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Pakistan: Letter to Progressive Women Parliamentarians and A Response

The Nizam e Adal debate in Parliament

by Bushra Gohar, Lila Thadani, 24 April 2009

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From: Lila Thadani
- Date: Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 12:28 PM
- Subject: Please wake up sisters, Nafisa Shah and Busha Gohar
- To: Nafisa Shah , Busha Gohar

[This letter is being copied (bcc) to Women Activists and members of the press, whom we hope will continue to ask you questions. We are not certain about the correctness of the email addresses of our two parliamentarians. In case the addresses below have been superseded, please forward this letter to the current addresses or send it to them by normal post. Thanks. Lila]

16 April 2009

Ms Nafisa Shah (PPP)

Ms Bushra Gohar (ANP)

Members of Parliament
- Pakistan.

Re: Your approach to the Nizam e Adal debate in Parliament.

Dear Sisters,

So what did we end up seeing: Ayaz Amir rising to bravely oppose the Bill, a mullah making a feeble technical protest about what flavor of Sharia one is to adopt, and the MQM like both these individuals merely abstaining just abstaining, not voting against this dastardly Bill.

And then one looked at the sisters, all 60 of them, and it seemed they had wetted their panties –- excuse my French! What happened to the great campaigner for banning Karo Kari, and the wonderfully brave Pukhtun lassie?

As a Hindu living in Sindh, and wanting to continue to do so, I am fighting against serious odd hand-in-hand with our revolutionary Muslim and Christian sisters. We know of the killing of my people in Umerkot, about which none of your parties have taken any action or expressed sympathy.

We know that Nafisa’s father is the Chief Minister of Sindh and it is his responsibility to maintain peace in the province. Or is his only task now to bow to his masters, the fascist MQM (whose recent abstaining doesn’t wash off their past sins)?

Razia Bhatti, the founder editor of Newsline (where Nafisa learnt her ropes), will be turning in her grave at how her star reporter Nafisa has become an ardent supporter of one of the most corrupt individuals to lead this country. All this for the sake of PPP loyalty, and transitory power?

Remember dear sisters, your parliamentary slots will not remain for life. You will have to climb down and be with the rest of us. How will you be able to face us and the true reality after selling your soul to power?

You of course you know the way to redeem yourself –- you have recommended it to others in the days when you had tongues. Speak up or ship out, now. You are better outside than inside that pointless white cube of a parliament on Constitution Ave.

Wishing you the strength of your old conscience,

Your sister in strength,

Lila Thadani
- Sindh Adyoon Tehreek
- Sukkur

Response from Busha Gohar

On Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 3:43 PM, Bushra Gohar wrote:

Dear Lila Thadani:

Salaamoona and Greetings!!

many thanks for sharing your indignation and vehement reaction to the women parliamentarians alleged silence when the Nizam i Adl regulation was taken up in the National Assembly. It has indeed become a national trait to react to events and situations rather than take positions in a timely manner to build sufficient peoples pressure and build consensus on alternatives. Unfortunately we did not witness from the women rights activists a movement against the carnage in Swat, against the peace agreement with Sufi Mohammad and a strong protest outside the Parliament against the Nizam-i-Adl regulation either. Instead to soothe their conscience a few activists have registered their protest through cyberspace or the media channels from their comfort zones. None have tried to understand the complexities of the situation in Swat, its links with the mainstream terror outfits operating in the country and the conditions that led to the peace agreement in Swat. Though I feel the people of Swat are lucky that at least there is some debate in the media and among the activists but there is complete silence on the atrocities being committed in FATA since the military operations started in Waziristan in 2004. Therefore, I too have been very concerned with the eerie silence or mute response from women rights activists mainly from the mainland to the carnage in Swat that was going on for over 8 months both at the hands of the Military and the Militants. It was only after personal appeals to activists and opionion makers mainly from Pakhtunkhwa that we got a few brave ones willing to stick their necks out and speak of the atrocities being committed in the valley. Their writings in the print media drew National and International attention to what was going on in the once most beautiful and peaceful valley of the country. The Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly for the first time in the history of this country openly condemned the military’s shady operation allowing the militants to gain ground and strength in Swat. They threatened to march to Swat if the attacks on the innocent people were not stopped by both sides. A direct consequence of this was one of the ANP MPAs was targeted and killed for taking a strong position. More than 136 ANP elected representatives families, office bearers and workers have been targeted and killed in Swat alone. Several had their homes destroyed and were forced to leave the area to live in camps or with families settled outside. Elected representatives were threatened that their families and voters would be targeted if they said anything against the militants. Yet we heard Swat PPP MNA and a few ANP Swat MPAs openly speak out against what was going on in their areas. The women representatives of all political parties and civil society held a massive jirga in Peshawar in March in the wake of life threats to present their perspective on the situation in Swat and the rest of the country and outlined conditions for a peace agreement with the militants.

The provincial government has publicly accepted that the agreement with Sufi Mohammad was not the best option for peace but after the failure of military force, what other options were there for them to consider...when militants barbaric control spread from 25 percent of the area before the military operations to almost the entire valley despite the ANP leaderships meetings and coordination with the military and intelligence agencies at the highest levels to register their complaints and pressure them to control the spread...the military of course, thought ANP was carrying out a campaign against them...an political government depends on the national security setup for dealing with law and order situation, militancy and insurgency. The already under resourced, strained from frequent suicide blasts targeting them and demoralized Provincial civilian security setup is putting their lives in danger to deal with militancy and insurgency that is engulfing the Province and the country at a fast pace. Thanks to military dictators, the country has been brought to the verge of collapse and disinte. The Federal and Provincial governments are faced with huge challenges and need the whole nation’s support in dealing with the scourge...as a first step we have to snap out of our state of denial and hybernation and recognize that we are in a state of war to be able to prepare ourselves adequately.

The Provincial government had to find a political solution to the situation in Swat to bring normalcy and gain some space to manuevre. It took a major risk in going into an agreement with Sufi Mohammad, who had renounced armed struggle in an undertaking with the Provincial Government in 2008, to facilitate the process with Fazlullah his son in law after first taking all stakeholders including all political parties operating in the Province, the President and all concerned in the Federal Government, the top Military bureaucracy etc on board. It is important to understand that the Provincial government went into the agreement after it had technically experienced a military defeat in Swat and thus were not going into it from a position of strength. Also, it is important to note that the writ of the government had been seriously eroded since 2006 or so, the key state institutions weakened and terrorized and the people traumatized by the violence in the area. Thus people sitting in the far corners of the counrty, who speak against the peace agreement sound as if things were normal in Swat and that all hell will break as a result of the Provincial government’s peace agreement.

The Nizam-i-Adl regulation a long standing demand in Malakand division since the 80s, mainly because of ineffective integration of the formerly princely states into the mainstream judicial and administrative system, formed the basis of the agreement. The Nizam-i-Adl regulation was first introduced in Malakand Division in the early 90s by the then PM Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to control a violent campaign initiated by Sufi Mohammad. However, as is the case with our judicial system throughout the country it failed to meet the demands and needs of the people who were used to an effective justice system under the Wali of Swat, the system in vogue under the Wali was by the way called the Shariah Nizam-i-Adl, the matter had to be taken up again by Nawaz Sharif’s Government in 1999 when matters got volatile but it too suffered from poor and ineffective implementation. The Musharraf’s interim government in 2007 was going to get the regulation signed with some changes to address the concerns but at the time all political parties opposed it saying that it should be left to the elected government to take up after the elections in 2008. The ANP led Provincial government introduced only two changes to the already prevalent system...which is only to deal with the judicial system reform and has nothing to do with the administrative, social, political and economic etc. spheres in the area...firstly, the criminal and civil cases would be dealt with in 4 and 6 months respectively and the supreme court and high court will have benches in Malakand so people won’t have to go to Peshawar or Islamabad. The main concerns some rights activists have rightly expressed this time round in view of the weakeness of the government’s writ and the links of the Militants with a more global terror network based in Waziristan, are that the militants might take executive control of its implementation...concerns that Sufi Mohammad will be appointing Qazis or Judges are ill founded as they will be appointed by the Provincial government just as in other parts of the Province. However, when moving from a violent war like situation to peace one must keep in mind that there are going to be many problems down the road...things are not going to settle down or be smooth sailing...the Provincial government doesn’t expect it to be and is working on a multi pronged approach to establish its writ and strengthen the administrative setup...A semblance of peace has returned to the valley with businesses, hospitals and schools have reopened...however, militants have yet to be disarmed and their check posts removed in most parts of the district. We must watch the progress towards peace closely to check the risk of any rights violations. I also would like an independent judicial commission constituted headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court to review violations and losses both human and property as a result of militancy and military operations in Swat and FATA.

Now coming to your frontal attack on the women parliamentarians especially those on reserved seats as your email only targets them and not the 16 who have come on general seats...I feel is undermining the struggle that most women rights activists have been involved in for decades to ensure women’s participation in politics. The Women who have entered the parliament are playing a critical role both in their parties and in the assembly to bring women’s concerns on the priority agenda with very little support both within the parties and/or outside.

I for one strongly supported my party’s position in opposing the bringing of the resolution to the National Assembly as it was not a consitutional requirement and that it was going to end up giving legitimacy to something that the parliament could not effect change in. Our position was that it should have been brought for an indepth debate in the National Assembly in 2008 when it was first presented to the Federal Government by the Provincial Government. The Parliament should also have been taken into confidence on all peace agreements including the one in Waziristan, Bajaur between the military and militants. It has also been our long standing demand that the President’s powers to legislate for PATA and FATA should be transfered to the Parliament through a constitutional amendment so that the National Assembly is not expected to just pass a resolution but debate proposed bills in the standing committee and in the assembly in a meaningful way. On the other hand the Federal Government and the President felt that considering the huge pressures from outside and inside against and for the signing of the regulation, a resolution in the parliament would strengthen the President’s position. There was no substantive debate really in the Parliament on the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation but on whether it should be placed before the house or not. I know many women parliamentarians were very concerned about the repercussions of the regulation and would have openly expressed their concerns had a debate taken place and had the parliament been empowered to legislate for FATA and PATA...I know Nafisa Shah wanted a thorough debate on the regulation despite the constitutional limitations. She was of the opinion that the members be given time to understand and debate the regulation before taking up the resolution. As for your call to the media to continue to question the women parliamentarians that you feel have done you all down, let me just say that the majority of the Pakistani media has been unfortunately taken over by the right wing and are more talibanized than even the most hard core religious extremists themselves. They have created havoc in the lives of the people by creating and thriving on confusion and psychological stress. They have made heros out of militants and criminals...therefore, would suggest not to expect much from our mainstream journalists...the wave of formula talk shows with the aim of making the politicians look like fools and militants and ex army and ISI chiefs as experts, generally lack substance and objectivity altogether. The women rights activists should do some critical analyses of the way media is holding the nation hostage and promoting the interests of the retrogressive forces in the country.

I hope that we can continue to engage in a debate on emerging issues especially that affect women in reasonable manner to strengthen each other.

I would be grateful if you could forward my response to all you have shared your email with. I look forward to meaningful criticism, timely suggestions and support from the women rights activists especially those in WAF for whom I have great respect and have faith in their clarity of vision and intent and unwavering commitment to women’s rights in the country.

Best wishes,

Bushra Gohar, ANP