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Monthly Archives: September 2019

Voice of America profiles my work: Here is the English translation of the interview in Pashto

I write on (human rights and social justice) issues in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA. I also write about terrorist violence in these regions. For example, in one terrorist attack in Balochistan’s capital Quetta, 75 people, among whom 55 were lawyers, were killed (in August 2016). The slain lawyers, who had faced hardships of poverty, lack of access to education and other challenges, but had at last succeeded in their careers, were the asset of the province. When I see these issues, I want to write about them.

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At the Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation at Serena Hotel, Islamabad, Pakistan (2013).

The problem is that the youth in these regions don’t have access to education. They lack the knowledge and skills to write. Those who can write face problems from the powerful State institutions. Because of this pressure, some choose to remain silent and put down their pens. When I look at the situation and the problems, such as fear, intimidation and threats of violence, that Pashtun intellectuals, poets and writers face, I feel a responsibility to give voice to their grievances through my writing. I live in a country which has provided me the knowledge, tools and freedom to precisely do such work.

I have passion for my work and spend most of my time researching and writing. My goal is to highlight these issues and let the world know that what is happening to the oppressed groups in Pakistan is unethical and condemnable. My colleagues and students at Rutgers University (where I go for my Ph.D. and teach as well) ask me questions about Pakistan. Being a Pakistani, I try to answer their questions, but unfortunately, in my country, there are many problems caused by the State’s (disastrous) policies. Sometimes, I can’t convince them that there is no problem in Pakistan, especially on questions related to democracy, human rights, the rights of minorities and press freedom.

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Presenting on Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Framing and Its Implications on Pashtuns at the South Asian Media and Cultural Studies Conference at the Florida State University (Jan/Feb, 2019)

Writing is my passion but I think it is necessary too. There is ban on the media and freedom of expression. Journalists and civil society activists have been receiving threats. They are detained and kidnapped. Through my writings, I want to show the world how some institutions in Pakistan are treating its intelligentsia. I want to be the voice for those who can’t be for themselves because of these constraints. I focus on human rights abuses such as disappearances, extra-judicial killings and the rise of social movements and the reaction of the State to these movements. I also write about issues related to religious freedom and the problem of minorities.

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At the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement’s protest in front of the United Nations in New York against the Pakistani military’s war crimes against Pashtuns (2018).

I also maintain this blog, where in my free time, I write about topics as diverse as philosophy, psychology, power and many other themes. Many people appreciate my work and some do not like it because of my criticisms of the State’s abusive and discriminatory policies and practices against minorities. But I will continue to stand with the oppressed and keep writing on issues close to my heart, regardless of where I am. I hope that my work inspires the youth of my region and effects a change for the better.

 

P.S. I take responsibility and apologize if there are any gaps in translation from Pashto into English. I have tried to be accurate.

Pashtun lawmakers and PTM leaders released after months in prison for a crime they had not committed

 

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On the left side of the above image we see Ali Wazir, and Mohsin Dawar on the right.

Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, the elected representatives of ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan’s tribal areas and two of the central leaders of the rights-based Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or PTM, were released after four months from Haripur Prison on bail yesterday. The charges of terrorism against the two lawmakers were unsubstantiated and could not be proven in the court.  

During the four months in prison, the lawmakers were treated like terrorists. In a tweet, Mr. Dawar said, “From May to Sep we were kept first at Peshawar jail & then at Haripur. During this transition the State decided to further increase its pressure as in Haripur we were kept in cells marked for terrorists. There was no mobility in jail, we had no access to news & other facilities.”

Mr. Dawar also said, “The most hurtful in all of this was the allegation of violence against us preachers of non-violence. But all of this will not deter us from our goal, which is to win peace & equal rights for our ppl & it will also not deter us from our path, which is the path of non-violence.”

In late May 2019, the State’s security forces arrested Ali Wazir, along with eight other PTM supporters for “assaulting” soldiers at a security checkpoint. Mohsin Dawar surrendered himself to the authorities after he was hounded in the area. Mr. Dawar, in a video message, said that he will surrender because he did not want to put the lives of those who protected him, in danger. 

The truth according to PTM leaders was that on May 26, 2019, during an attempt to provoke PTM on violence in the Kharqamar area of North Waziristan, the soldiers opened fire on unarmed PTM protestors, leaving 13 dead and many injured. The incident came to be known as the Kharqamar Massacre.

Ali and Mohsin are the two outspoken critics of Pakistani military establishment’s deadly policies in the Pashtun populated tribal areas, which have destroyed the region’s peace. In an essay, Why Pashtuns in Pakistan are Rising Upin April this year in The Washington Post, Mr. Dawar wrote:

“The residents of North Waziristan, whom I have represented in Parliament since July 2018, are perhaps the worst victims of the games that our military plays. But the more than 200 million Pakistani citizens stand helplessly by as our democracy, Parliament, judiciary and media outlets are manipulated by a powerful security establishment.”

He further said that the security establishment’s “policy of supporting militants and conducting proxy wars over the past four decades has resulted in death, destruction and economic disaster for Pakistan.”

Ali Wazir in an article, What Does the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Want?, in The Diplomat wrote, “Amid the volcano of violence, thousands of civilians have disappeared, and thousands have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings. We are profiled as suspected terrorists across the country, face humiliation at security check posts, and our innocent civilians face violence during security sweeps and operations. As the world’s largest tribal society, the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, commitment, and valor, yet we were falsely reduced to terrorist sympathizers despite the fact that we are their worst victims.”

In the same article, Ali wrote, “I am aware that since the beginning of the PTM’s campaign, our criticism is blunt and direct. We name names and are not shy to address powers that the rest of society, the media, and politicians are too scared to identify, let alone criticize.”

Afraid of the two leaders’ ability to speak truth to power and their capacity to mobilize their people, the State concocted a conspiracy to put them behind bars, to slow down the movement’s activity and eventually quell it. Pakistan’s powerful security establishment, including its notorious secret service, has used fear, intimidation, kidnapping and arbitrary arrests to discourage Pashtun rights activists from supporting PTM. 

Although the State’s oppression has made it difficult for PTM to mobilize and speak freely, it has certainly not altered the spirit of its leadership. After release, both Ali and Mohsin have said that their struggle for the equal rights of Pashtuns will continue undeterred.

In a tweet, the lawmaker Mr. Dawar said, “Salam, we are back with same zeal and enthusiasm, the tragedy of #KharQamarMassacre will be known in history as an example of a State’s brutal response to peaceful protest. In its aftermath, this State piled up even more violations of human rights & decency in its treatment of Ali & myself.”

He also said, “We are willing to lay our lives for our people, jails are a very small price…”

 

 

On the absurdity of being

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Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

One moment, there is excitement. One feels elated and on top of the world. Full of passion, energy and hope. But then a single text message or a call about the death or tragedy of close someone changes everything. It blows up one’s hope and elation and creates fear and despair in the mind, at least for a while.

In such moments, one wonders why is life so absurd and fickle. Why can’t one refuse to suffer? Why is it that one can’t be in grief on their terms? Where is free will or one’s agency to erect a wall of safety against things that hurt us emotionally? One can understand that there are biological, physiological or psychological reasons for emotional dread but these explanations don’t justify its very existence.

The questions that haunt the mind the most in moments of extreme distress is why is suffering necessary. Why is it an essential condition for one’s inner peace and happiness, as most claim it to be? They give the examples of the opposites of day and night, hot and cold and so on, to show that just as these pairs of opposites are necessary for each other’s existence, so are happiness or peace and suffering.

I am not a scientist and hence ignorant about the natural makeup and processes of the phenomena of day and night and other pairs of opposites as to why one can not exist without the other. But that still does not prevent one from questioning the teleological logic of suffering. In other words, what purpose does it serve?

Sages across the millennia have pondered on this existential dread and have offered thoughts, but pain or suffering’s teleology remains a mystery. However, a deeper reflection on suffering has brought to the surface ideas that relieve many from its imperiousness. Epicurus (341-270 BC), the Greek philosopher, said, “Pain is neither unbearable nor unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and don’t magnify them in your imagination.”

Marcus Aurelius (121-80), the Roman emperor and philosopher, said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

No one is an exception to the experience of pain and grief. For the psychologically normal being, it may be less severe than for the one who is oversensitive/over-empathetic about their own and the pains of others. The nature of being is essentially such that each one of us, like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, have a boulder of grief and pain to roll up a hill. Some have to, sadly, do it more frequently than others. This inherent lack of justice and inequality is itself absurd.

However, lucky is the one who has a lighter boulder. But, given the absurdity of being, lucky is also the one who gets a heavier boulder to roll up, for if they succeed in doing so, rolling the lighter ones becomes a routine. In the end, life, in moments of distress, is really about how well one trains their mind to deal with suffering, as it is intrinsic to the unreasonable nature of being.

There is no escape from experiencing grief and pain, no matter how much one wishes. Philosophers and psychologists advise one possible escape is in accepting it and becoming one with it. In other words, letting the grief and pain be. Fighting it, they guide, only makes it worse. Pain comes and goes on its time, and while it does all one can do in such a moment is hope and trust that they will be ok.

Unlike suffering, hope is reasonable, because it is the hope of a better tomorrow that we survive a difficult today. As the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel in Homo Viator said, “I am inclined to believe that hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.”

 

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