New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 February 2016
What the Charsadda Attack Reveals About Pakistan
By Muna Adil
World Disorder on Human Rights
By Fawad Kaiser
By Reema Omer
Schools under Siege
By Hajrah Mumtaz
By Haseeb Ahsan Javed
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
What the Charsadda Attack Reveals About Pakistan
By Muna Adil
February 1, 2016
In the face of the latest in a series of attacks carried out on our soil, there are certain truths that we need to take heed of. Through careful introspection we must try to understand where we went wrong and what the attack on Bacha Khan University reveals about Pakistan.
First, the attack proves that we have learnt nothing from the past. If the TTP can carry out a very similar attack only 25 days after the first anniversary of the APS horror, then we have failed every student who dares attend a school, college or university in this nation. There is danger that the much-coveted National Action Plan might end up in the same dusty archives where impotent bills and committees established to tackle one problem after another now reside. In any other country, the first call of action post a tragedy of this nature would be to examine the methods employed to protect the sovereignty of the nation, and to analyse and critique them where they have failed us. A terror attack that leaves 21 dead is as big a failure as it gets. Not surprisingly, the criticism of lapses of the security establishment is missing. Will we ever demand an answer from those responsible for our safekeeping?
Second, the aftermath of the attack reveals our inability to admit our failures. It seems that it’s never our fault. The speed with which we blamed external forces for the attack and thus freed ourselves of any responsibility was astounding. Within a few hours of the attack, hashtags such as #RawBehindCharsadda were trending on Twitter. All sensible dialogue is shot down when even the educated class makes comments such as the one made by a respected television anchor on Twitter: “Strategic Mastermind’s goal is to continue definining Pakistan as ‘Epicentre of Terror’ to enforce global isolation; now who wants that, guess?” Read: India, Jewish lobby, the US, and so on. A flurry of politicians and influencers, not least former interior minister Rehman Malik, raced to news channels to declare that India was to blame. We’ve always been at loggerheads with India, and I don’t think anyone doubts the existence of Indian proxies in Afghanistan. I also don’t doubt that various outfits in the region, such as the TTP, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, al Qaeda and even the Islamic State would be easy pickings for any enemy of Pakistan. But for the sake of everything that we hold dear, Pakistan must wake up and smell the coffee. Let’s start by taking a long hard look at the banned organisations that, to this day, operate freely on our streets, and ask ourselves: are these people our allies? Every nation has enemies, and in this moment we need to focus on protecting ourselves instead of playing mindless blame games. The bottom line is this: India isn’t responsible for the safety of our people; we are.
Third, we see a tendency towards glorifying martyrdom. This growing fixation seems to almost overshadow the stark finality of death. A mother who loses her child to terror should never be described as ‘lucky’. It’s all well and good to honour martyrs in their absence, but please let us not forget harsh realities. I say this with the utmost respect and responsibility: we need to stop this culture of glorifying death. It isn’t enough to pay tribute to our martyrs. Feelings of grief, remorse and admiration must be followed by those of fury and defiance, and most importantly, meaningful action. To do otherwise is an insult to the memory of the very people we shed tears for.
Lastly, this tragedy once again proves that we are braver, stronger and more resilient than we realise. Every time a calamity occurs in this part of the world, I am amazed by the resilience of the Pakistani people. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan has never, in its young history, breathed free. We have always been on the defence. The few periods of respite in between appear to be nothing more than time allotted to prepare for the next misfortune to befall us.
Yet mothers will nudge awake sleepy children tomorrow, dress them, and send them off for another day of learning. Life goes on and we persist, and in this lies our greatest victory.
Muna Adil is pursuing an MA in Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK
World Disorder on Human Rights
By Fawad Kaiser
February 01, 2016
“Order! Order!” Rarely does this vocal stamping of the foot succeed in restoring courtroom lawyers to reasoned debate for long. In the same way, foreign policy analysts have been pleading for something they call “world order”. In a world where so many challenges transcend borders: threats to the stability of the global economy, climate change, cyber conflict, terrorism and risks to reliable supplies of food and water, to name just a few. Today the world seems uncommonly hard to manage. The international fabric is fraying. Whether it is the Saudi-Iran conflict, mayhem in Syria, Russia’s seizure of parts of Ukraine, China’s pushy tactics in its extended coastal waters or Islamic State (IS) threatening to wreak havoc in the Middle East and beyond, the world is coming apart at the seams. In 2016, the call for world order will be partly met but, as with the honourable judge’s exertions, a sense of impending chaos will endure. You would think something is wrong when foreign policy pundit Henry Kissinger writes a book called World Order warning that “chaos threatens”.
Quite remarkably, in the light of world history, at a time when the US enjoyed unprecedented and unequalled power, its leaders used it to fashion a world order based on treaties and global institutions. But today that world order is increasingly contested and left unused as world disorder, impotent to deal with the emerging threats to world peace and stability. Today, the virtues of an open world, of democracy and the universality of human rights and personal liberties, as enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are under threat even in countries that have embraced democratic ideals.
Likewise there is a tendency to forget that there are two aspects of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which focus both on political and socioeconomic rights. In a world experiencing a war and an existing order based on barbarism, intolerance and neo-colonialism it is of great importance to establish alternatives and take active responsibility or risk becoming either passively or directly involved in supporting today’s prevailing insecure and inhumane order.
Seen in a historical perspective, issues like human rights and promotion of world peace cannot be divorced from international power relations and the growing problems of uneven and unequal development. In fact, the poverty and wealth dichotomy is the prime source of the world’s instability. In other words, as long as the north-south gap continues to grow the prospects for increasing peace and human rights are bleak indeed and as long as the west is fighting the so-called terrorist threat with military means it is not just losing the fight against terrorism; it is fuelling it across the globe.
Many believe that laws related to international human rights are one of our greatest moral achievements. But there is little evidence that they are effective. A radically different approach is long overdue. Pakistan is considered to be among the major human rights’ violating countries. Every year, more than 100 killings by police, very likely summary executions, according to Human Rights Watch, take place in Punjab alone. The prohibition of extrajudicial killings is central to human rights’ law and it is a bitter truth that Pakistan flagrantly violates it not as a matter of official policy but as a matter of bad, unaccountable police practice. Pakistan is hardly the only country where this takes place; others include India, the world’s largest democracy, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Iran. These countries all have judicial systems and most suspected criminals are formally charged and appear in court. But the courts are slow and underfunded, so the police, under pressure to combat crime, employ extrajudicial methods, such as torture, to extract confessions.
We live in an age in which most of the major human rights treaties have been ratified by the vast majority of countries. Yet it seems that the human rights’ agenda has fallen on hard times. In much of the Islamic world, women lack equality, religious dissenters are persecuted and political freedoms are curtailed. The Chinese model of development, which combines political repression and economic liberalism, has attracted numerous admirers in the developing world. Political authoritarianism has gained ground in Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela. Backlashes against gay and transgender rights have taken place in countries as diverse as Russia and Nigeria. The traditional champions of human rights — Europe and the US — have floundered. Europe has turned inwards as it has struggled with a sovereign debt crisis, xenophobia towards its Muslim communities and disillusionment with Brussels. The US, which used torture in the years after 9/11 and continues to kill civilians with drone strikes, has lost much of its moral authority. Even age-old scourges such as slavery continue to exist. A recent report estimates that nearly 30 million people are forced against their will to work. It was not supposed to be like this.
Universality of human rights is facing the strongest challenge yet. Double standards and selectivity are becoming the norm. Security cannot and must not take precedence over human rights. The biggest danger to human rights is when political and economic interests are allowed to drive the human rights’ agenda. However, as Amnesty International has noted several times during the past decade or so, the biggest problem is that the world’s only superpower, the US, deploys a hypocritical stance of not recognising the extent to which human rights’ abuses are going unchecked in its own territory. The US government has a selective approach to human rights, using international human rights’ standards as a yardstick by which to judge other countries but consistently failing to apply those same standards at home. Furthermore, the US’ governmental policies often lead to human rights being sacrificed for political, economic and military interests, both in the US and abroad, by providing weapons, security equipment and training to other countries. The USA is responsible for the same abuses it denounces in its State Department reports.
At a time when human rights’ violations remain widespread, the discourse on human rights continues to flourish. The US and Europe have recently condemned human rights’ violations in Syria, Russia, China and Iran. Western countries often make foreign aid conditional on human rights and have even launched military interventions based on human rights’ violations. The truth is that human rights’ law has failed to accomplish its objectives. There is little evidence that human rights’ treaties, on the whole, have improved the wellbeing of people. The reason is that human rights were never as universal as people had hoped and the belief that they could be forced upon countries as a matter of international law was shot down by misguided assumptions from the very beginning. The human rights’ movement shares something in common with the hubris of development economics, which in previous decades failed to alleviate poverty by imposing top-down solutions on developing countries. But where development economists have reformed their approach, the human rights’ movement has yet to acknowledge its failures. It is time for a reckoning.
Fawad Kaiser is a professor of Psychiatry and consultant Forensic Psychiatrist in the UK.
By Reema Omer
1 February 2016
THE killing of at least 20 students and staff of Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, disturbingly reminiscent of the attack a year ago on the Army Public School in Peshawar, has once again brought into focus the efficacy and legitimacy of the National Action Plan. This includes at the forefront the controversial move to establish military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offences.
Since the 21st Amendment passed in January 2015, Pakistan has established 11 military courts to hear terrorism-related cases. These courts have sentenced 36 people to death and given life sentences to four persons. Eight civilians convicted by military courts have been hanged after secret trials.
The operation of military courts has come at great cost to human rights and the judiciary’s independence, which has been argued in detail on these pages. The promised ‘quick results’, however, are yet to be seen. This is not surprising, as the very rationale behind the establishment of military courts is flawed, if not deliberately deceptive.
The operation of military courts has come at great cost to human rights and the judiciary’s independence.
The premise of the 21st Amendment was a hastily constructed narrative that ‘civilian courts have failed’. This claim was supported by assertions that civilian anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) have high rates of acquittal and judges deliberately let ‘terrorists’ off the hook, either because of fear or sympathy.
Notwithstanding the fact that equating justice with the rate of convictions is abhorrent to the rule of law (only in authoritarian regimes lacking an independent judiciary are there no acquittals), curiously, none of the advocates of military courts, whether in parliament or in the media, presented any evidence to demonstrate why the civilian judiciary is incapable of bringing perpetrators of terrorism to justice.
While it is true that ATCs have a high acquittal rate ranging from 80pc to 90pc, the reasons for this are far more complex than the half-truths and hurried conclusions presented before parliament and on television screens.
Justice Faez Isa discussed in detail some of these reasons in his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court judgement on the challenge to the 21st Amendment. He regretted that “important matters such as the proscribing of terrorists, lodging of cases against them, collection of evidence and conducting a thorough prosecution have been largely ignored, and it has somehow been concluded that the reason terrorism continues unabated is because trials are being conducted by the anti-terrorism courts….”
An assessment of some of the judgements where allegedly ‘known terrorists’ were acquitted or set free by courts supports Justice Isa’s view. In July 2011, in a much-criticised decision, the Supreme Court granted post-arrest bail to Malik Ishaq, the leader of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, after he had spent 13 years in jail. The express reason behind the grant of bail was not fear or sympathy, but lack of admissible evidence. The court stated “we cannot brutalise justice in the name of terrorism if no legally admissible evidence has been shown to us”. (Malik Ishaq was extra-judicially killed by police in July 2015.)
In another case, Sufi Mohammad, a cleric from Swat and chief of the banned Tehreek Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi, was acquitted of sedition and incitement to violence charges by an ATC in April 2015. The reasons given for acquittal included an unexplained delay of three months by the police in lodging an FIR after the alleged incident and the failure of the prosecution to produce any recordings or evidence of the allegedly seditious speech. (He is still facing trial for other charges.)
As these cases demonstrate, a major problem in convicting perpetrators of terrorism in Pakistan is the weakness of police investigations and prosecutorial efforts, which often do not provide the evidence necessary to meet legal thresholds for criminal conviction.
Empowering military courts to try terrorism cases does not acknowledge, let alone resolve, any of these problems. Instead, it is yet another example of the state’s resort to ‘exceptionalism’ to justify a knee-jerk response to terrorism that Pakistan has been guilty of many times before.
The International Commission of Jurists’ 2009 global study on state responses to security threats examined in detail the dangers of the ‘exceptionalism doctrine’, which justifies a departure from the normal legal processes and human rights protections on the basis of the ‘exceptional’ character of the threat. In time, many of these measures became permanently incorporated into ordinary law, blinding governments to the actual reasons behind the lack of accountability for terrorism and serious crime.
The rationale for constituting military courts was stated to be an ‘extraordinary situation’ that demanded ‘special measures for speedy trial’. The same justification was given for the Protection of Pakistan Act, passed in July 2014 (just six months before the 21st Amendment), as well as the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997.
The ATA, which promised ‘speedy justice’ at the cost of some basic fair trial rights, progressively displaced the regular criminal justice system, with cases of ordinary murder, robbery, kidnapping and rape regularly being tried by special ATCs constituted under the act. Slowly, the ‘exception’ became the norm, and the weaknesses in the operation of the regular criminal justice system remained unresolved.
The frustration with impunity for terrorism and serious crimes in Pakistan is legitimate, but there are no overnight solutions to a crisis caused by decades of neglect. Ensuring justice — as opposed to securing a large number of convictions without the fair and impartial adjudication of responsibility — will require major rethinking and reform of the criminal justice system. It will require learning from the successes and failures of other jurisdictions that face similar security threats; ensuring that minimum guarantees of the right to a fair trial are at all times protected; and drawing from the actual everyday experiences of judges, lawyers and investigators, not hasty, ill-conceived measures motivated by the desire for revenge at the cost of the fundamental principles of fairness.
The establishment of military courts does not provide any of these reforms. Their continuing operation does not help counter the very real terrorist threat facing Pakistan, but it will further erode the effectiveness of the country’s administration of justice and the rule of law.
Reema Omer is a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists.
Schools under Siege
By Hajrah Mumtaz
February 1st, 2016
A MESSAGE circulating over the internet amongst Pakistani circles in recent days is titled ‘How to survive a school or university shooting until response’. The 10-point guide advises running away if possible and adds: “Grab any weapon like [a] sharp scissor or any other thing which you can use in case the attacker is on your head.” People in the line of fire should “play dead as a last resort”, it says.
And thus it is that across the country, parents and guardians are wondering whether, and how, to broach the subject, with their young children, of what to do in case their educational institution is attacked by militants. In terms of older students — more than, say, seven or eight years — such grim talking points are already under debate; the threat is impossible for even the younger ones to be unaware of.
The country’s schools and colleges, the places of learning where the future is shaped one building block at a time, are under direct assault. The fear is real and palpable, and was most obviously evidenced by the chaos last week when many institutions across the country shut down temporarily, one after the other, in many cases without any notice. The closures did not occur as a result of any centralised or uniform decision by the governments at the centre or the provinces; it seems to have been a case of panic.
It would be no surprise if our schools began to resemble prisons.
And why not, one could argue, given the statement that was issued in the wake of the Charsadda attack by the TTP vis-à-vis its intentions about those attending places of learning. The distinction is important: schools have been blown up in various parts of the country for years, so that the phenomenon became, in a way, old news. Malala and her colleagues were shot; but now the threat level has escalated to a new level altogether.
Ramping up security at and fortifying the boundaries of educational institutions has become necessary, as has perhaps the need to enter into difficult conversations with young people who should have no truck with weaponry. But this situation raises other distressing talking points as well. It is appalling that children, especially younger ones, walk into school under the shadow of snipers and gunmen. The presence of weapons on campuses, whether in the hands of guards or teachers, raises the possibility of accidental shootings, a few such cases having already occurred over the past year. The heads of students and teachers should be filled with possibilities, but not the possibility of an armed assault.
Add to these terrible difficulties the more prosaic ones: educational institutions must be protected, and it is primarily the responsibility of the state apparatus to achieve this (including engineering a peaceful environment). But clearly, dismantling the militant/terrorist network is a painful, long-drawn-out task, having been allowed by no less than the state itself to grow to such monstrous proportions. Meanwhile, there is a limit to how many law-enforcement personnel can be pulled off the street and deputed outside schools and colleges.
Institutions have been instructed to ramp up their own fortifications, including metal-detection gates, barbed wire and trained guards; in recent days alone, over 230 have been ordered shut for failing to come up to standards. But most schools do not have the resource-margin to achieve this, and there is a limit too on how much of the cost can be passed on to those paying the school fees.
In the foreseeable future, Pakistan’s schools might look less like places of learning and more like maximum-security prisons; it is no exaggeration to say that they are under siege.
There is a precedent, though, of sorts. During the 1971 war, because of the threat of air raids, students were made aware of what it meant to be at war; they underwent evacuation drills, and many learned emergency response and first aid techniques as well. Several institutions saw trenches dug on their premises.
Trenches will do no good in Pakistan’s current war. But perhaps there is benefit in the state and citizenry, no less than the defence forces themselves, recognising in this new, escalated, phase of conflict a threat to the country’s future existence that is as formidable as a traditional assault of occupation by a rival power.
The rhetoric so far has been that Pakistan is mainly alright, there’s just a problem of militancy that needs to be sorted out. But Pakistan is the opposite of alright, and the threat is greater than it has ever before been in nearly seven decades, more so because it comes from within and carries no badge of the enemy.
If this were recognised, we might produce the sort of pressure needed to force those at the helm and the defence forces to undertake a permanent sea change in policy in addition to dealing with the threat as it exists now.
Hajrah Mumtaz is a member of staff.
By Haseeb Ahsan Javed
February 01, 2016
While Pakistan is fighting against all sorts of terrorists, being hit by more tragic and more severe incidents every time this bereaved nation raises its head, natural incidents, as a result of the negligence of the state, are not giving this unfortunate country any relief. Among the many series of events, the most recent and unending incident is that of the famine and drought in Tharparkar that, on a daily basis, is claiming the lives of children and elders alike. The irony about this event is that no advocates of human rights and no rights organisation have taken any stance to support the helpless people of Tharparkar, except maybe a few journalists who have been trying to conduct surveys in this regard. More importantly, the provincial government has turned a deaf ear to the incident.
Unfortunately, we are a nation whose citizens, residing in urban areas, are too ‘advanced’ to be bothered by the natural calamities that affect poor people who live in remote villages like Tharparkar. The people of Thar are illiterate and poor, and are dying of thirst and hunger because they have no health related services at their disposal. Everyone has their cross to bear though; in the cities we fear for our children and do not send them to school while their children are fighting for their lives against malnutrition. One the one hand, we are being forced to make our schools fortresses against militants and, on the other hand, hospitals in places like Thar have the least number of incubators for children to survive the onslaughts nature. No one owns up to these dead bodies.
Constitutionally, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure a good life of the citizens, along with the provision of basic necessities, both in the fundamental rights (specifically Article Nine of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973) as well as in the principles of policy (particularly Article 38 of the Constitution). The Constitution specifically prohibits the deprivation of life of any person, subject to any law. The same provision has been construed by the superior courts in a broader sense and has been interpreted in a way that the right to life, as provided by the Constitution, includes the right to lead a good life. Similarly, Article 38 (d) specifically mandates the state to provide the basic necessities of life irrespective of any discrimination on any grounds whatsoever, although not enforceable through a court of law.
Regardless of the constitutional and legal position, it is an admitted fact that we, as a nation, have gone through such tragic and heartbreaking events that the victims of natural deaths do not matter to us anymore and, as a result, we are no longer concerned about deaths that come as a result of natural events and calamities. Indeed, our fight with terrorism, as a nation, should be our top priority but as a state we have forgotten our responsibility towards every other individual who is dying not by a bullet but by famine and draught.
As per the reports floating in the media, around 95 people have died this year as a result of the fatal famine. It has been reported by the media that the resources being sent to the affected are not reaching the population and that the government of the province of Sindh has miserably failed to fulfill its responsibility.
It is pertinent to point out that the only hospital actively working to combat this dire situation is Mithi Hospital, which is serving around one million inhabitants of the Thar area. As has been reported in the news and the surveys conducted by different organisations, it seems that neither the scarce resources nor poor medical facilities are killing individuals; instead it is bad family planning and lack of education, which the key problem areas are resulting in these deaths.
The irony, in this regard, is that the politicians as well as the bureaucrats are blaming the very people for the deaths of their minor children instead of taking up the responsibility to provide the basic necessities of life and its welfare. It has further been reported that the representatives sitting in provincial houses are blaming the media for wrongly reported the deaths. This reasoning of these elitists is against the norms of being a public servant employed for the benefit and welfare of the people.
The quantum does not matter; even a single life is precious. Whether one person is dying or 100, it is the state, and its organs that are completely responsible for providing necessary facilities, including medical services that definitely include proper education regarding healthcare. More importantly, the issue here is not what the cause of these deaths is, the question is what they, as the elected representatives of the people, both in the province as well as in the federation, are doing for their people to stop this stream of deaths. Where is that mother like state who ought to love each one of its citizens?
What we need to realise is the following: merely taking notices is not the solution; blaming the individuals who are already victims is neither going to solve the problem nor raising allegations only against the provincial government will do good in this regard. The people dying in Thar are Pakistanis first and then they are Sindhis under the unfortunate governance of the government of Sindh. Turning a deaf ear, the federal government and the provincial government are not owning up to their responsibility, which will further exacerbate this devastating situation.
Haseeb Ahsan Javed is a Lawyer based in Lahore. He has a degree in law from Lahore University of Management Sciences.