Monthly Archives: March 2015

Lahore In Blood


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

On March 15, 2015, two suicide bombers near the gates of two churches, St John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church, blew themselves up in the Youhanabad area of Lahore. The horrendous incidents took place at the time when the Christian worshipers were attending Sunday mass at the two churches, in which at least 17 Christians were killed and over 70 injured. Unfortunately, it marked one of the worst ever attacks on the Christian community in Pakistan. The Jamat-ul-Ahrar, one of the offshoots of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed the responsibility for the attacks.

Following the suicide attacks on the two churches, enraged Christian community members of the Youhanabad area of Lahore lynched two men who they suspected of being involved in the attacks. According to media reports, the suspected men were guiltless. Despite being guiltless, they were barbarically and mercilessly targeted. After beating them to death, they were burnt. Ironically, in the name and under the cover of blasphemy, Christians themselves usually get lynched guiltlessly at the hands of religious fundamentalists. But this time the roles changed.

On the other hand, the independent analysts are of the view that the government has failed to protect its minorities. Due to the government’s inefficiency and failures, these incidents occur. They also hold the government accountable for peaceful minorities taking up arms and lynching whoever comes before them. Soon after the attacks, Mr. Imran Khan, the Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), too, condemned the incidents in a tweet, as well as criticized the government for not providing enough security to churches. Unfortunately, he himself did not remember that his own provincial government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province had provided only two policemen for the security of 600 Christian worshipers at the All Saints Church of Peshawar, in which 81 worshippers, including 37 women, were killed and 170 were critically injured.

In the aftermath of the tragic Army Public School attack in Peshawar, the military courts were set up; the National Action Plan (NAP) was announced; Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed capital punishment for those who have already been sentenced to death in terrorism cases. Did this end terrorism in the country? On the contrary, it seems that terrorism has further intensified in the country. That is why, one after the other, terrorists attacks are taking place. Moreover, in the previous month, Parvez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military ruler, also admitted in an interview with The Guarding that during his tenure as head of the state, Pakistan tried to undermine the government of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, as well as to have cultivated the Taliban after 2001. So, in these circumstances, how can we have peace in the country if we oppose it in our neighboring country?

Besides this, in recent weeks the chief Minister of the Punjab province Mr. Shehbaz Sharif was also exposed in a deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan through Al-Qaeda for not conducting operations in Punjab. Moreover, questions are raised here : is Punjab only Pakistan? Do other remaining provinces not belong to Pakistan? Are the people living in other provinces of Pakistan not citizens of Pakistan? Due to these double games of the rulers, innocent people of the country, particularly the minorities, are playing in blood. Today, Punjab is also under their attacks.

Although the government says that it has been doing enough to curb terrorism in the country, in reality, it seems that that there is no change in their policy. According to independent analysts, the government and its institutions still differentiate between the good and bad Taliban. Therefore, with the same pace and frequency, heart-wrenching incidents take place. One of its examples is the attacks on the two churches in Youhanabad, Lahore. Even the people, particularly the minorities, have lost trust and confidence in the government and its institutions, as they beat two men to death, who were under the Police custody.

Lastly, it is high time for the government to ensure that security is provided to its citizens, particularly the minorities, who have increasingly been under attacks. They are also equal citizens of the country, as it is enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan. They should also feel free to go to their churches, temples and gurdwaras.

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)

Chaghai, the forgotten land


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Due to socio-economic issues, many graduate students go to the Pak-Iran border to work and earn a livelihood. Many youths have lost their lives whilst carrying illegal drugs across this border

On May 28, 1998,
Pakistan became a nuclear power when it carried out five nuclear tests at the Ras Koh hills of Balochistan’s Chaghai district. After the nuclear tests and during the same year, Nawaz Sharif, who was also the Prime Minister (PM) of the country in 1998, publicly stated in Dalbandin, the headquarters of district Chaghai: “I promise I will make Chaghai a model district in terms of roads, hospitals and other infrastructure in the country.” However, after one and a half decades since 1998, Chaghai is still as poor and backward as it was before and, to this day, the inhabitants of Chaghai yearn for basic amenities: clean drinking water, electricity, hospitals, employment and academic institutions. On my trip to Chaghai, one of its old residents in Dalbandin told me: “After the nuclear tests in 1998, PM Nawaz Sharif promised that he would bring development to Chaghai but, so far, nothing has changed over here.” He further added that if he (Nawaz Sharif) could not fulfil the promise that he had made to the people of Chaghai about its development, what could he do for the welfare of the entire nation?

Chaghai is one of the largest districts of Balochistan area wise and is part of a triangular border with Afghanistan and Iran. The district also houses a considerable number of domiciled Hindus, who are mostly immigrants and are thought to have migrated and have been living there since time immemorial. They are mostly traders and shopkeepers who have been living harmoniously with the local Baloch population. Interestingly, they are economically well off as well.

Saindak and Reko Diq, which are known worldwide to have abundant deposits of gold and copper, are also situated in the same district. According to Quetta-based geologists, there are scores of minerals in Chaghai that can be excavated and utilised for the welfare of the people living in the area, including marble, gold, copper, chromite, iron, silver, uranium and granite. “Chaghai is known for its quality marble for the past many decades and the government has failed to plan a marble city in Chaghai, where the best quality of onyx is available. Instead of building the marble city in Naukundi, it was built at Gadani only to please the former Chief Minister (CM), a permanent ruler of Balochistan,” writes Siddiq Baloch, a veteran journalist based in Quetta.

Interestingly, it is also said that the wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Malika Noor Jahan, was born in Yakmach, which is 60 km from Dalbandin. A grey haired Baloch in Yakmach told me the tale of a caravan that was coming from Delhi to Persia (today’s Iran) and saw a date tree in Yakmach where they decided to stay for a few days. It is said that during this time the wife of the caravan’s leader gave birth to a girl who later became the queen of undivided India.

Many of the students that this scribe met in the district of Chaghai have shown an extraordinary interest in education. However, due to the lack of schools in their areas and poverty, they told me that they do not have access to education. The former district education officer, Mr Aman Ullah Khan, said: “The remote areas of Chaghai that we visited do not have schools, which is why the higher authorities should build schools in those areas and provide teachers over there.” He added that he had also not been contacted even once by the authorities of Saindak and Reko Diq mining projects to provide scholarships to the students. One of the residents of Saindak complained that the school in their area lacked teachers for major subjects. “I would love to study if I had a school in my village,” said Liaqat Ali from the Siya Rake village of Naukundi, which is only two kilometres from the Reko Diq project.

Chaghai is also plagued by a plethora of other problems. Due to socio-economic issues, many graduate students go to the Pak-Iran border to work and earn a livelihood. Many youths have lost their lives whilst carrying illegal drugs across this border. Despite mortal risks to their lives, these youngsters still resort to such activities. They say that they do not have other alternatives to earn their livelihoods and that they get paid handsomely for doing such jobs.

In the 1980s, Afghan refugees settled abundantly in district Chaghai and, to this day, they are still living there. Presently, they have their own separate towns in Chaghai’s Girdi Jungle, Bramcha, Chagay and Posti areas, which is why the Baloch nationalists fear that the further increase in their numbers might alter the ethnic demography of the people of the area. Hence, they demand that Afghan refugees be repatriated back to their home country.

It is to be noted that Chaghai has been ignored and forgotten by successive governments. In the 21st century, its people are living as though they are in the Middle Ages and are deprived of basic facilities. Surprisingly, despite Mr Nawaz Sharif’s currently being in power, his visit to the district and his knowledge of its backwardness, he has not done anything for its people. If he can send Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal to welcome the Arab dignitaries in Dalbandin who came to hunt the endangered Houbara Bustard, why can he and his government not do anything for the prosperity of the people of Chaghai?

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com. He can be reached at akbar.notezai@gmail.com and on twitter @Akbar_notezai

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Houbara bustard hunters


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Despite orders from the highest court of the province, Arab royals visited and hunted birds in the Musakhel and Panjgur districts of Balochistan

Although the Houbara bustard isan officiallyprotected specie of birds, Arab royals from the Gulf countries have been hunting them in the country with impunity. Until the late 1970s, it is said that Arab royals would go to Iran and Afghanistan to hunt the Houbara bustards. However, this came to an end when Ruhollah Khomeini, who was the Iranian religious leader of the 1979 so-called Islamic Revolution, came to power. Thereafter, due to Saudi-Iran rivalry and war in Afghanistan, Pakistan became their destination for hunting the Houbara bustard.Interestingly, in 1972, Pakistan also imposed a ban on hunting the migratory birds but the ban could not deter the Arab royals from hunting.

In previous years, the federal government issued 33 ‘special’ permits to thedignitaries of five countries in the Gulf region to kill the birds. The list of special permit holders is as follows: Arab royals from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. The Arab royals, according to the list, have been given many districts in all four provinces of the country. It is to be noted thatthese 33 permitsstate that dignitaries are allowed to hunt 100 birds each with falconrywhile the use of firearms is disallowed. Despite this, last year when Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al Saud landed in Dalbandin, the headquarters of Balochistan’sChagai district, he massacred 2, 100 Houbara bustards within 21 days. This hunt gained critical media attention nationally and internationally.When the furor in the media was at its height, the Balochistan High Court (BHC) ordered the cancellation of all licensesthat had been issued to the Middle Eastern royalty in Balochistan.

Last year, when JafferBaloch, a divisional forest officer of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department of Chagai, prepared a report about the exact data of the 2, 100 birds killed and also unearthed that the governor of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (Fahd) was using a fake permit, which had been illegally produced by the foreign minister, he was transferred from his post for doinghis job honestly.

In 2010, AslamBhootani, the then speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, also claimed that the prime minister’s office had been pressuring the provincial government for the allotment of large tracts of lands to Arab royals for the purpose of hunting. He further warned that the federal government or the prime minister’s office should not pressurise the government for the allotment of theselands. On the other hand, the present provincial government of Balochistan’s so-called nationalist Baloch, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, has been hoodwinking. He himself welcomed the Arab royals in Balochistan with arms wide open to have the rare and endangered Houbara bustards massacred.Ironically, what is unfortunate and sad is the statementmade by the advisor to the chief minister of Balochistanon forest and wildlife, Obaidullah Jan Babat. It states, “Arab dignitaries are visiting development sites; they are not hunting.”

On the other hand, a source from Dalbandin, who has requested not to be named, refuted the claim made by Jan Babat. He said the governor of Tabukhad not been visiting development sites. Instead, he said that the governorhad spent his visit inthe desert areas of Dalbandin in order to hunt. Also, Ali Raza Rind, who is a journalist based in Chagai, said, “In the past, the governor of Tabuk built a gigantic and beautiful hospital and mosque by issuing funds to the governmental authorities.” But he also refuted the claim that he had come to visit the development sites in Dalbandin. However, local residents of Dalbandin are complainants that the hospital lacks doctors and basic facilities. They further add that the hospital had become a “showpiece”, where they could neither get treated, nor could they get medicines. They regretted that they had to go to Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, for treatment.

In the past, Arab dignitaries had also been under attack in Balochistan. For instance, in 2013, according to media reports, unidentified assailants attacked the hunting camp of the former Qatari oil minister, Abdullah bin Hamad al Attiyah, in the Buleda area of Balochistan’sKech district, in which one levies man was killed. Moreover, two days later,unidentified men also abducted four local men who were working with the Arab Sheikh of Qatar. After the abduction of the local men and the assault on the levies man the government authorities blamedthe Baloch insurgents for being involved, as, according to government authorities, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) had sent threatening letters to Arab royals.

Nevertheless, despite orders from the highest court of the province, Arab royals visited and hunted birds in the Musakhel and Panjgur districts of Balochistan. While writing these lines, the governor of Tabuk, who last year hunted 2, 100 birds, is presently camped again in the Bartagazi area of Dalbandin and the provincial government of Balochistan, instead of implementing the verdict of the BHC, has approached the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan to challenge the cancellation of licenses to the Arab dignitaries.

Despite the fact that the Houbara bustard is listed as “vulnerable” in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN) red list, Arab dignitaries time and again violate the laws of the country and massacre the migratory birds. Though they have bans imposed on hunting the Houbara bustard in their own countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia, they kill the same birds in Pakistan. This meansthat our laws do not matter in front of Arab dignitaries, while Pakistanis are beheaded in Saudi Arabia for breaking the law. Even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is silent over the Houbara hunting matter. Surprisingly, he sent his federal minister, AhsanIqbal, to welcome the governor of Tabukin Dalbandin last month.

Unnamed sources also revealed that Arab sheiks of Gulf countries have also been brought illegally to Balochistan to hunt the Houbara bustards. They hunt annually without having licenses. Though our neighbouring country,India,has banned Houbara bustard hunting because the bird is atrisk of extinction, we are not learning any lesson from them. Pitifully, we have let our love for the Arabs mercilessly endanger this bird.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta.  He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com. He can be reached atakbar.notezai@gmail.com andon twitter @Akbar_notezai

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The Shikarpur tragedy


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Unfortunately, like other provinces in the country, Sindh is also fast becoming insecure for its minorities, particularly the Ahmedis

It is interesting to note that Sindh, in the past, sheltered peacefully and harmoniously people belonging to different faiths, who took refuge in its land. At the time of partition, it is said that Sindh remained peaceful; it did not witness any kind of communal violence. Moreover, during the dictatorial days of General Ziaul Haq, many people, in order to escape persecution, ran away to interior Sindh. Ironically, it is now facing a great conflagration because Sufism, which is considered to be a panacea for the growing religious fundamentalism, has also become its victim.

It is unfortunate that the Shikarpur tragedy occurred only a month after the attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, where the attackers killed 132 schoolchildren. Following the Peshawar school attack, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif constituted a special committee for the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism. Besides this, 247 members of the National Assembly and the Senate voted in favour of military courts to be set up to try civilian terror suspects. But nothing has changed so far. One after the other, terror incidents are taking place in the country.

Previously, sectarian attacks were more common in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. While the interior parts of Sindh would barely witness such sectarian attacks, it now seems that sectarianism has penetrated deep inside Sindh. Veengas, who is a journalist based in Karachi, says: “Due to bad governance, the land of the Sufis has come under attack.” She further adds, “In the interior parts of Sindh, all incidents are interconnected whether these are cases of forced conversions or sectarian assaults.” Unnamed sources from Shikarpur say that they are surprised at the mushrooming growth of madrassas (seminaries) in their areas.

In recent weeks, during a session of the Senate, Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman informed the house that Middle Eastern countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran and the UAE were funding religious seminaries in three provinces: Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On the other hand, the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman warned the government against stopping foreign aid being received by the religious seminaries.

One has to wonder about what is going on in Sindh. Firstly, due to the forced conversions of young Hindu girls, Sindh is becoming increasingly maligned. Very pathetically, in interior Sindh, there have even been cases of married Hindu women who have been forcibly converted to Islam and later married. The report, which was issued by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan (MSP), stated that as many as 1,000 girls, aged 12 to 25, 70 percent of them Hindus, are abducted annually, forcefully converted to Islam by their captors, married off to men who usually rape them and, after that, force them into prostitution and human trafficking. This is one of the reasons that compels Hindus to migrate from Sindh to India.

Secondly, in recent years, the persecuted Ahmedi community has come under attack in Sindh. In different incidents, Ahmedis have been target killed. Unfortunately, like other provinces in the country, Sindh is also fast becoming insecure for its minorities, particularly the Ahmedis. Thirdly, sectarianism in the early 1980s and late1990s, due to an unfortunate state project, was established nationwide. Though Sindh is a secular province, sectarianism has started affecting it badly now. In the past, on many occasions, sectarian attacks have taken place in interior parts of Sindh too. In present times, it has expanded, which does not augur well for Sindh and its plural culture.

As usual, over the Shikarpur tragedy, rightwing parties, particularly the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), kept silent. They did not even condemn the horrendous incident. Instead, they are busy taking out rallies to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir. In doing so, they forget that their own countrymen are living in a nightmarish situation in their own country. Why can they not raise a voice for them? As far as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is concerned, though its leadership has condemned such attacks, they have pratically not taken any steps against these incidents. That is why extremism and sectarian attacks are intensifying in Sindh.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com. He can be reached at akbar.notezai@gmail.com andon twitter @Akbar_notezai

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