The News – Sedition charges filed against Mani Shankar after his KLF session

Karachi-Sindh-Pakistan, 17 Feberuary 2018. Former Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar has been indicted with sedition and defamation by a BJP leader after he reportedly praised Pakistan and insulted India.

At the ninth Karachi Literature Festival held last week, Indian diplomat Mani Shankar had stated during a session placed around India-Pakistan relationship that he values Pakistan’s policy of seeking to reconcile through dialogue, an approach that he believed India had not yet espoused.

The statement has caused enormous backlash in Shankar’s home country, with one BJP leader going as far as filing a case of sedition and offense against the eliminated leader.

The case filed by BJP’s head of Kota district OBC wing, Ashok Choudhary, has been admitted by the additional chief judicial magistrate court in Kota, with the hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

The case has been filed under sections 124(A), 500 and 504 of the Indian Penal Code, with Shankar’s statements described as an expression of love for Pakistan and pride for Islamabad not instigating talks with New Delhi.

In the petition filed against Shankar, Chaudhary states, “the statements in favor of Pakistan have deeply hurt my patriotism and passionate sentiments for my country.”

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/282343-sedition-charges-filed-against-mani-shankar-after-his-klf-session

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The Asian Age – No restrictions imposed on pilgrims travelling to Pakistan, India clarifies

New Delhi-India, 17 February 2018.India on Friday said it has not imposed any restrictions on pilgrims travelling to Pakistan amid heightened tensions between the two nations following a string of terror attacks in the Kashmir Valley.

“Of course not,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said when asked if India had imposed any restriction on pilgrims.

The clarification comes after Pakistan reportedly blamed India for withdrawing visa applications of pilgrims from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

http://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/170218/no-restrictions-imposed-on-pilgrims-travelling-to-pak-india-clarifies.html

Dawn – The Dissenter: Asma Jahangir on the role of NGOs in democratising Pakistan

I met Asma Jahangir in 2015. I was conducting fieldwork for my doctoral studies on the issue of NGOs in democratisation in Pakistan.

With great sadness and a feeling of irreversible loss, I wish to share Asma’s thoughts on the subject.

It does not only offer Asma’s insights on NGOs, international funding and the nature of democratisation in Pakistan, it also gives us a peak into her humanist nature.

Asma Jahangir will remain unforgettable for most of us, as she should.

Arjumand Bano Kazmi

Op/Ed, 16 February 2018. It was the midst of June. Nearly four in the afternoon but the heat and humidity of Lahore was still intensifying.

Standing outside a modest commercial building in Lahore, I felt smothered, not because of the heat, but because I was finally going to meet Asma Jahangir.

It took me over a month to set up a meeting with her. Her office assistant kept apologising for making and then cancelling the appointments mainly for the unexpected turn of events and commitments that Asma had to attend.

At last, there I was, hot and nervous as I entered the building. Having no idea which floor of the building the office was situated, I kept going up the stairs. Besides, no lifts were in sight in that narrow and old fashioned concrete structure.

Upon noticing the board with Asma’s name, I pressed the buzzer. The door was opened by a middle-aged, modest looking tallish man, wearing worn grey trousers and a blue-grey lined shirt.

Like his clothes, he also looked worn. His face was made prominent by his thick glassed black framed specs.

Looking exhausted (perhaps after working all day or because of the airless office), he politely welcomed me with a busy and quick smile.

He went behind the counter labelled ‘Reception’. Before I said anything, he asked, “are you Arjumand?” I nodded as he busily affirmed my appointment in a ledger.

“I am Mushtaq, Asma’s assistant,” he said. “You have been conversing with me for this appointment. I am sorry about all the cancellations. Can I get you a glass of water?”

It was an unexpected offer. In the month of Ramzan, when most people in Pakistan were fasting, the offer was unusually fresh. I wasn’t fasting but politely refused the offer as it is commonly expected in response.

He then set off to guide me to Asma’s office. Following him through a small hall, I felt a sense of urgency in the averagely furnished office.

There were three smaller rooms and a big common room, all visible through cheap glass doors. There were people in all rooms, some conversing with each other in a more client-officer look, whilst others busy taking phone calls.

There were some destitute looking people, men but mostly women, sitting on a few seats in the hall. They looked like they were waiting to be seen.

As we approached the end of the hall, I saw Asma, behind the glass door of one of the smaller rooms. Mushtaq opened the door, softly announcing, “Arjumand is here”.

“I am Asma,” a petite woman promptly stood up behind a busy and messy looking work desk, warmly offering a handshake.

Dressed in an inexpensive shalwar kameez with a dupatta casually held across her neck, Asma could be described as any other Pakistani urban woman in her late 50s [She was in her 60s at the time but I was unaware of her actual age].

With her short hair loosely tied at the back, she was wearing a small chain with a single pendant.

Her small and feeble looking hands had a few rings, with a wristwatch visible at the end of her left hand.

What made her unusual, however, was her pensive eyes behind her thinly framed glasses.

While greeting her with a handshake, I seated myself on the chair across her. The busy and messy looking work desk separated us.

The room felt even smaller with a tall bookcase filled with books and files. Next to a small window, covered with blinds, was a table with a desktop.

There was also a carry-along suitcase (as if she was or will be travelling) and large handbag filled with papers.

“Arjumand, your research looks interesting,” she remarked in Urdu in a direct and swift manner. “I read through the description you sent through email. How can I help?”

I was a bit astonished. I was not expecting such a candid, welcoming and direct response from one of the most known human rights activists, for whom I always held high respect and considered as a role model.

Not being able to confirm my appointment with her earlier, I had disappointingly assumed that she must be difficult to approach, perhaps even a little arrogant.

But her presence felt contrary to my assumptions. Feeling a bit relaxed, I began with thanking her for her time to which she reacted quickly and said, “no need.”

I explained that my research was about exploring the roles of internationally-funded NGOs in democratisation.

Since she was leading an NGO with an aim to promote democracy and human rights and had long been involved in pro-democracy resistance movements, I wanted her to share her observations and concerns as she experienced them over the years.

“The role of NGOs in the context of Pakistan has been extremely positive and important,” she began, only this time conversing in English.

“Civil society has always been here in Pakistan before the conventional kind of NGOs that have come in now. These were introduced in the 80s.

“One of the reasons that in a Muslim country, dogmatic Islamic discourse has been resisted, is because of this civil society.

“What I call civil society, are poets, writers, union of journalists, trade unions, legal community, people who are liberal in their thought, who may or may not get together to form certain organisations.

“Even political parties are part of civil society in Pakistan. Pakistan has survived because it has political parties.

“But our state has never recognised this civil society. Nor do they recognise us now. They tolerate us because of international pressures.

“For example, they are compelled to involve us in developing the progress reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at the UN.

“But by and large, since the Ayub era, there has been a regulated effort to hegemonise this civil society, including curbing the development of political parties.

“So to this day, the state does not communicate with us. It makes laws and introduce policies without any consultation, so we have been essentially kept at a distance.

“In a democracy, it is important that everything done in terms of the law and law-making, should not just be thoroughly discussed in the parliament, but also outside the parliament.

“In the colonial times, people were asked to give their opinion and the same should happen now. But, except for the businessmen who are consulted discreetly before the budget is announced or a finance bill is introduced, nothing else is done.

“Laws are made without consultation of lawyers; education policy is made without consulting with educationists and so on.

“So, we are kept at the margins.”

Suddenly the door opened with a knock and Mushtaq entered with a serving trolley carrying covered food trays. Asma slightly nodded and began to clear her desk making space for food.

“You will have to excuse me. I have not had any lunch. And I am advised that I must not miss my meals. Are you fasting?” I shook my head and said, “please have your lunch.”

Asma resumed talking as Mushtaq laid the table. “So, I was saying that despite this discouraging, in fact hostile attitude of the state, we kept demanding to be heard.

“We kept scrutinising them, even the dictators, for failing to deliver [on the] basic needs and security for our people. Women’s rights organisations have, in particular, played a laudable role.”

“Thank you Mushtaq,” Asma broke the conversation as Mushtaq left the room.

“I remember that back in 80s, the chaddar and chardiwari was an ascending slogan in Pakistan under the rule of Zia-ul-Haq.

“But we broke down the framework that they were creating for women. We were few of us as a network, but we managed to jolt people not just in Pakistan but even the international community started asking questions in their capitals against Zia’s Islamisation laws.

“Much credit should be given to the feminists of the West. They came to our rescue, defying their own governments who were supporting Zia’s jihad in Afghanistan.

“A global pressure was generated, and a public outcry compelled the dictator to back off. In this way, the Western civil society played a significant role.

“We have had people like Habib Jalib and Faiz among others who are institutions in themselves. They have given life, thought and progressive mind-set to many of us.

“They too were sheltered by the West and its civil society, when placed in exile by our state. So, for me, civil society in Pakistan has been organised, dynamic and daring.

“It has been guided by the values of democracy, participation, fundamental freedoms for citizens, protection and advocacy for the rights of minorities.”

While speaking, Asma began to unimposingly share food, serving me everything that was there at the table. I gestured to politely refuse, which she swiftly ignored and kept serving.

I noticed, it was home-cooked simple lunch in small portions. Only much later in time I came to know that at the time of our meeting, Asma was undergoing medical treatment for a serious illness.

I still wonder how she did it, taking time for activism and full-time work despite being seriously ill. But that was Asma. A usual looking, but an unusually strong woman.

“What do you think of these new NGOs that are internationally funded for defined projects and programmes? Do you think they are doing what you as an activist used to do or still do?” I asked as I nibbled on the mixed seasonal fruits.

“I consider them non-conventional NGOs as they are different from NGOs in the past,” Asma continued. “I am not against international support.

“Western civil society has always supported our civil society for pursing democratic aims. They also pressurise their governments, so their governments are compelled to support us and pressure our state to have a democratic set up.

“I am also not denying that the West is often guided by its own vested strategic interests. True that the West had supported the most formidable dictatorships in Pakistan.

“Nonetheless, their financial and issue-based support is extremely valuable for our civil society to make even little stitches in the torn fabric of our socio-political experience.

“It has to be our own judgement with which we should balance our priorities. Our organisation is funded by the Western partners, both by the state and civil society institutions. But we set our own agendas.

“I would not say that all NGOs set their own agendas. Some may have their funding agencies’ agendas, I cannot deny that.

“But that doesn’t just happen in the civil society. Our state, including government and the army, follows foreign agendas when compelled to in exchange of financial rewards, so how can they blame us?

“Just because they have been given legitimacy by their institutions doesn’t mean they are beyond the bounds of scrutiny.

“It is all because of this historical hostility against the civil society that we face the charge of following foreign agendas.

“I simply laugh at these charges. As if our society and state is completely innocent of not taking any external influence.

“But I do think that present day NGOs should have a common sense and not poor-judgements. They must understand that in Pakistan, the work they do is political to its core. And they should openly accept that.

“They should work alongside political parties to develop a critical mass but keep their distance from them by not directly engaging and playing a political role. They must work collectively and develop what I call ‘collective wisdom’ for liberal values.

“There must be deep knowledge: I think that an NGO that does not have deep knowledge of its own society is not helpful to democracy.

“I’ll give you an example. When General Musharraf came to power, if you look at the newspapers of those days, and I wish you would, apart from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), not a single NGO opposed the military dictatorship.

“The reason being that they thought liberalism can spring out of the barrel of a gun. There is the contradiction.

“The people at HRCP have for years stood up against dictatorships. They have spent years in jail. They had taken the beating on streets and their members were killed by the establishment. They know what the barrel of a gun is like. So, we must learn from them.

“NGOs should be able to differentiate myths from reality. I would say that what is most important for an NGO is to gain respect of the public that they are addressing.

“To find such respect in a society in which NGOs are under attack is not easy. But who said our work was supposed to be easy!

“A few welfare organisations in Pakistan managed to achieve this status such as Edhi. HRCP is also respected to a certain extent.

“But the rest of NGOs, I don’t see them taking positions as openly as they should.”

Asma’s voice was evenly paced, with clear sentences in sequence. So far. her expression kept a sustained tone.

“From where do you get your funding?” I asked, having been given a chance to speak.

“We have overseas funding from Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, EU and other European countries. But we set the agenda.

“We do not take funding from the US, directly or indirectly. We don’t even take funding from the private citizens of America. We have a distinct worldview.

“Many NGOs in our community do not subscribe to our secular liberal worldview and keep their distance from us. That is all fine. We have nothing against them.

“But I do believe that civil society is only civil if it does not have criminal aims. Our society is fast becoming a violent place.

“Dissent is not accepted here. The right wing is soaring. We all have to fight religious extremism together for our survival.

“I have to say that in a culture where tolerance, equality, and freedom of expression are heavily restrained, NGOs have taken up important issues to advocate.

“If they were not there, there would be no freedom of expression and no talk of taboos in this country. I believe, in fact I know, that there is no option for this country’s survival but democracy.

“There has never been a moment in time when even 200 people got together to bring in the military. If the military has ever been called in, it was done by our weak civilian governments, not by the citizens of Pakistan.

“This is where NGOs should direct their efforts to. To keep in check the governments that they do not resort to calling for the military rule.”

“What makes your or your NGO’s approach different from other NGOs in democratisation?” I probed further.

“We make demands from the government and if the government asks us to come anywhere to speak or inform their approach, we never refuse. We reserve our right to criticise, as we should do.

“Our work is primarily awareness and advocacy for the people who cannot speak for themselves. We also do not ‘train’ parliamentarians or do leg-work for them. We consider this service delivery, and we don’t have resources for it.

“For example, in the making of the 18th, 19th and 20th Constitutional Amendments, we advised when consulted upon. Most of our demands were not addressed.

“For example, on judicial appointments, we pushed for the parliamentary oversight. The CJP refused to accept this and now the Chief Justice is the sole authority for the appointment of judges. This is why, historically our justice system has been influenced by the establishment.”

By now, I have gathered that Asma was a reflective soul with a fire burning in her heart to bring about social change for democracy and human rights.

She was rooted in local culture and history of resistance against anti-democratic forces – including the state and the extremists.

She was not apologetic for her secular liberal beliefs. Neither did she mock international funding but recognised its positive support. She was also critical of NGOs that stay at margins and only engage when they have projects relevant to the issue.

In response to my question on NGOs’ role in law-making, Asma sneered. “I don’t think NGOs can be given a formalised role in law-making. There should always be input from them and there are ways for doing that.

“You have to lobby and ensure that your input is considered. When there was the draft going around of the 18 Constitutional Amendment Act for consultation, to my utter surprise, only a handful of NGOs responded.

“The idea that you should be given a formal role is absurd. Why should you be given a formal role if people have not elected you? Whom do you represent? If you represent an idea then give that idea and let the parliament decide.

“With all my respect to those NGOs who do the leg-work for politicians in drafting laws, I would say please have those laws vetted by lawyers.

“You simply cannot be experts in everything that you manage to get funding for. Just because you can speak English, you cannot understand the legal system of this country.

“This naivety or opportunism – whatever you want to call it – takes its toll as laws get drafted which contradict the previously progressive laws.

“Who suffers, it is the public and those progressives who struggled to lobby for those laws. This is why I say that NGOs’ poor judgement is dangerous.”

“What do you say about volunteerism that’s disappearing fast and is a big concern for our NGOs? This would be my last question. I have already taken plenty of your time.”

We were now being served fresh tea and it was nearly time for me to leave. I thought I must try to add just a few more questions before my one hour was up.

“Don’t worry about time. You are always welcome to contact me again should you need to. I am happy to help,” Asma smiled and then mocked herself to adding, “Certainly you had quite the opposite experience of approaching to me.

“But in my defence, I can only say that my days are often frantically and randomly organised. That’s another thing about NGOs that I do not understand. Since when have we turned into these bureaucratic bubbles which are required to have three to five year strategic plans?

If you have too much bureaucracy you cannot work in a country like Pakistan where there is crisis every day. I will not be able to tell you today what I am going to do tomorrow because I am not a master of things.

“Plus NGOs should stop thinking that they know everything. That they can train the police without reading the police laws!

“And finally on volunteerism, I strongly believe that NGOs should nurture it and the conventional tutorship from senior NGOs’ experts to young volunteers and staff members must continue.

“There has to be some commitment to what we do and stand for. The amount of money NGOs’ personnel are paid these days, breeds corruption and opportunism in my opinion.”

With the close of her sentence, I took my leave and thanked her.

I left Asma, a petite, humble but an incredibly strong woman in that very standard small third floor office with cheap glass doors.

But Asma did not leave me. Her reflective rebelliousness had stayed with me, which I carry to this day.

Arjumand Bano Kazmi is currently an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advance Study, University of Warwick, UK. Arjumand has extensive experience working with NGOs in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, with a focus on women’s and minority rights, democratisation, and the voluntary sector infrastructure support. She holds a PhD in Law and an LLM in Law in Development from the University of Warwick.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1389770/the-dissenter-asma-jahangir-on-the-role-of-ngos-in-democratising-pakistan

The Tribune – Pakistan Hindus rue short-term visa, want to visit Haridwar

Tribune News Service

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 15 February 2018. Mala and Shamiya, members of a visiting group of Pakistani Hindu pilgrims, are disheartened for not being allowed to visit Haridwar to immerse the ashes of their relatives in the Ganga.

The pilgrims had arrived here on February 12 on a four-day visa. Most of them are from Pakistan’s Sindh province.

Shamiya has brought the ashes of her mother, who passed away in December last year, to immerse it in the Ganga in Haridwar. Similarly, Mala brought the ashes of her mother-in-law, who passed away about six months ago.

The pilgrims are putting up at Durgiana temple’s dharmshala. Mukesh Rana, their representative, said: “The visa for just four days is insufficient as they could not complete their pilgrimage.

While one day was consumed in travel, documentation and checking at the Attari-Wagah joint check post, for the past three days, they were not allowed to move out of the city.” He claimed that Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had assured them of visa to visit Haridwar, Delhi and Mumbai.

A local BJP leader, Salil Kapoor, who interacted with the pilgrims, said he had talked to state BJP chief Vijay Sampla over the phone. He said Sampla had assured him that he would take up the matter with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj.

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/pak-hindus-rue-short-term-visa-want-to-visit-haridwar/544743.html

Dawn – Who’s afraid of Asma Jahangir?

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 14 February 2018. Though small in stature, Asma Jahangir stood tall against the usurpers and bigots who were her biggest nemesis. They were scared of her. Her relentless fight for justice and for the rights of the people made those in power uneasy.

Her fearlessness made them shudder. Her quest for regional peace earned her the wrath of the warmongers.

She was the conscience of a nation that has produced few icons whom the people can look towards for inspiration. In her death the country may have lost its bravest soul and a fearless street fighter, but her legacy lives on. The principles Asma stood for and the causes she championed are very much alive.

Therefore, it is not surprising that while her passing is being mourned across the region and religious divide, there are also some who have not spared her even in death. The kind of filth spewed against her in the social media reflects a sickening mindset of powerful interest groups who were challenged by Asma.

They ran a concerted campaign against her when she was alive, but this campaign has become even more vicious after her death. They are afraid of the legacy of struggle she has left behind. She was among the few Pakistanis who also won international acclaim for her struggle for human rights.

Asma’s courage has been recognised here and abroad, notwithstanding the vitriol spewed by regressive forces.

Indeed, religion and patriotism are two major weapons in their arsenal that they use in their venomous propaganda campaign against her. There is certainly nothing new about this. They know they can’t attack her for her struggle for democracy and justice.

Hence these issues come in handy. The adage that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ fits well in this case.

There is no mystery about who is spearheading this social media campaign. What is, however, more disconcerting is how young minds are being polluted in the name of nationalism and patriotism by some elements.

Among them are also members of mainstream political parties. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the narrow notion of national security and nationalism can be branded ‘unpatriotic’ by the so-called defenders of our ideological boundaries.

Indeed, Asma relentlessly fought against every military regime and struggled for democracy and civilian supremacy. That certainly did not please the so-called patriotic elements.

Her campaign against forced disappearances and her criticism of security agencies’ role have also been used to question her patriotism. Nothing could be more ridiculous than that.

In fact, her struggle gave hope to the alienated people of Balochistan of getting justice and civil liberties. On her death, Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister of Balochistan, tweeted: “Balochistan is forever in your debt.”

The remarks also represented the sentiments of the Baloch population towards her for raising a voice for their rights at the national level. She became a symbol of the national unity that our so-called patriots and nationalist chauvinists have never been able to fathom.

And it was not just Balochistan; Asma was there to support any struggle for democratic and civil rights. Her last speech was at the Pakhtun long march in Islamabad.

Organised by a group of Pakhtun students and young activists, the protests triggered by the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a staged police encounter in Karachi last month became a forum for the demonstration of grievances of the population affected by the conflict in the tribal areas.

Hundreds of people are known to have become victims of enforced disappearances. Such a policy cannot help win the hearts and minds of the people who have suffered massive destruction and displacement from their homes.

Those assembled in Islamabad were not militants; they were victims of war in their areas. They were not sure whether the state has really changed its policy of ‘good Taliban/bad Taliban’.

That concern is witnessed in many other parts. Asma shared their concerns and anger over indiscriminate action against the Pakhtuns in other parts of the country.

Like many other progressive public figures, Asma had been a strong critic of the disastrous state policy of using militancy as a tool of foreign policy that cost Pakistan massively, both in terms of human lives and the economy.

Asma’s campaign for normalisation of relations with India had also become a major issue for the nationalist brigade. They also used this to question her patriotism.

An old newspaper picture of her with India’s extremist Hindu leader Bal Thackeray resurfaced on social media, though she had met him in her capacity as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion investigating violence against Muslims in India.

What these zealots have forgotten is that Asma also raised her voice against Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.

She had long been targeted by the extremist Islamist groups for her unrelenting campaign for women rights and the misuse of the blasphemy laws.

This is also being used against her in the latest social media campaign. She was never intimidated by the extremist onslaught despite the serious threat to her life. She never left the country; that demonstrates her courage and fearlessness.

As she said in an interview that whatever she did she never deviated from her core principles; she never sought glory or ever tried to benefit from adversity.

Her courage has certainly been recognised by the people here and by the international community, notwithstanding the vitriol spewed by the forces of regression that are not willing to let go of their obscurantist worldview. These are the same people who glorify murder in the name of faith.

The way Mashal Khan’s murderers were lionised is a horrific manifestation of the rising religious extremism against which Asma stood up.

These are the same elements that have been running a concerted campaign against Malala, another international icon of courage. The young Nobel Prize winner has been accused of being a Western agent. They don’t want to see how these two brave women raised Pakistan’s image.

As one American writer has pointed out, Pakistanis often complain about the bad image of their country being projected in the international media, but they refuse to see what they are doing to those who present the dynamic face of their country. These are the people who are afraid of Asma’s legacy.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100@yahoo.com

https://www.dawn.com/news/1389223/whos-afraid-of-asma-jahangir

The Statesman – Congress Leader wants Rahul Gandhi to expel Mani Shankar Aiyar over Pakistan remark

New Delhi-India, 13 February 2018. Suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar has landed himself in hot waters yet again by reportedly saying that while most political parties in Pakistan want cordial relations with India, those in India are “still caught in a partially 1947 situation”.

“All political parties except the Jamaat-e-Islami say they want peace with India. Now this change in mindset that is taking place in Pakistan is not reflected in India,” NDTV quoted Mr Aiyar as saying in Karachi.

Agitated Congress leader Hanumantha Rao has informed that he will write to Congress president Rahul Gandhi requesting him to expel Aiyar.

“Mani Shankar Aiyar should stop giving such remarks, he has already been suspended. He should stay quiet,” the former lawmaker Rao told news agency ANI.

“I am writing to Rahul Gandhi ji asking him to expel Aiyar from the party,” he added.

Aiyar was suspended by the party in December 2017 after his “neech” slur against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

https://www.thestatesman.com/india/congress-leader-wants-rahul-gandhi-expel-mani-shankar-aiyar-pakistan-remark-1502584910.html

Dawn – Leading human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir passes away in Lahore

Lahore-Panjab-Pakistan, 11 February 2018. Renowned senior lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir passed away in Lahore on Sunday, DawnNews reported.

She is survived by a son and two daughters.

The family told DawnNews that Jahangir had suffered from a cardiac arrest and was subsequently shifted to a hospital, where she breathed her last. She was 66.

Details regarding her funeral have not been made public as yet.

Known for her outspoken nature and unrelenting pursuit for human rights, as well as for remaining undaunted in the face of extreme pressure and opposition, Jahangir will be remembered as a champion of the disenfranchised and for her services towards building a democratic and more inclusive Pakistan.

A towering figure

Jahangir was born in Lahore in January 1952.

She received a bachelor’s degree from Kinnaird College and an LLB from Punjab University. She was called to the Lahore High Court in 1980 and to the Supreme Court in 1982. She later went on to become the first woman to serve as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

She became a pro-democracy activist and was jailed in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, which agitated against military dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s regime.

She was also active in the 2007 Lawyers’ Movement, for which she was put under house arrest.

She co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and the Women’s Action Forum.

She received several awards, including a Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2010 and a Sitara-i-Imtiaz. She was also awarded a Unesco/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights and an Officier de la Légion d’honneur by France.

She also received the 2014 Right Livelihood Award and the 2010 Freedom Award from the International Rescue Committee.

Nation in shock

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, and other Supreme Court judges expressed deep sorrow and grief on her demise in a statement.

They extended their heartfelt condolences and sincere sympathies to members of the grieved family while praising her services for the independence of the judiciary, rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution.

“She was an outspoken and courageous lady, and had risen to prominence by sheer dint of hard work, diligence and commitment to the legal profession,” the judges of the apex court said.

President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also expressed their sorrow over Jahangir’s demise, Radio Pakistan reported.

The president, in his condolence message, said Jahangir had played an “unforgettable role” for the supremacy of law, democracy and human rights.

PM Abbasi likewise lauded Jahangir for her “immense contribution towards upholding rule of law, democracy and safeguarding human rights.”

He termed her demise as a great loss for legal fraternity.

Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb said Jahangir’s struggle is a bright chapter in the constitutional, legal, and democratic history of Pakistan.

She said that the entire Pakistan is praying peace for Asma Jahangir’s soul.

Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani, Deputy Chairman Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah also expressed grief over the Jahangir’s passing.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Bar Council announced three days of mourning across the country from tomorrow.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has also announced to observe a day of mourning across the province.

Moreover, Pakistan People’s Party has suspended activities for one day to mourn the death of Asma Jehangir.

Condolences and tributes also poured in on Twitter as Pakistanis reacted to the shock of Jahangir’s sudden demise.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1388771/leading-human-rights-lawyer-asma-jahangir-passes-away-in-lahore

Aninews.in – Pakistan: Supreme Court accuses Hashmi of Gurudwara property’s illegal selling

Islamabad-Islamabad Capital Territory-Pakistan, 11 February 2018. The Supreme Court of Pakistan had held Syed Asif Akhtar Hashmi, former Chairman of Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), responsible for illegal selling of Sikh gurdwaras in the country.

This important decision came on January 23, this year.

Hashmi, who sold the gurdwara-lands during his tenure as chairman of ETPB, is presently residing in Dubai.

Evacuee Trust Property Board, established in 1960, is a statutory board of the Government of Pakistan, which administers evacuee properties and shrines of Hindus and Sikhs attached to religious, charitable or educational trusts, left behind by Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India after 1947 partition of India.

On observing the illegal activities of the former chairman, Mastan Singh, Chairman Sikh Council of Pakistan and former president Pakistan Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) and Gulab Singh, Inspector in Pakistan Punjab police had filed a case against Hashmi in 2011 for illegal selling of the Gurdwara property.

Hashmi had sold approximately 807 acres out of 1,260 acres land belonging to Bebe Nanki Gurdwara Dera Chahal in village Mota Singhwala.

Hashmi planned to construct private residential quarters, parking and plaza on the said land, with the collaboration of Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Highland Living Concept (HLC) and Elcium Concept.

Anticipating adverse Court’s decision, Hashmi had fled to Dubai 5-6 years back.

Pakistan Supreme Court also wrote to Lahore High Court to submit a report on the election of current Chairman of ETPB Mohamed Saddiq Ul Farooq. (ANI)

https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/pakistan-sc-accuses-hashmi-of-gurudwara-propertys-illegal-selling201802111341420001/

The News – Death in Afghanistan or bitter life in Pakistan: refugees’ choice

Peshawar-Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa-Pakistan, 10 February 2018. Death awaits you in Afghanistan, says refugee Mohammad Wali, insisting he prefers to endure a grim existence in a Pakistani camp than return home and be killed.

Islamabad has increasingly put Afghan refugees in the crosshairs in recent weeks, claiming that militants hide in Pakistani camps and calling for all refugees to be repatriated as part of a campaign to eliminate extremism.

But in Afghanistan, nearly four decades after the Soviet invasion sent the first refugees flowing over the border, the resurgent Taliban fight on, with civilians repeatedly caught in the carnage.

Days after a spate of deadly attacks killed more than 130 people, Wali, wearing a shabby coat, said a recent call to his family in the Afghan capital was filled with only dire news.

“They told me of terrible attacks and of the bombers blowing them up and nothing else,” the fruit seller said.

Pakistan hosts roughly 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, the UN says. A further 700,000 undocumented are also believed to be living in the country.

Pakistanis have long viewed them suspiciously, with police accused of harassment and extortion along with arbitrary arrests.

“Even our caps were taken here (by police),” said Wali.

In recent weeks anti-refugee rhetoric by officials has heated up again, notably as they come under increased US pressure over militant safe havens.

“Pakistan has also been stressing the need of early repatriation of Afghan refugees as their presence in Pakistan helps Afghan terrorists to melt and morph among them,” the foreign ministry said, following a suspected US drone strike in the tribal belt last month.

The official pressure coincides with a souring of public opinion toward refugees, with some Pakistanis saying Afghans have overstayed their welcome.

“Enough is enough, we served them for 40 years, shared our houses and treated them as guests,” said Peshawar resident Mehmood Khan.

The UN´s refugee agency has warned against any forcible or coerced repatriations, insisting they be voluntary.

In late January, Pakistan extended a deadline by 60 days for refugees holding proof of registration cards to leave its territory.

But as security in Afghanistan deteriorates further, refugees at an Islamabad camp said volunteers would be in short supply.

‘Nothing left’

Women carried buckets of water on their heads at the camp on the outskirts of Islamabad as young children played cricket in the dust near mud brick homes that lack electricity and clean water.

But none who spoke to AFP wanted to leave, all citing security and work as day labourers.

“There is nothing left in my homeland… only war and fighting,” said Hajji Shahzada, 60, who came to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion four decades ago.

A recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council found that seven out of 10 Afghans who had returned after living as refugees abroad have been displaced twice, chased from place to place by the insurgency.

The findings should give nations hosting Afghan refugees pause, said NRC secretary general Jan Egeland.

“Now is not the time to deport Afghans… It can destabilise the whole region and lead to immeasurable suffering,” he said in the report.

Often the refugees end up in major urban centres such as Kabul, competing for scant resources.

Kabul, straining to manage its expanding population and feeble economy, has failed to help them, says Sher Agha, a representative for the refugees in Islamabad.

“Providing jobs and employment is another issue, but at the very least they need shelter,” he told AFP.

‘Better to live’

The conditions are so bleak that “many” returnees are sneaking back across the porous border and quietly taking up their lives in Pakistan, multiple refugees told AFP.

Abdul Malik was born an Afghan refugee in northwest Pakistan, living there for more than 40 years. But in 2016 he repatriated with his Pakistani wife and children.

They settled in a village near Jalalabad, in eastern Nangarhar province, where the Taliban and the Islamic State group have been waging a turf war.

“It was the most unpleasant experience of my life,” Malik, wrapped in a traditional Pashtun shawl, told AFP during an interview in Peshawar.

The water was contaminated, the air was polluted, there were no doctors, no clinics, no employment, nothing but “bad roads and difficult conditions”, he said, along with the constant fear of a brutal death at the hands of militants.

He lasted three months before sneaking back into Pakistan, as many other Afghan families who could afford the journey have done.

Wali, who spoke to AFP at the Islamabad camp, said he would rather endure uncertainty in a country that does not want him than return home.

“Better to live here even if we face hunger and thirst,” he explains.

“At least we will not die.”

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/279387-death-in-afghanistan-or-bitter-life-in-pakistan-refugees-choice

Justice Upheld – Press Release: Taliban issue A ‘Fatwa’ against a Sikh man for refusing to shut down a school!

News provided by Justice Upheld on Saturday 10th Feb 2018

In 2004, 44 year old Harjit Singh (not his real name), a Pakistani national and a baptised Sikh man opened a Sikh faith school in a distinct in Peshawar Pakistan for the children of his minority Sikh Community.

A member of the Taliban in the region contacted Harjit Singh and ordered him to close down the School with immediate effect, failing which, Harjit Singh would be killed. Harjit Singh recognised the threat to be real and immediate.

The Taliban member making the threat is a well known member of the Taliban known to the communities in the region.

Mr Harjit Singh refused to close the School. As a consequence, the Taliban issued a ‘fatwa’ against him with an order to kill him. The Taliban filed a formal complaint (‘First Investigation Report’ – ‘FIR’) against Harjit Singh with the local Police.

The Police were uninterested investigating the matter since the Taliban have a powerful influence and presence in the region.

Harjit Singh sought help from the local Sikh leaders who were unable to assist. Harjit Singh said that they do not have any power, they too live in fear of the Taliban.

The school was forced to close in 2004. Harjit Singh together with his wife aged 39, and three children (aged 15, 13 and 11) fled their homes. Mrs Singh and the children stayed with Mrs Singh’s family whilst Mr Singh moved from city to city. Harjit Singh was unable to get a job to support his family.

On two occasions, he was employed in casual employment, his employers and colleagues found out that he was on the run from the Taliban when someone from his village met him and reported him to the Taliban.

In April, 2017 Harjit Singh had no alternative but to flee Pakistan taking his wife and young children with him to a safe country where he has sought asylum. Mr Singh’s and his family’s application for asylum is waiting to be progressed.

The family are extremely anxious about their future and concerned for the safety of their friends and family in Pakistan. Mr Harjit Singh said ‘The threat from the Taliban is real, I had no alternative but to ensure the safety and future of my children and my wife.

Sikhs are a minority in Pakistan. We are forced to pay ‘jizya’ (historically a form of tax charged to non-Muslims living in an Islamic country).

Mr Harjit Singh said ‘….Pakistan is his ancestral home however, he was denied the right to practice his faith freely. Sikhs in Pakistan are forced to pay the jizya tax to practice their faith and even to access roads. We are oppressed in own country’.

Jas Uppal from ‘Justice Upheld’, a British Human Rights charity based in the UK who is representing Mr Singh said that ‘We view the treatment of Mr Harjit Singh and his family in Pakistan is nothing short of oppression, discrimination and persecution of a minority. We understand that the Sikh population in Pakistan is currently less than 20,000.

Prior to the Partition in 1947, the Sikh population combined with the other minorities in Pakistan was 20% in the region. This has now been reduced to less than 1%. The Sikh population was not recorded in the 2017 census in Pakistan’.

The world is ignoring the suffering of Sikhs and other minorities in Pakistan at their peril which emboldens the persecutors to continue with impunity’.

The current Sikh population in Pakistan is less than 8,000 and dwindling. Prior to the Partition in 1947, the Sikh and Hindu population combined in the region before the creation of ‘Pakistan’ was 20%.

Press release distributed by Pressat on behalf of Justice Upheld, on Saturday 10 February, 2018.

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https://www.google.be/search?q=peshawar&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=Udl_WpqmJ6yT8QfM07joDA