Wellesley in Politics: A personal profile interview.

Farahnaz Ispahani ‘85 has been a leading voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan for over two decades, working as a journalist, member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and most recently as a United States-based scholar. 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 Foreign Affairs and Human Rights committees and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. In 2013 and 2014 she was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she completed “Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities” (2016), a book on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. In 2012 she was listed among Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, as well as Newsweek Pakistan’s Top 100 Women Who Matter.

What led you to Wellesley?

I arrived at Wellesley through family connections to the college. My grandfather, M.A.H Ispahani had spoken at Wellesley when he was Pakistan’s first Ambassador to the United States. My eldest sister attended Wellesley in the late 70s. I had never been to the United States before and I wanted to go to school in a warmer part of the country but I got in and the choice was made for me!

However, once I got to Wellesley I appreciated its unique and very special education and community and made it mine. Wellesley changed my life.

How did your childhood and family influence your work as an adult? Â Who was your biggest role model growing up?

Growing up in Pakistan in the 1970s I attended a convent school run by a teaching order of nuns from Ireland. My class was made up of girls from every religious and ethnic community of my city Karachi. We never knew who was a Christian or Shia or Sunni Muslim or a Hindu or a Parsi. The nuns ensured an atmosphere of inclusion. I started understanding that I belonged to a religious minority when my mother, siblings and I used to attend majlises or religious gatherings in the month of mourning which is called Muharram. We saw a city and country where we could commemorate this month in peace and our Sunni neighbors would acknowledge the solemnity and respect us to a point where our places of worship are surrounded by tanks and armed police or army men and we are frisked for metal objects and guns when we enter in case we are terrorist wanting to blow us up.

My career in journalism, politics and as a scholar was deeply influenced by what we as a family witnessed and experienced.

My greatest role model was my Iranian grandmother. She was an amazing woman who made Pakistan her home and founded and ran the first day care center in Karachi that enabled middle class and poor women to work and have their children in a safe environment where they were taught and fed. She also founded and ran an orphanage for unwanted children. Some were left outside in the dead of the night in a basket. In a society that rejects illegitimate children Kashana e Atfal and Naunehal took in and educated thousands of girls and still does. Some of the young women who were adopted from Kashana attended Oxford, Cambridge and the Sorbonne.

Khanumjoon, as we called her lovingly, spoke 5 languages including Farsi, Urdu, French, German and Turkish. She also attended London University and got a social science degree during WW11.

Her affection, love, guidance and time were a constant for us throughout her life.

With Pakistan being Sunni run and about 77 percent Sunni, does that lead to distrust towards them from religious minorities? Based on the number of claims of blasphemy and harsh penalties for it, is it hard to people of different religions (and within Muslims for Shi’ites and Ahmadis) to trust each other?

The founder of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah was a Shia Muslim and he was supported in the creation of Pakistan by the head of the Ahmadi Muslim community. Unfortunately, Mr. Jinnah died a year after the birth of Pakistan. The downward descent of what I call ‘communal majoritarianism’ kicked in immediately and anti-Shia and anti-Ahmadi movements gained strength. Today, we see sectarian terrorist groups that kill those of Muslim minority and Christian and Hindu minority faiths and blow up their places of worship. The leaders of these groups are known to the authorities but remain free to address open public rallies and travel. The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan is considered the toughest in the world and carries a death penalty if convicted. Once this law was passed it gave the general public of Pakistan a sort of license to judge and convict anyone they feel has blasphemed.

You said in a paper in 2013 for the Hudson Institute that Ahmadis make up only 0.22 percent of the population of Pakistan. How much of a change is that since the Partition? I saw an article recently in Dawn that another Ahmadi Muslim was killed. Do you think they’ll ever be safe in Pakistan?

Members of Ahmadi sect forbidden to call themselves Muslim. Ahmadis are some of the most common defendants in criminal charges of blasphemy, which in Pakistan can carry the death penalty. By law they cannot call their place of worship mosques or distribute religious literature, recite the Koran or use traditional Islamic greetings, measures that they say criminalize their daily lives.

The legal restrictions began in 1974, when the then-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto passed a constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis non-Muslim. A decade later military dictator General Zia ul Haq barred Ahmadis from identifying themselves as Muslim.

The exact percentage is hard to calculate as though many Ahmadis have fled the country and gained asylum in the US, Canada, UK and Australia the constant increase of the Pakistani population which is not easily attainable as many Ahmadis have to hide their faith to be able to work and ensure the safety of their families.

I do not think they will be safe in Pakistan in my lifetime. In the month of November alone, nuclear armed Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad has been taken hostage by thousands of religious extremists demanding further restrictions on the county’s Ahmadi Muslims & praising convicted criminals like Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of our former governor, Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer.

Also, The National Assembly (Parliament) has passed the new Elections (Amendment) Bill 2017 challenging the voter registration of anyone accused of being an Ahmadi.

The bill relates to the fresh delimitation of constituencies keeping in view the provisional results of the recently conducted census with respect to the upcoming general elections in 2018.

Speaking on the new law ‘Elections Amendment Bill 2017′ Senate Deputy Chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, who belongs to the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F, said that the Ahmadis’ status is the same as it was back in the 1973 Constitution. Reinforcing the Ahmadis vulnerable position and demonstrating that the parliament and government consider them non-Muslims.

Can Pakistan ever be a place where all feel safe and welcome regardless of religion?

In my lifetime only former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf had the power during his ten year rule to change the laws and ensure prosecution of those who attacked minority groups. And, to disband sectarian terrorist organizations. But he did not. I am not hopeful in the rational sense but one has to keep hope alive to ensure change one day.

Can social media be freely used or is it regulated as part of the blasphemy laws?

It is regulated to some extent. People have been arrested for blasphemy because of blasphemy allegations of online comments and killed as university student Mashal Khan was. But, like others, his family has not received justice. Journalists and bloggers speaking freely on social media have disappeared, been tortured and fled the country.

Especially after writing Purifying the Land of the Pure can you safely return to Pakistan? If not what would have to change for that to be possible?

I have gone back on a handful of occasions – but in a very low key manner and with a full understanding of the risks. Anyone who has written and spoken as much about the issues I do can never be safe in Pakistan. Vigilante justice continues unimpeded.

Do you think it’s possible to have a country based on a religion that’s welcoming to those who don’t follow that religion?

No. There has to be a separation of church and state and all citizens must be considered equal under the constitution. Religion or ethnicity cannot be a part of any modern and civilized nation.

Your work has largely focused on bringing Pakistan back to democracy. How do you hold onto hope for a country with such a history of violence?

Hope does spring eternal. However, as Pakistan is a relatively young country one can only work for a better tomorrow. But, I know how ugly the lives of those of minority community faiths are. That spurs me on. The country belongs to every single Pakistani and they deserve that.

I can’t even imagine getting to work with Benazir Bhutto as you did both when she was in exile and when she returned to Pakistan in September 2007. What is your favorite story about her?

Benazir Bhutto, was human and had faults but what a great leader she was. I still miss her every day. She had political intelligence, knowledge of her country and the world and a deep compassion and empathy for women, the disadvantaged and the persecuted. She was hated by the religious right wing forces.

My favorite story about Bibi as any of us referred to her was the day after her arrival. Estimates say that 1 million supporters gathered to welcome her arrival. As her caravan slowly inched through Karachi terrorists set off two bombs to kill her. Many died but she managed to survive.

The following day Benazir Bhutto held a press conference in her small garden at her Karachi home. It was packed with PPP party officials and reporters. Benazir arrived in a old pair of glasses from her bedside drawer as the ones she had on were shattered in the blast. The audio didn’t work. Bibi picked up a hand mike and without missing a stride spoke so clearly and with an unshaken sense of mission.

She answered every question although she was mourning those who had lost their lives and been up all night talking to her family and party people.

That was Benazir. Brilliant and unbowed. And, kind..Finding a bond with every woman she met. Rich or poor, educated or not. Privately her humor, and love of chocolate and ice cream, and escaping to a movie or a having a cozy chat for a brief respite from her lifetime of heavy responsibility. I always thought of her as the perfect Wellesley woman though she went to Radcliffe!

Farahnaz’s blog is https://farahnazispahani.com/ and her writings can also be found in various news outlets.

Photo by Elliott O’Donovan Photography

Benazir Bhutto — The Muslim Leader Who Saw Jihadis Coming- Farahnaz Ispahani

Two years after being elected, the world’s first female Muslim prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, received intelligence that a man called Osama bin Laden had given orders to kill her. The year was 1990. Al-Qaeda had not yet officially been formed, but the organizers of global jihad had already determined that Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they launched their first modern jihad against the Soviet Union, would be crucial to their plans for restoring the medieval caliphate across the Muslim world.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Bhutto narrated the bin Laden threat to her life in the second edition of her book The Daughter of the East. In the first edition, she had spoken of threats to her life at the time of her first return to Pakistan from exile, in 1986, while the jihadist dictator General Zia-ul-Haq still ruled the country. Bhutto conveyed her concerns about Zia to U.S. officials then as she did about bin Laden four years later. But before 9/11, warnings about radical Islamists were not taken seriously.

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by the jihadis on December 27, 2007 after addressing a rally where she repeated her warnings about the Taliban and other extremist groups. Today, events such as the recent massacre of school children in Peshawar, reflect what Bhutto was warning against. Extremist Islamist ideologues opposed her because as a western-educated Muslim woman leader she symbolized all that the jihadis hate.

Bhutto was physically brave beyond comprehension. She had a commanding personality, was extremely intelligent and well read. Her charisma, combined with her compassion towards the poor of Pakistan, helped her win elections in a conservative Muslim majority country. Zia-ul-Haq, the brutal military dictator, rued that he had not “finished her off” along with her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — a former president and prime minister of Pakistan executed by Zia after a military coup.

The extremists and Pakistan’s conservative establishment that has backed them hated Benazir Bhutto with a passion and tried to thwart her in every way her entire adult life. Pakistan’s reputation as a terrorist incubator owes itself to the hyper-nationalist and Islamist ideology cultivated over the years by the country’s establishment. Bhutto saw this ideology, not as a cement that would bind Pakistan’s disparate ethnic groups, but as a deviation from the ideas of Pakistan’s secular founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto had a vision and clarity about Pakistan, the Muslim world and the West after 9/11 that no Muslim leader today seems to have. In her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, written just before her assassination and published right after it, she argued that Pakistan under military dictatorship had become an epicenter of an international terrorist movement that had two primary aims: “First, the extremists aim to reconstitute the concept of the caliphate, a political state encompassing the great Ummah (Muslim community) populations of the world,” she wrote. The second aim of the militants was “to provoke a clash of civilizations between the West and an interpretation of Islam that rejects pluralism and modernity.”

In 2007, before ISIS and its markedly escalated brutality had surfaced, Bhutto cautioned the world about the violent intentions of those hijacking her Islamic faith. “The attacks on September, 11, 2001, heralded the vanguard of the caliphate-inspired dream of bloody confrontation: the crusades in reverse,” she explained to a global audience that still does not always understand motives of groups like Daesh — or the Islamic State as the extremist murderers prefer to be called.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Bhutto explained that within the Muslim world, sectarianism was widespread and the Islamic dogma had been shaped into a propaganda tool justifying jihad against the West. She also took on rising western Islamophobia and argued that Islam and Muslims were not the negative and cartoonish caricatures often painted in the Western press and movies.

Bhutto offered an alternative vision of civic Islam, drawing on the Prophet Muhammad’s acceptance of “women as equal partners in society, in business and even in war. Islam codified the rights of women. It guarantees women, civil, economic and political rights.” She castigated those “who claim to speak for Islam who denigrate democracy and human rights, arguing that these values are western values and thus inconsistent with Islam. These are the same people who would deny basic education to girls, blatantly discriminate against women and minorities, ridicule other cultures and religions, rant against science and technology, and enforce brutal totalitarianism to enforce their medieval views.”

According to her, these people have no more legitimate relationship with Islam than the people who bomb women’s health centers in America have to Christianity or the madmen who massacre innocent Arab children at the tomb of Abraham in Palestine have to Judaism.

Benazir Bhutto will be mourned on the anniversary of her assassination at her burial place in her family shrine in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in Sindh and all over Pakistan. This year, with the turmoil, strife and violence spreading all over Muslim lands by the extremists, it would be worthwhile to pay attention to her words, experience and recommendations for fighting the jihadi extremists.

Benazir-Bhutto

 

(Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. 2013-2014)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/farahnaz-ispahani/benazir-bhutto-jihadis_b_6373568.html

The Wronged Man

Husain Haqqani tells it like it is. Husain Haqqani, Islamabad’s former ambassador to Washington, is making waves with his latest book, Magnificent Delusions, which speaks hard truths about the arrant alliance between Pakistan and the United States. In 2011, Haqqani was forced to resign as envoy under Army pressure, and the Iftikhar Chaudhry-led Supreme Court, champion of the hypernationalist narrative, zealously moved against him and his wife, Farahnaz Ispahani. The court declared open season on Haqqani: it dubbed him a “traitor,” placing his life at risk. And Ispahani, one of the most widely-lauded voices for human rights in Pakistan’s previous National Assembly, was ousted from the legislature. Faced with injustice at home, Haqqani returned to academia abroad. He teaches international relations at Boston University and is a director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. We spoke with Haqqani over email recently about his book and the delusions that continue to impair Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. Excerpts:

You have been a consistent advocate of resetting Pakistan-America relations on the basis of pragmatism. What exactly does this entail?

For 66 years, Pakistan has sought close ties with the U.S. with the sole purpose of offsetting India’s size and military advantage. This has been a security relationship. But no nation can become a regional power while also being dependent on assistance from other countries. A better option for Pakistan would be to normalize relations with India and Afghanistan and then have a broader, nonsecurity relationship with the United States. Pakistanis resent the U.S. partly because we have been dependent on it. The United States had not been constant in its relations with Pakistan, but it was also wrong on Pakistan’s part to expect constancy. I have studied several models of partnership with the United States and wondered why most other U.S. allies since World War II have prospered while Pakistan has not. The answer came down to our unwillingness to have an honest relationship. South Korea and Taiwan aligned their security policies and perceptions with the Americans. Pakistan refused to accept U.S. advice, especially where its regional view was questioned. My vision, encouraged by [former prime minister] Benazir Bhutto, was for a strategic rather than tactical relationship. It would not be based on asking for military aid in return for providing some services to the Americans in their concerns. We need to build a self-confident Pakistan, free of the burdens of past blunders, especially jihadist misadventures. American assistance should be directed toward standing on our own feet. We need a relationship involving education, tourism, investment, and trade—like other countries have—not one that is all about seeking military equipment and aid in private and abusing America in public. But despite the mutual misgivings, Pakistan and the U.S. remain disenchanted allies.

Does the relationship lose relevance after NATO troops pull out from Afghanistan by the end of 2014?

I do not think Pakistan and the U.S. are allies. We just pretend to be allies. Each round of close engagement has been followed by disenchantment on both sides. This time I think the mistrust and disenchantment runs much deeper than before. A long-term relationship post-2014 is possible. But it would require a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani policies. Unlike the 1950s, when Afghanistan and India refused to be U.S. allies leaving Pakistan as the only partner in the region, this time the Americans have alternatives whereas Pakistan might not.

Can Pakistan and the U.S. avoid a bitter, perhaps inevitable, falling-out?

Both countries need to get past their one-sided narratives. Both have made mistakes, and both have raised expectations of the other that have not been fulfilled. Americans must understand that aid does not buy a people’s friendship. Pakistan must get out of the business of jihad and understand that spinning a narrative of victimhood at home is no way to ensure respect abroad. Above all, both countries must evolve a pragmatic relationship based on realistic expectations.

What steps can Pakistan take to right past wrongs?

Pakistan’s foreign policy is based on a psyche of insecurity. After acquiring nuclear weapons we should have felt secure. Instead, we act like the man who keeps buying guns to protect himself and his family and then stays up all night fearing that someone will steal his guns. Just as staying up all night would likely give high blood pressure to our imaginary gun-buying man, Pakistan is suffering internally from its insecurity-driven policies. Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin had suggested just this in his address to Pakistan’s Parliament in December 1996 that Pakistan should shelve issues that cannot be resolved for the time being. We should apply that advice and normalize relations with Afghanistan and India. Just as China did not give up its rights over Taiwan, Pakistan need not give up its claim on Kashmir. But it should start trade with India, which would enhance Pakistan’s economic growth. It would also ensure peace, which is a precondition for development. In the case of Afghanistan, Pakistan should befriend the government in Kabul instead of trying to impose one of its own choosing. Pakistan should put all terrorist groups out of action, come clean on its nuclear program, and develop a comprehensive program of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration for the jihadists. Denial of the terrorists’ presence on Pakistani soil is no longer an option. We must become a trading nation instead of being a “warrior” state.

Is the warrior-state mentality, derived from Pakistan’s creation in the name of Islam, something that can be so easily refashioned?

Pakistan may have needed an Islamo-nationalist raison d’être for its creation; it does not need one for its evolution into a functional state. Most nations and countries have evolved through a process of history, not through propagated ideology. Some 95 percent of Pakistan’s population was born after 1947. We are Pakistanis because we were born Pakistani; we need to stop insisting on being an ideological nation. We just need to figure out how to make the nation we were born into secure and prosperous. We need to debate policies, not ideology. As long as we keep feeling the need to ideologically justify our existence, we will be psychologically insecure. Changing the ideological paradigm is the key to changing things for the better.

What did you discover about Pakistan-America relations while ambassador, and what’s your advice to the ambassador-designate?

Magnificent Delusions, with its 32 pages of endnotes, is my answer to the first part of your question. My advice to the incoming ambassador is to make sure he is seen by his interlocutors as credible. Playing to the gallery back home does not enhance an ambassador’s ability to influence events in his host country, particularly a place like the United States. I may have been burnt at the stake by the [national-security] establishment at home, but I still have my integrity internationally. That enables me to speak for my country even without any office.

What do you say to detractors who allege you have been “unkind” to Pakistan?

Just because I refuse to accept myths circulated for public consumption throughout our history does not mean I am unkind to Pakistan. Vibrant nations encourage self-criticism and adjust policies based on different ideas. Honest debate is not possible without facing facts. Don’t forget, on Dec. 17, 1971, a day after thousands of our troops had surrendered at Dhaka, the headline in Dawn was “Victory on All Fronts.” If that was being kind to Pakistan, it did not change the fact that we had lost half our country’s territory and more than half its population. I would rather be accused of being unkind while marshaling facts than being guilty of deception that results in an irreversible loss to my country.

Link to original piece Newsweek Pakistan December 21st, 2013 edition: http://newsweekpakistan.com/the-wronged-man/