From our Archives: Link between Jamia Hafsa and government: Asma Jahangir

From our Archives: Link between Jamia Hafsa and government: Asma Jahangir
Ali Waqar's reporting for TFT: April 13-19, 2007

At the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on April 8, 2007, it was announced that "firsthand reports of the situation in the various parts of the country point to...a strong link between state agents and militant groups...operating in the country with impunity". Taking exception to what it feels is an accelerating process of Talibanisation in the country, the HRCP and civil society at large has announced that it will launch a forceful campaign against the increasing trend of Talibanisation and enforcement of religion on the public by the mullahs.

A large number of civil society groups under the umbrella of the Women Action Forum (WAF) have declared war on Talibanisation. A big rally has been scheduled for April 19 at The Mall, Lahore where WAF plans to get together with other civil society organizations and speak against rising extremism.

Speaking to TFT, HRCP chairperson and senior WAF member Asma Jahangir strongly condemned the government for not taking the issue of Jamia Hafsa issue seriously. Explaining the WAF rally on April 19, Jahangir said it had been called to make people aware of the dangers of increasing Talibanisation and the military-mullah alliance.

"I want to know why the government is tolerating this issue and nothing is being done to find out who is calling the shots here and backing Abdul Rashid Ghazi and the Lal Masjid," said Jahangir. "Who is supporting Ghazi and his mission? Who is financing and organizing it? Action needs to be taken."

However, Jahangir also made it clear that HRCP would be strongly opposed to the use of "excessive force" to resolve the Jamia Hafsa issue. "Use of force is not the way to handle this situation," said Jahangir. "There is a link between Jamia Hafsa and the government. This is General Musharraf's strategy to prolong his dictatorship by showing the United States and the international community that he is sitting on a time bomb [of extremism] and if he is removed from power, the country will explode into chaos."

Jahangir questioned the government's madrassa reforms that were supposedly aimed to keep seminaries in check and avoid exactly the kind of situation that has erupted in Islamabad. "There were no [madrassa] reforms at all. The call for reforms on which millions were spent was just a ploy to grab American funding," said Jahangir.

Interestingly, Jahangir also links the Jamia Hafsa issue to the ongoing judicial crisis in the country after the suspension of Chief Justice Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry. "Civil society movements are rapidly moving towards collapse. There is no system here. Extra-judicial means such as Ghazi's Shariah court are been sought to make decisions and laws. This is a challenge to the state system," said Jahangir. "Unfortunately, even educational institutions are now trying to enforce Islamisation. Institutions like Punjab University and many other public and private institutions have become a model of the military-mullah partnership. Islam rules there and military men are sitting on the vice chancellor's seat."

Jahangir feels there is so short-term solution to this problem; a re-vamp of the political system is needed, she says, where political parties are given space and there is a basic consensus within them on how the country must be run. "It is true that political parties have little interest in public issues and are political machines instead, there to grab power and keep it," Jahangir lamented, adding that with the decline of activism by political parties, the rest of civil society had been forced to stand up and speak up for human rights and issues of greater public concern.

WAF is outraged by the state's overt and covert role in creating and encouraging Talibanisation of Pakistan. It believes that this process started with General Zia-ul-Haq, supported by the United States of America and Saudi Arabia as part of the formers proxy war against the USSR.

WAF believes that the latest manifestation of Talbanisation in Pakistan is the brazen and illegal occupation of the Children's Library in Islamabad by Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia, followed by the forced abduction, humiliation and torture of three women and an infant.

"This has shocked every citizen with a conscience and shaken the very foundations of our society. The complicity of the state in both cases will further embolden and reinforce the Talibanisation process and has given a lie to the farce of General Musharaf's 'enlightened moderation'," said a WAF senior member.

Even as lawyers and members of civil society are battling for the people's constitutional rights, religious extremists are taking violent action to undermine and negate those very rights. "The terror unleashed by the burka-clad, baton-wielding cohorts of Jamia Hafsa on a rampage in the capital city of Islamabad has challenged the writ of the state," said another senior WAF member. "While the government is quick to respond violently against peaceful and unarmed protest, this violent mob was allowed to kidnap defenceless women from their homes as well as policemen on duty."

Is the sight of political Islam hiding behind black shrouds a frightening preview of a dark and savage future for Pakistan?