“In the infancy of societies, the chiefs of state shape its institutions; later the institutions shape the chiefs of state,” said Charles de Montesquieu.

This is certainly true for Pakistan where one particular institution, or at least its successive doyens, have played nine pins with every chief the country has had after the first decade of its existence. In the early days the army controlled the country blatantly through martial law, of which we have had plenty. It started to look as though that we had actually seen the last of them.

Our hopes seemed to have come true as we saw two successive democratically-elected governments finish their terms; Pakistan is now set to go to the polls in July.  But this time, ladies and gentlemen, the control exercised by the only institution that runs the country, the only institution that demands a reverence usually reserved for the divine, may seem benign when it is anything but.

After decades of harbouring terrorists, after years of turning into the local version of the East India Company – not colonising foreign lands for resources but parasitising their own from within — and years of controlling us as rulers, the military establishment experimented with ruling behind the scenes. Becoming the king makers so to speak.

It did not work out well for them as their golden boy, the chosen messiah, the hero Imran Khan, turned out to be a moron. The establishment tried to fix the game for him by trying to destroy other political parties, but did not manage to give him that edge.

In the age of social media, dissent, which was localised before — and thus easily controlled through disappearances of critics, without anyone finding out —  has become national, even international. Previously, journalists and activists could be quietly kidnapped and killed without uproar. To counter this, social media accounts were created by the hundreds, to troll voices that were deemed anti-army.

Criticism is hard to control, however, and finally the old tried and tested methods of abducting people were extended to include bloggers and social media activists. While disappearances earlier meant that your dead body would be found by the roadside, this time the abductees were tortured, told not to say who tortured them and then released. Most of them fled the country.

Now just a few weeks before the general elections, the controlling of dissent, of free speech, of human rights, and of liberty has become more pernicious. The news media was muzzled, clearly to influence the election result and some channels are engaging in self-censorship due to serious threats. Then, Gul Bukhari, an activist and journalist, was recently abducted for a few hours. She is back after a lot of clamour on social media. For someone who used to tweet relentlessly about the army’s role in all kinds of anti-democratic and fascist activities, her silence is deafening.

Through all this, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a movement by people from the tribal areas, who had been denied rights, had their loved ones abducted and were the main sufferers of the war against the Taliban, emerged as one of the biggest ones seen in recent history. The news media was banned from broadcasting their activities, so they took to social media. When their voices could not be controlled, their leaders were arrested.

All of the key freedoms are under threat in Pakistan. Human rights activists, dissenters, journalists and many others have been threatened and the crackdown is so extreme that many voices have been silenced. In the midst of it all, the ISPR (the army’s PR wing) complained about how social media accounts of bloggers, activists and journalists were criticising the state and during a recent press conference, even named them.

Here’s the thing. The army knows that it can no longer hide its fascism. Mainstream media can be silenced but it is not easy to do so with social media. People can be abducted or arrested but it won’t be under the radar anymore.

What they are doing now is simple. They still want to control Pakistan, its people and its resources. They tried to do so by pretending that freedom and democracy were important to them, while continuing to subvert them, but it did not work because information is fast and people are not stupid.

Like all bullies, they lie, and they know that we know they lie. “Pakistan belongs to all Pakistanis regardless of beliefs or opinions,” said the Army Chief recently. This is a barefaced lie. Pakistan is only for those that toe the establishment’s line. They know that we the citizens are aware of their speciousness, their perfidious behaviour and their solipsism.

When they say they are not responsible for rigging elections, for social engineering, for promoting conformity and social conservatism, for not being answerable to anyone in the country, for stealing from us, they know we are not fooled anymore. They also know we are helpless to do anything about this. And this helplessness is what makes them stronger. They can now blatantly disregarding our rights and liberties and tell us to enjoy it.

“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong”, said Voltaire. He also said, “If you want to know who controls you, look at who you are not allowed to criticise.”

Pakistan in the 21 century is now reminiscent of 18th century France and its army is reminiscent of the East India Company.

(Published in Sedaa – Our Voices)

Not Beating The Domestic Staff Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You Have Empathy For Them

Pakistan celebrated its 70 years of independence on August 14, 2017. Like elsewhere in the world, here too the day is a public holiday, so I was very surprised to see the lady who helps with my housework turn up for work. When I asked her why she had come, because I was not expecting her, she told me that the other house she works at insisted, because what holiday?

We have been hearing stories of Pakistani elite incarcerating and torturing their household help. Even a TV anchor was accused of this. Right on cue everyone showed their immense shock and disgust every time such news came up. The pandemonium raised over tales of beatings of underage workers is rightly so.

But there is another side to this. I am talking about the people who consider themselves above such things. Who claim to treat their domestic staff with consideration. My point is, they don’t. The lady who insisted that her helper lady come and clean her house when the whole country was celebrating Independence Day is probably nice. She doesn’t beat or torture her staff. But she showed a complete disregard for any humane thought when she refused to give her a day off. The Pakistani flag outside her house was pretty big though. Clearly, Independence Day celebrations are only for the elite.

I know people who do not even allow domestic staff time off on Eid. At the very least they are required to be present during the first two days of Eid and then can take a day off. I myself had to spend a considerable amount of time and effort to convince my mother that not having someone make her tea for a couple of days is not going to be the end of the world.

I happened to be a part of a conversation among some people a few weeks ago, which actually left me gobsmacked. The topic under discussion was that their domestic staff want to rest for a couple of hours in the afternoon. The people who were having the discussion – completely unaware of their privilege – were peevishly waxing eloquent on how they themselves do not rest in the afternoon but work 14 hour days, but their household help does. I heard the conversation for a bit because it was quite beyond me to relate to such complete lack of understanding and empathy. Yes, you may work hard all day and not resting in the afternoon in your air-conditioned rooms is a choice you have made – you know, to ensure that kids go to the best school, the house that you have in the posh part of town and so that you can pay those drivers and cooks and house cleaners. My brief interjection that the domestic staff are not “pampered” when they take two hours off in the afternoon was obviously not received very well.

I am unable to relate to this kind of thinking. When you put the biggest Pakistani flag you can find outside your house, when you profess to be a patriot, do you consider how you are treating the other denizens of this country? Just because you are paying them does not entitle you to begrudge them little things like staying at home during a public holiday or resting in the afternoon. And mind you, I am talking about people who would find it absolutely unacceptable that staff are beaten. Some of them – though most certainly not most – treat them well in terms of hospital visits and even giving loans. But the point is that the bar is set so low that as long as we are not mistreating our household help, we think all else is fine. As if somehow not beating them gives us the license to begrudge them rest in the afternoon or days off on public holidays. As if hospital visits and loans absolve us from all other humanity.

Most of the domestic staff in this country is paid less than the minimum wage. They hardly get to see their families because most live away from them. We need to see their lack of privilege. We need to understand it. We need to be people who help our domestic staff, not be people with no empathy.

(Published in Dunya Blogs)


I’ve Just Become An Organ Donor. Here’s Why You Should Be One As Well

I have just become an organ donor. Because, for me, there is no better way to leave this earth and become part of stars again, than to make sure that a few people might benefit from my body.

Organ donation saves lives, and all over the world hospitals encourage people to register as donors. Pakistan has the Transplantation Society of Pakistan (part of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation SIUT) and you can become a donor in 5 minutes by filling out their online form. Within a few days, you get your donor card.

There is a shortage of human organs the world over,because of which many patients die; including in Pakistan where an estimated 50,000 people die each yeardue to end stage organ failure, according to the Transplantation Society of Pakistan. This figure includes 15,000 people with kidney failure, 10,000 with liver failure and 6,500 with heart failure. A majority of these patients can be saved if the required organs are available for transplantation. Dr Adib Rizvi, Director of SIUT, considers the figure to be much higher, at approximately 150,000 annually.

There is not a lot of information and education to foment the growth of organ donation culture in Pakistan. A Human Organ Transplant Authority (HOTA) has been established and according to HOTA rules and regulations, government hospitals are directed to identify brain dead patients and inform HOTA accordingly. A transplantation ordinance was promulgated in 2007, which targets the illegal sale of human organs in exchange for money, a problem that was and is rampant in Pakistan. In 2016, The Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues (Amendment) Bill, 2014 was passed in the National Assembly.

However, there is no education or information raising programme that promotes voluntary organ donation from deceased persons. SIUT provides free treatments and transplants to 2 million people annually; and is working with the medical community, civil society and media to help develop a deceased organ donation culture in the country. The Layton Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust (LRBT) also provides free corneal transplants and can be nominated for cornea donations.

Organs or tissues can be obtained from either a living or deceased person. A living person may donate a kidney or a piece of their liver in addition to blood, bone marrow, skin or bone. However, what is extremely crucial to understand is that multiple organs and tissues may be obtained from a deceased person, including kidneys, liver, pancreas, heart, lung and intestine and corneas.There is also no age limit for deceased organ donation. From a newborn baby to a 75-year person, all are eligible to become donors.

Pakistanis are also unaware that almost all Muslim countries with organ transplant facilities are performing deceased organ transplants including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Egypt, and Bangladesh among others.

One of our most important heroes – a man who dedicated his whole life to serving others – did not let death deter him from serving humanity. His last wish was for his viable organs to be donated. His corneas were thus transplanted into someone else. So, when you put up Abdul Sattar Edhi sb’s picture on your social media pages and pledge to live like him, one of the best things you can do is to make sure that you become an organ donor. Talk to your families and friends and convince them too. Your heart, liver, lungs or corneas can save a life or enable someone to see. It is better than becoming worm food. As your last living act, give the gift of life to someone else – be an organ donor.

(Published in Dunya Blogs)


Qandeel Baloch was an anathema for a country like Pakistan. Coming from poverty, she rose to become independent and support herself and her family. She was an anathema because she did not care. She did not care what society thought of her and she did not care if they made fun of her. She was the bold and the beautiful. And one year ago, on July 15, 2016, she was murdered in the name of that tenuous and all important property of Pakistani men: honour.

Her brother strangled her because her videos and her clothes brought a bad name to the family. This only happened when Qandeel’s real name was revealed. Up to the time no one knew her real name; her brother was happy to live on the money she provided to the whole family.

Qandeel’s murder highlighted the blight of honour killings that has been a part of this country for a very long time. And while many women are killed for actually having “illicit” relations with someone or wanting to marry of their own choice, often male members will kill a sister, mother or wife along with a male member of a rival family to settle scores. The woman in this case is just a pawn. Sometimes, women are killed to take over their share in family property. Because honour killings are not just about men’s “honour”, they are also about money and revenge.

In 2014, it was reported that over 3,000 were victims of honour killings. In 2014 alone, over one thousand women were killed.  In 2015, 1096 women, out of which 170 were minors, became victims of this heinous practice.

Almost every day, those of us who live in Pakistan hear about some woman or girl sacrificed for honour, and these are just the reported cases. The number of unreported cases probably will make this go sky high.

The perpetrators almost never get punished because due to a completely ridiculous law in Pakistan, the family of the victim can forgive the murderer; and because in these cases the murderer is always related to the victim and therefore her family, he is forgiven. The State of Pakistan has passed the Qisas and Diyat Law, which basically made murder a private matter and not a crime against society or the State. As such, the victim’s heirs were able to forgive the murderer/ criminal, thereby putting the onus of punishing the murderer on the victim’s family.

Thankfully, in October 2016, the parliament passed a bill that guarantees mandatory prison sentences of 25 years and strips families of the right to legally pardon the perpetrators of so-called “honour killings”.

“Honour” is the property of the men in our society. It is their honour that gets maligned when their other property, their women do something of their own free will. I say property of men because this is a patriarchal society and men make the rules of morality in their families, tribes or communities. But let’s be clear, many times women are equally involved; mothers or sisters will support and even encourage the men in their family to kill in the name of honour.

The onus of this horrendous word “honour” almost always lies with women. And it is not just honour killings that are used to preserve it. Pakistan (and India) also has another tradition, that of the panchayat: a village council primarily made of up illiterate old men. There is never any representation of women in this council, which makes rules and passes judgement at the village level to settles disputes between and amongst families.

An example of the panchayat’s judgement can be found recently in the case of a 12 year old girl, who was raped while cutting grass in a field. The council comprising of 40 men was convened. And what was the judgment of this esteemed body? That the 16 year old sister of the accused be raped by the brother of the victim. This crime was committed in front of the panchayat and the girl’s family! An incident of “an eye for an eye” in which the victim is always the woman.

This concept of “honour” has been a dark mark on the Indian sub-continent for centuries, and places the responsibility of its maintenance firmly on women and girls. Now with the rise of social media, such cases are being given coverage and at least some action is taken. For example the 40 people of the panchayat were arrested when the family of the 16 year old girl on whom this “revenge” was taken reported it to the newly established Violence against Women Centre (VAWC) in Punjab. How these cases are resolved is still anybody’s guess because more often than not the perpetrators are allowed to go free.

The passing of the honour killing bill and the setting up of the VAWC in Punjab are steps in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. The rest of the provinces still have to set up centres for victims of violence and the implementation of the law is still not perfect.

More importantly though, the hardest thing to get rid of is the idea that men’s and their families’ honour is the responsibility of women. This idea is still perpetuated in society. Unless changes are brought in the mind-sets, we are going to continue to see more Qandeels being killed because men like her brother would still take the consequences rather than be the subject of ridicule in their communities. Panchayats will continue to pass horrible judgements that punish girls for the crimes committed by their brothers, fathers or husbands.

One only has to read the comments of the average Pakistani man at the bottom of news items reporting such cases, or talk to them on social media to know how entrenched this vile concept is and how they will always malign the female victim of such crimes to show that it was the right thing to do.

One can only hope that the proper implementation of laws and recourse to victims in courts will lead to the eventual end of victimizing women in the name of honour.

(Published in Sedaa – Our Voices)

Council Of Thieves: There Is No Place For Panchayats In The 21st Century

The Indian sub-continent has a lot of medieval traditions and cultures that have no place in today’s society. One such system is that of the panchayat or jirga: a village council primarily made of up illiterate old men, who hold power over the community. There is never any representation of women in this council, which makes rules and passes judgement at the village level to settle disputes between and amongst families and for various crimes.

Such councils have been present in rural societies for centuries, have evolved over generations, and have the support of local populations because they claim to base their decisions on culture and tradition. More often than not, their judgements are misogynistic and women and girls are their main victims.

An example of the Panchayat’s judgement can be found recently in the case of a 12 year old girl, who was raped while cutting grass in a field. The council comprising of 40 men was convened, and what was the judgment of this esteemed body? That the 16-year-old sister of the accused be raped by the brother of the victim. This crime was committed in front of the panchayat and the girl’s family! An incident of “an eye for an eye” in which the victim is always the woman. The point here was of “honour”. A girl’s family was “dishonoured” by a man, so the perpetrator’s family must also be dishonoured in a similar way. No punishment for the perpetrator though.

“Honour” is a tenuous and ubiquitous aspect of Pakistani society. Women and girls are barred from doing many things because it dishonours their family. The panchayat or jirga system gives decisions that disproportionately victimize women and girls in the name of this honour. They can decide to give girls as compensation to settle disputes and even debts. In recent years, they have barred women from voting in elections.

But the most horrific of their acts are the decisions that promote revenge rape. “Honour” is the property of the men in our society. It is their honour that is maligned when their other property, their women do something of their own free will. And it is this property that has to suffer to pay for the crimes of her male family members. I say property of men because this is a patriarchal society and men make the rules of morality in their families, tribes or communities. But let’s be clear, many times women are equally involved; mothers or sisters will support and even encourage the men in their family to kill in the name of honour or even openly support vile Panchayat decrees. This is how entrenched this idea of honour is, which places the responsibility of its maintenance firmly on women and girls. Village councils legitimize such honour based anti-women practices in the name of tradition, often openly flouting the country’s laws.

In the 21st century, there is no place for these panchayats anymore. Anyone who supports them and romanticises their utility is either misguided or a criminal himself. Traditions and cultures are not static. They evolve with new information, technology and time. Holding on to practices such as revenge rapes and giving girls as compensation are something that should have gone away with the iron maiden (look up what it is).

The village council system should be abolished. Completely and irrevocably. This can only be done with the changing of feudal mind-sets and the idea that “elders” of a community know best. The revenge rape decision that happened this week shows that they do not. And the way such mind-sets can be changed is with the implementation and wider reach of Pakistan’s laws that give proper recourse to victims.

Now with the rise of social media, such cases are being given coverage and at least some action is taken. For example, 40 people of the panchayat were arrested when the family of the 16 year old girl on whom this “revenge” was taken reported it to the newly established Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Punjab. How these cases are resolved is still anybody’s guess, because more often than not the perpetrators are allowed to go free because they are powerful. Unfortunately, the rest of the provinces still have to set up centres for victims of violence and the implementation of laws that support women is still not perfect.

More importantly though, the hardest thing to get rid of is the idea that men’s and their families’ honour is the responsibility of women. This idea is still perpetuated in society. Unless this is idea is done away with, panchayats will continue to pass horrible judgements that punish girls for the crimes committed by their brothers, fathers or husbands.

To me the panchayat that passed the revenge rape judgement is a council of thieves. Even if they are brought to justice (not a great chance of that happening), they have robbed a young girl of her dignity, while not punishing her brother who committed the crime in the first place. Now, whatever happens, two girls have been robbed: one because of a man needed to show his power over a 12 year old girl and the second because she was sacrificed in the name of honour by the elders of her village.

(Published in Dunya News)


We have been silenced into submission because we don’t want to be the next Mashal

Muslim tradition holds that in the early 7th century AD, in a town in Arabia, a slave called Bilal was tortured by his owner. His crime, so says Islamic history, was to walk away from the existing ideological landscape. To embrace a new religious and political order. To dissent. Bilal did not back off and 1,400 years later, he is considered a hero in Islam. Why? Because he dissented. But also because he blasphemed.

Move forward and the followers of the religion that Bilal evidently helped to spread, have adopted the traditions of his torturers. Two years ago, on April 24, Sabeen Mehmud was killed because she wanted to provide a safe space for people to gather and discuss ideas, to challenge ideology, to dissent. We were told that extremists had killed her. The same jihadists who have killed thousands of Pakistanis. The same ilk, who have killed thousands all over the world.

But in Pakistan, the situation gets evermore fascinating. The State itself has adopted the same techniques as Bilal’s tormentors. And against whom you ask? Surely, the State – which includes civilian and military both – must be performing its duties to the letter; and if horrible torture techniques are being used, it must be against those that have killed our children?

Well, no. The State still has its ‘assets’, which have always been in the form of Islamic terror organizations that have continued to indulge in violence all over the country. We always knew this was happening. There were some who even vocally questioned it. Perhaps in the hope that our small voices will gather momentum and the State will be made to answer. Answer for deceiving us by continuing to support our killers, while pretending to fight them.

It wasn’t meant to be though. Some activists and bloggers were abducted. They were spirited away to unknown locations and they were tortured. The rest of us continued to protest and in an unprecedented move they were released. Almost none of them have spoken about what happened to them and who did it.

The bloggers were accused of blasphemy. It was said that their social media pages were full of anti-Islamic content. That tactic has now become the norm. The State has weaponized blasphemy because it knows that it is a death sentence without a trial. It is the perfect way of silencing any questions about how its machinery works. Accuse someone of blasphemy and sit back. The caretakers of religion will take over.

That is what happened to Mashal Khan. His horrendous murder did what was required. The government beat the drum of blasphemy for months, prior to his killing. Perhaps it did so of its own accord or perhaps it was compelled to do so. But it got the job done. People got scared. Many of those who used to question the way this country was being run, have backed off. They have been intimidated into silence. But silence was not enough. We also needed to be shown clearly and irrevocably, who rules us.

So it transpired that Naureen Leghari, who admitted to plotting a terrorist attack on Easter, became the daughter of the nation, who should be rehabilitated. While small time bloggers and activists are tortured and killed, known terrorists like Ehsanullah Ehsan – who has recently surrendered – can be seen on TV smilingly parroting the state narrative of RAW involvement in terrorism in Pakistan.

Just silencing wasn’t enough. A slap in the face was also needed to ensure complete acquiescence. Not only do we not have the right to question State agenda, we also need to be shown how inconsequential we are. Because it is not about good Taliban and bad Taliban anymore. From the looks of it, all Taliban are good Taliban now. The enemy are those who need to be muzzled for looking askance at the State. While terrorists are given the benefit of the doubt, activists and writers are taken to task in the worst possible manner. And what better way to do so than to use blasphemy. It is a time honoured tactic. And it has again been successful. Journalists are self-censoring. Activists and bloggers have gone into hiding. At a time when we needed more voices to come out and challenge 70 years of propaganda and brainwashing, we have very very few left.

Because nobody wants to be the next Mashal.

(Published in The Nation)

How to beat your wife

A few days ago, a video surfaced on the internet. In it, two hijab-clad women  in Australia were discussing the verse Surah Nisa in the Quran (4:34).

The translation of the verse in question is as follows:


“Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend for [maintenance] from their wealth. So, righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist] forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.”


The women were specifically discussing the last part of the verse, which says “strike them”. They very smugly inform us that Islamic jurists had explained – clearly and in detail – what kind of hitting this should be. One of them had brought a “siwak” or “miswak” – a twig of a particular tree – used to clean teeth in the Muslim world. The ladies demonstrated (on each other) how striking someone with this little twig was just a symbolic gesture and was not meant to harm them or hurt them in any way.

They also very kindly explained how other jurists contend that the striking should be done with a “coiled scarf” or handkerchief, neither of which are again going to cause harm. They insisted – while giggling sarcastically – that the world has misunderstood the last part of this verse and there is much ado about nothing.

I find the Stockholm syndrome these, probably educated, ladies are going through extremely frustrating and indicative of the cognitive dissonance that is found in Muslims. They seemed shocked that people would make such a fuss about this issue when it is just meant to be a “symbolic” gesture.

It seemed to escape them that in this verse, Islam has codified violence against women, even if it is meant to be symbolic. It does not occur to them that the whole verse is giving power to one gender over another. They failed to grasp that the whole of the verse is problematic, not just the last part.

Let me go through this verse systematically because the sexism is inescapable.

“Men are in charge of women” because they spend money on them and maintain them. Therefore, good women should be “devoutly obedient” and guard their chastity. This is where the problem starts. If men provide for you, they are in charge ladies.

“Guard your chastity and be devoutly obedient”, which basically means you cannot question your lord and master and must obey every command he gives you. No explanation of what happens if you provide an equal share in the household maintenance.

Now if you are arrogant, your owner (because that is what he is indicated to be in this verse) can advise you, refrain from having sex with you or even strike you. Meaning that he can discipline you because you have been disobedient. Or “arrogant”.  I do not know what the definition of arrogant will be in this case. Am I arrogant if I question my husband? Am I arrogant if I go see my friends and he doesn’t want me to? Am I arrogant if I have not made dinner? Am I arrogant if I hold his hand as he tries to strike me with a twig?

Whatever the case, he can advise you. And if you don’t listen to his advice, he can withhold sex. Which to me basically means that it wasn’t advice but an order. And if withholding sex doesn’t work we have the twig solution.

My problem was never that these injunctions are not banal. They may very well be innocuous. My problem – and what these two Stockholm syndrome sufferers (and others like them) fail to grasp – is that they exist, that they are still misogynistic, no matter how you look at them. These ladies do not realise that they are endorsing something that, in this day and age, cannot and must not be endorsed: the exaltation of one individual over another; the dominion of one gender over the other; and the fact that men are superior to women and can humiliate and demean then if they are not obeyed.

Moreover, when Muslims disingenuously tell us that women are equal to men in Islam, while at the same time explaining that any hitting that is to be done is symbolic, they obfuscate the fact that permission is given not only to discipline your wife but suggestions are provided on how to do so. That is not equality by any definition of the word.

First of all, the guy who is going to use this is not necessarily going to go and look for exegesis to understand how it is he should hit his wife. To him striking could be a nice sucker punch to the face. And that is what happens in a lot of cases.

Secondly, even if we are to believe these women and the hitting is to be very mild, it is still sanctioning something that the women in the 21st century cannot and should not accept.

So no ladies. While you can sit there and tell me how this is a symbolic gesture until you are blue in the face, to me the whole of this verse, not just the last part, is not only misogynistic, it sanctions violence. Both of which are a no no.

If you want people to respect your religion, then accept that there are problematic verses and reform them. Do not try to tell us that we are making a big deal. Let me reiterate, it’s not that these commands are not taken as being symbolic, it is that they exist.

(Published in SEDAA – Our Voices)


Pakistan: The land of bigotry, misogyny and violence with blasphemy allegations as its raison d’etre

Here is what has happened this week in the land of the pure. A politician (from PTI) punched another one (from PML-N) for calling his leader a traitor. In response, the first politician stood in front of the media and made allegations against his harasser’s sisters. That’s violence and misogyny taken care of, within a space of 24 hours.

Let’s move on to a few days before that. It seems that our judiciary is in need of special hugs because one of its members, a judge in the Islamabad High Court, professed to weeping inconsolably when he reads anything against his religion on social media. He wants the government to ensure that “blasphemers” are put on Pakistan’s pride and joy: the Exit Control List. One wonders why you would want anyone who you think has made fun of your religion to remain in the country. The answer is pretty simple. You don’t want them to leave because you want to punish them. And punish them how? Blasphemers get the death penalty. It’s not that these people just want others to leave their religion alone, they want to ensure that they get killed for criticizing it. After following the due process of the law, of course. As an aside, please note that I always hear the word “blasphemers” in John Cleese’s voice from the movie Life of Brian.

The Honorable Judge has had the support of various factions of the media and other parts of society, who are ever ready to lay down other people’s lives in the name of religion. The issue for them is very clear: no one gets to criticize Islam. That is how things are and should remain. On the other hand, nary a protest is made when Christians are called by derogatory names and Hindus are called “baniyas”, as was done by another politician to criticize his opponent.

Now let’s come to the last two days. Our Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar has also been triggered. He has professed to being very upset that social media sites like Facebook are not providing him with information regarding some people running a campaign against the Islamabad High Court judiciary. In his campaign to support only those elements that want to suppress others through religion, he has threatened to block social media sites in Pakistan, in an attempt to protect the very sensitive citenzry from reading blasphemous content. On the other hand, the statement by a blogger that he was kidnapped and tortured by state institutions has had no impact on our esteemed leaders.

These events of the past week or so show that violence, misogyny and bigotry define Pakistan and recourse to blasphemy is the cornerstone of its society.

If you are upset with an opponent, hit him. If you want to flex your muscles against bloggers, kidnap and torture them. When you have nothing in response to your rival, use the time-honoured practice of abusing the women in his family. And always ensure that the blasphemy law is kept as a precious resource, to be used whenever you require.

This is what we have reduced ourselves to: cultishly following leaders without allowing any criticism of them. It is interesting to note that not even the women leaders of PML-N called out their colleague on abusing women for point scoring. Because misogyny is so entrenched in our minds that even women do not think anything is wrong with it.

As for PTI, they also indulged in misogyny, while criticizing it. Their social media teams made allegations of blasphemy and threats against a reporter for recording a video of their esteemed leader.

These are the important aspects that define Pakistan. Our violent, bigoted, misogynistic reactions to even the smallest of infractions.

These are the things that outrage us. Not our low scores in human rights and education. Not the fact that while we wax eloquent about the Islamic golden age, the country is below every other one for any scientific achievements (other than the nuclear bomb and the water kit car of course), but the fact that our messiahs are criticized and our ideologies are not given due deference.

Freedom of speech is an important characteristic of civilized society. Censoring content and threatening people just ensures that the only kind of progress you make is in oppressing people. Using misogyny as a counter argument does not make you macho; it just shows your pathetic mindset. And using religion as a tool of the state has only ever meant clinging to backward notions of morality. Notions, which have never resulted in progress.

The enlightenment ensured that the west moved on from being bogged down by the same issues of violence, misogyny, bigotry and dependence on blasphemy. They were in the same boat till they realized that antediluvian methods of living one’s life did not work anymore. That religion and state needed to be separate. That life, liberty and freedom were important facets of civilized society. We need to do the same.

(Published in The Nation)


On October 7, 2016, an article appeared in Pakistan’s Dawn Newspaper, alleging that in a civil military leadership meeting, the Government (prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother and other senior officials were present) had told the military representatives that if they did not make more efforts to go after terrorists, Pakistan will be isolated.

Journalist Cyril Almeida, one of the newspaper’s senior writers, had reported that an argument had taken place between members of the Pakistani government and the army over lack of action against militant groups, and that the director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) General Lt. General Rizwan Akhtar, was asked by government officials to increase actions against terror groups, or face isolation.

Now, in a free, democratic country, where the military serves the people, one would have assumed that this would not be big news. One would also have assumed that the Government would be proud to admit that it, in fact, had told the military to clean up its act. But this is Pakistan and here things do not work the way they do elsewhere.

The Government of Pakistan denied this news three times and criticized the article for being misleading and spreading “half truths”. This is also fine. Governments are also known to backtrack and deny things, even if they seem to be in their favour.

A few days later, the PM Nawaz Sharif had a meeting with the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and, soon after, Almeida was put on the Exit Control List. He found this out as he was leaving for a long-planned vacation with his mother. The reason for doing so was given to be “National Security” and that the article did not follow “universally acknowledged principles of reporting”. Almeida had quoted anonymous sources but that is not new either.

How is reporting that the army was ordered to do its job by the Government — which the army says it is already doing — against National Security? People are now also frantically looking for the “universally acknowledged principles of reporting” because they seem to be something that only the Government of Pakistan seems to know about.

In any case, even if the article was a complete fabrication, (which Dawn says it was not and due diligence had been done), how can it be so easy for the Government to bar a journalist from travelling abroad? This is a blatant disregard of his rights and a direct attack on freedom of speech.

Thankfully, most of the journalist community and sane people have sided with Almeida and demanded that his name be removed from the list.

Meanwhile, a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi has been in prison for six years and on death row on blasphemy charges. On January 4, 2011, the Governor of the Pakistani Province of Punjab was shot and killed by one of his own security guards, Mumtaz Qadri. The reason for this was Taseer’s defense of the proposed amendments in the country’s blasphemy laws, as well as his support for the release of Asia Bibi. The murderer Qadri was subsequently hanged for his crime.

Now here is the interesting bit. Aasia Bibi’s final appeal * was to be heard by a Supreme Court Bench on October 13. A couple of days ago however, the denizens of Lal Masjid — a mosque known for its allegiance to ISIS and promoting terrorism — threatened that there would be dire circumstances if Aasia Bibi was not hanged. A #HangAasia hashtag has been floating around on Twitter since yesterday.

Today, the Supreme Court Bench assembled and one of the judges excused himself from the proceedings, after which the hearing was adjourned for an indefinite period. It is very clear to people with common sense that the problem was the fear of Islamic militants, such as the chief mullah of Lal Masjid and nothing else.

Ironically, the threats from Lal Masjid, its allegiance to ISIS etc are not seen as against National Security by the Government or the military. Neither are rallies conducted by various banned organizations. What bothers our fearless leaders is the movement of a journalist.

People in Pakistan and around the world have been thinking (read: hoping), that there has been a paradigm shift in the military’s policy and that now we would see more democratic decisions, extermination of Islamic extremists and more freedoms. This is clearly not the case.

Some of the worst terrorists in the world are roaming free on our streets but a journalist’s freedom is curtailed and a woman cannot get justice because the same terrorists threaten the judiciary.

Pakistan is a fascist country ruled by a fascist army. If it is not the army-supported terrorists killing us, it is the army itself complicit with the politicians in stealing from us, and it is the army that is at the forefront of suppressing our freedoms.

Nationalism and patriotism to me come when a country and all its citizens do good things and head towards a good, progressive future, respecting everyone’s rights, not just because your parents gave birth to you within a certain boundary. There is nothing to be proud of here.

* A Pakistani court has now overturned Asia Bibi’s death sentence.

(Published in Sedaa – Our Voices)

Quetta blast: How dare you give precedence to a road over human lives?

In the rest of the world when a terrorist attack happens, the leaders do their best to empathize with the people of their countries. Their condemnation is always targeted toward those who have perpetrated the attack and they always ensure that the value of human life takes precedence. In Pakistan, the situation is always different. The most favourite of the establishment’s bogeyman is – no points for guessing – India and its Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Even though we know without a shadow of a doubt that an act has been perpetrated by a local Islamist terrorist, our leaders still try to point out external forces that are behind it.

Monday’s attack in Quetta took over 70 lives and injured many others; almost all of them the top echelon of lawyers in Balochistan. They had collected together at a hospital to mourn the killing of the Balochistan Bar Association President, when a suicide blast took their lives. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan took responsibility, as did the Islamic State, for both.  The JA spokesman clearly stated that such attacks will continue “until the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan”.

Condemnation of this act by the government and the establishment was quick to appear. As always, this was followed by the race between the PM, COAS and others to reach the site as soon as possible to ensure that photo ops were timely. They saw the carnage and the wounded and then they both decided that the best way of explaining away this huge loss of a whole generation of Balochistan lawyers, was to tell the people of Pakistan that the attack was targeted at the CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Both the PM Nawaz Sharif and the COAS Raheel Sharif said exactly the same thing, giving precedence to a road over human lives.

It is as if they are trying to drum into the heads of the Pakistani people that their lives are being lost because the “external forces” are jealous of the heaven that this country is and the mega-heaven it will become once the CPEC is operational.

How dare you talk to us in this condescending manner? How dare you tell us that the promises you made under the guise of the National Action Plan (NAP), where you were supposed to get rid of these terrorist activities, have been fulfilled and these attacks now happen because people are actually jealous of the wonder that is this country? How dare you say this to people who lose their family members on a daily basis and expect them to join in your jingoism? We do not want our loved ones to be “shaheed”. That is not our job or our desire. We do not want to send our children out and spend the day in fear that they may not come back. We do not want to be parents of “shaheeds” nor do we want to be their children. We ourselves do not want to be “shaheed”.

This kind of jingoistic rhetoric is useless and dangerous. All that has done for 68 years is lead us to this point. Nothing has been done to expunge the ideal of jihad and Islamism from the minds of our generations. The idea that you planted. And now, on the one hand you allow various supposedly banned organizations to hold rallies all over the country, sporting flags with Raheel Sharif’s picture on them and on the other hand tell us that your road is the reason why 70 people were killed? How dare you?

It is like you have so little regard for our intelligence that you think this rhetoric will still work. No, it won’t. We do not want you to rally us around with your hyper patriotic flag waving and your sponsoring of propaganda songs and movies. We want you to do your jobs; which is to protect the citizens of this country.

I for one do not believe that the enemy has been weakened. And I take offence at the statements that these latest spree of attacks are “soft targets”. How are countless human lives soft targets? The people who lost their lives in Quetta were as important to this country and their families as any soldier. And they were certainly more important than a road or an army barrack.

So stop pouring salt on our wounds by being so devoid of humanity that you compare our lives to infrastructure. Do your job. If it is RAW go after it, if it is TTP go after it. Don’t expect us to nod along with you when you make stupendously pathetic statements. Do your job and stop acting like our lives do not matter. We are sick of it.

Published in The Nation.