Dawn – The sanctions, the threats, the arms build-up, the shrill accusations and the allegations against Iran are all from a B-movie we have seen before.

They are all part of the march to war that preceded the invasion of Iraq 16 years ago. Thousands of lives and six trillion dollars later, the region and the world are in a far worse place.

Op/Ed, 19 May 2019. But empires never learn from their mistakes. Before Iraq, there was the Vietnam quagmire that cost nearly 60,000 American and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives.

In fact, in its 239 years as an independent country, the US has seen only 17 years of peace. The rest of the time has been spent on fighting major and minor wars around the world.

From its string of wars against a defenceless indigenous population to heroic actions like the invasion of Panama, the US has used its overwhelming military muscle to impose its will on those too weak to defend themselves.

But every now and then, it has encountered foes that had the tenacity and the courage to give it a bloody nose. The North Vietnamese taught the Americans that there were limits to their power, a lesson reinforced by Iraqi militias.

And now, the hopelessly outgunned Afghan Taliban are forcing the Americans to eat humble pie in the grinding war of attrition that has been going on for 18 years in Afghanistan. The current negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans are an indication of the latter’s desperation to exit the arena.

Given this track record, why do people like John Bolton, the national security adviser to Trump, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, think they’ll do better against Iran? Granted that they are ideological hawks, and are itching to attack Iran at Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s behest, but an armed conflict will be no walk in the park.

The Iranian armed forces showed they were no pushovers when Saddam Hussein attacked their country back in 1980. After eight years of bloody fighting against a foe that had the support of the West, including help in acquiring chemical weapons technology, the war ended in a stalemate.

Since then, the Iranians have developed a sophisticated arms industry, and a formidable standing army. Their naval assets include hundreds of small, fast boats that carry anti-ship missiles, and can also be used in suicide attacks. They have thousands of missiles that can be launched from caves that honeycomb the coast.

So while an American first strike will do considerable damage, the Iranian response will be ferocious. And American bases in the region will be hostage to Iranian attacks.

Should Israel join the US in its attack, expect Hezbollah to launch a major offensive from its bases in Lebanon. If there is one force in the Middle East the Israelis would prefer not to fight, it is Hezbollah. Battle-hardened, well-armed, highly motivated and trained, it is capable of doing major damage to Israeli targets.

Given all these factors, why do the Americans seem hell-bent on starting a war against Iran? Obviously, Israel, with its massive clout in Trump’s White House, has been urging the Americans to attack, using the Iranian nuclear programme as a pretext.

Never mind that uranium enrichment has been put on hold since the signing of the deal in 2015. Netanyahu has persuaded the gullible Trump that Iran’s nuclear programme had to be completely dismantled, failing which air strikes were the only other option.

Saudi Arabia has long been singing the same tune. The Saudis know full well that despite billions of dollars of arms purchases, their armed forces are no match for Iran. They have thus been calling on America to attack its hated regional rival.

Despite their string of military setbacks in the recent past, why are so many Americans still so gung-ho about yet another war? What is in the American DNA that has put the country on such a violent path? Why don’t American warriors give diplomats a chance to resolve differences rather than shoot from the hip?

I have long admired the creative ferment that has led to so many American triumphs in the arts and sciences. But I have been appalled by the daily acts of violence we witness with such sickening regularity. The killing of (usually) black suspects by cops, and the random shootings by armed psychotics in bars, schools and other public places have come to define America.

Although American forces have not exactly shone on the battlefield, they are still revered by the public. Despite the horrors they have visited on prisoners, politicians fear to criticise them. American generals, eyeing promotions and medals, have repeatedly assured politicians that victory is around the corner, given a few more years and a few thousand more soldiers.

But as we have seen, the years stretch on and victory remains elusive. And so it goes until the next war.



Dawn – Who was Brigadier General John Nicholson? And what should we do about his monument on GT Road?

It is important to preserve monuments, but also to contest the narrative built around them.

Osman Ehtisham Anwar

Taxila – Panjab – Pakistan, 17 May 2019. My heart would sink at the sight of Nicholson’s Obelisk, towering high atop Margalla Pass near Taxila on the left flank of the Grand Trunk Road as I travelled from Rawalpindi towards Peshawar.

It indicated that my boarding school, Cadet College Hasan Abdal, was only 30 minutes away and I would have to part with my parents, who would accompany me and my brother on the drive back to our college after vacations.

I remember asking my father once if he knew what that monument was. He had remarked that it was named after a British brigadier general. My father, being an alumnus of the same college, had frequented that road many times.

I knew very little at the time of who Brigadier General John Nicholson was, but assumed he must have been a very distinguished and remarkable man to have a towering structure in his remembrance.

It wasn’t until recently that I read about the moveable column (a tactical military formation) that he led during the uprising of 1857, the atrocities he committed and his extremely prejudiced, racist hatred towards the people of the Indian subcontinent and Afghans that I realised how important it is for us to recognise this British-era relic as an embodiment of our colonial subjugation.

William Dalrymple in his book The Last Mughal recounts that by the time the uprising started against the British in Meerut in 1857, Nicholson had already developed a very strong hatred for the people here:

“Nicholson loathed India with a passion (‘I dislike India and its inhabitants more every day’) and regarded only the Afghans as worse (‘the most vicious and bloodthirsty race in existence’). These views he had already formed before he was captured during the disaster of the 1842 Afghan War.

By the time he was released, only to discover his younger brothers dead body, with his genitalia cut off and stuffed in his mouth, his feeling about Afghans, and indeed Indians and Muslims of any nationality, were confirmed: he felt, he said, merely ‘an intense feeling of hatred. Only his wish to spread the Christian Empire of the British in this heathen wilderness kept him in the East”.

Dalrymple goes on to add that when Sir John Lawrence, the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab at the time, gave Nicholson a mixed-race Anglo-Indian subordinate, Nicholson felt insulted and humiliated:

“Nicholson’s response was to threaten to murder Lawrence, or, as he put it, ‘commit justifiable homicide. Individuals have their rights as well as nations’”.

Perhaps the brigadier general did attract some unsuspecting admirers amongst the population during his time and was called “Nikul Seyn”, possibly as a mark of respect. But Charles Griffiths, writing in 1910, suggests in his account of the Siege of Delhi that the word ‘Seyn’ (saeen) in Nicholson’s case implied more than that:

“Many stories are told of his prowess and skill, and he ingratiated himself so strongly amongst a certain race that he received his apotheosis at their hands, and years afterwards was, and perhaps to this day is, worshipped by these rude mountaineers under the title of “Nikul Seyn”.”

However, others contest this. The young Lieutenant Edward Ommaney who accompanied Bahadur Shah Zafar to exile in Rangoon was “one of the few who remained immune to the hero worship of this great imperial psychopath”, according to Dalrymple, and was shocked by Nicholson’s absurd viciousness directed not only towards the ‘mutineers’ (from his perspective) but also towards the unfortunate cook boys.

Dalrymple recounts in his book:

“‘He shows himself off to be a great brute,’ Ommaney wrote in his diary on 21 July. ‘For instance he thrashed a cook boy, for getting in his way in the line of the march (he has a regular man, very muscular, to perform this duty). The boy complained, he was brought up again, and died from the effects of the 2nd thrashing’”.

In another incident, he hung all the regimental cooks. As the officers in the mess waited for their dinner, Nicholson walked into the mess tent and announced:

“‘I’m sorry gentlemen to have kept you waiting for your dinner, but I have been hanging your cooks’. According to Nicholson he had discovered through his spies that the regimental cooks had just laced the officers’ soup with aconite. He first invited the cooks to taste the soup, then, when they refused, force-fed the hot liquid to an unfortunate monkey.

It writhed for a few seconds, then expired. Within minutes, as one of the officers present put it, ‘our regimental cooks were ornamenting a neighbouring tree’”.

The history of the subcontinent has other, more infamous generals who were of course celebrated by the British as saviours of the Raj.

With the recent centenary of the massacre at Amritsar, everyone in India is already familiar with General Reginald Dyer, who on April 13, 1919 led and ordered his soldiers to open fire on some 20,000 people, including women and children, who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh, mostly to celebrate the Sikh festival of Baisakhi.

In 2015/16, there was an unsuccessful campaign in Oxford to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes; the protesting students did not want his imperialist legacy to be celebrated. The Rhodes Scholarship is administered through his will. Although I support the preservation of Nicholson’s Obelisk as a part of our history, what I contest is the narrative that is built around it.

For example, a news report from 2016 about the first ever archeological survey conducted in the federal capital concludes with a remark about Nicholson: “His life and career became a source of inspiration for a generation of British youth seeking adventure in emerging colonies, especially the Indian subcontinent”.

A lot more needs to be added as to who he was and how prejudiced and despicable his views and actions were. The British wanted to pay homage to Nicholson’s imperial achievements. To us, it should serve as a reckoning of our past. It is imperative for us to know the man for who he was as opposed to what the colonial empire wanted to remember him as.

Today, the road leading up to my alma mater brings back fonder memories; my heart still sinks at the sight of this obelisk though, but for different reasons now. Globally in academia, there is a strong student-led movement to decolonise curriculums. It is all the more important for us in Pakistan to do the same.

When students at a premiere boarding school aren’t taught anything about a monument that is in such close proximity to their campus, it points to a systemic issue. We ought to engage more openly and critically with our history, so that we know our past better than I did when I was in school.

Osman Ehtisham Anwar is retracing the footsteps of one of the greatest travellers of all time, Ibn Battuta. You can read more about his journey at A Wandering Within.
He tweets @OEAnwar.


Dawn – After HIV cases, Larkana in the spotlight again due to poliovirus detection

Larkana has been in the spotlight since last month for all the wrong reasons.

Mohammad Hussain Khan

Larkana – Sindh – Pakistan, 15 May 2019. First it was because of HIV-positive cases in newborns and adults in Ratodero taluka and now the focus remains on the Pakistan Peoples Party stronghold after a poliovirus infected a three-year-old girl in Dokri taluka.

The minor girl was well until April 17 when she had high-grade fever and weakness in the right arm and leg. Initially, her family took her to a faith healer, but later she was found infected with poliovirus.

During investigations, health authorities found that the girl had travelled to Karachi’s Bin Qasim area in district Malir, considered to be a hotbed of poliovirus in Karachi.

The latest polio case in Larkana after Karachi must have set alarm bells ringing for the Sindh health authorities overseeing the poliovirus under a separate Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for polio eradication and immunisation.

Frequent positive poliovirus environmental samples also remain a disturbing phenomenon. In addition to the EOC, routine vertical programme of immunisation under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) was also there.

The EOC is part of a national-level set-up created in 2014 amidst foreign donors’ funding with government oversight at the federal and provincial levels. EOCs are overseeing anti-polio campaigns in collaboration with foreign partners.

Sindh has 49pc coverage figures with 12-23-month-old children receiving all basic vaccines [centre/italics]

A Sindh government officer sits in Karachi as EOC coordinator to look after the national immunisation drive (NID) and Sub-National Immunisation Drive (SNIDs), which have been launched for certain specific areas in view of reports of NID.

Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, ex-focal person of prime minister for polio eradication during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, recently painted a bleak picture of the country’s efforts towards polio eradication in the last one year.

“Pakistan was supposed to be polio free in 2018, but that was not the case. In 2017, numbers were reduced from 20 in 2016 to eight in 2017. It was 306 in 2014 that were brought down to 254,” she had said while speaking in the Senate. “When PML-N government completed its termm there were only three cases in Dukki, Balochistan”.

An upward trend

Reports indicated that so far 15 confirmed poliovirus cases have been reported in Pakistan till May. This shows an upward trend. Sindh reports two cases with one each in Larkana and Karachi’s Lyari area. Punjab reported three cases in Lahore while rest are coming from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Positive environmental samples are in addition to these cases.

Sindh’s healthcare system remains somewhat fragile. It was evident from the fact that so far 9,082 people were screened in just one taluka of Larkana’s Ratodero and 393 of them were tested HIV positive.

The number of HIV-positive cases would keep scaling up if such general screening is carried out in other districts and health authorities might run short of the WHO-recommended rapid test kits.

In terms of poliovirus, the High-Risk Mobile Population (HRMP) is a huge factor that is contributing to its spread in Sindh. The HRMP comprises people who frequently travel between core reservoirs of poliovirus like Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Qila Abdullah, Qilla Saifullah.

The HRMP has lowest polio vaccination acceptability as well as accessibility, according to officials. “A big component of HRMP, mainly Pakhtun community, has larger concentration in Karachi and Hyderabad,” said an official.

“Still miss children (SMCs), not available or refusal cases, remain constant in Karachi,” provincial EOC coordinator Umer Farooq Bullo said. “They are always one to two per cent of those children who are to be vaccinated.”

He added that permanent and temporary transit points had also been set up to cover these children for controlling HRMP.

‘Refusal’ remains a big challenge

Unending “refusals” among families and positive environmental sample of poliovirus in polio eradication campaign are two major challenges now.

Refusal is a case where parents plainly decline to have their child inoculated. They come up with different explanations inclusive of misconception and negative propaganda, drug’s efficacy and above all fear of male child’s infertility once vaccinated.

The backlog of refusals keeps increasing. Information of some health officials show families even in posh localities avoid vaccine on efficacy ground, saying they will get their children inoculated in private facilities.

“The community says vaccination is aimed at controlling their population under a foreign conspiracy. It raises different demands before agreeing to child’s vaccination,” said Halima Leghari, a central leader of the Lady Health Workers (LHWs).

She said that some communities often said village roads should be built first and then they would allow vaccination. “LHWs’ sexual harassment is a major stumbling block that hampers coverage. Only recently, LHWs in Pathan Colony were intimidated and harassed,” she said.

An environmental sample is testing of sewage collected from some designated sewerage pumping station in Sindh. It is analysed in a laboratory for genetic sequencing (GE).

“If environment is frequently positive it shows a localised trend of virus and its presence somewhere,” said a former EOC official. He explained that poliovirus survived in human gut. “Human body works as an amplification factor and individual concerned keeps shedding it wherever he/she is travelling,” he said.

According to a health official, 40 out of 73 environmental samples collected across Sindh were found positive. Hyderabad is reporting positive environmental samples constantly. Four such cases are reported this year against one in 2018. Same goes for Sukkur district and then comes Larkana.

Communities react harshly to multiple anti-polio campaigns

Polio eradication campaigns have been causing fatigue for the community, which often reacts harshly.

Around nine polio eradication campaigns took place recently, which tend to antagonise the community. LHW team visits a child if he/she is not found and there are cases where families often tend to avoid vaccination on different pretexts.

“Parents are fed up with back-to-back visits of LHWs and volunteers,” said a health official.

“This is forcing authorities to give some breathing space to community by withholding polio vaccination drive,” said an EOC official. “But simultaneously we fear that if such space is given it may lead to outbreak of virus so we are between the devil and the deep sea.”

Doctors said malnourishment among children made them vulnerable to poliovirus. During polio eradication campaign some vitamins A & D doses were given to overcome nutrients’ deficiency among children. Children under five are to be vaccinated primarily but according to EOC children under two are not to be missed come what may as this group is most vulnerable for poliovirus.

While Larkana is a regional centre its only public sector medical university is yet to get an infectious diseases ward, blood bank, pathology/diagnostic laboratory and physiotherapy unit.

“What a polio patient needs after being hit by the virus is physiotherapy which we lack,” says a university teacher.

Is EPI working?

Routine immunisation of children takes place under vertically-funded EPI in Sindh. It maintains the cold chain of polio vaccine.

According to the Pakistan Health Demographic Survey (PHDS) 2017-18, findings of which were released in January 2019, Sindh (49pc) has lowest coverage figures with children aged 12-23 months, receiving all basic vaccines.

Sindh is only ahead of Balochistan (29pc) while Punjab has ideal figures of 80pc, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 55pc.

The 2012-13 measles outbreak was reported in Sindh’s upper districts with EPI figures claiming ideal vaccination coverage. But it was anybody’s guess why such outbreak was reported with over 200 deaths of children due to measles despite such an “impressive” coverage.

Under a recent decision two districts, Khairpur and Dadu, have been placed under the administrative control of the Pakistan Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI) for managing Sindh’s EPI component as well.

And it also perhaps indicates that if coverage ratio improves or shows encouraging results in the two districts the PPHI may get more subsequently.


Dawn – Nationwide curfews, social media block in Sri Lanka after anti-Muslim riots

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 13 May 2019. Sri Lanka imposed a nationwide six-hour night curfew and banned Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on Monday after anti-Muslim riots gripped several towns in the latest fallout from the Easter bombings.

Christian groups attacked Muslim-owned shops in a sign of the ongoing religious tension in Sri Lanka since the April 21 attacks by suicide bombers on three hotels and three churches which left 258 dead.

A night curfew in several towns north of Colombo was lifted at dawn, but reimposed 10 hours later as tensions were fuelled by persistent rumours of mob violence. The curfew was later extended across the island, police said in a statement.

Police said a Catholic priest had sent out a message to parishioners about possible attacks, causing panic among some people in violence-prone areas.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged the public not to believe rumours and warned that civil unrest will only stretch the already thinly deployed security forces.

“I appeal to all citizens to remain calm and not be swayed by false information,” Wickremesinghe said on Twitter, which was not targeted in the social media blockade.

“Security forces are working tirelessly to apprehend terrorists and ensure the security of the country, but each time there is civil unrest, we increase their burden and hamper ongoing investigations.”

A state of emergency has been in place since the bombings, which the militant Islamic State (IS) group claims to have helped, and security forces have been given sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

Police said a mob targeted shops in the northwestern town of Chilaw on Sunday in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but the violence spread to nearby towns where Muslim businesses were also attacked.

A motorcycle gang attacked shops in nearby Kuliyapitiya and four members were arrested, officials said.

However, dozens of people laid siege to the police station and forced their release. Despite a night curfew, a mosque was vandalised, local residents said.

Mosque attack

“Don’t laugh more, one day u will cry,” was posted on Facebook by a Muslim shopkeeper, and local Christians took it to be a warning of an impending attack.

Mobs smashed the man’s shop and vandalised a nearby mosque prompting security forces to fire in the air to disperse the crowd. A curfew was imposed from Sunday afternoon until dawn Monday.

There have already been clashes between Christians and Muslims in Negombo, the town north of Colombo that was targeted by the suicide attackers.

The main body of Islamic clerics, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), said there was increased suspicion of Muslims after the Easter Sunday attacks.

“We call upon the members of the Muslim communities to be more patient and guard your actions and avoid unnecessary postings or hosting on social media,” the ACJU said.

Internet service providers said they have been instructed by the telecommunications regulator to block access to Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram.

The latest unrest came as Catholic churches resumed public Sunday masses for the first time since the bombings. Worshippers were searched before being allowed into churches that were guarded by armed police and troops. There were no reports of disruption to services, however.

Schools reopen

Dozens of people have been detained since the Easter Sunday attacks, and amid the heightened security, police have banned parking near schools and students are allowed in after checking for explosives.

Public schools completed their reopening from extended Easter holidays after the attacks, but attendance was extremely low, according to education authorities.

Private Catholic schools were to open on Tuesday, but many were planning to postpone the reopening until next week, parent groups said.

Muslims make up around 10 per cent of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka’s 21 million population and Christians about 7.6pc.


Dawn – Islamic lunar calendar to be ready in two weeks

Jamal Shahid

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 08 May 2019. Aiming to end perpetual uncertainty over moon-sighting in the country, federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry announced on Wednesday that a calendar showing main Islamic dates and months for the next five years based on scientific evidence would be ready and placed before the cabinet by the 15th of Ramazan.

“We have tremendous respect for ulema and they may be good at their jobs but these elderly people can barely see people in front of them clearly let alone spot a fine crescent,” the minister said at a press conference.

“We cannot understand the stubbornness of the ulema who insist on sighting the moon alone. Moon-sighting is a scientific process. Science can precisely tell the birth of the moon and that is why Imam Shafai described moon-sighting as an arithmetic process,” he said.

Explaining how the telescopes used by Ruet-i-Hilal Committee members were hundreds-of-years-old obsolete equipment, the minister said his office will rely on advanced telescopes of the Met Department.

Anticipating it may be opposed, Fawad says his ministry doesn’t intend to impose its findings.

“A process has been developed on confirmed crescent sightings based on indisputable astronomical information, which nobody should object to,” the minister said.

Anticipating that the plan may face opposition, he said, “I reiterate that the ministry does not intend to impose its findings but provide an alternative opinion.”

On 03 May, Mr Chaudhry had formed a committee of five experts from the ministry of science and technology, Meteorological Department and the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) to determine moon-sighting for key Islamic dates and months scientifically putting an end to the practice of looking for it physically through telescopes.

Responding to a question about ulema cautioning the government to stay away from religious matters, Mr Chaudhry retorted, “Our interpretation of religion is better than theirs.”

Calculations more accurate than sightings

A senior official of the ministry requesting anonymity told Dawn after the briefing that results show that with today’s technology, calculations are far more accurate than the claims of sighting.

“In the present era of scientific and technological advancements, more than four decades after man landed on the moon, some of us are still avoiding the use of scientific knowledge for making an Islamic calendar and having to wait till midnight for a confirmation of moon-sighting,” he said.

Mr Chaudhry had earlier questioned the wisdom of spending large sums of money on moon-sighting every year, saying that the Ruet-i-Hilal committee should voluntarily carry out the sighting of the moon.

He was critical of the committee, saying that around Rs 3.06 million was spent on moon-sighting every year, and it was time to utilise science and technology to end the age-old controversy.

Nonetheless, these comments from the minister and his announcement to form a committee to end the moon-sighting controversy through science elicited a reaction from Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman, who cautioned the minister to refrain from commenting on religious matters.

He said the committee consulted experts while looking for the crescent.


Dawn – Lahore High Court – directs Pir Afzal Qadri to submit ‘detailed’ apology for incendiary remarks

Rana Bilal

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 07 May 2019. A two-member bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday directed the counsel of Pir Afzal Qadri, former leader of Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) who is currently facing a treason case, to submit a detailed apology for incendiary remarks made by him during a protest against the Supreme Court’s acquittal of Asia Bibi.

The fire brand cleric was booked under sedition and terrorism charges in Gujrat and taken into “protective custody” by the state during a crackdown in November 2018 after the TLP announced it would observe martyrs’ day on 25 November 2018.

During today’s hearing of a bail plea filed by Qadri and TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose earlier applications were rejected by an anti-terrorism court, Justice Qasim Ali Khan directed his counsel, Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry, to submit the attested apology letter by Wednesday.

On the onset of the hearing, the court rejected the counsel’s plea to not highlight the apology letter and directed the counsel to read it out in the court. “He [Qadri] should have thought about it when he was using the microphone,” Justice Khan added.

Chaudhry then read out the apology, after which the court directed him to define the “harsh words” used in the apology letter. The counsel said that according to the record, Qadri had said that the three judges [who acquitted Aasia Bibi] were liable to be killed, that Prime Minister Imran Khan is a Zionist agent and that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Javed Qamar Bajwa’s orders be not accepted.

Justice Khan observed that the comments were incitement to violence. “Saying such things about army generals, what is it if not treason?” the judge asked.

Chaudhry reiterated that Qadri had apologised in his letter, but Justice Asjad Javed Ghural pointed out that “he had declared that the judges of the higher judiciary deserve to be killed”.

“Pir Afzal Qadri should have sought apology over the labels uttered against judges and generals,” added Justice Khan.

The court directed the counsel to contact his client over telephone for fresh instructions about a more detailed apology. The counsel did so and told the court that Qadri will file a more detailed apology letter tomorrow (Wednesday).

Qadri quits TLP, feels sorry over remarks against, government, judiciary, army

On April 30, a video message and statement of Qadri were released in which the once firebrand patron-in-chief of the TLP announced his retirement from the movement and issued an apology for incendiary remarks made by him during a protest against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi.

In the video message, Qadri read out a statement announcing his retirement. An accompanying press release stated that the TLP patron-in-chief is sorry for “hurting the sentiments of the government, the judiciary and the chief of army staff”.

“I am a patient of heart disease, paralysis, kidney disease, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure etc, and when the verdict of the Asia Masih case was pronounced, my religious sentiments got hurt and I delivered a speech. I am very sorry for hurting the sentiments of the government, the judiciary and the chief of army staff,” he had said.

Faizabad protests

In November 2017, TLP workers demanding the resignation of the then law minister Zahid Hamid had staged a weeks-long sit-in at the Faizabad interchange that had virtually paralysed the federal capital and led to several people losing their lives.

On November 21 of the same month, the apex court had taken notice of the sit-in and directed the defence and interior secretaries to submit a detailed report on the matter.

Days later, the PML-N-led government had launched against the protesters an operation which, when failed, had forced the authorities to cave in and Hamid to resign over a controversy around a change in an election oath.

Crackdown on TLP

On November 23, 2018, the top TLP leaders, including Khadim Rizvi and Afzal Qadri, were taken into “protective custody” as they had announced holding a public rally in Islamabad. They were arrested amid a massive crackdown against workers of the TLP and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA).

The crackdown came ahead of the party’s call to party members to observe martyrs’ day on 25 November 2018. The party had asked workers and supporters to gather at Faizabad in the federal capital, the same venue where the party had staged in 2017.

Subsequently, sedition cases were lodged against the TLP leaders as in the aftermath of Aasia Bibi case’s verdict acquitting her of blasphemy charges, the leadership during the protests had termed the chief justice “liable to be killed” and had called for a rebellion against the army chief “because he is a non-Muslim”.


Dawn – Sahiwal firing tragedy: Family cries out for justice on PM’s visit to city

Our Staff Reporter

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 05 May 2019. The relatives of Khalil Ahmad who along with his wife and daughter was shot dead in Sahiwal allegedly by the officials of the Counter Terrorism Department, Punjab, on Saturday staged a sit-in at Charing Cross on The Mall on the occasion of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the city.

Brothers of Khalil, his minor children, relatives and neighbours reached The Mall with placards inscribed with slogans against the federal and Punjab authorities. They blocked the road by staging a sit-in putting up their three main demands.

They shouted slogans against the authorities concerned for not addressing their demands despite a lapse of more than three months.

Speaking to the media on the occasion, Ijaz Ahmad said his brother was mercilessly killed along with his wife and minor daughter by the CTD in operation which was launched on the basis of false reporting.

He said senior CTD officers instead of feeling remorse came up with contradictory versions on the day of the incident. Worse still, he said, the CTD lodged a case against Khalil and his family including his children.

He said the matter was taken up by him and his relatives with the prime minister and the chief minister many times but the case had not been solved despite promises. The other demands including the constitution of the judicial commission and transfer of the main case from Sahiwal to Lahore were also yet to be addressed.

He said the prime minister had promised in a meeting with him recently that he would fulfill the demands but no one from the PM House contacted him prompting them to take to the streets.


Dawn – Awareness campaign a ‘better way’ to discourage child marriages than legislation: Council of Islamic Ideology (CII)

Javed Hussain

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 03 May 2019. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) on Friday insisted that a “better way” to tackle the prevalent practice of child marriages is to start an awareness campaign among the masses instead of passing legislation.

A CII spokesperson said that the council in its 212th meeting had discussed the matter in detail and had arrived at the conclusion that “legislation against child marriage and setting an age limit will lead to many complications”.

The council’s research department had presented a 10-page “comprehensive report” that detailed religious scholars’ arguments against as well as in support of passing an anti-child marriage bill into law. The report also mentioned details of age limits set for marriage by 12 Muslim countries.

CIl’s supreme body agreed that child marriage leads to “various negative consequences and problems” and that the practice “should not be encouraged”.

Furthermore, the council said that the government “should take effective steps eliminating the reasons due to which some families in Pakistan are forced to marry off children at a young age”.

The meeting on the matter comes days after the Senate passed the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which proposes that the minimum age for marriage be set at 18, amid noisy opposition from religious parties and some members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

Some of the opposing senators had argued that the bill be sent to CII before being tabled in the house.

A similar bill that was tabled in the National Assembly by a PTI lawmaker a day after the Senate passed the anti-child marriage bill faced strong opposition from members of the ruling party itself.


Dawn – Dialogue works better

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 01 May 2019. The charges were serious and so was the tenor. There was no mincing of words. Time was up for the PTM, warned the DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor, hinting that some kind of action was being contemplated against the group’s leadership, though there was no elaboration.

The briefing again highlighted the growing political role of the military’s media wing as a number of non-military subjects were discussed, including madressah reform that should come under the education department. But the remarks about the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement were perhaps the most worrying.

It is not for the first time that the PTM leadership has been accused of working on a foreign agenda. But the allegation of receiving funding from hostile intelligence agencies is extremely disconcerting. Some specific details were given about the group’s alleged foreign links, a charge that was denied by the PTM leadership.

Certainly, given their seriousness, the allegations must be investigated. But public indictment of political leaders some of whom are elected members of parliament, without substantive evidence that could prove the charges in a court of law carries its own perils.

More worrisome is getting the security establishment directly involved in a matter that should be dealt with politically and through a legal process. Engaging in public polemics is damaging for security institutions, and only reinforces the perception of the state’s growing militarisation.

Looking for a foreign hand behind the rise of a nationalist movement does not help resolve the problem.

Curiously, the warning has come just days after Prime Minister Imran Khan publicly endorsed the demands of the movement, though deploring the tenor of its leaders and their anti-military campaign. The PTI had also offered party tickets to top PTM leaders in the last elections.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee had invited PTM leaders, including Manzoor Pashteen, for a hearing. Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of the committee hailed the event as historic and stressed the need for a continuing dialogue.

Where were the charges of foreign links and foreign funding then? Would the prime minister and Senate committee chairman not be aware of seditious activities?

What prompts public scepticism is that several Pakistani political leaders have faced charges of being foreign-sponsored. Even prime ministers and others holding high public offices have been declared security risks and foreign agents in the past.

Political leaders accused of treason were often allowed to take the political centre stage after they mended fences with the security apparatus. One such example has been that of the MQM that had long alternated between being ostracised as a foreign proxy and becoming part of successive governments.

Surely, one cannot condone the provocative slogans and inflammatory rhetoric of some of the PTM leaders, but looking for a foreign hand behind the rise of a popular nationalist movement does not help resolve the basic problem.

Both the civil and military leadership acknowledge that there have been genuine reasons for anger on the part of the tribal population. Being in the conflict zone for almost four decades the people of KP, including former Fata, have suffered not only because of fighting but also due to the negligence and apathy shown by the state.

It was the anger particularly among the young generation of Pakhtuns that caused the PTM’s rise as a mass movement. Instead of seriously addressing the causes, there seems to be an attempt to prevent it from getting media coverage. Such moves only prove counterproductive and increase the alienation of an already angry generation.

In fact, in this age of social media blacking out events in the mainstream media does not work. It was the closing space for rational dialogue at home that caught the attention of the international media, which contributed to strengthening the narrative of Pakhtun victimisation, however false it may be.

It might be true that the Pakhtuns are not in any way a marginalised ethnic group, and they have significant representation in the establishment. However, ordinary people have suffered most in the so-called war on terror. They have also been the main victims in the past when militancy was perceived as a tool of foreign policy.

Millions of people were displaced from their homes for years. Many of them went back to the ruins of their homes after the military operations. Their anger was galvanised by the rise of the movement.

Notwithstanding the conscious efforts of some elements to turn to chauvinism, the movement has so far remained peaceful, and there have not been incidents of any violence in its protest rallies, which is quite a rare phenomenon in Pakistani politics.

The move to turn it into an anti-state movement can only be criticised, and the use of force would fuel negative propaganda.

There is no denying the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan’s security forces in eliminating militancy and bringing the former tribal areas into the national mainstream. It is wrong to blame the security establishment for everything that has gone wrong in the strife-torn region. But any attempt to suppress the protests will only widen alienation.

It may be true that in this age of hybrid war, hostile foreign intelligence agencies are exploiting discontent for their own vested interests. But the inept handling of the situation will only help their agenda. Any rash action could be disastrous for the country. Warnings of the sort given at the briefing can only make people angrier.

It is an issue that must be dealt with politically. The prime minister has taken the right approach in handling the problem. The allegation of foreign funding is very serious and no state can tolerate foreign meddling in its internal matters. There is an urgent need to investigate the matter and action must be taken if the charges are substantiated.

More important, however, is that the blackout of the PTM should be lifted. The Senate committee has done a right thing by hearing the PTM leaders. This kind of dialogue must continue. A rational dialogue is the only way out of the problem.

The writer is an author and journalist.



Dawn – Following rumours, refusals to vaccinate children against polio rise by 85pc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 26 April 2019. Instances of parents’ refusal to allow health workers to administer anti-polio drops to their children rose by 85 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after rumours pertaining to the authenticity of the vaccine provoked hysteria across the province, Dr Ejaz, an official of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio said on Friday.

Across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, more than 700,000 families refused to vaccinate children, whereas in the last anti-polio drive, which was held last month, the number of refusal cases was 57,000, Dr Ejaz said. He attributed the alarming increase in the number of refusal cases to rumours spread against the vaccine that is administered to prevent the virus.

In Peshawar alone, the number of refusal cases rose by 79pc as about 164,000 out of 800,000 families refused to allow health workers to administer anti-polio drops to their children, he said. Due to prevailing rumours against the vaccine, anti-polio campaign had to be postponed in 24 union councils of Peshawar.

“This is the highest number of refusal cases reported in an anti-polio campaign,” Dr Ejaz said.

“The propaganda against anti-polio vaccines created panic in Peshawar and other districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has badly affected the efforts of the government to eradicate polio,” he said, adding that the EOC will come up with a new strategy before initiating another anti-polio campaign, which will be held in June.

He regretted that the rumours have exposed children to the risk of becoming victims of the crippling polio virus.

Dr Ejaz said that the EOC will take local and religious leaders, as well as members of the civil society, on board in order to allay the fear and misconceptions of parents regarding the vaccine.

Panic over rumours against anti-polio vaccine

Panic spread across Peshawar earlier this week after reports that 75 students at a school in Badhber, complaining of headaches, nausea and abdominal pain allegedly after being administered the anti-polio vaccine, were admitted to Hayatabad Medical Complex. Shortly after, doctors began releasing them, saying they were in stable condition.

Panicked parents continued taking their children to hospitals for checkups till late at night, some 300 children visited Lady Reading Hospital, and mosques added further grist to the rumours by issuing intermittent warnings over their loudspeakers to not get children vaccinated, and that those who had must reach hospitals to avoid a reaction.

Most children were released after treatment, health workers said. The doctors at LRH said it was psychological, whatever it was that was impacting the children. In Charsadda, 800 children were hospitalised.

Family members and area residents resorted to agitation in protest against the incident. They broke the doors and windows of a hospital during their protest, set a Basic Health Unit in the area on fire and held polio workers hostage for some time.

Deputy Superintendent of Police Saddar Sahibzada Sajjad told DawnNewsTV that a first information report (FIR) had been registered at the Badhber police station against identified individuals for setting fire to a Basic Health Unit and causing widespread panic by rumour-mongering.

Addressing the hysteria across the province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Health Minister Dr Hisham Inamullah Khan held a press conference to debunk the rumours about the vaccine. “We have an inquiry report and the only thing it points towards is panic.

The school from where it all started, there should be an investigation against them. These two, three schools had also refused the anti-polio campaign earlier. They did not want drops administered to their students,” he claimed.