Jinnah’s letter to Pakistan: Who do I hold accountable?

My precious,

Where do I begin?

Where do I end?

68 years ago, you two breathed your first I remember it like it was yesterday. It wasn’t ideal. They thought you two wouldn’t be able to make it, but you did. I was such a proud father – the effort, the commitment, the resolve, it all had finally paid off.

After the euphoria died down, it was time to snap back to reality. The challenges ahead were steep, but both of you had my unwavering support. My health was giving up on me and I knew I did not have a lot of time. But I wasn’t worried – the people close to me knew how dearly I loved my daughters and they promised to look after both as their own when I’m gone. I begged them to hold both of you till you can walk, and then give you the confidence to run and subsequently fly. They promised they would.

But they lied.

They thought I wouldn’t know. They thought I wasn’t aware. But I was watching all along, cursing myself for the wretched people I left you two with. The very same people I called my friends. The very same people I trusted with the greatest creation of my life. I hoped this was just a bad lot, I hoped the next one would be better. But alas, I hoped in vain.

From the moment I was gone, they moulded your upbringing to suit their selfish ambitions, sowing the seeds of division inside both of you.  I wanted both of you to be the best of friends, tackle the hardships and then come out strong together. I wanted you to grow up as enlightened, tolerant children that celebrate the diversity and welcome the uniformity around them.

But they divided you on every possible level, pushing the poison of hatred deep between your sister’s veins. For 24 straight years, you got what you wanted and your sister just stood in the corner, watching on in anticipation, hoping that something would come her way too. But it never did. Eventually, things reached a stage where your sister could not take it any longer and she cut off all ties in 1971. And who could blame her?

I died all over again that night. My own two daughters, divided permanently.

I hoped that this would be a lesson for your future caregivers. They had abandoned your sister, but surely they would not make the same mistakes again by abandoning you too. But they did, and the way they went about it was steeped in manners that would even shame the vilest creatures that walk this earth.

They were there for you when you had something in store for them. When you didn’t, they turned a blind eye, only to promise their love and affection for you again, when you were covered in diamonds and jewels. The abuse you suffered defied all sense of rationality, covering stories that are considered objectionable even in barbaric societies.

Instead of separating religion and state, they turned it into one inseparable blob. Instead of celebrating regional and ethnic diversity, they suppressed it by focusing on national identity. Instead of using finance as a way of eliminating inequality, they used it as a tool to accumulate personal wealth. Instead of investing in education, they invested in the military. Instead of improving healthcare, they developed means to produce poisonous medicines. Instead of promoting women rights, they strengthened the patriarchal structure of the society. Instead of empowering minorities, they constitutionally made them second-class citizens. Instead of using resources to get our own house in order, they focused on engaging in proxy wars with our neighbours.

But who do I blame?

Who do I hold accountable?

Where do I search for answers?

The Khaki pseudo-deities in Rawalpindi?

The opportunistic feudals in Larkana?

The smiling dictators in Raiwind?

The megalomaniacs at nine-zero or that fascist in Bani Gala?

Is there no end to the horror story that they have turned you into?

I died a long time back, but I go through the pain over and over again, when I look at what has become of the only daughter I have remaining.

Today, I wish you happy birthday, much like every August 14, for the last 67 years.

But is this really a day of celebration?

I pray and hope that you have many more, but every passing year, the strength of my hope becomes thinner.

Your Father,

Muhammad Ali Jinnah

What Pakistan needs to do for effective and sustainable counterterrorism!

“Extremis malis extrema remedia,” is how a famous Latin saying goes, expressing the idea that “extreme situations require extreme remedies”. This sounds logical on the face of it but in reality it is a myth. Over the years, I have heard from so many Pakistani friends with various backgrounds that “Pakistan needs an Imam Khomeni”, implying that nothing short of a bloody revolution, which may take thousands of lives, is going to work for the country. Those who make this argument know little about the causes that led to the Islamic revolution in Iran – or for that matter the factors leading to the French or Russian revolutions.

The idea of military courts to tackle terrorism is a similar notion based on the fallacy that the use of hard power can deliver goods under all circumstances. Military means can indeed be – and, perhaps, must be – part of the solution when it comes to counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan but the nature and extent of the terrorism problem in the country requires a much broader, comprehensive and long term solution.

In the same vein, the government’s newfound zeal to execute those convicted of terrorism is a sop to those asking for extreme remedies. Death by guillotine has never been an effective counterterrorism tool and it never will be. Radicalisation and misdirected religious zeal need a different set of solutions. Simply put, an extremist state of mind that took decades to nurture and develop cannot be cured overnight through quick-fix measure such as hangings and military courts.

Dynamics of a counterterrorism policy

It is true that Pakistani policymakers are far clearer today about the roots and dynamics of terrorism in the country than before, and denial of reality is less of a serious challenge now than it was earlier. Still, it will be a while before this developing consensus against terrorism can mature into policies and strategies that really can rid the country of terrorism. Military operation in North Waziristan targeting the infrastructure of Pakistani Taliban – as important and critical as it is – is only a tactical maneuver. Similarly, the public pronouncements after the Peshawar school tragedy are the beginning of a potential transformation in policy. On their own, these statements do not yet a coherent policy form.

For a counterterrorism policy to be effective, the government must realise that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its lacklustre approach in facing militancy head on for too long. The security and intelligence sector, too, has been quite unimaginative when it comes to its core mission of safeguarding the country from internal threats. Its overly imaginative concerns about external threats have sapped its energy and professional capabilities. In defence circles any interpretations that point out these gaps are deemed unpatriotic and unworthy of any serious consideration. Only exposure to other narratives and open mindedness can treat this fixation.

While the eyes must be focused on future, a clear understanding and recognition of past mistakes is necessary. An open national dialogue on the subject, which is slowly taking shape thanks to electronic and print media, must continue without fear or favour.

Pakistan’s current counterterrorism resolve, indeed, has the potential to transform into an effective policy but for that to happen the country’s leadership – both political and military – will have to adjust their priorities and make some compromises. The key components for any effective counterterrorism policy to come together are public awareness about what has been going on so far as well as the possible consequences of what many happen in the future. Given that rampant insecurity in the country with negative consequences for the economy may have already started galvanising people behind a robust policy to root out terrorism, such awareness creation is likely to find a ready audience. The most important stepping stone for such an awareness campaign should be the creations and propagation of a strong narrative on who the Taliban are and why they are the enemies of both the state and the society.

*Knowing the enemy

The genesis of the Pakistani Taliban owes a great deal to the history of lawlessness, tribalism and Pakistan’s perennial neglect of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA]. Genuine political and economic grievances, coupled with Pakistan’s controversial role in the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, have turned out to be the defining impetus. Their fake claim to religious knowledge allows them to bend religion the way they want, and mixing Islam up with their tribal cultural values has made it a successful enterprise…

Despite their capacity to conduct attacks anywhere in the country, including on the most sensitive of security targets, the Pakistani Taliban are not a mainstream force and are unable to develop into a wider political movement. While they face certain fractures due to the making and breaking of tribal alignments in FATA, their strength also lies in having foreign warriors, especially Arabs and Uzbeks, in their ranks. The Punjabi Taliban, which also recruit from among retired security officials and educated urban professionals, have added a lethal capability to the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban fit perfectly into the category of ‘terrorist organization’. Joining the battlefield in Syria is a new craze among its followers…

Despite some differences in approach and outlook, the various Taliban factions in Pakistan and Afghanistan share information, logistics and (at times) manpower resources. They rent weapons to each other and coordinate recruitment of suicide bombers. They also coordinate the targeting of those who challenge their ideas. Attacks on peace jirgas and assassinations of progressive elements on both sides of the Durand Line are now the norm in the area. Tribal ethos, Pashtun ethnic chauvinism, radical religious doctrine and political-cum-economic grievances provide a bond for this new generation of warriors.

The common thread running through the various Taliban factions is their strategy, which relies heavily on the perception of inevitability and a lack of time constraints. The funding streams of the Taliban – private donors in the Gulf, the illicit drug economy and extortion rackets in major economic hubs such as Karachi – provide them with a sustainable basis of support that not only enhances their capacity for insurgency and terror, but also connects them across the region….

Streamlining counterterrorism strategy

Along with narrative creation and awareness raising, the government must take concerted steps to streamline sectors such as judiciary and policing. Many other states have gone through terrorism related challenges and Pakistan should not shy away from learning from them. One document that can provide a broad outline for an effective counterterrorism policy is the Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector. This memorandum was developed in a February 2012 meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a multilateral “platform that focuses on identifying critical civilian [counterterrorism] needs, mobilizing the necessary expertise and resources to address such needs and enhance global cooperation”. The forum comprises 29 countries, including Pakistan.

As a participant in the Rabat Memorandum, Pakistan should diligently put into practice the following recommendations by the forum:

1. Protect victims, witnesses, informants, undercover agents, juries, investigators, prosecutors, defence counsel and judges in counterterrorism cases.

2. Encourage cooperation and coordination among domestic government agencies that have responsibilities or information relevant to counterterrorism.

3. Provide a legal framework and practical measures for electronic surveillance in counterterrorism investigations.

4. Provide for the lawful exercise of pre-trial detention of terrorist suspects.

5. Develop practices and procedures to encourage international cooperation in counterterrorism matters.

One thing that these guidelines make clear is that there is no shortcut to developing a sound counterterrorism strategy. Military and intelligence services can play a vital role in supporting the civilian law enforcement organisations in following these guidelines. But, as a Rand Corporation study, titled How Terrorist Groups End, states, effective police and intelligence work, rather than the use of military force, deliver better counterterrorism results.

By following a policing and judicial system that according to reputed think-tanks and global forums, are necessary for counterterrorism, Pakistani government can set the ball rolling for bringing about peace in the country. At the same time, however, it will have to focus on five additional critical factors that can enable it to devise a functional and sustainable counterterrorism policy. These factors are as follows:

1. The roots of militancy and extremism in Pakistan are inextricably linked to regional conflicts and, therefore, there is no denying the fact that any effective policy will have to cater to regional dynamics as well. Pakistan, however, must start by setting its own house in order. The terrorism problem in Pakistan is the most serious one in the region.

2. Pakistan’s military establishment arguably is now more focused in achieving its counterterrorism objectives than it was in the past and, in the process, it is trying to stop distinguishing between “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban”. The political and bureaucratic elites, which have developed their own priorities likewise to remain relevant to the domestic power politics, will also need to make such a shift.

3. In parallel to countering terrorism through criminal justice system, deradicalisation programmes through economic and, especially, educational measures will be critical. There is no readymade formula available for the Pakistani situation. The government will have to invest in scholars and researchers from the relevant fields to figure out the most suitable model. Only professionals should lead deradicalisation projects.

4. Pakistan will need international support in this endeavour and the area where this international support is needed the most is forensics. The government must send its law enforcement officials to international training institutes for the purpose at a scale at least similar to what is available to the armed forces for training opportunities abroad.

5. Merely arguing that Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) are distorting Islamic teachings and beliefs is insufficient for counterterrorism purposes. A counter narrative crafted by progressive and educated religious scholars, challenging the credibility and devious messaging of extremists, is another urgent task awaiting state support.

Bureaucrats – both civilian and military — have a tendency to assume that they have answers to every situation provided they are given the authority and resources. That has been a bane of Pakistan. For developing and promoting a counter narrative to extremism and bigotry, the fields of art, culture and literature are far more powerful mediums than bureaucratic and administrative measures. Pakistan has no dearth of talent in these fields.

In the religious sphere also, many poetic and literary works of Sufi saints are available that can pose serious theological challenge to the extremist narrative. It is ironic how Pakistan has failed to utilise such treasures not only to defeat extremism but also to promote pluralism and religious harmony.

Can fundamentalism in Pakistan be traced back to madrassas?

In Pakistan, certain madrassas have a knack for producing terrorists. The government is aware of this yet it does not have a consistent stance regarding such madrassas. After the Peshawar school attack in December, the government made it a priority to regulate madrassas, but when the information minister, Pervaiz Rashid, spoke out against them last month, not a single member of government publicly supported him.

This conflicting treatment did not happen overnight. Fundamentalism in Pakistan can be traced back to Former Prime Ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq who wanted to ‘Islamicise’ the state. Zia’s 1979 education policy highlighted the priority to reorganise the state curricula around Islamic thought, which still permeates the textbooks used today. This is inconsistent with founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s dream for Pakistan: all citizens, irrespective of their faith, should be treated as equals. On the contrary, Islamisation has empowered radical mullahs and enabled certain madrassas to fuel extremist ideology.

In 1947, when Pakistan was created, there were only 189 madrassas; there are now an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 madrassas in Pakistan educating an estimated 1.8 million to 3.5 million children (exact numbers don’t exist as not all madrassas are registered). An estimated 10 to 15 per cent of madrassas are affiliated with extremist religious or political groups but as per the government, only 3 to 4 per cent have links to terrorism.

The majority of madrassas follow the Deobandi doctrine of Islam — an orthodox Sunni school of thought heavily influenced by Wahhabism. Most organisations that adhere to Deobandi — Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Majlis-e-Ahrar, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and the Taliban — have been proven to be part of terrorist activities.

Pakistani author and physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote:

“The greatest threat to Pakistan may be its abysmal education system.”

Madrassas are the most accessible source of education for many children, especially families in rural areas where public schools, if they exist at all, are under-resourced and under-staffed. Madrassas provide families with a solution; they often feed and house the students and tend to be free of cost. Even the 9/11 Commission found that many madrassas are “the only opportunity available for an education”. The state’s inability to provide accessible education to the general public is the crux of the problem.

Examination of madrassa curriculum incontrovertibly reveals intolerance and speaks volumes about the direction that Pakistan is headed. Instead of studying math, science, writing, and reading comprehension, students spend large portions of their days memorising religious materials, chanting war songs, and venerating the state. Religious doctrine even permeated the traditional material students did learn — science, geography, English, Urdu. A US diplomat commented saying:

“Children [at radical madrassas] are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy.”

Such madrassas, teaching a distorted version of Islam, indoctrinate children to discriminate against non-Muslims, raising children to classify non-Muslims and Muslims outside their sects as kafirs (infidels), mushrakeen (pagans), dhimmis (non-Muslims), murtids (apostates), and enemies of the state. As a result, many of these madrassas produce graduates who lack critical and analytical thinking and are intolerant to others; graduates who go on to become maulvis who issue irrational fatwas and spew hate speech against minority groups.

Islam is a religion of many sects and exposing children to only a narrow mind-set strengthens the breeding ground for future intolerance and an endless cycle of sectarian violence. This problem runs deeper than sectarian violence; it impacts all minority religious and ethnic groups as well as the majority of Pakistan. Militant madrassas have educated Umar Mansoor, the mastermind behind the Peshawar school massacre, as well as Taliban apologist and hate speech aficionado Abdul Aziz.

How can Pakistan tease out the religious biases so deeply rooted in its society when many madrassas perpetuate them? Attempted many times, madrassa reform remains a myth. The government has taken little action to regulate madrassas linked to terrorism. The 2006 Madrassa Reform Project aimed to reform 8,000 schools by integrating a balance between formal and religious education and expanding curricula to include the teaching of social and hard sciences, religious tolerance, and human rights. Only 6.3% of the targeted madrassas were reached. In 2008, the education ministry reported it had only spent $4 million of the allotted $100 million for madrassa reform over the past six years. There has also been talk of a “madrassa reform committee” but little has been said about implementation.

One of the clauses from the National Action Plan (NAP) that debuted in December states:

“The registration and regulation of seminaries (madrassas) is being planned.”

And just this month, the Sindh government stated it will crackdown on 48 madrassas involved in terrorism. It may sound like progress is being made but these madrassas that have been reached are only a few of the thousands of madrassas that exist.

Thus far, any substantive, permanent reform has yet to occur. Government authorities hesitate to take action out of fear of backlash from religious authorities, and as a result, have institutionalised the madrassa system. Rubina Saigol, an education expert, said:

“I have been arguing for the longest time that in fact our state system is the biggest madrasa.”

But in order to end extremist indoctrination, stop the spread of sectarian violence, and counter Pakistan’s narrative of violence, the state must provide proper alternatives to madrassa education and regulate the curriculum. By devoting more money and resources to the education system, Pakistan can break its path of extremism and violence. Without these critical reforms, Pakistan is nothing more than an fundamentalist state that does not protect its minorities — a far cry from Jinnah’s founding vision.

Silence of the Lambs

What do you do when courage bleeds to death?

There is something sickeningly wrong when slaughter is revenged by the deafening sounds of, ‘bleat, bleat’, while armchair warriors beat their chests and retire for the night. There is something nauseatingly wrong when 45 executed bodies cannot make the leader do the right thing.

For make no mistake: we are living in the midst of genocide. The randomness of this barbarity hides a steely purpose, and day after day more dead people fuel it with their blood. Terrorists kill with impunity. They kill with ease. They seem unstoppable. And all because we are bleeding courage. And resolve. And clear intent.

But we have a plan. The National Action Plan (NAP). It’s been four months since the entire leadership stamped its approval on this ambitious plan. Here’s where it stands today:

Point 4: Strengthening and activation of Nacta (not done); Point 10: Registration and regulation of madrassas (half-hearted effort); Point 12: Fata reforms (not done); Point 16: Taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion (nowhere near); Point 17: Balochistan reconciliation (no progress); Point 20: Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system (not even started).

Now contrast this abysmal record with the points that have been worked on: Point 1: Execution of convicted terrorists; Point 2: Establishment of special trial courts; Point 5: Countering hate speech and extremist material (limited progress); Point 6: Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations (some headway); Point 8: Establishing and deploying a dedicated counterterrorism force (some headway); Point 11: Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media (progress); Point 19: Policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees (some progress).

The rest of the points? Well, take a look and judge for yourself:

Point 3: Ensure no armed militias are allowed to function in the country; Point 7: Ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organisations; Point 9: Taking effective steps against religious persecution; Point 13: Dismantling communication networks of terrorist organisations; Point 14: Measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism; Point 15: Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab (right!); Point 18: Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists.

A clear pattern emerges: progress has been achieved on those points that needed a quick administrative order; some headway is seen on those points that needed relatively easy decisions; but nothing has been done on the issues that require fundamental structural reform of deep-seated problems. In other words, wherever serious political will is needed, there is silence.

Why does it seem that the government has outsourced the fight against militancy to the army? Does the government not have the capacity to lead this war? Does it not have the will to do so? Or do the top men in the government not really and truly believe that this fight must be fought at every level? Something, somewhere does not add up.

Look around you and ask yourself: are we in a state of war? Does it look like that? Forty-five people executed in cold blood on the streets of Karachi, but do you hear the sounds of war? More than a hundred children slaughtered in Peshawar exactly five months ago, but do you see the sights of war? Or do you see life as usual punctuated with sights and sounds of green trains, orange metros and black highways?

Don’t get me wrong: planes, trains and automobiles are good, and we need them. But for God’s sake, we are in the middle of an existential war and the waging of this war requires every single waking second that our leadership has. Nothing else matters, because well, that gleaming train and that shining Metro won’t really help me if I’m dead. And that’s the real tragedy here: the completely messed up priorities of the leadership. Yes, the civilian leadership. There, I’ve said it.

Democratic sensibilities outraged? Good. They should be. The leader can obsess about infrastructure projects but Nacta does not interest him; he can get feverish over motorways and industrial plants but cannot be bothered about serious madrassa reform; he can babble on and on about solar plants but cannot get a grip on Fata reform; and he can lecture us on economic growth rate but doesn’t seem to be bothered about the death rate. Give away laptops? Sure. Hand out loans? Yep. Roll out crazy employment schemes? Absolutely. Reform the criminal justice system? Err…?

The prime minister has the biggest bully pulpit in the country. He can set the national agenda. That’s what he gets paid for. Every single day or every week of every month, he should be obsessing about this existential war; every second of every minute of every hour he should be expressing his resolve to fight and win this war, whatever it takes, and howsoever long it takes. The prime minister should be leading from the front, using the media space he has to be here, there and everywhere — telling a battered nation that he will do everything possible to protect it. Everything possible.

But here’s where the lambs break into cold sweat. Who has courage to take on the madrassas and their powerful sponsors? Who has the courage to lock horns with the apologists who provide physical and ideological space for the extremists? Who has the courage to bring down political parties that feed a narrative of extremism and who soften the ground for intolerance among the population?

How many buses and schools will we protect? How many shopping centres and places of worship will we guard? There are not enough police and Rangers in this country to protect every soft target. The only way to win this fight is to go to the root of the problem buried deep inside the folds of this society, and cleanse the cancer from there. But to do this the leader has to obsess with the challenge. To do this, the leader has to understand that his legacy is far more important than his next election.

So dear prime minister: go and stand inside that bus in Karachi, alone; look at the empty seats and hear the silent screams; smell the stench of ammunition, and let fear cover you like a thick blanket. Close your eyes, and think. What must you do?

Bleat, or roar?

Forget free speech, where is our right to life?

recent survey showed that Pakistan was amongst the least racist countries in the world. Certain people celebrated this whereas others used this as an excuse to taunt our Indian counterparts. Today, the results of this ‘survey’ are now null and void – 43 people from the Ismaili community were killed in a bus attack today.

Eight armed motorcyclists, some of who were disguised at security officials, boarded the bus and opened fire on the passengers. The bus only had Ismaili passengers on-board, which clearly indicates the intent with which this attack took place.

Events like these mean nothing more than a day of mourning and people going back to their regular lives the day after. Pakistan has completely failed in protecting one of the most peaceful and sacrificing religious minorities of the country. There is no longer any room for error. No Ismaili has ever been involved in politics or crimes in Karachi yet they are being targeted for a war they are not even a part of. Their only crime, perhaps, is peacefully following their belief.

The social implications of such an incident are disastrous. Either the Ismailis will become extremely enraged and will want to take matters into their own hands, leading to reactions that we do not want to see happening, or they will lose whatever little trust they have in the government’s ability to protect them. People already feel insecure within the boundaries of their homes; this is now doing nothing but destroying their confidence in humanity, peace and the government.

The sky is red again and dead is the conscience of our leaders. This attack only goes to show that we are now a ‘failed state’. The basic principles upon which Pakistan was made are now not only being neglected but also rejected. Let me remind us about Jinnah’s first speech as the Governor General:

“We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle, that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State… You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

There is nothing that can even be considered close to equality within Pakistan. Discrimination upon basis of creed and race is prevalent. People like Aamir Liaquat conduct sessions of hate speech on their shows, they incite racism and sectarian intolerance amongst Pakistanis and yet we live on. Our government seems to have washed their hands of all responsibilities with regards to minorities in the country, and yet we live on. Our politicians have failed again and again at providing security to the citizens of this state, they are a disgrace to our parliament, and yet we live on. They are working on metro busesWi-Fi in rickshaws, subways, IT towers, distributing laptops and living behind huge walls of protection whereas the first and foremost requirements are food, water, security and shelter. And YET we live on, blindly. Selfishly.

Promises are made every day in the wake of such incidents but never have they been fulfilled. The murderers of Allama Nasir Abbas and Sabeen Mahmud still roam free, savages like Mumtaz Qadri are still celebrated and people like Zulfikar Mirza get extensions for bail but the government has yet to stand firm. Our politicians are concerned only with the economic prosperity of their own bank accounts and nothing else. As always, promises have been made but when will these savages be captured? When will the police uniform become a symbol of fighting crime instead as one committing it? When will there be justice?

Have we honestly learnt nothing from the Peshawar massacre? Have we forgotten how mothers of the victims were left to die from within? How could our intelligence agencies, police and government bodies let this happen again?

This is indeed a failure at which we must end this series of barbarism. We have been broken as a nation; our eyes cry red tears, our hearts burn in anger and anguish. The flags on our rooftops must fly at half-mast today. Our government must avenge the death of these innocent women and men.

We talk about right of free speech but now is the time to discuss the right to live. Not only must the criminals be brought to the courts of justice but the government, police and intelligence must be held accountable for this. They take oaths to serve us, not rule us; lead us not enslave us; protect us, not sell us. They must be taught a lesson for it is not only the enemies’ inhumanity but their incompetence that we end up paying with our lives for.

Pakistan was made by a Shia – Jinnah was a Shia – and yet we cannot protect those who have given their lives for us? If this is where Pakistan is headed? There is not a rough road ahead, it is no road at all.

Pakistan one of the least racist countries? Tell that to the Pakhtuns

The recent ‘revelation’ by the Washington Post about Pakistan being among the most racially tolerant countries in the world, was met by jubilation by the nationalists. However, much of the Pakhtun community being systematically oppressed, mocked and expelled from the country, was offline and unavailable for comment.

As a liberal who has long decried our nation’s exquisitely racist attitude towards Pakhtuns,Hazaras, Jews and any mound of protoplasm not strictly conforming to our expectation of what a ‘real Pakistani’ looks like, the study was, at first, humbling. Though I was certain that I hadn’t imagined all that racism, perhaps we were still relatively better than most of the world, and that’s something to be relatively happy about.

That joy was short-lived.

This is after all a country where if we can’t agree on anything about the causes of terrorism, we can at least shake hands on the fact that there are “too many Afghan/Pathans” here for our comfort. It was unsurprising that following the brutal attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, the first step of our reinvigorated counter-terrorism plan was to round up all the Afghan babas selling sand-roasted corn on the roadside, and chuck them and their families out of the country. Or as we euphemistically call it, “repatriation”. The UN itself stood stunned at the rapidity with which we dealt with our refugee problem, quite possibly putting their lives in jeopardy.

Thereby proving that xenophobia and racism trumps the romanticism of ‘Muslim unity’, and that we’d shake mountains for the welfare of our brothers around the world from Palestine to Kashmir, as long as it costs us nothing more than the price of a functioning microphone, and allows us the opportunity to rail against our political nemeses like India and Israel.

Any examination of our own don’t-ask-don’t-tell bromance with the religious extremists, whopreach fanatical ideas and terrorism apologia with complete impunity, shall forever remain at the bottom of our list of priorities.

Steve Seidman, a professor at Carlton University studying ethnic conflict, expressed his concern about the study’s reduction of a complex phenomenon to a single metric, presented neatly as a color-coded world map.

He expertly observed that the manifestation of racism depends on the racial diversity and polarity in the region. In other words, if you’ve had little to no interaction with Dominicans and don’t know much about them, you might be ambivalent about them moving in next door.

In a country where the racial divide among Pakhtuns and non-Pakhtuns isn’t as black and white as, well, ‘black’ and ‘white’, the word ‘race’ is rarely brought up. That is not to say that “we” tolerate “them”. The language of the survey matters tremendously, and prejudice against an ethnicity is still generally covered under ‘racism’.

The researchers also caution the readers that the study – with questions so straightforward, they may as well ask, “You racist? Yes or no?” – does not take dishonesty into account. For instance, Finns may not be more racist than the Swedish; they might just be more honest.

Overt racism against the Pakhtuns has melded so seamlessly into the Pakistani culture, it hardly elicits a glare. Pashto words are often thrown sarcastically at one another to insult one’s intelligence, implying that it’s the language of people with poor comprehension skills. Pathans are insouciantly stereotyped as unhygienic brutes; heck, even I stereotyped them earlier in this very blog as corn venders, which although satirical, bears real risk of being taken seriously.

So let’s save the celebratory fireworks for another day. Racism is not a bygone menace by any measure, and it lies shimmering on top of a giant mound of sectarianism, cemented by numerous other forms of bigotry.

Why do I have to tell anyone if I am Shia or not?

The natural course of policies made in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always had a negative tilt towards the Shia Muslims of the world. Having the privilege of hosting Islam’s most sacred place of worship, they have monopolised the Islamic faith and exploited the concept of pilgrimage as much as possible. After years of exporting its ideology to Pakistan, and many other countries across the Middle-East, and creating fissures in society, the kingdom took it up an ante – since proxy wars may not always be feasible – they have created divisions even in the unifying act of Hajj pilgrimage; it is mandatory for Shias to declare their sect when applying for a Hajj visa.

While this may not be new, the purpose of this blog is to examine why such a condition exists in the first place.

As we already know the Shia community has been under siege for decades but the general inclusion of such a term not only makes their intention to divide more transparent, it is unethical and to a large extent, immoral. Some people will say this was done to facilitate the Shia women who wish to do Hajj without being accompanied by a mehram or related male. If so and there is a huge ‘if’, why not simply ask if the woman wishes to travel without a mehram?

Adding a few words to the form will not make it any heavier.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see this as a way of registering Shia travellers and creating hurdles for their visa. Riyadh has made it mandatory for all Hajj pilgrims to declare their sect as it fears that sectarian tensions could rise in the kingdom owing to the conflict in Yemen.

In a state where Shias are killed simply for being Shias, forcing them to declare their sect on an official document is only putting them further at risk. The reported timeline of events is such: Pakistan refuses to send ground troops to Yemen to participate in Saudi Arabia’s war, there is a flurry of activity from the kingdom to put pressure on Pakistan, the Imam-e-Kaaba visits the country and just a few days later, people start putting up pictures of the 2015 Hajj forms which has this clause to further exemplify their blatant bigotry. While the addition in the form took place a few years back, with heightened tensions in Yemen, it is no surprise that this issue resurfaced. The discrimination and fear is apparent, and the pressure on Shias is only increasing. Saudi Arabia is supposedly worried about a repeat of the 1987 protest that ended with 400 people dead but conveniently forgets that those protests were not done by Pakistanis.

This discriminatory clause is but one among many in our official applications but first one to be put in at the behest of a foreign power. Petro-dollars can buy you much, even the power to divide people along sectarian lines when they are applying for an act that reduces the divisions between them. Instead of protesting against it, there is a tacit acceptance.

When there is an actual or perceived act of discrimination against Muslims by non-Muslims nations, we rise up in arms, with possible exception of China which can get away with pretty much anything including banning fasting in Ramazan because a few billions get you that impunity in Pakistan.

The latest cause of outrage is the expulsion of a 15-year-old Muslim girl in France who was suspended from class for wearing a long black skirt which is seen as a sign of Islamic influence or belief. But when discrimination is being done by a Muslim country, we stay quiet and quiescent.

What’s next for next year’s Hajj forms for marking out Shias?

Black stars? Facial marks?

I always thought Germany in 1933 was an aberration in the course of human history but are we really heading there?

Pilgrimage is supposed to be a unifying force, getting Muslims around the world in one glorious act of submission to the Almighty. It is deeply disturbing that those that claim to be the Keepers of the Kaaba are bent on creating divisions even there – deeply disturbing, yes, but not surprising given their politics and past history.