Extremism on campus

Published in The Express Tribune, December 14, 2017

This year incidents of terrorism in the name of religion by the educated youth drew the attention of many towards growing radicalisation in universities. Incidents of lynching Mashal Khan, Noreen Laghari, a medical student, who was about to blow up a church and in 2015 the attack on Ismaili community by a student of an elite business school are cases in point.

Such a trend doesn’t suggest that universities have been instrumental in nurturing such extreme ideas. However, these incidents do raise concerns about human development experiences of Pakistan’s youth. These also show that education doesn’t prevent militancy. According to the Sindh Counter-Terrorism Department, out of the 500 militants held in Sindh’s jails, 64 hold a master’s degree and 70 a bachelor’s.

The recent incidents have made one thing apparent that madrassas aren’t the only factor leading youth to radicalised ideas. Based on evidence, it is now an accepted fact that Pakistan’s youth is getting radicalised and turning militant in thought and behaviour. The problem isn’t new and has taken decades to grow. During the 1980s the state education went through a change full of Islamic orientation with emphasis on Islamic values while projecting minority faiths as anti-Muslim and hence anti-Pakistan. Ziaul Haq also saw student politics as possible threat to his dictatorial regime. All political parties were banned to function inside universities except the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba. Since it had practically no opposition it managed to sweep the student union elections in 1969, 1970 and 1971 consecutively. Just like the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam it became part of the political process and endorsed violent jihad in select situations. The recently founded political party Milli Muslim League is the political face of Jamaatud Dawa, a banned militant outfit in Pakistan. It is alarming how a banned militant outfit has been allowed to form a political party to take part in mainstream politics. The party will surely recruit youth for running the party affairs which will have a huge negative impact on the educated youth, which believes in democracy and Islam.

The National Action Plan (NAP) calls for registering and monitoring the madrassas, stopping the distribution of extremist literature and blocking the access of banned militant organisations to social media platforms. It is interesting to note how social media has abundantly been used by militants for hate speech and recruitment whereas progressive accounts/webpages have been blocked. NAP has no defined mechanisms as to how the extremist narratives should be countered. There are no clauses which particularly address the issue of stopping extremist groups from working on university campuses.

There is a need to overhaul the systems in the universities by rationalising the courses, academic programmes and the number of students on campus. More importantly, the administration must cleanse the preacher professors and motivational guest speakers brought by the jihadist professors and administrative sympathisers. There is no quick fix. The problem has taken decades to grow and now needs serious efforts to be solved. To stop the growing radicalisation it is important to revamp the entire curricula. The importance of culture and cultural activities should also be instilled in the students. The media should also be engaged in building and promoting a counter-narrative. Above all, political will is needed.

The government has been avoiding taking tough decisions. Organisations like IS are active in the cyberspace for promoting their agenda and recruitment, so collective efforts are required by the government to restrict their activities. Also, it is of utmost importance that the government stops appeasing the religious right as they just did in case of Faizabad dharna. Such appeasement only creates confusion in young minds where they consider that damaging public property, beating police officers and using offensive language is a routine job and will only result in cash rewards or bring praise for being ‘our own brethren’.



GBV in Sindh

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2017



THE 2016 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Pakistan as the second worst country in the world for gender equality. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s annual report states that violence against women is the most common rights violation. Harmful customary practices; domestic, sexual, psychological and economic violence; and violence against women in the political arena are the main categories of ‘violence against women’ as framed by the National Commission on the Status of Women in 2015. Gender-based violence (GBV) is the term used by the UN and other international organisations.

A recent report, State of Gender-based Violence Response Services in Sindh, aimed at finding how medico-legal services were being provided; how many cases of violence against women were reported to the police; the nature of the cases and police responses; the services provided at shelter homes; and what measures have been taken for the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), 2013.

GBV response services are being offered and run by government departments at the district and taluka level. Since the 18th Amendment, such services have been devolved and handed over to the provinces. The Sindh Police and the provincial health, women’s development and social welfare departments were engaged for administering detailed ‘key informant interviews’.

GBV survivors are the most important situational analysis participants. Two shelter homes from Karachi and two from Hyder­abad were identified for focus group dis­­cussions. The shelter homes’ staffs were also put in the category of ‘key informants’. GBV service providers in the private sector were also engaged with to ascertain their role in addressing the issues affecting women in the province.

Key findings from the data highlight weaknesses in Sindh’s GBV response services sector. Until a few months ago, Sindh did not form its Commission on the Status of Women. This left a huge vacuum in policy formulation and devising institutional arrangements for eliminating anti-women crimes. The absence of ‘rules of business’ leaves the DVA unimplemented. The operation gap does not assign clear mandates to any service provider mentioned in the act. The lack of interdepartmental coordination is a barrier in providing relief to an already mentally and physically stressed victim.

It was also observed that the concerned departments had little idea of how the allocated funds should be spent. More than 80 per cent of respondents were not even familiar with GBV-related laws. This lack of understanding among government officials shows their inability to comprehend the complexities of GBV issues. Every department keeps their own records pertaining to GBV. The records are not being used for analysing the current situation, which would help in policy- and decision-making to take corrective measures.

Although police reforms are required to develop and adopt guidelines for handling cases of domestic violence and sexual offences in a discreet, professional manner, where the dignity of women is protected, medical and police department officials are not trained in handling GBV cases. To add, the dearth of female medico-legal staff and police officials intimidates victims.

While medico-legal certificates have to contain the personal information of the survivor, sexual assault history, forensic evidence collection, general examination for injuries and wounds (marks of violence), and examining doctor’s opinion, in practice, medico-legal officers record only very basic information. Medical records prepared by the MLOs lack evidentiary value that proves critical for the survivor during litigation.

Further, the living conditions in she­l­­ter homes ap­­pear to be very poor. Services related to medical treatment, psychological counselling, legal aid, rehabilitation, security and training are not being offered in government-run shelters, despite adequate budgets.

It is recommended that every department’s mandate with respect to GBV protection should be clearly defined, and the departments’ staff should be trained to effectively handle GBV cases. Provincial departments must develop the skills to prepare gender-sensitive budgeting for responding to practical needs with the required funds and resources. It is important to raise awareness about the law and the services that can be provided.

It is also important to appoint female MLOs at the taluka level to enhance women’s access to protective services in their neighbourhoods. The health department should consider establishing more forensic laboratories to collect immediate forensic evidence in GBV cases. More shelter homes need to be established in all the province’s districts so that the disparity between the number of survivors and available capacity can be addressed.

To achieve this, there needs to be a provincial-level umbrella body — comprising civil society groups, public bodies, legal aid agencies and department representatives — for collective planning and execution of GBV response strategies and action plans.

Stalled commission in Sindh

Article published in The Express Tribune on 26 April 2017

Women face numerous challenges to get access to justice in our country. Although the Constitution recognises the rights of all citizens without any distinction, women are usually discriminated against men with regard to education, health, access to justice, employment opportunities, etcetera. In a bid to end such discrimination, the National Commission on the Status of Women was established in 2000. One of its main goals was to devise laws affecting women and to look into the institutional policies for resolving the issues related to violations of women rights.

Following the 18th amendment to the Constitution in 2010, women development became a provincial subject. Accordingly, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women was constituted in 2014 followed by the K-P Commission on the Status of Women in 2016. In May 2015, the provincial governor approved the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Act of 2015 for immediate enforcement. The Act outlined the establishment of the commission to promote women’s rights. However, this 21-member body has not yet been constituted despite the stipulation that members must be appointed within 90 days of the passage of the Act. The delay clearly shows how muddled the government’s priorities are.

Such a dysfunctional forum discourages women from contacting the department(s) concerned. This lack of access to the real stakeholders cannot produce useful data to analyse the current situation of women in the province, which is imperative for policy planning and formulation. A majority of women who need help and support are based in the rural areas. Hence, restricting the commission to a federal extent is most likely to hinder the formulation and implementation of laws against discrimination of women. In the absence of a provincial commission, the access of the officials concerned is next to impossible at the local level. Women-centric issues cannot be dealt with a commission where the access of its staff is limited. Localising the commission will not only help in reaching out to all women but will also bring them into the mainstream for resolving their problems. A provincial commission, however, will serve as a springboard for active involvement of women in all spheres.

A more holistic way to address women issues is to have a widespread setup at district level. The Women Development Department or the Social Welfare Department in Sindh can play a lead role in housing the commission’s offices in every district or even tehsil in their existing office spaces. It is important that the district and tehsil level offices of the commission should not only be fully functional but also involved in educating women about their rights and what role the commission can play to alleviate their grievances. The commission office will surely act as a meeting or social gathering place for local women to discuss the day-to-day problems and help them make informed decisions. Its offices can host workshops in different towns to educate and enlighten women about its functions and the role it can play in women’s rights. Sindh has not appointed a minister as yet for this very important office. This shows the existing apathy towards the women of Sindh by a political party that is currently at the helm of affairs in the province.

Both the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the Hindu Marriage Act are welcome moves but the establishment of Sindh’s very own commission on the status of women will provide greater impetus to legislation affecting a larger segment of women. As a first step, Sindh authorities must show their resolve in putting a dedicated minister in place followed by the formation of a provincial commission to protect the rights of women. The formation of the commission must not be delayed any further.