Pakistan’s Shia community under increasing threat

In just a month and half, Pakistan has suffered four deadly Taliban attacks against Shia Muslims by Sunni Muslim extremists. But it is not just the Taliban that are trying to eliminate Shia from country. Local extremist groups like the Saudi-funded Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat openly advocate an anti-Shia ideology and are believed to be recruiting anti-Shia militants. With recent reports of an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic State group, the Shiite community could face even more bloodshed. (via France 24)

More Questions Than Answers After Paramilitary Raid On MQM Offices

MQM Offices Raided

Masked paramilitary forces carried out an armed raid on the headquarters of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), Pakistan’s fourth largest political party this week. One person was killed, at least 27 party workers were arrested and a collection of small arms was confiscated by the Pakistan Rangers. The immediate aftermath of the operation, however, is more questions than answers.

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What Can Muslims do to Reclaim their beautiful Religion?

In response to the murders of 12 journalists in Paris last week, a group of leading Muslim political and academic leaders including Farahnaz Ispahani, former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a Director here at Americans for Democracy & Justice in Pakistan, signed a statement published in The New York Times on Sunday.

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Islamabad High Court Establishes Important Precedent

Islamabad High Court

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) established an important legal precedent in a recent ruling regarding freedom of speech in Pakistan. The decision involved a petition filed by the Shuhada Foundation, a non-profit organization affiliated with the extreme right-wing Lal Masjid in Islamabad, against TV coverage of music and dancing at recent anti-government protests in Pakistan’s capital. The IHC dismissed the petition and fined the petitioner for wasting the court’s time. In dismissing the petition, Justice Athar Minallah also gave the complainants some important advice: If you don’t like music, change the channel.

change the channelJustice Minallah’s advice has important implications when applied to other cases that involve complaints about offensive content such as those that seek to restrict the broadcast of international programming or allegations of blasphemy. In each of these cases, a court order is not required to remove the offensive content from the individual viewers television. They just need to change the channel.

The precedent established by the IHC also has bearings on another important issue: The now two-year-old blocking of YouTube in Pakistan. As with potentially objectionable content on television, no one is required to view any particular videos on YouTube or other online video sharing sites.

By making the individual responsible for his or her own viewing choices, the IHC’s decision strengthens Pakistan’s constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of speech and access to information and limits the ability of anti-democratic forces to use legal cases as a weapon against minorities and other marginalized groups.

Pakistan’s Crisis Threatens Millions In Military Aid

Gen Raheel Sharif and PM Nawaz Sharif

Earlier this year, the US announced plans to provide $280 million in military aid to Pakistan, but that may be cut to zero based on the way the country’s political crisis is taking shape.

The Foreign Assistance Act “restricts assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” Over the past week, a military coup has become a distinct possibility, if not a fait accompli.

The head of Pakistan’s Army, General Raheel Sharif (not relation to the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif), publicly intervened in Pakistan’s ongoing political crisis late Thursday night. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, “The move follows a backroom political deal that government officials privately said ceded important powers over defense and foreign policy from the government to the military.”

While this may be the first time the Army has entered the public light, reports as far back as ten days ago described the military using the protests as leverage to seize political power.

As tens of thousands of protesters advanced on the Pakistani capital last week to demand his resignation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dispatched two emissaries to consult with the army chief.

He wanted to know if the military was quietly engineering the twin protest movements by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and activist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, or if, perhaps, it was preparing to stage a coup.

According to a government insider with a first-hand account of the meeting, Sharif’s envoys returned with good news and bad: there will be no coup, but if he wants his government to survive, from now on it will have to “share space with the army”.

If these reports are accurate, the Army would appear be attempting to carry out a “soft coup” – one that involves a transfer of power without the typical show of military force.

As Gen. Raheel stepped into the public spotlight as a mediator, Pakistan’s press reported that he was doing so at the request of the Prime Minister, a claim the Prime Minister has since publicly denied. Article 245 of Pakistan’s Constitution does permit the federal government to direct the Armed Forces to “act in aid of civil power,” but the real test will be the outcome. Whether or not the military can come to the aid of the federal government, Pakistan’s Constitution makes no provision for any transfer of power from democratically elected offices to the military, nor does it provide for “sharing space.”

Any military intervention in Pakistan’s government will have serious and debilitating consequences. A coup, not matter how “soft,” will set back democratic gains made over the last seven years by decades, severely jeopardizing the likelihood that Pakistan will be a modern, democratic country for the foreseeable future.

The military, too, stands to lose – both in resources and reputation. Gen. Raheel’s predecessor, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, skillfully began rehabilitating the military’s relationship with the United States and its reputation as a threat to democratic order. The new military leadership’s decisions in the next few days could undo all of that progress – as well as cost them $280 million.

Protecting Pakistan’s Journalists

Khyber Union of Journalists and Peshawar Press Club Protest Violence Against Journalists

Pakistan has always been a dangerous place for journalists, but threats to their safety have never been as multifaceted as they are today. Some of these threats arise from the state itself, or its institutions, which try to monopolize the rhetoric and narrative on certain “sensitive issues.” But the most dangerous of them come from extremist groups. These groups have the same interest as the military in controlling the national narrative on certain issues. Unlike the military, these groups have a far more expansive list of journalist no-no’s, which, if breached, warrant an immediate green-light for murder.

The Pakistani government responded to the attack on Hamid Mir by setting up a judicial probe commission. Often, these commissions can keep their findings confidential and inaccessible to the public at large. Other times, if a victim survives an attempt on their life, they can be provided ad hoc and provisional police protection at the discretion of the provincial police service. However, there are no institutionalized mechanisms journalists rely upon to guarantee their long-term safety.

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Atlantic Council Report Calls for India and Pakistan to Reinvest in Economic Relations

Atlantic CouncilWASHINGTON – A report released today by the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center argues that heavy military spending in India and Pakistan has in fact been detrimental to the citizens of both countries in terms of security and economic growth, and calls on leaders to reinvest in trade and confidence building.

In India and Pakistan: The Opportunity Cost of Conflict, Atlantic Council South Asia Center Director Shuja Nawaz and Nonresident Senior Fellow Mohan Guruswamy explain how high defense spending and low economic integration into South Asia’s regional economy have come at the expense of those living in poverty. Although many now favor rapprochement, Nawaz and Guruswamy argue that unless both sides begin a dialogue on economic and military relations, these issues will only worsen.

In addition to military spending, a lack of strong bilateral trade relations between India and Pakistan has also exacerbated South Asia’s socioeconomic challenges. From GDP to job losses to investment, the non-fulfillment of trading potential is a cost that “neither of the two countries can afford to ignore.”

Nawaz and Guruswamy provide a set of actions both countries can take to decrease military spending and promote confidence building:

  • Increase the distance between land forces by withdrawing from border areas
  • Engage in direct communications between militaries, including exchange visits
  • Invest jointly in energy, water, and export industries
  • Open borders for trade and eventually tourism

Such measures will have a lasting impact beyond India and Pakistan, as the authors note: “economically intertwined and mutually beneficial economic systems in both countries will create a huge peace constituency that will not only be good for the two nations, but also for the region and the entire world.”

Read the full report here.

Listen to audio from the Report Launch here.