January issue 2012
Ups and Downs: The Biggest Events of 2011
Pakistan went through traumatic times in 2011. As the country continued to be divided along ethnic and religious lines, the nation’s top officials remained knee-deep in allegations of corruption and deceit. The country’s breadbasket struggled to recover from severe floods for the second time in two years. Amidst the chaos and violence, issues of religious freedom, women’s rights and the rights of minorities were brought to the forefront, paving the way for constructive public discourse and progress in the future.
In The Name of Religion
In December 2010, Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court, for allegedly blaspheming against the Prophet (PBUH). Many rose to her defense, including slain governor Salmaan Taseer, who paid her a visit in jail and vowed to stand by her, maintaining she had been falsely accused. On numerous occasions Taseer made his stance on Aasiya Bibi’s case and the Blasphemy Law very clear. A cleric declared him wajib-ul-qatl and announced head money for his death. On January 7, 2011, Taseer was gunned down in Islamabad by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri was hailed as a hero — in fact, a saviour of Islam — rather than a common criminal. Public discourse on the law — and murder — came to a halt. Right-wing groups issued vociferous threats to those who condemned the murder and the PPP distanced itself by maintaining that governor Taseer’s stance was not the party’s position. Soon after, another vocal advocate of rights for minorities, the minister for minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, lost his life on March 2, when he was gunned down by assailants who opened fire at his vehicle as he left his home. Qadri was sentenced to death in October — which has yet to be carried out — and Bhatti’s assassins still remain at large.
A year after the devastating floods in the country, Sindh was hit once again by torrential rain in September, causing severe flooding in many of its districts. The floods caused extensive damage, displacing 5.3 million people and destroying at least six million acres of land. While the scale of the disaster was less than last year, the devastation in the country’s breadbasket took a great toll on the local agrarian economy. Meanwhile, relief efforts were threatened by a paucity of funds and aid agencies such as Oxfam and Save the Children warned that more than nine million people were at risk of water-borne diseases and malnutrition, and that unless donations increased, relief operations would come to a halt. People affected by the floods protested against the government’s inadequate response to the crisis, and aid organisations also reported that several politicians distributed aid only to their supporters and people from their own villages.
Followed closely by the murder of the former minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, attacks on minority communities continued throughout the year. In April, at least 20 people, including police officers, were wounded when Muslim demonstrators attacked the Christian community in Gujranwala. In November, three doctors of the Hindu community were gunned down in various parts of Sindh. Meanwhile, blasphemy allegations continued to haunt minorities. An Ahmadi family was forced to flee when their 16-year-old son was accused of blasphemy by clerics. Members of the Aalmi Majlis Tahafuz Khatme Nabuwat (AMTKN) expelled Sajeel, a student of class 10, from his school and forced the police to register blasphemy cases against him and his father. In September, the municipal administration of Jannat Wala razed an under-construction Ahmadi place of worship to the ground and labourers working at the site received death threats. In Rawalpindi, a campaign in Satellite Town demanded that Ahmadis leave the area, and termed the community’s activities “unconstitutional.”
Cricket’s Hour of Shame
Pakistanis have a love-hate relationship with cricket and cricketers, and since 2010, it’s mostly been hate. The entire nation went into an uproar when undercover reporters from the News of The World— a now-defunct British tabloid — secretly videotaped sports agent Mazhar Majeed revealing how fast bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, conspired with him to deliver no-balls at precise times during the England tour. In response to the allegations, the International Cricket Council (ICC) banned these cricketers as well as their captain Salman Butt from international cricket. In a country where cricket is a way of life, the fiasco left many bitter and disgusted. And long before Butt, Amir and Asif were found guilty of spot-fixing by a London criminal court and sentenced this November to prison time for periods ranging from six to 32 months, Pakistanis had already tried and convicted them for disgracing their country.
The War Within
Sectarian violence has always been rampant in Pakistan and this year was no exception. In January, two suicide blasts targeted Shia processions in Lahore and Karachi, killing 15 people. In May, 13 members of the Hazara community were gunned down in Quetta and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militant organisation, claimed responsibility for the attacks. In July, 240 people were killed in Karachi in ethnic and sectarian violence, making it the deadliest month in the city’s history. The continuous gun battle in the city was widely believed to be between supporters of the MQM and the ANP, and paramilitary troops were called in to control the situation. In August, a suicide bomber targeted a Shia congregation in a mosque in Quetta, killing 13 people just as its members were returning home after Eid prayers. In September, members of the Hazara community came under attack again when a bus carrying pilgrims en route to Iran, was targeted. All 29 passengers on board were ordered off the bus, lined up and shot dead. Hours later, three more members of the Hazara community were gunned down as their rescue team made its way to the site of the bus attack. Once again, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attacks. In December, a senior Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jammat activist was gunned down in Karachi, and other members of the same group were attacked by Shias in Jhang.
One Woman’s Struggle
In 2002, a jirga ordered the gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai in retaliation for an offence committed by her brother. Instead of committing suicide, as is often the case after such an ordeal,Mukhtaran went to court and filed charges against the men who raped her. For nine years, she braved death threats while attempting to bring her attackers to justice. In April last year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan announced a verdict that shocked everyone: it acquitted all but one of the accused in the rape case. The decision led to an outcry by civil society and media organisations, and many described it as a setback to women’s rights in the country. Mukhtaran Mai was devastated by the court’s verdict, saying it proved that “there is no justice in this country through the court system.” Mukhtaran Mai is attempting to put the past behind her and move on with her life. In December, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, her first child with her police constable husband, whom she married in 2009.
The scandal of Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz’s allegations against former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, has taken several twists and turns ever since the contents of the confidential memo to the Obama administration came to light. The memo, which was addressed to Admiral Mike Mullen in May, asked the Obama administration to help avert a military takeover in Pakistan, which the government feared was imminent in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid. In exchange for their support, the memo offered the US government a new “national security team” that would support the decisions of the US administration and give a “green light” for future US operations on Pakistani soil. In The Financial Times, Ijaz confirmed that he had indeed helped deliver the memo at the behest of the Pakistani government but did not explicitly name Haqqani as its author. A few weeks later, Ijaz confirmed to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper that Haqqani was indeed the senior diplomat who had asked him to deliver his message. Soon after, Prime Minister Gilani, General Kayani and President Zardari met at the Presidency in Islamabad to discuss the issue. Haqqani submitted his resignation soon after and Sherry Rehman replaced him as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. At the end of November, the Supreme Court admitted a petition authored by the PML-N head Nawaz Sharif, seeking a probe into the issue. It sought the replies of all the participants involved, including President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Kayani and the ISI’s General Shuja Pasha. Haqqani and Ijaz submitted their replies, but President Zardari’s refusal to submit a reply raised questions regarding constitutional immunity to the head of state against criminal proceedings. Dubbed the Memogate scandal, the incident has pitted the Pakistani military machine against the civilian government once again, and raked up issues of US interference in Pakistan. The controversy rages on as the new year begins.
Two Steps Forward
2011 saw significant progress made towards addressing the issue of violence against women in Pakistan. The anti-sexual harassment legislation passed in 2010, which included the Protection Against Harassment of Women Act and an amendment to section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code, seems to have paved the way for positive parliamentary action on women’s issues. In November 2011, the National Assembly passed the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, a twice-snubbed piece of legislation that demands greater social protection for women. After three years of being stuck in various NA committees and then the house itself, the bill was unanimously passed by the lower house, headed by Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza. The bill deals with issues such as depriving women of their inheritance and forcing them into marriage to settle disputes. It outlines strong punishments for cultural practices such as vani and badla-e-sulah. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill was also passed, which recommends a 14-year jail term or lifetime imprisonment and levies a one-million-rupee fine for perpetrators of the crime. Both these bills have been presented as PPC amendments and more comprehensive bills are expected in the future. The Domestic Violence Bill, which was defeated in 2010 in Senate after a process that lasted nearly seven years, was placed on the agenda once again this year. The National Commission on the Status of Women is working on a PPC amendment to criminalise the act of domestic violence, which is expected to be presented soon as a government bill.
Post bin Laden
Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed on May 1st by a US special forces military unit, ending a decade-long hunt for the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks. The CIA operation to capture bin Laden was ordered by US President Obama and carried out by a group of US Navy Seals, who found bin Laden in his hideout in Abbottabad. While the news was met with jubilant celebrations in the US, there were speculations about whether bin Laden’s death would finally end the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan came under intense international scrutiny after the raid, since bin Laden’s hideout was less than a mile away from the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, and allegations of army support were rife. Meanwhile, the Pakistan government lashed out at the US, saying that it had taken unauthorised unilateral action that would not be tolerated in the future. The incident had a negative impact on Pak-US relations, and the US suspended about a third of its annual defense aid to Pakistan. There was also frustration and fierce criticism of the military’s intelligence failures, and ISI Chief General Pasha came under increased pressure to resign. Incidentally, the main character behind the Memogate scandal, businessman Mansoor Ijaz, alleged that President Zardari and the former Ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, had prior knowledge of the US raid, a claim that has been denied by both.
In November, US-led NATO forces attacked Pakistani troops at two military checkposts along the Af-Pak border. The attacks caused the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers, including two officers, Major Mujahid Hussain and Captain Usman Ali. According to US and Afghan officials, the joint US-Afghan force was fired upon from a Pakistan military outpost, which is when they requested air support in self-defense. However, the Pakistan military rejected claims of any firing from its side as a prelude to the attack, saying that the soldiers manning the post were asleep at the time. It also claimed that the attacks continued for two hours, even after Pakistani officials alerted coalition forces to stop. The incident sparked great outrage among the country’s civil society and media, and many perceived it as an intentional act of war that may have been pre-planned. Subsequently, Pakistan blocked all NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and ordered the US to shut down and vacate the Shamsi airbase in Quetta, from where the drone attacks in Pakistan were reportedly carried out by US forces. This incident led to further deterioration in the strained Pak-US relations, and Pakistan’s government also boycotted the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December.
The Pakistan Navy came under attack on several occasions in the past year. In April, twin blasts targeted two Pakistan Navy buses carrying officials in Karachi, resulting in the death of four, and injuring 56 others. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which attacked Pakistan’s armed forces in previous years as well, claimed responsibility for the blasts. Just two days after the blasts, another bomb ripped through a Pakistan Navy bus near PNS Karsaz in Karachi, killing five people and injuring 13 others. TTP claimed responsibility for this attack as well. However, these attacks were overshadowed by the attack on PNS Mehran in May, the headquarters of the Pakistan Navy’s air arm. In the sophisticated attack, which was deemed more dangerous and better planned than the 2009 attack on the Pakistan Army’s GHQ, 15 attackers entered the naval air base from the airfield of the Faisal Air Force Base nearby, and killed 18 military personnel and wounded 16 others. TTP publicly claimed responsibility stating that the attack was carried out to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden. The attacks raised concerns, both domestically and internationally, about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets, which many feared would be the next target.
Yes, We Khan
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a political party founded by former Pakistan captain and philanthropist Imran Khan, saw rapid ascendance through the ranks of Pakistani politics in the second half of 2011. Khan formed PTI in 1996, but despite his election as a member of the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007, the party never managed to garner much popular support. This changed when a PTI public rally in Lahore at the end of last year drew more than 100,000 people, surprising Khan’s political opponents. Some wondered whether his newfound popularity reflected a shift in public opinion, or was the result of support from Pakistan’s military establishment. Nevertheless, credit must be given to PTI and Khan for coming up with innovative marketing strategies, which recently included a recorded voice message by Khan urging Karachiites to attend a PTI political rally in Karachi on December 25, a strategy that was also used for the Lahore rally.
This article was originally published in the Annual 2012 issue of Newsline under the headline “Ups and Downs.”
Nudrat Kamal teaches comparative literature at university level, and writes on literature, film and culture.