Dawn Editorial 4 November 2020

Kabul University slaughter

WHILE hopes remain that violence in Afghanistan will one day come to an end, specifically if the government, the Afghan Taliban and other major stakeholders reach a peace agreement, civilians in that unfortunate country continue to pay a high price due to the lawlessness.
On Monday, a massacre occurred at Kabul University, in which at least 22 people lost their lives. The militant Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the atrocity saying two of its fighters carried out the assault, apparently to target an Afghan government ceremony at the varsity.
Late last month, IS carried out a similar massacre, targeting an education centre in a Shia-majority area of Kabul. In that attack, at least 24 lives were snuffed out, many of them young students hoping to build a better future.
While these attacks rightfully attract revulsion, they are par for the course where IS’s deadly strategy and tactics are concerned. After all, they combine the terrorist group’s virulently sectarian outlook and its hatred of modernity, education and all interpretations of religion and politics other than its own.
Moreover, the attacks illustrate the frailty of the Kabul government; the two recent assaults did not take place in some faraway, barely governed province. They took place in the Afghan capital, which is supposed to have a heavy security presence. This shows that unless a solid Afghan peace agreement is hammered out and put into practice, as soon as foreign forces leave the country IS and its ideological comrades may carry out even greater acts of violence.
Along with threatening Afghanistan’s security, a revitalised IS using ungoverned Afghan soil as a base will become a regional and international security nightmare. Pakistan has legitimate security concerns regarding this possible scenario, while as numerous IS-inspired attacks over the last few days in different parts of the world show, if militants find a stronghold in Afghanistan, the frequency and ferocity of these attacks may increase too.
A two-fold response is needed to control IS terrorism within Afghanistan. First and foremost is the need, as stated above, for all Afghan factions that believe in the political process to single-mindedly work for a peace plan agreeable to all. Though the level of violence between the Afghan Taliban and the government has been high over the past couple of weeks, both these players must realise that if IS is given space, it will not hesitate to eliminate all that stands in its way of recreating a ‘caliphate’. Secondly, some Afghan officials have blamed the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan for Monday’s attack. This is strange as IS has unambiguously claimed it was behind the assault. Instead of hurling unsubstantiated allegations, the Afghan government must work with regional states and the international community to eliminate the IS threat. Pointing fingers at others will not make the threat go away.



Forced conversion

AN important case is being heard at the Sindh High Court, one that has a critical bearing on the rights of minorities, particularly the thorny question of religious conversion when it goes hand in hand with underage marriage.
A Christian girl named Arzoo recently sought a court injunction to prevent the registration of a kidnapping case against a man with whom she had undergone a nikah ceremony, and his family. She had claimed in an affidavit that she was 18 years of age and was ‘marrying’ him after converting to Islam of her own free will.
However, apparently incontrovertible documentary evidence has emerged that shows Arzoo is a 13-year-old child. On Monday night, the police said they had arrested the purported ‘husband’, recovered the girl and were moving her to a shelter home for three days as ordered by the court.
There have been many incidents over the past few years in which families of girls from minority communities, usually Hindus living in interior Sindh, have alleged that their daughters were forcibly converted before being married to Muslim men. More often than not, the ‘brides’ are underage girls.
According to the law, the minimum age for marriage in Sindh is 18 years; there are no exceptions or mitigating circumstances. The Child Marriages Restraint Act mandates prison terms and fines for the male contracting party as well as those who perform the nikah or in any way facilitate such a union.
The problem seems to arise, however, when religious conversion is involved. At present there is no law providing for a minimum age of conversion. In 2016, a bill was introduced in the Sindh Assembly stipulating 18 years as the minimum age for such a profound, life-changing decision.
But when the religious lobby created a furore, the PPP government shamefully capitulated and the law was never enacted, leaving this critical issue concerning the minorities’ fundamental rights far from settled, and dependent on a case-by-case interpretation.
Almost always thus far, despite the law on underage marriage, the courts have been inclined to look the other way if the girl claims her conversion was according to her will, and allowed her to go with her purported spouse. The inequality of social and political power between the two parties is an important factor in this pattern, as is the pressure exerted in an atmosphere of growing religiosity, where true free will in matters of faith scarcely exists.



Second turns

THE feeling elsewhere in the government may not yet be one of rapid transformation but change is constant in the information ministry of Punjab. Four turns have already been played, and now we have Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan taking things into her able hands from Fayyazul Hasan Chohan. The outgoing minister was generous with directing his most piercing lines — many of them in the form of crude one-liners — against the PTI government’s opponents. It is unclear as to what then prompted this, the second ouster of Mr Chohan, from his position as provincial information minister. It was Mr Chohan who had set the tone for the inaugural PTI government in Punjab with his forceful public rejection and dismissal from sight of anything which he considered even remotely coming in the way of his leader Imran Khan’s vision. Back then, he had to be replaced after he made derogatory remarks about a minority community.
However, both the successors of this original choice for the coveted post proved rather subdued. After Samsam Bukhari was unable to weave his magic and the gamble of trying out Mian Aslam Iqbal, otherwise thought to be chief ministerial material, failed to pay off, Mr Chohan was drafted in as information minister for the second time and looked safe and secure and prepared for a long stint. That perception proved to be wrong, and the heavens did not fall as Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan emerged on the horizon on a dusky November evening as if blessed on her way to prominence again by some unseen sage. Ms Awan had bowed out in April, as a special assistant to the prime minister, an exit that could hardly be termed as ceremonious. She herself holds the key to the mystery about her new assignment as a reinforcement for Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar’s administration. The secret will start to unravel as she speaks. One has to pay attention to the words and tone she chooses.


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