Stream of Shia blood spilled in Pakistan

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Imagine a sight of a devastated father, sitting cross-legged on the road, in the dark and cold night, staring at the coffin of his only son, unmindful of the rain droplets mixing with copious tears, tricking down his sunken eyes.

What must be going through his mind when he shoulders the coffin of his young son and lowers him down into the grave?

A father brings up his children to help and support him in the autumn of his life. His hopes and dreams are pinned in his blooming buds. He yearns to see them grow and blossom, not to die so brutally. The most gargantuan test of father’s strength and fortitude is identifying the carcass of his slain son, when it is covered in heaps of dust and blood.

It brings to mind the horrifying images from Karbala, 1400 years after. It reminds one of Husain (as) and his young son Ali Akbar (as). But this is another Karbala, and another Ashura. More than hundred people were mowed down in cold blood on January 10 on Alamdar Road, Quetta, for being what they are: Hazara Shias. The ruthless persecution of minority Hazaras in Pakistan is an old story, which has for some strange reason never invoked outrage. Shias, declared as heretics by some self-anointed standard bearers of Islam in the ‘land of pure’ are being exterminated in targeted attacks. 734721396

And, the bloodletting continues unabated. On February 16, another powerful blast in a water tanker ripped through a crowded market on the outskirts of Quetta. The death toll has reached 84 (at the time of writing this), and hundreds are admitted to various hospitals in critical condition. Lashkar e Jhangvi ‘proudly’ claimed the responsibility for the attack. Instead of calling for military raids against the killers, government of Balochistan announced a day of mourning on Sunday (February 17) against the bombing incident.

Members of the Shia Hazara community, like on January 10 when they sat on the road for three days with coffins of their loved ones, refused to bury bodies of victims again this time, demanding that Army be called in to take control of the southwestern city.

The dance of death has been going on since a long time. Stream of blood is spilled in the streets, inside mosques, in processions, in hospitals and in schools. Iran-bound Shia pilgrims are offloaded from buses, lined up in open field and executed diabolically in front of their spouses and children. People participating in peaceful mourning processions are blown up in bomb blasts. Threatening text messages are circulated to warn Hazaras against coming out. Taliban governor of Mazar-e-Sharif issues a fatwa justifying the killing of Shias. Lashkar e Jhangvi, an offshoot of banned Sipah e Sahaba, vows to rid Pakistan of ‘unclean people’.

From Lahore to Quetta to Karachi to Peshawar to Hyderabad – innocents die, killers roam around freely, and law enforcement agencies stand in a paralyzed state. Merely 24 hours after the bloodiest attacks in Quetta, a venom-spewing leader of Lashkar e Jhangvi speaks, in a tone that betrays excitement, about the ‘fun’ he has in bloodbath of Hazara Shias. I don’t know if he is a father himself, but he must be a son of some father and some mother.

The exclusionary ideology propounded by these lumpen takfiri neo-khawarijes makes terrorism a legitimate activity. I am not an authority on religious affairs, but one fails to understand which brand of Islam gives them a license to trample on the blood of their fellow Muslims, and which verse of Holy Quran provides justification for such barbarism.

These ‘pious’ takfiri elements have declared ‘others’ as ‘apostates’ and taken it upon themselves to wipe them off. The ‘others’ include moderate Deobandis, Sunni Barelvis, Ahmedis and Christians, besides Hazara Shias. They have been found involved in many major acts of terrorism in Pakistan, such as the bombing of Marriott Hotel Islamabad on 20 September 2008, attack on Sri Lankan team in Lahore on 3 March 2009, attack on GHQ Rawalpindi on 10 October 2009, attacks on Sunni Barelvi and Deobandi mosques in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, attacks on Ahmadis and Christians.

But, call it the brazen cowardice or complicity, nobody in the higher echelons of power musters courage to name the names and walk the talk. Even the media plays it safe, exercising a degree of caution and stopping short of calling these terrorists ‘takfiri deobandis’, rather employing wooly and ambiguous terms like ‘Sunni extremists’. Such terminology deceptively lends it sectarian colour and projects it as some political or religious confrontation between Shias and Sunnis. In essence, it is Takfiri Deobandis versus the rest. Many Sunni Barelvi and moderate Deobandis in Pakistan have distanced themselves from these hate-mongering Takfiri Deobandis.

It is important to make a clear distinction between moderate Deobandis and takfiri Deobandis, because even moderate Deobandis have been the targets. On 30 May 2004, a prominent Deobandi cleric, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai was gunned down while leaving his home in Karachi. On 17 September 2007, Maulana Hasan Jan was shot dead in Peshawar. On 19 September 2008, a bomb exploded at an Islamic seminary school in Quetta, run by Jamiat Ulema e Islam, resulting in five casualties. Sunni Barelvis have also faced the music at the hands of these ISI-backed and Saudi-financed neo-khawarije terrorists, like the attack on Data Darbar Lahore, attack on Jhal Magsi Balochistan, attack on Bari Imam Islamabad, attack on Rehman Baba Shrine Peshawar, attack on Abdullah Shah Ghazi Karachi, and attack on Nishtar Park on Eid e Milad celebrations in Karachi. kid82

The itchy question rattling the minds of all and sundry these days is: Who are these takfiri Deobandis on rampage in Pakistan. They are the foot soldiers affiliated to Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ), an offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (re-christened as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat). They represent a minuscule minority of Deobandi sect, with mentality of anarchism and chaos and dangerously extremist stance towards their fellow Muslims (from other sects) and non-Muslims. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), despite being banned in 2002 as a terrorist organization under Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, carries on its terrorist-sectarian activities camouflaged as ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’ (ASWJ).

They have vowed to carry forward the legacy of Yazeed, who killed Husain (as), the beloved grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), in desert plains of Karbala Iraq 1400 years back. Yazeed was also a Muslim, and his interpretation of Islam was no different from these self-anointed defenders of faith. The unremitting bloodshed of Shias in Pakistan has to be seen in the context of fatwa (decree) issued by Darul Uloom Deoband, the highest seat of learning for Deobandi sect, in support of Yazeed, who is otherwise cursed by all Muslims, cutting across sects.

These are the lumpen fanatics (khawarijes) who killed Husain (as)’s father (first Imam of Shias and fourth Caliph of Sunnis) Hazrat Ali (PBUH) in a Kufa (Iraq) mosque 1500 years ago. These are the people who razed down the shrine of Ali’s wife and Prophet Mohammad’s only daughter Hazrat Fatimah (PBUH). These are the people who poisoned Husain’s elder brother Hasan (PBUH). These are the people who mercilessly dragged the family of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) – including Husain’s ailing son Imam Sajjad (PBUH), his sister Hazrat Zainab (PBUH)), his daughter Hazrat Sakeena (PBUH) – through the crowded markets of Kufa (Iraq) and Shaam (Syria). These are the people who call poet Allama Iqbal and Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah as ‘kafirs’ (apostates).

Now, these neo-khawarijes, the leaders of extremist groups like Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), are carrying the ‘mission’ of their forefathers forward. Their task is cut out: to wipe off Shias and moderate Sunnis, and establish the rule of God on earth (only God knows what rule that is).

Some sections of media and general public in Pakistan do condemn the barbarism of these fringe extremist groups against Hazara Shias and other minorities, but they do so passively, almost reluctantly. Not many would dare to call killers by their name or by the name of their organisation. Those who did paid with their lives. The ruling Pakistan Political Party is inept and corrupt. Opposition PML-N overtly mollycoddles these groups and leaders from both are seen rubbing shoulders during election campaigns. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf is playing it safe, with an eye on upcoming elections. The only two warhorses who mince no words in calling spade a spade are Tahir ul Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Altaf Husain of Muttahida Quami Movement, perhaps because they are both non-residents, one with Canadian citizenship and other with British citizenship.

All the state institutions – government, army, and judiciary – have failed to protect minorities in Pakistan. Judiciary, seen as largely free of government and army control, takes suo moto notice of the murder of Shahzeb Khan (killed by some feudal lords); but it bails out the terrorists of LeJ, SSP and TTP, because of the lack of ‘sufficient evidence’. And the same terrorists come out and ruthlessly butcher Hazara Shias in Quetta.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan takes personal interest in the case of Shahzeb Khan (rightly so), but over a hundred murders of Hazara Shias under broad daylight on a single day fail to stir and shake him. The murder of Iran-bound Hazara pilgrims is not considered a fit case for suo moto notice. The murder of 13 year old Mehzar Zehra’s father is yet another statistic. Mehzar, who was also shot, is battling for her life on a hospital bed. What, and more importantly, who stops him from taking suo moto notice of the Shia killings in Quetta, Karachi, and Lahore? What prevents the intelligence agencies in Pakistan from collecting ‘sufficient evidence’ against the terrorists belonging to LeJ, SSP, and TTP? Where does the buck stop? Well, if you put yourself in the shoes of the bereaved father who sat on the road besides the coffin of his slain son on that rainy night, crying and wailing inconsolably, you will perhaps get the answer.

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In the name of ‘collective conscience’!

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

 

His son Ghalib was barely two when Mohammad Afzal Guroo was picked up by the sleuths of Delhi Police from a bus terminal in Srinagar Kashmir as ‘prime’ accused in the Indian Parliament attack case, two days after the attack took place on December 13, 2001.

He had no inkling that his doting father had been implicated in a high-profile case that was to change his life forever. He was too little to understand the nitty-gritty of criminal laws, the art of hounding and persecuting innocents and making them pawns in sinister games.

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India was shaken and stunned. L K Advani, the then Home Minister of India, termed it an attack on the ‘sovereignty’ of India. Suspicion, as is the norm with mandarins in South Block, was pointed at shadowy forces across the border. Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan was called back in protest. Troops were dispatched to the border. Dogs of war on national television went into tizzy. A full-scale armed confrontation between the estranged neighours looked imminent.

Even the possibility of a nuclear war could not be ruled out.

Amid all the perfunctory frenzy and wild speculations, Delhi Police was engaged in some serious business. Within no time, they had zeroed in on the suspects. The four people paraded before the agitated, breathless reporters of Indian media were all Kashmiris. Kashmiris, in this part of the world, make for incredibly good scapegoats and pawns.

The ‘suspects’ became ‘dreaded terrorists’ even before the trail kicked off. The equation had conveniently tilted in favour of vengeful State and its collaborators. It was no more the question of innocent-until-proven-guilty, rather the other way round.

Besides Afzal Guroo, his cousin Shaukat Guroo, Shaukat’s wife Afshan Guroo, and Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani were also arrested. Those who knew Afzal at a personal level were in utter disbelief. His family was shocked, even shattered. The foot soldiers of extremist right-wing outfits like Bajrang Dal, RSS, and Shiv Sena took to streets and demanded death to the ‘terrorists’.

Even before the trail commenced, Indian news channels were holding their own on-air trials in air-conditioned studios and pronouncing their verdict against those who they accused of plotting terror against the greatest symbol of the largest democracy.

Trial court sentenced Afzal, Geelani and Shaukat to death, while Afshan got five years of rigorous imprisonment. The High Court subsequently acquitted Geelani and Afshan, but upheld the death penalty of Afzal and Shaukat. Geelani’s acquittal, who was initially introduced as the mastermind of attack, blew a cavernous hole in the prosecution’s version.

Supreme Court came to the rescue of Shaukat, reducing his punishment to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. Afzal, however, got no reprieve. He was served three life sentences and a double death sentence. In its order, the court said, “the collective conscience of society will be satisfied if the death sentence is given to the offender’. The court, however, observed that his involvement in the attack on Indian parliament could not be established between reasonable doubt.

While his wife Afshan was exempted of all charges and acquitted, Shaukat Guroo’s sentence was relaxed. SAR Geelani was acquitted by Supreme Court. All three of them were represented by eminent lawyers. However, for Geelani, the ‘trail’ wasn’t over yet. His crime was perhaps that he was a bearded Muslim, a Kashmiri and an Arabic teacher. After failing to indict him in court, they wanted out-of-court cold-blooded settlement with him.

He was attacked by hired goons soon after his acquittal, outside his lawyer’s residence on the night of February 2008, 2005. Not less than five bullets pierced his torso. Displaying an exceptional fighter spirit, he literally crawled his way to hospital and survived to tell the tale. While Geelani was battling for his life on a hospital bed, Afzal was waiting to embrace gallows inside jail.

He refused to seek presidential pardon, since he did not know what his crime was. His wife Tabassum Guroo filed a petition for clemency on his behalf. She, along with Guroo’s son and mother, even went to meet the then President of India APJ Kalam.

In her appeal for justice, she explained how Afzal was falsely implicated in the case by notorious Special Task Force in Kashmir. “You will think that Afzal must be involved in some militant activities, which is why the security forces were torturing him to extract information. But you must understand the situation in Kashmir, every man, woman and child has some information on the movement, even if they are not involved.

By making people into informers, they turn brother against brother, wife against husband and children against parents. Afzal wanted to live quietly with his family but the STF would not allow him.”

The questions that remain unanswered even after his death are: Was it a fit case of rarest of rare crimes that warrant capital punishment? Was the due process of law followed? Did he get a fair and just trail? Was he a dreaded terrorist or merely a pawn in a sinister game?

Afzal Guroo was sent to gallows last week to ‘satisfy the collective conscience of society’, rather than on legal merits. Death penalty is awarded in only ‘rarest of rare’ crimes, where crime is established beyond any iota of doubt, after a fair trial in accordance to the due process of law and international standards of human rights. But, not so in Afzal’s case. Guru ‘s death penalty violated Supreme Court’s own guidelines, which say that capital punishment should be awarded in ‘rarest of rare crimes’.

There were a lot of loopholes in the prosecution’s version about Afzal’s involvement in the case. Death sentence is doled out to accused only after strictest observance of free trail. Did he get a free trail? He was denied worthwhile legal assistance at trail court – a crucial stage where evidences are produced and examined, which later becomes basis for court’s verdict against the accused. Right to legal protection is an inherent right. It is clearly enshrined in UN Declaration of Human Rights or Universal Declaration. Constitution of India also entitles a citizen with right to be defended in court of law.

Prosecution had accused him for being a “facilitator”, and not directly involved in the crime. Its case stood wholly on “circumstantial evidence”, for which death penalty becomes grossly disproportionate. As his lawyer in High Court was to say later, his case rested on two grave infirmities. First was the media trail, which rendered doing justice impossible, and second was trail court, which had denied him a lawyer.

Afzal’s case was based on unsubstantiated charges and fabricated evidence put together by investigating agencies. As per his own admission, Special task force personnel ruthlessly tormented him in Kashmir. Confessions were extracted from him under duress, after he was tortured and his family was threatened of dire consequences. In a letter to his lawyer from Tihar Jail, Afzal wrote in 2004, “Throughout the trial, I remained mute and helpless spectator as witnesses, police and even judge all became a single force against me. I remained bewildered and confused between the security and safety of myself and my family. I protected and saved my family. That is how I am lying in death row.”

The notorious Special cell of Delhi Police used media to brand him a ‘terrorist’, even before trail commenced. He was forced to confess to crime before media. It followed the media trail in a rather brazen manner, including a film broadcast on Zee TV, apparently previewed and approved by the then P.M Atal Bihari Vajpaaye himself. It was one of the prime factors in prejudicing the outcome of the trail. As noted legal hawk and constitutional expert.

Delhi High court acknowledged that investigating agencies had fabricated evidence against him, yet it went ahead to uphold the “unfair” verdict against him. Supreme Court admitted that his direct association with any terrorist outfit couldn’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt. His case did not meet international standards of a fair trail. Taking all the serious loopholes into account, it violated Article 7, 10, 14, 17 of International Covenant on Civil and Political rights.

As activist and author Arundathi Roy wrote in her Outlook essay few years back, he was not the dragon, he was only dragon’s footprint, and if dragon’s footprint is made to ‘become extinct’, we will never know who the dragon was”.

Today, his son Ghalib is 14 years old. He has grown up fast. He knows the law better now. He is a proud son of a martyr. Today, Afzal Guroo has become a symbol of resistance for new-generation freedom-lovers in Kashmir. He has become a rallying point. His martyrdom has infused a fresh lease of life in the movement against Indian occupation and repression in Kashmir.

It is sickening to see many pseudo-liberals in India now beating their chests and shedding crocodile tears over the miscarriage of justice. Their sudden change of heart is more preposterous than the frenzied celebrations of the blood-hungry right-wing fanatics. There have been reports in Indian press suggesting that he was ‘Indian nationalist’ who was ‘wronged by law’, and who wanted to ‘rid country of corruption’.

Guroo was a man of principles. He had strong principled political stand on Kashmir. It was evident when he turned down the offer of Ram Jethmalani to plead his case, if he accepted the lawyer’s conditions. The conditions put by the lawyer, who also defended co-accused SAR Geelani in the same case, were against the principles and political ideology of Guroo. He was unequivocal about Kashmir being a ‘disputed’ region, and not the ‘integral part’ or ‘jugular vein’ of any other outside entity. He was a staunch freedom-lover like any one of us. If that is a crime that warrants capital punishment, then we all deserve to be hanged and buried in Tihar jail.

Today, Kashmir is on the boil. Half a dozen boys have been mowed down. Curfew has been in place since more than a week, accompanied by stringent media blackout, internet blockade, and various other arm-twisting methods to crush the spirit of young Kashmiris who want to register their protest against the secretive, vengeful hanging of Afzal Guroo. Before staging a judicial murder in a secretive manner, the State did not even deem it important to inform his family. It feared the public backlash, but the protests have erupted anyway. Then, they cited jail manual to refuse the request of Guroo’s family to return his corpse for proper burial in Kashmir.

A stone epitaph has been erected over an empty grave in Srinagar’s main martyr’s graveyard, right next to the empty grave of the founding father of Kashmir’ independence movement Maqbool Bhat, who was executed in the same jail 29 years ago. The epitaph reads, “The martyr of the nation, whose mortal remains are lying in the custody of the Government of India. The nation is awaiting its return.” The nation waits.

 

I do not hate people, nor do I encroach. But if I become hungry, the usurper’s flesh will be my food. Beware… Beware… of my hunger, and my anger! ~ Mahmoud Darwish