Watandost in Urdu, Turkish and Farsi means "friend of the nation or country". The blog contains news and views about Pakistan and broader South West Asia that are insightful but are often not part of the headlines. It also covers major debates in Muslim societies across the world.
After the brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, we had given up the hope of even holding a debate on man-made colonial laws on blasphemy. The voices that were asking for a review of the legislation had to retreat as the majority Sunni-Barelvi interpretation captured public discourse. Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri was defended by the same lawyer who viewed ‘rule of law’ as an articulation of a personalised, anti-democracy and Sharia-compliant version of justice. The fact that a former chief justice of Lahore is Qadri’s lawyer reflects the inherent biases and indoctrination that have spread in our society. If a billionaire, liberal politician could be murdered on the streets of Islamabad, what hope does a supposedly deranged man in the deep south of Punjab have?
The rise of vigilantism is also indicative of state failure. Not long ago, we witnessed the inhuman lynching of two young men in the Sialkotdistrict where the state machinery stood by and extended tacit support to ugly scenes of dead bodies being paraded around. A few months later, I was invited to a television talk show where, to my surprise, I was surrounded by a lawyer and a so-called aalim(religious scholar). During the show, the cheerful aalim continued to find obscure and irrelevant references to justify mob-lynching as a kosher form of justice.
As children, we grew up with an occasional visitor, who would show up at our doorstep and make strong incoherent statements about religion, society and political leaders. We were told that he was amajzoob (someone self-involved with his own spirituality). As I grew up, I discovered more of these characters at Sufi shrines, on pavements and even camped around rivers and canals. The world considers these characters insane, while their insanity has its own method and rules.
Media reports suggest that the victim of the mob attack in Bahawalpur was a similar character. A friend in Bahawalpur told me that the victim was a saeen (a peculiar kind of a mystic). Chanighot is not too far away from Uchh Sharif — the ancient seat of Sufism in south Asia. Another field informant says that the man killed was a devotee of Mansur al-Hallaj (858-922 AD, a Persian mystic, who was executed in Iraq on charges of blasphemy). Hallaj’s famous utterance “An’al haq” (I am the truth) became an inspiration for several poets and mystics in the succeeding centuries. The regions that comprise Pakistan have had a rich tradition of Sufi thought and practices. But south Punjab, the land of Sufis, is now occupied by armed militant groups and their foot soldiers who have established their own ideological and quasi-legal writ.
Punjabi poets such as Bulleh Shah have also challenged orthodoxy and I wonder what would have happened had Bulleh Shah been alive today? Would mobs attack him also? The unnamed victim of Chanighot was reportedly on his way to Sehwan and some people allegedly saw him burning the Holy book. The police arrested him but this was not enough. A blasphemer had to be killed there and then. The police station was raided and the man was taken to a public chowk and burnt to ashes.
Inside Story about Musharraf-Mahmood Tussle Hassan Abbas: September 24, 2006
General Pervez Musharraf’s memoir In the Line of Fire is expected to generate a lot of debate and discussion in the days to come. Except some western journalists and Musharraf’s close friends (three ghost writers) hardly anyone has had a chance yet to read the book from cover to cover. The excerpts of the book leaked through Indian media and General Musharraf’s statements to some American media outlets however have already created some controversies. In the United States, controversy is considered a positive thing, so the book is bound to become a bestseller here, but in Pakistan probably the opposite is true.
This article is not a review of the book (as I haven’t got hold of a copy yet), but it endeavors to throw some light on the widely reported Musharraf comment about the Armitage threat conveyed through Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, the then Director General of the ISI. I had done research on this speci…
Confronting Extremism Through Building an Effective Counter-Narrative This article was originally published in the Development Advocate Pakistan on April 25, 2016.
While Pakistan is using kinetic means to push back terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), it is still struggling to find an antidote to religious extremism and bigotry that provides space for extremist thinking and consequent violence across the country. The ideas of pluralism, religious harmony and openness to diverse political views have slowly given way to narrow mindedness, sectarianism and intolerance. The democratic experience is equipping Pakistan to revive its balance in the socio-political domain, but it is a fact that the social space in the country today is highly contested between extremist and progressive elements of society.
The blame for these trends within the media and policy circles of Pakistan is often directed towards regional confli…
The News, June 24, 2006 Saudi ban on umra visa Rahimullah Yusufzai
As expected, the government of Saudi Arabia has refused to lift the ban on Pakistanis below the age of 40 years from performing umra. It was futile on the part of federal religious affairs minister Mohammad Ejazul Haq to visit Riyadh to try and make the Saudis change their mind on the issue. The Saudis formulate their policies after much thinking and in line with their national interest and decisions once taken are rarely changed.
Back home, Ejazul Haq sounded defensive when he told reporters that the ban would stay because the Saudi government had complained that over 100,000 Pakistanis had overstayed in Saudi Arabia after reaching there on the pretext of performing umra. Before leaving for Saudi Arabia, he had expressed concern over the Pakistan-specific umra restriction and had promised to take up the matter with the Saudi authorities. One could understand that he was on a weak wicket and could only request the Saudis…