Never fully free from it, Pakistan is witnessing a recurrence of street violence unleashed by Sunni Muslim militants who want the Imran Khan Government to expel the French envoy posted in Islamabad over last year’s controversy about publication of cartoons in a French journal perceived in the Islamic world as maligning it faith.
A policeman was lynched by a mob, four persons have been killed in police firing and several were injured through two days of violence across the main cities that shows no sign of ebbing.
While the other Islamist groups do not figure in media reports on the violent protests, the principal protagonist is Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) whose cadres have blocked key roads in major cities after the detention of their young chief, Maulana Saad Husain Rizvi.
The arrest under the anti-terrorism law seems the only determined move by the government to curb the protests but has only ended up escalating them.
Besides the obvious diplomatic jam Islamabad finds itself in, there is even more serious problem of keeping protests under check as Pakistan, like the rest of world observes the holy month of Ramzan, even as the Khan Government combats an economy in dire stress and a rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.
The government has decided to table a resolution, regarding the TLP’s demands, “including the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan, in parliament before Eidul Fitr,” The Express Tribune newspaper reported on April 8, 2021.
Published a week ago, the report has neither been endorsed, nor contradicted by the government, nor corroborated by other media outlets.
According to the newspaper, quoting “official sources”, the decision was taken “in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by Law Minister Farogh Naseem, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and relevant senior officials.
“Sources said that the meeting discussed the strategy for implementing the agreement reached with the TLP. It was also decided that other parties would be contacted on issue of French ambassador’s deportation. The meeting decided to bring the resolution in parliament before Eid,” the report said.
This was before the TLP had announced a sit-in in Islamabad to press for its demands. “But on February 10, a government committee headed by Religious Affairs Minister Qadri assured the TLP that it would seek parliamentary approval on its demands by April 20.”
The TLP apparently chose to launch its protest without waiting for the government that has been buying time from it ever since the crisis began last November.
The approach to the TLP of the army that is widely seen as backing the Imran Khan Government remains unclear. In the past, when asked by the PML-N Government of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for assistance to end a violent protest, the army had ‘advised’ it to hold negotiations.
The TLP has been demanding expulsion of the French ambassador over publication of blasphemous caricatures. While the French President E. Macron has emphatic in supporting his country’s media’s right to express itself and is currently taking measures to ban the use of hijab (veil) by adult French Muslim women, the government has not reacted to the developments in Pakistan.
In November last year, the TLP staged a sit-in in Rawalpindi, which ended after an agreement with the government.
The TLP had then sought o pressurize the government with an announcement on November 17 that the government had accepted all its four demands. It had released a copy of the handwritten agreement, carrying signatures of Qadri, then interior minister Ijaz Shah and the deputy commissioner, Islamabad.
According to the Express Tribune report, the agreement said that the government would “take a decision from the parliament regarding expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, will not appoint its ambassador to France and release all the arrested workers of the TLP. The government will not register any case against the TLP leaders or workers even after it calls off the sit-in.”
The renewed protests have been sought to be played down by influential sections of the media. For instance, The News International (April 14, 2021) treated it as a problem of road traffic.
“Major sit-ins by a religious party which had bought life to a standstill in several cities across Pakistan a day earlier are continuing today (Tuesday), but have been confined to limited areas.” It listed specific localities in major cities that have been affected, more as a traffic advisory.
However, the report could not ignore “shortage of oxygen tanks for coronavirus patients.”
“In Lahore, there are fears of a shortage of oxygen tanks for coronavirus patients because of the traffic jams. Lahore hospitals almost out of oxygen supply amid rising coronavirus cases.”
Gujranwala, Gujrat and Sialkot had a day's supply of oxygen left, the Punjab health department said, adding that the situation could worsen if supply was not received today, the newspaper quoted Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid.
Pakistan should offer formal apology to people of Bangladesh, says scholar
Referring to the general elections of 1970 in the-then Pakistan and the Pakistan military, internationally renowned scholar from Pakistan now living in the United States Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, said: “The military’s reaction in the form of imprisoning Sheikh Mujib and initiating genocide against the Bengalis ...To this day, no apology has been forthcoming and I think the people of Pakistan should urge the government of Pakistan to offer a formal apology to the people of Bangladesh for all the atrocities that were committed in 1971 ... an apology is the most courteous thing ...”. He made these remarks in a virtual talk on ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: An Iconic Leader of People’s Struggle for Freedom’ organized by the Embassy of Bangladesh to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Mission to the European Union in Brussels on 29 March, writes Mahbub Hassan Saleh.
Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. A K Abdul Momen, MP, joined the event as Chief Guest while Bangladesh Ambassador in Brussels, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, moderated the event.
Ambassador Husain Haqqani, currently a Senior Fellow and Director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute, a top think tank in Washington, D.C., United States, said that Bangabandhu is not only the greatest Bengali of all time, he is one of the greatest leaders emerging out of South Asia and a great leader in the history of the world, and an iconic figure of struggle for freedom that the world has seen throughout the 20th century. He said that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is in the same league of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Ambassador Haqqani divided the struggle of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s into five distinct phases: 01) struggle of the young Sheikh Mujib against the British colonialism; 02) post-1947 protest against the imposition of Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan and movement to establish Bangla as one of two the state languages and then the electoral victory of ‘Jukto Front’ in 1954; 03) Dissolution of the ‘Jukto Front’ Government and Bangabandhu’s continued struggle for secular and inclusive approach on the part of the state; 04) Imposition of martial law by Pakistani rulers and Army Chief Ayub Khan taking the control in 1958; 05) Genocide committed by Pakistan military from 25 March 1971 and Bangabandhu’s image, ideas and words were inspiring the Bengali people to fight the War of Liberation. He said that Bangabandhu had created the sense of freedom among the Bengali nation during his long struggle for independence and gave all the directives to his people to prepare for a war in his historic speech on 07 March 1971 in Dhaka.
He added that the then East Pakistan was the ‘Golden Goose’ to the Pakistani ruling elites as most of the foreign exchange was earned from the eastern part (Bangladesh). He also said that the feudal Pakistan rulers never considered Bengalis as equals and were not ready to hand over the power to the elected representatives of then East Pakistan after the electoral victory of Bangabandhu’s party, Awami League, in the national elections of 1970.
Ambassador Haqqani said that now Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing countries in the world and the most successful country in South Asia. Today’s prosperous Bangladesh is the contribution of Bangabandhu and his able daughter, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Foreign Minister Momen said it was expected that Pakistan would apologize formally for the Genocide committed by its military in 1971 on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh this year. Though Prime Minister of Pakistan sent a message at the last minute on the occasion but unfortunately, he did not apologize for the Genocide committed by Pakistan military on the unarmed Bengali civilians of Bangladesh in 1971. He highlighted that Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujibur Rahman was a peace-lover during his entire struggle for freedom and Independence, and even today Bangladesh is promoting the culture of peace in every aspect all around the world under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina including introducing a resolution on “Culture of Peace” every year in the United Nations General Assembly, which is adopted by all the members states.
Dr. Momen expressed his hope that Bangladesh would realize the dream of Father of the Nation - the 'Golden Bengal', a prosperous, happy and non-communal Bangladesh, a developed Bangladesh by 2041.
Ambassador Saleh said that 2021 is a momentous year in the history of Bangladesh as the country is celebrating the Birth Centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Golden Jubilee - the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh. He added that the words of Ambassador Haqqani would help the friends in the international community, academics and researchers to understand better the struggle for freedom of Bangabandhu.
The event was organized at a virtual platform (Zoom webinar) following the local Covid-19 local guidelines. The virtual event was live-streamed on the Facebook page of the Embassy. A large number of participants from Europe and different corners of the world joined the virtual event. The event will remain available on the Facebook page of the Embassy.
Pakistan urged to 'take responsibility' for 'genocide'
A group of activists who demonstrated in Brussels want Pakistan to be held to account for the violent events of over five decades ago which, it is claimed, have so far gone unpunished, writes Martin Banks.
On 26 March 1971, Pakistani troops entered east Pakistan in order to put down a growing movement for Bangladeshi independence. A nine-month war of Independence followed, ending with Pakistan’s defeat and surrender on 16 December.
The level of casualties inflicted on the Bengali civilian population, and the issuing of a Fatwah by Pakistan encouraging their soldiers to treat Bengali women as “booty” of war, was such that as many as 3 million prople were killed, and up to 400,000 women, and young girls, suffered rape.
The events of 1971 are widely considered as genocide.
This week the Bengali community in Belgium came together with human rights activists to call on the European Union to recognise this fact.
Speaking at a gathering outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, President of European Association for the Defence of Minorities Dr. Manel Mselmi spoke to this website.
Dr Mselmi said: “The Bangledeshi Genocide reminds us that we are all human beings, and that we should respect each other’s cultural heritage, language and religion.
“Conflict based on linguistic and religious levels can never be solved by violence, war, persecution and torture, because at the end the oppressed people always seek to find freedom and dignity even though they lose their families and lands, they will always defend their values and identity.”
The activists called on the government of Pakistan to acknowledge and to take responsibility for its past actions. A letter, hand-delivered by Belgian human rights activist Andy Vermaut of the Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés AIDL, addressed to European External Action Service High Representative Josep Borrell, called upon the European Commission “to utilize its considerable political leverage to pressure the government of Pakistan to acknowledge its responsibility for this genocidal atrocity”.
Life of women in Pakistan and China
Every year on 8 March women who belong to different social classes and various age groups from the city of Lahore hold noisy protests to celebrate the International Women’s Day and traditionally they always gather outside the Lahore press club at the Shimla Pahari roundabout, writes Pakistani human rights activist Anila Gulzar.
Women representing their respective non-governmental organizations carrying placards
displaying their logos and a catchy slogan, female workers from the informal sector
marching behind a red banner spread across the front row and with feminist and slogans
printed on them wearing shalwar qameez that are bought specially for the occasion, middle
class women wearing branded clothes and an army of press photographers busy taking
snapshots of women raising slogans with their fists waving in the air parading in circles and
a heavy contingent of lady police parked at the green belt in full riot gear are all part of the
At some point, during the liveliest of the protests one would ever see in Lahore, a group of
middle class NGO women, charged with emotion, would rush ahead and take over the
whole width of the road disrupting the passing traffic and bringing it to a standstill.
This would normally herald the climax of the day. Minor skirmishes between the protesting
women and the lady police would let loose the anger, frustration and humiliation these
women endure all year long. Police women and protesting women both throwing punches
and pulling each other’s hair, shouting abuse and dragging one another to the ground are
the hallmark of the day.
This is when both the victim and the assailant are compelled by circumstance and
transformed into Roman gladiators performing in an arena of patriarchy. Finally, the
protesting women would retreat and gradually disperse. And until the next year they would
return to living their lives according to the rules and social dictates set by the male head of
the family, the mullah and the patriarch state.
Violence against women in Pakistan is on the rise. According to a report published by
European Union on March 12, 2020, Pakistan is ranked the sixth most dangerous country in
the world and second worst in the world (ranked 148th) in terms of gender equality.(1)
White Ribbon Pakistan reported that during 2004 and 2016, 47034 women faced sexual
violence, over 15000 cases of honour crimes and more than 1800 cases of domestic violence
were registered plus over 5500 women were kidnapped. Since it is very hard to collect data
regarding violence against women in Pakistan and so many cases go unreported it is not possible to determine the extent or the wide-spread injustices that our women suffer on a
day to day basis.(2)
According to the International Labour Organisation the gap between male and female
workers is the widest in the world. Hence, on average women in Pakistan earn 34% less than
Women in Pakistan also face sexual harassment at work place, on the street and in
the family by male family members. Women who belong to religious minorities such as
Christian, Hindu or Sikh are faced with abduction, forced conversion to Islam and forced
marriage to her abductor. According to UN report at least 1000 women from minorities are (2)
abducted and forced in Islamic marriages in Pakistan each year.
With an estimated 2,000 deaths per year, dowry death is another avenue in which Pakistan
has been reported to have the highest rate. Married women are murdered or driven to
commit suicide by their in-laws through continuous harassment and torture over disputes
related to dowry.
Recently, Pakistani women have been traded in China as sex workers. Chinese men marry
young girls from poor families in Pakistan, and once they go to China, Pakistani bride is
either sold off to the highest bidder or kept as a sex slave and domestic servant. According
to Associated Press 629 girls from Pakistan were sold as bride to China. (4) (7 December,
China’s track record regarding gender equality has not been impressive either. On 6 March
this year Mandy Zuo in her article published in South China Morning Post reports that
gender discrimination in China against women jobseekers is rife. According to the experts,
that Zuo quoted, nearly 85% of Chinese female graduates had encountered at least one
form of gender discrimination while job hunting and reports of domestic violence has increased by at least 50% in the past one year alone. (5)
A main issue concerning women repression in China is hegemonic masculinity which is rife at
the work place. Women in both Pakistan and China suffer from gross violation of human rights. In both countries, domestic violence is on the rise and rape has become a tool of oppression. In
Pakistan Islam is used to suppress the right of women to social emancipation and economic
freedom and in China a totalitarian ideology that stems from sadistic repressed desires and
rigid masculinity curtails the civic rights of the Chinese female population.
Anila Gulzar is a Pakistani human rights activist based in London. She is the CEO of Justice for Minorities in Pakistan.
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