Wednesday, June 15, 2005

OPINION: Questions For Pervaiz Chacha

In some parts of Pakistan, it is customary to refer to all men of one’s father’s age as Chacha or Chachaji (literally meaning “my dad’s brother” in Urdu). In all parts of Pakistan, one must also show utmost respect to elders.

Now that President Musharraf of Pakistan is visiting Australia, I would like to ask some respectful questions to Pervaiz Chacha. I will try to be as respectful as possible.

Chacha Pervaiz, you will be aware of the negative press that Pakistan has received as a result of its implementation of a criminal code partially extracted from the ‘hudood’ laws of Islamic Sharia.

Under the code, female victims of rape are often faced with a death sentence, while male perpetrators are free to plunder the honour of more victims.

Also, under the code, religious minorities are persecuted and accused of blasphemy. Christian Pakistanis, some as young as 11, are placed on trial and face the death penalty for breaches of anti-blasphemy laws.

Over 50 years ago, the founder of Pakistan, “Qaid-i-Azam” (translated as “the Great Leader”) Muhammad Ali Jinnah, declared that all citizens of Pakistan were to be treated equally regardless of faith. Christian Pakistanis have made enormous contributions to the Pakistani nation, including in its second religion (cricket). I have lost count of how many times Yusuf Youhana has bailed out Pakistani teams from certain defeat.

You will be aware, Chacha Ji, that recently a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar by the name of Professor Tariq Ramadan has called upon all Islamic nations to implement a moratorium on all hudood-based criminal punishments. Professor Ramadan believes that God’s law is fast becoming the devil’s handiwork and an instrument for oppression. His call has been supported by Islamic scholars around the world including Australia and Pakistan.

When will your government implement the views of Professor Ramadan? When will you stop God’s law from being used as an instrument for the oppression of women, Christian minorities and other downtrodden Pakistanis?

Chachaji, Muslims across the Islamic world are crying out for liberty and democracy enjoyed by their relatives living in Western countries. When will you return Pakistan to full-fledged democracy?

Chachaji, I was born in Karachi. I arrived in Australia when I was hardly 6 months old. I have only ever held an Australian passport. I therefore am concerned with how Australians are treated overseas.

Pervaiz Chacha, when will your government come clean on why it detained and tortured an Australian citizen? Why did your government pass this Australian citizen onto American officials who then flew him to Egypt for more torture? How could you allow an Australian to be subjected to torture within your jurisdiction?

Chacha Ji, the Prophet Muhammad did not allow prisoners of war to even have their teeth pulled out. I am concerned that in this “war against terror”, prisoners from various parts of the world are being taken to countries such as Egypt, Syria and your own. They are tortured on behalf of the US government as part of a contracting-out arrangement known as “rendition”.

Tell me, Chacha, to what extent does Pakistan participate in rendition? Are there any further Australian citizens being made subject to this policy?

Apart from the torture of terror suspects, we see at village level innocent Muslim women subjected to the violence of honour killings. Women merely suspected of talking to a male stranger or committing some other cultural crime are tried by an all-male village council of elders and sentenced to death or to be gang-raped.

Numerous cases of these abuses have been documented. Custom-based violence was apparently stamped out from Muslim societies by the Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago. Why has it returned to Pakistan? And what steps will your government take to ensure it is eliminated completely?

Chacha Ji, I was taught that Islam guarantees human rights and the dignity of the individual in much the same way as liberal democracy. I understand that you are here on an official state visit on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Yet the abuses of human rights and individual dignity (of which a sample have been cited above) continue to be perpetrated by police, security apparatchiks and government officials of a nation founded as an Islamic republic, a nation carved out for Islamic values. How can such a nation allow such crimes to be committed in its borders, against its own people and against people of my country Australia?

Uncle Pervaiz, my government also has its share of excesses. My government only selectively advocated for Australians caught up in trouble overseas. My government throws foreigners into prison camps in the middle of the desert. My government commits numerous crimes in the name of fighting terror.

My final question is to both Perzaiz Chacha and Uncle John Winston. Terror is an enemy of liberty, freedom and dignity. How can the pair of you possibly be claiming to be fighting terror when you are helping the cause of terrorists by compromising individual liberties and abusing human rights?

An edited version of this article was published in the Australian Financial Review as an Op-Ed piece on 16 June 2005. The author is a Sydney employment and industrial lawyer whose ancestors were from Daryaganj district in Delhi where President Musharraf was born.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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