On Dishonest Maulvis, Harsh Laws, and Minority Rights

Last year when the case was being made to alter or abolish the blasphemy laws, the argument from the liberal and progressive minority of Pakistan was mobilized primarily to point out as to how the law could be misused to persecute minorities. At that point, the case of Asia Bibi was at the forefront of the struggle. That debate was stilled soon after the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhattit.

The case of Rishman (I do not think this is not her real name but I use it to assert her humanity) has taught us that we were right all along. Here is an instance where a local imam himself inserted the pages of the Qur’an in a bag that was brought to him as evidence. His reason: “This would make the case stronger in getting the Christian family evicted.”

There are many things wrong with this action. First of all, it is an immoral act of the highest degree: bearing false witness is a serious offense in Islamic jurisprudence, especially since the punishments are so severe. In fact here is how one Hadith describes it:

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 8.7  Narrated by  Abu Bakra

Allah’s Messenger (saws) said thrice, “Shall I not inform you of the biggest of the Great Sins?”  We said, “Yes, O Allah’s Messenger (saws)”  He (saws) said, “To join partners in worship with Allah; to be undutiful to one’s parents.”  The Prophet (saws) then sat up after he had been reclining and added, “And I warn you against giving forged statement and a false witness; I warn you against giving a forged statement and a false witness.” The Prophet (saws) kept on saying that warning till we thought that he would not stop!

Secondly, it tells us the absolute internalized intolerance toward minorities that these mullahs and their followers display. If the poor minority citizens of Pakistan are to be evicted from their shanty towns and hovels, where are they expected to go? Why is it necessary to get them evicted through malicious and falsified accusations?

Thankfully, an honest Muslim named Hafiz Zubair, and we need more of them, came forward to testifythat the Maulvi himself had inserted the pages of the Qur’an in the plastic bag, which, according to the definition of blasphemy by the maulvis, is a serious offense. We would now like to see the maulvi taste the same medicine: he should now be tried under the same law, for his act is not only illegal and immoral but also blasphemous according to the very law that he and his ilk support and have killed for.

We Pakistanis often use India as the bogeyman to justify our policies and our communal behaviors, but compared to Pakistan, India is much more complex and tolerant democracy in which minorities do not just live as passive right-holders at the mercy of the majority. It was, let us not forget, the fear of minoritization that had become the main cause for the Pakistan movement. Now that we have been a nation for over sixty years, we have been responsible of the same actions toward minorities that we had feared would be our lot in a united India.

For all of us who believe in human dignity, honesty, and compassion it is imperative to speak up and to challenge all messengers of hate and injustice: If  Islam has to survive and remain pertinent in the modern world, its best attributes must guide us and not its most intolerant interpretations.



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Pakistan: Need for a New Historiogrpahy and National Narratives

Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Image via Wikipedia

This will probably be one of the many articles that I plan to write about the construction of contemporary Pakistani national identity. While I have many versions of theories of nation available to undertake this project, I have decided to focus primarily on the mainstream statist narrative that Pakistani media, the school system, and the foundational intellectuals rely on to  construct the narrative of Pakistan.

In this highly idealized and ideological narrative, Pakistan is posited as the terminal outcome of an elitist dream of separatism defined in difference and in conflict with the larger “Hindu” nationalism of India before partition. We have been telling this story to our children, showing its unfolding in well crafted historical TV shows and movies. As a result, the Pakistani national narrative has now streamlined itself as more or less a religious narrative of nationhood. In my humble opinion, unless Pakistan dismantles and restructures this psuedo-religious national narrative, it will continue to struggle as a nation perpetually in crisis.

There is a dire need for a new kind of historiography: a historiography that does not rely on usual clichés of a great leader fighting against the machinations of Hindus and the British to wrest a country for Indian Muslims. Those of us who have read the events and politics of the creation of Pakistan know, through textual analysis, that mr. Jinnah, until the very end, would have been happy if the British and Indian National Congress had agreed to a sort of federation in which the Muslims of India could have had parity at the federal level. It was the failure of this particular thrust of Jinnah’s struggle that ultimately resulted in the failure of his larger dream and creation of Pakistan as a less-than-perfect alternative. We need to seriously read and discuss this hidden aspect of the creation of Pakistan.

We also need to seriously question all those who assert that Pakistan was to be exclusively a Muslim nation: that was never what Jinnah had intended. In fact, the religious leaders–most of them–were opposed to the creation of Pakistan and did not lend their full support to Mr. Jinnah until the very end.

A critical historiography will highlight these aspects of the struggle for Pakistan and will also open space for imagining a more diverse, equal, and egalitarian Pakistan. A kind of Pakistan in which histories of minorities, women, and peasants are not whitewashed but foregrounded.

Our national narrative should also focus on the rapacious role of the zamindari system, the sardari system, and the destruction of our public sphere by the mullahs and their followers. We should have the courage to challenge all these sectors of political power that seek to present Pakistan in their own contorted and outdated vision of  national life. Unless Pakistan tells a story in which the people have the ultimate power and, Pakistan will remain the crisis state that it is so aptly dubbed by its friends and foes alike.

Most importantly our historians and writers need to stop valorizing the military and need to highlight the destructive role that the armed forces have played in keeping democracy in check and in maintaining the socio-economic status quo.

The stories that we tell our children should be about a more diverse and democratic Pakistan and not of a religiously defined nation perpetually in embrace with all the outdated and repressive forces in of our public sphere. All assertions of exclusive ideas of identity–may it be regional, political, or religious–must be challenged and questioned perpetually by the public intellectuals and the media.

A critical historiography, a democratic didactics, and a re-imagining of our past to create a vision of a better future would be a good start!

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Reflections on RJA’s Hunger Strike

Those of you familiar with our blog must be aware that for the past few weeks we covered Raja Jahangir Akhtar’s (RJA) fast against corruption. The news of his intended fast had come to me during Ramadan, through a dear friend in Pakistan, and we immediately posted his first press release on the blog. In fact, and I am proud to say this, The Pakistan Forum was the first major blog to post information about RJA’s intended initiative.

Since then we covered the story both in its early as well as culminating phase. As you know, RJA has ended his strike today after the politicians promised to seriously consider and legislate an anti-corruption bill. I do hope they live up to their promise; If not, we will be there to hold them accountable on the pages of this blog.

Personally, RJA’s actions have given me a new kind of hope: I mean here is a 68-year-old  citizen of Pakistan who has forced, through personal will and lateral solidarities, the Pakistani politicians to listen. And he accomplished this when one of the major TV networks (Geo TV) was shamelessly avoiding any mention of him in their so-called news.

A hunger strike is a performative act: it presupposes an audience of like-minded people and a means of communication to spread the message. In a way it is an act that introduces an anomaly within the discursive space of power, a sort of breakage: the kind that forces power to stop in the tracks of its normative drive. A hunger strike cannot be an end in itself but is always caught up with the future that it may unleash: Gandhi’s Satyagraha relied quite heavily on such public performances, but succeeded only because the press covered it.

What we saw in the last few weeks is unprecedented. Young people joined the movement and brought the tools of their time to fray: a Facebook page, a live stream, a blog. Countless webs of transnational solidarity woven together through techne but made possible because one man stood up and said: “enough!” This is the greatest lesson that I have learned: that one person can unleash so much power of good.

There were quite a few detractors: some venal members of a forum called The Defense Forum, some tired youth on Facebook asking silly questions without offering to do anything themselves, but then that is the nature of such actions: the nay-sayers, the fatalists, and the minions of power, when threatened, always resort to cowardly, malicious tactics or, like Geo TV, pretend to not notice at all.

But this has been an enlightening experience for all of us who were involved and I am specially grateful to my friend from Pakistan (whose name I cannot mention) for providing us all the information that we needed.

My thanks to Raja Jahangir Akhtar for putting his life on the line for a just cause: Thank you from our heart and may you live long and continue working for Pakistan.

To our politicians: beware, we are watching what you do to OUR country and our patience is not endless!



Raja Jahangir Akhtar: Hunger Strike, Part 2

ISLAMABAD: Raja Jahangir Akhtar, a renowned   political and social worker, who has announced to go on hunger strike unto death to press for acceptance of his demands, has written an open letter to all political leaders of Pakistan. Some of his main demands include:

  • All headquarters of defense forces situated in civilian areas may be shifted outside the domain of civilian population so that in the event of war valuable civilian lives remain safe. Hiroshima is the worst example. It was GHQ of Japan’s defense forces when America used nuclear weapon   during World War II.
  • Every district in Pakistan may be provided with infrastructure for education from primary to intermediate level. Children of marginalized sections of society be provided with free education.
  • A network of new engineering universities may be set up to help all students who secure 900 marks in F.Sc seek engineering degree.


Following is the text of his open letter:-

“An open letter to all political leaders

In my capacity as a humble political and social worker, I have been waging struggle for the past 48 years to express my views on the economic situation of Pakistan. For my candid views on country’s economy, I have been put behind the bars many a time, and once a military court sentenced me to one year’s imprisonment and 10 flogs’ punishment.

I feel totally disappointed over Pakistan’s current critical economic situation. And more disappointing for me is pathetic and insensitive attitude of our national political leadership about this grave economic situation. Therefore, as protest against apathy of the national political leadership, I have decided to go on hunger strike till death from 12 September 2011 at Super Market Islamabad.

I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that in fact our national political leadership is solely responsible for the current economic crisis. Majority of our political leaders believe that our army is facing an external threat and is duty-bound to defend our geographical (and according to some our ideological) borders. I have an opposite view. I firmly believe that Pakistan faces no external threat. Whatever threat we face is from within. We need to divert all our resources to end poverty, promote education and improve public health.

I claim with full confidence that India and Afghanistan, though never so friendly to Pakistan, never ever had any aggressive designs against Pakistan from 1947 to 1965, the period during which our country’s economy was at its peak. Pakistan’s currency was 1: 1.25 stronger than India’s. We must also keep in mind the fact that the 1965 War against India started after we launched Operation Gibraltar in Occupied Kashmir.

I dare claim that both the government and the opposition political parties have no practicable solution to resolve our current economic crisis. Therefore, I humbly suggest that we can salvage our economy by cutting the size of our army, which is not required in its present strength as we face no external threat. Therefore one way to meet our current economic challenges to end our confrontation with India and Afghanistan like the Soviet Union did against America and other western countries. We can do this by maintaining the strength of our army at a level which existed before the 1965 war. We should give a golden shake hand to the rest of the army which can serve the country in a better way.

Therefore, I request the national political leadership to support me if they agree with my viewpoint; and if they don’t, they should convince me about their views and solution (if they have any) for Pakistan’s economic survival”.


Your’s sincerely,

Mahmood Ali Hamdani

Media Coordinator


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Review, India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms, By Amit Ranjan

India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms. Ashutosh Misra. Palgrave Macmillan Publications: New York, 2010. 288 pages. ISBN: 978-0-230-61937-1.

Lots of books, research articles and editorials focusing upon the need for good relations between India and Pakistan have been written, but the two South Asian, nuclear-armed neighbors are still adamantly hostile to each other. The root cause of their conflict is their claim and counter claim to the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir. They have even fought three full wars, one limited war and a series of proxy wars but are yet to resolve this issue. No formal or informal talks between India and Pakistan can be concluded without raising the subject of ‘Kashmir’. Thinking rationally, one feels that the two countries, for the time being, should put this issue into political cold storage and focus on other bilateral conflicts between them. In the event they resolve those issues they could apply the same mechanism and methods to address Kashmir. Ashutosh Misra’s work is a step in
that direction. Unlike others, he has tried to cautiously avoid the Kashmir issue and focuses upon the negotiations and dialogue process over resolved and nonresolved conflicts between India and Pakistan.

Leaving aside a detailed analysis of the Kashmir question, the author has talked about the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960, the Siachin dispute, the Sir Creek dispute, the Rann of Kutch and the Tulbul/ Wular barrage. On the basis of his research, Misra has described the conflict between the two as an “enduring conflict,” a term used by many, including T.V. Paul, to describe India-Pakistan dispute. But despite such disagreements, on certain issues both countries follow the defensive neo-realist dictum that even traditional rivals cooperate if they find that cooperation is in their mutual interest. The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 is one
such example.

The author has taken into account the theoretical aspects of negotiations, and talks about how negotiations proceed, about ripeness of the dispute, pre-negotiations, negotiation and agreement. India and Pakistan have followed this process but the
relationship is so delicate and complex that one untoward incident negates all the hard work done by an individual or group of individuals. Mr. Vajpayee’s and Nawaz Sharif’s intentions were mowed down by the Kargil episode, then Dr. Manmohan Singh’s and Pervez Musharraf’s step forward faltered due to Mumbai carnage. Once these types of incidents take place the relationship goes back to zero and for any further political engagement one has to start from scratch. There is an absolute lack of continuity in bilateral dialogue, which is a must for resolution of any ensuing conflict. . . .

(For the full version, please visit Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies)


Report: Class, caste and housing in rural Punjab – the untold story of the Marla schemes

Class, caste and housing in rural Punjab – the untold story of the Marla schemes

This research is provided by Hussain Bux Mallah, from Click on the link below to open/ download the PDF version of this research.