Monday, March 30, 2015

Gurgaon girl on top of the world after winning Miss India crown

Urges parents to let their girls explore their talent

“Ever since I was a kid, I have been on a look out for platforms to get my voice heard. Be it business conferences, debates or street plays, I jumped into them all. It was the search for such platforms that took me to the Miss India pageant. Though a different platform altogether, it is one place where you are heard even at 18,” said Gurgaon’s Aditi Arya who won the Miss India World-2015 title at a beauty pageant in Mumbai on Saturday.
Working as a business analyst at Ernst and Young, Aditi, 20, studied at Scared Heart School in Chandigarh till Class VIII and later at Amity International here.
Recalling the moment when her name was announced as the winner, Aditi said she almost froze and could not react for a few minutes. “It was indeed the greatest moment of my life. It took me a while for the feeling to sink in. It is unbelievable. I am happy,” said Aditi, speaking to The Hindu over phone from Mumbai.
Aditi, a graduate from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, Delhi University, said her immediate priority after winning the title was to prepare for the Miss World pageant to happen later this year. Not ruling out her entry in Bollywood, Aditi said she was open to all kinds of opportunities, but was now focussed on the Miss World pageant.
She said that she got a great push from her family and her parents were supportive. “My father, who works in a telecom company, was very supportive. But it was my mother who constantly stood by me. They told me that there was nothing to fear and always encouraged me to do well,” said Aditi.
Belonging to a region notorious for skewed sex-ratio, Aditi said that society’s mindset towards the girl child was changing. She exhorted parents to let their girls explore their talent and then wait for them to make them proud.

Bangladesh - Free thinkers targeted repeatedly

Free thinkers have been repeatedly targeted by extremist groups throughout Bangladesh and it appears that the trend set in the past on handling such issues is discouraging.
In the last 16 years, deadly attacks aiming to kill were carried out on at least five such men including the likes of prominent intellectuals Shamsur Rahman and Humayun Azad, and none of those incidents ended up with justice being served to the victims.
The matter was resolved in only one case and that too with the attackers going free!
On January 18, 1999, renowned poet Shamsur Rahman was attacked in his residence by militants of Harkat-ul Jihad. Though he was unharmed, his wife was badly hurt.
Later, Mufti Hannan, commander of the militant outfit, confessed his outfit’s involvement in the crime and said their orders were to kill. Meanwhile, the attackers were allowed to walk free.
On February 27, 2004, eminent writer Humayun Azad was brutally hacked near Bangla Academy while coming out of the Ekushey Book Fair. He survived the attack.
The murder case is yet to be finished and deposition of testimony is still underway after 10 years. Last year, one of the accused was snatched away in a filmy-style ambush in Mymensingh’s Trishal upazila.
Blogger and self-proclaimed atheist Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed by alleged militants in Uttara on January 14, 2013. He survived the vicious wounds.
Two years have lapsed, but police are yet to press charges and now they say that the investigation is on the verge of completion.
Perhaps most alarming, during the upsurge of Gonojagoron Mancha, was the murder of Rajib Haider on February 26, 2013, in Dhaka’s Pallabi.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself visited and comforted his bereaved family, and two years later eight including a leader of militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team have been indicted. Trial in the case is expected to begin on April 21.
A few days ago on February 26, blogger Avijit Roy was killed and his wife brutally hacked near TSC at Dhaka University, yards away from the spot where Humayun Azad was attacked.
His wife alleged negligence of law enforcers stationed nearby during the attack.
Investigation is underway and prime suspect Farabi Shafiur Rahman has been remanded and several others have been quizzed in this connection.

Bangladeshi bloggers pay the price of upholding secularism

Washiqur Rahman was attacked with machetes near his home in the capital Dhaka on Monday, March 30. The 27-year-old blogger was taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where the doctors pronounced him dead.
"Blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was brutally hacked to death this morning… just 460 meters (500 yards) from his home in Dhaka's Begunbari area," deputy police commissioner Wahidul Islam said.
"They hacked him in his head and neck with big knives and once he fell on the ground, they then hacked his body," he added.
Rahman was an atheist blogger who wrote under the pen name Kutshit Hasher Chhana, meaning Ugly Duckling, on Facebook. There he posted his thoughts on religious fundamentalism, fellow writer, Asif Mohiuddin, told news agency AFP via Facebook from Berlin.
Rahman is the fifth writer to be attacked in Bangladesh since 2004. Last month, another Bangladeshi atheist writer, blogger and government critic Avijit Roy was killed in the capital. In early 2013, Rajib Hyder, another liberal blogger, was killed in the same way.
Rahman, however, was not as famous a blogger as US national Roy, therefore it comes as a surprise for many that Babu had been targeted.
As Imran Sarker, head of Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh, told DW: "Washiqur Rahman was not really a very influential blogger. Most of us bloggers did not know him, and he has not done anything spectacular or important, to my knowledge. He was targeted because open-minded and progressive bloggers are being targeted in general. They are killing those who are easy to access, when they get the opportunity... The main attempt is to create fear among bloggers."
Of the three youth who attacked Rahman – all in their twenties – two have been apprehended while the third managed to escape.
Both the suspects who have been arrested are students of Islamic schools, one of them coming from the Hathazari madrassah in the southeastern district of Chittagong. He came to Dhaka only the day before the attack and had spent the night in a mosque, he told the police. He claimed to have stabbed Rahman "because he humiliated my prophet."
Rahman might also have been targeted because his Facebook page carried the sign #Iamavijit in support of the slain blogger Roy.
A threat to fundamentalists
Rahman's death highlights the fact that bloggers are being consciously targeted by certain groups.
"Bloggers are very influential in the Bangladesh society," Sarker told DW. "Sixty percent of the population in Bangladesh are below the age of 35. Among those involved in online activism, the majority are young people. This is also important in the political field, because a major part of the voters are young," he added.
Rahman's murder can also be seen in the context of the struggle between secular and fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh, said Sarker.
"There is a political aspect to that struggle between those who are promoting political Islam to turn Bangladesh into a fundamentalist, religious state and the secular political forces. The more radical branches of the Islamic organizations are gaining strength by the day," underlined the expert.
Islamists consider these young bloggers to be the major hindrance in the struggle to create a fundamentalist Bangladesh as opposed to the secular republic that emerged from the 1971's "War of Independence," according to various observers.
"That is why (the bloggers) have become the main target, and the political parties who are supposed to prevent such attacks and provide security to them seem unable to do so. The main problem is that even mainstream political parties prefer to compromise with these radical groups to remain in power," said Sarker.
Targeted from all sides
Dr. Tazreena Sajjad, Bangladesh expert and Professorial Lecturer at American University, is of the view that this use of extreme targeted violence against individuals with certain expressed religious and philosophical orientations is relatively new in Bangladesh. However, she adds, it is critical to keep in mind this is happening within a hyperpolarized political context where violence is used on a regular basis.
"In recent years, violence has frequently been instrumentalized to intimidate, harass and abuse people with different political affiliations and from different sections of the society who are just trying to go about their lives," Sajjad told DW. "It also exposes the level of political volatility at play, the weakening law and order situation in the country, and a virulent strain of political and pseudo-religiosity that is trying to move from the obscure margins to the mainstream."
Secular writers and bloggers are not only under attack from extremists; Bangladesh's liberal government of Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina too is not very friendly towards them.
In 2013, when four online writers were arrested on charges of "hurting religious sentiment through their writings against Islam," the Islamists took to the streets to demand the death penalty for the bloggers. Instead of defending the bloggers, PM Hasina said her government would take action against anyone defaming Islam. In a meeting with some Islamic scholars who sought action against the bloggers, Hasina said that her government was indeed serious about taking action against people involved in anti-Islam blogging. However, the PM rejected the demands of new blasphemy laws from the opposition.
A number of Bangladeshi and international rights organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, have been critical of the bloggers' intimidation both by Islamists and the government. "The persecution of atheist bloggers is the result of a political desire to restrict freedom of expression and reinforce censorship in the name of combating blasphemy … This is unacceptable and contrary to all the fundamental freedoms we defend," according to a Reporters Without Borders statement.

Vulnerable Plight of Christians in Pakistan

By David Irfan

The recent tragic event of suicidal bomb blasts in two churches at Youhanabad Lahore has shaken and rocked the world. A wave of terror and fear has run in the Christian Community. The history of brutalities and atrocities upon the Christian Community is not a new thing in Pakistan, rather in the subcontinent, as its traces could be found from the time of dismemberment of subcontinent in 1947. Unfortunately it has become order of day that the Christians are being butchered mercilessly in Indo-Pak. Despite the uproar, raising voice Pro-Christians by the west, particularly by the European Union, the falling of calamities on the Christian folk has not come to an end. Whenever any such untoward incident takes place in Pakistan, no corrective measures are taken rather mere the pronouncement of sympathetic statements are considered suffice just to pacify the Christians sentiments, which is mockery to social equality. 

The vulnerability of the Christian Community could be gauged from the oppression being caused by the Muslim extremists and on the other hand codification and wrong implementation of Blasphemy Law provided under section 295-C Pakistan Penal Code. To my humble opinion none should be condemned unheard. In most of the cases the wretched Christians are involved in such like cases by the majority Muslim folk because of deep rooted animosities existing interse the communities, under the color of this alarming and hazardous law of 295-C PPC. In other words the fanatic and staunch Muslims take their personal revenge / grudge under the garb of this Blasphemy Law. The glaring examples of misusage of Blasphemy Law provided under section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code could easily be assessed from the following few similar tragic events:- 

1. In all Saints Church situated at Peshawar almost one hundred lives of innocent Christians were taken by the suicidal attackers. 

2. In the Bahawalpur incident, 16 Christians were put to death by the Muslim extremists during their worship in Church. 

3. In village Shantinagar, District Khanewal the entire monumental ancient Christian village was wiped out from earth by burning. 

4. In Gojra District Faisalabad seven Christians of one and the same family were put to death after locking them in a room while burning them alive. 

5. In the tragic and alarming event of Joseph Colony Lahore, the entire Christian populated colony was omitted from the earth while burning the same. Although no death toll was reported yet the Christians, dwellings with house hold goods were burnt. The care of burning the Joseph Colony was also the cause of Blasphemy Law. 

6. In Kot Radha Kishan Lahore a young Christian couple, including a pregnant woman were burnt alive by Muslim extremists while putting the couple in burning brick-Klin. 

My this article would remain incomplete if I do not make mention about the recent most tragic event the plight and miseries of regarding voiceless Pakistani Christians of Youhanabad Lahore, where from the date of occurrence till date 30 innocent Christians who were engaged in offering their prayers / worship in two different Churches, where both the Churches were rocked by simultaneous suicidal attacks resulting into the loss of at least 30 innocent Christians and about one hundred sustained serious injuries. 

No Pakistani Ruler specifically could be blamed for the torture and agony suffered by Pakistani Christian Community, yet I have few proposals, suggestions and remedial steps for the eradication of this menace. 

a) The betterment of economic condition. 

b) Social justice / equality. 

c) Christian representation in the National / Provincial legislatures. Proportionate to their strength. 

d) Maintenance of the good law and order situation. 

e) Establishing a free arms society. 

f) The government should ensure the safety of its citizen disregard to any religion, race, colour etc. 

g) Provision of skilled and technical training to the police and other personnel of concerned departments responsible for the maintenance of law and order situation as to combat and tackle any untoward situation. 

h) The principle of natural justice, fair play and equity to be implemented without discrimination. The state should strictly ensure the safety of its citizens, honour and property of each and every citizen of the state. Congenial and conducive atmosphere should be provided as to create interfaith harmony among the varies segments of the society. 

i) The blasphemy law needs its review and particularly its phase of implementation. In brief the incharge of District Police Head should chalk out FIR in case of any arisen situation as to ensure the transparency, moreover sufficient number of reliable and trust worthy witnesses are required before lodging of a criminal case as to prevent and deter the victimization under the colour of section 295-C PPC.


Karachi-based human rights activists and civil society organisations staged a rally on Sunday in the posh-Clifton area near Three Swords Roundabout in Karachi to condemn the Pakistan’s pro-Saudi foreign policy of the PMLN government against the defenseless people of Arab Muslim country Yemen.

The protestors voiced concern over the likely deployment of Pakistan's armed forces in Saudi Arabia at the request of the pro-Israel U.S.-allied Saudi royal family to fight against Yemen.
Civil society organisations have condemned the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government and its allies for considering sending troops to Saudi Arabia.
Those who spoke at the rally said that if Pakistan join Saudi-led coalition, it would be a huge strategic mistake in the long term and could cause political, military, economic and foreign policy losses, whereas the ruling party would gain immediate or short-term financial gains.
They also issued a statement on Saturday that said the "mysterious gift" of $1.5 billion given to Pakistan in 2014 and the government's reluctance to be transparent about it then had become clear now. It added that the government should have the courage to be open and honest.
It also asked the government to not attempt to befool the citizens that "the holy land of Saudi Arabia is under threat of attack" because "it is not".
The statement said: "We have not yet forgotten Black September: Gen. Zia-ul-Haq's bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan way back in 1970. We are still paying the diplomatic and political price for that disaster." It added: "Thirdly, we are in the midst of internal military operations against militants and terrorist networks such as the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Taseer vigil attackers granted bail by LHC

Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday granted bail to three men accused of attacking a vigil in Lahore held to commemorate the death anniversary of slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

The accused were identified as members of the Anjuman Fidayan-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwat. The police arrested them from a seminary at Multan Road in Lahore.
A division bench of the LHC headed by Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi granted bail to Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Iftikhar and Furqanul Haq for attacking the vigil.
Six men were arrested for perpetrating the attack on the village. One of the accused men was already granted bail.
An FIR was registered at Gulberg police station under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 365, 511, 506, 188, 148, and 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
On January 4, armed men - riding a motorbike - attacked members of civil society who had gathered at Liberty Chowk to mark Taseer’s fourth death anniversary and teared down the portraits of the former governor.

Pakistan - Don't bring the Saudi imperialist war to my home


Last time it happened, the Saudis sided with Zaidi Imam Muhammad al-Badr.
It was the year 1962, when revolutionaries inspired by ideas of Arab nationalism deposed the last king of Mutawakilite Kingdom of Yemen, Muhammad al-Badr, and put an end to the rule of Zaidi Imams who had been kings of Yemen for the most part of past one thousand years.
Inspired by socialist ideals, Arab nationalism had emerged as a potent ideology around the Arab world and Yemen was no exception. Jamal Abdel Nasser, the then socialist Egyptian president, backed the republicans in Yemen through military support while Saudis, along with Britain, supported the deposed Zaidi king who spearheaded insurgency against the new government.
Not many people outside Yemen know about the Zaidi sect of Islam that exists in the southern part of Arabian Peninsula.
The Zaidiyyah, who are also known as 'Fivers', are named after Zaid ibn Ali, the grandson of Hussain ibn Ali. Zaidis follow the jurisprudence that is more similar to Hanafi school as compared to the 'Twelver' Shia school of jurisprudence.
Houthis, mostly Zaidis, started as a theological movement in 1992 and spearheaded insurgency in 2004 against the then president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who himself belongs to the Zaidi sect. The Houthis, along with students and Joint Meeting Parties, participated in 2011 Yemeni revolution that followed the Tunisian revolution.
In 1962, Zaidi Shias were friends while nationalists, socialists, and communists were pronounced as foes by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 2015, they have been declared as foes and an imminent danger to Saudi sovereignty and territorial integrity.
It is most convenient to paint the whole conflict with broad brushstrokes of Shia/Sunni and Arab/Ajam binaries while ignoring the role of imperial baggage, complex socio-political realities, and all-powerful ruling Arab dynasties.
Also see: Bad Saudi vibes
These simplistic binaries serve as a smokescreen to conceal the ulterior motives of ruling dynasties and autocratic regimes that have come down hard on voices of dissent in the wake of Arab Spring.

This is not a war waged by Sunnis against Shias nor is it the battle between Ajam and Arab – it is simply an act of dynastic self-preservation.

Not unlike the rest of the world, the Muslim world is not a monolith. Muslim societies are diverse on many different levels, with myriad divisions on national, ethnic, linguistic and sectarian lines. The majority of Muslims living in this world are neither Arab nor Persian. And if history has taught us anything, it is that identities cannot be stripped forcefully. It’s a bloody path to tread.
Pakistan is a country with a diverse population. People speak so many different languages, adhere to many different religious schools of thought, and come from different ethnic backgrounds. The state’s miscalculated adventures inside and outside the country have only exacerbated the sense of alienation in many of the communities here.
The state’s obsession with colouring the populace with the same ideological colour has gone terribly wrong.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are the only two Muslim majority states whose raison d'être is interlinked with particular Muslim sects. Former adheres to Wahabism, while latter adheres to Twelver Shi’ism.
Owing to the Pakistani state’s obsession with doing away with Indian identity and ideological tilting towards Arabs, Saudi Arabia wields a way more consequential influence over Pakistan.
According to one WikiLeaks cable, Saudi ambassador to the US once proudly asserted that, “we in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants”.

After getting rid of British imperialism, there is a new kind of socio-cultural imperialism that has made inroads into Pakistani society: Arab imperialism

From the illegal funding of madrassahs and the TV evangelists to pop stars, to cricketers, to politicians, to language; the imprints are unmistakable. With each shrine that is blown up and every imambargah that is torched, there is a bit of indigenous Pakistan that dies silently.
Instead of becoming a part of another Saudi-led war, it is probably the time to ask all the right questions.
It is probably the time to ponder why all the Muslim cities that have diverse populations are burning.
It is probably time to reflect on why Beirut is in flames, and Cairo is bleeding, and Kabul is ravaged, and Aleppo is sacked, and Peshawar is crying, and Baghdad is bruised, and Sana’a is trembling. Why not Tehran, Riyadh, and Doha?
Instead of bringing another war home for the sake of a ruling dynasty, it is probably time to clean the blood and tears brought about by 'strategic depth'.

Pakistan - Say no to Saudi Arabia

The government seems to have all the wrong ideas about not just  how to govern but how to manage their relations with other countries in the region and beyond. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition of some Gulf states along with Egypt, Morocco and Jordan has decided to wage all out war with the Houthi rebels in Yemen, militants the Kingdom believes are sponsored by Shia Iran, its mortal enemy. Saudi Arabia is gathering its regional allies and their troops in a military campaign to defeat the Houthis, who have gained control of Sanaa, the capital. It has also reached out to Pakistan, its longstanding ‘admirer’ and supporter no matter what the cost to its own sovereignty. Pakistan initially seemed too keen to participate in military interference in another country, in what is possibly being set as the stage for all out sectarian conflict in the Middle East. Is this something Pakistan can afford, especially when, seen in the regional context, it does not hold the same disregard for Tehran? After all, we are pushing forward on economic and energy cooperation with Iran; under what pretence can we militarily strike what many perceive to be an ally or proxy of Iran?

It is, therefore, a relief to note that the Pakistan foreign office has reiterated to the media and public that Pakistan has not agreed to anything with the Kingdom and is still “mulling over” the prospect of militarily supporting it. While that is hardly heartening, it is a big step back from the gung ho, knee-jerk response we saw earlier.

Iran is a regional neighbour; it is a strong one too, braving western sanctions for decades and now seeing the US coming to it for negotiations on its nuclear facilities. It is a Shia state and is a major contender for regional hegemony in the Middle East, a prospect that brings out the vitriol — and now, it seems, guns — from Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has always gone along with whatever the Kingdom wanted from it, from funding jihadist seminaries to inculcating. Wahhabiisation of the country. However, Pakistan now has to play smart. We are in an all out state of war ourselves with many fronts open against the Pakistani Taliban, who have waged war against the state. The army is already stretched too thin fighting our homegrown militants, who have killed more than 50,000 civilians so far. How can we afford to get involved in regional warfare? Do we really want to risk a blowback from this sectarian conflict on our own soil as well, which is already battling sectarianism and interfaith terror? Do we want a theatre of the macabre playing out here in no time?

We must decline the Saudis for once in our lives, for our own sake.

Pakistan, the West and religious minorities

IN ITS latest global report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) described Pakistan as presenting one of the "worst situation(s) in the world" in respect of liberty of thought. It cited the authorities' "grossly indequate" response to attacks on Shia processions and mosques which had cost hundreds of lives; the fact that the Ahmadis, who follow a religious teacher of the 19th century, are denied the right to call themselves Muslims, deprived of many other civil rights, and virtually disenfranchised; forced conversions and kidnappings affecting both Christians and Hindus; and above all a blasphemy law with a very low threshold of proof, which can easily be invoked in the course of petty quarrels unrelated to religion.

Over the past month, the news about religion in Pakistan has become worse, whether this is measured by the behaviour of officialdom or the horrors suffered by ordinary folk at the hands of terrorists or fanatics. Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the USCIRF, visited Pakistan with her fellow commissioner Mary Ann Glendon, who is also a Harvard law professor. Answering a question from Erasmus, Ms Lantos Swett gave a bleak account of what they found:

There is a rising tide of religious persecution by the state and by militants. Pakistan's blasphemy law grossly abuses human rights. The Commission is aware of almost 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, a statistic unmatched in the world. The law fosters violence against religious minorities, such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. The legal prohibitions against Ahmadis are deeply problematic as well. In addition the ongoing targeted violence against Shias requires a vigorous state response. [A] Pakistani Supreme Court decision in 2014...mandated the creation of special police to protect religious minorities and a national commission on minorities...[but] the police force has not been created and the minorities commission is buried within the ministry of religious affairs. Greater, not lesser, efforts by the international community are needed to move Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to implement the Supreme Court decision, to arrest perpetrators of violence and to see abusive laws reformed or repealed...The international community must not be silent or Pakistan's religious diversity will be forever lost.
Meanwhile the "perpetrators of violence" have not been idle. On March 15th, two Christian churches in Lahore were attacked by suicide-bombers; at least 17 people were killed and 70 wounded, and the toll would have been far higher had it not been for the bravery of volunteer security guards. This was the worst assault on Christians in Pakistan since the bombing of a church in Peshawar in 2103 which claimed nearly 80 lives. On March 16th, a protest by Christians in Lahore turned violent, and two Muslims were lynched. Christian leaders in the city, while strongly condemning the lynchings, complained that hundreds of innocent members of their community had been arbitrarily arrested. In Youhanabad, the Christian district of Lahore, many Christian families have fled, leaving their homes open to looting; police have reportedly been extorting money from poor Christians as a kind of collective punishment.

These developments pose a dilemma for Western governments. The church bombings were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, and a central aim of Western policy has been to persuade the Pakistani authorities to crack down firmly, not faint-heartedly, against that terrorist network. Whatever messages Western governments are now sending to the authorities in Pakistan, they will presumably include fresh words of encouragement in the anti-Taliban fight, not just a long list of scoldings. Another problem, some would say, is that if Western governments are seen to advocate the interests of the Christian minority in particular, that might actually make things worse for Pakistan's Christians, by increasing the suspicion among hotheads that followers of that faith are a "fifth column" for Western interests.

At a minimum, Western governments should be thinking seriously about what they can practically do, apart from issuing rebukes. Wilson Chowdhry, who runs the British Pakistani Christian Assocation, says Britain and other European countries should look hard at how aid to Pakistan, and in particular aid to education, is used. At its worst, Pakistani education reinforces militant readings of Islam and prejudice against minorities. Well-targeted aid can help to change that situation; the poorly targeted kind can simply reinforce existing bad practice. Mr Chowdhry also wants Britain to show greater sympathy to asylum-seekers who face religious persecution in Pakistan, as the Netherlands and Canada have recently started doing.

Lisa Curtis, a Pakistan-watcher at the Heritage Foundation, a think-thank in Washington, DC, thinks Western governments should be sending a calibrated mixture of signals to that country. "The recent suicide attacks are part of [a] broader terrorist campaign aimed at...undermining the authority of the state, and they remind the international community of the importance of supporting Pakistan in its fight against terrorists. These terrorist strikes merit a policy response which is different from the response to religious persecution that takes place within society, for instance the use of the blasphemy law against religious minorities...[which] should be condemned in the strongest terms."

Faced with dramatic images of wounded worshippers or police deploying tear gas, it might seem surprising that the USCIRF, which is mandated by Congress to monitor freedom of belief round the world, should focus so much on procedural issues, like the implementation of a Supreme Court decision. But there is also some merit in that approach. For obvious historic reasons, governments in the developing world are resentful of being told what to do by agencies in the rich global North. But it is less provocative to say something like: you say you are committed to upholding the rule of law, and to protecting religious diversity, so in that spirit we respectfully urge you to do what your own institutions (in this case, the Supreme Court) are telling you to do.

For all the travails of its religious minorities, Pakistan does at least accept, in principle, the legal right of different faiths to exist. There are some countries in the world, from the atheist regime in North Korea to the hard-line Muslim one in Saudi Arabia, which don't even go that far.  That acceptance provides a basis for discussion, at least, between Pakistan and other countries who wish it and its people, in all their diversity, well.

How Will Pakistan Respond to the Crisis in Yemen?

Reports late last week in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere suggested that Pakistan, given its close ties to Saudi Arabia, was considering its involvement in the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Last week, Saudi Arabia, on the request of ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, initiated air strikes and a naval blockade against the Iran-backed Shia Houthi rebels who had captured the Yemeni capital of Sana’a earlier this year. The Yemeni government claimed that the Houthis were planning to overthrow the government and create a Shia state in Yemen while the Houthis see themselves as combating religious intolerance from the government.
Pakistan, a Sunni Islamic state, maintains close defense and strategic ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Last week, after the air strikes began, Saudi Arabia’s state media reported that Pakistan was one of the Muslim countries outside of the Middle East that was considering providing material support. Among Muslim countries, Pakistan is perhaps the most capable militarily. With an active nuclear weapons program and a large military — primarily to counter its greatest perceived threat from neighboring India — Pakistan is an important provider of military training and arms to Saudi Arabia’s armed forces.
Additionally, Riyadh has been a major source of financial assistance for the fiscally fragile Pakistani government. According to Reuters, last year, Pakistan received $1.5 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia to meet debt obligations and bolster its foreign exchange reserves. Given these factors, Pakistan’s involvement in a Saudi-led military campaign is far from unthinkable. Indeed, in 1990, Pakistan agreed to join an international force to defend Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression — Pakistani troops protected Saudi holy sites at the time.
“Pakistan enjoys close and brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia and other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries and attachés great importance to their security,” noted a statement that came out of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office. Sharif reportedly met for several hours with senior Pakistani military personnel last week, including the Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army, General Raheel Sharif (no relation), who recently traveled to Saudi Arabia for a high-level visit focused on military cooperation between the two countries. “The meeting concluded that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan,” the prime minister’s statement added.
However, over the weekend, the Pakistani foreign office noted that “rumors” of Pakistani military participation in the ongoing military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen were just that. These are several reports in the media which are completely baseless,” Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary told the press on Saturday evening, according to Pakistan’s Geo news agency. He did note that a senior Pakistani delegation is heading to Riyadh to discuss possible options, but the country hasn’t conclusively determined the extent of its military participation in the Saudi-led campaign.
Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s defense minister, made it clear that no Pakistani combat troops were currently in Saudi Arabia. ”We have made no decision to participate in this war. We didn’t make any promise. We have not promised any military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” Asif said. He noted, hearkening back to Pakistan’s involvement in Saudi Arabia in 1990, that Pakistan would only step in if Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity was threatened.
Variables outside the bilateral Saudi-Pakistani relationship could affect Islamabad’s calculus. On Sunday, the League of Arab States announced that they would form a joint military force to counter the Houthi insurgency in Yemen and more generally combat the spread of Iranian influence across the region. Broader regional support for the Saudi initiative may make it more likely that Pakistani will participate in the conflict in the future.
Within Pakistan, Imran Khan, a prominent opposition politician who led widely destabilizing anti-government protests for the greater part of 2014, cautioned against Pakistan’s involvement in the conflict. Sharif’s government faces widespread criticism domestically for Pakistan’s ailing infrastructure and internal security situation and involvement in a far-flung foreign conflict could lead to a bad situation getting worse for his government. “Given our close ties to both Saudi Arabia and Iran and our own internal sectarian terrorism, Pakistan simply cannot afford to get embroiled in any Shia-Sunni conflict in the Gulf and Middle East regions. Pakistan must stay strictly neutral,” a lawmaker with Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party told the WSJ.
So far, the extent of Pakistan’s involvement in Yemen since Saudi air strikes began has been focused on rescuing Pakistani citizens in the country. The government evacuated 500 Pakistan nationals from Yemen after strikes began with the use of the national airline. One Pakistani frigate was also reported to have assisted in the rescue operation.