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How I wonder what we are —Fauzia Yazdani

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The chief minister of Punjab failed on all counts as he did not visit the families of the deceased, meet with community representatives and condemn the role of organisations that flourish in Punjab to obliterate Ahmedis from the face of the earth

President Asif Ali Zardari, on June 3, 2010, signed two recently ratified international conventions, adding Pakistan to the list of countries that have ratified all conventions related to good governance, sustainable development and human rights. The two conventions are: the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture.

The salient features of the ICCPR are that all people have the right to self-determination, respect for individuals without distinction, equal rights of men and women to all civil and political liberties and that every human being has the inherent right to live. The convention also envisages that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family or correspondence, that everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and no one shall be subject to coercion that would impair his freedom to adopt a religion or belief of his choice and that everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. The instrument of ratification signed by the president also contains reservations protecting national rights relating to (a) Islamic law and ideology, (b) issue of self-determination, (c) anything repugnant to the provisions of the constitution of Pakistan.

Pakistan has already ratified the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but its record of implementing these treaties has been, on the whole, dismal. Unfortunately, for all such instruments, the state has adopted a ‘tick the box’ approach to play to the international gallery. We have non-existent corresponding national machineries and systems that are further immobilised by vested politico-religious groups but, by submitting a glossy report that ticks the international requirement box, the state absolves itself of its obligations. But how would Pakistan justify its ratification of ICCPR to the world under the shadow of what happened to one of our religious minorities?

On May 28, 2010, Pakistan was scarred for life by the heinous massacre of 95 of our fellow citizens in Lahore. The political silence over this crime against humanity is deafening. The president, prime minister and political leaders conveniently dubbed it as part of ongoing ‘acts of terrorism’ in the country, conveniently ignoring the bitter reality that this was not a fallout of the war against terror but a targeted killing of a community persecuted for its religious beliefs. What happens to our constitutional and religious vows to protect the life of our citizens and minorities? Unfortunately, I did not read or hear anywhere the famous quote from either the national or provincial government that “the perpetrators will be apprehended within 72 hours and compensation will be announced”.

The chief minister of Punjab failed on all counts of his own set standards as he did not visit either the hospitals or families of the deceased, meet with community representatives, condemn the role of many organisations that flourish in Punjab to obliterate Ahmedis from the face of the earth or suspend the police for not doing their duty. I wonder why. Could it be that the chief minister: (i) thought it was not worth the political mileage, (ii) supports the cause of extremist organisations against the Ahmedi community, (iii) thinks Ahmedis are kafir, or (iv) does not want to invoke the wrath of religious parties and the Taliban. His all-out response to settle the Gojra massacre against the Christian community has not been forgotten and automatically draws parallels here.

The role of the electronic media has largely been shifty to avoid the rage of extremist groups and religious political parties for whom, respectively, killing a member of the Ahmedi community is a preferred act of religious obligation. The media is only grappling over whether it should be called an attack on ‘mosques’ or ‘places of worship’. The heroes of our media crossed the seven seas to support the cause of Palestine, but none could muster the courage to conduct a programme on the Ahmedis with the victims’ families who are their fellow citizens, brothers and sisters.

The last hajj sermon of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) articulates human rights, respect for humanity and equality. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) augments the same. The constitution’s articles 20-22, 25 and 36 focus on freedom to profess religion, equality of citizens and protection of minorities. Article 20, of the recently ratified ICCPR, calls for prohibition by law of any propaganda for war and states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”. I wonder which part of these is unclear to both our government and religious parties.

Post-1979 we, as a nation, have been pushed to use religious terminologies for legitimisation and ablution of our acts irrespective of the pungent deeds. Pakistan has been used for proxy wars by its brotherly countries to proliferate their discriminatory political and religious ideologies in the name of Islam, and we have worn the make-believe crown of the frontline Islamic state. Whenever democracy has been given a relatively fair chance in Pakistan, the people of Pakistan have shunned these religious dogmatists. But largely, we are afraid to condemn their pursuit of religious extremism for fear of being labelled ‘anti-Islam’, which factually is not the case.

Our dilemma is that we have let foreign ideologies, finances and countries play havoc with our country at different points in time. We have stopped introspecting and have become like the ostrich. This has annihilated our culture and practice of tolerance, peace, coexistence and harmony. We stand at a point in our national history where these words sound alien to us. The question that needs answering is not “who are they?” Rather, we should be asking ourselves “who we are?” I am a Pakistani Muslim and my constitution, religion and conscience does not allow me to ignore this massacre of my fellow Pakistanis. I condemn it and resolve not to let these elements take away my beloved country. That is what I am. Who are you?

Fauzia Yazdani is an independent policy researcher and analyst and can be reached at

Article published in Daily Times, reproduced by permission of DT\06\16\story_16-6-2010_pg3_4

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