Monthly Archives: January 2014

Hopelessness vs helplessness

1604446_10151852190406401_1069875883_nNote: This article was originally published in Dawn on January 25, 2014.

After Interior Minster Chaudhary Nisar’s visit to Alamdar road and a successful negotiation with the community leaders, the Hazaras finally agreed to lay to rest the bodies of their loved ones after a two-day sit-in.

It was exactly the same month, January 2013, when members of the Hazara Shia community placed the coffins of over a hundred bodies on Alamdar Road and protested for four days and nights in subzero temperatures. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis from all walks of life took to the streets to support their sit-in. The Hazara and Shia diaspora followed the suit from Australia to Sweden to the US. Canadian Hazaras demonstrated a funeral with artificial coffins; the British ones blocked the gateway of the Pakistan High Commission in London, European Hazaras gathered in front of the respective parliaments of their countries of residence, offices of human rights organisations and regional UN quarters. All these demonstrations compelled the federal PPP-led government to send its own government of Nawab Aslam Raisani home. The removal of a toothless elected government was probably the best symbolic way to appease the families of the victims, albeit controversial. Raisani later told the media that he was victimised for “refusing to compromise on the economic rights of the Baloch”. In his opinion, the Alamdar Road blast was just an excuse to oust his government.

Raisani’s helplessness

Nawab Aslam Raisani’s cabinet members had at times complained of being helpless vis-à-vis targeted killings and the law and order situation. Acts of terrorism, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances escalated dramatically during the PPP’s government led by Raisani, who had neither sufficient public support nor competent colleagues to tackle the extraordinary and complex crisis in Balochistan. He, meanwhile, kept lamenting about lack of power and authority to deal with the issues until the very end. His government’s home minister, Mir Zafarullah Zehri, openly and on a point of order, informed the provincial assembly that “he had clues about those involved in target killings but was helpless.”

Raisani was popular among media persons for his playful statements. Throughout his tenure, he never took the media seriously, because he did not have any plausible answer to the tough questions put forward by journalists. He went as far asmocking the Mastung tragedy (in which 26 Hazara passengers were identified, taken off a bus, lined up and shot at zero range on September 20, 2011) by saying, “I can send a truckload of tissue papers for them (the bereaved families) to wipe away their tears.”

Such statements developed grudges against him in the hearts of the people who later demanded his removal over the Alamdar Road blast on January 10, 2013. Instead of returning home to attend the sit-in or express sorrow, he preferred to quietly stay in London.

Raisani’s constitutional power was transferred to the then governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi who had also expressed concerns over his government’s helplessness. Magsi officially granted policing power to the FC. But terrorist attacks continued even under governor rule. Just a month later on February 17, 2013, a blast in a fruit market in Hazara Town claimed over a hundred innocent lives.

This is coupled with the fact that ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary had taken a suo motu notice of the issues confronting Balochistan and had also issued a provisional order regarding the province’s law and order situation that said ‘the government of Balochistan has failed’.

Not only successive governments but also the security forces have disappointed the ethno-sectarian Hazara minority community by engaging in blame game rather than bringing the culprits to justice.

Dr Malik Baloch’s helplessness

Unlike Raisani, National Party’s Dr. Malik Baloch came to power with vast public support and therefore there were lots of expectations from his government.

Although Akhtar Mengal’s Balochistan National Party had leveled serious allegations that the elections were rigged in the favor of the National Party and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, they did not distance themselves from the assembly. NP-PkMap duo’s electoral win created a perception that the real representatives of the Baloch and Pakhtuns are given a chance to rule the province, with hopes to resolve continuing problems. But soon they proved to be as toothless as their predecessors. They failed to fulfill their promises to bring home missing persons and curb terrorism; and to stop the extra-judicial killings, they also fell short in preventing further enforced disappearances. Before coming to power, all these parties including the PkMap, BNP and PML-N used to harshly criticise the PPP government for failing to resolve the troubles in the province. However, CM Malikdeclared his helplessness himself: “These Baloch who have gone missing are our kith and kin. How can we ignore their families? I personally monitored the long march and provided security to the participants. I did what was in my domain.”

In addition to his own confession, the recent tragedy has made Dr. Malik’s helplessness crystal clear. Dr Malik’s pronouncement after his Alamdar Road visit in which he blamed  a foreign hand for the Mastung tragedy saying, “the killing of Uzbek militants in Mastung shows that foreign militants have reached Balochistan”, says it all.

Not only this, he used the same conventional tactic of token condemnation and repeated the suggestions put forward by the former government to prevent the killings. Dr Malik proposed a ferry service from Karachi to Chabahar in Iran for pilgrims and promised to make it possible. He also offered air routes as an alternative.

Not to forget that the PPP’s government had also implemented a number of such ‘anti-terrorism measures’ as well; like erecting walls around some Hazara-dominated areas to prevent the entrance of suicide bombers, which turned out to be futile.

Members of the community cannot use public transport and instead travel on separate buses guarded by a couple of policemen. However, this ‘strategy’ has also failed to protect them. They have been asked to avoid unnecessary movement around the city and to not venture out of their own enclaves; anybody who doesn’t abide by this faces considerable harassment by security personnel. This measure too, however, has been hopelessly ineffective with bombers having entered Alamdar Road and Hazara Town and killing people in front of their very homes.

Instead of taking stern action against the terrorists, the victimised community is being forced into further isolation which indicates weakness on part of the government. Moreover, it is obvious that CM Baloch does not have full control in the province. If he orders an operation against Lashkar-i-Jhangvi quarters, it would be extremely difficult for him to ensure the protection of civilians. If an operation results in further victimisation of Baloch nationalists, as in the past, his party would lose its support.

Although media reports suggest that an operation has been launched against terrorists in Mastung, there is little hope to anticipate the elimination of LJ and its affiliated groups. At the end of the day it is the most peaceful and the weakest of all who have to bear all the pain.

The only solution to the ongoing havoc is a national consensus for the elimination of all sorts of terrorism, which is unlikely to happen in the near future.

The author is a freelance journalist and human rights activist based in Quetta. He tweets at @mSaleemJaved and can be reached at dr.saleemjavid@gmail[dot]com
Note: This article was originally published in Dawn on January 25, 2014.

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That’s why Sweden Democrats and Islamofascists are opposite sides of the same coin.

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I wrote a blog post “a newbie immigrant’s perspective on integration in Sweden” on December 27 featuring Nima Gholam Ali Pour of Sweden Democrats (henceforth SD) and Omar Mustafa (chairman of Sweden’s Islamic Association). I was actually expecting a harsh rebuttal from Omar Mustafa but to my surprise it was Ali Pour who responded immediately with a notice of denial on his blog.*

Anyways, the real issue is that he did not discuss the real issue in his denial. However he did open the debate by declaring “I am not a Muslim. Before labeling someone as a Muslim one should find out if the person is a Muslim”. This is exactly what I wanted him to pronounce, by deliberately calling him a ‘Muslim’ in my previous post. Is it important to know somebody’s religious beliefs? No, it is not important–not at all. It is absolutely somebody’s personal business. One can keep it secret or announce it publically as long as it does not harm others. So why is Ali Pour’s declaration important? It is important, because it is his party’s top agenda. His colleagues at SD, their voters and sympathizers have declared a war against ‘Muslims’.

Ali Pour’s party, the SD, found its way to Swedish parliament in 2010 with 20/349 parliamentary seats. It is a Swedish nationalist party which campaigns against immigration of ‘Muslims’ to Sweden and even demanded their mass deportation. Not only that, they are worried about Muslim’s birth rate. A SD leader Annika Rydh once asked the international community to act and restrict their birth rate, like China’s communist regime.

Who is a ‘Muslim’ in the eyes of Sweden Democrats?

According to SD activists, people coming from Muslim countries and all those born in families with cultural links to any Muslim country are ‘Muslims’. All those who have Arabic names or wear veils are considered ‘Muslims’. Your actual belief does not make any difference if you are in one of the aforementioned categories. If your name is Mohammad, you are considered a Mohammedan even if you don’t believe in him. They read your name and label you as a ‘Muslim’. Even if you don’t practice Islam, you are still a ‘Muslim’. You fought against the Islamists back in your country, lost your family members and fled to Sweden; you are still a ‘Muslim’. You fought against an Islamic regime in your previous country. You fought for freedom of expression, gender equality, freedom of heresy, minority rights and basic human rights but you happened to come to Sweden, you are still a ‘Muslim’.

Here are a few examples of Sweden Democrats’ negative stereotyping of Muslims.

How dangerous are ‘Muslims’?

Party chairman Jimmie Åkesson: “Muslims are Sweden’s greatest foreign threat since the Second World War”. It is not limited to Sweden. Muslims are wrong everywhere.

“The Israelis are right and the Palestinians are wrong. It is not a complicated issue at all, which is already mentioned in the Bible and dates back to over 2000 years ago.” Claims Åkesson.

Muslims were once described as animals in one of the comments on SD parliamentarian Kent Ekeroth’s blog, for which he was reported to police. The comment read: “Mohammedans are animals and a good Mohammedan is a dead Mohammedan”

Another Sweden Democrat leader, Kent Ekeroth, says in an interview that all Muslims are alike and equally dangerous. Because they believe in Islam, he clarifies.

How does SD define Islam?

SD activists do not see (or do not want to see) any difference between Islam, Islamist/islamofascist, jihadist and Muslim. Nonetheless, this is how one of the SD leaders defined Islam:  “Islam is like Nazism, like National Socialism and Communism, even worse than Nazism.”

A 15-years-old student once contacted SD to get their perspective about Islam for a school project. He received an email from Sweden Democrat Ted Ekeroth with links to extremely graphic photographs of mutilated, decapitated and burned bodies of victims of Thailand civil war. Similar pictures are used by Al-Qaeda and Islamists to propagate hatred against non-Muslims.

How does SD propagate its views?

It propagates hatred through hate mongering websites such as Avpixlet, which is funded by, among others, SD leader Kent Ekeroth. They use social networks, online forums and distribute anti-Islam magazines filled with fabricated stories and selective incidents to frighten the native Swedes in order to mobilize them against Muslim immigrants or to get their votes to come to power.

Some teenage Afghans who fled Islamists atrocities and came all the way to Sweden with hopes that a country whose soldiers have been in Afghanistan “to protect Afghans” would surely shelter them here. They were refused asylum and asked to leave the country. They went but on hunger strike. A SD leader popped up to wish them to starve to death.

One can draw a conclusion that Sweden Democrats treatment of minorities, negative stereotyping, their way of thinking and politicking are not much different from Islamofascists who spread hatred against non-Muslims in general.

Back to Nima Gholam Ali Pur

Dear Nima, according to above-mentioned definitions you are still a ‘Muslim’, even if you do not believe in Islam. You might have succeeded to convince (or to appease) your colleagues that you are not a ‘Muslim’, but the rest are still considered ‘Muslims’ regardless of their personal beliefs.

Can you tell us the difference between SD and the Islamists who propagate hatred against non-Muslims in general? What is the difference between a democrat who mails graphic photographs of Thailand civil war to a schoolchild and an Islamofascist who spreads pictures of victims of US-led NATO bombardments in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to propagate hatred against non-Muslims? Why is it all right if your leader refers to bible as a valid document but it is dangerous if a Muslim is a Muslim? Is there not any difference between a common Muslim and an Islamist? I am sure you agree with me that ordinary Christian citizens of Muslim countries are not agents of USA/NATO. So why do the so-called democrats not see the differences, not unlike their Islamist counterparts?

You asked me not to label someone a ‘Muslim’ before confirming it. Would you please ask your collogues as well to advise their followers to follow your advice? Could you please tell your colleagues that somebody can be an atheist despite coming from a Muslim country? One can be not-a-Muslim despite having a name which consists of Arabic words Gholam (slave) and Ali (Islam’s fourth caliph).

Your note of denial further reads: “It is good that people who have come to Sweden participate in debates and enjoy democracy, but should not defame others.” What is democracy, Nima? Writing articles? I used to write them in Pakistan as well. Used to write against the Islamists and fought for the basic rights of ethnic and religious minorities such as Christians. I did not even forgive the state on its independence day when it came to protecting the rights of minorities. I never gave up the fight despite serious life threats. But if democracy is what your colleagues propagate, I am sorry to disappoint you that right wing activists in my country have the same views about democracy. They have the same views about Christians as your colleagues have about Muslims. And how do you define defamation? Is defaming Muslim immigrants not your party’s top agenda? You might call it a subjective judgment based on selective incidents. But that is exactly what your party does.

Just for the record, I am not an asylum seeker (although it is a human right). My relation with Sweden is absolutely a symbiotic one and will remain so as long as I stay here. I am pretty sure it is the case with a vast majority of immigrants. There might be some abusers (both natives and immigrants) whom I also mentioned in my previous write-up. They are individuals. They have to be dealt with individually and in accordance with Swedish laws. It is the responsibility of the government and law enforcement agencies to discover and punish the abusers and criminals. Political point scoring on such sensitive issues will descend the country into chaos. They can be fought with democratic values: Social justice, tolerance, freedom of expression, mutual respect, education etc. They cannot be tackled with hatred, harassment, discrimination, isolation, negative stereotypes, defamation and phobias.

Disclaimer: As mentioned in my previous post, this is not an expert opinion but a ‘newbie immigrant’s perspective’. You are most welcome to disagree.

*There was a misunderstanding Nima’s interview with Sverige Radio. Misunderstanding actually happened when I heard it first on radio. Because he had suddenly switched from ‘Afghanistan’ to ‘Sweden’ and used the figure 9 million (total number of Afghans outside Afghanistan).  When I listened to it again when he posted the audio link and found that he was actually talking about Sweden’s population, which is also 9 million.

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Saleem Javed is a human rights activist. He also contributes to Pakistan’s English media such as Dawn Media Group, The Daily Times and The Friday Times.  He tweets at @mSaleemJaved. Can be reached at: saleem[dot]javed[at]activist[dot]com

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