When will we wake up?

By Ardeshir Cowasjee

THE local press is sometimes rather tardy when it comes to latching on to events on the home front. The video of the flogging of a young girl allegedly by the Taliban in the usurped vale of Swat began its circulation around the internet early last week.

On April 2, a report headed ‘Video of girl’s flogging as Taliban hand out justice’ was printed in The Guardian, and a similar report in The Times under the heading ‘Video: radicals beat girl, 17, in Islamic stronghold of Swat, Pakistan’. Britain awakens early. The New York Times followed suit two days later, on April 4, in tune with our press, and printed a report on the flogging, ‘Video of Taliban flogging rattles Pakistan’.

The news in Pakistan was headlined the same day after the subject video had been aired on most of our news channels on Friday, April 3. On one channel, a ‘spokesman’ for the Taliban defended the punishment with the caveat that it should not have been publicised. And one anchor person apparently quoted chapter and verse of the Quran and applauded the flogging.

The government of the NWFP which, with the blessings of the federal government, concluded the ‘peace’ deal in Swat with Sufi Mohammad and the Taliban on Feb 15, via its information minister called the airing of the video an attempt to ‘sabotage’ the peace deal. President, prime minister and assorted federal ministers had no option but to make the usual condemnatory noises and issue the usual inquiry orders.

Pakistan’s chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has sprung into action, as expected of a man of his stature who has his head and heart in the right place, and taken suo motu action summoning to his court members of the administration of the NWFP. Not that it can serve much purpose as both provincial and federal governments have abdicated their writ in the vale of Swat and handed it over to the Taliban to do with it and its inhabitants what they will.

Such is the schizophrenia that assails us, which is evident in all walks of life and in all different class distinctions. Education in our case is no panacea for a mass state of denial when it comes to events happening under our combined eyes. It is amazing how the benefits of higher education swiftly rub off our elite classes when it comes to matters of tradition which glorify the violation of human rights.

When Mohammad Ali Jinnah made his famous and much ignored statement on Aug 11, 1947 addressing the members of what was to be the constituent assembly of Pakistan it was not meant in any way to be ambiguous. He was quite clear when he stated that the first duty of any government is to impose and maintain law and order so that the lives, properties and religious beliefs of the country’s citizens could be protected. He did not imply by this that outmoded and barbaric practices which are falsely linked to religion should be condoned.

Enough righteous condemnation has been heaped both by Pakistanis at home and by our international providers, mentors and observers upon the handing over of large chunks of territory to that international arch-enemy, the Taliban. We are all well aware of how they operate having observed them at work in Afghanistan during the 1990s and the first two years of this century, so who should be surprised at the vengeance they are wreaking upon the population of the usurped territories up north? And more to the point, who should be surprised that they are steadily advancing into the heartland of the country and proudly claiming to be the perpetrators of attacks upon cricket teams and the police?

Asif Ali Zardari, president of the Republic, at one stage insisted that the truce, or ‘peace deal,’ or whatever the handing over can be termed, was undertaken purely with the ‘moderates’ amongst the Taliban. Are they divided into moderates and non-moderates or are they purely and simply the same Taliban with the same beliefs and practices?

He needs to take a long hard look at some of the men he has appointed as ministers in both the federal and Sindh governments when it comes to beliefs as to how the women of this nation should be treated.

In a February Asian Human Rights Commission report it was alleged that one Abid Hussain Jatoi, a Sindh provincial minister, had ‘commanded’ a death sentence against a young couple in rural Sindh who had married against the wishes of their families. The young girl was labelled a kari and she and her six-month old child were to be killed if she was not returned to her tribe, that of Jatoi. Reportedly, an FIR has been lodged against him — that is the sole action to have been taken. The names of Nadir Khan Magsi and Abdul Haque Bhurt were also cited in connection with the holding of jirgas against women, an activity which has officially been declared illegal, but which is in full flow in the president’s province.

Then, at the centre, we have a sitting senator, Mir Israrullah Zehri in the ridiculous post of minister for post offices. The man is on record in the Senate as having upheld the burial alive of at least two women in Balochistan in the name of ‘honour’. He maintains that the murder of women suspected of “immoral acts” (a neat way of putting it when men wish to rid themselves of women) are “centuries-old traditions” and are time-honoured “tribal customs” which cannot be disturbed. Even the Taliban have not got round to live burials — yet.

Another appointee to the distinguished cabinet headed by staunch feudals Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani is Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, who has been handed over the portfolio of education. His distinction and his qualification to serve the nation lies in the fact that he was once (how many other times is not known) a member of an illegal jirga which ordered that five minor girls be handed over to the family of a murdered man as compensation.

Our CJP, Justice Chaudhry, prior to being deposed had ordered the arrest of the Bijarani jirga members and froze the illegal decision. Perhaps he will now take up this case once more. Are these men also considered ‘moderates’ by our accidental president who rode in on the coat-tails of a ghost and claims kinship with the founder of the party he has made his own?



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