Daily Times Editorial 8 October 2019

Sikhs of Shangla

Migration for economic reasons is a worldwide phenomenon but it is painful to see the departure of Sikh families living in the Chakesar area of Shangla in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to other areas because of the lack of a worship place and Shamshan Ghat (crematorium) for the last rituals of the deceased. According to a report published in an English daily, the area which had around 40 Sikh families 10 years ago is now home to only five families. These families are in fact fighting against the odds to stay connected to their native land. The report, citing Harmeet Singh, a local journalist, stated that their community centre had been forcibly turned into a public health facility and their graveyard had been occupied. Local schools do not treat Sikhs as minority students and force them to study Islamiat. Their demand for a separate school has never been considered.
The government must address the problems of Sikhs of Shangla and other religious minorities living elsewhere and help them live in peace in their native places. Our land used to be full of diversity, thanks to the presence of religious, cultural and ethnic groups in all parts of the country. Not anymore. The menace of extremism and terrorism struck the religious minorities and cultural diversity very hard. Several minorities have been forced to flee the country or live in big cities in groups, for security reasons. The systematic killing of ethnic Hazaras of Quetta for their religious beliefs has been going on for decades, making the city a no-go area for them. They move in heavily-guarded convoys for errands. Similarly, several Ahmadi families have been forced to leave the country because of their persecution. Minorities are also targeted in the name of blasphemy laws. The incarceration of Asia Masih for 10 years for blasphemy charge and later on her acquittal of the charge speaks volumes of the prevailing conditions. Though she has been released, she may not find favourable conditions to live here peacefully. Recently, riots broke out in Ghotki when a student accused his teacher of committing blasphemy. The suspect will have to live in hiding.
The five Sikh families living in Shangla should be facilitated so that other Sikhs who have migrated to urban areas renew their connection with their place of birth. The provision of favourable conditions for religious rituals is every citizen’s right and the government should realise its duty. *


What’s so wrong in Iraq?


It would not be entirely true to say that Iraq has never really seen any stability since the European mandate gobbled up what was left of the Ottoman writ over the area after the first world war. As recently as the time of Saddam Hussein’s predecessor at the presidency, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (1968-79), most commentators agree that the country was indeed blossoming after decades of intrigue, corruption and coups. Bakr, with young cousin Saddam as his deputy, instituted land reforms, redistributed wealth, built highways and schools, and inched closer all the time to that quintessential Arab socialist model that the Ba’ath Party was supposed to be all about.
But then American and British intelligence agencies fed Saddam’s giant ego with visions of grandeur and conquest – we know that for sure because much of CIA records from the time have now been declassified – and triggered not just an unfortunate palace coup in Baghdad but also a senseless eight-year war with Iran that would take millions of lives on either side and still end in stalemate. Since then, though, it’s pretty much been all downhill. First there was the financial drain from the disastrous war, then Saddam’s own stranglehold on society, then he took the bait and wrongly attacked Kuwait (even though, it turned out, the latter was really stealing Iraqi oil), and then the two American wars delivering the kiss of death to the Ba’ath party and everything it had erected.
Yet, to state the obvious, the post-invasion/’liberation’ period has been worse in every possible way. If Saddam’s corruption and brutality and then the American wars weren’t bad enough, ordinary Iraqis then had to live with increasing sectarianism and then the terrible, tragic reality of the Islamic State, especially ISIS rule stretching from Mosul all the way to the Syrian border.
Even now, when the so-called caliphate has been broken, oil revenues are steady and timely annual rains helped the government cut down on power shortages this year, the average Iraqi youth is out on the streets once again, wishing an end to corruption, violence and, above all, the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. And, interestingly, much of the non-Arab press – including touching editorials in Pakistani dailies – is wrong to put a sectarian touch to the uprising. The bulk of the unrest comes from the Shi’a majority south, which is rising against the Shi’a government in Baghdad, even chanting slogans against Iranian influence, which no doubt rose as the war with ISIS intensified. The government, for its part, took all the usual steps that such circumstances require in the third world – offering more jobs, promising a better future, and killing a hundred people and injuring thousands more just for good measure. Yet, practically speaking, there’s very little, including the fall of the government and end to all Iranian influence, that can do much about highest inflation in decades and unemployment hovering at around 25 pc, which has actually go the youth so angry. Things, therefore, are likely to get worse before they get any better. *

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