officers that were actually found guilty and dismissed must be put behind bars, especially considering that Dr. Asim Hussain has been detained and tortured on the basis of mere allegations. Why is it that a different set of laws operate to protect the military, while civilians are constantly thrown in jails, tortured and humiliated in the eyes of the public without no substantive proof whatsoever? There is a reason the State illegally detains people. No, it is not because they are ‘terrorists’ or because there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe they are terrorists. It is because they know they rule the roost – they know that they have the power and misplaced support of the masses to apply a different set of rules to civilians and a different set of rules on their own.

Ensuring that the democratic system in Pakistan is secured and developed should be our first priority at this juncture. It is constantly made to seem as though the ‘security’ perspective is the one that needs to be focused on. Yet, why do we never ask ourselves who created the security threat in the first place? Whose role has been maximized as a consequence of the security threat? Who has come out shining as a result of the security threat? Which institution, despite its active role in abrogating the Constitution and violating human rights, is the most respected institution in the country? If we can’t see it now, we never will.