Scared of mullahs? Civil Society needs to ally with the PPP for survival – by Ahmed Iqbalabadi

Fauzia Wahab speaking at the reference for Salmaan Taseer in Karachi's PMA House

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Taseer’s murder and the call for a ‘broad-based alliance’ between PPP and the ‘civil society’ – by Ahmad Nadeem Gehla

Some myths and realities about the self-labelled civil society – by Shahid Khan

To say that we are a spineless nation, reactionary to the core and ready to be cowed down by ghundas is an understatement. We do realize what our rights are and start talking about only when we have been muffled for a long time. Zia ul Haq did this to us. The nation remained quiet. It was only after 5-6 years of his terror that people realized the evil facing us. The monster created by him, we are facing till today (and for a generation more, at least). Musharraf was heralded as a savior when he conquered Pakistan by removing Nawaz Sharif and support was provided to him by our civil society in the beginning. It was only after 7 years of his rule that a move began to get rid of him.

A writer once said to me “People in Pakistan get bored very easily. They love to hate you while in power and then long for you to return when not in power”. Salmaan Taseer’s assassination has shocked a large part of the society. The condoning of such heinous acts of taking law into your hand, impatience with the legal system and overall decimation of our social fabric is visible in a far greater manner since his assassination. We had heard previously that siblings would bicker over wealth and property. Now children have started killing their parents!

The civil society instead of providing wholehearted support to the PPP which lost a great person and leader, started pointing out that it was the PPP that abandoned Salmaan Taseer on the blasphemy matter. A few events of candlelight vigils took place in Lahore and Islamabad, however, the news was always focused on the congregations outside Qadri’s home and the reception given to him by lawyers. Karachi which has been facing its own bit of problems just couldn’t make a decent showing till yesterday.

Yesterday, a congregation was  planned to be held at the Arts Council in Karachi by the Civil Society, however, it was cancelled at the last minute and instead a reference was held at PMA House in Garden area of the city. The English newspapers have covered the event, however, one can’t see the pictures to ascertain the strength of the participants. PPP’s MNA and Information Secretary, Fauzia Wahab (who incidentally has been under threat a few times by the mullas on the matter of blasphemy, off course, having been incited by Jang Group), Dr. Kaiser Bengali, Syed Iqbal Haider, Mohsin Sayeed (he has been very vocal in the last few weeks) spoke at the occasion. The newspapers have covered the event but also shed light on the “fear” aspect facing the civil society.

One can only hope that such gatherings begin to assist in turning a new page in Pakistan which is suffering from bigotry and hypocrisy of its people. Spinelessness has become a trait of our nation which needs to change if we want to survive. The civil society needs to clearly side with a political ideology. You may hate the PPP for all the notions you have, but this is the only natural ally you have against all the challenges facing you.

Coverage of the event is given below:

‘Taseer’s murder exposed fault line in society’

Dawn – January 19, 2011

KARACHI, Jan 18: Speakers at a memorial reference for the assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer held on Tuesday urged progressives and civil society organisations to rise above party politics and forge unity to restore sanity to public discourse that extremists have spoiled by killing people for their liberal views and unleashing violence in society.

The memorial reference, which was originally planned to be held at the Arts Council of Pakistan, was finally organised by the Citizens For Democracy at the PMA House after what the organisers described as a sudden shift in the attitude of the Arts Council management that “withdrew” the permission given for the programme allegedly under pressure from right-wing forces.

The speakers appealed to all political parties to organise similar meetings for the slain governor in all major cities to send a clear message to extremists that they could not dictate their terms by force.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was murdered by his guard allegedly for expressing sympathy with a Christian woman, who had been convicted and sentenced to death under the blasphemy law, and stating that the law needed to be reviewed.

While condemning the assassination, the speakers expressed their shock over the fact that some members of Rawalpindi’s legal fraternity had showered rose petals on the suspected killer and attempted to glorify his act.

Pakistan People’s Party Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab said that while the killing of Mr Taseer had shocked the world, the attitude of some people, particularly some religious parties, was equally shocking to the nation. They were glorifying the act of murder and trying to turn a killer — who had pumped over 27 bullets in the body of a person he was supposed to protect — into a hero.

This murder had exposed a fault line in society, Ms Wahab said, adding that liberal forces would have to counter and overcome the problem by joining hands. She said they would have to mobilise the masses and spread awareness by exposing the vested interests misusing the name of religion to achieve their goal.

A former lawmaker of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Kunwar Khalid Yunus, said that the present situation in the country was similar to what was faced by Europe some 500 years back. He said that during the Reformation, saner elements had joined hands and launched a mass movement to purge society of people using religion for power. He said it was time the progressive forces joined hands to counter the extremist forces.

Adviser to the chief minister Kaiser Bengali said he was happy to see a large number of young faces in the audience that showed their liberal and progressive mindset. He said that the religious parties and extremist forces were misusing the name of religion to gain power. He urged the liberal forces to forge unity to counter extremism.

Rights activist Iqbal Haider, a former federal law minister, said that the extremist forces had sent a message to the liberal forces by killing Mr Taseer, but the extremists should know that the liberals and progressive elements could not be forced to bow down.

Advocate Akhtar Hussain said: “General Ziaul Haq had introduced these laws to prolong his illegal rule.” He also said that the Shariat Court through its recent decision had challenged the sovereignty of parliament but it was unfortunate that a majority of the parliamentarians were not raising their voice on the issue.

Nasir Mansoor of the Labour Party Pakistan said that religion and state affairs should be separated as had been done in Europe over five centuries ago that paved the way for progress. He was of the view that the country could not

Memorial for Taseer held as doctors fear for security

Express Tribune, January 19, 2011

As Islamic scholars, journalists and human rights activists commemorated slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, the doctors at the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), where the memorial was held after a last-minute change, looked on anxiously. They kept requesting the organisers, Citizens for Democracy (CFD), to not allow any of the participants to shout slogans.

“The meeting could have easily been arranged at the Karachi Press Club or at the Arts Council,” said a senior member of the PMA. The reason for his anxiety, he explained, is not the meeting but the repercussions it might have for the doctors.

“Discussing the blasphemy law on theological grounds is useless since it will only bring about conflicts rather than solutions,” said Mansoor Raza, a member of the CFD.

Giving a presentation on the law, he pointed out the fact that the blasphemy law does not have a clear definition and that makes it easy for anyone to come up with their own interpretations.

According to the research carried out by the CFD, 278 cases of blasphemy have been filed in the Punjab alone. So far, 263 cases have been filed against Ahmadis.

A 15-minute documentary was also screened, in which Islamic scholars, journalists, alleged victims and their families spoke about the impact of such a law on the society.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir said that when Ziaul Haq was amending these laws, he was testing the waters and when no one protested against it, he went on to make it a full-fledged law. Maulana Farooq Maududi, an Islamic scholar interviewed in the documentary, said that the blasphemy law is not applicable to non-Muslims at all and those who are targeting them without any reason are the real blasphemers.

Fashion journalist Mohsin Sayeed read out a letter by Taseer’s family, which stated: “We are devastated by the loss of our father. Each one of us loved him dearly. He taught us to stand by our beliefs and values. His death is a loss is to our nation where [the] majority is poor and defenceless. He pushed for progress because he wanted the weak-willed to be strong and the hungry to be fed properly. We are proud of the way he lived and died.”

Venue change

The event had been originally organised at the Arts Council but just a day before the memorial, the council withdrew permission, citing “situation in the city” as the cause.

A PMA doctor said that the right-wing forces had persuaded the Arts Council to withdraw the permission. “But what about us? What would happen if we were targeted?” he asked. The members recalled how several years ago, activists of an ethnic political party created quite a ruckus because a yearly marathon at the PMA was scheduled without taking them into “confidence.” With that incident fresh in their minds, the doctors were quite apprehensive about what could happen in these sensitive situations. Before the meeting started, a Rangers vehicle patrolled the area and assured they would provide security.

However, despite the apprehensions, the meeting finished without any untoward incidents, which was appreciated by the Information Secretary for the Pakistan People’s Party, Fauzia Wahab.

On her way to the venue she had seen posters and wall chalking, in which Taseer’s alleged assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was being heralded as a hero. These really disturbed me, she said.“We have to make a decision once and for all where we want Pakistan to be. The decision to hold this meeting was a right one.” Wahab said.

Adviser Kaiser Bengali also attended the memorial.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th,  2011

Rich tributes paid to Salmaan Taseer

Daily Times, January 19, 2011

Participants at PMA House meeting

KARACHI: The civil society members demanded of the government to probe the assassination of late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and bring all those involved in the conspiracy to justice.

Speakers paid rich tributes to the slain Punjab governor at a condolence reference held at the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) House here on Tuesday.

Speaking on the occasion, MNA and Central Information Secretary of the Pakistan People’s Party Fauzia Wahab said the murder of Salmaan Taseer shocked the progressive-minded people.

“Where are we going, this is not our destination,” she said. “Who gave them the authority to kill someone?” she questioned and said that no one has the right to kill others by stating that they are ‘Wajibul Qatal’. She said enlightenment, education and democracy is our future and propagation of this ‘mentality’ will eventually take us to darkness. Fauzia urged enlightened groups to unite in order to make Pakistan an enlightened democratic fort. Former chairman, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Senator and ex-federal information minister Iqbal Haidar said that the martyrdom of Punjab governor gave a great lesson to nation. He said the extremists also delivered a message of ‘life threat’ if any one utters anything about the ‘topic’. Iqbal said Taseer’s death is not a usual incident. He was not a common man but he was the representative of the federation. He urged people not to limit their struggle and continue until they achieve their goals.

Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Planning and Development Qaisar Bangali said Taseer was a great man. He uplifted the flag of justice and law. He played his role to stop society from moving forward towards extremism. He was of the view that only democratic approach is not sufficient but collaborative efforts are needed for enlightenment.

Amarnath Mathomal of Hindu Panchayat said the Hindu community who were already afraid, are now even more in the grip of fear after the incident of Taseer’s murder. He said killing someone is not religionist but it is barbarism. He said terrorism is being done in the name of religion. Father Gulfam said people like Taseer are born rarely. He said Christians are ill treated in the country by some sectors. He said no one could think of desecrating the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). A documentary film ‘Blind Faith’ by Sara Haq was also played on the occasion while a message on behalf of Taseer’s family was also read.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Kanwar Khalid Younus and Fareed Awan of Trade Union also spoke on the occasion.

Salmaan Taseer’s condolence reference – Liberals surmount threats by clerics

Pakistan Today, January 19, 2011

KARACHI – A large number of people from all walks of life including trade unionists, politicians, journalists, nationalists and doctors attended a condolence reference in remembrance of late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer at the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) House on Tuesday.
The reference was arranged by Citizens for Democracy – a joint network of several non-governmental organisations, professional bodies, independent journalists, trade unions, rights organisations, civil society organisations and individuals.
Initially, it was decided that the reference would be held at the Pakistan Arts Council, but after receiving threats from some religious groups, the Arts Council administration refused to hold the event at its premises. The venue was hastily changed to the PMA House.
Addressing the meeting, Member National Assembly and Pakistan People’s Party Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab termed Taseer’s murder as a shock for the progressive Pakistani citizens.
“Where are we going? This is not our destination! Who gave anyone the authority to kill someone? No one has the right to kill others by declaring them as wajibul qatl,” Wahab said. She said that enlightenment, education and democracy are the future of the country and propagation of this mentality would lead the nation out of darkness. She urged enlightened groups to unite for making Pakistan an enlightened democratic fort.
Former federal minister Iqbal Haider said that Taseer’s martyrdom was a great lesson for the nation and the extremists were giving death threats to anyone saying anything on the issue. “Taseer was not a common man. He was a representative of the federation and his death is not a minor incident,” Haider said. He urged the people to continue their struggle until their goal is achieved. Sindh Chief Minister’s Adviser on Planning and Development Dr Kaiser Bengali paid rich tributes to Taseer and said that the late governor was a great person who sacrificed his life for humanity.
“Extremists are glorifying the killer. Even lawyers showered the murderer with rose petals and this was a condemnable act,” Bengali said. He said that religious extremists of the country want to seize power, which is why they are involved in such incidents. “Save the liberal and secular values. Everybody must step forward and fight extremism.” Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) Secretary-General Asif Baladi condemned the brutal murder of Taseer and said that the party had announced a war against extremism at the birth anniversary ceremony of JSQM founder GM Syed in Sann Town.
“Our leader Syed had told us that religion is a personal matter of every human being and it cannot be made as the state religion. Everyone is struggling for independence and is against extremism,” Baladi said.
National Party’s Jan Muhammad Baladi said that Taseer supported the common man and no one else has so far attempted to do this, but he was killed.
“After Taseer’s martyrdom, the rulers have started talking about withdrawing the blasphemy bill, which is a terrible act,” he added. Korangi Church’s Father Thomas Gulfam said that despite being Pakistani, Christians are suffering in the country.
He said that Taseer was a brave man who sacrificed his life just to save the member of a minority group and his community salutes him for his bravery. During the reference, Mohsin Saeed read a message sent by the Taseer family, which said, “His (Taseer’s) martyrdom would not be in vain. He sacrificed his life for those people who are unable to protect themselves in Pakistan due to the increasing religious extremism and we are proud of him.”

Threats fail to keep people away from Taseer’s reference

The News, January 19, 2011

Amidst an atmosphere of fear and threats, and the forced venue change, the Citizens for Democracy successfully conducted a reference for slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer on the premises of the Pakistan Medical Association here on Tuesday.

A large number of people, including politicians, social activists, lawyers and journalists, crammed the PMA hall to pay tribute to the assassinated governor, and strongly condemned his murderer.

A one-minute silence was observed by the participants for Taseer, senior journalist Minhaj Barna and Geo News reporter Wali Khan Babar. Meanwhile, a resolution was also passed demanding an inquiry into the inclusion of Mumtaz Qadri into the governor’s squad, as well as action against religious leaders who announced prize money for Taseer’s assassination and those who were issuing threats to MNA Sherry Rehman.

Speaking on the occasion, prominent human rights activist Iqbal Haider said that the civil society should give a message to the extremists that the civil society would not remain silent on the injustice being committed by them.

“With the murder of the Punjab governor, the religious extremists have given a message to the country that if anyone has enlightened discussions on issues, then he will

be shot dead. But now we should give them a message that we will not remain silent,” he said.

Haider said that the murder of Taseer was no minor incident as he was a sitting governor of the country’s largest province.

“The government’s silence on his murder is despicable. I appeal to all the political parties to organise a reference in support of the governor so that a message is sent out to the terrorists that extremism will not be tolerated.”

He said that the only way to pay tribute to the slain governor was to keep his struggle alive.

The information secretary of the PPP, Fauzia Wahab, said that the unfortunate incident of January 4 (when Taseer was gunned down) had shaken every progressive thinker in the country.

“Previously, it was the Mohtarma who became a victim of religious extremism and now it is the Punjab governor who has been targeted. The most shocking part regarding the incident is that Taseer’s murderer is being praised and was received by 300 lawyers.”

Wahab said that she was greatly upset by banners hanging across the city praising the murderer. “What has happened to us? Where are we going? Who has given anyone the power to kill the other?” She asked.

Wahab said that Islam is a religion of peace and love. She said that there is a fault line which will remain until and unless everyone units to fight against the extremists. She said that a progressive, enlightened and democratic country was their future and not the current Pakistan.

She praised the documentary ‘Blind Faith’, on the misuse of the blasphemy law, and accounts of the victims, which was shown to the audience earlier during the event. Wahab said that such documentaries should be shown on every channel to make the people aware as to what was happening in the name of Islam.

Paying tribute to the slain governor, the adviser to the chief minister, Dr Kaiser Bengali, said that despite the lingering fear and the fact that the organisers were forced to change the venue, it was a positive sign that a large number of people, especially the younger lot, had turned up.

“Salman Taseer is a brave person, and I say the word ‘is’ as he is a martyr and martyrs never die.” He said that Taseer attained martyrdom in the name of humanity, and kept his morale high.

Bengali said that the way the murderer had been treated as a hero was an indication that society had really gone down the abyss. “It is unfortunate that people who break the law are being showered with flower petals.”

He said that today blasphemy cases were issues of personal vendetta and were being misused by some elements to grab power. He said that the only way to protect Pakistan was for liberal and secular forces to come forward and struggle against the extremists.

Journalist Mohsin Sayeed read out a message from the governor’s family, saying that the family was devastated by the loss of Taseer, who taught them how to stand up for their values and beliefs even in adverse conditions. The family said that the death of the governor was a great loss to the nation. They said that Taseer was fighting for the rights of the weak, which was the noblest cause. His vision of Pakistan was one of a progressive, prosperous, and just country, they added.

Representing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Khalid Younus read out a paper in memory of the governor, and said that he was a brave person who died with his boots on. The governor coolly faced the right-wing parties on religious and political issues, he said, adding that his silence was not eternal.

Rahat Saeed of the Progressive Writers’ Association, while conducting the reference, said that it was unfortunate the Arts Council had refused to provide a venue for the reference. He said that this action of theirs was an insult to human rights and the freedom of expression. He said that Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of the governor, was not a servant of Islam, nor a true Muslim, and he should be condemned on every platform.

Express, Salmaan Taseer reference in Karachi



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