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Pakistan’s Frankenstein Moment: A Monster Of Its Own Creation?

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By Zehra Kazmi:

The cold-blooded murder of 148 people in a military school in Peshawar, out of which 132 were children aged between five and eighteen years, by the Tehreek-e-Taliban left the world enraged and deeply anguished. This barbaric act of brutality is the latest addition to a painfully long list of terrorist violence in Pakistan. Pakistan continues to be one of the worst sufferers of Islamist terrorism in the world-over, 30,000 Pakistani civilians and army men have died in the past 10 years due to it. The argument that the staunchest opponents of partition found hardest to disprove back in the 40s was that of security; the idea that Muslims would be safer in a religiously homogenous nation bounded by political Islam. The irony is not lost on any of us. One has to wonder how and when Pakistan’s own citizens became their greatest enemies.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s clandestine affair with terrorism is now out in the open. Former Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Pervez Musharraf have publicly accepted that Pakistan had used and created terrorist groups as part of a geopolitical strategy. India and other countries like the UK and the US have accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism. However, the US’s condemnation comes off as fairly superficial and definitely delayed, considering how it was the biggest ally of General Zia-Ul-Haq, the man whose legacy has left a questionable imprint on Pakistan’s history. It was under his tutelage that Islamic radicals became pillars of the regime, shaping policy and forming alliances with the military and intelligence services that endure till today. Under Zia’s rule, the military exercised tight control over the country’s economic and social spheres. His active propagation of Islamic radicalism was outlined in a plan called Islamization. The strategic success of this plan hinged on the nefarious transformation of the country’s autonomy minded frontier areas into developing an increasingly Salafist (an extremely conservative branch of Arab-Islamic thought) and Pan-Islamic thinking, focused on fighting in the Afghan Civil War. This radicalisation process was carried out through a variety of methods, such as supporting early Salafi jihadi factions, providing grants to Salafi madarsas, and encouraging their growth in Balochistan and North West Frontier Provinces (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa). Part of the Cold War, the Afghan Civil War was a proxy war that saw the Soviet Union and the government of Afghanistan fighting against insurgent mujahedeen groups, who received training in Pakistan, along with ammunition and billions of dollars from the US. The war gave birth to Al Qaeda and Taliban; among the young jihadis whose activities were being supported by USA was Osama Bin Laden.

The rise of the mujahideens from a rag-tag bunch of mercenary fighters to an influential pressure group that is now inextricably linked to the Pakistani polity and society was made possible only due to Zia’s enduring political legacy. Zia’s generation now wreaks havoc in the name of religion not just in Pakistan, but throughout the world. Even Pakistan’s current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif owes his political lineage to Zia and continued with the conservative Islamization strategy during his initial rule. Benazir Bhutto recognised the Taliban regime as legitimate government in Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban to open an embassy in Islamabad. Musharraf cooperated with the United States after 9/11 and helped in dislodging the Taliban from power in Kabul, only to give them sanctuary in Pakistan. This covert support by Pakistan was based on the belief that once the US would have left, the Taliban insurgents will still be there and Pakistan will be equipped to deal with them. The terrorists found safe haven in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA, a province bordering Afghanistan. More than 3mn people live in FATA, where the Pushtun-dominated west of Pakistan blurs into the Pushtun-dominated east of Afghanistan. FATA is the poorest and most conservative part of Pakistan. It follows a separate administrative structure – so long as they don’t upset the political agent; the tribes are left to rule themselves through jirgas or tribal councils. It is in these remote badlands of North-West Pakistan where a dangerous game involving geopolitical one-upmanship and religious fanaticism is being played. As Hussain Haqanni points out, “The jihadi militants do not accept the neat divisions between global, regional and local conflicts. Once they are convinced of the righteousness of their cause, they are willing to fight and blow themselves up anywhere.’’

Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Leader of Opposition, has carefully restrained from naming the Taliban in his condemnation of the Peshawar attack. This should not come as a surprise, considering how Khan is believed to have drawn his base from the Pakistani right-wing. He is accused of being Pakistani mainstream’s softest voice on Taliban and has consistently advocated dialogue in favour of confrontation with them. However, it remains to be seen whether Khan’s policy will continue after the universal outrage that the attack has resulted in.

Maybe I am being naively optimistic, but I hope this horrific violence in Peshawar will force the Pakistani political class to re-think its priorities. Pakistan’s political miscalculations and its sustained policy of covert support for terror have led to the December 16th nightmare. As an editorial in The Nation, a Pakistani newspaper, very aptly put it into words – “Not just terrorists, but everyone, from the wider population to the civil and military leadership is responsible for the barbarity our children were subjected to.’’

Pakistan’s past demons have come back to haunt it. Those 132 children could have grown up to become the future of Pakistan. Tonight, they lie asleep in their tiny coffins.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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