Monthly Archives: May 2010

Lahore Attack Rooted In Anti-Democratic Movement

The terrible attack on innocent Pakistanis in the midst of their Friday prayers is deeply rooted in anti-democratic movements of the past, and their ties to modern anti-democratic organizations today. Dr. Syed Mansoor Hussain, a Pakistani physician who has practiced and taught medicine in the US, writes for the English-language newspaper The Daily Times, that the dangerous sectarian attitudes are a political aberration in Pakistan, which can be traced back to opponents of the founding of the nation in 1947. His column is enlightening for Americans and young Pakistanis both, neither of whom may be aware of the history of struggle against such extremim in the nation.

After the Friday massacre in Lahore, I kept asking myself, how and why we have come to this point. I grew up in the Lahore of the late 50s and 60s. My family was not very religious but neither were they very liberal. I went through a typical upper middle class education for that time, English medium schools, followed by a couple of years in Government College (GC) and then five years in the King Edward (KE) Medical College.

During those years, I had of course heard about the Ahmedis and very probably had friends and classmates who were Ahmedi as there were Shias, Sunnis, and even some Christians, but never gave it a thought. The first time this sectarian anger against the Ahmedis came to the fore in my life was when as a second year student in KE, a classmate of ours died in a tragic swimming pool accident.

We decided to have a funeral prayer (namaaz-e-jinaza) for our classmate on the college campus. Suddenly out of nowhere appeared a bunch of students who belonged to the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) trying to convince us that the deceased was an Ahmedi and a funeral prayer should therefore not be held for him. Fortunately, a majority of students in our class ignored these IJT types and went ahead to offer the prayers.

My earliest memories of Lahore as a child were of processions, riots leading to curfews and eventually something called a Martial Law. Many years later when I went back and read about the early history of Pakistan, I realised that those riots were part of the anti-Ahmedi movement led by anti-Pakistan religious groups like the Ahrar and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Part of my reading included the ‘Munir Report’ written by Justices Munir and Kayani about those ‘disturbances’.

In that report I also found out that the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) government in Punjab led by Mian Mumtaz Daultana had aided and abetted this movement. Indeed that report was an eye-opener and is perhaps a great example of the erudition and the objectivity of the senior judiciary in Pakistan. In my opinion any serious student of the history of Pakistan must read that report.

The decade of the 60s ended with the fall of the military dictatorship of General and then Field Marshal Ayub Khan, leading to the second military dictatorship in the history of Pakistan led by General Yahya Khan. Whatever one might say about the 13 years under these two generals, Pakistan was very much a country infused by a pluralist religious ethos. Sectarianism existed but was very much in a muted and undercover form.

Towards the end of 1971 I left Pakistan for the US. When I left Pakistan it still had two wings, East and West Pakistan; however, soon the country went through a violent rupture. During the next decade, things changed a lot. The Ahmedis were declared non-Muslims by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), their mosques became ‘prayer houses’ and they were forbidden to call themselves Muslims.

Then came the evil decade of Islamisation in which Pakistan changed entirely. Religiosity of an extreme sort became the accepted norm, and virtually all Muslims not subscribing to an extremist vision of Islam became pariahs. The Ahmedis were pushed into a corner and became completely ostracised. The 1953 agitation against them had finally succeeded. All members of religious minorities who could, fled the country including the Parsees, the Christians, Hindus, and the Ahmedis.

For three decades I lived and worked in the US. Other than the family members of the close friends I made during those years, half were probably Jewish and the rest divided between Christians of different denominations, Indians including Hindus, Sikhs and a couple of Jains, and some Muslims from Pakistan. For me religion became the least important barometer of friendship. Frankly, for most of my professional life in the US, if I had to depend on somebody, it was the Jews followed by the Indians with the Pakistani sorts being quite unreliable as a group.

When I returned to Pakistan some years ago, another General was in charge, and ‘enlightened moderation’ was the slogan being touted by the General and his acolytes. Sadly, whatever the facade was, the reality was that Talibanisation and religious extremism were being pushed by the ‘establishment’. All claims of enlightened moderation were completely exposed when the attempt to take off the ‘religion’ column in the Pakistani passports failed. Like ZAB, Musharraf might have been a religious moderate, but he also gave in to the religious extremists to save his job.

The last few years have seen an escalation of both religiosity as well as religiously-motivated terrorism in Pakistan. It is true that many external factors are stimulating the extremist revival, the most important being the US-led invasion and occupation of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. But that does not absolve us in Pakistan from the charge of letting this menace grow.

It happened due to the collusion of the people in power and flourished because many ordinary Pakistanis support the violent and extreme vision of Islam that is pushed by the Taliban and their ilk. Of course the new democratic governments both at the Centre as well as in Punjab have made appropriate noises but they just do not have the gumption to come out openly against religious extremism and those that pander to it. Unless the ordinary people rise up against this menace, it will never be checked.

As far as the attack on the Ahmedi places of worship (cannot call them ‘mosques’ because that is against the law) is concerned, that is particularly despicable. People aggregate to worship Allah, and they become victims of an attack by those that claim to serve Allah. As far as I know the Ahmedis have never done anything to harm Pakistan, and yet those that opposed the creation of Pakistan are at the forefront of accusing them of being anti-Pakistan.

US Commission on International Religious Freedom Condemns Attack on Ahmadi Community

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom roundly condemned the brutal attack on members of the Ahmadi sect during the Friday prayers in Lahore. The organization released the following statement on Friday:

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, reports indicate that gunmen attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadi community in Lahore, Pakistan, during Friday prayers.  The attackers seized worshipers and battled security forces, with scores killed. 

“USCIRF condemns this monstrous act of violence against a peaceful religious community and extends its condolences to the families of the victims,” said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo.  “This is just one more example of the results of ongoing intimidation, thuggish threats and violence against the Ahmadi community in Pakistan.  The Taliban-associated extremists find cover in the anti-Ahmadi laws in the Constitution, Pakistan’s egregious blasphemy law, and the government’s unwillingness to protect the religious freedoms of this community. The government of Pakistan must take responsibility for changing this situation.” 

“The United States must vigorously press Islamabad to address these religious freedom violations or more violence is sure to follow,” added Leo.  “For starters, the U.S. government must urge for the repeal of the blasphemy law.” 

USCIRF has documented systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion in Pakistan for several years. Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minorities from such violence and to bring perpetrators to justice. Religiously discriminatory legislation, such as anti-Ahmadi laws and the blasphemy law, foster an atmosphere of intolerance in the country and embolden extremists.  Growing religious extremism threatens the freedoms of expression and religion or belief, as well as other human rights, for everyone in Pakistan, particularly Ahmadis, women, members of other religious minorities, and those in the majority Muslim community who hold views deemed un-Islamic by extremists.  Since 2002, USCIRF has recommended Pakistan be named a “Country of Particular Concern” by the State Department, but the U.S. State Department has not followed that recommendation. 

Ahmadis, who may number between three and four million in Pakistan, are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith and may face criminal charges for a range of religious practices, including the use of religious terminology  Pakistan’s Constitution declares members of the Ahmadi religious community to be “non-Muslims,” despite their insistence to the contrary.

US-Pakistan Strengthen Cooperation

“Both the United States and Pakistan agree that the terrorist threat against both countries by extremists must be fought jointly and is done most effectively by strengthening the already existing strategic partnership between our elected governments.  It is our belief that the Pakistani people welcome U.S. support for stronger economic ties and a focus on our common interest in strengthening democracy, civil society and empowering people through education and economic growth.”

To that end, General Jim Jones, U.S.National Security Adviser, CIA Director Leon Panetta. and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson called on President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss U.S. Pakistan relations and the security situation in the region.  The two countries issued a joint statement, commenting on their common interests.

The Road to Peace

NPR’s Steve Inskeep has been reporting from the Grand Trunk Road, an ancient road that traverses South Asia. On Friday, he checked in from Islamabad and what he reported about Pakistanis conversations about Faisal Shahzad sheds important light on the road to peace in Pakistan.

What Inskeep heard actually surprised him – how little most Pakistanis were talking about Faisal Shahzad. This is not to say that Pakistanis are not concerned with terrorism – far from it. Since the Times Square incident, editorial boards and columnists in Pakistan’s media have written extensively about the urgent need to eradicate the terror networks in their country.

But religious extremism is not Pakistan’s only problem. Young and middle class Pakistanis – the very people who are must be engaged to effect sustainable change in the country – are beset by a host of problems other than terrorism.
Economic inflation, a lack of foreign investment to provide expanded employment opportunities, and scheduled blackouts due to a lack of energy capacity all provide daily interruptions to young people’s lives.

Still, each of these issues can be traced back to terrorism. Pakistan is besieged by almost daily attacks from groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the group that is suspected of having provided support to Faisal Shahzad. Over the past two years, more than 3,000 Pakistanis have been murdered by these groups.

Pakistan’s government and military have greatly increased their efforts to fight these terrorists, gaining high praise from US Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus.

McChrystal said fighting terrorism within its own borders was important for Pakistan and the US, and important for partnership between the two states. General David Petraeus, Commander of US Central Command, also said the Pakistani military had gone after the Taliban effectively last year in its northwest territories. “It’s important to give Pakistan credit for what it has done,” he said in his key note address to the 2010 Joint War fighting Conference in Virginia.

But these efforts have left Pakistan’s government with limited resources to address issues not directly related to security. Recognizing this, the US government tripled non-military aid to Pakistan.

“The United States is firmly committed to the future that the Pakistani people deserve — a future that will advance our common security and prosperity,” Obama said. “Just as we will help Pakistan strengthen the capacity that it needs to root out violent extremists, we are also committed to working … to help Pakistan improve the basic services that its people depend upon — schools, roads and hospitals.”

Talking to people in Islamabad, NPR’s Steve Inskeep found that people often wanted him to send a message back to the US – that Pakistanis are by far good, peace loving people who only are struggling against difficult odds.

The road to peace is before us. By supporting the people of Pakistan and their struggle for democracy and justice, we help clear the obstacles on that road that provide cover for militant extremists. When we clear the path towards democracy by providing essential non-military support, we empower the people of Pakistan to better their situation, and we in turn secure our own.

True democracy in Pakistan can prevent extremism

Dr. Majjida Ahmed, a founding member of Americans for Democracy & Justice in Pakistan, has an op-ed in today’s Daily Caller that examines the relationship between cementing a strong democratic process in Pakistan, and the prevention of extremist violence.

What turns middle-class young people from Pakistan, like Faisal Shahzad, toward militant extremism? It’s important to note that Shahzad spent his youth in Pakistan during the military rule of hard-line General Zia al-Huq, who instituted a school curriculum that taught intolerance towards religions other than Islam and promoted militancy. And it isn’t just military dictatorships that have bred intolerance. According to Sherry Rehman, the former Information Minister, rampant conspiracy theories and unchecked hate speech against Americans in the Pakistan media may also be playing a part in radicalizing some of the country’s youth.

Pakistan’s military has been historically reluctant to act against militant groups like Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (“TTP”), which originally claimed responsibility for the attempt, until a civilian government came to power. Since President Asif Ali Zardari took power, the public and the government have been able to press the military into successful operations against these groups. That is why it is so critical for the United States to focus not just on aiding Pakistan’s military but on strengthening Pakistan’s democratic institutions by encouraging responsible participation by all constituents, including the media, opposition and judiciary. That is what the elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari has been trying to achieve, despite severe and irresponsible pressure against such moves by its opponents in those same groups—pressure which arguably supports extremism.

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Faisal Shahzad Is a Wake-Up Call for Pakistani-American Community

Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain, a Pakistani doctor who has practiced and taught medicine in the US, writes in English-language newspaper Daily Times today that Faisal Shahzad’s attempt to bomb Times Square is an important wake-up call for the Pakistani-American community.

kidsSince the would-be bomber in Times Square was identified, there has been much concern in the Paksitani-American community about how this would effect regular, law-abiding Pakistani-Americans who want nothing to do with religious militants. While many fear that a backlash of suspicion and discrimination will befall the community, Dr. Syed sees this as a remote possibility.

Personally I am convinced that this will not happen since the safeguards built into the US system make it extremely hard to discriminate against any group based on religion or country of origin. However, if in the future any major terrorist attack occurs in the US that can be traced back to Pakistan, things could get a little hairy for all Americans of Pakistani origin.

Pakistani-Americans do, however, face a certain choice:

They can disassociate themselves completely from Pakistan and join in the US-led chorus that Pakistan should do more to control the terrorist activity going on within its borders. This attitude has the disadvantage that however hard the Pakistani-American community tries, it cannot change the fact that its members came from Pakistan. The second possibility is to actually do more themselves.

This second option – actually doing more – is where Dr. Syed believes Pakistani-Americans have a unique opportunity to not only improve their own situation, but have an important impact on reducing the likelihood of future terrorist attacks.

In the US, Muslim parents of Pakistani origin have essentially abdicated their responsibility for the religious education of their children. This has been turned over in most places to ‘Sunday’ schools attached to area mosques and Islamic centres. Without going on a rant about who teaches what in most of these ‘schools’ and where the money comes from to run them, it is enough to say that what is being taught in these places is definitely not the ‘kinder and gentler’ version of Islam.

This has created an unusual situation for the Pakistani-American community. Many of their children are imbibing radical concepts of religion that are far removed from what they themselves learned and practice. Of course the overall ‘liberal’ attitudes surrounding them makes it difficult for these children to become too radical as they grow up, but some of them do become radicalised and will continue to do so over the foreseeable future. And these are the ones we have to worry about.

Therefore, what the Pakistani-American community, especially the Muslims among them, need to do more than anything else in this context right now is to take greater interest in the religious education their children are receiving in the ‘Islamic centres’ around them. The very parents who are entirely consumed by the quality of education available in public and private schools attended by their children are quite happy to let these Islamic centres teach whatever they might. This must change.

By all rights, Faisal Shahzad should never have been involved with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or any other terrorist organization. He came from a respectable family, had a good education, and lived a comfortable, successful life. Unfortunately, the Pakistani-American community – like all communities – is not immune from the virus of extremist ideology.

As it turns out, though, a simple action – being more actively involved in children’s religious education – can serve as an effective inoculation. What parent would allow their child unsupervised access to the Internet or movies? We well recognize the importance of monitoring and being closely involved in the messages that our children receive from mass media, and it should be no different when it comes to religious education. Taking this effort will protect our children, our community, and help pave the pathway for democracy and justice in Pakistan and the world.

Sen. Lugar: "Pakistan needs U.S. help now more than ever"

“We must be determined, in the face of inevitable setbacks, in demonstrating our commitment to democracy, pluralism, economic growth, and the fight against extremism.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) wrote for Foreign Policy magazine’s website yesterday that the US and Pakistan are still partners and, in fact, our partnership is more important than ever.

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Ethan Casey: Some of My Best Friends Are Pakistanis

The following article by Ethan Casey, author of the travel books Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004) and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010), was originally published at his website Alive and Well in Pakistan. It is reproduced here with permission.

Ethan Casey

SAN DIEGO, May 4 – As I write this, the news that the man arrested for trying to blow up Times Square is a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin has only begun to sink in. What is this going to mean for other U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin – and for me, as their friend?

This article’s headline is an ironic allusion to something people used to say to disavow bigotry: “Some of my best friends are Jews.” It’s also a straight statement of fact: some of my best friends are Pakistanis. And I want the world to know that, especially in these times and at this moment, because I think it’s very important for us to remember that not all U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin blow stuff up.

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Times Square Plot Underscores Urgency of Support for Pakistan's Democracy Movement

Times Square CCTVThe attempted bombing of New York’s Times Square over the past weekend underscores the urgency of our support for the democracy movement in Pakistan. Years of double-dealing by dictatorships that sympathized with jihadi ideology and used militant groups as proxy fighters resulted in an expansive network of terrorists inside the country. The democratic government, elected in 2008, has been working closely with the US to eliminate these groups.

Since turning its sights on the terrorist networks that had been let to grow under military dictatorships, Pakistan has suffered regular and devastating attacks. Over the past two years, thousands of Pakistanis have been killed by militants. The Taliban has vowed to increase attacks on both the democratic government in Pakistan as well as targets in the United States.

As police analyze evidence in the New York bombing attempt, a picture has begun to emerge of Taliban militants attempting to expand their reach to threaten Americans as well as Pakistanis.

Pakistan’s democratic government, long a key-ally in the war on terrorism, has vowed its full cooperation with the US in tracking down and bringing to justice those responsible for the attempted attack.

We will cooperate with the United States in identifying this individual and bringing him to justice,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said they were awaiting details from the US authorities about Faisal.

Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani government official said US ambassador to Islamabad Anne Patterson held talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

“There has been initial discussion when the US ambassador met our foreign minister,” said the official.

“Pakistan and the US have ongoing, robust cooperation on counter-terrorism. If required, we will extend fullest cooperation to US,” the official added.

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States and has arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives and handed over many of them to the United States after it signed up to the US-led war on terrorism after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

News agencies are reporting that law enforcement in Pakistan has arrested several people who may be connected to or have information about the attempted  bombing.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, and other militant groups have demonstrated that they are working to expand their reach across the globe by working in coordination with one another. In doing so, they have managed to amplify the impact of what are actually small groups of dedicated terrorists. To defeat this menace, we must support and coordinate with other pro-democracy movements and governments – especially those on the front lines of the war on terror.