By Farzana Raja
The Writer is a Federal Minister and Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Especially written in connection with the Foundation Day of Pakistan People’s Party
By Farzana Raja
The Writer is a Federal Minister and Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Especially written in connection with the Foundation Day of Pakistan People’s Party
Radio PakistanOn the eve of the 46th founding day of the Pakistan Peoples Party on Friday November 30‚ 2012 Co-Chairman and President Asif Ali Zardari has asked the democratic forces in the country to gear themselves for the forthcoming elections which he said will be held in a fair‚ free and transparent manner within the constitutionally mandated time frame. He also called for continuous struggle to build a progressive and democratic Pakistan in which everyone lives with honour and dignity. The founding day celebrations this year are taking place at a time when the democratically elected government is nearing completion of its term after having waded through a sea of vicious campaign to tarnish its image‚ he said in a message on the occasion adding also‚ "It is an occasion for celebrations and rejoicing as well as of introspection". "Let us pledge once again today that we will continue to work for strengthening democratic institutions as envisioned by Shaheed Mohtarma Bhutto and for which she laid down her life". Bhutto-ism is the name of an ideology that lives and will live on to empower the people and strengthen democracy and democratic institutions and to serve the masses‚ he said. As the government nearly completes its democratic tenure it is useful to look up the score card and brace for the challenges that lie ahead‚ the President said. Recounting the achievements of the government and democratic political forces the President said that these included restoration of the unanimous Constitution of 1973‚ opening the doors of political reforms for the first time in over a century reforms in FATA‚ democratic amendments in the FCR‚ empowering the Parliament‚ strengthening democracy through political reconciliation‚ taking the militants head on and launching a massive poverty alleviation program the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). These are some of the great victories and the people of Pakistan can be genuinely proud of it‚ he said. Paying tributes to the political workers he said that the courageous and devoted political workers are the pillars of the political process and the nation. They have never wavered in their quest for a modern‚ progressive and democratic Pakistan‚ the President said. The President said that democracy has survived and flourished on the sweat‚ blood and tears of political workers. It is because of their sacrifices that dictatorship has not been able to take roots in Pakistan. The heroic struggle for safeguarding democracy and democratic institutions and empowering people must continue‚ the President said adding‚ "It will".
Erdogan is using a series of alleged plots to justify a crackdown on dissent that threatens basic freedomsWhich country in the world currently imprisons more journalists than any other? The People's Republic of China? Nope. Iran? Wrong again. The rather depressing answer is the Republic of Turkey, where nearly 100 journalists are behind bars, according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Yes, that's right: modern, secular, western-oriented Turkey, with its democratically elected government, has locked away more members of the press than China and Iran combined. But this isn't just about the press – students, academics, artists and opposition MPs have all recently been targeted for daring to speak out against the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP. There is a new climate of fear in Istanbul. When I visited the city last week to host a discussion show for al-Jazeera English, I found journalists speaking in hushed tones about the clampdown on free speech. Within 24 hours of our arrival, one of my al-Jazeera colleagues was detained by police officers, who went through his bag and rifled through one of my scripts. They loudly objected to a line referring to the country's "increasingly authoritarian government". Who says that Turks don't do irony? The stock response from members of the AKP government is to blame the imprisonment and intimidation on Turkey's supposedly "independent" judiciary. But this will not do. For a start, ministers haven't been afraid of interfering in high-profile prosecutions. In a speech at – of all places – the Council of Europe in April 2011, a defiant Erdogan, commenting on the controversial detention of the investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, compared Sik's then unpublished book to a bomb: "It is a crime to use a bomb, but it is also a crime to use materials from which a bomb is made." Then there is the behind-the-scenes pressure that is exerted by the government on media organisations. "People are afraid of criticising Erdogan openly," says Mehmet Karli, a lecturer at Galatasaray University in Istanbul and a campaigner for Kurdish rights. "They might not be arrested, but they will lose their jobs." In February, for example, Nuray Mert, a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper, was sacked and her TV show cancelled after she was publicly singled out for criticism by the prime minister. Last month Ali Akel, a conservative columnist for the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, was fired for daring to write a rare, critical article about Erdogan's handling of the Kurdish issue. But the restrictions on freedom of speech don't stop with the media. Exhibit A: last week, two students were sentenced to eight years and five months in prison by a court in Istanbul for "membership of a terrorist organisation", while a third student was sentenced to two years and two months behind bars for spreading terrorist propaganda. Yet the students, Berna Yilmaz, Ferhat Tüzer and Utku Aykar, had merely unfurled a banner reading "We want free education, we will get it," at a public meeting attended by Erdogan in March 2010. Exhibit B: on 1 June Fazil Say, one of Turkey's leading classical pianists, was charged with "publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation" after he retweeted a few lines from a poem by the 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, that mocked the Islamic vision of heaven. Say's trial is scheduled for October, and if convicted the pianist faces up to 18 months in prison. The irony is not lost on those Turks who remember how Erdogan himself was imprisoned in 1998, when he was mayor of Istanbul, for reading out a provocative poem. Erdogan, re-elected as prime minister for the second time last June and now considered the most powerful Turkish leader since Kemal Ataturk, has become intolerant of criticism and seems bent on crushing domestic opposition. "He is Putinesque," says Karli, referring to reports that Erdogan plans to emulate the Russian leader's switch from prime minister to president and thereby become the longest-serving leader in Turkish history. "Yes, he wins elections," adds Karli, "but he does not respect the rights of those who do not vote or support him." Let's be clear: Turkey in the pre-Erdogan era was no liberal democratic nirvana. Since its creation in 1923, the republic has had to endure three military coups against elected governments: in 1960, 1971, and 1980. The AKP government is the first to succeed in neutering the military. And its paranoia is not wholly unjustified: Turkey's constitutional court was just one vote from banning the AKP in 2008, and a series of alleged anti-government plots and conspiracies were exposed in 2010 and 2011. "I am concerned by the numbers [of imprisoned journalists] but they're not all innocent," the AKP MP Nursuna Memecan tells me. "Many of them were plotting against the government." It's a line echoed by her party leader. "It is hard for western countries to understand the problem because they do not have journalists who engage in coup attempts and who support and invite coups," declared Erdogan in a speech in January. Perhaps. But the AKP's crackdown on dissent, on basic freedoms of speech and expression, has gone beyond all civilised norms. "We do need to expand free speech in Turkey," admits Memecan. Those of us who have long argued that elected Islamist parties should not be denied the opportunity to govern invested great hope in Erdogan and the AKP. But what I discovered in Istanbul is that there is still a long way to go. The truth is that Turkey cannot be the model, the template, for post-revolutionary, Muslim-majority countries like Tunisia and Egypt until it first gets its own house in order. To inspire freedom abroad, the Turkish government must first guarantee freedom at home.
By Kevin SieffJust before she leapt from her roof into the streets of Kabul, Farima thought of the wedding that would never happen and the man she would never marry. Her fiance would be pleased to see her die, she later recalled thinking. It would offer relief to them both. Farima, 17, had resisted her engagement to Zabiullah since it was ordained by her grandfather when she was 9. In post-Taliban Kabul, where she walked to school and dreamed of becoming a doctor, she still clawed against a fate dictated by ritual. After 11 years of Western intervention in Afghanistan, a woman’s right to study and work had long since been codified by the U.S.-backed government. Modernity had crept into Afghanistan’s capital, Farima thought, but not far enough to save her from a forced marriage to a man she despised. Farima’s father, Mohammed, was eating breakfast when he heard her body hit the dirt like a tiny explosion. He ran outside. His daughter’s torso was contorted. Her back was broken, but she was still alive. In a quick burst of consciousness, Farima recognized that she had survived. It was God’s providence, she thought. It was a miracle she hadn’t prayed for. But it left her without an escape. Suddenly, she was a mangled version of herself, still desperate to avoid the marriage her family had ordered. She didn’t know it yet, but her survival meant that she would become a test case in one of her country’s newest and most troubled experiments in modernity: a divorce court guided by Afghanistan’s version of Islamic sharia law. Could a disabled teenager navigate a legal system still stacked against women? “We still must get married,” Zabiullah told his brother when he heard about Farima’s suicide attempt. “The engagement must remain.” Her father agreed that Farima’s pursuit of a formal separation was unwise. “We are not a liberal family,” Mohammed said. “This is not how we handle our problems.” Like many teenage girls in Kabul, Farima had been afforded opportunities her mother couldn’t imagine. In 2001, the international coalition brought with it dozens of girls schools and nongovernmental organizations that reserved jobs for Afghan women. Farima heard about female physicians who were trained to perform lifesaving surgery. She was first in her class; medical school wasn’t an unrealistic aspiration. Farima’s mother had never gone to school. She dressed in sky-blue burqas that hid her face. Farima wore only a head scarf, applying lipstick and eyeliner for the world to see. When her marriage was fixed, a 9-year-old Farima crawled into her mother’s lap, confused about what it meant to be engaged. Even as Kabul grew more modern, that traditional engagement was unbreakable, her parents told her. The man she was destined to spend her life with was a distant cousin. If the marriage didn’t happen, the family could splinter. But when Farima got to know Zabiullah, she couldn’t stand him. They talked on the phone, and he chastised her for venturing outside her home. He demanded that she stop speaking even with members of her family. “She was too close with her relatives, getting ice cream and going to the market with her father’s cousin,” he said. “If he was like that when we were engaged, what would marriage have been like?” Farima said. “I couldn’t bear it.” It became clear to Zabiullah that Farima was resisting his demands. He attributed her stubbornness to values he demonized — values associated with a city of new high-rises and shopping centers and girls schools. “She’s too liberal, too modern,” he said. Death or prison Less than a minute after Farima hit the ground, Mohammed scooped up his daughter. He hailed a taxi, and they sped to Ali Ahmed Hospital, where Taher Jan Khalili performed surgery for three hours. The family was ashamed to tell Khalili the truth. Her father said Farima had fallen from the roof by accident. “I wasn’t sure if she would survive. Her back was badly broken,” Khalili said. In the past year, he has handled nearly a dozen attempted female suicides. “This is the situation in Afghanistan,” he said. Farima spent nine days in the hospital, flickering in and out of consciousness. When she reentered the world in late September, bandaged and carried on a stretcher, her relatives cried and thanked God that she had survived. “But if not death, then what?” Farima thought. Zabiullah, a plumber, was insistent that the wedding date remain unchanged. He had spent $30,000 on gifts for his fiancee, he said. He had paid for a big engagement party, during which Farima had sat sullen for hours, while relatives sang and danced and ate kebab. “Everyone was having a great night, but she did not,” Mohammed said. Dozens of women in Afghanistan kill themselves each year to escape failed, and often violent, marriages. Those tragedies are widely mourned, but they nonetheless offer a resolution recognized by Islamic law: A woman’s death, even by her own hand, marks the end of a marriage or engagement. Other women run away, typically leading to another sad outcome: prison sentences of several years. About 500 women are currently imprisoned for fleeing from forced marriages or domestic violence, according to a Human Rights Watch report released this year. A failed suicide is even more complicated to untangle. When Farima awoke in the hospital bruised and broken, her wedding had not yet been canceled. Nearly all of her relatives expected her to follow through with the marriage. A broken engagement would be a stain on her family’s reputation, they said. Farima had given up on the prospect of another suicide attempt; she could not walk without assistance and was too weak to inflict much damage on herself. The girl accused of being “too modern” would make another modern decision: She opted to resolve her failing engagement in Kabul’s nascent family court. “People told me I was crazy to go to a court,” Farima said. She would have to plead her case in front of a room full of judges and lawyers, who would decide whether she was entitled to a separation. In traditional Afghan culture, men can divorce their wives without the approval of any justice system. “Suicide was much simpler,” Farima said. Two months after leaving the hospital, her mother and father helped carry her to the third floor of the family court — a faded yellow guesthouse, where a line of burqa-clad women are nearly always waiting outside. Farima wore a black head scarf. Her skin was pallid. She hadn’t been outside in weeks, spending most of her time reading novels in her room. The chief judge, Rahima Rasai, looked across the room at Farima while she adjusted her back brace. “You have ruined your life,” Rasai said. The court is a place where a woman is entitled to plead for divorce or custody of her children, but only if she has five male “witnesses,” or defenders, and often only if her husband or fiance condones the separation. The court is funded by Western NGOs but adheres strictly to sharia law. Farima sat on the opposite side of the room from her fiance. She looked at the judge and tried hard not to cry. “How are you feeling?” Rasai asked. “Terrible,” Farima said. Zabiullah ground his teeth. A day in court Every year, Kabul’s family court handles about 300 cases, mostly women seeking to divorce their negligent or abusive husbands. Established in 2003, it was seen widely as a leap of progress after the Taliban’s stoning of adulterers and dismantling of women’s rights. Now, the court is a window into the tumultuous domestic lives of Afghan families. Women whose fiances emigrated from Afghanistan line up to seek separation from absent partners. Girls whose husbands sold them as prostitutes sink into the court’s cushioned chairs, begging for divorce certificates stamped with a government insignia. Some of them are granted those documents, and some are not. Last month was a typical one at the court: Some women screamed at their husbands. Some brought their small children to testify. Some beat themselves with their fists to demonstrate the abuse they had endured. Some watched as their husbands were dragged out in handcuffs. Some arrived in burqas, and some in blue jeans. One had an epileptic seizure. Many were crying as they left the courtroom. On her day in court, Farima’s father sat in the corner of the room. For years, he had been trying to avoid this moment. “I told my daughter not to do this. We don’t want a bad name. We don’t want our family to fall apart,” Mohammed said. Farima had told him many times that she was thinking about killing herself, he said. When he looked at her, crumpled and frail, he knew what he could have prevented. “I just never thought she would really do it,” he said. Rasai began her line of questioning. “What is wrong with this man?” she asked Farima, pointing to Zabiullah. “He treats me terribly,” Farima said. “Our marriage would be hell.” Then the judge looked to Zabiullah. He wanted badly not to be there, objecting to the whole idea of a family court. “And what do you think of your fiance?” “She is confused. She has become so liberal,” he said. There was a hush in the courtroom. Rasai sipped her tea. She was tired. It was the last case of the morning. Already, the court had heard four women pleading for divorce and protracted arguments over dowry compensation and physical abuse. None of those cases had been resolved. There weren’t enough male witnesses, or Rasai simply wasn’t convinced that a separation was warranted; she is reluctant to grant too many. “It haunts me. Even when I’m praying, I think about the sadness of my job,” Rasai said later. Although she is one of Afghanistan’s few female judges, Rasai is hardly a Western-style advocate of women’s rights. She sometimes recommends that men “subdue their wives.” Even in seemingly clear-cut cases of domestic abuse, she often resists defendants’ initial pleas for separation. When Rasai finally spoke again, she asked Farima what gifts Zabiullah had given her for their engagement. Farima’s mother left the courtroom and returned dragging a metal trunk. It was full of clothes, jewelry and cosmetics. Her mother pulled out one item at a time and held it above her head for the court to see. Everything was still wrapped in plastic. “Where are the other rings?” Zabiullah burst out. “That’s all that you gave me,” Farima replied, exasperated. “Even if Karzai demands it, I will not allow my daughter to marry this man!” Farima’s mother suddenly exclaimed, invoking the Afghan president. It was the kind of support Farima had never received from her parents. Rasai started scribbling. “Your engagement is scrapped,” she said. “You no longer have any relation to each other.” Farima looked defiant, but she did not smile. She and Zabiullah dipped their thumbs in ink and touched them to certificates pronouncing their separation. “Keep this with you forever,” Rasai said, giving each a copy. Zabiullah got his brothers to help him carry the trunk out of the courtroom. Farima’s parents helped carry her down the stairs. She had lived to get what her family had denied her. Her Afghanistan again showed a flash of modern promise. “I have defended my rights,” Farima said in the lobby of the court. Her mother was crying. Two weeks later, Farima was back to spending her days at home. She was reading a book called “The Gift of the Bride.” “It’s about relationships between wives and husbands and children,” she said. She was no longer attending school. Her father and brothers had asked her to stop during her engagement, and they would not allow her to return. Farima was still basking in the court’s judgment. But it left her feeling unmoored. Even in the country’s most developed city, opportunities are limited for a single woman unable to walk on her own. “I’m worried that no one will marry my daughter now,” her mother said. Zabiullah is sure that he will marry another woman. He has a trunk full of gifts ready for her. Farima has started considering the prospect of a life alone, in her childhood bedroom. “I’m not sure what I will do,” she said. “I’m not sure what I can do.” In the Afghanistan of her novels, the girls grow up to be happy and successful mothers. There is no clash between old values and new ones. Arranged marriages are full of love. Husbands are patient and accepting. “For me, it is not always like that. Life is complicated,” Farima said.
http://www.secularism.org.uk/Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November). "Ensuring women's and girls' rights, eliminating discrimination and achieving gender equality lie at the heart of the international human rights system, starting with article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states unequivocally: 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…' On 9 October, 64 years after those famous words were written, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai
JENNY TONGEWhen news of the shooting of Malala Yousufzai
THE FRONTIER POSTThe Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Barrister Masood Kausar has said that the province has a rich history and cultural heritage and even foreign writers especially the British have authored numerous books on the origin, history, culture and bravery of Pakhtuns. Ironically, he added, little attention has been given to the subject by Pakistanis especially the Pakhtun writers and researchers on this subject and it is the high time that our scholars, researchers and intellectuals rise to the occasion and help the nation in meeting the changes successfully. Inaugurating the 3-Day International Conference on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Culture and History as the chief guest which was jointly arranged by the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research of the Quid-e-Azam University, Islamabad and the Pakistan Study Centre of University of Peshawar at its campus here on Wednesday, he pointed out, "I am happy that Pakistan Study Centre and National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research have taken a timely decision to hold this conference", he said. The ceremony was also addressed by the vice chancellors of the University of Peshawar, Prof. Dr. Qibla Ayaz and the Bacha Khan University, Charsada Campus, Prof. Dr. Fazal Rahim Marwat. Barrister Masood Kausar who is also the Chancellor of the public sector universities in the province, highlighting the prevailing situation in the region said, people of this province and FATA have in fact been fighting for security of the motherland and its frontiers since long. Today, he added, the situation is much different as compared to the past and peace and normalcy has been restored to a great extent. All these achievements, he added, have become possible at a cost of heavy sacrifices and all segments of the society especially the officers and jawans of security forces alongwith common people and their leaderships sacrificed their lives to ensure better future for the country and the nation. The Governor also reminded the researchers, academicians and teachers, present in large number in the moot, including the Vice Chancellor of the Quaid-e-University, Prof. Dr. Maasoom Yasinzai, that this province and the adjacent tribal areas are indeed focus of international attention for quite some time. Due to geographical proximity of the area to Afghanistan, he further remarked, the happenings in that country have been affecting this province and it is because of this very fact, the respective people having no concern to the developments took place across the border since long are suffering miserably. Referring to the importance of the cultural heritage, the Governor said, it remained the gateway of various conquerors en route to India and since ancient times numerous groups have passed through here including the Persians, Greeks, Scytians, Kushans, Huns, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Mughals and the British. At the same time, he added, the region also performed an important role in all movements launched for independence and political consciousness of United India. "The history of British India will be incomplete without enlisting heroic deeds of Pukhtun tribes and freedom fighters", he added. He also appreciated holding of the moot and expressed the hope that it will prove a useful attempt to cover the vacuum causing because of the old books going out of stock and their detachment from new generations. Prof. Dr. Qibla Ayaz and the Prof. Dr. Fazal Rahim Marwat earlier highlighting the importance of the conference described it a landmark initiative to promote cultural profiles and their various layers of this region.