Thirst: a story of religious injustice 5

A poor, illiterate woman named Aasiya Noreen* worked in the fields to help support her family of five children, two of them her own and three of them her husband’s from a former marriage.

Aasiya was a Christian. A Catholic. Her  family were the only Christians in the small village where she lived some thirty miles outside Lahore, the capital of the Punjab in the Islamic state of Pakistan. The Christians of the region were an underclass, traditionally assigned to menial jobs.

One hot summer’s day in June, 2009, Aasiya was harvesting berries along with some Muslim women. They all became thirsty. The Muslim women sent Aasiya to fetch water from a well. Aasiya found a battered tin cup abandoned near the well, and had a drink from it  before refilling it and carrying it to her fellow workers. One of them accused her of drinking from the cup and so making it unclean. Christian lips should not contaminate a cup that Muslims drink from. All the Muslim women agreed on that.  

A dispute arose. Which was the one true religion? The Muslim women knew that Islam was the truth. Aasiya knew that Christianity was the truth. She dared to say (according to her own account), “Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammed ever do to save mankind?”

The Muslim women were deeply offended. They went to their imam and told him that the Christian woman Aasiya Noreen had insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

The imam took action. He gathered together a number of good Muslims willing to defend the Prophet and the true faith of Islam, and led them to the house where Aasiya and her family lived. They set upon her and her husband and her children with righteous blows. The police arrived in time to save the Christian family from being beaten to death. The avenging mob agreed to spare them on condition that the police laid a charge of blasphemy against the woman. The police duly arrested her and put her in jail, where she waited to be brought to trial until November, 2012.

Aasiya told the court that the woman who accused her of blasphemy had a grudge against her, resulting from an old quarrel, and the accusation was made out of a desire for revenge. The judge did not accept her story as a defense. He also chose to overlook inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses against her. He decided that she was guilty of blasphemy and sentenced her to death. She was to be hanged for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad whose name is never mentioned by a Muslim without having peace wished upon him.

She was the first woman ever to be condemned to death in Pakistan for blasphemy – her crime being considered so heinous that even death was not sufficient punishment. She was also to pay a fine equivalent to $1,100. She and her family had never in all their lives possessed a sum approaching $1,100. Nor did they know of any way they could raise it.

When the verdict was pronounced, the crowd in the court rose to its feet, applauding and shouting “Yes, kill her! Kill her! Allahu Akbar!”. And yet more enthusiasts for justice, more celebrants of the glory of God, broke down the doors to swarm into the court, their furious, triumphant shouts swelling the chorus of “Allahu Akbar!”  The greatness of their merciful God could hardly have been more passionately attested.

Assiya’s husband, Ashiq Masih, appealed the verdict. He and Aasiya hoped that the High Court would at least suspend the sentence.

There was a man in a high position who was deeply moved by the fate of Aasiya and determined to do all he could for her. He was Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab. He persuaded the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, to come to her rescue. In December 2012, Taseer publicly announced that if the High Court did not suspend her sentence, the president would pardon her. And Zardari would have done so, but the Lahore High Court hastened to issue a stay order against a presidential pardon.

So Aasiya remained in prison in Lahore, in solitary confinement in an 8 by 10 foot windowless cell.

At first the governor would visit her, with his wife and daughter. But then the court ruled that only her husband and lawyer could see her.

On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by one Mumtaz Qadri who resented the governor’s concern for the blasphemer. (He was hanged for the crime in February 2016.) 

The Minister of Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti – himself a Christian, and the only Christian member of the cabinet – was so disturbed by the case that he set about doing all he could to get the laws of blasphemy changed. He announced that he was prepared to die fighting for Aasiya Noreen’s release. He received many death threats, and on March 2,  2011, he was shot dead in his car near his home.

Many times Aasiya’s appeal was postponed. In October 2014, the High Court finally heard her case – and upheld her death sentence. Her husband then appealed to the President. But he was restrained from issuing a pardon, so her lawyers appealed to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. In July, 2015, the Supreme Court suspended her  death sentence “for the duration of the appeals process”.

Hundreds of Pakistanis have publicly protested against her being still alive. An imam offered $10,000 reward to anyone who would kill her, and apparently some 10 million citizens declared themselves ready and willing to do the noble deed. Assiya’s family have gone into hiding, and they fear for her safety and survival if she were to be released.

That is how the matter stands at present.

Aasiya Noreen is under sentence of death for taking a drink of water from an old cup on a hot day, and saying something she had been taught to believe, to some other women who had been taught that it was something that should not be believed and should not be said.

For a drink of water, for fantastic rumors about “Jesus” and “Muhammad”, lives ruined and lost.   

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Aasiya Noreen

*Aasiya Noreen is usually called “Asia Bibi” in press reports. “Bibi” simply means “woman”.

Bargaining with Pakistan 5

What did the Pakistani government, military, and intelligence service know in advance about the American plan to get Osama bin Laden?

In a speculative article, N.M.Guariglia at PajamasMedia raises many pertinent questions, and makes an impressively plausible case that they all knew such a raid was to happen. He suggests why one or two of the three powerful parties, on certain conditions, agreed to let it be carried out without interference.

Did Pakistan know about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden? …

While American politicians wonder whether the Pakistanis were aware of OBL’s hideout — of course they were — al-Qaeda is currently wondering whether the Pakistanis were aware that SEAL Team 6 was on its way to kill their leader. If destroying the rest of al-Qaeda’s hierarchy is the goal, perhaps that is the more immediate question. Perhaps some in Pakistan knew of the hideout, some knew of the operation, and some knew of both. …

What happened from the time we located OBL’s courier and the Abbottabad compound in August 2010 to the night of the raid? Did we not once share this intelligence with someone in Pakistan during these nine months? During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama stated he would intervene in Pakistan to catch OBL if the Pakistanis did not act. Such a policy required waiting to see whether or not the Pakistanis would act.

We knew Abbottabad was a military town. Pakistan’s prestigious military academy is located just yards away from OBL’s compound. In fact, U.S. forces were stationed there in October 2008 (and possibly another time or two). This remarkable WikiLeaks revelation has been lost on most of the American media. One can only imagine OBL smirking from his balcony, sipping tea while observing joint U.S.-Pakistani military training. He was right under our nose — or, more precisely, we were right under his.

Why would we unnecessarily jeopardize the mission and risk a firefight with the Pakistanis without knowing for certain that we might not have to? What if the Pakistanis thought they were under attack from India? That could have sparked a nuclear exchange between the two rivals. …

Some other questions linger. Does this year’s arrest of Bali bomber Umar Patek, also caught in Abbottabad, have anything to do with anything? What about Pakistan’s arrest and eventual release of CIA agent Raymond Davis in March? For months prior to the raid, CIA operatives had a safe house in Abbottabad to spy on OBL. Who knew of this? And why are we revealing the nature of the intelligence we collected at the compound? As for the raid, what was the nature of the firefight? We were first told it was a 40-minute battle and OBL was the last to be killed. Now we are told the only resistance came from the courier living in the guest house, not OBL’s villa. We were first told OBL had a gun in hand. Now we are told he was “reaching” for a weapon. How does it take that long to reach for a weapon? What happened during the 20-25 minute blackout on the operation’s video stream? Why didn’t we take OBL’s wife with us? Why do at least two of the other three men killed during the raid seem to have been shot in the back of the head?

This suggests an execution. The two men that were shot in the back of the head were OBL’s son and another chap, and the guy shot regular-style was the courier in the guest house who engaged the SEALs with gunfire. Was it that we captured these two men but didn’t have enough room to take them with us due to the downed stealth chopper — so we killed them? Does this mean OBL was executed, as well — as his wife claims? … Wouldn’t we prefer to take OBL alive, if we could? That is, of course, unless an arrangement had been made prior to the operation whereby OBL’s death was mandatory.

In many ways, Pakistan is three countries in one. There is the civilian government, the military, and the mysterious intelligence service, the ISI. Each party is suspicious of the other, has divided loyalties within, and collaborates with one against the other … By all accounts, the two most powerful men in the country are Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistani Army, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Pasha, head of the ISI. President Zardari is subordinate to the men with the guns.

It stands to reason that at least one of these men, probably two, knew of OBL’s hideout. And at least one, probably two, knew of the U.S. operation to kill OBL. …

Lt. Gen. Pasha met with CIA Director Panetta on April 11 and Gen. David Petraeus, who is set to take over the CIA, met with Gen. Kayani on April 25.

One piece of information, if true, makes it obvious that the military expected the raid to take place:

Abbottabad residents are saying the Pakistani military secured and cordoned off the site on the night of the raid, visiting the homes of civilians and asking them to turn their lights off. …

And, almost certainly, it would have been “impossible for U.S. helicopters to fly to the compound without the knowledge of the Pakistani military”.

So, assuming the military facilitated the raid – why?

Yes, Pakistan was protecting OBL – as they have been, in some capacity, since the 1990s. But when we discovered OBL’s location — thank you Guantanamo, rendition, black sites, waterboarding, and wiretapping – we probably, and wisely, confronted the Pakistanis about it in secret

We caught the Pakistanis red-handed. And that’s when a deal was made. They said: “Okay, you got us. We will give you an hour of peace and quiet to get your man. But he must be killed.” … The Pakistanis did not want an interrogation or trial of OBL to expose their goings-on with the rest of al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and so forth. Also, this way the Saudis, the Syrians, the Iranians, and the financier network from the Gulf sheikhdoms would all be protected.

What’s in it for Pakistan? They would rather have the American people angry at them for ostensibly sheltering OBL than their own people angry at them for handing him over. We probably accept that logic. We want their nuclear weapons in secure enough hands. Had the Pakistanis openly captured OBL and handed him over to us, or had they openly participated in the raid, the rest of their jihadist clientele would have turned on them — which would have required Pakistan turning on all of them first. And Pakistan would not want that. Why not? India, India, India.

So Panetta goes on television to say if we tipped off Pakistan about the raid, they’d have tipped off OBL to escape. And walah, Pakistan’s street-cred with the jihadists is covered.

What’s in it for us? Well, we kill Osama and dump him in the ocean. That’s pretty damn good. President Obama gets his “gutsy call,” a Hollywood-style takedown of Public Enemy Number 1. He also avoids an expensive, multi-year political circus about how to interrogate, try, and execute the terrorist mastermind. Additionally, we don’t put our fist in the Pakistani hornet’s nest. …

Intriguing questions follow:

If this theory has a grain of truth to it, the remaining questions are obvious. What else did the U.S. and Pakistan agree upon? Foreign aid, “bribe billions,” was no doubt part of it. Was the release of Raymond Davis part of an agreement? Was the nature of a post-U.S. withdrawal Afghanistan part of the discussion? Was the rest of al-Qaeda’s leadership part of the deal, or was the Egyptian-wing of al-Qaeda compliant with the elimination of OBL as the foreign press is speculating? Is this the beginning of a consensus within Pakistan or the beginning of a power struggle? …

Did we kill OBL when we could have captured him? Did we want to capture him but killed him amidst the chaos of the raid? Would we truly execute a man merely to uphold our end of a bargain that brought him to us? I doubt it. And in the event of such a bargain, why wouldn’t we first agree to the terms of condition, but then instead capture OBL if we could, so as to learn everything about his support structure within Pakistan — all the while having the Pakistanis think he was dead? If we’re fooling al-Qaeda with Pakistan, why not also fool Pakistan to learn about al-Qaeda? Perhaps that is why we left OBL’s wife there — so that the Pakistanis could confirm, through her testimony, that her husband was in fact killed?

If so, that’s not a good enough reason to leave her behind – especially as she is saying that her husband was “executed”. (Rightly if he was, but Obama would fear being accused of it.) She would surely have been more useful as a source of information.

It may be that bad bargains were struck.

One thing seems certain: the military knew for years where bin Laden was living and chose not to tell the American government.

How many more “bribe millions”  – in fact, bribe billions – will go to a country that has been paid too much for too long in return for too little?

Forked tongues (2) 0

Bearing out what we have said in the post immediately below about Muslims saying one thing to the West and another to their Muslim audience, today at Front Page Magazine, Michael van der Galien says this about a report written by Matt Walden, a fellow of Harvard, and issued by the London School of Economics:

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has “an official policy” of support for the Taliban. The ISI, the report says, “provides funding and training” for the extremist Muslim group in neighboring Afghanistan. It adds that the agency even “has representatives on the so-called Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s leadership council, which is believed to meet in Pakistan.” …

“Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude,” the report says. Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari pretends to be enlightened, modern, a staunch ally of the West, and a supporter of the War on Terror, when dealing with Westerners. Not so, says Waldman in his report. The president apparently met with senior Taliban prisoners, promising them they would released as soon as possible, adding that they were only arrested because of American pressure.

“The Pakistan government’s apparent duplicity – and awareness of it among the American public and political establishment – could have enormous geopolitical implications. Without a change in Pakistani behaviour it will be difficult if not impossible for international forces and the Afghan government to make progress against the insurgency.” …

If true, and there’s every reason to believe it is, the report spells tremendous trouble. It is virtually impossible for the West and Kabul to defeat the Taliban if these terrorists are backed by the ISI.