Dawn – Situationer: when fear takes over

Lahore-Panjab-Pakistan, 24 February 2017. Around noon on Thursday a mother received a call from her daughter’s school in Gulberg. The caller informed her that the school was letting parents collect their daughters early in view of the blast in DHA an hour ago.

As she rushed to the school, a friend texted her a message that one news channel was airing ‘unconfirmed’ reports of an explosion at an American fast food chain’s Gulberg outlet, which is perilously close to the school.

“It was like I had already died. The message numbed my mind and body, totally. Don’t know how I pulled up the car and started calling the school. But the call wouldn’t connect,” she later told the mother of one of her daughter’s classmates, her eyes swollen and her voice choking because of crying.

After failing to reach the school administration by telephone she pulled herself together and drove “madly” to get to the school only to run into a security picket.

The Rangers and the police had thrown a cordon around the Gulberg Main Boulevard outlet of the international chain. A policeman told her to take an alternative route.

“When I asked him about what was going on there and if the Rangers were searching only the food outlet or all the buildings, including the school, in that block, he refused to confirm or refute. He just kept asking me to move on and away,” the mother of two boys and a girl told Dawn.

She wasn’t the only mother to have suffered the trauma. Other parents too had similar experiences. Many made a dash to the school as soon as they heard of the Defence blast. Others were asked by a text message or call from the school administration or from their daughters.

Outside the school you could see many parents crying. Inside the school the children waited to be picked up as soon as possible.

“It was during the short break that the cell phones of our teachers started ringing incessantly. Everyone suddenly started talking about the Defence explosion and then ‘news’ of another blast in Gulberg,” an A-Level student said.
“We were asked by our school administrator to call home so that our parents could pick us up early. Every child was frightened, not knowing what was actually happening outside the school walls.”

‘Close to our homes’

Lahore is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Over the last decade the people of the city have seen hundreds of deaths in suicide bombings and sectarian attacks at public places and shrines like the rest of the country.

Parents remember refusing to send their children to school for days or taking them to public places. Some had even made their peace with their fear of death.

But the recent string of militant attacks in the country that began with a suicide attack on a protest at Charing Cross on the Mall in front of the Punjab Assembly earlier this month seems to have triggered a fresh wave of fear across the country. Thursday’s explosion has intensified these fears.

“The recent bombings have shaken everyone. This new wave looks dangerous. This is different from before. They (militants) seem to be closer… they’re hitting very close to (our) homes this time,” said an executive of a company who didn’t want to be named.

Unlike the past, traders too appear quite mindful of the threat and voluntarily shut down the markets. Restaurants that otherwise are usually filled with guests gave a deserted look.

“No one feels safe now. Everyone is advising everyone to avoid shopping malls, markets and restaurants. People are scared,” a trader told Dawn.

Many blame the electronic media and the government for the current environment of fear.

“If some media outlets are responsible for airing rumours as confirmed news, the (Punjab) government hasn’t done itself any good either by persistently trying to pass off the bomb explosion in Defence as an accident,” argued a LUMS professor. “Indeed, these government denials didn’t help”.

The ministers and officials have only added to the confusion, and public fears, just because it doesn’t want to look inefficient and weak. Such an outlook could boost demands for giving the Rangers more powers.”

The LUMS professor agreed that the management of the General Hospital had taken a good decision in disallowing the media from entering the premises for ‘live’ coverage.

“The media persons don’t realise how dangerous this can be for everyone, besides obstructing the effort to help the wounded.

The loss of 100 lives in a Quetta hospital in August last year and in Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital should be enough to make media refrain from following the wounded to hospitals and creating chaos for militants to do their work.”

Yet TV did spread rumours and panic with the news of Gulberg blast. “It is a tough call: do we inform our viewers and readers or do we play it down along with the likes of Rana Sanaullah,” said a journalist.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1316684/situationer-when-fear-takes-over

Dawn – Hindu pilgrims arrive for Shivratri celebrations

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

Lahore, 23 February 2017. As many as 217 Hindu pilgrims arrived here on Wednesday through Wagah border on a seven-day tour to participate in Shivratri (night of Shiva) celebrations at the Katasraj temple in Pothohar area of Punjab.

The pilgrims, led by Shiv Partap Bajaj, were received by Evacuee Trust property Board Chairman Saddiqul Farooq.

Welcoming the delegation, the chairman said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered foolproof security and arrangements for the visiting guests.

“The prime minister has extended the hand of friendship to India and repeatedly urged cooperation between both neighbours in order to solve all outstanding issues,” the chairman said.

Cooperation and friendship was the only way forward for both countries so that they could prosper and help the entire region develop, he said.

Reciprocating the comments, Indian team leader Shiv Partap, who was born in Multan and is on his 10th visit to Pakistan, said both countries should resolve their issues and let people enjoy the fruits of peace.

“It has always been a pleasure to return to one’s roots. My family belonged to Pind Dadan Khan, I was born in Multan and the first memory I have is of Lahore.

All those who left this side of the border have always been eager to return to see their ancestral villages and homes and avail first opportunity to do so. In order to do so, we need peaceful borders and increased people-to-people contact.”

Ms Ashu, who is on third visit to Pakistan, told Dawn that judging by the arrangements and the “reception we get here, it looks that if we are eager to come here, Pakistan is more eager to welcome us.

The warm welcome and perfect arrangements are a big encouragement for all of us and we thank Pakistan for all this and also for all reported development work at the mandir.”

The pilgrims would spend a day in Lahore and then move to Katasraj, where main celebrations will be held on Friday. The pilgrims would return to India on 28 February.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1316513/hindu-pilgrims-arrive-for-shivratri-celebrations

Dawn – Army wants joint anti-terror fight with Afghanistan

Baqir Sajjad Syed

Islamabad, 21 February 2017. After days of talking tough on Afghanistan in the aftermath of recent militant attacks, the Pakistan Army on Monday spoke about fighting terrorism jointly with Afghanistan.

The change in mood at the military headquarters coincided with the receipt of a demarche from the Afghan foreign ministry demanding arrest and handover of 85 leaders of Taliban, Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups and action against 32 alleged terrorist training centres, besides a warning that continued violence would push Kabul to seek international sanctions against “terrorist groups and their supporters”.

The Afghan demands came after Pakistan handed over a similar list of 76 Pakistani terrorists based in Afghanistan.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), in a statement issued after what was described as a ‘high-level security meeting at GHQ’ chaired by Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said: “Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought against terrorism and shall continue this effort together”.

Kabul says it has delivered a list of 32 terror camps on Pakistani soil

The comments clearly contrasted with the earlier tone which bordered on unilateralism. The military had soon after the suicide attack at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan closed down border crossings with Afghanistan and the troops pounded ‘terrorist targets’ along the border.

General Bajwa had himself told US commander in Afghanistan General Nicholson that the Afghan government’s inaction against terrorists was testing Pakistan’s policy of cross-border restraint.

Media reports also said that Pakistan had sent reinforcements to the border and deployed heavy armaments.

ISPR quoted General Bajwa as explaining at the meeting that “enhanced security arrangements along Pakistan – Afghan border were for fighting common enemy”. He also repeated the oft-mentioned refrain of targeting “terrorists of all hue and colour”.

General Bajwa issued directives for cooperation with Afghan forces in checking “illegal movements” and welcomed Afghan proposal for cooperation against terrorism.

Responding to Pakistan’s demand for action against 76 terrorists who have taken up sanctuaries in Afghanistan, the Afghan presidency had reminded Islamabad of an agreement reached during Quadrilateral Coordination Group talks about fighting terror and sought its implementation.

Meanwhile, the Afghan foreign ministry said it hoped to cooperatively work with Islamabad against terrorism under the Quadri­lateral framework that also included the United States and China.

It said it delivered a list of 85 Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders and 32 terror camps on Pakistani soil, which it claimed were involved in “crimes against people of Afghanistan”.

It said Pakistan had positively received the Afghan lists and expected that action would be taken against people and facilities of concern to it.

Alluding to Pakistan’s support for relaxation of UN sanctions against Taliban, the Afghan foreign ministry said it would push for further sanctions against “terror groups and their supporters” through the UN and other international fora.

In the meantime, Afghan defence ministry has described Pakistani shelling of the border areas as an “act of aggression” and called for resolution of the issue through “diplomatic means”.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1316035/army-wants-joint-anti-terror-fight-with-afghanistan

Dawn – Tracking the footprints: All roads lead to South Punjab

Nasir Jamal

Panjab, 19 February 2017. The year witnessed a significant de-escalation in terrorist and sectarian attacks in south Punjab as militant violence mostly shifted elsewhere, mainly to the northern cities, in the province.

Apart from a deadly attack on a gathering at the election office of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) legislator Amjad Farooq Khosa in Taunsa near DG Khan in mid-October and a suicide raid in Multan, no other significant incident of violence took place in the southern Punjab that made headlines a year earlier as the hub of nationwide militant activity, especially in Urban Pakistan.

Having said that, the ‘footprints’ the militants left behind elsewhere in the province have more often than not led the investigators back to the southern districts to hunt for suspects and their abettors. “Even of the two California shooting suspects, Tafsheen Malik had links with south Punjab,” a former Punjab counter-terrorism official sighed.

It, therefore, surprised few when police claimed to have arrested 140 suspects from south Punjab just days after a suicide bomber assassinated provincial home minister Shuja Khanzada along with several others at his election office in Attock in mid-August.

“The arrested suspects were linked to various banned faith-based militant organisations active across the province and some of them carried a bounty on their head,” a Punjab police official had said at the time.

A spokesman for Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was carried out to avenge the killing of Malik Ishaq, the emir of the deadly Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

He went on to say that the attack was carried out with the help of a banned group active in Punjab.

Malik Ishaq’s killing on the outskirts of Muzaffargarh, again a south Punjab district, in a ‘shootout’ with his supporters who were trying to free him revved up hopes that the provincial government had finally woken up to the challenge and was ready to destroy terrorist infrastructure.

However, all hopes were lost when the government failed to initiate a comprehensive police operation.

Even though the National Action Plan (NAP) promises to take action against seminaries involved in militancy, the government has dithered on bringing them under control for fear of backlash from the religious parties as well as the militants.

Police claims having carried out intelligence-based operations throughout the province, denying the presence of a strong network and infrastructure of banned militant groups in south Punjab.

“You do not conduct large-scale operations in any area just on the basis of speculation and public perception,” a police official said, adding: “It is not feasible to undertake such an operation in cities. We’re conducting search raids across the province and not just in one particular region.”

Though the official claimed to have arrested hundreds of suspects, killed many, and recovered arms and ammunition, but was not prepared to concede that the militants still have a large network in the region.

Analysts believe that south Punjab, with thousands of seminaries and a history of having provided foot soldiers to militant and sectarian outfits for decades, now offers a promising opportunity for Islamic State (IS) to strengthen its network in the region.

“The main battle has to be fought in the tribal backyard, but the job will remain half-done unless the militant sanctuaries and support networks in the cities both in southern and northern Punjab are completely dismantled,” warned a Lahore-based security analyst.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1230468/tracking-the-footprints-all-roads-lead-to-south-punjab

Dawn – At least 70 dead as bomb rips through Lal Shahbaz shrine in Sehwan, Sindh

Mohammad Hussain Khan – Qurban Ali Khushik – Imtiaz Ali

At least 70 people were killed and more than 150 injured in a suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan on Thursday evening.

“So far 70 people have been killed and more than 150 have been wounded,” Inspector General Police Sindh A.D. Khawaja said.

“Many of the wounded are in critical condition and they will be shifted to Karachi as soon as navy helicopters and the C-130 plane reach the nearest airport.”

Medical Superintendant Dr Moinuddin Siddiqui of Sehwan Taluka Hospital confirmed that 61 bodies were received by the hospital.

“Almost all the bodies were brought here. We have handed over 26 bodies to the heirs of the deceased, while those that remain unidentified are at the hospital,” said Siddiqui.

Deputy Commissioner Munawar Maheesar confirmed the dead included at least four children and 12 women.
Sehwan is located 193km to the north east of Karachi.

The Assistant Superintendent of Police in Sehwan said a suicide bomber entered the shrine through its Golden gate. The attacker blew himself up after throwing a grenade, which failed to explode, he added.

The explosion took place in the area where the dhamaal (a Sufi ritual) was being performed after evening prayers.

A large number of devotees, from different faiths and from across the country, frequent the shrine on Thursdays — a day of spiritual significance in Pakistan’s shrine culture.

Security for shrines was tightened across the province following the attack.

Armed forces aid in rescue efforts

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, following the attack, directed that immediate assistance be provided to civil authorities. Army contingents were dispatched along with medical personnel. Combined Military Hospital Hyderabad was also alerted to receive casualties.

Air evacuation of the injured was started from Nawabshah airport, the armed forces had tasked a C-130 aircraft and helicopters to aid in the effort. The injured were taken to Karachi and Hyderabad, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

The ISPR added that the armed forces had placed all required resources to facilitate the rescue effort. Pakistan Army and Rangers assisted with rescue efforts at the site.

The chief of naval staff placed all navy hospitals in Karachi on high alert. The air force also placed its hospitals on alert to treat the injured.

Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah had directed all rescue teams to reach the spot of the attack.

“Doctors from Jamshoro, Nawabshah and Hyderabad were sent to Sehwan,” Shah told DawnNews. He also said security has been tightened at all shrines across the province. Sehwan is Shah’s constituency.

A mobile forensic van of the Sindh Police was dispatched to the shrine following the attack.

To read the full article :

http://www.dawn.com/news/1315136/at-least-70-dead-as-bomb-rips-through-lal-shahbaz-shrine-in-sehwan-sindh

Dawn – Nation on right side of history, no attack can stumble us: PM Nawaz Sharif

Lahore, 14 February 2017. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday said that the fight against terrorism is about right and wrong, and “we as a nation are on the right side of history in this war”.

The premier passed the remarks while chairing a high-level meeting to review law and order situation in Lahore after Monday’s suicide attack which killed 13 and injured more than 80.

The federal interior minister, defence minister, adviser on national security, Punjab chief minister and other provincial cabinet members attended the meeting.

The prime minister also appreciated the efforts of the Pakistan Army and other law enforcement agencies, saying they have given “matchless sacrifices” to acquire successful results in the war.

“No one should think that we will stumble in this struggle due to such terror attacks. Our enemies will be defeated by our national resolve,” reiterated Sharif.

“We will soon see the end of this cancerous terrorism and it’s ideology,” he added.

Counter Terrorism Department Additional Inspector General Rai Tahir also briefed the premier and said around 12 possible terrorists attacks were foiled in 2016 whereas CTD Punjab killed 231 terrorists during the same time period.

Tahir added that 769 terrorists have been arrested, adding the law enforcement officials are working diligently to restore peace and stability in the country.

‘Such incidents cannot affect our efforts against terrorism’

Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Lahore on Tuesday and chaired a security meeting at Lahore Corps Headquarters and reiterated the claim that such incidents cannot affect our ongoing efforts against terrorism.

He appreciated efforts of “intelligence agencies in tracing culprits of last night’s blast”, read a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations.

Talking about its linkage to sabotage forthcoming Pakistan Super League final match at Lahore, the army chief said that the military will extend full support to all concerned for holding the event as scheduled.

Later, General Bajwa also visited bereaved family of deceased DIG Mubeen and offered fateha. Talking to the mother of the deceased, the army chief said the sacrifice of her brave son and those by the nation shall not go waste.

“We have to defeat this inhuman brutal mindset and as a nation we shall,” he was quoted as saying.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1314764/nation-on-right-side-of-history-no-attack-can-stumble-us-pm-nawaz

Dawn – TTP provides core fighting group for IS: US general

Anwar Iqbal

Washington, 13 February 2017. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan provides the core fighting group for the militant Islamic State (IS) group as TTP militants in Orakzai tribal agency en masse joined the relatively new terrorist group, says a top US general.

General John Nicholson Jr, the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, also agreed with a lawmaker that Pakistan’s strong relationship with China and its growing ties with Russia were a cause of concern for the United States.

The general, who commands over 13,000 international troops, 8,400 of them American, appeared before the US Senate Armed Services Committee this week to brief American lawmakers on the current situation in Afghanistan.

He told the panel that the IS, which in Afghanistan was called the Islam State Khorasan Province, comprised fighters mainly from existing militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Primarily, their membership had come from the TTP, which was a Pakistan-based opponent of the Pakistan regime, he said.

The general said TTP militants in Orakzai tribal agency had, en masse, joined the IS-K and formed the initial group of fighters who then moved into Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, spreading out to about 11 districts initially.

“So, the majority of the fighters in the IS right now came from the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, and joined the banner of the IS,” he added.

General Nicholson agreed with Senator Angus King, a Maine Democrat, that the Pakistan-Afghan region was a fertile ground for terrorism.

“The conditions in this region also lend themselves to the growth of these organisations. These 20 groups sit on top of a population, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, of over 200 million people, 70 per cent of them are under the age of 30. You know, employment is low, there is radical form of Islam,” he said.

“It’s like a Petri dish… into which you drop the 20 strands of DNA of these terrorist groups. And then what we see happening is convergence and growth in connections develop these.”

General Nicholson noted that of the 98 US-designated terrorist groups across the globe, 20 operated in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, along with three violent extremist organisations.

“This is the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world, which underscores the importance of our counter-terrorism platform in the Central Asia-South Asia region which protects our homeland,” he said.

General Nicholson told the committee that the war in Afghanistan had come to a “stalemate” but could be won by providing better training and equipment to Afghan national forces.

To do so, he asked for “a few thousands” more troops and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for Afghan air force, which he said was a vital component to breaking the stalemate between Afghan and Taliban forces.

The US government is already considering a proposal to replace Afghanistan’s current fleet of Russian Mi-17s with modified UH-60 Blackhawks, designed to handle the region’s formidable mountainous terrain.

Throughout the hours-long hearing, General Nicholson, as well as some senators, insisted that the war in Afghanistan could not be won without Pakistan’s support, but the general emphasised the need to work with Pakistan to eliminate alleged militant safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, instead of antagonising it by cutting off US economic and military assistance.

Senator John McCain, who chairs the committee, set the tone of the discussion in his opening statement that “succeeding in Afghanistan will also require a candid evaluation of America’s relationship with Pakistan”.

General Nicholson said he was also concerned about the influence in Afghanistan of certain external actors, particularly Pakistan, Russia and Iran, who “continue to legitimise and support the Taliban”.

These external actors were also undermining the Afghan government’s efforts to create a stable Afghanistan, he added. Yet, he warned against a knee-jerk reaction in this situation, particularly against Pakistan. “Our complex relationship with Pakistan is best assessed through a holistic review,” he said.

The general noted that the Pakistani leadership had articulated its support for the US objective of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, “but thus far we have not seen this translate into any change in terms of behaviour”.

This lack of support was also visible in the freedom of action given to Taliban or the Haqqani Network to operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan, he said.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1314507/ttp-provides-core-fighting-group-for-is-us-general

Dawn – Members of UK ‘sex gang’ face deportation to Pakistan

London, 10 February 2017. Four men convicted of grooming girls for sex in a case that fuelled racial tensions in Britain face deportation to Pakistan after a judge upheld a government decision on Thursday to strip them of British citizenship.

The ruling by an immigration tribunal clears the way for the men, all of Pakistani nationality, to be removed from Britain. They acquired British citizenship by naturalisation.

They were among nine men of Pakistani and Afghan descent convicted of luring girls as young as 13 into sexual encounters using alcohol and drugs. They were based in Rochdale, in northern England.

Among the four facing deportation is ringleader Shabir Ahmed, sentenced in 2012 to 22 years in jail. The other three are Adil Khan, Qari Abdul Rauf and Abdul Aziz.

Ahmed, who was convicted of rape as well as other charges, remains in custody, while the other three men have been released on licence.

Khan, Rauf and Aziz were convicted of conspiracy and trafficking for sexual exploitation charges. Aziz was not convicted of having sexual intercourse with any child.

The judge at the hearing in the upper tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, Mr Justice McClosky, described their crimes as “shocking, brutal and repulsive”.

His decision rejected claims concerning human rights laws and a complaint of “disproportionate interference” with their rights.

The case centres on a decision by Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was home secretary, to strip the men’s citizenship “for the public good”.

The five victims of the gang who gave evidence in the 2012 trial were all white, and spoke of being raped, assaulted and traded for sex, being passed from man to man, and sometimes being too drunk to stop the abuses.

The men, ranging in age from 22 to 59, used various defences, including claiming the girls were prostitutes.

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk said the four men who appeared at the tribunal on Thursday should be deported “as soon as possible” saying “foreign-born criminals should not be able to hide behind human rights laws to avoid deportation”.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1313930/members-of-uk-sex-gang-face-deportation-to-pakistan

Dawn – What the seals say

Rafia Zakaria

Op/Ed, 8 February 2017. In the 1870s, Sir Alexander Cunningham, who founded the Archaeological Survey of India, published some findings excavated at Harappa. Among them was a curious object, a one inch by one inch piece of smooth inscribed clay, buried in the ruins.

The piece was not polished and seemed to show the figure of a bull. Cunningham initially thought that the seal was a foreign object.

In the years to follow, however, a vast number of such seals were found; some were believed to be attached to grain stores, showing what was in them; others were engraved with fabric inscription patterns. All of them are believed to belong to the Indus Valley Civilisation, whose beginnings are dated to 8,000 years ago by some.

In recent days, two controversies have brought the Indus Valley seals, forgotten and neglected for sometime by all but archaeologists, back into the public discourse. First, the entrenchment of Hindutva in India, and its sometimes fanciful and politically expeditious reconstruction of Indian history, has redefined the role of the seals.

Adherents of Hindutva are eager to claim the seals as precursors of Vedic/Sanskrit, allowing them to situate themselves, and not the Dravidan/Tamil peoples, as true Indians.

The politics of Hindutva are not the only brand of politics implicated by the Indus seals.

One recent iteration of this squabble took place a few weeks ago, when Tamil nationalists clashed with police over the ban on the sport of jallikattu. Hindutva supporters have argued that one of the seals shows a man and a bull and establishes bullfighting (which was banned by the Indian Supreme Court in 2014) as a Hindu sport.

For their part, rioting Tamil nationalists argue that it shows several men and a bull and establishes the sport as Tamil. To bolster their claim, they point to the supposed depiction of the sport in rock paintings in the region that date back 3,000 years.

The intellectual debate, which expectedly is influenced by the politics surrounding the Indus seals, focuses on whether the script on them constitutes a lost and as yet undeciphered language. With the advent of computers, complex statistical techniques and algorithms are being used to search for patterns in the pictorial depictions on the seals.

Two researchers, Nisha Yadav at the Tata Institute in India and Rajesh Rao at the University of Washington, have run different models that look for just these patterns.

In 2009, Rao published his findings, which revealed that the arrangements of the symbols is not incidental but intentional, suggesting that the symbols may constitute a script, one of the last lost languages.

Rao then moved on to map the position of certain symbols on the seals to create a predictive model. Yadav used a similar technique, which she likens to the suggested searches within search engines like Google. The results revealed that certain symbols recurred in the same places, suggesting the existence of a particular syntax.

They also found that the script varied based on the location where it was found, with seals found in the Mesopotamian region differing from those found in the subcontinent. This, they suggested, might imply that the same script (like alphabet) was being used to write a different language.

Other researchers, notably non-Indian, have been reticent to accept the claims that the inscriptions on the Indus seals constitute an actual language, implying that it may well be the current Indian political climate rather than data that is pushing Rao and Yadav’s findings.

As Melanie Locklear points out in an exhaustive article on the subject, comparative historian Steve Farmer, computational theorist Richard Sproat and philologist Michael Witzel have all argued that the script does not constitute a language at all.

As early as 2004, before Indian historians were scrambling to establish that the seals made up a language, the trio had even taken the unusual step of offering a reward of $10,000 to anyone who would find a lengthy inscription beyond the two or three grouped symbols.

They never had to pay up. Locklear’s article quotes Farmer as holding to that position “to view the Indus symbols as part of an ‘undeciphered script’ isn’t a view anyone outside the highly politicised world of India believes”.

The politics of Hindutva are not the only brand of politics implicated by the seals. With a good number of the around 3,500 seals found in Pakistan, the frayed relationship between the two countries has played a role in the estimation of the seals and of whether they constitute a script.

It is notable that the published volumes depicting the seals are separated into two, not owing to what they say or any characteristic that is peculiar to them, but rather based on whether they were found in Pakistan or India. There is great irony in this, the hatreds of the present determining the flavour and meaning of a very remote past.

Wishful historians, or even just those curious about the character of the country that is now Pakistan, cannot help but hope that Pakistan too would spearhead inquiry into the meaning of the seals. With the story of Pakistan as rife with squabbles and contestation as the battle over jallikattu and the Indus scripts next door, this wish is unlikely to be granted anytime soon.

As for the Indus Valley Civilisation, it went into decline around 1,900 BC. Likely starved by the disappearance of the monsoon for almost two centuries, the population moved elsewhere, diseases proliferated, natural catastrophes eliminated. The people gave up, abandoned the cities and their seals, and what they had sought to say was lost forever.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

http://www.dawn.com/news/1313352/what-the-seals-say

Dawn – New law to curb sectarianism, protect minorities passed

Islamabad, 7 February 2017. The National Assembly on Monday passed a key bill seeking amendments to various laws, aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system and curbing sectarianism and persecution of minorities in the country.

The bill, titled the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2016, now requires formal assent of the president to become an act of the parliament. It amends the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860; the Police Act 1861; the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898; the Qanoon-i-Shahadat 1984 and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

The bill’s statement of objects and reasons says that “terrorism, sectarianism and extremism have gripped the entire country and these acts have become the order of the day. The country is passing through an extraordinary situation, which requires stringent measures to be taken to curb this menace that has infiltrated society.”

The bill was moved by parliamentary secretary Rana Mohammad Afzal on behalf of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan after Speaker Ayaz Sadiq turned down requests of opposition members to send it to the concerned committee.

Punishment for providing false information enhanced; police officers made responsible for preventing hate speech

Giving background, the speaker reminded the opposition members that the bill had originally been passed by the National Assembly in May last year, and was later approved by the Senate with some minor amendments.

Mr Sadiq ruled that since the bill had already been deliberated upon in the committee and the house, therefore, there was no need to refer it to the committee again.

Sectarianism

Through the new law, the punishment for the offence of ‘deliberately using words to hurt the religious feelings of any person’ has been enhanced from yearlong imprisonment and unspecified fine to imprisonment extendable to three years and not less than one year, and/or fine of Rs500,000.

The amendment prescribes the same punishment for inciting religious, sectarian or ethnic hatred by using loudspeaker, sound amplifier or any other device.

The new law has also amended various sections of the over 150-year-old Police Act 1861. One of the amendments to Section 23 of the Police Act, outlining duties of a police officer, has included prevention of sectarian and hate speeches and proliferation of hate material by any person, organised group, organisation or banned outfit in their basic duties.

The new law also suggests enhanced punishments for “officers guilty of any violation of duty, willful breach or neglect of any rule, regulation or lawful order made by a competent authority” increasing it from confiscation of three-month salary or imprisonment not exceeding three months to imprisonment of up to three years with Rs100,000 fine.

Under the new law, every person opposing or not obeying the lawful orders of superiors or violating the conditions of any license granted by a district superintendent or assistant district superintendent of police for the use of music or for the conduct of assemblies and processions will now have to face imprisonment for up to three years with fine, under an amendment to Section 32 of the Police Act.

Previously, the sentence for the offence was a fine not exceeding Rs200.

False information

Through an amendment to Section 182 of the PPC, the punishment for ‘giving false information to a government servant that causes him to use his lawful powers to injury’ has been increased from a maximum of six months to up to seven years in case the offence about which information has been given is punishable with death and five years in case it is punishable with life imprisonment.

Forced marriages

The new law has also suggested punishment for cases of forced marriages of minor girls or women, belonging to minority groups.

The existing section 498-B of the PPC reads: “Whoever coerces or in any manner whatsoever compels a woman to enter into marriage shall be punished with imprisonment of description for a term which may not be less than three years and shall also be liable to a fine of Rs500,000”.

In the amendment, a proviso has been added to provide for a sentence of up to 10 years and not less than five years and a fine of up to Rs1 million in the case of a girl child as defined in the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1992, or a non-Muslim woman.

Lynching

A new clause has been inserted in the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, defining the term “lynching” and suggesting punishment for it.

The new clause reads: “Whenever any individuals, an organised group or a mob by taking the law in own hands inflict punishment on a person accused or suspected of a crime by causing him a hurt or his death, every such individual, a member of such group or a mob is said to commit lynching.”

Also on Monday, the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution expressing solidarity with the people of Indian-held Kashmir and condemning Indian brutality in the valley.

The members of the opposition PPP also staged a walkout to protest the attack on a party rally in Bahawalnagar earlier in the day.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1313249/new-law-to-curb-sectarianism-protect-minorities-passed