About Farahnaz Ispahani

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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.

With Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, The Patron of Pakistan Peoples Party

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, author of “Purifying The Land of the Pure; Pakistan’s Religious Minorities. She is Foreign Policy Global Thinker.

In 2015, she was a Reagan-Fascell Scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, DC where she worked on Women and Extremist groups with a particular focus on the women of ISIS. 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 Adviser to the President of Pakistan from 2008-2012. She returned to Pakistan with Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 after opposing the Musharraf dictatorship in the preceding years. In Parliament she focused on the issues of terrorism, human rights, gender based violence, minority rights and US-Pakistan relations. The most notable pieces of legislation enacted with her active support include those relating to Women’s Harassment in the Workplace and Acid Crimes and Control, which made disfiguring of women by throwing acid at them a major crime. 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.

She has contributed opinion pieces to the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy,    The National Review, The Hindu, India, The News, Pakistan and The Huffington Post.

Ms Ispahani has spoken at many forums in the US and abroad including the Aspen Ideas Festival, The Brussels Forum, The Aspen Congressional Program, The Chautauqua Institute, The University of Pennsylvania, Wellesley College, Jamia Millia University, Delhi.

 


“The National Endowment for Democracy” introduces Ms Ispahani as:

Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani

Pakistan

“Women’s Political Participation in the Muslim World”
Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellow: Mar 2015 – Jul 2015

Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani has been a leading voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan for the past twenty five years, first as a journalist, then as a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and most recently as a scholar based in the United States. An advocate of Pakistan’s return to democracy during the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, she served as a spokesperson and international media coordinator for the Pakistan People’s Party, working alongside the late Benazir Bhutto. During her tenure in parliament (2008–2012), she was a member of the Human Rights Committee and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. In 2013–2014, she served as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she completed a book on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. In 2012, she was listed amongForeign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, as well as Newsweek Pakistan’s Top 100 Women Who Matter. During her fellowship, Ms. Ispahani is exploring women’s political participation in the Muslim world, both in terms of their progress toward gender equality under democratic systems and the converse rise of women as agents of extremist propaganda within the world of the Islamic State.

Articles and Op-Eds

Silenced: Another Killing Amidst Pakistan’s Democratic Trappings,” Foreign Policy Magazine, April 28, 2015.

Interviews 

“EWTN News Nightly – 2015.3.16,” EWTN News Nightly, March 16, 2015.

Presentations

“Religion and the Liberal International Order,” The German Marshall Fund, March 21, 2015.

“The Islamic State and its Impact on International Affairs in the Middle East,” Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, April 1, 2015.

Link to the page http://www.ned.org/fellowships/current-past-fellows/ms-farahnaz-ispahani

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Silenced: Another Killing Amidst Pakistan’s Democratic Trappings

Silenced: Another Killing Amidst Pakistan’s Democratic Trappings

Sabeen Mahmud was killed on Apr. 24 after hosting an event in Karachiabout the brutal suppression of an ethnic nationalist insurgency in the restive province of Balochistan. The murder of another leading Pakistani social activist has drawn attention to the systematic elimination of the few liberal voices in the country. Beginning with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, several outspoken critics of Pakistan’s jihadis and their backers within the state apparatus have either been killed or silenced by intimidation. Yet Pakistan also continues to maintain the trappings of democracy, making it difficult for many both inside and outside Pakistan to understand the method in the violent madness.

Pakistan’s notorious and ubiquitous ‘deep state’ — personified by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency — had blocked a similar event on the suppression of the insurgency in Balochistan at other venues but Mahmud allowed the event to take place at her café and arts space. She was killed soon after she left the talk. Although some critics have pointed the finger at ISI,others have raised the valid question that killing Mahmud right after the event was bound to attract attention to the agency and could be the work of those who wanted precisely to direct blame at the ISI. Unexplained murders in Pakistan are often blamed on ‘foreign hands.’  In most democratic countries, speculation about who murdered Sabeen Mahmud would end with a proper investigation and a credible trial. But Pakistan is not like most other democratic countries.

Pakistan has an elected parliament and a diverse media. It allows contestation for power among an assortment of political parties. Many Pakistanis are able to criticize their government and debate the corruption of politicians. This creates an illusion of Pakistan’s freedom glass being half full.

On the flip side, there are unsolved murders of public figures and journalists; bodies of Baloch nationalists dumped after being killed by security services; and the attacks and threats of violence by as many as 48 Islamist terrorist groups.

Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous places for journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which has recorded the killing of 56 journalists in the country over the last two decades. Several journalists, likeHamid Mir  and Raza Rumi have escaped death after being shot at in what were clearly attempts to silence them.

Violence in Balochistan is endemic. Last year 153 bullet-riddled bodies were recovered in Balochistan, according to human rights groups, which blamed security services for systematically eliminating suspected Baloch militants as well as their sympathizers. Baloch militants, too, have been responsible for killing members of other ethnic groups whom they see as encroachers on their traditional tribal homeland.

There is little discussion of Balochistan in the national or international media. Foreign journalists are not allowed to visit the province except with special permission. Some, like the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, have beenbeaten up upon arrival in Quetta, the provincial capital, to dissuade them from looking for stories there.

The attack on Hamid Mir followed his attempt to discuss Balochistan on his television show and now Sabeen Mahmud’s murder has also followed an attempt to talk about the situation in the province.

From an international perspective, Balochistan is deemed less important than the challenge of Islamist terrorism in Pakistan. Jihadis, some of whom have been supported by ISI in an effort to project Pakistani power in Afghanistan and against arch-rival India, have wreaked havoc in Pakistan for years. Several thousand Pakistanis, have died in terrorist attacks across the country.

The Pakistani military is engaged in battling some jihadist terrorist groups in the country’s northwest tribal region bordering Afghanistan. But other internationally designated terrorist groups continue to operate openly in Pakistan’s cities and their leaders are even able to appear on national television.

The systematic elimination of liberal voices in Pakistan can best be understood in the context of red lines set by the ‘deep state.’ Arrogant in the assumption that they alone know what is good for the country and what should or should not be publicly discussed, Pakistan’s spooks allow only a ‘circumscribed democracy.’ This explains why some ostensibly liberal Pakistanis survive while others do not.

Subjects that incur the wrath of the ‘deep state’ and its terrorist allies include their atrocities in Balochistan and the persisting ties between the ISI and jihadis. Other topics that upset them include suggesting normalization of ties with India without resolving the Kashmir dispute or proposing curtailment of the military’s role in policy-making.

The killing of Sabeen Mahmud is most likely meant to be a warning to others not to publicly discuss state enforced disappearances in Balochistan. Pakistan’s liberals are tolerated as long as they stay within their prescribed limits. They may discuss gender inequality and politicians’ corruption, even religious intolerance. But questioning the ‘deep state’ and its myopic vision is where the line is drawn.

Link to the Article: “Silenced: Another Killing Amidst Pakistan’s Democratic Trappings,” Foreign Policy Magazine, April 28, 2015.

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Wilson Center Experts

Farahnaz Ispahani

Public Policy Scholar Farahnaz Ispahani Asia Program

EXPERTISE:

  • Democracy
  • Democracy Promotion
  • Democratic Transition
  • Gender
  • Gender Equality
  • Human Rights
  • Pakistan
  • South Asia
  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Egypt
AFFILIATION:
Former Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan.
WILSON CENTER PROJECT(S):
“Protecting Religious Minorities in Pakistan”
TERM:
Jun 03, 2013 – Jun 30, 2014

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She is a Pakistani politician who served as a member of Parliament and Media Advisor to the President of Pakistan. At the Parliament she focused on the issues of terrorism, human rights, minority rights and US-Pakistan relations. 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.

Project Summary

Pakistan’s religious minorities are widely viewed as embattled and under attack. This project undertakes a comprehensive analysis of Pakistan’s policies towards its religious minority populations, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, before proposing policy reforms Pakistan can undertake to ensure their protection. A historical overview will be taken in the context of expanding Islamization and evaluate state policy and legal provisions and their impact on the status of religious minorities. It is not only Pakistan where Muslim and Non-Muslim minorities are under attack. This is a phenomenon prevalent in a number of Muslim majority countries and spreading rapidly. The broader aim of this project is to look at Pakistan and other Muslim Majority countries such as Indonesia and Egypt.

Major Publications

  • Thwarting Blasphemy laws in the Muslim World, National Review
  • The problem with Pakistan’s democracy, Foreign Policy Magazine
  • Death by a Thousand Cuts – The Hindu
  • Democracy Wins, Federation Loses – The Hindu

Related Content for this Expert

Link : Farahnaz Ispahani- Wilson Center Experts

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18 comments

  1. Keep working hard and hard for this great nation in the name of Shaheed-e-Jamhoriat Mohtarmma Benazir Bhutto Sahheed.

  2. Jeay Bhutto

    Aslam-ele-kum
    Pakistan pplz party hamesha kamyab rahy q k es party ne bohat s qurbaniyan di hai
    kamran qabulio
    kotri hyderbad sindh

  3. i am very glad to read today your article in Express tribune which highlighting positive aspects of Jinah speech of 11 August 1947.

  4. Dear Farahnaz,.

    I read your op-ed, “Pakistan’s minorities: the bigger issue” on the Daily Times website. It was straight forward and thought provoking.

    While reading your op-ed and other op-eds on similar subjects, I got an idea that I propose strictly for the seemingly unchangeable, stuck-in-the-7th-century-mindset, majority-Muslim society of a conservative Islamic country of Pakistan which is found to be Arabizing itself and subjugating women and minorities: If it cannot be repealed due to death threats by Islamists, how about expanding the blasphemy law to include all other religions? To elaborate on the idea, it would be a crime, punishable by law with equal force and effect, to spread a religious hatred by systematically denigrating other religious beliefs, disrespect religious relics, icons, books, writings, statues, symbols or other sacred objects; insult deities, gods, goddesses, saints, gurus or other sacred persons (alive or dead) of any religions or sects thereof; or vandalize or destroy the idols or the places of worships of any religions or sects thereof. This would hopefully be a deterrence to accusation of blasphemy increasingly made by majority Muslims, reduce religious persecution or mob violence by majority Muslims, and minimize supremacy of one religion (or a sect thereof) over the other while resulting in an interfaith harmony and religious tolerance and promoting peace and pluralism in Pakistan.

    It would be great if someone like you in Pakistan could write an op-ed based on the abovementioned idea and start a dialog or debate in the Pakistan’s society or political arena through the electronic media so as to bring fairness in the blasphemy law without a need to repeal it.

    I would welcome your response.

    Sincerely,

    –Jamil
    California, USA

  5. My Dear Farahnaz,Ispahani realy i appreciate Ur hardworking sincerity & intellectuality Ur are pztve mind political worker. Ur struggle for women of Pakistan. i heard ur comments in assembly in different issues . God Bless u.

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