Archive for September 8, 2010

Dalits demand their rights

Posted: September 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Zia Ur Rehman
For CentralAsiaOnline.com

THARPARKAR, Pakistan

Long accustomed to discrimination, Pakistan’s Hindu Dalits are fighting a new form of harassment that is driving them from their ancestral villages in the Tharparkar District of Sindh.

About 70 Dalit families have left to protest the growing incidence of kidnapping of their young women. The kidnapping typically leads to rape or forced conversion to Islam and marriage.

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Pakistan has nearly 3m Hindus, 75% of whom are Dalits. About 70 Dalit families have moved from Aakli to the plains near Mithi, where they are protesting the abduction of their women and demanding security. [Zia Ur Rehman

That fate befell a 15-year-old Dalit girl, Daya, recently, the Dalits say. Kidnappers snatched and forcibly converted her, after which a local Muslim landlord, Mumtaz Hangorio, married her, said Arjan Meghawar, a Dalit.

“Daya … was kidnapped when the entire family was asleep”, he told Central Asia Online. “They were told that she converted to Islam in a local madrassa”.

Her family have been unable to see her, he said, calling that situation typical for the families of such kidnapping victims.

“The kidnappers have ordered the Dalit community to stay quiet; otherwise, they will abduct more girls”, Meghawar said.

He rejected the claim that the girl converted voluntarily.

“First, Daya is only 15″, he said, “which means she is not legally eligible to marry; second, she was not produced in any court to record her statement in this regard”. The minimum age for marriage in Pakistan is 16.

Daya was the second Dalit girl victimised by men from the majority community, according to the Dalits. Local men kidnapped and gang-raped Kasturi, 17, on January 24, said Veerjee, head of the Kohli Association.

The abductors are “local bigwigs belonging to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, who are now issuing threats to keep the Dalit community silent”, he said.

Kasturi’s parents have paid a price for disregarding such threats and complaining to the police, he said; even the police are now harassing them.

“Even though (rape) is a nonbailable offence”, Veerjee said, “the local court granted bail to the accused”. Kasturi and her family had to flee their village because the suspects threatened them, he added.

Section 365-B of the penal code allows only higher courts, not local ones, to grant bail to those suspected of “kidnapping … any woman” with forced marriage or sexual intercourse in mind, Arshad Malah, a legal scholar, told Central Asia Online.

Fed up with injustice and fearful for their safety, the fleeing Dalit families (about 400 individuals) have abandoned the village of Aakli and relocated to the plains near Mithi, said Hot Chand Toghani, a social activist with the Thardeep Rural Development Programme.

The government could do more to help them, he said. It has only “distributed 100 application forms for the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP)”, he told Central Asia Online.

The government is doing its best to protect the Dalits, replied Shaarjeel Memon, a member of parliament representing Tharparkar from the ruling party.

“The district government has been directed to establish houses for them and provide food and water”, he told Central Asia Online. “They’ll be receiving aid money from the BISP very soon. We are trying to convince them to end their protest and return to their villages”.

That idea doesn’t sit well with some aggrieved Dalits.

“No one can imagine how difficult it is to leave one’s ancestral village”, said 70-year-old Mehendero Meghawar. “But we’ve decided not to go back”.

Kidnapping brides from the Dalits and forcibly converting them are common abuses, said Sono Khangharani, a Dalit social worker who pins the blame for such acts on local landlords and other influential residents.

“The Dalits are the poorest of the poor and are discriminated against daily, even though the Pakistani constitution promises equal rights to all”, he said.

Khangharani is the first Dalit to receive a governmental award. President Asif Ali Zardari named him a recipient of the Thamgha-e-Imtiaz civilian honour in August 2009.

Pakistan has nearly 3m Hindus, 75% of whom are Dalits.

Dalits encounter discrimination from both Muslims and higher-caste Hindus, Khangharani told Central Asia Online. The Dalits’ “untouchability” bars them from accessing public places.

“Neither Hindu nor Muslim barbers will shave Dalits or give them a haircut”, he said. “Hindus and Muslims won’t eat food prepared by the Dalits, either. Such practises concerning untouchability are very common in Sindh”.

Islam not only forbids forced conversion and forced marriage, it mandates equal treatment of all religious minorities, said Mufti Wali Khan Almuzaffar, a prominent Islamic scholar. Islam has no concept of untouchability and the idea of an untouchable social class comes entirely from tradition and myth, he added.

By Zia Ur Rehman
For CentralAsiaOnline.com

KARACHI – Between the Soviet invasion of the 1980s and the rule of the Taliban in the late 1990s, many Afghans fled their homeland for the greener pastures of Pakistan.

Today, though, that grass is turning brown.

Citing hardships ranging from inhumane conditions in the refugee camps, to hard labour for low wages, to an increase in deportations, some Afghan refugees would rather return home than stay in Pakistan.

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About 60% of Afghan refugees make rugs by hand in the settlements. The Pakistani carpet-making industry says 80% of its employees are refugees. As more return to Afghanistan, the industry will suffer, carpet traders say. [Zia Ur Rehman

A recent visit to a makeshift refugee camp near Karachi made clear authorities have shipped a large number of legal and illegal Afghan refugees back to their native land.

The government has cracked down on refugees because of ongoing terrorist activities in Pakistan — especially attacks on military installations. That is the main reason authorities have deported so many Afghan refugees, said Haji Sohrab, the official representative of Afghan refugees appointed by the Afghan consulate in Karachi.

“Many Afghan refugees who do not have Proof of Registration (PoR), a document given to these refugees jointly by the government of Pakistan and UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), face serious action by the police”, Sohrab told Central Asia Online.

Indeed, police have arrested and deported more than 2,000 unregistered Afghans in the past two years, said Qari Hafeez, a leader of the Afghan Jirga in Karachi. Authorities have often raided houses in the camp and arrested their residents without proof, he said, adding that the majority of those deported have PoR cards.

Police deny arresting refugees with PoR cards. “We arrest the illegal Afghan immigrants under the Foreign Act, as well as refugees involved in crimes”, local police officer Shehzad Hussain told Central Asia Online.

Registered refugees who willingly return to Afghanistan receive an assistance, transport and reintegration package, including a grant of nearly US $100, according to Asif Shehzad, a UNHCR spokesman in Pakistan. That incentive has helped boost the numbers of voluntary repatriations, he added.

The crackdown on refugees comes even though they are allowed to stay in Pakistan until December 2012, according to a tripartite agreement among Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR.

Azam Khan, 65, an Afghan refugee who came to Pakistan after the 1979 invasion by the former Soviet Union, said the situation has changed in the past four years. “Now Afghan refugees live in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, and local industries are not hiring them”, he added.

Karachi no longer offers jobs, security, law and order, or peace of mind, said Jahan Sher, a Mazar-i Sharif native who is returning there. The economy of Afghanistan, meanwhile, has improved over the past four years, he added.

“Due to the prevailing insurgency in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the (former) North West Frontier Province, thousands of Pashtuns are coming to Afghanistan to find jobs”, a refugee from Nangarhar Province told Central Asia Online. Dozens of displaced families from the tribal areas of Pakistan live in Afghanistan, he said.

Afghans hailing from the bordering provinces of Kandahar, Nuristan and Helmand are reluctant to return to their homeland, though.

“A majority of the returning refugees belong to northern provinces like Mazar-i Sharif and Herat, where the security situation is better”, Arshad Khan, 45, an ethnic Pashtun refugee from Helmand, said. “But how can we willingly return to places like Helmand and Kandahar, knowing how bad the security situation is there?”

As part of the crackdown, industries are being forced not to hire foreign workers without documentation; that mandate has created employment problems for the refugees, Hafeez told Central Asia Online.

One industry that remains unaffected, though, is rug-making. Almost 60% of the refugees — men, women and children — are forced to make carpets by hand in the camp, residents of the settlement say.

“Refugees are employed in makeshift factories, and carpets woven by them are sold to local traders. They then export these carpets to a large number of countries, including Europe and the Gulf, in return for huge profits”, said Basir Ahmed Hotak, an Afghan journalist and social activist. “No labour laws specific to ‘refugees’ exist in Pakistan, so the exploitation of these workers is at a peak”.

They earn an average of Rs. 2,500 (nearly US $30) for weaving one square foot of carpet that the traders sell for US $350, he added.

The carpet industry of Pakistan employs many refugees – up to 80% of its workforce. As more Afghans are repatriated, the carpet-making industry will suffer, carpet traders in Karachi predicted.

Camp living conditions are deplorable, the residents complained. They argue that the refugee settlements in Karachi look like destroyed areas of Afghanistan. The settlements don’t meet basic living standards, and some don’t even offer safe drinking water, residents said.

“No government official has bothered to visit the camp to assess the situation”, Ahmed Bismillah Khan, a camp resident, said.

Most of the houses in the camp are made of mud bricks and there is not a single health facility, the residents said.

“Many refugees continue to suffer from severe diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, whooping cough and tuberculosis”, Bismillah said.

Residents also complained that no education is available; instead, barefoot children play in the streets most of the day.

“Though millions of dollars were directed from the UN and other organisations for the betterment of the Afghan refugees living here, the government seems to have turned a blind eye to the complaints from their refugee camps, where no services or facilities available”, Hotak said.

Angelina Jolie in Peshawar

Posted: September 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Zia Ur Rehman
For CentralAsiaOnline.com
2010-08-25

KARACHI – As civil society in Karachi is urging the government to de-weaponise the city, the government is devising a strategy for making the whole country gun-free, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has hinted.

During the first three weeks of August, about 175 people were slain in Karachi, according to the data obtained from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The data show that 1,106 murders were committed in the first seven months of this year, most of them with illicit weapons.

The August 19 targeted killing of Ubaidullah Yusufzai, a provincial leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) unleashed an outbreak of violence in Karachi, leading to 15 deaths. About 100 deaths occurred in the riots after the August 2 assassination of Syed Raza Haider, a Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker.

“Some of the slain were activists of political parties, but most of them were apolitical,” Taranum Khan, an HRCP Karachi officer, told Central Asia Online.

Karachi murder rate up

Social organisations are concerned about the increase in gun violence and targeted killings, he said.

“Last year, 844 people were killed, 184 of them victims of targeted killings,” Khan said, adding that the rate of slayings has almost doubled this year.

“Doctors, police officers and religious scholars are also on the list of assassination victims.”

“HRCP is regularly compiling and releasing data about the killings in Karachi so that the government and civil society can realise the severity of the menace,” Khan said.

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Students from Karachi schools demonstrate for de-weaponisation of the city with the catchphrase of replacing arms with pens. An NGO, the National Social Forum, organised the demonstration. [Zia Ur Rehman

Karachi’s civil society organisations are demanding the government de-weaponise the city.

Pakistan has one of the highest per-capita figures of gun ownership in the world, a report by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a worldwide network against gun violence, shows.

Though official figures are not available, estimates put the number of small arms, licensed and unlicensed, in the country at more than 20m, the report added. Pakistan’s population is about 170m.

Pakistanis own more guns than military

IANSA’s report also said that civilians are the largest category of gun owners in Pakistan, holding more weapons than the military, police and the militants.

“An increase in the (number) of incidents of violence and crimes in Karachi has doubled the sale of arms because there is a belief that possessing a gun makes one safe,” Syed Afzal, an arms dealer at the Lucky Star arms market, told Central Asia Online. An arms dealer used to sell an average of one weapon daily; today, the average is 15.

The country’s arm dealers suffered when then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government banned possession of arms in 1992, said Afzal. That ban ended in 1999 when Gen. Pervez Musharraf came to power.

Some residents of Karachi keep around 50 weapons on a single license and the government is devising a strategy to stop such abuse, Malik said. Talking to reporters , Malik said the government has decided that gun license owners will have to bring them to local police stations.

Those who fail to have their arms licenses inspected within two months of the instructions will face action from the government, he vowed.

The Pakistan People’s Party, ANP and MQM, Sindh government coalition partners that openly accuse each other of killings, are also demanding the disarmament of the city.

De-weaponization for country considered

The government is not only trying to disarm the city but is devising a strategy for the whole country after consultations with all political parties, Malik said.

Anti-weapon campaigners say strict criteria for the issuance of arms licenses should be enforced without exception, not just on the recommendation of parliamentarians, said Iqbal Jamil, head of the National Social Forum (NSF).

The government has proposed extending the punishment for violating weapons laws from three years to ten years, said an officer at the Home Department who requested anonymity.

“It was also decided in a meeting of governmental high-ups that peace committees – consisting of elected representatives, social activists and police officials — should be re-activated. They were established earlier at local Union Council levels but had been unable to work properly ever since they were formed,” the officer said.

The government has also established “a special cell” to curb the targeted killings in the city in collaboration with Inter-Services Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau, two of Pakistan’s covert agencies, the official said.

End

By Zia Ur Rehman
For CentralAsiaOnline.com
2010-08-31

KARACHI – Young Afghan cricketers are participating in a government-sponsored cricket tournament in Karachi. Afghan and Pakistani players agree that through sports they can help bring peace and combat terrorism in both countries.

The Dr. M.A. Shah Lephone Night Trophy 2010 tournament is being organised by the Ministry of Sports, Sindh government, and includes 16 teams. The matches take place on various grounds in Karachi, always at night.

Nine players from the Afghan Youth Cricket Association (AYCA) are on Afghanistan’s national team and were part of the country’s ICC Twenty20 squad in the West Indies earlier this year.

It is an honour for Afghan cricketers to play in an international tournament, Khaliq Dad Noori, captain of the AYCA and an Afghan national team player, said.

“The participation of Afghan cricketers in this tournament is a positive step not only for the development of cricket in Afghanistan; it also will strengthen the Pak-Afghan relationship,” Noori told Central Asia Online.

Cricket diverts youths’ attention from militancy

“We are trying our best to promote more and more cricket in Afghanistan … to divert our war-torn country’s youth from war and narcotics to cricket and a bright future for their homeland,” he added.

Samiullah Shinwari, another Afghan cricketer, said the sport is growing quickly in Afghanistan. Cricket can help repair his country’s image, he said.

“Cricket means more to the Afghan people than any other sport,” Shinwari said. Men, women, and many Afghan youth are now fans, he said.

Sindh Sports Minister Dr. Syed Mohammad Ali Shah thanked the Afghan team for its participation. Because of the bad law-and-order situation, international teams have been reluctant to play cricket in Pakistan.

“Teams from Sri Lanka and Hong Kong were also invited to the tournament, but they refused to come to Pakistan for security reasons,” Shah said.

“Foolproof security measures have been taken,” said Shah. Other facilities will be provided to the Afghan team during its stay in Karachi, he said.

Cricket strengthens international ties

Both countries are badly affected by terrorism, and the matches between the two nations can serve as a reminder to the people that they can fight terrorism together, he said. The team has received assistance from the Afghan government and the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), Noori said.

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Afghanistan's Samiullah Shinwari (centre) is congratulated by a teammate after scoring a century on the second day of their ICC Intercontinental Cup cricket match against Scotland in Ayr, Scotland, August 12. Young Afghan cricketers are participating in a government-sponsored cricket tournament in Karachi. [Derek Blair/AFP/Getty Images

Shinwari took five wickets and two run outs August 29 as the Afghan team defeated Korangi Al-Falah and qualified for the quarter-finals of the tournament. The final is scheduled for September 6.

Many Afghan team members spent much of their early lives in refugee camps, fleeing from the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil war, and so learned the game in Pakistan.

“It is a pleasure for us that we are playing with Afghan players in the tournament, which will make the bilateral relationship stronger,” said Arshad Ali, a cricketer playing with Korangi CC, a local team.

Central Asia Online also has learnt that the ACB asked the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to host a one-day series between the two countries’ teams in October, but the PCB rejected the proposal, citing its team’s busy schedule. Senior Pakistani cricketers criticised the refusal. The PCB must support Afghanistan as it makes inroads into international cricket, former International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ehsan Mani said.

“It is our responsibility to help them because we should make our region strong,” he said.

A one-day series would help strengthen co-operation between the countries, Shah said.

“Afghan cricketers will come again to Karachi in the next six months for another tournament, and we will try our best to provide them all the facilities and training for cricket they need,” Shah said.

(AYCA has won the final of the tournament on Sep 6 by 6 wickets and 61 runs)