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Daily Times Editorials – 26th March 2016

Justice at last

The former Yugoslavia, a socialist state, was a federation of six republics that brought together Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Slovenes and other ethnic groups that lived together in relative harmony. However, towards the end of the Cold War, tensions between different groups started to rise, and starting in 1991, nationalist groups of different ethnicities declared independence one after the other, leading to the break-up of Yugoslavia. As a response to the splintering of the multi-ethnic federation, the Serb-dominated former Yugoslav army lashed out, first in Slovenia, then in Croatia, and finally, starting in 1992, in Bosnia, where some of the worst instances of violence took place over issues of territory and assets. Bosnia’s population was divided between Muslims, Serbs and Croats. The Bosnian Serbs, backed by the newly formed republic of Serbia, began a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed at eradicating Bosnian Muslims, as propaganda, grievances and incidents dating as far back as the 13th century were invoked by Serbian nationalists to create an atmosphere of hate and violence. The Bosnian War lasted three years and became the bloodiest, messiest conflict to take place on European soil since the end of the World War II as international efforts to stop the war ended in failure, and over 100,000 people died and more than a million were displaced as a result of the war. Finally in 1995, a tenuous peace was enforced when NATO came to the aid of Bosnians and Croats against the Serbs.

Now, after than two decades since the end of the conflict, one of the major architects of the genocide carried out in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic has been convicted for his war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), formed in 1993 under the auspices of the UN. The ICTY has heard the cases of 161 defendants for crimes against humanity; it has convicted 80 of them, with Karadzic being the most high profile convict so far. Reportedly, 25 other cases are still pending, with the case of Karadzic’s military commander General Ratko Mladic being the most prominent. Karadzic’s sentence of 40 years, for a host of grave offences, that included t44-month siege of Sarajevo, in which at least 5,000 men, women and children died, and the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica, where 8,000 men and boys were taken from a supposedly safe zone and gunned down, is being hailed as the ICTY’s most significant achievement in its 23 years of existence. Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb politician and commander of military forces, had evaded arrest till 2008; a wait for a conviction of almost eight years since his arrest has been criticised by the victims of the Serb forces as being too little and too late. While the slow pace of the proceedings can be criticised, the conviction of Karadzic is a vindication of focused, international criminal tribunals as a concept since it shows that war criminals should always be brought to justice and held accountable.

RAW officer’s arrest

Pakistan security agencies have claimed that they have arrested a serving officer in the Indian Navy who was deputed to the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in Balochistan. The claim has raised tension between the nuclear-armed rivals. Kul Bhoshan Yaduv is reportedly a commander in the Indian Navy and has confessed to plotting the separation of Balochistan and Karachi from Pakistan. He has been transferred to Islamabad for further questioning. In response to these reports, the ministry of external affairs of India has acknowledged that the alleged spy was an Indian national, claiming that he is actually a former naval officer and has no connection with the Indian government. On surface, this is a very weak response. The presence of a serving defence officer of India in Pakistan is a serious matter and must be investigated accordingly. India needs to realise that destabilising a neighbouring state will not bring any good; rather, such activities will only deepen the rift and dampen relations between the two states.

This acknowledgement has raised doubts about sincerity of India towards Pakistan. A question arises: what was the purpose of an Indian national’s presence in restive areas of Pakistan. Pakistan has summoned Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale in Islamabad to lodge a strong protest over the presence of the alleged Indian spy in Pakistan. The arrest of an alleged Indian spy in Pakistan gives a hint to India’s alleged involvement in supporting a separatist insurgency in resource-rich Balochistan as well as fuelling strife in the city of Karachi. However, India denies any such meddling. The arrest of Indian spy comes at a crucial time when Pakistani officials are set to travel to India to investigate the Pathankot incident, which India has blamed on non-state actors based in Pakistan — specifically the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). Islamabad has assured New Delhi of full cooperation in this case. Now, it is India’s turn to cooperate and share complete whereabouts of this man with Pakistan’s security agencies.

Pakistan should bring this interference by India before the world and put forth all valid stuff with proof regarding India’s involvement in promoting terrorism in the country. Pakistan should highlight this matter in the UN. Those who are involved in spreading terrorism inside Pakistan, from within the country or outside, must face justice for their crimes against Pakistan. Despite the fact that efforts are being made to normalise relations between Pakistan and India these acts act like a spanner in the works. It is about time that the two states finally realised what has been painfully obvious for around two decades: war between two nuclear-armed states is not feasible, and an effort to break the impasse through diplomacy and cooperation is the only way forward for both countries.

Pakistan and colours of Holi

As he celebrated Holi with Pakistani Hindus in Umerkot, the largest Hindu-majority district in Sindh, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday reiterated his commitment to ensure granting of equal rights to “minorities.” Dressed in traditional Rajasthani clothes, his face multi-hued in the spirit of Holi, Bilawal, after inaugurating the ceremony with tossing of Holi colours in the air, was the very picture of what Pakistan set out to be more than 67 years ago. A country that may have come into existence to safeguard rights of Muslims who felt beleaguered in a united India, but one that would be home to all who adhered to other faiths and religions. Bilawal’s pointed and poignant question was not merely to the few thousand attending the gathering in Umerkot but to all Pakistanis: “A Muslim can become the president of India, then why can’t a person belonging to the minority community hold an important official position in Pakistan?”

And while there may have been thunderous applause to that unanswered question amidst his supporters — both Hindu and Muslim — and on social media, there is no simple, satisfactory or singular answer to this very complex question that is a stark reminder of how non-Muslims have been treated in their own homeland, a homeland that goes by its religious connotation.

Refreshing and heartening it is to see young political leaders who have a national reach to highlight some very complex issues that not merely requires redressal and reform, but also a long-term implementation of a mechanism that would focus on removal of a system of injustices that form the framework of Pakistan’s constitutional and governance dynamic. In a country that has colour-divided its people into boxes of majority and minority, which celebrates a national minorities day, and holds seminars on giving respect to minorities must undergo a long and hard introspection. The very word “minority” is anathema to the basis of a country that was created out of a sense of persecution, discrimination and ill-treatment as a Muslim-minority in a Hindu-majority India. And Bilawal’s courageous words challenging the rigidity of constitution that discriminates against non-Muslims are an ironical reminder of one of the darkest stains on the soul of Pakistan: his grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government’s passing of Second Amendment in 1974, institutionalising persecution and isolation of Ahmadis in Pakistan. The establishment of ministry of religious affairs may have been a good step to mainstream a religious code of ethic, but the gratuitous appeasement of clergy by an apparently secular Bhutto reeked of political point-scoring and opportunism to reach the rightwing vote-bank. That very clergy took to streets in nationwide protests against the 1977 electoral results, and endorsed General Zia-ul-Haq’s midnight coup to oust Bhutto’s government and jail him. Bhutto despite being the most popular leader in Pakistan was hanged by a Zia-strengthened judicial system in 1979, and thus started a long, dark era of Pakistan’s history: intervention in Soviet-invaded Afghanistan, creation of Mujahedeen, forced Islamisation of Pakistan in negation of the essence of Islam of not having any compulsion in religion, and in 1986 the introduction of Sections 295-B and 295-C in the Pakistan Penal Code, the latter making life imprisonment and death sentence mandatory in cases of blasphemy against “conviction for the offence of desecrating the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).”

The methodical targeting of Ahmedis, target killings of Shias, ethnic ‘cleansing’ in massacres of Hazaras, mob vigilantism in trumped-up cases of blasphemy against Christians, forced conversion and marriages of Hindu females, and relentless isolation and ‘untouchable’ treatment of Ahmedis…the list reads like a grim reminder of the systematic and institutionlised purging of non-Muslims and the “wrong” kind of Muslims from Pakistan.

While all attempts in mitigation of a sense of injustice to all who are not Muslim or the ‘right kind of Muslim’ in Pakistan, much needs to be done for it to be a substantial and substantive system of equality, and no-discrimination. Pakistan suffers from radicalisation; promotion of hate literature against other faiths; propagation of extremism and violence as an exploitative tool distorting religious injunctions; glorification of faith-induced crimes; self-avowed religious vigilantism; rigidity of narrative regarding reform in blasphemy laws; absoluteness in punishment of blasphemy in repudiation of Islamic principles of justice, compassion, and forgiveness; and a categorical compartmentalisation of ‘us versus them’, leaving no room for a nuanced debate and dialogue on faith-based issues. And until Pakistan starts a sincere cleansing of its own ills, no cosmetic step — albeit good-natured — of colouring decades of persecution in the lovely colours of Holi in celebration of diversity and pluralism of ideas would help Pakistan to be rid of its shroud of blackness of inequality to its own people.

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