The Times of India – Dal Khalsa wants refugee status for plane highjacker Gajinder Singh

Bharat Khanna

Patiala-Panjab-India, 19 November 2017. Remembering its founder leader Gajinder Singh on his 66th birth anniversary, the Dal Khalsa wants United Nations (UN) to give refugee status to its patron since, in international parlance, he is a stateless person. For this, they are all set to appeal to UN too.

Notably, Gajinder Singh along with his colleagues hijacked the Indian plane on September 29, 1981 and is living in self-exile in some undisclosed country.

“It is ironic that he has to spend his life in oblivion despite the hard fact that he has undergone the life imprisonment for hijacking”, said party’s senior leaders H S Dhami and Kanwar Pal Singh.

In a statement, they didn’t mention as to where he was based now. However, he said Gajinder Singh remains the patron of the Dal Khalsa, which unfailingly continues to uphold the spirit of the ‘mission for independence’ started by him.

Some believe that Gajinder Singh has settled in Pakistan after his release from jail in November 1994.

The leaders of Dal Khalsa said the case of Gajinder Singh is fit for the refugee status as he is a person who cannot live in his homeland as despite having undergone long imprisonment for hijacking and despite the fact that he is entitled to the legal defense of not to be tried for the same offence twice under the notion of ‘double jeopardy’.

“Earlier, we were reluctant to write to world body but now we have decided to approach UNHCR (The UN Refugee agency) to get the status for him” said, Kanwarpal Singh.

Taking a dig at Indian establishment, they wondered if India can give asylum to Tibetan leader Dalai Lama and has initiated process to give the same to Pakistan’s rebel Baluchistan leader Brahumdagh Bugti presently living in Switzerland, why New Delhi has been creating diplomatic obstacles to Gajinder’s settlement in any country of his choice.

To drive their point home, Dal Khalsa alleged that India thwarted Gajinder’s effort to settle down in Germany in July 1996 and it did the same again in late 90’s in UK. “The then government shot off a letter to our local party office informing that Gajinder Singh won’t be given asylum if he enters UK.

The decision was unilateral as Gajinder never applied for asylum there. Although it’s altogether a different matter that UK has granted asylum to Pakistan’s rebel and MQM chief Altaf Hussain.”

They further said, “In 2001, India placed his name on the most wanted list, however his name has not been mentioned in the latest list of India’s most wanted.

Continue with its witch-hunting attitude, Indian government allowed the re-opening of the hijacking case after 36 years and currently two of the members of hijacking team who have returned to India are facing the sedition charges afresh at Patiala House, Delhi. The next date of hearing is November 21.

They added that Gajinder wasn’t involved in any terror case other than the 1981 hijacking one to which he has already undergone life sentence in Pakistan.


Dawn – Religious freedom

Huma Yusuf

Op/Ed, 20 November 2017. The State Department recently missed its legal deadline for designating ‘Countries of Particular Concern’, a list of nations that violate religious freedom in a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” manner.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the body that recommends which countries should be designated, criticised the State Department for the oversight, stating that it “tells violators of religious freedom around the world that the United States is looking away”, and is unlikely to take rights violations seriously.

Pakistan is among the 16 countries that the USCIRF has recommended feature on the list, not surprisingly, and not for the first time. However, the State Department has yet to designate Pakistan as a CPC, presumably to avoid tackling the sensitive issue of religious freedoms as part of an already fractious bilateral relationship.

What would make us stop maltreating minorities?

Anyway, it is unlikely that a designation would motivate Pakistan to check the blatant violation of religious minorities’ rights.

Souring relations with the US, the astute recognition that religious freedom violations are not a high priority issue for the Trump administration, and a growing reliance on China for support at international fora mean that the designation, in the unlikely event that it were to occur, would be ineffective.

So what would motivate Pakistan to tackle the escalating persecution of religious minorities? This question is particularly pertinent as the hostility against religious minorities intensifies with state complicity, whether in the form of legislation, parliamentary discourse or unchecked street agitation.

External pressure in the form of the CPC designation or other condemnation from powers that can offer inducements (defence cooperation, trade deals, aid) has been the most effective in making states behave themselves: think of Turkey keeping human rights violations in check and respecting press freedom while still aspiring for an EU membership.

But in a multipolar world in which some of the ‘poles’, China, Russia, have little regard for human rights, external pressure is less compelling.

The fact that countries where rights violations are routine are signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and similar rights treaties is also meaningless. Institutions such as the UN that uphold such treaties are weakening, and their credibility has eroded in the face of multiplying humanitarian crises in places such as Syria and Yemen.

The argument that religious freedom promotes peace by reducing the likelihood of faith-driven or sectarian conflict also falls short in Pakistan’s case. Our country is wracked by lawlessness, and religion-related violence is just one of many security challenges.

A decade of indiscriminate terrorism has also made sectarian violence comparatively palatable.

Moreover, our state’s blunt way of dealing with conflict in the form of para/military operations hardly distinguishes between religiously motivated violence and other forms of conflict.

In Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen argued that economic and social development is facilitated by freedom, and that any form of ‘unfreedom’ hampers progress and prosperity. By this argument, states should promote religious freedom to facilitate an overall environment in which freedom is respected and protected, in other words, rights beget rights, which in turn beget growth.

But Sen’s premise will have few takers in Pakistan where too many vested interests benefit more immediately from rights violations, whether in the form of extrajudicial killings, abductions, worker rights violations or religious persecution as a rent-seeking activity.

When moral, social and diplomatic drivers fail, money usually succeeds. Many countries have been spurred to improve their human rights record in order to attract foreign investors who fear the reputational risks of handing over wealth to rights violators.

However, as Pakistan embraces CPEC as its big growth plan for the coming decades, this aspect can become increasingly irrelevant. Chinese companies are unlikely to ask the state to improve its track record on religious freedom or other human rights.

In the absence of any compelling reason to check religious persecution, Pakistan’s minorities are falling victim to political expediency whereby the short-term gains for political parties and other power brokers of taking aggressive positions against the most vulnerable are too attractive to overlook.

Ultimately, as a nation, we will have to find an internal motivating factor to support religious freedom. That motivating factor will have to be the realisation that if one group’s rights can be trampled today, then our rights (whoever ‘we’ may be) can be trampled tomorrow.

Since there is no predicting who will hold power, whether political or institutional, in the decades to come, we can only take ease in the idea that our religious and other freedoms are protected no matter who’s in charge. Sadly, such insight is hardly our forte.

The writer is a freelance journalist

The News – Nawaz criticizes judges in Abbottabad rally

Abbottabad (Urdu ایبٹ آباد)-Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa-Pakistan, 19 November 2017. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday took an exception to judges who he said took oaths of allegiance to dictators but failed to deliver justice in his case.

“Those who are talking about minus one formula don’t know Nawaz Sharif is the name of an ideology” said he while addressing a rally in Abbottabad district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Today I have brought my review appeal (against disqualification) here. Pakistani nation will decide on my review petition,” he said.

“Pakistan has once again been destabilized,” the former prime minister said and asked the participants of the rally whether they would support him in restoring sanctity of vote. The crowd responded in affirmative.

The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz leader arrived in Murree from where he travelled to Abbottabad.

TV channels aired photo of the former prime minister shaking hands with Pashtoon Khawa Milli Awami Party leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai whom the former met at the Islamabad’s Benazir International Airport.

During their brief encounter, both the leaders discussed current political situation of the country.

The rally is being held at the College Ground where organizers have placed 10000 chairs and huge panaflaxes carrying images of the former prime minister.

Earlier in the day, Muslim League Nawaz leaders Pervaiz Rashid and Asif Kirmani visited the venue to review the preparations for the rally.

Speaking to media, Rashid said Imran Khan was calling for early election because he was scared of PMLN.

PMLN’s provincial leaders Sardar Mehtab Abbasi and Amir Maqam also visited the College Ground in the morning.

Dawn – India ‘positively’ responds to Pakistan’s offer about Jadhav

Baqir Sajjad Syed

Islamabad-Federal Capital Territory-Pakistan, 19 November 2017. India has ‘positively’ responded to Pakistan’s offer for a meeting between convicted Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav and his wife, but made a few ‘requests’, a diplomatic source said on Saturday.

Islamabad last week took New Delhi by surprise by offering a meeting between Jadhav and his wife and it took a week for the latter to respond to the gesture, which Pakistan had said was on humanitarian grounds and as per “Islamic traditions and jurisprudence”.

It should be recalled that earlier Islamabad had denied multiple requests from Delhi for consular access to Jadhav and had so far not taken a decision on the visa application of Jadhav’s mother Avantika, who wanted to visit Pakistan for a meeting with her son.

Directors general of military operations hold unscheduled hotline interaction over continuing ceasefire violations by India along LoC.

New Delhi did not make public its response to the offer. The media came to know about it through a tweet by Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal, who also heads the South Asia directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Indian Reply to Pakistan’s Humanitarian offer for Commander Jadhav received and is being considered,” Dr Faisal tweeted.

No details about the Indian response were, however, released.

A diplomatic source talking to Dawn said one of the requests was that Jadhav’s mother be also permitted to meet him.

Jadhav’s mother, it should be recalled, had earlier submitted a petition against her son’s death sentence and had also pleaded to the federal government to intervene for his release.

The source said that the tone of the letter was positive and indicated New Delhi’s desire to avail the offer.

Jadhav, who was captured by Pakistani security forces on 3 March 2016, in Balochistan, was sentenced to death by a military tribunal earlier this year for his involvement in terrorism and espionage.

His appeals against the conviction have been rejected by the military appellate court and his mercy petition has been lying with Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa.

India has challenged Pakistan’s refusal to grant consular access to the spy in the International Court of Justice. The ICJ is hearing the case and has restrained the Pakistan government from executing him till it decides the case.

Meanwhile, Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan held on Saturday evening an unscheduled hotline interaction over continuing ceasefire violations along the Line of Control.

The hotline conversation was requested by Pakistan.

Pakistan’s DGMO Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza protested over targeting of civilian population.

India has violated ceasefire along the LoC over 1,300 times so far this year in which 52 civilians have been killed.

Two civilians were killed in truce breaches on Friday in Chirikot and Nezapir sectors.

Dawn – Guru Nanak, Wali Qandhari and other stories about how Hasan Abdal got water

Haroon Khalid

Hasan Abdal-Panjab-Pakistan, 16 November 2017. Overshadowing the vast complex of gurdwara of Panja Sahib, one of the most popular Sikh shrines, associated with Guru Nanak and located in the city of Hasan Abdal in Pakistan, is the tallest mound in the region, rising high above its other shorter cousins.

The entire city of Hasan Abdal is this interaction between mounds and planes, the narrow alleys with their wooden jharokas, abandoned Hindu temples, tall minarets of mosques and some recently constructed plazas, rising and falling as the earth beneath them breathes in and out.

However, there is something spectacular about this mountain. The scatter of the city, its ancientness, pales in comparison with the permanence of this mound.

The focal point of this historical city is the shrine of Guru Nanak, a vast complex protected by tall walls. Every year, hundreds of pilgrims descend upon this gurdwara from all over the world to celebrate different religious festivals including Baisakhi and Guru Nanak Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism.

This year as well, when Sikh and other devotees of Nanak come to Pakistan to participate in his birthday celebrations, Gurdwara Panja Sahib will be one of the places pilgrims will be allowed to visit by the Pakistani state.

No Muslim, besides representatives of the state, will be allowed within the premise of the gurdwara.

The legend

Right next to the main entrance of the gurdwara manned by police officials, a tiny stream flows into the shrine.

The legend goes that the stream once flowed from a spring on top of the hill, near which lived a local religious figure named Wali Qandhari.

This spring was the only source of water for the inhabitants of Hasan Abdal.

But once Nanak arrived and started gathering a congregation around him, Qandhari felt jealous and angry as his popularity declined. It is believed that Qandhari stopped the flow of water downstream.

Needing water, the people appealed to Qandhari to let the water flow as before. “Go to your Guru, the one you visit everyday now and ask him for water,” he is supposed to have responded angrily.

The inhabitants of Hasan Abdal went to Nanak, who sent Bhai Mardana, his disciple and companion, to plead with Qandhari, who in turn is said to have refused angrily and turned him away with the same response.

Nanak sent him again, and then again, but to each time come back with the same response. Eventually, Guru Nanak is said to have removed a stone from the ground under his feet, making a stream of water gush out of the earth.

Qandhari’s spring, as per the legend, is said to have dried up because all of its water had come gushing out from under Nanak’s feet. In his wrath, Qandhari is supposed to have hurled a boulder towards Nanak, which he is said to have stopped with his right hand, leaving a permanent mark on the rock, thus lending this gurdwara its name – Panja Sahib.

It now rests in the sacred pond created from this stream of water, facing the main shrine, as pilgrims form a long queue to place their hand where once Nanak is said to have rested his fingers.

Many festivals

The climb up the mountain, which Bhai Mardana is believed to have undertaken thrice to plead with Qandhari, is arduous.

On a barren mountain interspersed with a few trees, the authorities have in the past few years constructed a pathway. Many Sikh and Hindu devotees who come to visit the shrine of Nanak also sometimes travel up this mountain.

At the time of Baisakhi when the courtyard of Nanak’s gurdwara is swarming with pilgrims, there is a festival arranged here as well. There is a separate date for another festival at the shrine which is unique to it.

Graffiti on some of the rocks on this mound present another form of religiosity. “Allah O Akbar”, it says. On a cool morning a few years ago when I undertook this trek, there were several people whom I saw on their way to the lone shrine at the top of the mound.

These were young students in school and college uniforms, families with picnic baskets, a few devotional pilgrims carrying their slippers in their hands, intentionally attempting to make this spiritual journey more difficult for themselves.

Midway, there was a small bazaar, while there was another one right outside the shrine, selling not only religious paraphernalia but also refreshments.

In an empty ground behind the shrine, there were a few dervish preparing a hashish cigarette, with the panorama of the world with its people engaged in their daily grind at their feet.

Standing at the edge of the cliff, the gurdwara seemed far away, beautiful with its white dome and a green pool.

Many stories

In the Sikh tradition, Wali Qandhari is an arrogant saint who refused Mardana water and then hurled a rock towards Nanak, for his Muslim devotees he is Baba Hasan Abdal, who lends this city its name.

There are several stories associated with the saint. Some suggest that he prayed on the top of this mountain and then mysteriously disappeared, which is why he is also referred to as the Zinda Pir.

There is no grave inside the shrine, but a green box has been put up by the authorities to collect donations made by the pilgrims.

Another narrative suggests that the saint was responsible for extracting two streams from these mountains that now flow through the city.

In this version, he was not the jealous or arrogant saint who refused Mardana water, but rather the benefactor who gave the city the gift of water.

There is yet another story associated with the pond at Hasan Abdal which recalls its reverence in the Buddhist tradition.

Hasan Abdal happens to be approximately 20 km from Taxila and the Chinese Buddhist traveller Hiuen Tsang, who travelled to India in the 7th century CE provides a detailed description of his trip to a place about the same distance from Taxila, with an ancient tank covered with lotus flowers, where devotees would come to pray for fine weather and rain.

The pond, according to Hiuen Tsang, had become sacred because of a boon bestowed on a Buddhist king, Elapatra, by the gods.

With relics of ancient Buddhist cities and stupas in all directions around the town, Hassan Abdal in ancient India fell within the geographical location of the famed Gandharan civilisation.

While there are three stories that describe the origin of this pond, there is only one thing common in all of them – its sacredness.

This article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

Haroon Khalid has an academic background in anthropology from LUMS. He has been traveling extensively around Pakistan, documenting historical and cultural heritage. He is the author of Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva: A study of folk religious practices in Pakistan, and A White Trail: A journey into the heart of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

The Hindu – Pakistan court begins trial of Sharif, family members

Former PM exempted from court hearings till November 27

Islamabad-Federal Islamabad Capital Territory-Pakistan, 15 November 2017. A Pakistani anti-graft court on Wednesday formally began trial of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members in corruption cases linked to the Panama Papers scandal as two prosecution witnesses recorded their statements against them.

As the trial began, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecution presented its first two witnesses in the court, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Joint Registrar Sidra Mansoor and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Inland Revenue Department representative Jahangir Ahmad.

When Mr Sharif’s lawyer, Khawaja Haris, was given the floor to cross-question the first witness, he observed that the audit reports submitted by the SECP to NAB were photocopies and did not have the company’s stamp on them.

Defending the authenticity of the documents, Ms Mansoor said that the photocopies were provided to the SECP by the Sharifs’ company as per the law.

Revenue Bureau’s Jahangir Ahmad also recorded his witness statement and said that all tax records that NAB had provided to the court were given to the accountability body by his office. Mr Ahmad has been called to appear in court again on November 22 for cross-questioning in the next hearing.

Conditional acceptance

While the accountability court accepted Mr. Sharif’s application for exemption from court hearings till November 27, it only conditionally allowed his daughter Maryam one month’s exemption from court.

Both Mr Sharif, 67, and Ms Maryam filed separate applications for exemption from future court hearings.

Mr Sharif, in his application, had asked to be exempted from trial hearings as the next spell of his wife’s chemotherapy is about to begin.

Ms Maryam had said that she would present herself in court whenever there is a hearing. However, she requested the court allow Jahangir Jadoon to represent her in court in case she had to leave the country in case of an emergency. The NAB prosecutors had objected to both applications.

Talking to media later, Mr. Sharif claimed that the Panamagate verdict was given to tell the accountability court to make sure he is punished.

He added that the language used in the Panamagate verdict mirrors the language that his political opponents use.

The Times of India – Pakistan Sikhs object to tomb at Mardana’s birthplace

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 14 November 2017. Pakistan’s Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has stalled the work for the construction of a memorial to Bhai Mardana, companion of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev. The foundation stone for the memorial was laid a year ago.

Santa Singh Mallawala, jatha leader of International Bhai Mardana Yadgari Kirtan Darbar Society, told TOI on Monday that they were surprised to know that the ETPB had not begun construction of memorial to Bhai Mardana which was to be constructed at his birth place in Gurdwara Bal Leela complex in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan.

“Upon inquiry we found that the Sikhs of Nankana Sahib had objected on construction of tomb as memorial of Bhai Mardana,” he said, adding that if a tomb was constructed Muslims would also visit the Gurdwara complex and that was not acceptable to the local Sikhs as it could lead to several social issues.

Bhai Mardana society president Harpal Singh Bhullar said the Society had written letters to office bearers of the PSGPC and the ETPB to construct a a suitable structure to mark the place.

Bhai Mardana belongs to Sikhs and Muslims, if you want a memorial to honour him you should involve Sikhs and (Sufi) Muslims
Man in Blue

Dawn – No trace of the missing

Op/Ed, 15 November 2017. Missing persons continue to remain undocumented and missing, and it appears that the courts and parliament are powerless to do anything about this terrible blot on Pakistan’s human rights record.

On Monday, seemingly helpless representatives of the federal and KP governments appeared in the Supreme Court empty-handed; they had been required by a special bench to present basic data on the country’s 45 declared internment centres.

The information that had been demanded included up-to-date lists of detainees, the offences they have been charged with, whether or not they had faced trial and the length of their incarceration, in sum, the bare minimum information the state should have for any individual in its custody.

But the court simply gave the representatives another fortnight to produce the data.

Meanwhile, following a meeting of the Senate Committee on Human Rights, Senator Farhatullah Babar has called for setting up a new commission on enforced disappearances because the existing one has failed to produce results and to publish a six-year-old report on missing persons.

Taken together, the events suggest a defiance of the law by some elements within the state and an abdication of duty by other parts of the state to ensure that citizens have their rights and institutions act according to the law.

What is particularly dispiriting is that despite the passage of several years and facilitation by the law, the state appears unwilling to take a reasonable position on the issue.

The first military operations in the country are now more than a decade old, while the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulations, 2011, provided a legal framework to bring missing persons within the ambit of the law.

Surely, by now a reasonable solution to what is admittedly a vexing problem ought to have been found.

The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn at this stage, however, is that there are some state elements that reject the notion that accountability and transparency ought to apply to at least some security issues.

The public, the courts, parliament, the governments and, indeed, the families of the suspects, simply have to trust the judgement of nameless and faceless figures wielding great power over the lives of alleged terrorism, militancy and extremism suspects.

Certainly, the long fight against militancy calls for special measures and greater flexibility in dealing with an internal threat that is shadowy and evolving.

But the state’s duty is to progressively bring its actions within the ambit of the law, that is what separates the justness of the fight by the state from the terrorists, militants and extremists who seek to inflict harm on the country and its people.

Today, there is no justification for defiance of the law, just as there is no rationale for the continuing phenomenon of missing persons.

The News – Pakistan Rangers, India’s BSF meeting concludes

Rawalpindi-Panjab-Pakistan, 11 November 2017. The three-day 44th meeting between Pakistan Rangers and India’s Border Security Force (BSF) ended in New Delhi with a resolve to protect the lives of innocent civilians across LOC on Friday, ISPR statement said.

Security forces of both countries have made “serious endeavours” to resolve issues related to border management at post, company and battalion levels by encouraging local commanders to work in cooperation, Pakistan Army’s media wing said in a press release.

According to ISPR, the leadership of Pakistan Rangers and India’s Border Security Forces (BSF) have come to a conclusion that the spirit of a 2003 ceasefire agreement must be revived to protect the lives of innocent civilians, as unprovoked firing across LOC often claims lives of women and children.

The meeting was held in a highly congenial and conducive atmosphere, which also discussed the measures to effectively check smuggling and border crossings from both sides,” statement said.

The leadership of both the forces also talked about speeding up the repatriation process of fishermen detained in Indian prisons due to inadvertent border crossings, in order to reunite the affected.

The Times of India – Part of Rawalpindi gurdwara razed, confusion over mosque construction

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 13 November 2017. There are conflicting reports about demolition of a portion of a gurdwara in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi city and a mosque being constructed in its place.

According to Pakistan media reports on Sunday, a portion of the gurdwara was razed by the management of Zia-ul-Uloom High School for Boys in October.

However, chairperson of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), which looks after properties of Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India after the Partition and is involved in upkeep of temples and gurdwaras, created confusion as he denied there was any building on the land in question, be it a gurdwara or mosque.

Zia-ul-Uloom High School had been functioning on land owned by Gurdwara Singh Sabha, Rawalpindi, since 1969, a report published in a Pakistan newspaper said on Sunday.

According to the report, the school’s administration took the step after Rawalpindi municipal corporation declared the gurdwara’s structure dangerous and then constructed a mosque on the demolished part of the gurdwara.

Although the property board moved court and obtained a stay order on the demolition of a portion of the gurdwara, the school management went ahead and demolished it, according to the report.

However, ETPB chairperson Farooq ul Saddiq denied the media report in a conversation with TOI. “The disputed land was adjacent to the school in Raja Bagh, Rawalpindi. Neither was there any gurdwara on the land nor any temple,” he said.

Saddiq confirmed the land belonged to a local gurdwara trust and was in possession of the ETPB and said the board wanted to construct an orphanage and a space to offer namaz there. “We want to construct a building where Anjuma Faisal Islam could run its orphanage on one floor, second floor could be used for students and the third floor could be used for offering namaz,” he said.

Karachi-based Sikh leader Hira Singh alleged wrongdoing in the management of the gurdwaras in the country. “No ETPB leader has given a single statement on the issue, leave alone protesting it,” he said.

“The Pakistani government should conduct a general audit of the ETPB. We want to know how much evacuee properties have been plundered since the inception of the ETPB.”