Monthly Archives: June 2014

Sawat in Makran


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Makran, which consists of Panjgur, Turbat and Gwadar districts of Balochistan, is the most populous division of Balochistan as compared to other divisions along with higher level of literacy rate and awareness about day-to-day issues of the province. Interestingly, the people of the mentioned division are reputed to be prodigiously talented. It has produced plethora of award winning intellectuals, poets, bureaucrats, journalists and educationists, etc. They have richly served the province. More importantly, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, who is currently Balochistan’s first middle class Baloch chief minister, is also hailed from Turbat district of this division.

However it is, unfortunately, distressing and sad to note that the tolerant people of this division are currently confronting a situation somewhat like ‘Sawat’ where militants would blow up the schools and would stop girls to get education. Also, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in Swat, would warn the girls of dire consequences who would go to their schools to get education, and they also targeted Malala Yousafzai who stood for girls’ right-to education but thankfully she narrowly survived and became not only a global celebrity but also she was nominated for Noble Peace Prize.

Similarly, Sawat’s situation is being repeated in Makran, particularly in its Panjgur district, where recently a shadowy militant group, the Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan , barged into English language centers and private schools. And they warned students, both girls and boys, to stop getting co-education and learning in English. The militants also vandalized the English language centers, and they threatened teachers not to teach both sexes together.

Additionally, the aforementioned shadowy group has also distributed threatening pamphlets across Panjgur to shut down all English language centers and private schools and to stop imparting co-education and teaching in English, which they say is “Haram” (prohibited) in Islam.

Despite these threats and intimidation, teachers continued teaching at their private schools and language centers. But the extremists who, after knowing about it, a morning intercepted Major (retired) Hussain Ali, who is the owner of a private school called the Oasis, when he was taking female students to school. The unknown armed men who, after intercepting the vehicle, pulled Mr. Ali and his female students out for taking them to school. Subsequently, they set the vehicle ablaze but thankfully Mr. Ali along with his female students was unhurt. After that, teachers had to close all private schools and English language centers in Panjgur in order to avoid such attacks.

Against this tragic incident and forceful closure of the private schools and language centers, rights activists, political parties, students, writers, lawyers, media representatives, Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and lawyers protested across the province.  The protesters were holding banners, inscribed with slogans: We want education. Save Education in Makran. Education is our right. Even Panjgur also witnessed demonstrations, which were held by Civil Society and students, for closing the doors of education for girls. And dishearteningly, despite demonstrations and provincial government’s frequent assurances, an another school received a threatening pamphlet to shut down the school. And these frequent threats, no doubt, explicit the provincial government’s inefficiency and ineffectiveness to deal with these extremists who are creating hurdles for students, particularly girls, to get education. That is why they are ruling the rust in Makran division.

Turbat, too, has witnessed closure of private schools and centers after receiving same kinds of threats. “Now, although many teachers of the private schools resumed taking classes, an English center, “Delta”, is still closed in Turbat after its teachers got threatened and intimidated by an extremist group, said Shaymureed Baloch, who is a resident of Turbat, further lamented: “The threats and intimidation have badly affected the education in Turbat.”

Booksellers have been threatened in Turbat and Gwadar not to sell books that are about Balochistan’s history and about progressive personalities, as students in these places read these books with deep interest. After having been threatened, booksellers, in these two districts, do not keep these kinds of books. Besides it, Gwadar already lacks educational institutions. And Mariyam Suleman Baloch, who recently wrote an article on an online newspaper, The Baloch Hal, in which she lamented that although Gwadar is country’s largest second port, it is in short of a single standardized college.

In this context, threats and lack of educational institutions have affected the education in Makran.

However, the people of Makran also fear that like Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group, which kidnapped more than 200 school girls from their schools, the Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan may not harm the girls in Makran, as they don’t want to quit their education at the private schools and centers despite threats and intimidation. They are standing for their rights to get education as Malala Yousafzai stood in Sawat for girls’ rights to get education.

But what is alarming to be acquainted those students in Makran who, despite having extraordinary interest in education, are currently facing numerous hardships. Besides threats, they don’t have institutions. And if there are institutions seen are with creaking infrastructure. It is also affected by a low level nationalist insurgency, and non-Baloch teachers have already left Makran due to fear. They have either got themselves transferred to Quetta or out of the province.

In these circumstances, the land of Balochistan’s intellect is seemingly going to lose its educational and intellectual charisma that has produced poet like Atta Shad, intellectual like Abdul Hakim Baloch and educationist like Zubaida Jalal. And this land of Balochistan’s intellect may not turn barren for its young generation that has been receiving threats for getting education.

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs atwww.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets as @Akbar_notezai (twitter.com/Akbar_notezai).He can be reached at akbar.notezai@gmail.com

Published in The Balochistan Point on June 23, 2014

Remembering Hendry Masih


       By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

“In our 7th grade textbook, there was a lesson on how to invite a Christian to convert to Islam. If this is the case, then how can our children learn to have tolerance towards religious minorities when they grow up?”

This question was asked by slain Christian MPA Hendry Masih lamentably at the Minister Provincial Assembly hostel in Quetta, two years ago. Hendery Masieh was gunned down by his bodyguard on June, 14, 2014. On the same occasion, he raised another issue: “Minorities, despite being equal citizens as guaranteed by the constitution, cannot hold the office of the prime minister or of the president.”

Although Hendry Masih was the MPA of Balochistan’s tiny Christian population, he also fought for the legitimate rights of other persecuted religious minorities in Balochistan, too. He would speak out against the kidnapping of Balochistan’s indigenous Hindus who were kidnapped for ransom and later released after paying a huge amount to the perpetrators. He vowed to do his level best to get these issues addressed by his Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, as the above-mentioned minority has been living in Balochistan for centuries.

Unfortunately, his brutal murder at the hands of his own bodyguard reminded us all of former Governor Punjab, Salman Taseer’s tragic death, where he, too, was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Whereas Salman Taseer was killed for defending Aisa Bibi, a woman accused of blasphemy, Hendry Masih had almost certainly been killed due to his faith: Christianity.

A mosque, which is the sacred house of worship for Muslims, was named after Mumtaz Qadri in a scruffy suburb of Islamabad. Although Hendry Masih neither committed blasphemy nor did he defend someone who was accused of committing blasphemy, he was still killed.

The vacuum left by Hendry Masih’s death can never be filled. He will not only be remembered by his own Christian community but also by Balochistan’s other religious minorities for serving and raising voices for their rights and issues at different forums. Not only was he easily approachable, he would meet his people (minorities) with respect and listen to their issues attentively. That is why Balochistan’s religious minorities, even if they did not belong to the Christian community, seemed extremely satisfied with him, as he always raised his voice against injustice and for their issues.

Hendry Masih started his political career on the platform of the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO), and then he joined Balochistan’s current Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch’s party, the National Party. He was elected unopposed on a minorities’ seat by the National Party. Also, he would write his name as ‘Hendry Masih Baloch’, as minorities in Balochistan are a part of the Baloch society.

Additionally, what he enunciated on one occasion is still reverberating in my mind: “Balochistan’s Christians should not feel ashamed for being known as sweepers in Balochistan, as it is our profession.”

He further added that he himself had served as a sweeper in his hometown Mastung during his adolescent years, and he maintained that he was proud to be known as a sweeper by exemplifying that our society would be incomplete without this profession. Like doctors, engineers and teachers, if we exclude them from our society, it will be incomplete.

Unfortunately, bias against minorities is ingrained in our society, and we are exceedingly intolerant towards them. They are treated as second class citizens. And as far as the Christians are concerned, they are regarded as low castes by Balochistan’s majority, treated like the infamous ‘untouchables’. That is why they converted themselves to Christianity when Britain ruled the subcontinent. Like others parts of modern day Pakistan, the Christians of Balochistan also converted themselves to Christianity at the same time in order to escape discrimination.

Atrocities increased against the Christian community after 2001 when the USA invaded Afghanistan. Balochistan’s Christians were on the receiving end of this, too. They were considered as American and western agents. After that, piece by piece, the Christians have come under attacks by the mobs. What is most tragic is the irreparable loss of Hendry Masih for Balochistan’s minorities, particularly the Christians, who, at the moment, are plagued by a plethora of problems. Hendry Masih was a ray of hope for them.

He raised his voice not only for Balochistan’s Christians but for all minorities living in the province. Interestingly, Hendry Masih, despite holding the office of the minorities’ minister, would himself go door to door in order to spread awareness about education among Balochistan’s minorities so that they educate their children. Although he was a provincial minister, he lived in a rented house in Quetta’s suburb, Nawa-Killi – the same area where he was gunned down by his own body guard.

May his soul rest in peace.

The Nation

Syed Fasih Iqbal Sahab: A Tribute


Fasih Iqbal

By Muhammad Akbar Notezai 

No one can count the services of Syed Fasih Iqbal, who is known as Balochistan’s father of journalism, for the people of Pakistan’s largest province in the mentioned field. He has remained the pioneering editor and publisher of Balochistan. He founded Balochistan’s oldest Urdu daily, Daily Zamana Quetta, in 1954. He also launched Balochistan’s first English daily, The Balochistan Times, in 1974. These two dailies, Daily Zamana Quetta and The Balochistan Times, have the credit of being Balochistan’s oldest newspapers in their mediums with consecutive publication of 58 and 35 years respectively. Also, he was the erstwhile president of the APNS (All Pakistan Newspapers Society), the CPNE (Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors) and a former senator from Balochistan.

The late Syed Fasih Iqbal launched Balochistan’s first English daily, The Balochistan Times, at a time when no one could imagine commencing English journalism in a backward place like Balochistan, which has the lowest rate of literacy and readership compared to the other provinces of Pakistan. Despite this, he realized very early that the people of Balochistan, like ones from other provinces of Pakistan, can also do English journalism. Due to these sincere efforts, today, many well known journalists and reporters, who are his alumni in journalism, are writing and reporting for Pakistan’s most respected English dailies and magazines.

Unfortunately, he could not prolong his journey and he died after a brief illness on February 20, 2014. But it is incontrovertibly pertinent to say that the vacuum of his death can never be filled, and his demise not only saddened Pakistan’s journalism community but also thousands of readers, including this writer, who had been reading what he wrote with great interest.

Besides being the longest serving editor and publisher of Balochistan, he also authored books on the province, its journalism and other subjects of public interest. He also launched the first ever newspaper in Balochi language called the Zamana Balochi. Additionally, he had friendly relationships with Balochistan’s literary personalities, particularly Azat Khan Jamaldini, the prominent Baloch poet. Azat Khan Jamaldini himself enunciated that no one helped him more than Syed Fasih Iqbal in his life time.

Interestingly, his first ever newspaper in Balochi language played a crucial role in the promotion of Balochi language, and it also provided a platform to the Balochi language writers of Balochistan.
He also launched the first ever weekly English magazine from Balochistan’s Mastung District, the Bolan Express.

He provided part time jobs to students which served the dual purpose of meeting their educational expenses on one hand and adding to their professional training on the other. “I went to late Syed Fasih Iqbal when I was a student at the University of Balochistan to work with him part time as I could not afford my educational expenses. He provided me with the opportunity to work with him, and it helped me afford my educational expenses” said Safiullah Shahwani, who is currently a reporter at a daily national English newspaper.

Interestingly, Syed Fasih Iqbal was the sole journalist from Balochistan who was elected as the president of the South Asia Editors Forum (SAEF) in Hyderabad Deccan, for the term 2005-2006. He also formerly served as the Chairman Regional Press Foundation, member of the Commonwealth Press Union (UK) and International Press Institute (Austria), etc.

It is, indeed, a matter of immense pride not only for the people of Balochistan province but for the entire country that he represented Pakistan at numerous forums in the former USSR, Turkey, Egypt, New Delhi, America, Indonesia, Malaysia, Muscat, Sri Lanka, Australia, Argentina, Canada, Japan, UK, Thailand etc. He also attended the UN General Assembly as a member of a former president’s entourage, and he met George Bush Sr during his visit. Besides this, he also visited the U.S.A. on three different occasions, meeting with presidents at the time , Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Many awards have been conferred upon him for his meritorious services. He received the ‘Life Time Achievement Award’, ‘Muslim Eminent Journalist Award’ (Which is conferred to only 13 Muslim journalists across the world by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), ‘Pakistan Freedom Movement Gold Medal’ for the dedicated role in Pakistan movement and ‘Human Rights Award’ by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) for his valuable contribution in his newspaper which created awareness among the masses.

Additionally in 2005, he received the prestigious National Civil Award, ‘Sitara-e-Imtiaz’,in three disciplines at the same time : journalism, public service and social service. Beside this, in 2010, he received Pakistan’s highest National Civil Award, ‘Hilal-e-Imtiaz’, for his valuable and meritorious services.

It is also to be noted that Late Syed Fasih Iqbal was also elected as a member of the Senate of Pakistan for two consecutive terms: in 1985-1988 and 1988-1994. He actively participated in legislation and other parliamentary affairs, making history by introducing parliamentary committees system in Pakistan.

The late Syed Fasih was a Human Rights Activist too. He would nonchalantly discuss the crisis in Balochistan at many forums. He also struggled for the rights of Balochistan’s downtrodden people. That is why he will forever be remembered for his meritorious services.

May His Departed Soul Rest in Peace!

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets as @Akbar_notezai (twitter.com/Akbar_notezai)

BRAVE OF NAWAZ SHARIF TO VISIT INDIA: TUFAIL AHMAD


Tufail Ahmad is a senior journalist of Indian origin. He has formerly worked for BBC Urdu Service. Currently, he is Directoimagesr of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). He is also a regular contributor to The New Indian Express. In an interview with Viewpoint, he discusses BJP’s victory in recent Indian elections and its implications for the Indian Muslims. In this context, he also analyses Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India to attend Prime Minister Narendara Modi’s oath taking. Read on:

Interview by Muhammad Akbar Notezai

How do you view the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) victory?
In the Indian parliamentary elections, the BJP’s victory was inevitable, given a decade of industrial-scale corruption that the country witnessed on the watch of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Although Manmohan Singh was himself a gentleman, the people of India saw that he was silent while his cabinet ministers were going to jail in corruption cases like 2G. There was strong anti-incumbency factor working against the ruling Congress party.However, corruption is not the only reason. The political population of India has changed significantly over the past few decades. At present, about 50% of India’s 1.2 billion people are below 25 years of age; about 65% of the total population is below 35 years of age. This is essentially a new political population; it has no memories of the Partition; it has no memories of the Emergency rule; it has grown up in a free society, in a vibrant democratic culture – watching national issues being debated everyday on various issues through hundreds of television channels and newspapers.

This young population has rapidly growing aspirations, which only BJP’s Narendra Modi was able to understand. He successfully translated the aspirations of the youth into a national development agenda by promising to build 100 smart cities, to take broadband to villages, to introduce bullet trains and so on. In elections, political leaders who can read a nation’s changing political mood inevitably win. But it is also that the BJP could not have won this election with a decisive clear mandate as it finally did if Modi were not its prime ministerial candidate; Modi’s record in developing Gujarat helped the BJP a lot to register electoral victories across India.

What are your thoughts about the electoral defeat of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the left in these elections?

While the Team Modi was busy articulating a development agenda for the nation, the INC was busy articulating a divisive agenda. Even during the election campaign, the INC was talking of secularism and promising Muslims that it will grant them 5% percent quota in government jobs and educational institutions; everyone knows that reservation in the name of Islam cannot be granted in India because the constitution doesn’t allow any consideration of religion in state policy; also, the backward castes of Muslims already get reservation as part of the 27% percent quota reserved for Other Backward Castes. So, everyone knew that Congress was basically practicing a divisive politics of secularism to win votes.

This is the major distinction between the BJP on the one hand and on the other hand the Congress and other socialist parties such as the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Bahujan Samajwadi Party of Mayawati or Lalu Prasad Yadva’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. These parties are now failing to comprehend that India has changed radically over the past decade and the country’s younger population is no longer interested in divisive politics of secularism, casteism or regionalism. In fact, in the Indian political practice, secularism actually means communalism; the secular parties like the Congress have caused riots in order to divide Indians so as to win votes. The new population strongly identifies itself with the Indian nation – it is no longer interested in the traditional identities like caste and religion to be a factor in making political and social choices. This is also due to Americanization of Indian middle classes. So, while the Congress was engaged in the divisive politics of secularism, Modi avoided a communal language and advocated a more substantive politics through his slogan of “India First.” The Congress also must remember that democracies do not accept hereditary rule and it will be extremely difficult for Rahul Gandhi to be the prime minister without demonstrating his leadership capabilities to the public.

As for the Left, the communist parties have always been led by the upper caste leaders. Leaders from the lower orders of society have rarely found their way up. It was bound that the left parties will decline in popularity for their failure to comprehend the global political trends as well the interests of the common people in India. In Kerala, the Left parties have shown some understanding of the people’s interests and therefore remain relevant. But generally speaking, the Left leaders find no resonance among the people of India.

What are your thoughts on the visit of Pakistani prime minister to India?

Despite the attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to go to Delhi to grace the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was very brave on Sharif’s part because everyone knows that such a step could be sensitive to the military and other right-wing forces in Pakistan. In Delhi, Sharif was perceived as a statesman and very graceful, and his statements showed realism in his understanding of the bilateral relations.

Will Nawaz Sharif’s visit help cultivate cordial relations between the two countries?

Visits by leaders and diplomats to countries with which bilateral relations are conflicted do matter. Such visits remind people of both countries that there are problems as well as there are hopes for future. Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India may not bear immediate fruits, but it emphasized that Pakistan wants to genuinely address bilateral issues and forge better relations. Prime Minister Modi’s decision to invite Sharif also indicates that India realizes that neighbors cannot be changed and some relationship must always be maintained.

However, the key problem in the Pakistan-India relations is Pakistan’s own internal situation. Even if Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif want to improve the two countries’ relations and possibly win a Nobel Peace Prize, they cannot do so. Pakistan’s relationship with India will strengthen only if the Pakistani military stops interfering in the internal civilian affairs of Pakistan; it also means that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) must stop thinking that it is the ideological guardian of Pakistan and let the Pakistani people be the guardian of Pakistani nation state. The ISI must also stop nurturing jihadi groups, not only those based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs), but also those based in Bahawalpur and Muridke, respectively Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. This will take a very long time.

However, in short term, the two countries are within the reach of beginning diplomacy of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. I will expect that both Pakistan and India put aside the contentious issues for the next generations and begin a realistic diplomacy of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. I will call this people’s diplomacy; ultimately we as human beings eat these items on a daily basis and this sort of realistic diplomacy should matter. It is within this realm that I see Sharif’s visit can herald some tentative progress, and India could supply electricity to Pakistan, which could supply gas to India.

In a recent interview, noted Indian author Arundhati Roy said : ‘The big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign’. Your comments

Arundhati Roy is a respected voice internationally and her statements should be taken seriously despite the fact that some leftist delusions do creep in most often. Roy is correct in saying that the big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign, but why to single out Modi alone for this attack? All political parties, both in India and elsewhere, receive millions of dollars from corporate sector, some of which is white money while a good part of it is always black money.

And this is the crux of the problem: democracies in the modern times are facing threats from excessive influence of business houses and there is a need to counter them; some legislation should be introduced to curtail such financing and also the state should partially finance the cost of election campaigns. Business houses are also exerting excessive influence on the media, which is not good for a democracy and which could be a big threat to weak democracies worldwide.

Should Indian Muslims be afraid of Modi government given Modi’s role in 2002 anti-Muslims riots in Gujrat?

Despite unprecedented scrutiny from India’s Supreme Court, Narendra Modi has not been held responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat. It should be kept in mind that all political parties in India are responsible for riots; the secular Congress is responsible for hundreds of riots through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. This is one point that Indian Muslims must remember.

But there is a problem with this formulation: Indian Muslims are not homogenous and they do not vote a single party. In 2014 elections, Muslims did vote BJP in some regions, notably in Delhi. But the Muslim behavior is not uniform. Even after the 1992 demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, the Muslims in southern states of India were relatively calm while those in the north felt angry. Muslims in India must keep in mind that they need to curb the politics of minorityism and secularism so that they can emotionally move forward and see things for facts, and realize that basically secular parties are using them for votes. Also, Muslims tend to unite in some constituencies to vote against BJP which cannot be called a secular behavior. If Muslims want Hindus not to unite, Muslims too must note unite, and instead vote the best candidate in the elections.

Another point Muslims must realize that India is passing through an outstanding moment in its history, which means there are burgeoning educational and economic opportunities – in fact such opportunities are on such a scale that no Islamic nation can offer to its citizens. If Muslims do not leave behind the divisive politics of secularism and quota, they cannot take advantage of these emerging economic and educational opportunities in India, and they will be left behind. The time for Indian Muslims is now to take advantage of the outstanding moment in India’s contemporary developmental history.

What are likely challenges for the Modi government?

The Modi government is likely to face challenges from three sources. First, an extremist fringe exists within the BJP and it might create challenges for Modi. However he is known for curbing extremist Hindu groups in Gujarat where his government demolished temples to widen roads despite Hindu opposition.

Second, the secular parties might create conflicts between communities to defame the Modi government. Such a conflict might also be created by some extremist Hindu groups. People expect the Modi government to simply enforce the rule of law.

Third, a challenge for Modi government might emerge on India’s international borders with Pakistan and China. Some forces inimical to India’s security might create problems on the border or within India through rented terror groups like the Indian Mujahideen or through expeditionary terrorism of 26/11 kind.

The Modi government’s success will be measured in a year from now, but mainly on its promise for development for all Indians. If he can deliver on the development promises, people will be willing to return him to power for a second term.

 (Courtesy: ViewPoint)
The interviewer is a freelance journalist and researcher. He blogs atwww.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets as @Akbar_notezai (twitter.com/Akbar_notezai)