How I survived the pro-Qadri riots in the capital

This past Sunday, I was woken up by the sound of my mother’s voice, screaming at the top of her lungs asking me to get bread of all the things. This just isn’t any bread according to her, she says it’s the best bread she’s ever had. It better be because I had to drive almost 40 kilometres to get it.

It was a typical bright spring day and I made my way out. I got to Bahria Town without any incident, met a friend and made my way back home. Little did I know what would be waiting for me on the Islamabad highway.

I had heard about the ASWJ’s plans to protest against Mumtaz Hussain Qadri’s hanging but to their credit, they had been peaceful during the other protests and I was under the illusion that it would be the same as before.

As I was driving on the Islamabad highway, I saw a barrage of bearded men acting violently and I started to fear the worst. Some of those bearded men had started burning tyres on the side and some of them had started hurling stones at the traffic. I started driving faster because I was wearing shorts and I knew if they stopped me, I would surely be beaten up. The car behind though was not that lucky and it was stopped and attacked. Our religious people like to talk about the sanctity of women and children, that car had woman and 2 little children. A small family heading to spend some quality time together. Not to be.

By now, the mobile carriers were ordered to suspend services as the government massively miscalculated the gravity of the situation and the riot police was summoned.

Area around the Islamabad club and Serena was closed and the traffic there jammed for the next 6 hours. I could hear the protestors chant and scream, but typically the police ran to the area outside Islamabad club to protect the elite.

After 2 long hours of being stuck in traffic, I finally got inside the Islamabad club and called home to tell my parents that I was safe. The next 3 hours were spent in mind numbing paranoia because of the information blackout ordered by PEMRA. As I live in the suburbs, I had no idea about the situation in the city and relied on people stuck with me, who fed me information in line with their sectarian or political beliefs. It was of no help.

Finally, someone told us that the crowd had moved to D-Chowk and that we were now safe to drive to go back home. Finally, at 9 pm, I was able to get back to the safety of my house.

This is just one account and I’m sure there are multiple experiences like this but this raises a lot of questions. Firstly, why were the protestors tear gassed and baton charged when they had protested peacefully before? Why did the protestors choose Sunday, which happened to be Easter to hold the 40 day death anniversary of Qadri, 14 days before the actual anniversary? Why are they still being allowed to stay at D-Chowk? Will these miscreants be charged or will they get away like always because of their beards and the affinity to vote for the ruling party? Who will pay for the damages they cost? Why were the cell phone services suspended for 3 days in Islamabad? And finally, why was the most security provided to Islamabad club, the very symbol of elitism in the capital?

For Lahore: A lament with love

It was at 9:22am on a spring morning in 2008 when I fell in love with Lahore. I remember this moment distinctly because the windows of my dorm room shook with the sound of a suicide blast in downtown Lahore.

It was not the beauty nor the charm of the city which made me fall in love with her. It was the fear — fear of losing her — the most unendurable human fear.

There was a campus life and then there was something sinister happening in the background. Something awful was unfolding drop by drop, threatening the city which had been my companion.

I was not comfortable with that. “This too shall pass,” I used to think. I was wrong. Nothing has passed since then; neither the bloodbath nor my love for Lahore. Together, they are a tragedy today.

The suicide attack in Lahore’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park posed the cruellest question to me touching the boundaries of an existential query: what should be the reaction? Shall I write a lament?

The question brought me face to face with Theodor Adorno who had famously written shortly after the World War II:
To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.

But then what, if not words, is the way out of this sadness which feels to be eternal in Pakistan now?

If nothing seems to console anymore, can’t we just say that we are sad? Isn’t sadness itself the most substantial thing sometimes? Isn’t it something we, in Lahore, have become used to?

Every city has a heart. Each city possesses memory — it’s the memory which defines a city; it’s the heart which keeps it alive.

The memory of Lahore is fraught with tragedies. Which other city has seen the scars and endured the stigma of the bloody Partition more than Lahore?

It was in Lahore where Manto penned down the words drenched in the blood of Partition.

It was in Lahore where Intizar Hussain gave voice to the generational nostalgia associated with pre-Partition India.

It was in Lahore where writers and poets lamented about the tragedy which seemed to have scarred a whole generation.
The memory of Lahore was written with pain and the city embraced it with unexampled endurance but the heart of Lahore has always been filled with life and hope.

It was in Lahore where Bhagat Singh kissed death, while smiling to an independent future.

It was in Lahore Fort where Hasan Nasir endured the most brutal torture in hope for a more just society.

It was in Lahore where the young dreamers dreamt of revolution and took up the strand of socialism.

It was in Lahore where Habib Jalib walked beside women to protest against the Hudood Ordinance in defiance of the brutal Zia dictatorship.

The heart of Lahore has always been a bastion of hope and political resistance but there’s a new kind of memory taking shape in Lahore, and in Pakistan in general.

For a third generation growing up in Pakistan since the Partition, that memory has given way to an equally bloody memory of senseless violence — a kind of violence which is being used as an ideological tool and has come to be an end in itself.

Violence is most deadly when it becomes an end in itself. It plucks away children from classrooms and merry-go-rounds without an iota of remorse.

The heart of Lahore is still defiant; the sight of people rushing to hospitals to donate blood for the victims of the attack is a testimony to that.
There could be no better answer to this cowardly violence than the fact that the blood of many Muslims would run through the veins of Christians who were the main target of the suicide attack in Lahore.

The challenge, however, is too momentous this time. The memory is too bleak.

But the heart must put up the fight like never before — this is a battle yet to be fought in defiance of religious radicalism, a new wave of mindless violence in the offing, and an enemy that is both an idea and a human.

This is a fight which can only be won together or else, lost separately. Until the schools in Peshawar are not secure, the parks in Lahore will never be safe.

As for the lament and prayers for Lahore, Shoaib bin Aziz has said it all in a couplet; I would not dare translate it:

“Meray Lahore per bhi ik nazar ho
Tera Makkah rahay aabad Maula”

[pullquote]Suleman Akhtar is an Engineering student in Sweden, interested in society, politics and culture. [/pullquote]

Donald Trumps of Pakistan

It seems the panic is spreading globally after Republican Party primaries on Super Tuesday that established Donald Trump as a likely nominee of the party for presidential elections. This may have not mattered if the polls and surveys had not suggested that Republican Trump will win the contest with Democrat Hillary Clinton. The embassies and foreign ministries are reaching out to US State Department to express their concerns about the statements made on the campaign trail by Mr. Trump. This is unprecedented and never experienced by the country. For instance, current and former Presidents of Mexico have called it inappropriate for candidates to label all Mexican immigrants thieves and criminals. They have expressed concern that the candidates have suggested pressuring Mexico to pay for a border wall rather than explore ways and means to prevent illegal immigration. Imagine what would happen if President Trump suggest in a press conference that he is better endowed than President Putin. Heads of government and State are not individuals but custodians of the dignity of their nations. They carry the burden and responsibility of holding themselves high in dealing with another nation. Any inappropriate comment by President Trump could result in breakdown of relations around the world.

What is this Trump phenomena? In a normal elections people look for qualities in a candidate that suggest that they are capable leader. These qualities are knowledge of policy; articulation of complex concepts in an understandable manner; ability to manage large organizations; ability to communicate clearly; ability to develop a vision for a better future, ability to make hard decisions; and an ability to negotiate with political adversaries to find common ground. A person acquires these qualities through a prolonged political career starting at the lowest level of a political party. From this perspective Mr. Trump is an anti-leader because he exhibit high degree of narcissism; disrespect for the other; no knowledge of policy, lack of diction to convey his thoughts; frequent change in policy position; narrowness of accepting diversity and using personal wealth for political ambition to satisfy an ego. In my view the path for Mr. Trump was paved by President Obama who was an outside candidate to win nomination of Democrat Party. He had no prior experience of holding an elected executive office and was a first time Senator in US congress. Like Mr. Trump he was also an unlikely candidate that defeated establishment candidate in the form of Hillary Clinton. But luckily he was an intellectual person and held the highest office successfully. But by maneuvering the system he created a benchmark that is now used by Mr. Trump to secure nomination of Republican Party utilizing similar methods and techniques.

In Pakistan the phenomena of Donald Trump has been in play for a long time. Most political leaders rose to the top of their parties through parachutes or inheritance. This lack of grooming from the grass roots has resulted in exhibition of anti-leader qualities by most prominent politicians of Pakistan. For instance, use of derogatory language in large jalsas has become a norm rather than an exception. They engage in singing, dancing, acting and all other entertainment techniques in their public speeches. This uncivilized behavior is justified by the party officials as a necessary requirement to energize a jalsa. Or in other words they suggest that Pakistani nation is uncivilized and cannot see through their uncivilized behavior. This also means that promises made in a jalsa are not serious policy position but rather an empty rhetoric to ignite emotions. These Donald Trump type politicians inside show lack of depth to form policy views and govern effectively.

I am not suggesting that all politicians are bad or that a technocratic government should be installed. I am suggesting that the misery of the nation is the result of allowing Donald Trump type characters reach to the top of their parties through undemocratic means. Parties need to be converted into institutions that allow emergence of new leaders through grass roots grooming. Without this systematic development the risk of an anti-leader rising to the top will always remain high and the damage caused by that eventuality is a national security risk. This is what Americans are realizing now and all out efforts are made to stop it not just by Republicans but other segments of the society as well including artists and writers. Some Republicans have stated that they would vote democrat and encourage others to do it as well if Trump was the candidate.

Pakistan is a difficult country to rule because of a weak system manipulated by personalities; social divisions and absence of long democratic tradition. Military, despite its reservations, seems to have resolved to the fact that politicians have to run the country and put their act together. Judiciary is also aware that they have to play the role of interpreter of the rules that have to be respected by all rather than allow interference in the name of doctrine of necessity. These are important developments and provide breathing room for political activists to reform their parties. This effort should be indigenous to the political parties rather than script written outside it. Any artificial fixation of political parties will allow emergence of new Donald Trumps rather than good future leaders.

Pakistan has a good opportunity to evolve better politics. People are watching emergence of new political parties around the world and expect the same to happen here. It is because of these expectations people rallied in large numbers around PTI Chairman Imran Khan but he failed to capitalize on this trend by renting his party to the political opportunist of other parties. The window of opportunity is still available but will not be there for a long time. If PTI fails to fill this need, someone else will emerge on the scene.

10 inspiring quotes for women

Despite the odds, women can overcome all obstacles in life. She’s multitasking and knows how to manage both inside out duty with ease and perfection. Today’s International Women’s Day. Here are some inspiring quotes explaining beauty and strength of women pretty well.

“A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”– Eleanor Roosevelt
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.” — Oprah Winfrey
“You are more powerful than you know; you are beautiful just as you are.” — Melissa Etheridge
“The age of a woman doesn’t mean a thing. The best tunes are played on the oldest fiddles”. Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You see a lot of smart guys with dumb women, but you hardly ever see a smart woman with a dumb guy”. Erica Jong
“Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.”– Rosalind Russell
“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” — Coco Chanel
“Women are the real architects of society.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe
“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform”. ~Diane Mariechild
“Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.”– Margaret Thatcher

Pakistani women bringing pride home

The women in Pakistan have started receiving acknowledgement of their long, tedious and consistent struggle for equal rights as enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan. 8th March; The International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women in all walks of life and is marked with the acknowledgement and recognition of the equally productive socio-economic, political and cultural contribution of women across the globe. Although the scale of this acceptance varies among different countries, yet women are winning the ground with their unfettered commitment and dedication for equality.

This day also reminds us that gender equality remains a significant challenge; one that is hindering potential competitiveness, growth and prosperity. The women in Pakistan are winning pride in all spheres of life. The unsung women heroes such as Dr. Nergis Mavalvala who brought fame to the homeland through her relentless contribution in the discovery of Gravitational Waves; and Ms Shermeen Chinnoi, who earned recognition for her work in raising awareness about social issues through her internationally acclaimed documentaries.

Women play an integral role in bringing peace, humanity and opulence in any society; and development goals cannot be achieved by ignoring the significant contribution made by women. In this era of globalization, the women are accompanying men in laying sustainable foundations for any nation to excel and succeed in the international arena. Ms Khan commended the contribution of women heroes of Pakistan and urged the Young women of Pakistan to stay determined and play a positive role in the long term positive transformation of our society.

We applauds the positive initiative taken by the government of Punjab in the form of Women Protection Bill, which symbolizes the acknowledgment of equal rights of women. It also urges the government of Pakistan to ensure effective implementation of the existing laws concerning women rights in order to garner a congenial and enabling society which knows how to respect and protect their women.

Mustafa Kamal and PTI Press Conferences

I am sure all of you watched the press conference of former MQM Mayor of Karachi Mustafa Kamal. He levelled a lot of allegations against leadership of MQM. But this is not an isolated incident. Previously Zulfiqar Mirza, former minister of PPP, levelled similar allegations against leadership of PPP. And arrested minister of KP Ziaullah Afridi levelled allegations against PTI-Q CM. Zulfiqar Khosa of PML N also blamed leadership of his party for cronyism and nepotism. 

Why is there similar situation in all political parties? The answer is simple none of the political parties are institutions and are controlled by dictatorial powers of either a family or an individual. Chairman Imran Khan is a little different from others but he has also breached party constitution, allowed status quo mafia to control the party in the form of PTI-Q; and violated merit in award of tickets and party positions. The other difference between PTI and other parties is that since the beginning we have raised our voice whenever party constitution or merit was violated. We did not remain silent to enjoy party perks like Mustafa Kamal and Zulfiqar Mirza did rather we were punished for raising our voice through show cause notices to SCAD and suspension of membership of Justice Wajih. These individuals of other parties are driven by personal ambitions that is the reason they announced their own parties while blaming leaders of their former parties. But we have always said that we will fix our party PTI rather than reinvent the wheel by creating another party as long as there is a hope to reform it. 

Today Chairman Imran Khan also held a press conference and stated that he wants free and fair IPE and respect for merit. But as usual his words and actions conflicted with each other. How can intra-party elections be free and fair when Chief Election Commissioner of the party sits beside him on the stage? This is a clear indication PTI EC is neither independent nor autonomous. How can there be free and fair IPE when secret proposals are exchanged between Chairman and party election commission? This is violation of TOR and constitution of the party. We must remember that Chairman is also a candidate. So he has a vested interest in the election process. Chairman has also publicly announced his support for some candidates and still hangs out with them. We must also remember that Chairman repeatedly violated party constitution in last three years. He refused to work with elected Central Executive Council (CEC) after last IPE and created an unconstitutional body comprising of unelected people favored by him. The decisions by this unconstitutional body controlled by PTI-Q has almost destroyed this party in last three years through introduction of mauroosi siasat, cronyism and nepotism. 

The future of PTI will only improve when it is converted into an institution and it is liberated from the shackles of PTI-Q. That should be our objective for upcoming IPE. Only PTI+IK can win in next general elections. PTI EC should avoid sharing stage with Chairman and maintain their independence and autonomy. 

Who were Salmaan Taseer and Mumtaz Qadri?

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan has hanged the former police bodyguard who shot dead Punjab’s governor over his opposition to the misuse of blasphemy laws.

Qadri shot Taseer 28 times in broad daylight in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market on January 4, 2011. He was sentenced to death for assassinating Taseer on Oct 1 the same year.

Kohsar Market. Islamabad
Kohsar Market. Islamabad

He claimed it was his religious duty to kill the minister, who was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws and supported liberal reforms.

Prison officials said Qadri was executed at 04:30 local time (23:30 GMT) at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, near the capital city of Pakistan.

He was hailed as a hero by some Islamist groups, and thousands of hard-line activists protested to show their support for Qadri at the time.

Who was Mumtaz Qadri?

Malik Mumtaz Qadri was born in Rawalpindi in 1985. In 2002, he was recruited in Punjab Police and was elevated to Elite Force in 2007. Later, he joined the squad deployed for security of Governor Taseer.
Qadri’s father, a resident of Muslim Town, is a vegetable seller. Qadri got married one year and four months and had a four-month-old son, before killing Taseer.
There are still questions as to whether Mumtaz Qadri acted alone, or with the backing of a radical movement.
But his motive appears clear – he was angered by Salman Taseer’s stance against Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws.

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Who was Salman Taseer?

Salmaan Taseer was born on 31 May 1944, in Simla, East Punjab, British India, of a family hailing from Amritsar. His father was Muhammad Din Taseer, known as MD Taseer, who was a professor at Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, Amritsar.
Taseer married Aamna Taseer, a chairwoman of an investment management company; the couple resided in Lahore. They have two sons and one daughter: Shahbaz, Shehryar and Shehrbano. Taseer had also one son and two daughters from a first previous marriage: Shaan, Sara and Sanam.
Taseer was known to be one of the trusted aides of Benazir Bhutto. He was a classmate of Nawaz Sharif at St. Anthony’s School in Lahore, and had obtained a degree in Chartered Accountancy from London.
On 15 May 2008, Taseer was designated for the office of Governor of Punjab by the PPP-led coalition government.
Taseer set up several chartered accountancy and management consultancy firms early in his career. In 1995, he established the First Capital Securities Corporation (FCSC), a full service brokerage house with equity participation by Smith Barney, Inc., USA, and HG Asia Hong Kong.
Taseer founded the Worldcall group with a payphone network in 1996. The group has grown over the years to become a major private-sector telecom operator with a national and regional footprint.
Taseer also owned an English news channel in Pakistan, Business Plus; and the first children’s channel, Wikkid Plus; and was the publisher of the English language Daily Times.
He was one of the most prominent liberal politicians in the country and a close associate of Asif Ali Zardari, who was then the president.
Known to be an outspoken critic of the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, Taseer argued that the laws discriminated against religious minorities, and sought liberal reforms.
He had called for a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Governor Salmaan Taseer with blasphemy accused Asia Bibi.
Governor Salmaan Taseer with blasphemy accused Asia Bibi.

In May, just months after Taseer was gunned down, Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the cabinet’s only Christian, was shot dead by gunmen who ambushed his car.

That August, Salman Taseer’s son, Shahbaz Taseer, was abducted in Lahore. His whereabouts are still unclear.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan and critics argue that blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal scores and unfairly target minorities.

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti died

One of the most gifted poets of our time, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti died today. She wrote the following famous poem to lament the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto:
میں مرزا ساگر سندھ دا،
میری راول جنج چڑھی

(I’m Mirza of the Indus basin,but my wedding procession started from Rawal!

— Mirza is a hero of Punjabi love story, he is killed by the brothers of SahebaN, his beloved.

Rawal is the historic name of the region where garrison city of Rawalpindi is situated. Z. A. Bhutto was hanged in a Rawalpindi jail on 4th of April, 1979).