Interview: ‘SK Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia. Farahnaz Ispahani

 

With Pakistan also celebrating 70 years of its independence Farahnaz Ispahani, Global Fellow at Washington’s Wilson Centre, former member of Pakistan Parliament (from Pakistan People’s Party) and former media advisor to the Pakistan President, spoke to Rohit E David on the political flux in Islamabad after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, its impact on Kashmir and the nefarious role of Pakistan’s deep state:

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Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani

Q. What is your view on the political prospects of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who has been PM of Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif stepped down?

Farahnaz Ispahani. PM Abbasi has been nominated by Nawaz Sharif from his own party and is seen by all as a loyal placeholder until the next elections, in which Sharif’s nominated prime ministerial candidate will run. Sharif remains the head of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and, as is the subcontinent’s tradition, control of the party is more important than who is officially PM. Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia Gandhi.

Q. What is your view on Pakistan Supreme Court barring Nawaz Sharif as PM?

Farahnaz Ispahani. The verdict came as no surprise. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has a long history of political decisions and acts directly instead of waiting for due process through lower courts. Now it has disqualified a three times elected prime minister from holding public office for life, in a corruption inquiry linked to the Panama Papers.

However, Sharif was not named in the Panama leaks, there was no trial, and it has yet to be proved that he abused public office for private gain. The judges disqualified him on what many unbiased observers consider a mere technicality. It is indeed sad that no Pakistani PM is allowed to be voted out by the people and SC judges or generals decide when a PM should be ousted.

Q. Why has no Pakistan PM completed a full five-year term?

Farahnaz Ispahani. It is because of what many call the permanent establishment in Pakistan. This is led by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies; closely emulated by the Supreme Court and, in many instances, the bureaucracy. This is Pakistan’s constant and consistent power base. They do not accept the right of elected leaders to change the nation’s course.  The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the five high courts have an extremely poor record of defending democracy against authoritarian interventions. The Supreme Court has legalised each one of Pakistan’s three successful military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999.

Q. What impact will this have on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Kashmir policy, all regional policy and non-regional foreign policy has been directed by the establishment since Pakistan’s founding. Several civilian prime ministers – most recently Sharif – have tried to improve ties with India but the powerful ‘Kashmir first’ lobbies in Islamabad and Rawalpindi have destroyed all these efforts by the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan. India and Pakistan can normalise relations without resolving all disputes first, as many countries have done, but that is not acceptable to the Pakistani establishment. Kashmir policy, anti-India policy and the policy of strategic depth have caused Pakistan to be increasingly isolated in our neighbourhood and around the world. Proponents of that policy do not want to accept that.

Q. Will this make the civilian government weak forever?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Nothing has to be forever. But Pakistan’s permanent establishment and its stranglehold on Pakistan’s media have made it very difficult to stand up to it even as we see today for a hugely popular and elected leader like Nawaz Sharif. Judiciary has become an instrument of the establishment. It responds to media noise rather than sticking to law and legal process.

Q. How do you assess Imran Khan’s role leading up to this court case? Do you foresee Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan coming out with a third front?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Imran Khan has been in politics for decades but, until now, he has always been a bridesmaid who never made it to being the actual bride. He is thought to be growing more personally unstable and that is making some in the permanent establishment concerned about supporting him in the next elections against Sharif’s powerful PML-N party in the all-important Punjab province. That said, he has some following in urban areas among angry, hyper-nationalist youth and retired military personnel. And he remains a favourite of pro-establishment media.

Q. Do you feel that judicial accountability and judicial independence have become tools of a deep state?

Farahnaz Ispahani. I will only say that judicial accountability must be across the board and not selective to be credible. There is a reason why no general, judge or senior bureaucrat faces the kind of accountability inflicted on politicians. When the process is not transparent, it leads to suspicions about the deep state being at work.

Note; The Interview was published originally by “Time of India” , and can be read;  ‘SK Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia … Pakistan’s SC has poor record of defending democracy’

Farahnaz Ispahani- Senior Fellow at Religious Freedom Institute

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of the book Purifying The Land of The Pure: The History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2017). In 2015, she was a Reagan-Fascell Scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, DC.  Ispahani was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center from 2013-2014. A Pakistani politician, Ispahani served as a Member of Parliament and Media Advisor to the President of Pakistan from 2008-2012.  In Parliament she focused on the issues of terrorism, human rights, gender based violence, minority rights and US-Pakistan relations. She was also a member of the Women’s caucus in the 13th National Assembly. The caucus, which straddled political divides, was instrumental in introducing more legislation on women’s issues than has ever been done before during a single parliamentary term. Ms. Ispahani spent the formative years of her career as a print and television journalist. Her last journalistic position was as Executive Producer and Managing Editor of Voice of America’s Urdu TV. She has also worked at ABC News, CNN and MSNBC.

Link: Farahnaz Ispahani- Senior Fellow at Religious Freedom Institute

Silent majority’s complicity in war on minorities- Egypt & Pakistan

The Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Tanta are still reeling from shock after Islamic State (ISIS) suicide bombers killed 45 people attending Palm Sunday services last week. Last Thursday, a frenzied mob lynched a student accused of blasphemy at a university in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Mardan. Thousands of miles apart, one was an act of well-planned terrorism and the other an instance of mob violence. But both represented growing intolerance and, in some cases, indifference towards religious minorities in majority-Muslim countries.

Non-Muslims as well as members of minority Muslim sects are under attack throughout the Muslim world. Muslim majority nations seem to have assimilated or normalised hatred

The victims of the Palm Sunday massacre in Egypt were Coptic Christians, an ancient sect established by St. Mark the Apostle. Easter is their most sacred holiday and their holiest feast. In recent years, Copts have been targeted with considerable frequency in Egypt. In late March, a bomb had been defused at the same Tanta church where 28 people died on April 9. In December, 30 churchgoers had been killed in Cairo.

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The victim of the Mardan University lynching was beaten to death after a debate on religion. As is common in Pakistan, accusations of blasphemy had followed allegedly because he questioned corruption of university officials. Although the deceased in this instance came from a mainstream Muslim family, many blasphemy cases involve Christians and members of the Ahmadiyya community. The latter consider themselves a sect of Islam but they are deemed non-Muslim in Pakistan. The sect was defined outside the pale of Islam by an amendment to Pakistan’s constitution in 1974 and has consistently faced persecution and mob violence with little protection from the state machinery. Since 1990, at least 65 people have been murdered in Pakistan over unproved allegations of blasphemy.

What ties the two seemingly unrelated incidents — one in Egypt and the other in Pakistan — is the apathy of most Muslims to the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities within their countries. Few Muslim Egyptians expressed horror over the Palm Sunday church attacks. In Pakistan, no one tried to save the victim under attack. Those who did not join the attacking mob just made videos of the lynching with their smartphones.

Pakistan had witnessed an attack on Easter festivities last year. A suicide bomber had targeted Christian families gathered at a park in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province. The killer exploded ten kilograms of explosives and metal ball bearings in the area between two rides designed for use of children. The attack was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban. The attack killed 73 people, including 29 children. The youngest of these children was merely two-years old and the eldest was 16.

Other similar attacks reflect a pattern of ‘purifying’ majority-Muslim countries of minorities. In 2015, ISIS had beheaded 21 Copts in Libya and warned that it would target the “crusaders” — a reference to Christians — and the Coptic Church. ISIS claimed responsibility for the December 2016 bombings in Cairo and vowed to “continue war against the apostates.” In February 2017, ISIS murdered seven Christians in Sinai and described Copts as its favourite “prey,” calling for further killings.

In its statement claiming the Palm Sunday attacks, ISIS again spoke of Egyptian Christians as ‘crusaders’ even though the Copts are a community that predates any conflict between Europeans and Middle Eastern Muslims. After last year’s Easter attack in Pakistan, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesperson had said that the motive of the attack was to convey a message to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ‘that we have entered Lahore’ — the prime minister’s hometown.

Why attack an ancient indigenous community if the intended target is European ‘crusaders?’ What is the justification of killing Christian women and children to deliver a harsh message to the country’s prime minister?

That the stated objectives of terrorist attacks against religious minorities have little to do with their actual targets reflects how Islamist extremists view religious minorities as sub-human. Terrorists and orchestrators of mob violence alike know that at least within their own countries very few people will even raise a voice at violence against minority communities.

Non-Muslims as well as members of minority Muslim sects are under attack throughout the Muslim world. Muslim majority nations seem to have assimilated or normalised hatred. Islamist extremist groups operate with sympathy and support of extremist citizens, as others acquiesce in the resolve to eliminate religious minorities through their silence.

One measure of the rising tide of intolerance towards non-Muslims in the Muslim world is the declining Christian population in Arab as well as some non-Arab majority-Muslim countries. Before 2003, there were around 1.2 million Christians in Iraq. Within ten years, their number halved to around 500,000. The story is not very different in several other countries.

Attacks on Christians in Egypt or on Ahmadis in Pakistan do not prompt large scale protests by Muslims disassociating themselves from such intolerance.

The media in Muslim-majority countries does not go beyond a few critical comments and we do not hear parliaments resounding with impassioned speeches about the need to protect minority citizens.

There is a great need for Muslims in the West, who are feeling the effects of Islamophobia, to stand up and take on those in the Muslim world who attack those of minority faiths. It is not enough to demand protection in nations where laws protect Muslims thus far. There must be greater moral authority exerted by Muslims in non-Muslim majority states. These Muslims should lend their voice to the plight of minority communities in Muslim-majority countries.

And by far greater lies the responsibility of the governments in the Muslim world. They must take responsibility and stop hiding behind the excuse of public opinion while refusing to change or amend discriminatory laws. The promotion of religious bigotry through school curriculum and media must be put to an end as well. Recognising the precarious position of religious minorities would be the first step towards addressing the issue effectively.

The writer is author of Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford, 2017)

The Article was Published by Pakistan leading English newspaper “Daily Times” on April 17th, 2017

The link to article Silent majority’s complicity in war on minorities by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani book “Purifying the Land of the Pure” won a German Peace Prize at the Karachi Literature Festival 2017.

KLF German Peace Price Winners were announced by Ameena Saiyid

Ali Nobil Ahmad awarded the 3rd KLF Peace Prize for Masculinity, sexuality and illegal migration.

Farahnaz Ispahani’s “Purifying the Land of the Pure; Pakistan Religious Minorities” is slightly to win a German Peace Prize at the Karachi Literature Festival -2017 (KLF2017). Ms Farahnaz Ispahani has written a seminal book on the history of persecution and marginalization of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

Purifying the Land of the Pure & author Ms Farahnaz Ispahani

The first prize goes to Anum Zakaria for Footprints of Partition.

The book weaves together her observations of contemporary Pakistan with memories of four generations of Pakistanis and Indians as they try to reflect and make sense of the past.

We need to talk about American values in a changing America by Farahnaz Ispahani

I felt I could breathe here, in America. I was born in Pakistan, but US citizenship freed me from the burdens of religious tests, dictatorship and the absence of human rights. As I went about my work, I never felt that I was a woman, a person of color, a Muslim or an immigrant.

But more than a quarter-century after becoming an American citizen, I admit I feel a little vulnerable. There is a racial consciousness around me that I did not feel before. I feel Muslim. A woman. Of color. An immigrant. And my female friends are worried their right to choose what they do with their body will be taken away.

America has always been an optimistic country, a place that seemed to feel assured of its greatness. That so many people in this country embraced pessimism, and that the country needs a political novice to reinvent America’s greatness, is disturbing. The hatred and bigotry unleashed in the course of this campaign will not easily be pushed back into the Pandora’s box of stoked resentments.

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I became a US citizen at a time when the country of my birth was suffering under a dictatorship. Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, a US ally, was “Islamizing” Pakistan by force, denying human rights to the country’s citizens. Sharia-based Hudood laws enshrined misogyny, while previously afforded rights and safeties for women were curtailed.

Farahnaz Ispahani says that so many people in this country embraced pessimism during the presidential campaign is disturbing

While a student at Wellesley, my Pakistani passport expired and I learned that applications for a new passport required a religious affirmation. Muslim citizens of Pakistan could get a passport only after signing a declaration that we disavowed members of the Ahmadiyya sect as non-Muslims. To me, signing such a declaration felt like being complicit in the marginalization of Ahmadis.

I decided I couldn’t. But fast forward to today, and too many minorities feel they now are being singled out and marginalized.

While working in television news, I traveled the length and breadth of this great country. I covered political party conventions, presidential debates and inaugurations, and even the controversial Florida recount of 2000. I have voted for Republican candidates and Democrats. In America, my sole identity was American.

If Donald Trump is going to make America great again, he will need to be genuinely inclusive of all Americans- Farahnaz Ispahani

More recently, as I campaigned for the Clinton-Kaine ticket, connecting with voters throughout the country, I met Muslim immigrants, Hispanic and black Americans — upstanding citizens, some with family members in the military — who said they feel scared. They feel “otherized.” They wonder what their neighbors think of them.

After it became clear that Donald Trump had been elected, CNN commentator and activist Van Jones spoke of “a nightmare,” describing the fears of Muslims and of families of immigrants. He described the results as, in part, “a whitelash against a changing country and a whitelash against a black president.”

As an optimist, I can only hope the rhetoric we heard will gradually subside now that the campaign is over. But, if Trump is going to make America great again, he will need to be genuinely inclusive of all Americans, especially those who did not vote for him and who do not agree with his vision.

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Speaking at Woodrow Wilson center for the rights of religious minorities of Pakistan

More fundamentally, we need to start a discussion on American values in a changing world. Blacks, Muslims and others were not necessarily part of the original “idea” of America. But we are here, and we contribute to America’s greatness.

The reality is that America needs reconciliation and healing, something that both major political parties must contribute toward. Unfortunately, a Democratic Party that veers further to the left will only aggravate the people who elected Trump. The party might consolidate its base, and even win some elections, but it will not bring out the best in this great country. The Republican Party that I voted for in the past, meanwhile, is now unrecognizable. Until it stops being the party of angry white men, there won’t be room for people like me.

Holding on to outdated ideas about American values — and insisting on seeing American greatness through the prism of white men who resemble our Founding Fathers — will only lead to the disintegration of the fabric of our nation. Similarly, a vision of a social-democratic paradise backed primarily by minorities, also won’t work.

I became an American because of the good — and inclusiveness — of this country. I can only hope that America can move past this divisive campaign and ensure that future Americans feel they are exactly that — Americans, and not outsiders.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of “Purifying The Land of the Pure: A history of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities,” Pakistan Parliament 2008-12, Adviser to President of Pakistan 2008-12 and Foreign Policy Global Thinker.

The article was Published by CNN and the link to original article is We need to talk about American values in a changing America – Farahnaz Isaphani

Muslims Must Ostracize Anti-Semitic Imams by Farahnaz Ispahani

American Muslims, justifiably worried about increasing attacks on our community, must react strongly to the anti-Semitic sermons by two California Imams. Although one of them has since apologized, his call to “annihilate” Jews cannot be ignored just because of a statement of contrition.
If Muslims want wider support for their concerns about threats to their community, they must also ostracize the Imams and other Muslims engaging in hate speech against other communities.
Ammar Shahin, Imam of the Islamic Center at Davis, called on Allah to “liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “Count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.” Syrian-born Sheikh Mahmoud Harmoush said at the Islamic Center of Riverside, “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and all the Muslim lands from the unjust tyrants and the occupiers,” he prayed, “Oh Allah, destroy them, they are no match for You. Oh Allah, disperse them, and rend them asunder. Turn them into booty in the hands of the Muslims.” Imam Shahin says he was reacting to the turmoil in Jerusalem that had led to the shutting down of the Al-Aqsa mosque. His statement of apology says he now recognizes his words were “hurtful” and that he was referring only to the group of Jews that had taken over the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and not to Jews in general. This is effectively an apology for the hurt caused by the remarks but not the hate behind them. Sheikh Harmoush, who has taught at several California universities and is still leading the congregation in Riverside, can be expected to make a similar ‘apology.’ The current polarization in America benefits people with extreme views as they secure the support of one side in the political divide to help gloss over their conduct. The anti-Semitic remarks of the two imams have been underplayed in the national media and by liberal politicians as no one wants to add fuel to the fire of anti-Muslim sentiment already being encouraged by the other side.
California’s Muslims, feeling under attack from the right wing, seem to have allied themselves with elements in the State that blocked speaking events of ultra-conservative columnist Ann Coulter and British scientist and anti-religion campaigner, Richard Dawkins.
But Muslims would do better by standing up against all bigotry and seek protection for themselves by defending the principles of free speech as well as the value of religious toleration. Muslims must not act against intolerance only when they are its victims. Nor should they react to others’ criticism of their religion by seeking shutting down of debate.
Dawkins has described Islam as “the greatest force for evil in the world today.” Muslims could help refute that characterization more by refusing to support Imams Shahin and Harmoush than they accomplished by refusing Dawkins an opportunity to make his case to a California audience.
That the Muslim community is under attack is well known. According to the FBI, anti-Muslim hate crimes have surged 67 percent over the last year. 2545 incidents targeting 3,052 Muslims were reported in the U.S. between 2001 and 2015 but violence has now reached a level similar to that in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Muslims number only 3.3 million out of a total U.S. population of 323 million. More than 60 percent of Americans have seldom or never had a conversation with a Muslim, according to a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. 57 percent Americans say they know little while 26 percent acknowledge they know nothing at all about Islam.
Muslims believe their community under-reports hate crimes –ranging from assault on individuals to attacks on mosques — which some say are not pursued vigorously by police and prosecutors, especially in small towns.
In such an environment it is especially important for Muslims to speak out against hate crimes across-the-board and disavow prayers for the destruction of other faith traditions. Anti-Antisemitism, imported by immigrant Imams from the Middle East, must be particularly checked.
America’s Jews have supported Muslims in the aftermath of hateful attacks. When a mosque in Texas burned down, for example, the local Jewish community handed the keys of their synagogue to enable Muslims to pray.
It is time for America’s Muslims to demonstrate that they appreciate being woven into the fabric of America’s diversity. Allowing Imams to get away with hateful comments against Jews from the pulpit will do little to demonstrate the American Muslim community’s commitment to universal values of tolerance and religious freedom. The community must weed out its own bigots if it wants fair-minded Jews and Christians to support it against the bigotry of others.
The correct stance for American Muslims over the hateful comments of Imams Shahin and Harmoush would be to demand their removal from their positions. Next time an Imam makes anti-Semitic comments in a Friday sermon, it should be his congregants that must react well before media reports force a half-hearted apology.

Farahnaz Ispahani, a former members of Pakistan’s parliament, is Global Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC and a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Religious Freedom.

The Article is published by Huffpost originally; link Muslims Must Ostracize Anti-Semitic Imams by Farahnaz Ispahani