Pakistan government ‘caught between devil and deep sea’ in blasphemy protests

Pakistan’s Law Minister Zahid Hamid
Updated 18 November 2017

Pakistan government ‘caught between devil and deep sea’ in blasphemy protests

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Law Minister Zahid Hamid has told Arab News he had no involvement in the amendment of the country’s electoral law.
The government blames a “clerical error” for an Oct. 2 change in the wording of an oath for lawmakers that declares Prophet Muhammad as God’s final prophet by omitting the clauses pertaining to the official status of Ahmadis — a minority sect that is considered non-Muslim.
The alteration — which was reversed on Oct. 5 — has sparked mass protests, with demonstrators from hardline groups demanding that Hamid resign and face punishment for what they claim amounts to blasphemy.
“All the allegations against me for making any changes (to the) clauses are totally false and baseless,” Hamid told Arab News. “I cannot even think of getting my name attributed to an attempt directly or indirectly aimed at amending the laws related to Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (the finality of prophethood).”
He added that he and his family “are willing to sacrifice our lives to defend the sanctity of the Prophet.”
Hamid has already clarified his position on the issue numerous times, but has failed to pacify outrage of several far-right religious groups.
One such group, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRP) party, has staged a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange, the main gateway between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, for almost two weeks, causing great disruption to the lives of residents of the twin cities.
Around 3,000 protesters there, led by religious scholar Khadim Hussain Rizvi, have refused to open negotiations with authorities until Hamid resigns.
They may no longer have that option.
On Friday, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court ruled that the government must remove protesters from the route by early Saturday morning.
The court has directed the Islamabad police to enlist the help of paramilitary forces the Pakistan Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary, if necessary, and to disperse the protesters through “peaceful or non-peaceful” means.
The court’s directive will likely lead to violence.
TLYRP spokesperson Mian Faisal reiterated to Arab News that the protest would continue until the law minister tendered his resignation.
“We are staying here come what may,” he said. “We don’t care about court orders.”
He added that his party’s leadership had directed sit-in participants to resist any efforts by law enforcement agencies to dislodge them.
“We are ready to sacrifice our lives to protect the sanctity and reverence of Prophet Muhammad,” Faisal said.
Besides causing serious disruption to the general public, the protests have also eroded the authority of the government. But Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Thursday that the government is “caught between the devil and the deep sea” over the issue.
“We have been trying our best to resolve the issue through dialogue,” he said, “but the protesters want a violent clash with law enforcement agencies to instill new life into their movement.”
Iqbal also stressed that the law minister would not resign.
Political scientist Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi told Arab News that the government was to blame for allowing the clauses to be altered in the first place, considering how sensitive an issue Khatam-e-Nabuwwat is in Pakistan, and that it should accept that it can no longer exercise control over the country.


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.