Martial law silences families

Pakistani students voice mixed opinions about turmoil in their country

Ali Shaikh, Sci ’10, says Queen’s students should be concerned with the human rights violations happening in Pakistan.
Ali Shaikh, Sci ’10, says Queen’s students should be concerned with the human rights violations happening in Pakistan.

For Ali Shaikh, the events in Pakistan this week are close to home.

Shaikh, Sci ’10, lived in Pakistan until three years ago, when his family moved to Canada for better employment and education opportunities.

Last Saturday, General Pervez Musharraf imposed martial rule on the country, where much of Shaikh’s family still resides.

Musharraf, who is both President and head of Pakistan’s military, is opposed by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who heads the Pakistan People’s Party.

Shaikh said he spoke over the phone with his aunt, who lives in Wasbah, Pakistan, last week.

He said his family is safe but doesn’t like to talk about the situation.

“It’s hard to get people there to talk because a lot of them have this fear,” he said.

“They don’t want to really express their views easily. … They can easily get into trouble for saying something against the government.”

“As long as you don’t actively participate in any political rallies, or any kind of social activism or political activism that’s targeted at the government, you’ll be fine,” he said. “But as soon as you express your opinion and express your opposition through demonstration … that will really worry them.”

Shaikh said people are disappointed because none of Pakistan’s political parties have managed to come up with solutions to grassroots problems in the country.

“For them there’s just no hope,” he said. “A lot of people would say, ‘It doesn’t really matter if we’re going to get into martial law or any other sort of system,’ because it doesn’t change their issues, their circumstances.”

He said because the People’s Party and Musharraf’s party, the Muslim League, have been corrupt in the past, there’s no widespread support for either.

“As far as my opinion goes, things are going to get more complicated and it is going to get intense because you cannot suppress people’s views,” he said.

Shaikh said there’s only one TV channel available in Pakistan right now and phone calls are being tapped.

“It’s a severe crackdown on fundamental civil rights and unfortunately that has been a trend throughout Pakistan’s history,” he said.

“The domestic issues there, the domestic affairs there, haven’t really gotten a lot of coverage until just the last week. So I don’t know if people really know a lot about what’s going on there locally.”

Shaikh said Queen’s students should focus on the human rights abuses that are taking place in Pakistan.

“At the end of the day I think that’s what really matters. Regardless of what you think about the political issues, the fact that you have people getting beaten up just for expressing their opinion. … That’s the ultimate values of the West—to take a stand for human rights and democracy all around the world.

“So I think it’s time that they should show that that’s what they believe in.”

Shaikh said he thinks the situation in Pakistan is an indirect result of the country’s role in the war on terror.

“The main cause of all these problems in my country is sort of this proxy war between the U.S. and certain countries,” he said. “I think we’re a victim of a so-called war on terror that had nothing to do with us, to be honest.”

Shaikh said he is thinking of starting a petition about the situation in Pakistan.

Sana Mahmood, ConEd ’08, president of the Queen’s Pakistani Students Association, said she thinks people worry more when they’re away from Pakistan.

“Daily life is still going on. Siblings are still going to school, parents are still going to work,” she said.

Mahmood, who’s a Pakistani citizen, said she has one sibling in school and one who is working, both in Pakistan.

“You can’t see what’s happening. You only get what the media gives you,” she said. Mahmood said she plans to return home after she graduates from teacher’s college next year.

“I thought I could learn it here and then apply it back home, develop curriculum,” she said.

She it’s not the declaration of a state of emergency that concerns her as much as the violence that accompanies it.

“It’s the uncertainty of it that bothers me,” she said.

Sadaf Javaid, ArtSci ’08 and vice-president of the QPSA, said she doesn’t think democracy is right for Pakistan right now.

“I think we need a dictator who cares about the country and has a passion for the country.”

Javaid said Musharaf may not be perfect, but he could benefit the country.

“In my opinion, out of the other two or three people, he’s the best.”

The QPSA is holding a jam called “1001 Nights” at Alfie’s tomorrow night together with the South Asian, Persian and Arab student associations.

The jam, which will feature Middle Eastern music all night, has been planned since before Musharraf imposed martial law on Pakistan.

Javaid said a lot of people don’t understand why the club continues to celebrate when the situation in Pakistan is so troubled.

“They just assume everything back home is at a standstill,” she said.“We still want to promote our country. We want people to see the positive side of our culture.” “There’s always negativity surrounding our country.”

International Centre International Program Advisor Kathy Lemon, who manages the Emergency Support Program, said there are no undergraduate students from Queen’s on exchange in Pakistan right now.

A representative for the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) said as far as he knows, there haven’t been any requests for assistance from Canadian citizens in Pakistan.

—With files from Erin Flegg

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