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December 19 2013

Bangladesh-Pakistan Relations Sour Over Islamist Leader's War Crimes Execution

Bangladeshi people protest against Pakistani agenda with war crime trial. Protest near Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka. Image by Kazi Sudipto. Copyright Demotix (19/12/2013)

Bangladeshi people protest against Pakistan's condemnation of the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah near the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka. Photo by Kazi Sudipto. Copyright Demotix (19/12/2013)

Bangladesh's execution last week of Abdul Quader Mollah, the assistant secretary general of right-wing Islamist party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, for crimes against humanity committed during its 1971 war for independence from Pakistan has caused a serious rift in the two neighboring countries’ relationship. 

Pakistan's lower house, the National Assembly, adopted a resolution on 16 December 2013 expressing concern over the hanging of Quader Mollah five days earlier, with some members claiming that the real reason behind his execution was his “loyalty to Pakistan”.

A special war crimes tribunal had convicted Quader Mollah earlier this year of 344 counts of murder, rape and torture during Bangladesh's bloody liberation war from Pakistan in 1971 and sentenced him to life in prison, but hundreds of thousands of people converged in a central intersection of capital city Dhaka to demand capital punishment in what became known as the Shahbag protests. The government eventually appealed Quader Mollah's sentence, and he was condemned to death.  

Every political party including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), except the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP), present in the house supported the resolution moved by the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.

Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami has commented that Quader Mollah was hanged because “he was loyal to Pakistan and supported the Pakistan army during the 1971 war”. Interestingly, Quader Mollah claimed during his defense that he did not take part in the killing of at least 381 unarmed people in Dhaka's Mirpur and Keraniganj areas in 1971, but rather he trained to participate in the liberation war and was awaiting his turn in Faridpur to join the battle against Pakistan (he joined Jamaat-e-Islami in 1979). The statement that “he was loyal to Pakistan” seems to contradict his defense.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party Chairman Imran Khan also claimed that Quader Molla was innocent and charges against him were “false”.

Bangladesh protested immediately, requesting that Pakistan refrain from such “interference” in its domestic affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Pakistan High Commissioner Mian Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi Qureshi on the evening of 17 December to inform him of the government's unhappiness with Pakistan's “completely untrue, biased and absolutely inappropriate” remarks.

The war of words spilled over onto the Internet, where the truth gave way at times to propaganda. After the execution of Qadir Mollah, his alleged last letter circulated on the Pakistani blogosphere and social media. The source of this letter could not be confirmed. The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami website doesn't have any Urdu letter or any content similar to this one available.

Fake letter of Abdul Qadir Mollah

The likely fake last letter of Abdul Qadir Mollah

“The Last Letter of Abdul Qadir”.

I am given new clothes. The water for bathing is in the bucket. The officer on duty orders me to take a bath quickly. Every sepoy peeps in. Some are sad and some are happy. Their continuous movement disturbs my recitation of the Quran. I have Tafheem e Quran of Sayeed Modidi in front of me, here is the translation:

“Don’t be sad, you will overcome them if you are a Momin”

Subhan Allah! There is satisfaction in these words…I have a request to you all that stay firm… I can see this path leads to heaven.

Your Muslim brother

Abdul Qadir Mollah

Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan organize a protest rally in Islamabad against the hanging of Abdul Quader Mollah Jamaat, leader In Bangladesh. They offered prayers in memory of the executed opposition leader, lambasted at the Bangladeshi Government. Image by Taseen Farooq. Copyright Demotix (13/12/2013)

Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan organize a protest rally in Islamabad against the hanging of Abdul Quader Mollah Jamaat, leader in Bangladesh. They offered prayers in memory of the executed opposition leader and lambasted the Bangladeshi government. Photo by Taseen Farooq. Copyright Demotix (13/12/2013)

Hundreds of members of Jamaat-e-Islami held protests in Pakistan against the execution in Lahore, the capital Islamabad and Peshawar. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hassan said the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh were under the influence of India. The protesters offered funeral prayers in absentia for Qader Mollah.

Senior journalists in Pakistan also participated in the “Gayabana Namaz e Janaza” (last prayers in absentia) in Islamabad. Twitter account Save Bangladesh tweeted a photo in which Hamid Mir and Mushtaq Minhas, seasoned journalists, appear in the first row:

Hamid Mir blasted the execution:

Online journalist Khalid Khan reported that the hashtag #WeAreQuaderMollah was trending on Pakistan's Twitter on 12 December as users expressed their solidarity with the convicted war criminal:

Several Urdu-language newspapers and right-wing English newspapers also condemned the execution of Quader Mollah.

This fake picture was also circulated by Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf. One of PTI supporters, Muhammad Ali Lashari, tweeted:

But there were those who offered more measured reactions, such as Faizan Lakhani:

Meanwhile, the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group threatened to attack the Bangladesh embassy in Islamabad.

Bangladeshis were no less vocal in protesting pushback from Pakistan. The country's prime minister strongly condemned Pakistan for its reaction to the execution.  Newspaper articles criticized the Pakistani resolution. Some bloggerscalled for severing diplomatic ties [bn] with Pakistan in protest.

People from all walks of life staged angry protests around the country on the 18 December. The next day, police wielding batons forced back a group of young people on their way to lay siege to the Pakistan High Commission in the capital’s Gulshan area. Six activists were arrested and dozens were injured.

Blogger Dangabaz [bn] analyzed the reason why Pakistan is irked by the execution on Sachalayatan Bangla blogging platform:

ওরা ১৯৭৪ সালের ২৪শে মার্চ (পশ্চিম পাকিস্তানের) সব বাঙ্গালী পরিবার বাংলাদেশে পাঠানোর কাজ সম্পন্ন করে এবং (বিনিময়ে) বাংলাদেশ সরকার ১৯৫ জন পাকিস্তানী যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের বিরুদ্ধে সব অভিযোগ এবং তথ্যপ্রমান ওদের সাথে দিয়ে দেয় যেন পাকিস্তানে এইসব যুদ্ধাপরাধীর বিচার করা সম্ভব হয়। তাদের সঙ্গে বোঝাপড়া হয় এভাবে যে এইসব পাকিস্তানী সৈন্যদের পাকিস্তান নিজে শাস্তি দেবে। [..]

কিন্তু গত ৪২ বছরেও পাকিস্তান তাদের কথা রাখেনি। ওদের কোন বিচারিক প্রক্রিয়া তো দুরে থাক বরং মুক্তি পাওয়া সৈন্যদের সংবর্ধনা দিয়েছে বলেও শোনা গেছে।

They had repatriated all Bengali families residing in West Pakistan to Bangladesh by 24 March 1974, and (in return) the Bangladesh government handed over the 195 war criminal soldiers to Pakistan along with all the charges and evidence for easy trial. The understanding was that Pakistan will take the responsibility of punishing these soldiers. [..]

But Pakistan did not keep its word. They did not face any trial. Rather celebrations were undertaken for their release.

Protesters  has marched towards the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh. Image by  Khurshed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (18/12/2013)

Protesters march towards the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh. Image by Khurshed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (18/12/2013)

People from both sides further reacted to the execution:

Rezwan contributed to this post.

November 02 2013

Pakistani Taliban Leader's Death by Drone Triggers Relief, Anger and Fear

Hakimullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban has been killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani intelligence officials and militant commanders in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Mehsud's driver and bodyguard were also reportedly killed in this strike.

The killing comes a day before the Pakistani government was sending a team to hold peace talks with Mehsud's Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and just a week after Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with US President Barack Obama at the White House and expressed his strenuous opposition to drone strikes. 

Naz Bloch, spokesperson of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehkrik-i-Insaf or PTI, a political party that has been pushing for peace talks with the Taliban and campaigning against US drone strikes tweets Imran Khan's response to the news:

PTI's chief Imran Khan later demanded the government to immediately block Nato supplies going through the country to Afghanistan. PTI is the ruling party in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which shares borders with the tribal areas and has been the most brutally affected by Taliban violence in Pakistan.

Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani journalist and author of The Scorpion's Tail: the relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan was surprised to see Imran Khan's reaction:

He adds:

Blogger and PTI's social media head Dr. Awab Alvi tweets:

Supporters of Jamat-ud-Dawa chant slogans during a protest demonstration against the U.S. drone attacks outside the Hyderabad Press Club. Hyderabad, Pakistan. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (1/11/2013)

Supporters of Jamat-ud-Dawa chant slogans during a protest demonstration against the U.S. drone attacks outside the Hyderabad Press Club. Hyderabad, Pakistan. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (1/11/2013)

Zarlasht Faisal, (@ZarlashtFaisal) , a fashion designer and a PTI supporter, questions the future of the war.

Usama Khilji, a Pakistani activist fears a backlash by Taliban:

Beena Sarwar, a blogger and human rights activist questions the role of TTP.

Renowned Pakistani lawyer and judicial activist Athar Minallah reacts:

Omar Quraishi, an op-ed editor of the English daily, the Express Tribune believes drones are not a hindrance to peace talks.

Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan People's Party or PPP, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweets:

There are some funny tweets and jokes in Urdu being circulated on Twitter about Hakimullah Mehsud's killing:

Had Hakilmullah Mehsud escaped wearing a Burqa, he would not be playing ludo [Pakistani bord game] with Hoors [virgins]. Aunty Aziz Lal Masjid wali

Hakimullah with Hoors in heaven

Hakimullah with Hoors in heaven

condolence étiquettes

condolence étiquettes

Obituary and condolence etiquette: This is a request to those coming for condolence,  the wives of Hakimullah Mehsud – Madam Imrana Khanum and Munawar Begum – are in Iddah [mourning in solitude]. That is why, condolences will be received by his other women, Eliya and Ansaran from Murree [city]. Because these two were not his wives, they were just his sleeping partners.

August 22 2013

Women Barred From Voting in By-elections in Some Parts of Pakistan

Reports are trickling in that female voters are being barred in several areas from casting their vote in the ongoing Pakistan by-elections for 41 national and provincial assembly seats in four provinces and Islamabad.

During the Pakistan general elections back in May, the overwhelming voter turnout was a truly heartening sight. It reaffirmed the faith of the masses in the democratic process. However, the overall turnout of the women was rather abysmal, thanks to the political parties in different areas who colluded to keep the female vote out of the ballot.

The same trend can be discerned during the ongoing special elections. According to Indian news portal Niticentral, the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had warned that it would kidnap or kill women of Hangu in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa who took part in the poll. Online news portal News Pakistan reported that political and religious parties barred women in parts of Nowshehra district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Phalia in Punjab today during the vote.

A man is casting his vote in Islamabad during by-elections. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

A man is casting his vote in Islamabad during by-elections. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

PakVotes, a project monitoring the fairness of by-elections, tweeted on August 22, 2013:

Marvi Sirmed, a well-known civil society activist, cited many areas where females were being barred from polling stations:

She further observed:

Sanam Jung, a notable VJ, specifically cited the NA-254 constituency, Karachi and the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party there:

A field monitor of Pak Votes was able to obtain a joint agreement between agents at a specific polling station in Mardan. The agreement stated that women wouldn't be allowed to cast their votes in the said polling station. An image of the agreement is posted below:

DSCF0051

Image Courtesy: PakVotes

The document translates as follows: “All three agents in Government Primary School, Shah Butt Khel, Umarabad, have reached the joint decision that women wouldn't be allowed to cast their votes and that no one will take any legal action over this.”

Candidates Agents Signature Jamshed Khan Mahmand Amjad Ali <Signed> Zakaullah Khan Qari Farman <Signed> Fazl Rabbai Advocate Ibn-e-Ameen <Signed>

The paper is then signed by presiding officer Bashir Ahmed on August 22, 2013.

Urban areas in Pakistan were somewhat of a contrast where many women cast their vote for the first time during by-elections, as was also witnessed during the general elections.

Asma Shirazi, an anchorperson for a leading TV channel, revealed:

A woman is casting her vote during by-elections in Islamabad. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

A woman is casting her vote during by-elections in Islamabad. Image by Shiraz Hassan. Copyright Demotix (22/8/2013)

Although the female voter turnout in many areas was far better than the last time during general elections and the overall female turnout registered a spike, the trend of barring female voters from casting vote in many regions of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continues. This is especially true of such regions where religious conservatives have a heavy influence.

The authorities did not acknowledge many such anomalies during general elections but thankfully, ECP has taken notice of such instances this time, announcing re-polling in certain constituencies where female voters have been barred from casting their vote.

July 19 2013

Pakistani Journalist Takes on Taliban Militant for Malala

Celebrated around the world for her bravery, she has been called a CIA spy, a western stooge, and even a liar at home.

Even after her bold speech at the UN, demanding free education for all children from world leaders, teen activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, continues to be a divisive figure in Pakistan.

Following her speech, a Taliban militant wrote Malala an open letter urging her to return home and continue her education at a Islamic school or madrassa. He was promptly taken down by a Pakistani journalist in another open letter who advised him against picking a fight with Pakistani women.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistan teen who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, at the United Nations on Friday. Beside her at left, is Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, and Mr. Vuk Jeremiae, President of the General Assembly. Image by Nancy Siesel. Copyright Demotix. (12 July 2013)

Malala Yousafzai at the United Nations. Beside her at left, is Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, and Mr. Vuk Jeremiae, President of the General Assembly. Image by Nancy Siesel. Copyright Demotix. (12 July 2013)

The open letter from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militant Adnan Rasheed claims that 16-year-old Malala was attacked by the Taliban because she maligns the group, and not because she was pursuing an education. In a letter circulated to Pakistani journalists through the Pakistani Taliban media cell, Rasheed writes:

First of all please mind that Taliban never attacked you because of going to school or you were education lover, also please mind that Taliban or mujahideen are not against the education of any men or women or girl. The Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smear campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative.

Award-winning author and Pakistani journalist Mohammad Hanif writes his response to Rasheed in the Guardian's opinion section, “Dear Taliban leader, thank you for your letter to Malala Yousafzai::

 I write to thank you in response to the generous letter you have written to Malala Yousafzai. Thanks for owning up that your comrades tried to kill her by shooting her in the head. Many of your well-wishers in Pakistan had been claiming the Taliban wouldn't attack a minor girl. They were of the opinion that Malala had shot herself in order to become a celebrity and get a UK visa. Women, as we know, will go to any lengths to get what they want. So thanks for saying that a 14-year-old girl was the Taliban's foe.

Hanif adds:

The government practically handed over the valley to your comrades, but their rule didn't even last for a few weeks because they ordered all women to stay home.

There was only one lesson to be learned: you can fight the Pakistani army; you can try and almost kill Pakistan's commander-in-chief, as you so heroically did; you might wage a glorious jihad against brutal imperial forces. But you can't pick a fight with the working women in your neighbourhood and hope to win. Those women may never get an audience at the UN but everyone – from cotton picker to bank teller – cannot be asked to shut up and stay home, for the simple reason that they won't.

The Edequal Foundation, an educational charity founded by Shahzad Ali and based in north London which supports teachers and students demonstrated in a show of support for Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban. Image by Peter Marshall. Copyright Demotix (20 October 2013)

The Edequal Foundation, an educational charity, based in north London protests in support of Malala Yousufzai. Image by Peter Marshall. Copyright Demotix (20 October 2012)

Zubair Towali, who lives in Malala's hometown the Swat valley in Pakistan, explains in a blog post:

The conspiracy theories regarding Malala are most unfortunate and they are many. One posits that she is a tool in the hands of the American/Jewish lobby. This line of “reasoning” says that her ‘abrupt fame’ has been fuelled and guided by elements out to conspire against Pakistan.

A Pakistani Twitter user Saqib Ali Kazmi responds:

Some Pakistani Twitter users still have their doubts though. Ahmed Bilal tweets:

#Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed, regardless of his atrocities has presented a valid point in his letter to #Malala.There I said it. #Pakistan — Ahmed Bilal (@ABWDXB) July 18, 2013

And some take their own message from the letter, like Pakistani musician Salman Ahmad, who tweets:

Khuldune Shahid, a finance correspondent for ePakistanToday, tweets:

But even Shahid feels compelled to defend Malala in his piece the “Epicentre of the Malalaquake”:

The Taliban’s conflict with Malala, much like their combat against all their adversaries, is a clash of religious teachings and humanistic viewpoints. [..]The Taliban devoutly follow antediluvian theologies, while Malala stands for enlightenment.”

Supporters of Pakhtoonkhawa Students Federation are protesting against an attack on Malala Yousaf Zai by Taliban during a demonstration at Peshawar press club.  Image by PPI Images. Copyright Demotix (18/10/2012)

Supporters of Pakhtoonkhawa Students Federation are protesting against an attack on Malala Yousaf Zai by Taliban during a demonstration at Peshawar press club. Image by PPI Images. Copyright Demotix (18/10/2012)

Shahid's conflicting viewpoints and the vitrole against Malala could be a symptom of Pakistan's larger identity crisis. Journalist Huma Yusuf writes in the NYT's Latitutde blog about the Malala Backlash:

These virulent reactions seem odd in a country that purports to value education and women’s rights. But that is simply a sign that Pakistan is still struggling to figure itself out — to figure out how to participate in the modern, global economy as it comes to terms with its colonial past, to reject Western pressure while coveting international approval, to strengthen its democratic institutions as an Islamic republic.

Rafia Zakaria, a columnist with Dawn, a leading English daily in Pakistan writes: 

if she returned, Malala Yousafzai, like other Pakistani heroines before her, would have to deal with the crude judgments of a society where lip service to education is permitted, but the freedom owed to educated women is denied.

In his open letter Rasheed also says he is writing to her in his personal capacity, and not as a Taliban member: “all my emotions were brotherly for you because we belong to same Yousafzai tribe.” Meanwhile, Taliban leaders have told the BBC they have nothing to do with the letter Adnan Rasheed wrote and that “his letter will be examined” [ur].

Rasheed was broken out of jail in 2012 by the Taliban, where he was awaiting his death sentence for attempting to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf in 2003. He is a former member of the Pakistan Air Force.

January 30 2013

First International Urdu Bloggers Conference

Mehwish Khan at ProPakistani reports that the first international Urdu bloggers conference was held on January 26, 2013 in Lahore, Pakistan. Over 70 Urdu bloggers from different parts of the country took part in the conference.

January 29 2013

Spain: Catalonia's “Declaration of Sovereignty” Translated into 36 Languages

On January 23, 2013, amid rising tensions with the Spanish government, the regional parliament of Catalonia approved by majority vote a Declaration of Sovereignty [ca] — seen widely as a prelude to a referendum on independence, expected to be held by 2014. Thanks to a diverse team of collaborators, the online Catalan-language publication Vilaweb [ca] has been able to publish the document in thirty-six languages.
(more…)

October 19 2012

Pakistan: Developing Viewpoints on Malala Yousufzai

It has been ten days when Malala's story first came out on the global screen. Today, Malala has become a symbol for an enlightened  and moderate Pakistan. Her name is being eulogized in prose and poetry. People are praying for her better health. Malala can be found in every newspaper and every social media website in Pakistan.

Without doubt, this is the Golden Age for a modern progressive Pakistan - a country where girls have an equal right to get education.

Sabir Nazir writes in Dawn blogs:

The image of Malala on every chowk, newspaper, profile picture, status update and TV channel….. Let us celebrate this golden moment in the history of Pakistan that might not last for very long.

For the first time religious extremists, such as Taliban, are being vehemently criticised in the public. During an address to a public rally in Karachi, MQM's head, Mr. Altaf Hussain, described Taliban as ‘inhumane, stone age people'.

Moreover, Malala has helped in consolidating the anti-Taliban forces in Pakistan. Across the political landscape, people are on an outrage against Taliban:

Saman Jaffery comments:

“If Taliban is a mindset, then Malala is a mindset, too. It's a mindset of educated and empowered women.”

Ashwer Waqi, a participant of MQM's political rally in support of Malala Yousufzai comments:

The message is right here … all these people. They are condemning the act of the Taliban

Social media has applauded Malala's stance against religious terrorists. The following picture was shared on Nosheerwan's fan page:

More than 205 people shared this picture on Facebook. This was just one of the thousands of shares people made to show their love for this little angel.

Across the border, in India, sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik constructed a sculpture to honour Malala. The following message was embossed on it:

“MALALA GET WELL SOON”

World famous American actress and director Angelina Joli proposed a Nobel Prize for Malala's determination for spreading girl education. She writes in her blog:

Still trying to understand, my children asked, “Why did those men think they needed to kill Malala?” I answered, “because an education is a powerful thing.”

Moreover, Government of Pakistan has planned to confer Sitara-e-Shujaat for her valour. A bounty of $1 million is also placed on the head of Taliban's leader involved in killing Malala.

Gedrosia tweets:

@Gedrosia: Proud of you #Malala - #Taliban you all can go to hell

The following two Urdu poetic verses have now being attributed to Malala. Years ago, Pakistan poet Habib Jalib wrote these verse for the assassinated prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. Saad Khalid shares [ur] these verese with us:

ڈرتے ہیں بندوقوں والے ایک نہتی لڑکی سے
پھیلے ہیں ہمت کے اُجالے ایک نہتی لڑکی سے

Gunmen are scared by an innocent girl
Radiance of hope spreads due to her

On the other end of the world, Mrs. Laura Bush, former first woman of United States compared Malala with Anne Frank.

Anti-Malala Campaign

Although Malala has been praised around the world and more specifically in Pakistan, an Anti-Malala Syndrome has also developed simultaneously.

People belonging to this school of thought either try to allude or delude Malala's achievement. They are trying to create a soft corner for such terrorist act in the minds of the commoners. Jahanzaib Haque has written a detail blog where he elucidates tactics Taliban-sympathisers use to debase Malala.

Their central thesis revolves around the following self-created conspiracy theories:

1) Attack on Malala was purposefully perpetrated by the United States

Taliban sympathizers try to equate Taliban's attack on Malala attack with US drone attacks in the Waziristan region in Pakistan (see Global Voices report). A fake picture was shared on twitter that shows an innocent girl who is sitting on a wheel chair:

Fake picture of an innocent girl depicted as being injured in a drone. Source: @Khuram_PTI

Text in the picture reads:

Innocent girl Laiba, who was injured in a drone attack, questions the Pakistani nation!!

“Oh! The people of Pakistan, am I less innocent than Malala or is my patriotism under question? [If not] then why isn't anyone speaking for me? Is this because United States is responsible for this act?”

Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP) debunked this picture. In reality, the girl lost her limbs in a suicide attack perpetrated by terrorists while she was doing shopping for the Muslim festival of Eid in November 2008.

2) Malala maligned Islamic symbols

Another fake picture that spread like fire is a deliberate concoction in Malala's memorable diary that tells about the degradation of girl education and destruction of schools during the Taliban rule in Swat.

False Propaganda about Malala's diary. Source: FacebookHasan Nisar

 The message in the picture reads:

Malala wrote none of the following statements in her diary:

“Seeing a veil reminds me of the Stone Age, and a beard reminds me of a Pharaoh”

This is a false propaganda, which is being carried out by Taliban-supporters ans those who are against woman education.

Whenever you see such news on social media, do ask for its source. Malala's diary can be read on BBC Urdu website.

Hasan Nisar wrote on his facebook page:

People are doing propaganda against Malala, by spreading false information, and by other cheap stunts.

3) Attacks on Malala is a diversion tactics

Yet another perceptive says attack on Malala is a ‘deliberate attempt‘ to divert Muslim attention from the recent blasphemy film.

Twitter users gave the following reactions to such ‘absurd theories‘ [ur] :

@arslajawaid: hameful *that* conspiracy theorists label#Malala a US spy/CIA agent. Shes just a child who showd us up with her courage.inferioritycomplex?

@Anas_Abbas: World is praying for Malala from West to India but Pakistanis are busy classifying her CIA agent as she didn't have Aafia's credentials.

@adeel_azhar: So the extremist mindset trying to prove#malala is herself a CIA agent..wonder what's next Malala, a freemason? Malala a devil worshipper?

@MhwshB: Haan haan. Bana do Malala ko yahoodi, CIA, RAW agent. Pehle goli maro, phir us ko agent keh do. Bas TTP ko na kehna kuch. Khabees.

@MhwshB: Yes! Yes! Now make her a Jew, make her a CIA or RAW agent. First shoot her, and then call her an agent. Just don't say anything to TTP. Pathetic!

An apt response to all such conspiracy theories is given by Nosheerwan on his face book page:

“People who are saying that Malala is an US agent are accomplishing nothing other than giving US agents a good name.”

Malala's love for education will continue to reverberant in the hearts of the peace-loving global majority:

Source: ‏@LuvVictoria_XOX

September 23 2012

The Pain of Being Physically or Mentally Challenged in Pakistan

In this world everyone is striving for perfection, and yet there are many who are falling behind from our relentless rat race for existence. Being a physically or mentally challenged person in Pakistan is a very painful existence because society finds it exceedingly hard to accept people who are a bit different, who need a little special care. They are usually shunned to the point that they feel alienated.

The first issue though is that of access. Less than 10% of buildings, restaurants and public places in Pakistan have proper ramps and facilities for disabled people. Erum Sangji, an apparel sourcing agent in Karachi, speaks on the lack of access issue in reference to her niece who is autistic:

Furhan Hussain commented on Twitter:

@FurhanHussain: Please note how schools/universities inculcate zero awareness in youth by not providing ramps and accessibility options in campuses.

Disabled protesters set a wheelchair on fire during demonstrations against social welfare cuts

Disabled protesters set a wheelchair on fire during demonstrations against social welfare cuts and demand special job quotas during International Disability Day. Hyderabad, Pakistan. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copy right Demotix (3/12/2011)

Bisma Askari, an architect working in Karachi, said:

bismAskari: Even basic facilities such as ramps are at a minimum, but are made with the wrong proportions. A wheelchair access ramp should have a ratio of 1:10 therefore making it comfortable for wheelchair use (an example of this is the pedestrian bridges at sharah e faisal. Only now do places like dolmen mall and port grand have wheelchair access but something like the flooring at port grand is not convenient for wheelchairs as well as there is no access to the shops / mall as there are steps.

Samra Muslim said:

@samramuslim: @faisalkapadia with older people it's like ‘why do u need to be out - u r old and dying' … Sad mindset we have …

Another huge stumbling block in the lives of physically and mentally challenged people in Pakistan is the social stigma attached to them as well a lack of proper educational facilities.

Taimur Mirza, an adventurer and off-road enthusiast who is raising a disabled 23 year son, Shehryar, speaks on this issue:

Ameenah remarked on the non participation of the state:

@ameenahtobani: haven't seen any facility for them they really feel handicapped no effort from state to make them feel indpndnt!

Faizan Lakhani chimed in about the lack of facilities:

@faizanflkhani: We don't have dedicated car park area for them. No special arrangements in public transports. #gv #Pakistan

This is not the only chapter in this book though. Despite all of these issues and hurdles, disabled citizens of Pakistan have been busy striving to achieve success with great merit in fields such as sports and education.

The Paralympics Association was founded in 1998 in Pakistan, and had trained athletes with disabilities to achieve the amazing result of 16 gold, 19 silver and 20 bronze medals in various sporting events around the world. The video below is a small reminder of their achievement:

There are several organizations and NGOs in Pakistan working for the rights of physically and mentally disabled people. Schools such as Manzil, Autism Institute, Dar ul Sakoon in Karachi and the Rising Sun school, and the Thevenet Centre in Lahore are also included in this list. These are just a few examples in this fight against injustice and humiliation. One of the most recent achievements in this field is a remarkable rickshaw provided by the NOWPDP, which can be controlled by hands alone.

Imran Ghanchi at the Unique Pakistan blog talks about the special rickshaw for disabled people:

“This rickshaw has better features than the one I had,” explained Ghanchi. “I am encouraging other disabled people to become drivers.” He is buoyed by the backing of the network.

Zafar Ullah Khan, a disabled person aged 40, writes in his blog:

The Government of Pakistan should at least take concrete steps to provide government jobs to educated special people. Those who have fake degrees reach the parliament. We have genuine degrees but are deprived of our right. It is also the clear violation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which has been signed by 153 countries including Pakistan, which on 5th of July, became one of 107 countries to have ratified it. The most fundamental principle of the convention is to change society attitude towards person with disabilities by making it more inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based.

The government has taken some steps such as the formation of a separate NIC (national id card) for the differently abled people in this country, giving them the chance to at least apply for some of the benefits they should get by default. However the integration of such individuals in the society at an acceptable level is a fight which they and the concerned citizens of this nation are fighting everyday.

March 28 2012

Pakistan: Demand for Independence of Sindh

It was not long ago that a bill was tabled in the US Congress in support of giving Balochistan – the land of the Baloch – the right to self-determination against their ‘forced accession’ into Pakistan on March 27, 1948. The day is still mourned as a Black Day throughout the Baloch land, including parts of the provincial capital, Quetta.

In the year 1971, the erstwhile East Pakistan had already witnessed a bloody independence war with Pakistan, which culminated in the creation of the country now known as Bangladesh – it was a real bloody war since hundreds of thousands of people were massacred in this ‘genocide’ to crush the Bengali freedom-fighters.

In the present times, however, it is not just Balochistan which has the separatist sentiments, but Sindh under the leadership of Mr. G.M. Syed, has also been fighting for independence soon after the creation of Pakistan. From the platform of various nationalist political parties, Sindhis demand separation from Pakistan and creation of proposed, Sindhudesh, the Land of Sindhu (River Indus). They support their demand with the arguments that, 1., the British had invaded the independent Sindh and, 2. that they have a distinct rich history and secular culture which dates back to 5000 years.

Blog Citizens Media Alternative Voice Junction relates that

Before 1843, Sindh had, as a sovereign state, signed a treaty with the British Raj, allowing the latter’s ships to pass through the River Sindhu. The Raj, in return, had to pay taxes to the Sindh government. Karachi port and  the Indus River had thus served as an important route for the British army in their war in Afghanistan.

When the British left India creating separate states namely India and Pakistan, Sindh had joined Pakistan on conditions mentioned in the Lahore Resolution of 1940, the base document for the country’s creation. However, since the conditions were not fulfilled, Sindh argues, they have a moral and legitimate choice of withdrawing from being part of the Pakistani federation (also part of the said resolution). Pakistan celebrates the 23rd of March every year to commemorate the event.

Minorities of Al Sindh Moheshwari protest against the kidnapping of Sindh people. Image by janali laghari. Copyright Demotix (24/3/2012)

Mr. Syed was the first to move the resolution in favour of the newly proposed federation, Pakistan, in the Sindh Assembly for the first time; ironically enough, he pioneered the Sindhi separatist movement calling out for complete independence of Sindh soon after the proposed country was created.

There have been many clashes with the Pakistani state, demonstrations and rallies in favour of an independent Sindh — the latest show of the Sindhi separatist sentiments on a large-scale public platform was on the very day of March 23 when hundreds of thousands of Sindhis from around the province gathered in Karachi and chanted the anti-Pakistan slogans:

  • Na khappy, na khappy, Pakistan na khappy” (We say No to Pakistan)
  • Sindhudesh muqaddar aa; Saeen G.M. Syed rehbar aa!” (Sindhudesh is our destiny; GM Syed is our leader)
  • Sindh ghuray thee aazadi; Tokhy dyanni pavndi, aazadi!” (Sindh demands independence; you will have to free us.)

AK Chishti also tweeted what was heard at the Tibet Center, Karachi:

@AKchisti: “Thumjo desh, Mujho desh, Sindhudesh, Sindhudesh” at 23rd March at heart of #Karachi.

The rally, titled the Freedom March, was quite an impressive crowd (considering it was anti-state and was being held in Karachi (Sindh), the most important city of Pakistan, which has gradually become more of an alien land to Sindhis after the creation of Pakistan 1947) and was organized by the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), one of the biggest Sindhi nationalist parties.

Being an eye-witness of the event, I followed the event and live-blogged it on twitter. Here is the view of the crowd.

Freedom March

Freedom March by JSQM for Independence of Sindh

Zafar (@sindhixafar) tweeted:

#JSQM#JeaySindh organizes #FreedomMarch in Karachi to reject #Sindh's every affiliation with #PakistanMurdabad#23March#Sindhudesh

In another tweet, Zafar summed up the event at the outset in a tweet saying:

“Happy Pakistan Day” changed into #PakistanMurdabad, millions of people demanded #Sindhudesh in #JSQM rally of #FreedomMarch #23March

Where representatives of many media sections were present and were covering the event live, the news was either blocked or under-reported in the most mainstream electronic Urdu media channels.

The participants, on return from the March, would ask their Facebook friends if the event was covered by the media. Ashique Solangi posed a direct question on Facebook:

سنڱت! ڏيو خبر ڪلھ اردو ميڊيا ڪوريج ڪئي آزادي مارچ جي يا نه؟

Friends, did the Urdu media cover the Freedom March yesterday or not? (sic)

Mr. Nisar Khokhar, a veteran journalist, posted a picture of the March coupled with the following comment (Romanized Sindhi):

Sindhian Paraan karachi mein Big show karre 23 March wari Qaradad khe rad kayo wayo..per Urdu ain english media coverage mein total Blackout karre cahdiyo…..Sindhyo Jaaago..

Sindhis have rejected the (Lahore) Resolution of March 23 (1940)..but Urdu and English media blocked it from being covered… Wake up, Sindhis! (Sic)

Ravez Junejo, a blogger, expressed his concern over the media's not covering the freedom march as:

Mainstream #Urdu language media of #Pakistan denying news coverage to thousands strong #FreedomMarch of native Sindhis in Karachi! #Shame

The rally was so massive that it was sure to disturb the city’s normal traffic routes – major arteries witnessed sever traffic jams at the time the Freedom March rally passed through.

On the one hand, this massive show of rejection of the Lahore Resolution, which means blatant rejection of Pakistan, was well received by those pro-independence Sindhis; on the other, it boggled the opponents of the Sindhi nationalism and the Pakistani state. And, that’s why, conspiracies followed to defame the rally soon after it culminated, and media reported MQM chief Altaf Hussain saying that people stuck in the traffic jam were looted by the participants of the Freedom March.

However, the news could not get much importance and was soon ignored by the Pakistani media as well, although Mr. Hussain even reached out to the President of Pakistan to take notice of the issue. He did!

Mr. Aziz Narejo, a Texas-based political analyst and blogger, observed:

According to Sindhi press & a news story in daily Times, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Muhaz (JSQM)'s “Sindh Freedom Rally” in Karachi today. It was no doubt a major event in Pakistan where a nationalist party gathered the people in large numbers & called for independence of Sindh. It was historic event. But the so-called national media is seen to have ignored or downplayed the event. Some media has even given it a negative look. This must be strongly condemned.

Mr. Bashir Khan Qureshi, chairman, JSQM, made the major speech at the Freedom March and claimed that he entire Sindhi nation was with him when they demand independence from Pakistan. He said that Sindh had joined the federation of Pakistan based on the Lahore Resolution, which states that the joining states, including Sindh, would be sovereign and independent.

Freedom

Giving out their message to the world - Freedom

Mr. Qureshi also quoted that Sindh contributed to the 80% of the total federal budget including 69% of natural gas and 75% of oil in the country. What it gets is injustice. This was his clear message.

Urdu and Sindhi versions of the transcript of his speech can be found on the given links, respectively:

  1. JSQM Chairman, Bashir Qureshi's Speech at Sindhudesh Freedom March (Urdu version) - March 23, 2012, Karachi
  2. JSQM Chairman, Bashir Qureshi's Speech at Sindhudesh Freedom March (Sindhi version) - March 23, 2012, Karachi

The main points of his speech included that Pakistan had become an “icon of religious extremism and terrorism”, where the Sindhis are ‘peace-loving’ nation believing in ‘religious coexistence’.

Calling upon the international community, he put forward the 5-point agenda and requested to help Sindh and Balochistan get independence from Pakistan which, according to him, is their right by all standards.

Nevertheless, the newspapers of the next day, i.e. March 24th, carried a good coverage of the JSQM's freedom march, both, in paper and online. Not to mention the strong coverage by the Sindhi channels and newspapers, reports by The Express Tribune, Daily TimesPakistan Today, and BBC Urdu are worth noting here.

March 11 2012

Pakistan: The Rise Of A Union of Religious Radicals

A religious union by the name of Difa-e-Pakistan Council  [Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC)] has emerged as the representative of Pakistan's extreme right-wing parties. DPC is an umbrella term for 40 religious parities of different denominations.  This group is a union of radical ideologies which is promoting radicalism in the Pakistani society.

According to DPC its primary aims are to prevent the Pakistan government from giving MFN (Most Favourite Nation) status to India, and secondly, a continuation on the ban of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) trucks from passing through Pakistan's soil to Afghanistan. Its Facebook page says:

“Difa-e-Pakistan” is a single point cause to defend Pakistan by all threats it faces internally and externally.”

Local leaders of the DPC address the gathered religious groups protesting American foreign policy. Image by Majid Hussain. Copyright Demotix (12/2/2012)

The aforementioned primary goals go into delusion because the council contains banned groups such as LeT (Lasker-e-Taiba [trans: The Army of Pure]), JuD (Jamaaat-ud-Dawa [The party of Islamic Call]) and SSP (Sipha-e-Sahaba [The army of Companions]). These groups have an history of sectarian violence in Pakistan and are banned by law.

The very name of the council has also been criticised. For many, ‘Defence of Pakistan' is a vague term which has little meaning whatsoever. Muhammed Rizwan plays with words by renaming Difa-e-Pakistan to “Defy Pakistan”. Hasan Nisar - a prominent newspaper columnist - questions in his column:

 ”جغراقیائی دفاع؟ نظریاتی دفاع؟ روحانی دفاع؟ اقتصادی دفاع؟ سماجی دفاع؟ “

“[What are they defending? Are they defending] Geography? Ideology? Spirituality? Economics? Society?”

The blogger community criticised the role of DPC in Pakistan's Realpolitik. Criticising DPC's remark of besieging the parliment, Tazeen Javed writes that the overall effect of DPC would be chaos, anarchy and increase in suicide bombing. She writes that giving MFN status to India would reduce cross-border smuggling and foster better relations between the two countries. Isolating relationship with United States is nothing more than a Utopia as the country cannot survive with “this ultimate isolation”. The DW's Blogwatch distils the the debate on Pak-US relationship by calling Pakistan “a nation in self-denial”. It can be implied that DPC has no knowledge of the current world order.

The orthodoxy show of power had zero percent presence of women in their rally. Women make up more than 50% of the country's population. S T Hussian writes:

“It is interesting to note that women, who make up half the country’s population, are completely missing from these rallies. And the reason for that is that those who are part of the DPC would not consider women as equal members of society. Quite clearly, the views of those who make up the DPC are similar to those of the Taliban.”

There are clues that DPC might not even believe in democratic principles. Rhetoric against democracy might lead to a political turmoil in Pakistan. Yaqub Javed of JuD commented:

 “We do not believe the current political system is Islamic and that is why we are not going to contest.”

The next rally being organized by DPC is in the city of Peshawar. Formerly, they have conducted popular rallies in Karachi, Islamabad and Multan.

The civil society has criticised this growing trend. Mass protest was organized in Peshawar demanding a ban on the activities of Difa-e-Pakistan.  It was appreciated across twitter:

@akbaralishah: Finally some people with courage have spoken !! All the banned outfits now come under one umbrella.

@Rubabaz: Sane voices, should be echoed from all over Pak.#Peshawar civil society demands ban on #Difa-e-#Pakistan

@AroojZahra: Peshawar rocks: Civil society in Peshawar took to the streets and demands ban on Difa-e-Pakistan

@HassamKDI stand corrected. We Rock - Peshawar civil society demands ban on Difa-e-Pakistan

With a proactive civil society which severely opposes extremism, the chances of Pakistan becoming a radical state are quite low. Abdul Majeed Abid writes:

It is the responsibility of the moderate elements of civil society to coalesce and try to control these elements [added: such as DPC] from going out of control by raising awareness and educating people. People should be educated about their role in a democracy. Efforts such as being done by Centre for Civic Education PILDAT, Pakistan Youth AllianceTeach for Pakistan and Youth Parliaments should be highlighted.


May 04 2010

Pakistan: Internet and the challenge of language

By Ivan Sigal

Pakistan today would seem primed for rapid growth in internet use. The country has had explosive growth of FM radio, satellite and cable TV set in motion by regulatory changes that allow non-state ownership of mass media. Cell phone use has also skyrocketed, with over 90 million subscribers. With a growing middle class that numbers some 30-40 million in a country of some 180 million people, Internet use should also see similar growth.

However, there are several constraints that mitigate that expansion, both structural, as in chronic electricity shortages, and social, particularly focused on language. Literacy hovers at around 50% in Pakistan, but while most people understand Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, less that 10% of the population speaks and writes it as a native. Provincial languages such as Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto, and Balochi, as well regional languages such as Seraiki and Kashmiri are native languages for the majority of the population, and English is the official language of governance.

This language fragmentation has consequences for internet use. No one Pakistani language effectively serves both the reading and content creation needs of Pakistan’s netizens. As a consequence, English remains the popular choice online. In an interview, Adnan Rehmat of Intermedia Pakistan says that English is an “aspirational” language, a marker for education and access to resources, and because English provides access to a global linguistic community. Additionally, several regional Pakistani languages such as Punjabi are primarily oral languages, without strong literary cultures.

Fouad Bajwa, writing on Internet’s Governance, describes the problem further:

A key pressing issue with relevance to both the local Internet and Mobile Technology scenario in Pakistan has been availability of local content and making the local content widely accessible to the community at large across Pakistan and the entire world using a variety of currently available technology platforms.

There have been few concerted efforts to create Unicode fonts for Pakistani language scripts. Nastaliq, the popular font for Urdu, is not yet widely adapted in Unicode. Online writing in the main either uses an Arabic font, as with the relatively popular BBC and Google fonts, or it uses image files pasted into text.

There is not yet a broadly accepted font in use for either mass media of citizen media production. Many mainstream media still use image files, which requires that the text be composed on another platform, and discourages hyperlinking, as with a recent issue of the Daily Jang online.

Screenshot of Daily Jang ePaper, May 2010

The Pakistani government has provided little policy guidance for language use. In an interview Ahmad Shahzad of Bytes for All notes that the National Language Authority of Pakistan lacks resources, knowledge of digital issues, and a sense of urgency or policy priorities for Pakistani language expansion online.

There are a number of projects that have been working to fix this problem over the past decade. Perhaps the most comprehensive comes out of the Centre for Research in Urdu Language Processing, at Lahore’s National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences (CRULP). The Centre’s director, Professor Sarmad Hussain, has been working to support Nastaliq in Unicode since 2002. They describe their objective to ”conduct research for the evolution of computational models of Urdu and Pakistan’s other regional languages.” Their projects develop standard character sets, localize popular software and online applications, such as Microsoft Word, Firefox, and Open Office, and script processing for fonts that can support all Pakistani languages.

They are also working on optical character recognition and speech processing  tools such as screen readers for the illiterate and blind users, and language processing tools such as spell checkers and machine translation. CMS platforms in Nastaliq, as well as mobile scripts.

Additionally, CRULP’s PAN Localization project is working to develop local language computing capacity in a dozen Asian languages, including Urdu, Pastho, and Bangla. The project seeks to develop tools to facilitate the use localization of advanced applications.

These scripts and their wider promotion, as well as the availability of content management systems in Urdu and language processing tools, has gone some way to making Urdu a functional language of content creation.

Other tools now available facilitate the shift from English to Urdu, including Google’s Urdu transliteration tool and the Dynamic Language Tools Bookmarklet, which supports transliteration of Urdu to both English and Hindi. Syed Ghulam Akbar, the bookmarklet’s creator, describes his motivation in a post on the Pakistani science blog STEP:

The main inspiration behind this tool development was not actually Urdu writing. In fact, there are many existing tools and applications which let users type Urdu either using a special keyboard layout or by using roman script transliteration. What actually inspired me to develop this tool was to provide a way to easily convert the roman content on all the existing web-pages to Urdu script so that it is more readable.

Together, the advancement of scripts, applications, and platforms in Urdu will go some way to advancing a culture of online production in Urdu. The relative lag in their availability does, however, highlight the general sense that English will continue to be the language of choice for many in Pakistan’s online world.

This lag can be addressed in several ways, including wide promotion of available tools and their application, support for both mass media and citizen media communities to discover, learn about, and implement creative use of these tools, and support to build bridges and networks among communities. For this reason, Fouad Bajwa is seeking to build an Online Urdu Encyclopedia:

It will create a converged environment overtime for presenting updated knowledge that is usable through reading, listening and visuals for both social and economic awareness, education, knowledge application in various fields, higher education, competitive exams, expert resources and endless Urdu language options.

At present there is no Urdu Wikipedia community, and few Urdu-language blog aggregators, such as http://urdublogs.co.cc/, capacity among mainstream media to produce searchable-text, Unicode-based online media, and a lack of mobile telephony platforms and applications for Urdu.

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