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EU urged to act over 'continued rights abuses' by Pakistan

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Coalition spokesman Andy Vermaut

The EU institutions have been urged to act urgently in the case of Pakistan’s alleged continued human rights abuses.  A coalition of respected human rights NGOs, coming together under the umbrella of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF),delivered a letter to the EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell, calling for the suspension of Pakistan's GSP+ status, which gives the country preferential trading rights with the EU, on the basis of “continued human rights abuses” .  

In the letter, delivered by hand to the Brussels offices of Borrell, a former Spanish MEP, on Wednesday, the NGOs particularly highlighted the abuses of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.  This has recently seen an eight year old child charged with blasphemy “against the prophet” an offence carrying a mandatory death sentence.     The letter follows a recent conference on the matter, also hosted by the Press Club in Brussels, which was addressed by former European Commissioner Jan Figel, MEP Peter van Dalen and others.  

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A UK parliamentary group has since declared its support for the campaign, headed by HRWF.  One of the organisers of the letter told this site that there is particular concern about Pakistan’s current country’s blasphemy laws, and the lack of respect for the presumption of innocence.  The letter handed to Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, cites article 12 of a European parliament Joint Motion For A Resolution, dated April 28 and passed by 681 votes.  This pledges “to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament on this matter as soon as possible”.  

The recent conference heard that of the benefits given as a result of the current agreement with Pakistan, around 20% only accrued to the EU, causing, in the opinion of the conference, no significant potential detrimental economic impact on the EU or the member states.  The imposition of the mandatory death sentence for those found guilty of blasphemy against the prophet, particularly in the context of such charges having recently been levelled at an eight year old child, makes, in the opinion of the conference, the current GSP+ status enjoyed by Pakistan “morally and politically untenable.”  

During the conference, the names were read out of 47 prisoners who are currently held on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.  They are: Mubashir Ahmed; Gulab Ahmed; Ahtesham Ahmed; Zahid Ahmed; Ahmed Waqar; Anwar; Islam; Mailik Ashraf; Anwar Ashgar; Ahmed Ashgar; Noor Ashgar; Malik Ashraf; Kausar Ayub; Amud Ayub; Taimur; Siya; Raza; Zafar Bati; Md. Safi; Md. Shehzad; Rehmat Ali; Asif; Md. Aslam; Arif Mehdi; Junaid; Hafeez; Abdul Hamid; Md. Faruq; Hayai Bin; Malik; Md. Humayan Faysal; Aftab Mastargil; Nadeem James; Arif Massih; Saudi Issaq; Abdul Karim; Imran Massih; Yakub; Ishfaq Massih; Saba Massih; Bashir; Mastan Mushtaq; Shamsuddin; Md. Yussaf; Inayat Rasool; Iqbal and Md. Aslam.

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The list comprises Ahmediyyas, Shias, Hindus, and Christians.  Sixteen of these have been handed a death sentence.  The letter sent to  Borrell on Wednesday states that “Accordingly, we wish to ask the High Representative - who has previously stated that suspension of Pakistan’s GSP+ status is a measure of last measures - what his current position is in this regard?”  The letter, seen by this site,  goes on to say that “given that Pakistan’s behaviour clearly contravenes the requirement for GSP+ beneficiaries to ratify 27 international conventions, numerous it is clearly in breach of, we respectfully ask how the High Representative can justify the continuation of Pakistan’s GSP+ status?”  No one from the EEAS was immediately available for comment to this website on Wednesday (15 September).  

Afghanistan

Don’t blame Pakistan for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan

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Watching the recent Congressional hearings on Afghanistan, I was surprised to see that no mention was made of Pakistan’s sacrifices as a US ally in the war on terror for more than two decades. Instead, we were blamed for America’s loss, writes Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (pictured).

Let me put it plainly. Since 2001, I have repeatedly warned that the Afghan war was unwinnable. Given their history, Afghans would never accept a protracted foreign military presence, and no outsider, including Pakistan, could change this reality.

Unfortunately, successive Pakistani governments after 9/11 sought to please the United States instead of pointing out the error of a military-dominated approach. Desperate for global relevance and domestic legitimacy, Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf agreed to every American demand for military support after 9/11. This cost Pakistan, and the United States, dearly.

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Those the United States asked Pakistan to target included groups trained jointly by the CIA and our intelligence agency, the ISI, to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then, these Afghans were hailed as freedom fighters performing a sacred duty. President Ronald Reagan even entertained the mujahideen at the White House.

Once the Soviets were defeated, the United States abandoned Afghanistan and sanctioned my country, leaving behind over 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and a bloody civil war in Afghanistan. From this security vacuum emerged the Taliban, many born and educated in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.

Fast forward to 9/11, when the United States needed us again — but this time against the very actors we had jointly supported to fight foreign occupation. Musharraf offered Washington logistics and air bases, allowed a CIA footprint in Pakistan and even turned a blind eye to American drones bombing Pakistanis on our soil. For the first time ever, our army swept into the semiautonomous tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which had earlier been used as the staging ground for the anti-Soviet jihad. The fiercely independent Pashtun tribes in these areas had deep ethnic ties with the Taliban and other Islamist militants.

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For these people, the United States was an “occupier” of Afghanistan just like the Soviets, deserving of the same treatment. As Pakistan was now America’s collaborator, we too were deemed guilty and attacked. This was made much worse by over 450 U.S. drone strikes on our territory, making us the only country in history to be so bombed by an ally. These strikes caused immense civilian casualties, riling up anti-American (and anti-Pakistan army) sentiment further.

The die was cast. Between 2006 and 2015, nearly 50 militant groups declared jihad on the Pakistani state, conducting over 16,000 terrorist attacks on us. We suffered more than 80,000 casualties and lost over $150 billion in the economy. The conflict drove 3.5 million of our citizens from their homes. The militants escaping from Pakistani counterterrorism efforts entered Afghanistan and were then supported and financed by Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies, launching even more attacks against us.

Pakistan had to fight for its survival. As a former CIA station chief in Kabul wrote in 2009, the country was “beginning to crack under the relentless pressure directly exerted by the US.” Yet the United States continued to ask us to do more for the war in Afghanistan.

A year earlier, in 2008, I met then-Sens. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry and Harry M. Reid (among others) to explain this dangerous dynamic and stress the futility of continuing a military campaign in Afghanistan.

Even so, political expediency prevailed in Islamabad throughout the post-9/11 period. President Asif Zardari, undoubtedly the most corrupt man to have led my country, told the Americans to continue targeting Pakistanis because “collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.” Nawaz Sharif, our next prime minister, was no different.

While Pakistan had mostly defeated the terrorist onslaught by 2016, the Afghan situation continued to deteriorate, as we had warned. Why the difference? Pakistan had a disciplined army and intelligence agency, both of which enjoyed popular support. In Afghanistan, the lack of legitimacy for an outsider’s protracted war was compounded by a corrupt and inept Afghan government, seen as a puppet regime without credibility, especially by rural Afghans.

Tragically, instead of facing this reality, the Afghan and Western governments created a convenient scapegoat by blaming Pakistan, wrongly accusing us of providing safe havens to the Taliban and allowing its free movement across our border. If it had been so, would the United States not have used some of the 450-plus drone strikes to target these supposed sanctuaries?

Still, to satisfy Kabul, Pakistan offered a joint border visibility mechanism, suggested biometric border controls, advocated fencing the border (which we have now largely done on our own) and other measures. Each idea was rejected. Instead, the Afghan government intensified the “blame Pakistan” narrative, aided by Indian-run fake news networks operating hundreds of propaganda outlets in multiple countries.

A more realistic approach would have been to negotiate with the Taliban much earlier, avoiding the embarrassment of the collapse of the Afghan army and the Ashraf Ghani government. Surely Pakistan is not to blame for the fact that 300,000-plus well-trained and well-equipped Afghan security forces saw no reason to fight the lightly armed Taliban. The underlying problem was an Afghan government structure lacking legitimacy in the eyes of the average Afghan.

Today, with Afghanistan at another crossroads, we must look to the future to prevent another violent conflict in that country rather than perpetuating the blame game of the past.

I am convinced the right thing for the world now is to engage with the new Afghan government to ensure peace and stability. The international community will want to see the inclusion of major ethnic groups in government, respect for the rights of all Afghans and commitments that Afghan soil shall never again be used for terrorism against any country. Taliban leaders will have greater reason and ability to stick to their promises if they are assured of the consistent humanitarian and developmental assistance they need to run the government effectively. Providing such incentives will also give the outside world additional leverage to continue persuading the Taliban to honor its commitments.

If we do this right, we could achieve what the Doha peace process aimed at all along: an Afghanistan that is no longer a threat to the world, where Afghans can finally dream of peace after four decades of conflict. The alternative — abandoning Afghanistan — has been tried before. As in the 1990s, it will inevitably lead to a meltdown. Chaos, mass migration and a revived threat of international terror will be natural corollaries. Avoiding this must surely be our global imperative.

This article first appeared in the Washington Post.

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Kashmir

Kashmir: A festering dispute

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Our government came into office in 2018, focused on fulfilling the promise of delivering Naya Pakistan to our voters. We wanted to provide education, jobs, and better health care by leveraging our connectivity infrastructure to foster regional trade and investment. We knew that this would require a peaceful neighborhood, writes Pakistan Foreign Minster Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Accordingly, shortly after his election, Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that Pakistan "will take two steps towards peace, if India takes one." He hoped that Pakistan and India would fight poverty instead of each other.

Unfortunately, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India has no interest in peace. India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is steeped in the racist, hate-filled Hindutva creed of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary organization whose founding fathers wrote admiringly of Hitler and Mussolini.

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The BJP government thrives on inciting hate and violence against religious minorities - especially Muslims - and builds political capital by saber rattling against Pakistan. Indeed, India's penchant for brinkmanship brought our two nuclear-armed countries to the brink of war in February 2019. If tragedy was averted, it was only because of Pakistan's restraint and no thanks to India.

We thought that a close brush with war would have sobered the Modi government. But we had underestimated the extent to which RSS ideology had infected the Indian government's DNA.

New Delhi continued to spurn Pakistan's offer for dialogue on the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir as well as other issues that bedevil our relationship. Prime Minister Modi, it appears, confused Pakistan's desire for peace with weakness.

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On Aug. 5, 2019, India imposed an armed siege and communications blackout on Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK). Since then, thousands of Kashmiris, including minors, have been arrested and tortured. Popular Kashmiri leaders, like the 91-year-old Ali Shah Geelani, have always been at the receiving end of Indian state repression. This time India did not even spare those political leaders, including three former chief ministers, who are seen by ordinary Kashmiris as enablers of the Indian occupation.

More than 8 million Kashmiris remain inmates in the largest open-air prison camp in the world today, with 900,000 Indian military and paramilitary forces standing watch over them. No credible observer or human rights organization can visit them lest their voices be heard. India has forbidden U.S. Senators from visiting Kashmir. It has detained and deported a sitting British Member of Parliament because she had criticized Indian human rights violations in Kashmir.

Since August 5 last year, the first anniversary of India's military siege and lockdown in IIOJK, its security forces have killed 390 Kashmiris. In 2021 alone,

some 85 Kashmiris have been murdered in extra-judicial killings. Indian security forces routinely stage fake encounters to kill young Kashmiri protestors, and use pellet guns against women and children, blinding and maiming hundreds.

As Pakistan had warned, the Indian government is proceeding with the enactment of illegal measures to effect demographic change in Kashmir. The displacement of the local population by non-residents in an internationally disputed territory is a violation of international law and, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention. The entire spectrum of Kashmiri political leadership has rejected these moves by the Indian government to create "settler colonies."

Mr. Modi's actions have landed India and the region in a cul-de-sac. Baffled with its inability to crush the Kashmiris' struggle for self-determination, India is looking for a new generation of collaborators from among the Kashmiri leadership to lend a gloss of legitimacy to its occupation. Meanwhile, a systematic campaign to erase the Kashmiri people's religious, cultural, and linguistic identity continues apace.

This, too, shall fail -just as all other attempts at quashing the Kashmiris' demand for independence have failed.

What will the Indian government do then? Will it resurrect the familiar bogey of "cross-border terrorism" to smear the Kashmiri freedom struggle? Will it manufacture another crisis with Pakistan to deflect attention from the never-ending stream of scandals (including the recent revelations about India's attempts to spy on Prime Minister Imran Khan) that keep rocking the BJP government?

India harbors ambitions to be a great power. Indeed, it has powerful champions who want to help India become a great power, but look the other way when India makes a mockery of the democratic values and human rights that they espouse.

It is incumbent on the international community to call India out on its atrocities against the Kashmiri people and push it towards a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. While a tenuous ceasefire has held across the Line of Control since February, the situation remains tense. And with the situation in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorating, renewed regional tensions over Kashmir are in no one's interest.

There is only one solution. India needs to reverse its actions of August 5, 2019, and create conditions for a result-oriented dialogue with Pakistan and the legitimate representatives of the Kashmiri people towards the resolution of this long standing dispute.

The people of South Asia - one of the poorest regions in the world - yearn for peace, prosperity, and a better future for their children. They should not be held hostage to India's stubborn refusal to face reality: that there can be no peace in South Asia without the peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

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Pakistan

Conference told Pakistan blasphemy laws 'equated to ethnic cleansing'

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A conference on Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws was told that the legislation has been equated to ethnic cleansing. The blasphemy laws, while purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority of Pakistan, are "vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and the judiciary". As such they permit, even invite, abuse and the harassment and persecution of minorities in Pakistan, the event at Brussels press club was told.

But, despite such concerns, the European Union is "failing to help” victims and pressure must be put on Pakistan to repeal its laws. The conference on Pakistan’s highly controversial and widely condemned blasphemy laws, took place under the auspices of the Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés.

The legal basis of the blasphemy law, the use of the laws to justify ethnic cleansing and the particular effects on females were all discussed. Opening the debate, Paulo Casada, a former MEP, founder and executive director of the South Asia Democratic Forum, said: “This is a very important topic and one we have been dealing with for a long time. People are being accused of blasphemy without any foundation at all. This results from attacks on lawyers and the quite fanatical and absurd atmosphere in the country.

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“The EU needs to do more to highlight this issue which has got worse, not better.”

Jürgen Klute, former MEP and a Christian theologian, said: “I think Christianity and Islam have a lot in common: the belief that you have to appear in front of divine judgement at the end of your time so we must strongly argue against these blasphemy laws. How can a human being decide or estimate what a blasphemy is? You have to leave such decisions to your God. We can argue against these laws on human rights grounds and also religious grounds.”

Manel Msalmi, international affairs Advisor of MEPs of the European Peoples’ Party in the European Parliament, said: “The parliament and significantly the commission and council have each condemned persecution in Pakistan.Hundreds have been charged under these laws which seek to limit speech which could be seen as offensive. These laws have always been a problem but the situation has got worse. It is important to note that such laws are being used against religious minorities in states like Pakistan. Such attacks are also common online particularly against journalists. Pakistan has even called for the introduction of such laws in other Muslim countries with a boycott of states where blasphemy happens. This practice goes hand in hand with targeting religious groups. Human rights are being abused in Pakistan.”

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Another keynote speaker, Willy Fautré, director, Human Rights Without Frontiers, thanked the organizers for highlighting the issue. He focused be on the case of a Christian couple imprisoned since 2013 on blasphemy charges before being declared innocent by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and released a few months ago. Despite a resolution of the European Parliament in April focusing on their case, no EU country is ready to grant them political asylum.

He said that in the HRWF database of FORB prisoners, “we have documented 47 cases of believers of all faiths in Pakistan who are in jail on the basis of the blasphemy laws.” These include 26 Christians, 15 Sunni Muslims, 5 Ahmadis and 1 Shia Muslim. Fautre added: “There are certainly more.”

Some 16 have been sentenced to death, 16 have been sentenced to life imprisonment, 10 have been in prison for years and are still waiting for trial and in four cases the status of the prisoner is unknown. The case of Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 and was finally acquitted for lack of evidence by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after spending many years on the death row is well known. When she was released, she went into hiding to avoid being killed by extremist groups.

She tried to apply for asylum in France and to other EU member states but to no avail. She was finally welcome in Canada. Fautre said: “I would like here to focus on this point."

On 29 April 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on blasphemy laws in Pakistan, in particular the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, saying in its very first point:“Whereas Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, a Christian couple, were imprisoned in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014 for blasphemy; whereas they have been accused of sending “blasphemous” text messages to a mosque cleric insulting the Prophet Muhammad, using a sim card registered in Shagufta’s name; whereas both the accused have consistently denied all allegations and believe that her National identity card was purposely misused.”

The European Parliament said it “strongly condemns the imprisonment and sentencing of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, as well as the continued delay of their appeal hearing; calls on the Pakistani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them, and to provide them and their lawyer adequate security now and upon release; calls on the Lahore High Court to hold the appeal hearing without delay and to strike down the verdict in accordance with human rights”.

Some 681 MEPs voted in favour of the resolution and only three MEPs opposed it. Fautre added: “The Christian couple was finally released after spending 8 years in prison. They live in hiding for their security.They would now like to find a safe haven in an EU member state but they have not received any proposal from them and their applications for a visa through various European embassies have mostly remained unanswered or have been turned down because they are in hiding for their safety, they have no job and no proof of income. The diplomatic missions have not proposed them an alternative process to get aslum.”

He told the conference: “Up to now, Germany was the only embassy to officially answer Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel but they said they could not be of any assistance. This possibility is narrowly limited to exceptional cases that are of particular exemplary political significance, for example, persons who have been active in human rights or opposition work in a particularly outstanding and long-standing manner and are thus directly exposed to a massive threat to their physical integrity and can sustainably avoid such a threat solely by being admitted to Germany.

“The only way to ask for political asylum would be to illegally cross several borders and arrive in an EU country where they could apply for asylum. They do not envisage such a dangerous solution.

“Again, in this case, EU member states are failing to concretely help persecuted Christians looking for a safe haven and turn a deaf ear to their requests. They are neither proactive nor reactive. Their obstacle race which started in 2013 in Pakistan is far from over.

“General Pervez Musharraf succeeded Zia with the support of the US and its allies. Musharraf not only failed to bring change in the country’s blasphemy laws, he also allowed extremist groups to continue working under new names.”

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