Monday, August 3, 2015

Pakistan - Fountainhead of sectarianism

The Pakistani parliament's arrogation of powers to act as God's representative on earth has put the very fabric of Pakistani society in danger.

Malik Ishaq’s violent death seems to indicate that the state is now ready to take on the sectarian extremism that has plagued Pakistan for a long time now. However, this is merely symptomatic relief while the underlying issue of sectarianism continues to be ignored by the state. The goal that sectarian organisations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have pursued is to get Shia Muslims declared a non-Muslim minority in Pakistan, ironic for a country whose founding father was a Shia. They have, however, a precedent for this: the declaration of another sect as a non-Muslim minority in 1974.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan is the fountainhead of sectarian extremism. Not only did it violate all principles of citizenship and a citizen’s relations with the state, it dealt a deathblow to Muslim unity in Pakistan. Takfir (to declare someone an apostate) is not a recent phenomenon: Muslims have been declaring other Muslims kaafirs (infidels) for centuries now. In the 1940s, Jinnah was declared not just a kaafir but the Kaafir-e-Azam or the great infidel by the ulema (clergy) opposing him. His crime was twofold: one, he was a Shia and two, he refused to turn Ahmedis out of the Muslim League. What he achieved despite this opposition was unity between the various sects and sub-sects of Muslims. The Ahmedis especially supported the creation of the new country despite not being unmindful of the fact that at some point they may face persecution. Records show that they were well aware of the possibility of all other sects ganging up against them but went along with the idea because they thought it was best for the Muslims of the subcontinent. The Muslim unity that led to the creation of this country, however, was achieved on the basis that no Muslim had a better right to being called a Muslim than any other Muslim. This was a rejection of the clergy’s right to determine who was a Muslim and who was not a Muslim.

The Second Amendment in 1974 shattered that Muslim unity once and for all. Now the principle was established that parliament could excommunicate an entire community by passing a constitutional amendment. This legitimised sectarian politics; after all if Ahmedis could be excommunicated so could Shias or Barelvis and so and so forth, till Pakistan became a non-Muslim majority country by law. When put in this context, it makes perfect sense for Sunni extremists to do whatever they can in their power to get the state to declare Shias non-Muslim as well. Unlike Ahmedis, Shias form more than 20 percent of Pakistan’s population and therefore, by sheer arithmetic, constitutional politics are unlikely to achieve any similar result for Shias. Hence, the Sunni extremists resorted to the violence that has plagued Pakistan for three decades now.

The basic problem with this idea is that parliament can legitimately declare anyone a non-Muslim. I am not going to argue against the constitutional theory of parliamentary sovereignty, which is just another theory. The issue is beyond legal niceties. The Pakistani parliament’s arrogation of powers to act as God’s representative on earth has put the very fabric of Pakistani society in danger. In doing so it has left the door wide open for adventurers and religious bigots to seize it and take over, if not directly then by horrible sectarian violence. What the country needs is resolute leadership and what the leadership needs to do is repeal the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. Obviously, there are no takers of this proposition in Pakistan at the moment. Yet so long as the Second Amendment remains a part of the Constitution of Pakistan, sectarianism will continue to have the justification needed for its existence. Pakistani politicians and leaders must reach out to the ulema of whatever variety and explain to them why the policies that have been followed since 1974 regarding Ahmedis have led to a disaster that encompasses not just that relatively tiny community but all of us. It does not mean of course that you or I or anyone else needs to agree with Ahmedis and their beliefs but what is necessary is to accept that no one has a better right at being called a Muslim than any other person who calls himself or herself Muslim. The decision as to who is right and who is wrong is better left to the ultimate and supreme authority i.e. God Almighty himself.

Once we have established that neither the state nor parliament has the right to decide who is a Muslim and who is not, sectarianism will wither away on its own. No longer will groups have to struggle to achieve supremacy over one another. The ulema then can finally do what it is that they are required to do: to act as shepherd to their flock and stop preaching hate against each other.

Pakistan - Cruel operation

The scenes of shanties being bulldozed by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad have made everyone sombre. The CDA was given the task of removing illegal settlements in the outskirts of the Capital in Sector-I/11. An anti-encroachment operation backed by police personnel and Rangers razed hundreds of makeshift dwellings, leaving their inhabitants in utter distress. Though the residents resisted the drive, they failed to stop them. All that left was debris and hopeless souls, who were looking for shelter under the open sky. In order to understand this sad episode, we need to go back to the past when then prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo had declared all Katchi Abadis (informal settlements) regularised in 1985 due to the difficulty of relocating all their dwellers. That was not a solution to end illegal squatter colonies. That is the reason the government is still grappling with the problem even after almost three decades, obviously due to the absence of a clear policy and a lack of planning that are mainly responsible for these uncalled for tragedies.

A major influx of Afghan refugees since the 1980s exacerbated this problem. At that time, no one cared about this issue and the Afghans were given a free choice to go anywhere in Pakistan. In addition, the increasing prices of land and migration of a growing number of people from the rural to the urban areas have exacerbated the situation. Now, you can see such informal settlements and slums existing in almost all big cities of the country. The housing crisis has become a grave issue in the country. The rich have ample resources to find accommodation of their choice while those belonging to the middle class also somehow manage to get homes. It is the poor, who only earn enough to barely keep body and soul together, who cannot accumulate enough wealth to acquire proper housing. They are forced therefore to cling to little patches of ground to build their makeshift dwellings to shelter themselves and their families. The government needs to understand that the demolition of the homes of slum-dwellers is not a solution to the problem. It is sheer injustice with the poor. They too are citizens of this country and it is the government’s responsibility to provide them with affordable housing, given that the constitution provides the right to shelter, albeit this too is a right practiced more in the breach. Before launching such drives, the government should have made arrangements to relocate the displaced victims. And last but not the least, the government should evolve a clear policy and conduct proper planning to address the question of shelter, especially for the poor. 

Pakistan - Business Community Striking Back - 0.3 percent tax

The business community is still on the warpath over the government’s measure to charge 0.3 percent tax on every banking sector transaction of above Rs 50,000. With markets in main cities starting to look like ghost towns due to widespread strikes, the main point to ponder over is whether this will do any good to the business community.

The tax applies to everyone, not just traders, and the Rs 50,000 amount not a high enough amount to make the tax progressive. The tax is a withholding tax, which means it can be reimbursed if income papers and tax returns are filed. However, the process to file taxes, to pay-now-get-reimbursed-later is quite cumbersome, unless tax authorities make the process easier.

On the other hand, should the business community have not already filed tax papers - something that is necessary and legally required? Transactions worth million happen in bazaars everyday, with there being no record of the transaction, except innocuous bank transfers. Do the traders not want to pay taxes? Is it really wise to let most of the economic activity in Pakistan remain informal?

This decision to extend the scope of the banking transaction tax was made to punish non-filers and encourage them to start filing their tax returns. However many parties have also joined the protests, including PTI, calling it the ‘government’s drone attack on national economy’. The to the rhetoric of poor masses being pushed towards absolute poverty is a default setting for most opposition. But sometimes, it is more a matter of pressuring people to follow the law, even if it antagonises them. As a nation we have been demanding better health and education services for decades, when our attitude towards paying taxes is abysmal. The tax, at 0.3 percent of Rs 50,000 comes to Rs 150. This may seem like a small charge when the transaction is made once a month, say, for salary. But when transactions this large are being made on a daily bases by traders the amount piles up. The outcry betrays the informal and unrecorded nature of most business in Pakistan, as well as the sheer amount of untaxed money flowing through the economy.

It has been estimated that this tax will generate Rs 35 billion in the new fiscal year. This is a good amount to start with, but the government is not clean of blame yet. Decades of lethargic planning, and the economic scandals of top leadership inspire no desire in the masses to pay taxes. There has been no effort to enhance social services, nor make them more efficient. For most people Rs 35 billion generated by taxes means Rs 35 billion lost to corruption and debt payments. Why should they give their money so willingly when they are not sure of the benefits? Because it is the legal thing to do. This reason many not seem enough, but it must suffice for now.

Pakistan needs to make #polio drops mandatory: Aseefa Bhutto #EndPolioNow

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, who has become an international icon for Pakistan’s struggle against polio, has emphasized on measures to completely eradicate the potentially fatal and infectious disease of Polio from the country and achieve the status of Polio-free Pakistan.

“#Pakistan needs a strict policy for #polio eradication #EndPolioNow”
It was stated by Aseefa Bhutto Zardai in her tweet.

She Tweeted that “Pakistan needs to make #polio drops mandatory”

She has also tweeted that “India was able to eradicate #polio by making drops mandatory for all children under the age of 5 susceptible to the disease PK should aswell”

Ms. Aseefa Bhutto Zardari was the first child administered with polio drops when her mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto introduced widespread polio campaigns in the country in 1994. Polio free Pakistan was one of the missions of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, which she carried out with singular passion and worked tirelessly throughout her life for achieving this objective. Now, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari strongly committed to carrying the mission of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto forward.

India was able to eradicate by making drops mandatory for all children under the age of 5 susceptible to the disease PK should aswell

needs a strict policy for eradication

Pakistan sleuth wants country to admit mistakes about Mumbai attacks

The Pakistani investigator who led the probe into the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks has said his country has to deal with the fallout of the mayhem “planned and launched from its soil” and this will require “facing the truth and admitting mistakes”.

Tariq Khosa, who was made head of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) weeks after the assault that killed 166 people, acknowledged that the trial of the seven men charged for the attacks had “lingered on for far too long” and Pakistan must ensure the “perpetrators and masterminds...are brought to justice”.

In an article written for the influential Dawn newspaper, Khosa said “dilatory tactics by the defendants, frequent change of trial judges, and assassination of the case prosecutor as well as retracting from original testimony by some key witnesses” had been serious setbacks for Pakistani prosecutors.

During their meeting in the Russian city of Ufa last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif agreed that the two sides will discuss ways to expedite the trial of the Pakistani suspects, including the use of voice samples.

Read: 26/11 probe: Lakhvi won't give voice sample, says his Pak lawyer

The seven Pakistani suspects, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, have been charged with planning, financing and executing the carnage in India’s financial hub. The slow progress of their trial and the release of Lakhvi on bail have emerged as key irritants in bilateral ties.

The Islamabad high court ruled that the trial should be completed within two months but the deadline set by it has already passed.

Khosa listed seven key facts uncovered during the Pakistani investigation.

He said Ajmal Kasab, the lone attacker captured and subsequently executed in India after his conviction, was a Pakistani national whose place of residence, initial schooling and his joining a banned militant group was established by investigators.

Read: Experts reject Pakistan's demand for more evidence on 26/11 attacks

The training camp near Thatta in Sindh province, where the LeT terrorists were trained and launched by sea, was identified and secured by investigators. The casings of explosive devices used in Mumbai were recovered from the same training camp and duly matched.

The fishing trawler used by the attackers for hijacking an Indian trawler, in which they sailed to Mumbai, was brought back to a Pakistani harbour, painted and concealed. But it was recovered by investigators and connected to the accused, Khosa wrote.

The engine of the dinghy abandoned by the terrorists near Mumbai harbour “contained a patent number through which the investigators traced its import from Japan to Lahore and then to a Karachi sports shop from where a LeT-linked militant purchased it along with the dinghy”, he added.

The money trail was followed and the accused who bought the engine was arrested.

The “ops room” in Karachi, from where the attackers were directed, was identified and secured by investigators. Communications through voice over internet protocol (VoIP) were unearthed.

The alleged commander and his deputies were identified and arrested and a couple of foreign-based financiers and facilitators were arrested and brought to face trial, he wrote.

The anti-terrorism court conducting the trial of the seven accused ruled that their consent should be obtained for recording voice samples. The suspects refused and the matter was then taken up with the sessions court, which too turned it down because there is no provision in Pakistan’s Evidence Act or Anti-Terrorism Act for collecting voice samples.

The new Fair Trial Act of 2013 caters for admissibility of technical evidence like voice samples and Khosa said “its application with retrospective effect is a moot point”.

He said the Mumbai case was “quite unique” as it involved one incident with two jurisdictions and two trials. While India managed to nab Kasab and obtained his confession to close the trial, “proving conspiracy in a different jurisdiction is more complex and requires a far superior quality of evidence,” he said.

Khosa suggested that legal experts from both countries “need to sit together rather than sulk and point fingers”. At the same time, Pakistani authorities should not forget the FIA declared various other facilitators and operatives as fugitives and the trial “will not be over with the disposal of those under arrest or on bail”.

He wrote: “Other missing links need to be uncovered after the absconders’ arrest. This case will not be over soon.”