BBC News – Pakistan hit by deadly suicide attacks

Wednesday, 15 February 2017. At least seven people have been killed and several more injured in two separate suicide attacks in north-western Pakistan.

In the first, six people died when two suicide bombers targeted a government compound in the Mohmand tribal region.

Three of the dead belonged to a tribal police force, two were civilians and one a paramilitary soldier.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, said it was behind the bloodshed.

In the second attack on Wednesday, a bomber on a motorbike rammed a government van carrying four judges in the city of Peshawar.

The driver was killed, and the four judges were injured. They have been transferred to a nearby hospital.

Peshawar police chief Tahir Khan told media at the scene that the judges appeared to be the bomber’s target.

Pakistan has seen an upswing in militant attacks of late, after a period of relative calm.

On Monday, a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 100, most of whom are still being treated in hospitals.

The blast occurred when owners of medical shops were demonstrating against amendments to a law governing drug sales in Punjab province.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar said it had carried out the attack, as well as two gun assaults in Karachi on 12 February.

Pakistan Today – Book Review: Legacy of Guru Arjan Singh*

Basharat Hussain Qizilbash

‘Lahore mein Sikh mazhab kay panchwey guru, Guru ArjanDevjikiyadgarain’ by Syed Faizan Abbas, published by Lahore Shanasi Publications, Lahore, pages 63, price Rs 100.

A long, forgotten time brought back to life

Though the Sikhs decided to opt for India at the time of partition, most of their religious places are in Pakistan and in Lahore alone there were thirty gurdawaras of Sikhs.

‘Lahore mein Sikh mazhab kay panchwey guru, Guru Arjan Devji ki yadgarain’ by Syed Faizan Abbas is educative in several respects. Guru Arjan was one of the four offspring of his parents and was nominated as the fifth Guru of the Sikhs on the wish of his mother, by his father, Guru Ram Das, who was the fourth Guru.

Later on, he nominated his son as the sixth Guru on the wish of his wife.

Guru Arjan was otherworldly from early life yet he ordered the construction of many public works such as ponds, ‘bowlys’ (wells), dharamshalas, etc, on assuming Guruship. Among his several achievements, two stand out: one, he compiled Granth Sahib, the most sacred book of the Sikh religion.

Two, he invited his Muslim mystic friend Hazrat Mian Mir from Lahore to lay the foundation of the Sikhs’ holiest shrine Golden Temple at Amritsar.

To continue building public works at large scale and offer free food to the pilgrims, a constant source of income was required, so, for the first time, a yearly contribution of ‘daswandh’—one-tenth of earnings was collected from the adherents of the faith.

The lives of all great men are examples of courage and endurance and Guru Arjan’s was not different either. His brother Parthi Chand was jealous for not being awarded the Guruship, and therefore, joined hands with non-Sikh influential nobles to kill his brother, in vain.

Guru Arjan also developed strained relations with Chando Lal, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s revenue minister in Lahore because he refused the request of Chando to marry his son to Chando’s daughter.

This caused deep enmity between the two in which Chando used his political influence with the emperor to punish the Guru, who was saved by the kind words of Nawab Wazir Khan of the famous Wazir Khan mosque in Lahore in favour of the Guru.

Wazir Khan owed it to the Guru because some time back when he suffered from an acute illness that could not be cured by any physician in Lahore, he had approached saint Mian Mir for spiritual healing, who in turn referred him to Guru Arjan, whose prayer cured the ailing Nawab on the spot.

Meanwhile, Chando Lal continued to plot against Guru Arjan and eventually succeeded in convincing Jahangir that the Guru had monetarily helped the rebel prince Khusrau at which the Emperor ordered Chando to imprison the Guru which he did at his haveli at Mochi Gate in Lahore.

During imprisonment, he brutally tortured the Guru, who kept refusing the marriage proposal. When he decided to sew alive the Guru in a cow hide, the Guru expressed his desire to bathe in River Ravi, to which he was taken. The Guru jumped in the river never to come out.

His son, the sixth Guru Her Gobind Singh Ji, vowed to avenge the death of his innocent father, which he did by cultivating good relations with the Emperor who handed Chando Lal to the Guru with the express instruction to do what he deemed fit with the prisoner.

Guru Gobind put a chain around Chando’s neck, kept him with dogs, blackened his face, put him on a donkey and sent him around the city of Lahore where he was assaulted and killed by the same man, who had been employed by Chando to torture Guru Arjan. Such can be the twists and turns of fate.

Lal Kho is known to the Lahoris and many Pakistanis abroad as the place where the tastiest ‘barfi’ is made by Rafiq Sweets. Actually Lal Kho was the very well in the haveli of Chando Lal, whose water was used by Guru Arjan during his incarceration by Chando Lal.

Though the Sikhs decided to opt for India at the time of partition, most of their religious places are in Pakistan and in Lahore alone there were thirty gurdawaras (temples) of Sikhs. The Gurus possessed both spiritual and temporal powers. It was an intuition that made Guru Arjan compose Granth Sahib and other sacred texts.

The book sheds light on the friendly nature of relations between the Muslims and the Sikhs at that time. The two cases of inter-religious co-existence were of Hazrat Mian Mir and Wazir Khan. However, the relations between the Sikhs and the Mughal state remained hot and cold.

Emperor Akbar personally scrutinised the Granth Sahib on the false complaint that it contained sacrilegious content against the Muslims but was pleased to find out that it was a text of inter-faith harmony.

During the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan relations between the seventh Guru and the Qazi of Lahore remained strained and in persecution the state confiscated a sacred building of the Sikhs, closed the ‘bowly’ (well) and built a mosque at its ‘lungarkhana’ at Rang Mahal in Lahore.

Later on, when Ranjit Singh came into power in Punjab, the said ‘bowly’ was revived on his orders because once when he got ill, Guru Arjan appeared in his dream and revealed that he would get cured if he bathed in the water of the closed ‘bowly.’

The Sikhs reasserted their power in Lahore by having the Mullah of the ‘Sonheri Masjid’ thrown out as they found the call of ‘Azan’ quite disturbing, occupied the mosque and converted it into a place of worship for the Sikhs which was retaken by the Muslims through the good offices of Faqir Aziz-ud-din, who was a minister of Ranjit Singh.

This was not a one-off incident: political power added muscle to the reigning community and often soured inter-communal harmony.

Equally interesting is the story of Lal Kho (well) in the Mochi Gate. Lal Kho is known to the Lahoris and many Pakistanis abroad as the place where the tastiest ‘barfi’ is made by Rafiq Sweets. Actually Lal Kho was the very well in the haveli of Chando Lal, whose water was used by Guru Arjan during his incarceration by Chando Lal. Hence, the name Lal Kho and its sanctity for the Sikhs.

In addition, the author has collected images of several sacred places of the Sikhs in the city of Lahore, particularly the Walled City. There is a beautiful portrait of Guru Arjan but the author has not mentioned whether it is real or imaginary and as to who was the artist.

Furthermore, there is an imaginary painting that depicts the scene of torture that Guru Arjan had to go through during his imprisonment at Lal Kho and another drawing that shows him dictating the Granth Sahib to a scribe.

Other photos are of the ‘samran’ (rosary) owned by Guru Arjan; the Dewan Khana of Guru Arjan in Chuna Mandi; Gurdawara Bowly Sahib at Rang Mahal chowk (1910); Gurdawar Lal Kho at Mochi Gate (1960); Gurdawar Dera Sahib (1840), etc.

This is a unique effort of Syed Faizan Abbas, who has made a name for himself by devoting his energies to exploring the history of old Lahore. The book admirably enlivens the presence of the Sikh community which once played an active role in the social and political life of the city.

*The names Singh for male and the name Kaur for female Sikhs were introduced in 1699 at the foundation of the Khalsa. There are more inaccuracies in the article, but I am happy that there again is an interest in Sikh history in West-Panjab. Man in Blue

Dawn – Mind your language – The movement for the preservation of Punjabi

Sara Kazmi

Lahore, 21 February 2016. It is a crisp morning outside the Lahore Press Club. The sun shines bright but the air is cool and the sky a clear, sharp blue. Pulsating and growing louder against the sound of passing motorcycles and tooting car horns, is the beat of a dhol.

Sweaty bodies circle the dhol player, dancing to his beat, arms raised heavenward in a triumphant bhangra move. Several others just mill around.

The crowd is a melange of colour, with a few policemen in black shirts dotting the edge of the cordoned off area. The cheerful air seems to have infected them too; they lounge lazily in their posts, munching merrily on roasted corn from a vendor’s cart.

The atmosphere is pumped with adrenaline. As I approach the buzzing crowd, the dhol beats even more urgently against my eardrum, thump thump thump… only to come to an abrupt halt as the crackling of a loudspeaker rings through the air.

Atop a decorated truck stands Afzal Saahir, popular Punjabi poet and television personality. He is flanked on either side by two heavyweights of the movement for the preservation and promotion of Punjabi language.

Iqbal Qaiser, independent researcher and founder of Khoj Garh research centre, stands to Saahir’s left, jubilant with his fist raised, grinning from ear to ear as hundreds of people chant in unison: “Read Punjabi, write Punjabi, speak Punjabi” — of course, in Punjabi.

Mushtaq Soofi, president of the Punjabi Adabi Board, an organisation devoted to promoting Punjabi language and literature, stands on Saahir’s right. A soft smile beams across his usually sombre face.

The board is the main organiser of the event, bringing together over a dozen associations, activist groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to demand from the state the protection of their mother tongue.

The rally, held every year on February 21, the International Mother Language Day, is the flagship event for all those working in their respective capacities for the cause of Punjabi language.

Click on the link below to read the  article in full :

The Tribune – 530 Sikh pilgrims to visit Pakistan

Islamabad, 18 June 2016. As many as 530 Sikh pilgrims from India have been issued visas by Pakistan to attend an event to mark the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore.

As per the 1974 bilateral protocol between Islamabad and New Delhi, Pakistan High Commission in India has issued the visas from June 21 to 30, a statement said. (IANS)

Dawn – Pakistan’s historic women’s rights bill praised by activists

Lahore, 25 February 2016. Activists Thursday hailed the passing of a historic bill protecting women’s rights in Punjab, with the legislation establishing a helpline and shelters while calling for some defendants to wear GPS trackers.

Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill redefines “violence” to include “any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cyber crime”.

Zohra Yusuf, head of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), welcomed the bill and expressed the hope that efficient enforcement will help protect women and ensure that offenders do not escape justice.

“The bill appears to be a rather comprehensive attempt to institute a system for prevention of violence against women and for protection and rehabilitation of the women victims,” Yusuf said in a statement issued Thursday.

Yusuf said the bill includes a broad definition of violence and steps to make complaint submissions easier.

“These are all much-needed measures that deserve praise but it is important to remember that cosmetic and purely procedural changes have not had an impact in the past,” she said.

Abdul Qahar Rashid, spokesman for Punjab’s provincial assembly, told AFP that the bill, which was passed unanimously, must be signed by the provincial governor before it becomes law.

Under the new legislation, the government will institute a universal toll free help line for the women, and will establish district protection centers and residential shelters under a phased programme.

Family courts must fix hearings within seven days of a complaint, the bill says, with all complaints to be decided within 90 days.

The court can also order a GPS tracker to be installed to monitor a defendant’s movements, provided an act of grave violence has been committed or is deemed likely to be committed.

Women in Pakistan have fought for their rights for decades, in a country where so-called honour killings and acid attacks remain commonplace.

‘A shaky step forward’

While lauding the Punjab government for passing the ‘Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015’ as a good first step in addressing ‘the oft ignored elephant in the room’, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) also shed some light on the some problems with bill ‘that need weeding’.

A blog published on the DRF website says that the Act defines “violence” as: “…any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime”

The bill mentions several forms of violence, and includes stalking and other cybercrimes but fails to provide clear indications and explanations of what those terms mean and entail; in comparison, the newly added terms “economic abuse” and “psychological violence” are further elaborated upon in greater length.

But what’s a cybercrime?

It is regrettable that what constitutes as cybercrime is not clearly explained in more detail, especially in the context of cybercrime-related cases that are constantly on the rise.

Cyberstalking, harassment through social media, sharing of inappropriate (and usually stolen) material, unauthorised power and access of computer systems, and the distribution of personal information belonging to other people all constitute cybercrimes; it is important that the legislation mentions this salient point, so that laypeople, women in particular, can easily understand what manner of acts can be reported, and what the penalties are.

Complicating the matter is the fact that many cybercrime offenders – including in particular online bullying and cyberstalking – will create numerous fake social media profiles. In doing so, quickly ascertaining who is actually behind the profile, and is the guilty party sought after, before they are aware of police being on their scene, becomes more difficult.

The GPS tracker problem

The bill also utilises abstracts without clear definitions. Provision 7(d) of the bill, for instance, suggests that the defendant: “wear ankle or wrist bracelet GPS tracker for any act of grave violence or likely grave violence which may endanger the life, dignity or reputation of the aggrieved person;”

There is also the question of what the repercussions maybe for a wife that reports her husband and leads to him being tracked with a wrist GPS. There is the potential danger that a man may react even more violently to the social ridicule and ostracisation that may come with it.

Moreover, there are no provisions to indicate who will be monitoring on the GPS trackers. We also do not know whether Pakistan even has the mechanism or capacity to handle such a medium of monitoring someone.

Who will prevent this provision from being abused and how? Will the police, which is already lacking in resources, be able to react in time to a man violating the GPS order and staying away from his victim? There are many questions that need to be posed about these trackers, and the answers are nowhere in sight.

The blog further says that the the weaknesses in this Act could pose major problems in the future, adding that in it’s current state, it is a fabulous work in progress that requires improvements.

The Tribune – Thousands to march for Panjabi in Lahore

Vishav Bharti, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, 18 February 2016. “It is a unique phenomenon that the educated Punjabi is ashamed of his mother tongue and thinks that it is the language of the uncultured,” wrote famous Pakistan academic Prof Eric Cyprian about the condition of Punjabi in Pakistan more than two decades back. It seems not much has changed after that observation.

On Sunday, those very Punjabis — in thousands — will march at Lahore for their right to study in and speak their mother tongue. February 21 is also celebrated as International Mother Tongue Day across the world.

The Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board, an independent organisation which promotes Punjabi language along with around 20 bodies, will hold the protest march from Lahore Press Club to the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab (Pakistan).

Lahore-based writer and columnist Mushtaq Soofi, president of the board, who is one of the main organisers of the march, told The Tribune over the phone that this year, they are expecting over 5,000 people.

During the march, speeches are made hailing the Punjabi language. Songs are sung, street plays and folk dances are performed in Punjabi.

Soofi said that they started the event four years back with around 300 people. “Now, people from faraway places like Kasoor, Sargodha and Sahiwal also travel specially to participate in the march. Youngsters form a major chunk of the marchers. A large number of women also participate,” he said.

He said that the religious fundamentalism has greatly damaged Punjabi language in Pakistan. He said that barring Punjab, all other provinces in Pakistan enjoy the right to education in their mother languages like Balochi, Sindhi and Pashto. Punjabi activists have filed petitions in this regard in the Punjab High Court and Supreme Court.