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.



Dawn – Asma Jahangir: The street fighter

Saroop Ijaz

The Contrarion

Op/Ed, 11 February 2018. Immediately after the horrific Quetta terror attack on August 8, 2016, Dr Danish, a television anchorperson, tweeted pictures of Asma Jahangir with a caption in Urdu which translates as: “When lawyers were being killed in Quetta, the so-called leader of the lawyers was enjoying herself in the northern areas.”

The post was enthusiastically retweeted, shared on Facebook and distributed through WhatsApp groups.

Asma Jahangir was not “enjoying herself in the northern areas”. She was in Gilgit-Baltistan on a human rights fact-finding mission when the attack happened. There was no way she could travel to Quetta the same day.

She took to Twitter and responded to the anchorperson: “Shame on you for exploiting facts even when people [are] in grief … Ask [your] spy friends not to stoop to the lowest levels of viciousness.”

A picture of her from a March 2008 meeting with Bal Thackeray, the now deceased leader of Mumbai’s Hindu chauvinist Shiv Sena party, created a similar furore. Nationalist websites and media persons wrote thousands of words to denounce her for sharing the same space with one of Pakistan’s most vicious detractors.

It did not matter that she had met Thackeray in her capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, investigating violence against Muslims in India.

Indeed, many people go ballistic every time her name is mentioned. Haroon Rashid, an Urdu-language columnist with a large fan following, wrote in 2013, “warning” that he would lead a march on to Islamabad if Asma Jahangir was appointed caretaker prime minister. She had said earlier that she had no intention to accept the post.

Asma Jahangir’s earliest recollections of activism are from her time in school at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, a church-run school in Lahore.

If anything, these examples suggest a pattern: often wild, unsubstantiated allegations are levelled against her. Often she, too, responds to her detractors in a no-holds-barred manner.

In 2012, in typical Asma Jahangir style, she accused intelligence and security agencies of trying to eliminate her. National and international concern and outrage poured in with such vehemence that the plan, if there was any, had to be dropped.

It seems Asma Jahangir seeks controversy, her critics attribute it to a search for glory. The Lebanese-American writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a word for it: “antifragile”, that is, things and people that benefit from volatility, shock, disorder, risk and uncertainty.

Asma Jahangir does not agree. She argues that she does whatever she does in order to adhere to her core principles, not to seek glory, not to benefit from adversity.

In September 2015, the Lahore High Court ordered the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to black out the coverage of Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) supremo.

Very few, if any, lawyers in Lahore were willing to represent him due to his alleged involvement in acts of violence in Karachi and his volatile speeches and media statements.

Asma Jahangir was perhaps the unlikeliest lawyer he would get: the two had never found themselves on the same side of the political divide.

In May 2007, MQM had called Asma Jahangir a “chauvinist lady” who should form her own “chauvinist party”. An MQM statement had also accused her of having a secret affiliation with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

But she agreed to represent him.

Her opponents took to the streets. A small group of lawyers in Lahore brought out a demonstration, demanding the cancellation of her licence to practice law.

Her supporters in bar rooms were also uncomfortable with the idea but they knew she could not be swayed against fighting for someone’s freedom of speech, no matter if the person concerned was a serial abuser of that freedom. “Well, that is how she is,” says one of her supporters, shrugging their shoulders.

When Asma Jahangir decided to contest the election for the Supreme Court Bar Association’s president in 2009-2010, she faced stiff opposition from many sections of the society, including newspapers and television channels.

The media campaign against her was led by the Jang Group’s senior reporter Ansar Abbasi and it focused on projecting her as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam. Six years later, the same media group engaged her as a counsel to represent it before the Supreme Court.

To read the full article on Asma Jahangir, fearless defender of human rights, click on the link below.


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.



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.


Dawn – Success eludes second round of Pakistan-Afghan security talks

Baqir Sajjad Syed

Islamabad-Islamabad Capital Territory-Pakistan, 11 February 2018. The second round of Pakistan-Afghanistan talks on an engagement plan on peace and security issues ended on Saturday without making any headway on its key elements because the Afghan delegation felt that their priorities were not being addressed.

The two sides could not only not agree on a joint statement to sum up the two-day proceedings, but gave divergent accounts about the outcome.

The Pakistani version came through Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal’s 12-word tweet that essentially said more needed to be done to bridge the difference of opinion with regards to the proposed Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS).

The tweet did not even say if the two sides would meet again and possibly when.

No joint statement issued; two sides come up with divergent accounts of outcome

“Pakistan-Afghanistan talks. Two days of good discussions. Some agreements. Further work required,” Dr Faisal tweeted.

The Afghan statement, meanwhile, said: “No progress was achieved on specific, result-oriented, time-bound measures in the APAPPS, particularly in the areas of counterterrorism, reduction of violence, peace and reconciliation to meet the priorities of Afghanistan.”

The statement said that the only progress made in two rounds so far had been on the mechanism of the engagement.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai led their respective sides at the talks.

The APAPPS provides a blueprint for a Pakistan-Afghan engagement on counterterrorism and reduction of violence, peace and reconciliation, refugees’ repatriation and joint economic development. It is a Pakistani initiative for providing a framework for bilateral dialogue encompassing critical issues that have kept souring the ties.

The negotiations on the APAPPS had begun in Kabul last week. The two sides had on that occasion reported “some progress”, expressed the commitment to “continue their discussions to reach an agreement on the APAPPS” and fixed February 9-10 for further discussions in Islamabad.

At the start of the talks, the Foreign Office had expressed optimism about forward movement. “Engagement and dialogue is crucial for the way forward. Despite differences, it is a welcoming development that engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan is ongoing, of which we are hopeful,” the FO spokesman had then said.

The Afghan delegation, alongside the negotiations on the APAPPS, reportedly also talked about the recent attacks in Kabul, which they allege originated from Pakistan.

Afghan officials claim that their interior minister Wais Ahmad Barmak and National Directorate of Security chief Masoom Stanekzai had in a meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on January 31 handed over a list of individuals and madressahs suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

Dr Faisal had earlier said at a briefing that “the Afghan representatives have shared information with us during the recent visit. We will look into it and revert soon”.

A diplomatic source claimed that the impasse on the APAPPS was because Afghans were linking the investigation into Kabul attacks with any agreement on the engagement plan.


Dawn – Religious parties assemble in Mardan to demand release of men convicted in Mashal Khan murder case

Mardan-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-Pakistan, 08 February 2018. Multiple religious parties are set to protest on Friday against the conviction of 31 men found to have been involved in the brutal murder of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan student Mashal Khan, who was lynched in April 2017 after being falsely accused of blasphemy.

The protest will be held after Friday prayers at a mosque in Mardan, where different religious and political parties will converge under the ‘Khatm-i-Nabuwwat Mardan’ banner to protest the convictions.

The protest has been sponsored by the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Maulana Samiul Haq’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.

The JI also held a gathering in Mardan on Wednesday to ‘welcome’ those acquitted by the ATC.

JI’s Emir in Mardan, Dr Attaur Rehman, while speaking to DawnNews said the party is a constitutional and religious party which wants Shariah law imposed in Pakistan.

“The Haripur ATC honourably acquitted 26 individuals in the Mashal Khan case. This means they are innocent and we have gathered to give them an exemplary welcome,” he had said.

JUI-F’s Provincial General Secretary Shujaul Mulk, when asked about the reasons behind the Friday protest, told DawnNews that the 26 who were acquitted in the case by the Haripur Anti-Terrorism Court on Wednesday will address protesters tomorrow.

Mulk said that those let off were allegedly eyewitnesses to the lynching of Mashal Khan and continue to claim that he (Mashal) had committed blasphemy. He added that they had included this information in the statements recorded in court.

He also alleged that the men arrested for the murder of Mashal were beaten and forced confessions were extracted from them.

He said the men acquitted will tell attendees of the protest tomorrow about how they were treated in custody.

“Despite all this, the government cleared Mashal,” the JUI-F leader said. “We are not going to sit quietly, we will approach the Supreme Court and challenge the punishments handed to each of the convicts,” he insisted.

He added that the religious parties workers will ask the government to avoid appealing against the acquittals in the Mashal Khan case “as it will hurt the sentiments of Muslims” and warned that the move “may spark protests across the country.”

A formal decision in this regard will be made at the gathering on Friday, Mulk said.

On Wednesday night, a jubilant crowd of religious party workers had gathered at the Mardan Motorway Interchange to “welcome” the 26 “heroes” who had been acquitted by the court, and to protest the ATC’s verdict against the 31 men convicted of Mashal’s murder.

The charged crowd chanted slogans against the murdered student and vowed to “move the Supreme Court against the verdict”.

At least six of the acquitted reached Mardan on Wednesday night. One of the acquitted, Aizaz, was welcomed and garlanded enthusiastically by the crowd.

Aizaz, who was showered with petals and carried on the shoulders of supporters, addressed the crowd in Pashto, vowing that anyone who committed blasphemy or spoke against Khatm-i-Nabuwwat would “meet the same end as Mashal”.

Meanwhile, JUI-F’s Mulk said that the court may have sentenced one “lover of the Prophet (Peace be upon him)” to death, “but that there are thousands more Imrans on the streets” ready to act.


Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) asks govt to form policies to end menace of human trafficking

Haseeb Bhatti

Islamabad-Islamabad Capital Territory-Pakistan, 06 February 2018. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Tuesday criticised the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) failure to curb human trafficking in the country and urged the government to formulate policies to help put an end to the menace.

Justice Nisar was hearing a suo motu case regarding the killing of 20 labourers whose bullet-riddled bodies were found in the Turbat and Buleda tehsils of Balochistan’s Kech district last year. The victims had been brought to the province by human traffickers with the intention of enabling them to cross the Pakistan-Iran border illegally.

The CJP expressed concern over widespread human smuggling networks in the country, saying that instead of the Supreme Court (SC) taking notice of the matter, law enforcement agencies should have tried to curb the problem themselves.

The Director General (DG) FIA Bashir Ahmed and secretaries of the Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry also appeared in court today.

The CJP was told by the FIA chief that an organised gang in some areas of Punjab, which include Gujrat, Lala Musa, Sirai Alamgir and Mandi Bahauddin etc, was involved in smuggling people out of the country.

“What steps can be taken to cure this cancer?” the CJP asked the DG FIA, observing that human trafficking had become a major issue for the country.

The court dismissed the DG FIA’s response that the department lacked resources. Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua also criticised the DG FIA and regretted that the agency was unable to curb human smuggling.

Justice Nisar observed that it was the government’s responsibility to formulate a policy to put an end to human trafficking in the country. He noted the lack of coordination between government departments, and advised the Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry to prepare recommendations for the government to assist authorities in the matter.

The CJP further said that the court will issue orders to the Punjab government to build FIA offices in cities like Gujrat and Gujranwala.

The court summoned the advocate general Punjab to the next hearing of the case on 12 February 2018.


Dawn – FIA arrests four suspected human traffickers behind migrant boat tragedy in Libya

Iqbal Mirza

Panjab-Pakistan, 04 February 2018. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Sunday arrested four alleged human traffickers linked with the migrant boat tragedy off the coast of Libya.

Earlier this week, at least 16 Pakistanis drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler’s boat they were riding capsized. They were among 90 people feared to have drowned in the latest migrant tragedy occurring in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Zuwara.

Most of the deceased Pakistani migrants hail from Punjab’s districts, including Mandi Bahauddin, Sargodha, Gujrat and Rawalpindi.

The four suspects were arrested on Sunday after the FIA conducted raids in Gujranwala, Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin, the agency’s deputy director said.

The raids were conducted as part of a crackdown against those involved in human trafficking, he said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has pointed out that Pakistanis made up the 13th largest group trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe last year, with 3,138 of them arriving in Italy in 2017, and no recorded sea deaths.

But they have already climbed to third place this year, with an estimated 240 Pakistanis reaching Italy in January, compared to just nine during the same month last year.


Dawn – Jadhav may be serving naval officer, says Indian magazine

Monitoring Desk

Karachi-Sindh-Pakistan, 2 February 2018. That India has unleashed a covert war against Pakistan and that convicted spy Kulbhushan Jadhav is a serving officer of Indian Navy is no longer news for Pakistanis because they already know that.

But it’s surely news, big news, when a major Indian magazine, published by a reputable media house, finally comes around to admitting that.

The magazine concerned is Frontline that is published by publishers of the well-known newspaper The Hindu, which has not only acknowledged that India is engaged in a covert war but also said that Jadhav’s arrest and conviction by the Pakistan Army has underlined the need for New Delhi to review its policies.

The admission made by Frontline is all the more significant because a similar report, discussing Jadhav’s career as an agent of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was canned just a few weeks ago.

So much pressure was brought to bear on the staff of Quint that it pulled the damning report from its website for “rechecking some of the information mentioned in the article”.

In his article in Frontline, Praveen Swami writes: “Ever since 2013, India has secretly built up a covert action programme against Pakistan” that was initially led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and now by RAW’s Anil Dhasmana. The programme registered unp­recedented success, according to him.

“…But the story of the man on death row [Jadhav] illustrates that this secret war is not risk-free. Lapses in trade-craft and judgement, inevitable parts of any human enterprise, can inflict harm far greater than the good they seek to secure,” Swami says.

Praveen Swami writes regularly for the Indian Express. His article’s publication in Frontline, and not in the Express, suggests that the latter may have declined to publish it.

The article says that Jadhav joined the Indian Navy in 1987. “Inducted into the Navy in 1987, with the service number 41558Z, Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav would likely have been promoted to the rank of commander after 13 years of service, in 2000,” it says.

“But the digital archive of the Gazette of India, a public document, has removed all files relating to the Defence Ministry for several months in 2000. Files in subsequent years bear no record of Jadhav’s retirement….”

The Indian government has claimed before the International Court of Justice that Jadhav is a retired naval officer, but it has declined to state exactly when he retired.

“In response to a written question from this writer, the Naval Headquarters declined to confirm or deny whether Jadhav was a serving naval officer. Instead, it referred this writer to the Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry, in turn, said it had ‘nothing to add to whatever is already in the public domain’,” says Swami.

“In general, nation states simply deny any ties to individuals arrested for espionage. Thirteen Indians are being held in Pakistan on espionage charges, and 30 Pakistanis are in Indian jails, but in not a single case has either country officially concerned itself with its agent’s fate.”

The article quotes unnamed sources as saying that Jadhav volunteered for secret service. “‘Few sign up for these kinds of dangers,’ recalls a senior intelligence official who met Jadhav on one occasion. ‘His was a choice of exceptional courage’.”

However, there was a catch, a senior naval official told the writer. “The commander [Jadhav] was insistent that he be allowed to remain on the Navy’s rolls to secure his promotion and pay,” he said. “The Navy didn’t have a system for off-the-books operatives overseas, so this was how it had to be.”

The spy initially worked for Naval Intelligence, but later moved on to the Intelligence Bureau. He came in contact with RAW in 2010.

“(He) was greeted with consternation at RAW, where he first appeared in 2010, introduced as a former naval officer. Anand Arni, the head of RAW’s Pakistan desk, shot down proposals for Jadhav to work with the organisation, sources said, arguing that the naval officer had little intelligence that RAW did not already possess,” says Swami.

“But small cash payments, the source added, were made to Jadhav by successive RAW chiefs, beginning with K C Verma, ‘a standard practice to maintain a working relationship with potential sources’, said an official familiar with the payments.”

Interestingly, the payments appear to have continued through the tenures of several spymasters, running from Verma’s successor, Sanjiv Tripathi, chief from 2010 to 2012, and Alok Joshi, who led RAW from 2012 to 2014.


Dawn – Afghan war turns bloodier

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 31 January 2018. The latest wave of terror attacks in Kabul that has claimed dozens of civilian lives marks the bloodiest phase of the so far 16-year war with the insurgents getting more audacious.

The escalation in fighting raises questions about the new US-Afghan strategy. Not that the Afghan capital has not witnessed such high-profile terrorist attacks before, but the ferocity and the frequency of assaults is alarming.

Three attacks in a week in high-security zones indicate the increasing capacity and the organisation of the insurgents despite massive escalation in the US air strikes.

While the Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for two of the first two attacks, the militant Islamic State (IS) group reportedly carried out the third one. The insurgents have taken the war into the nation’s capital. The rising toll of civilian casualties is disturbing.

It signals a shift in insurgent strategy, from gaining territorial control to focusing more on the capital to test the mettle of the Afghan security forces. It seems that the Afghan Taliban and IS are competing when it comes to carnage in the besieged capital and other towns and cities in Afghanistan.

The chaos resulting from the violence serves the objective of these militant groups, to undermine the confidence of the Kabul administration.

It seems that the Afghan Taliban and IS are in a race to massacre the most people

Indeed, the Afghan National Army has improved its performance greatly over time, but it is still not capable of dealing with such organised terrorist attacks on its own. The frequent breach of security by the insurgents has further exposed the incapacity of the Afghan security agencies.

While the Taliban control vast swathes of territory, the increasing presence of IS in Afghanistan is extremely worrisome. The terrorist group that is fighting both Kabul and the Taliban has been responsible for several high-profile attacks in the capital over the last few months.

The terrorist group has made some inroads in eastern and northern Afghanistan. The rise of IS has brought greater devastation and caused a spike in the number of civilian casualties.

The latest surge in militant attacks has come as the relentless US air strikes have forced the Taliban to retreat from some of their strongholds in western Afghanistan. But the US military offensive has failed to contain the insurgency that has now spread to vast areas.

There has not been any cessation in the fighting, not even in the winter months. The situation is likely to get worse with the approach of the fighting season. The weakening writ of the Afghan government in the hinterland has given further impetus to the insurgents.

Predictably, the violence has evoked a strong reaction from Washington. There are clear indications that the Trump administration will intensify military action in Afghanistan. Addressing the UN Security Council members in the aftermath of the Kabul attacks, President Trump vowed to take the battle to the finish.

“What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” the US president declared.

Notwithstanding Trump’s tough tenor, such promises have also been made by previous US administrations in the past decade. It is hard to believe that the massive use of air strikes alone could bring this festering war to an end.

Trump has ruled out negotiations with the Taliban, at least for now. So the US administration is still pursuing an elusive military victory that it has failed to achieve in the past 16 years with more than 150,000 troops on the ground.

Some reports suggest that more American troops could be deployed after the recent insurgent attacks. That may only get the US mired deeper in Afghanistan. Even the closest of America’s Western allies are sceptical of Trump’s militaristic approach.

Not surprisingly, the surge in militant violence inside Afghanistan has increased pressure on Islamabad. Both Kabul and Washington have once again accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to militants.

They have also blamed Pakistani security agencies for facilitating those responsible for the carnage. More alarming is the growing Afghan-Indian nexus demanding tougher US action against Pakistan.

There are clear indications that the Trump administration is getting ready to tighten the screws on Pakistan further and intensify air strikes on alleged Taliban sanctuaries inside this country’s tribal region.

The recent attack on reportedly an Afghan refugee camp in Kurram Agency that has allegedly been used as a sanctuary for the Haqqani network is ominous. There is also a strong possibility of the US slapping economic and military sanctions on Pakistan and using its influence to persuade multilateral financial institutions to squeeze assistance.

Washington has already suspended military assistance to Pakistan. There could also be a move to get the country declared as a terrorist haven.

Surely such radical moves cannot succeed. Still, they would put greater diplomatic pressure on Islamabad to crack down on suspected militant sanctuaries and take action against the Taliban leadership allegedly operating from Pakistan.

It certainly presents a very serious challenge to the Pakistani leadership, almost comparable to what it had faced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

That raises questions about Pakistan’s options and how our political and military leadership can deal with this serious situation. The prevailing political instability and absence of a chain of command has complicated our predicament.

It may be true that Pakistan is being used as a scapegoat for America’s failure to wind up the war, the longest it has ever fought. Yet the allegations of some Afghan insurgent groups taking sanctuary in our border areas cannot be refuted.

The fact that so many proscribed militant groups are operating with such impunity has weakened our case and made us extremely vulnerable to growing international pressure. We cannot hide behind a sense of victimhood.

It is not just about US pressure. It is imperative for us to clean up our home in our own national security interest.
The surge in militant violence and growing instability in Afghanistan threaten our security too. Indeed, America’s continuing reliance on the military solution and an ineffective, fragmented administration in Kabul has been the major cause of the deepening Afghan crisis.

Yet it is in our own interest that we continue to cooperate with Afghanistan and the international community to contain violence in the strife-torn country.

The writer is an author and journalist.