Monthly Archives: August 2014

Losing face


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

A series of acid attacks on girls in Balochistan have raised concerns about growing radicalization in the province 

Losing face



A series of acid attacks on women in Balochistan aimed directly at their freedom have raised new concerns about women’s safety in Balochistan’s traditionally patriarchal society. At least 12 women have been targeted in recent attacks throughout the province carried out by men riding motorcycles. The survivors include teenagers.

On July 22, four men riding two motorcycles used syringes to throw acid on four women who were shopping for Eid in the provincial capital Quetta.

The very next day, two young sisters were attacked in a similar manner while they were out with their mother on Chandni Road in Mastung. They were 12 and 14. “There have been several such attacks on Chandni Road,” said Munir Ahmad, a local stringer.

On July 30, four men barged into a house in Pishin and threw acid on six women. They sustained injuries on their feet. The deputy commissioner of Pishin said the attack was the outcome of an old rivalry, but locals say women are traditionally not targeted in rivalries between men.

On July 22, men riding motorcycles used syringes to throw acid on four women who were shopping for Eid

“We unequivocally condemn the acid attacks on women, as these are against our traditions, norms, politics and social life,” said Dr Jahanzaib Jamaldini, the senior vice president of the Balochistan National Party’s Mengal faction. “The perpetrators will not achieve anything with these pathetic attacks.”

But this is not the first time such attacks have taken place. On April 13, 2010 – the year when the Balochistan government unanimously passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill – a man riding a motorcycle threw acid on two sisters, 13 and 11, who had gone out to shop in the Killi Hashim Khan area of Dalbandin, the headquarters of Chagai district. A previously unknown Baloch Ghairatmand Group claimed responsibility for the attack on April 17.

“About a month before the attack, on March 23, 2010, the group had distributed threatening pamphlets in the district, warning women and girls not to leave their homes or go shopping,” said Ali Raza Rind, a journalist and rights activist based in Dalbandin.

After a nationwide reaction to the attack, the group warned journalists in another pamphlet distributed on April 20 against reporting the attack. Several reporters were named and threatened in the document.

Two weeks later, three sisters aged 14, 16, and 20 came under a similar attack in the traditionally secular Kalat district. Kalat also houses a sizable population of Hindus, who have been living there since the time of the Sewa Dynasty in the 7th Century.

Two acid attacks were reported in the province in 2012, carried out in a similar manner following threats made in pamphlets, raising questions about the provincial government’s law-enforcement capabilities.

Locals say women in Balochistan, especially in the districts where the recent attacks took place, are living under fear. Girls going to school or for shopping are being accompanied by male elders. “This may make them safer for now,” one rights activist said, “but radicalization in the province is a growing concern, and unless the government can show the capacity to protect them, they have no choice but to give in to the demands of the radicals.”

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta

Email: akbar.notezai@gmail.com

Twitter: @Akbar_notezai

Blog: akbarnotezai.wordpress.com

(Courtesy: The Friday Times)

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‘Expel girls or close down’


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Private schools shut down in Panjgur after threats by local religious group 

At least 23 private schools and English language centers in Balochistan’s western Panjgur district have been closed since April 25 because of threats and intimidation by a previously unheard-of militant group Tanzeemul Islamul Furqan. Armed men belonging to the group barged into schools and warned the teachers and students against co-education, which they said was not allowed in Islam. They fired warning shots as they told them to either shut down or send their girl students home.

After threatening teachers and students of various institutions, the masked armed men indiscriminately fired gunshots into the air and vandalized their property,” one of the teachers said. “They beat up a teacher and took away Rs 14,000 from him.”

The religious group has sent threatening letters written in Urdu to schools across Panjgur asking them to expel girl students, and also warned taxi and van drivers against taking girls to school.

Following the threats and intimidation, on 14 May, unidentified men carrying weapons stopped Maj (r) Hussain Ali when he was taking girls to his own private school, the Oasis School, in a van. They beat him up and set the van ablaze. The students fled unhurt.

Armed men barged into schools and threatened teachers and students, firing gunshots into the air and vandalizing property

In Balochistan’s Makran division, Panjgur is comparatively religious, with almost 100 madrassas and annual teaching activities,” according to Noor Ahmed, another schoolteacher based in Panjgur. “That is why religious fundamentalism is increasing day by day, and teachers are being intimidated for tutoring girls.”

He said teachers like him continued with their jobs despite having received threats by telephone. “But when they started barging into schools and assaulting us for performing our duties, we decided to close down all private institutions.”

Women have traditionally played a pivotal role in the nomadic lifestyle of the Baloch in history, according to veteran Baloch leader Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch, who is a former president of the National Party. “We are concerned about the threats to girls’ education in Makran, and particularly in Panjgur,” he said. “This situation is being created deliberately in order to malign the Baloch political movement internationally and to keep our daughters away from their fundamental right of education.”

He also criticized confiscation of books in raids by police and the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) in Turbat and Gwadar this year.

A bus carrying women university students was blown up in Quetta in June 2013

In January, FC men raided a book fair at the Atta Shad Degree College in Turbat, and seized what they said was separatist literature. In April, there were reports of a similar raid by the police in Gwadar, in which two shopkeepers were arrested.

There have been raids against books that are about our culture, history and literature,” Dr Baloch said. “Baloch political parties should resist.”

Panjgur was hit by a Baloch nationalist insurgency after the killing of Balochistan’s former chief minister Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006, “and the state actors assume that our private institutions are nurseries for separatists”, said school teacher Anwar Baloch. “But that is not true. We are merely imparting education.”

Dr Ababagar, a young Baloch educationist based in Quetta, criticized the provincial government for not playing its due role and re-open private schools in Panjgur. He said officials of the provincial government did not even pay a visit to Panjgur after the incident.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people meanwhile took to the streets against the threats to private schools in Panjgur, said local reporter Barket Jeeven. They included girls holding banners saying education was their fundamental right.

The district administration only convened a meeting of local clerics and Panjgur Private Schools Association,” said Ababagar, “but it ended without any effective outcome.”

Anwar Baloch said teachers from Panjgur had met Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch in Quetta and asked him for help. He promised them security, but the teachers want a more fundamental resolution of the issue, he said.

Locals say girls in Panjgur feel threatened, especially after the two incidents of men spraying acid on six girls’ faces in the Quetta and Mastung districts of Balochistan when they were shopping for Eid last month.

Names of the teachers have been changed to protect their identity

(Courtesy: The Friday Times)

 

Pakistan’s shrinking liberal space


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

It has served as the voice of the smaller nationalities and religious minorities of Pakistan, and has enjoyed good circulation in Balochistan, Sindh and South Punjab. Could it be that Adil has been implicated in the blasphemy case to bring an end to NayaZamana?

Day by day, liberal space is shrinking in Pakistan. Liberal voices are increasingly being silenced in the name and under the cover of blasphemy. A case in point is the charge of blasphemy against Mohammad ShoaibAdil, the editor-in-chief of the well-known Urdu language liberal magazineNayaZamana (new generation).About seven years ago,Adil published the autobiography of Muhammad Islam Bhatti, a former judge of the Lahore High Court (LHC). The accusers claim thatBhatti, who also happens to be an Ahmedi, made derogatory remarks about the prophet (PBUH) in this autobiography. A case of blasphemy has accordingly been filed against Adil andBhatti as well as Ahmad Tahir, the compiler of the book. In a recent article posted on a national leading newspaper’s blog, Adil is quoted as saying, “The clerics tried to attack me in my office and later at the race course police station.” Since the incident, Adil and his family members have gone into hiding. It is possible that Adil may not be able toreturn to a normal life, let alone his journalistic career.
Also, this newspaper reported on June 19, 2014, that Adil had reportedly been receiving threats from religious militants. It must be noted out that NayaZamana has regularly published accounts of atrocities against Shias, Christians, Ahmedis, Hindus and missing persons from Balochistan. It has served as the voice of the smaller nationalities and religious minorities of Pakistan, and has enjoyed good circulation in Balochistan, Sindh and South Punjab. Could it be that Adil has been implicated in the blasphemy case to bring an end to NayaZamana?If not, it is beyond comprehension why the charge of blasphemy was levelled seven years after the publication of the supposedly offending book. The case also highlights the fact that illiberal hardliners are increasingly using the pretext of blasphemy to suppress liberal voices in the country. The trend has been in evidence, particularly in Punjab, where those standing up for the rights of the Ahmedis or Christians, for instance, are increasingly finding themselves being accused of blasphemy.
The most prominent case is that of SalmaanTaseer, the former governor of Punjab, who, in 2011, was gunned down by his own bodyguard for supporting the rights of a blasphemy accused. Similarly, in May 2014, Rashid Rehman, a 53-year-old special coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was killed for taking up the case of JunaidHafeez, a visiting lecturer to the BahauddinZakariya University in Multan who has been was accused of committing blasphemy on social media.
Since the 1980s, the hardliner illiberal elements have been enjoying misusing the blasphemy laws in the country in which the liberal elements have mostly been coming under the allegation of committing blasphemy in Punjab for standing up for the rights of minority communities.Raza Rumi, a leading liberal journalist also came under a deadly attack in March in which his driver was killed, but thankfully he himself survived. Later on, he went off-screen and fled to the US.
This persecution of liberals is aided and facilitated by the language used by the vernacular press and television talk shows. Many Urdu language newspapers, for instance, employ terms such as “liberal fascists” or “liberal extremists”. Hamid Mir, a leading journalist, for instance wrote in an article published ina popular Urdu language dailyon January 20, 2011, “A liberal fascist is the one who supports the US drone strikes on Pakistani territory, opposes the Islamic constitution of the 1973, supported former General Pervez Musharraf and is now supporting President Zardari, and is in the habit of naming his opponents as friends of the Taliban. The extremists and liberals are in the same group because both do not accept the constitution of Pakistan.” Kamran Shahid, Mohammad Farooq, AttaurRehman and Oriya Maqbool Jan are other such scribes known for opposing progressive and liberal views. The case of Hamid Mir is curious: after years of leading the charge against liberalvoices and perspectives, he himself had to flee to the safety of the “infidel”, “liberal fascist”UK.While the English press, to a certain extent, accommodates liberal and even left voices, much of the Urdu press has been regressive. Since it is the Urdu language press that commands a large readership, it has a great influence on public opinion.As for Mohammad ShoaibAdil, he had been at the forefront in bringing to light the woes of the people, irrespective of their caste, creed and ethnicity, for 14 consecutive years. This is the real reason he has now found himself entangled in a blasphemy case.

 
(Courtesy: Daily Times)

A piecemeal genocide


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

On July 4, 2003, gunmen entered and opened fire in a Hazara Imambargah in Quetta as the Friday prayers were proceeding, killing more than 50 and wounding many more. The incident marked an ever-increasing escalation in targeted attacks on Shia Hazaras in Balochistan. Since then, according to a report by the Human Rights Watch, more than a 1000 have died in incidents of sectarian violence, with at least 450 documented as killed in 2012 itself and another 400 in 2013 (1).

The assaults are part of an increase in targeted attacks on Shias across Pakistan. In Balochistan, Hazaras, with a population of approximately 5 million, are overwhelmingly Shia. This makes them particularly vulnerable to attack, especially since their distinctive facial features make them easily identifiable.

Hazaras first migrated to Quetta in Balochistan in the 1880s from Hazarajat in Central Afghanistan to escape prosecution by Afghan King Abdul Rehman. Today, they form one of Balochistan’s most literate and educated communities. Many of Balochistan’s Hazaras have also served as top military officials, civilian bureaucrats and politicians.

“My uncle was the founding chairman of Balochistan Public Service Commission,” proudly explained an octogenarian Shia Hazara while speaking to this author. Another asserted that remittances from Hazaras working in Australia, Iran, the Gulf and in European countries contribute immensely to Balochistan’s prosperity.

Besides Quetta, Shias in Balochistan also live in districts such as Lorlai, Khuzdar, Lasbella, Killa Saifullah, Bolan, Sibi, Zhob, Ziarat, Harnai, Jafferabad, Naseerabad and Jhal Magsi. However, their population in these areas has been dwindling owing to the spate of attacks targeting them.

The attacks have also severely crippled freedom of religious practice among the Shias in Balochistan. While the province has several places of religious importance for the Shias—the Qaddam Shah Ziarat of Hazrat Abbas in Quetta, Pir Panja, Bibi Nani and Pir Ghayab in Bolan, Shah Noorani in Lasbella and Sher Jan Agha in Nushki—the attacks have made it almost impossible for them to carry out pilgrimage.

As the July 2013 attack at the Imambargah in Quetta exemplifies, even places of worship are not immune to violence. Another major target are Shia processions. However, despite clear evidence that Shia places of worship are a target, the government of Balochistan has not taken any steps to secure them, said Syed Dawood Agha, the head of Balochistan Shia Conference: “as far the provincial government is concerned, it has not made any security arrangements for our sacred places.”

Despite being the target of attacks, the Shia Hazaras in Quetta continue to live in harmony with the city’s other ethnic communities, primarily Balochs and Pashtuns.  “The attitude of the local Balochs and Pashtuns towards the Shia community of Balochistan is also welcoming and brotherly. The Shias, the Balochs and the Pashtuns have connected in matrimonial relationships. And they have also participated in the sorrows and greetings of each other,” Agha explained. Hazara Town, which is surrounded by the Baloch majority, witnessed an attack in a vegetable market on February 16, 2013. Despite the provocation, the Hazaras did not harm anyone living in neighboring areas. Similarly, Mariabad, another Hazara enclave, was also subject to two rather ugly suicide attacks recently in January 10, 2014. Despite these attacks, the Shia Hazaras remained peaceful and did not resort to violence.

The targeting of Hazara Shias has also led to their ghettoization, which in turn, further increases their vulnerability. In Quetta, they have mostly become confined to two localities: Mariabad and Hazara Town, which they are often unable to leave. Hundreds of government and private employees, businessmen, pilgrims, teachers and students belonging to the Shia Hazara community have been affected. They can neither run their businesses nor go to their offices and universities.

As the recently released Human Rights Watch documenting the plight of the Shia Hazaras in Baluchistan (2) puts it, “there is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school, or no work commute that is safe for the Hazaras.”The government’s failure to put an end to these attacks is as shocking as it is unacceptable. 

Violence discouraging Hazara students:

Until recently approximately 250 Shia Hazara students were registered at the University of Balochistan, the largest state-run university in Balochistan. However, owing to attacks many Hazara students, particularly girls, have now been forced to discontinue their studies. Similarly, a suicide bomb attack on a bus carrying Shia Hazara students from the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS) in June 2012 discouraged students from continuing their studies at the Institute.

In another analogous instance, a suicide bomb attack on a bus carrying students from the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University, Quetta in June 2013 resulted in the death of 11 students.

“Over the last fourteen years, Shia Hazara students have become victims of terrorism in Balochistan. That is why the students do not consider the universities safe,” lamented Hasan Raza Chengezi. The solution, according to Agha, lies in the establishment of educational institutes in Hazara majority areas in Quetta, if the government is unable to improve the law and order situation and provide security to Shia Hazara students. “Due to security reasons,” adds Changezai,“the Shia Hazara students have left their homes to go out of the province for the purpose of getting education.”

As many as 30,000 have fled Balochistan in the last five years. Besides the rest of Pakistan, particularly Karachi,many young Hazara Shias also seek to migrate to countries such as Australia—often illegally. This can result in tragedies. In April 2013, for instance, about 60 Shia Hazaras died when their boat capsized in Indonesian waters en route to Australia.

Even for those who manage to land on safe shores, life is not easy. They live a fearful, anxious life as illegal immigrants, often face persecution and continue to remain worried about friends and family members left behind. They are at peace neither at home nor in foreign lands.

Notes:

1.      We are the Walking Dead’: Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan<Accessed August 13, 2014>

2.      Ibid

(Courtesy: ViewPoint)