I was shocked but not surprised to see a swift somersault in Pakistan’s urban elite’s discourse on Twitter on 23 November 2011 in the aftermath of Prime Minister Gilani’s decision to replace Ambassador Husain Haqqani with Sherry Rehman.
Sherry’s appointment as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the USA provided urban elites (aka fake liberals) with an opportunity to do the following:
- Replace their incessant applause for Husain Haqqani with that for Sherry Rehman;
- Overcome the acute grief on the forced resignation of Ambassador Husain Haqqani;
- Promote Sherry Rehman in Pakistani and international media as a champion of human rights.
It is the last point in the list above that is the focus of this post. In the present post, I want to highlight how elite media as well as elite human rights groups (e,g., HRW, HRCP in Pakistan) are unduly and dishonestly presenting and promoting Sherry Rehman as a champion of human rights.
The elite media is a term used to describe newspapers, TV channels and other media that influence the political agenda of a powerful elite. According to Noam Chomsky, “[t]he elite media set a framework within which others operate.” The term denotes a structural position within the mass media, however, it is equally applicable to NGOs (so called rights groups, civil society etc) which too act on specific economic or political agendas to promote perspectives and interests of the powerful elite.
Human rights crisis in Pakistan
For starters, it is hard to ignore three major human rights issues, in fact human rights crises in Pakistan.
- Genocide of the Baloch people by Pakistan army and its various sub-organisations (FC, MI, ISI etc);
- Genocide of the Shia Muslims by various subsidiaries and proxies of Pakistan army (e.g., blockade and mass murder of Toori Shias (Pashtuns) in Kurram agency, genocide of Hazara Shias by ISI-backed Sipah-e-Shahaba (aka Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) in Quetta, mass murder of Shia Muslims in D.I.Khan and other areas of Pakistan by ISI-backed SSP-LeJ);
- Genocide of the Pashtun people by Pakistan army and its various proxies (e.g., TTP, JeM, LeT) by pursuing a policy of strategic depth which treats Pasthun people as necessary collateral damage to promote and secure Pakistan’s strategic interests in Afghanistan and India.
Thousands of Balochs, Pahtuns and Shia Muslims have been killed in the last few years as a result of Pakistan army’s direct or indirect policies of strategic depth in Afghanistan, kidnap, kill & dump policy in Balochistan and Jihad Enterprise links with Jihadi and sectarian militants (e.g. TTP-SSP-LeJ-LeT etc).
Now let me ask: What is Sherry Rehman’s position on the three human rights crisis situations listed above?
Barring a token statement or two (if any), where is her activism on these issues? Has she ever organized any vigils for the innocent Balochs routinely killed and dumped by Pakistan army? Has she ever written columns on the ongoing blockade of Shia Tooris of Kurram Agency by the ISI-TTP-SSP network? Has she ever presented a resolution in Pakistan’s parliament to inquire into the ongoing slaughter of anti-Taliban Pashtuns at the hands of ISI-backed Taliban terrorists?
Jinnah Institute’s report violated human rights of Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns
On the contrary, Sherry Rehman has played a criminal role in promoting and reinforcing Pakistan army’s pro-Taliban policy in Afghanistan and Pashtun areas of Pakistan through her Jinnah Institute. In the Jinnah Institute’s report on Afghanistan, there is only one mention of Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic Shias and Tajiks, which is: “Iranian support for Hazaras and Tajiks is limiting Pakistan’s ability to reach out to non-Pashtun groups.” (p.37). This part was so obviously written by Ejaz Haider (‘the Hazaras of Quetta are Iranian agents’ fame), a known affiliate of the ISI and apologist of LeJ.
Shia genocide in Af-Pak by Taliban/Haqqanis was not given any attention in Sherry Rehman’s report. For her and her foreign policy elie, there is no future for Shias in Afghanistan. Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamiyan massacres never took place. Ironically, Sherry Rehman is uncritically supporting same Taliban who have massacred hundreds of Toori Shias and other Pashtuns in the last several years.
Furthermore, given Taliban’s brutalities against women, how can a genuine women rights activist directly or indirectly support Pakistan army’s pro-Taliban policies?
According to Dr. Mohammad Taqi, Sherry Rehman’s known views on Afghanistan mirror that of the Pakistan Army, especially regarding giving a prominent role to Siraj Haqqani network and Mullah Omar in any future Afghan settlement. The military establishment has clearly prevailed over Asif Zardari through the appointment of Sherry as Pakistan’s Ambassador. Through pro-military establishment report on Afghan policy, Sherry Rehman effectively abandoned fellow countrymen, Pashtuns, and violated their human rights. Sherry Rehman’s report suggesting an “adequate Pashtun representation” in Afghanistan was not just interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs but also a case of misreporting the facts. Her report wrongly suggests that a solution for Afghanistan should not be opposed by Pakistan’s Pashtuns while disregarding that the majority of Pakistani Pashtuns have always opposed the Talibanisation of the region (e.g.,, ANP, PMAP etc).
In order to develop her credentials as a human rights activist, Sherry Rehman must show a bold stance on genocides of the Balochs, Pashutns and Shias by the Deep State.
Progressive legislation or personal promotion?
There is ample evidence which suggests that Sherry Rehman proposed an amendment in the notorious anti-blapshemy law without due consultation with her colleagues in the PPP. In doing so, she forgot that as an urban elite, she remains detached and dissociated from ordinary Pakistani people.
Unlike other female politicians (e.g., Dr. Fehmida Mirza, Hina Rabbani Khar, Firdous Ashiq Awan), Sherry Rehman does not have roots in masses, hence is unable to win in direct election from any constituency in Pakistan. Her entry into parliament was possible only through reserved quotas for women.
Therefore, it is unethical and self-promoting of her to submit a senstive bill into the parliament without due political legwork in Pakistan’s streets and also within her own party. On several occasions, Sherry Rehman has submitted bills in the parliament in her capacity as a private member thus clearly indicating that self-promotion, not party’s interests, are her main priority. Were she really sincere in amending the blasphemy law, she would have organized mass-level awareness raising campaigns in various cities and provinces of Pakistan in order to generate the much needed public support on this issue. By failing to raise public support and also by failing to engage with parliamentarians within her own party, Sherry Rehman demonstrated that her brand of rights activism remains shallow, insignificant and self-promoting.
Benazir Bhutto’s role ignored
This must also be acknowledged that due credit of Sherry Rehman’s legislative work for women’s rights must be attributed to her political mentor Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, who was the mastermind of PPP’s progressive policies on women’s and minorities’ rights. This fact is often dishonestly and conveniently ignored by urbane elite flatterers and promoters of Sherry Rehman.
While Sherry herself acknowledged BB’s role in at least one interview, she and her flatterers often present her as the only champion of human rights in the PPP depriving the central leadership of the PPP of the due credit for the party’s progressive vision and policies. Here is an extract from Sherry’s interview in 2010:
“Then I went to London for a year and a half to write the book, Benazir would often come there and we would meet. I remember making her manifesto for women’s politics. She was very strong on gender empowerment, and she wanted educated women to come into politics. I said to her, ‘How many of us will you bring in, how many of us will you groom? I’m not the type, and I say what I think! She said, ‘that’s exactly what I want, I do want opinionated people’. The political journey with her…at that stage of my political career, I don’t think I would have survived without her constant inspiration. She protected and groomed all the young women who she thought she needed to.”
“She (BB) was the guru.” Sherry describes her experience working with the late Ms Bhutto as incredible. “She’d call from Dubai at 2:30 AM and say ‘have you put in that bit about boarding schools for children’, and I’d say ‘yes I have or should we do it’, and we’d have an argument,” reminisces Sherry. “She’d ring me back saying, ‘I know you’re awake, I know you’re thinking about these things’ and I’d say, ‘well, so are you!’ she laughs, “And we would go into another discourse. We were always exchanging ideas; she was ahead of her times, she predicted everything, the terrorism, the poverty. She said there were huge challenges in front of us, we have to do this reconciliation move and that’s how we need to carry the nation forward, it’s not going to be the old way. When she died, like most of us, I was in a daze. We just went along, picked up the pieces, and somehow, doing it as a debt to her, something we owed her.”
Sherry Rehman’s resignation as Minister for Information is often (mis)represented by herself and her urban elite flatterers as an evidence of her principled stance on media freedom and restoration of judiciary. It is however a fact that she opportunistically resigned in 2009 amid controversy over Zardari’s alleged failure to restore Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry and also the allegation that Zardari government had ordered cable operators to block Geo TV that had been critical of him. Both of the reasons she described for her resignation were flimsy. Geo TV was never banned, and Iftikahr Chaudhry was reluctantly restored after pressure from Pakistan army. In the hindsight, it is not difficult to understand Zardari’s reluctance in restoring a judge who frequently releases jihadi and sectarian terrorists (Hafiz Saeed, Malik Ishaq etc), remains solely focused on anti-PPP cases (e.g., NRO), takes no action on ISI’s role in disappeared persons case, and turns a blind eye to genocides of the Balochs, Pashtuns and Shias.
It is a known fact that Sherry Rehman resigned in 2009 as she was convinced that the PPP’s government was about to fall, hence she thought it apt to set-up a pro-military think tank (Jinnah Institute) instead of being a part of an about to collapse government. According to Dawn, Although Ms Rehman’s act of sacrificing her ministry was widely hailed by civil society, lawyers and even journalists, the PPP leadership also removed her from the position of the party`s information secretary. President Zardari was so angry with the former information minister that during one of the meetings with senior party members he criticised her for leaving the party at a difficult time and stated that she had jumped out of the ship believing that it might sink.
Specimen of promotion in media
Here are a few example of how elite media within and outside Pakistan promotes Sherry Rehman as a champion of human rights.
Islamabad appoints rights activist as US ambassador after scandal claims predecessor
The government appointed a liberal lawmaker and rights activist as its U.S. ambassador Wednesday, swiftly replacing an envoy who was forced out amid allegations he sought Washington’s help in trying to rein in Pakistan’s powerful military. Sherry Rehman, who has faced militant death threats for speaking out against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws often used to persecute Christians, appeared to be a candidate acceptable both to the army and the weak civilian government.
Ali Dayan Hassan, Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch, said the army would prefer a retired general “who would talk their talk in D.C.”
“Sherry is highly unlikely to do any such thing,” Hassan said. “But she represents someone everyone can live with, including the military. The civilian leaders are happy to take ownership of her, and she has resonance in influential and urban sectors of Pakistan.”
Former federal information minister and human rights campaigner Sherry Rehman has been appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States within 12 hours of Husain Haqqani’s resignation. In your opinion, will Sherry Rehman’s political portfolio make her a credible Ambassador to the US?
Indeed, in 2009, he (Zardari) had asked her to resign from the information ministry during the heat of tensions with a media group. She switched her imaginative talents and employed the hardworking tenacity to build up a think tank. The Jinnah Institute that she had established took no time to get registered by relevant quarters. As a lightening rod of the same think tank, she remained active on track II as well to find out ways of establishing peace with India and seek a doable strategy to deal with Afghanistan. Her vocal stance on women-related issues, diligent working for some women-empowering legislation and above all her efforts to inject sanity in blasphemy laws augmented her credentials.
Nusrat Javeed in Express Tribune
Human Rights Watch
KenRoth Kenneth Roth
New #Pakistan ambassador to US @sherryrehman has strong rights background–probably not what ISI would have wanted. wapo.st/rQidUl
AliDayan Ali Dayan Hasan
Rights campaigner @SherryRehman’s appointment as #Pakistan’s ambassador to DC is a “welcome development” says @HRW ’ bit.ly/rHNzSK
AliDayan Ali Dayan Hasan
While the military will now seek greater influence over #Pakistan’s US policy, @sherryrehman- a progressive democrat will seek to temper it
AliDayan Ali Dayan Hasan
@SherryRehman as #Pakistan ambassador to the US suggests that the military has failed to assume complete control of Pak-US relations.
AliDayan Ali Dayan Hasan
All those who struggle for human rights and civilian supremacy in #Pakistan owe both @sherryrehman and @husainhaqqani a debt of gratitude
AliDayan Ali Dayan Hasan
#Pakistan needs rights-defenders such as @sherryrehman and @husainhaqqani in leadership positions. Congratulations Sherry.
ijazkhan Ijaz Khan
@AliDayan @SherryRehman @HRW Wow Really? We need to keep the difference between politician even if struggling for rights & a rights activist
As a logical outcome of her promotion by elitist media and NGOs, Sherry Rehman has received a number of awards.
In January 2009, she was hailed “Democracy’s Hero” in a report of the International Republican Institute as a result of her close association with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s campaign for democratic rule in Pakistan. However, the reference received mixed coverage in Pakistan.
In the same year, Rehman was also named among the “100 Most Influential Asians” by UAE magazine, Ahlan.
The March 2011 issue of Newsweek Pakistan ranked her on its cover as “Pakistan’s Most Important Woman”.
Foreign Policy magazine has identified Rehman as one of 2011’s Top Global Thinkers.
Here is a snapshot of Sherry Rehman’s lifestyle in her own words. Read this and honestly decide if such an elitist life style person can ever understand the miseries of the poor and the have nots of D.I.Khan, Khuzdar, Bannun and Jacobabad? Can she ever understand the miseries of the poor Pashtuns, Saraikis, Balochs, Shias etc?
Sherry Rehman has an aura about her that conveys authority, respect and even pin drop silence. And one witnessed this firsthand recently when an entire cafe in Karachi fell silent and stared in awe when Sherry walked in, perhaps a testimony to her increasing popularity because of her resignation as Minister for Information. When I walk into her Karachi residence, a remnant of the British Raj, I am escorted to her library, arguably one of the best I’ve seen in Karachi. With aqua-coloured walls, and modern art pieces by Anwar Maqsood staring at you, it reflects Sherry’s love for modern art, which she says is more vibrant to her. But the room is not without the old fashioned touches: fanoos lamps dot the room and wooden shelves bearing thousands of books are lit with softly glowing overhead lights. One spots a worn-in leather recliner with a footstool and a yellowing globe of the world. As I wait for Sherry, I peruse the titles and spy a collection of Faiz’s poetry, biographies of world leaders and the anthology of Sadequain’s paintings The Holy Sinner. Then Sherry walks in wearing a kurta shalwar with her Hermes bag and in one breath, apologizes for making me wait, inquires after my health and asks whether I’d like tea or coffee.
“People at Herald used to say you never wore the same outfit twice, would you agree?”
“Hardly! My darzi (tailor) is sitting upstairs, stitching my kurtas. I really like kurtas and white shalwars.”
instep exclusive: There is nothing as attractive as a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. There is also nothing as impressive as a person willing to give up power but unwilling to compromise on principle. Sherry Rehman is both. – By Huma Imtiaz
Wrath of the have-nots
On Oct. 23‚ 2010 protestors gathered outside Rehman’s Clifton home to burn her effigy and hurl invective. “I am in shock that speaking on any channel can result in such demonstrations of violence against an unguarded house‚” she told reporters after the demonstration.