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Pakistani Peace Activist Discusses Her Fight For Womens’ Rights

During the interview Rubina Feroze Bhatti said she had been in San Diego for the "last couple of years." What Rubina meant to say is that she has been in San Diego for the last couple months.

Audio

Aired 10/28/09

What's it like being a Christian woman living in the Muslim country of Pakistan? We speak to Rubina Feroze Bhatti about the challenges women and Christians face in Pakistan, and what kind of change she hopes to create by sharing these stories

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. As President Barack Obama decides on the United States' future course in Afghanistan, and as Pakistan reels from a month of major internal attacks, the fate of the most vulnerable members of these societies is often overlooked because it is women who are the number one target of political extremists in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it is also women who may hold the key to change in Pakistan, especially women who are involved in the struggle for human rights. Rubina Feroze Bhatti is one of those women. She's a founding member of the Taangh Wasaib Organization and is in San Diego as part of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Women PeaceMakers program. And, Rubina, I want to welcome you to These Days.

RUBINA FEROZE BHATTI (Founding Member, Taangh Wasaib Organization): Thank you very much, and good morning to my listeners.

CAVANAUGH: Well, today, to start off, unfortunately, on a sober note. We just learned about another bombing in Pakistan which killed nearly 100 people, and this comes after a month of extreme violence in Pakistan. I wonder, what have you heard from home. What are people saying about this violence?

BHATTI: Well, I am here since last couple of years and even before this I was in Pakistan and this wave of severe incidents of blasts, bombing has been at the peak in these days. And I am constantly in touch with my people and right now people are in a state of fear, depression, and life is becoming more and more static because last couple of weeks the schools were closed, the shopping centers, everywhere and now government has announced that, okay, you open school but ensures your security. So this is something really very critical for the people. How they can manage and especially the country like Pakistan, a developing country, so the people don’t have money to eat, money to clothe, money to – for the shelter, and how they going to ensure the securities and especially the schools?

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us what – You say you’ve been here now for quite some time.

BHATTI: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: What brought you here and especially here to San Diego, and what do you hope to accomplish for Pakistan?

BHATTI: Well, I am the part of Women PeaceMakers Program at Joan B. Kroc Institute. This program is basically a very, very significant program because this program document the stories of women who are making – who are making contribution and struggling for the protection and promotion of human rights in their countries and for the promotion of peace. So this is something that’s very hopeful for the people, for the Pakistani community. And when I was selected for this program, so my people, they were really happy and I received a lot of phone calls, I received a lot of media, you know, reports and TV channels interviewed, public radio announced this and the Minister of our Interior, he gave his comments like this is something that international community is acknowledging Pakistani people – acknowledging the efforts of Pakistani people in peacemaking. And what I did, why I was selected here, we are trying to bridge the people from different faiths, from different sects so they can address the issue of sectarianism and issue of religious intolerance. How I perceive that, basically the situation in Pakistan, right now what is the situation, this is not something come overnight. This has been started in '80s when ideology of Islamization was introduced and to introduce that ideology, a set of initiatives were taken like they introduced the syllabus, biased syllabus in the educational institutions…

CAVANAUGH: The syllabus, right, yes.

BHATTI: Yeah. Yeah. They introduced discriminatory laws against women. They introduced discriminatory laws against religious minorities, economy of dollarization, you know, they encouraged jihad culture and weapons to the people, ordinary people, and then because of the jihad culture that group of people – that group of what I can see, militants was – were pampered by the state. And now those militants, they have the idea like whatever they have the ideology, that is the right ideology and that’s why they take action against anybody, women, children, whatever they think is not according to Islam.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Rubina Feroze Bhatti and she is part of the Women PeaceMakers program at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. She is a activist from Pakistan. And I wanted to ask you, I know, Rubina, that one of the things that you hold very dearly is the belief that most people in Pakistan want peace, they want justice and they don’t – they are not extreme in their views. But I’m wondering, you said that the people that you hear from now in Pakistan with all this militant action going on are very depressed. Are they losing hope?

BHATTI: Well, I don’t think so that they are losing hope but they are looking for some positive change, for some positive support. And that’s what I am sharing and I am struggling. And even in San Diego, I’m trying to convey my message to the people that war is not the solution because, look, in '80s if we have to introduce an ideology by introducing certain steps, by taking certain initiatives so now we have to encounter that ideology and to stop that Islamization or Talibanization. We have to give people an – our new ideology. And that ideology is the ideology of religious tolerance, of love, harmony, coexistence, peace. And to introduce this ideology, again, we have to take certain steps. We have to eliminate, we have to repeal – total repeal of discriminatory laws against women. We have to repeal discriminatory laws against religious minorities. We have to review our syllabus. We have to provide basic needs, you know, health, education, to the people so that they can’t be easily trapped by the Taliban. We’re just trying to kill the Talibans but we are not trying to shut down the channels that breed Talibans. And Taliban are like starfish; if you will cut them, they will grow hundreds and hundreds. But you have to shut down the channels where these – these militants have embedded. And think about the recruitments, you know. Now, more and more people have been recruited by Taliban. First we think that Talibans are only in one of the province but I am from Punjab and I know that Taliban is an ideology and everyone has some potential. And the people can be easily misguided and misled and like if about – if I’ll just talk about the incidents – latest incidence in Islamabad. So people are arguing, okay, this is because Hillary Clinton was there but I don’t think that this is because of – the reason is only the Hillary Clinton or the Pakistan military hatred for that – No, they attack – No, they attack women market and they are against our ways of life. And so that’s why I put focus that this is something ideology and we have to change that ideology.

CAVANAUGH: Not only are you a woman activist in Pakistan but you’re also the member of a religious minority as a Christian. And I’m wondering what – how that has affected you as you’ve grown up in Pakistan and seen this ideology become stronger and more militant as the years go by.

BHATTI: Yeah. You know, I born in a Christian family and I suffered a lot, lot of discrimination, alienation, exclusion because of the discriminatory laws which were introduced in eighties. My – You know, my very early years of my childhood was beautiful years. That was the most beautiful time of my life. Then in my society there was no hatred for the people, for the religious minorities. But the first thing they did, they thrown away, they cut away the minorities from the political system through separate electorate system. Separate electorate system mean non-Muslim can’t vote for Muslim and Muslim can’t vote for non-Muslim. So this was the first segregation. And after that, because the Muslims, they didn’t care about us, you know, we were not the voters. And after that, some laws like blasphemy laws and my family and my uncle was the victim of blasphemy. That was the very first case. So we suffered a lot because of that law. And in last couple of months, especially in August, hundreds of houses of the Christians were burned and eight people were burned live just – they were accused of blasphemy and they did not do anything. But these laws can be misused. And when this type of incident took place, then there is unrest in society and so we are not focusing on these issues, we have just engaged ourself in the war. And it’s pity that some of the politicians, they are saying, well, this is not our war, this is someone has imposed on us. But this is our war because this has changed the whole fabrics of our society and people are suffering because of these laws that, of course, of the women, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly, and you brought up the fact that Hillary Clinton is in Pakistan.

BHATTI: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

BHATTI: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: And that makes me wonder what is it that you would like to see the United States do? What can the U.S. do to try to bring about this positive change in Pakistan?

BHATTI: You know, what I’ll say that simply war is not the solution. And if they really want to make Pakistan a peaceful society, they have to review what were done in eighties and they have to have – They have a deep analysis of those elements and, you know, without reversing that ideology, without repealing of the discriminatory laws, without providing basic facilities to the people, and without introducing a harmonized syllabus in the educational institutions, this is very difficult that just by bombing you can get some results, very difficult.

CAVANAUGH: Wouldn’t that be too much interference from the U.S. into Pakistani politics, though, if we were to say we’ll give you money if you change your education system, if you change your discriminatory laws? How can the U.S. influence what goes on in Pakistan?

BHATTI: No, well, this will not be very much interference in this way because this is something lobbying and diplomatic relations, you know, to assisting to helping people. But interference come when someone has drone attack in Pakistan. So that is something physical. People will say, look, Americans are throwing bombs on civilians and they are killing. Then they make argument--a strong argument that this is the interference. But if they will support financially and development projects, if they are look now in Pakistan, if educate people – More than 70% women in rural community are illiterate and if you are introducing some education project and you are giving aid, this is not interference, this is the real support. And – But if you are killing indirectly or directly you are serving the interest of militants because in this way they can easily misguide and mislead people that, look, these people are killing you, that’s why you must be recruited and you must join us and in this way we have to defeat. Not they – they are – how they – they are getting strength from Pakistani people just by saying that this is the war of Pak – sorry, America. But if you – they will see that how our people are suffering and America is not throwing bomb then the civil society and the people, they can have analysis, look, these are our friends and they are supporting us, our development projects, our humanist aid, you know, human rights so they will not behave like this.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you then, as we speak, President Obama is trying to figure out whether or not to send more troops into Afghanistan or – and some people are saying the time has come for America to pull out of Afghanistan. Some people say if America does pull out of Afghanistan the Taliban will once again gain a stronghold in that country. I’m wondering, as you look at this as a Pakistani woman, the idea of the Taliban coming back into power of Afghanistan, what do you feel about that? What do you think about that?

BHATTI: You know, well, Pakistan and Afghanistan, they have strong ties, you know, in a way – and like long border and, I mean, militants they sometimes they – it’s hard to separate them. How I think not only Afghanistan but also of the Pakistan and it also related to my previous answer that America need to support civil governments and why these things happen when governments are weak. And now in Pakistan is the civil government and America – U.S. government supported Musharraf. He was a dictator. And so what were happen, all these Talibans, they didn’t grow overnight. So as you look into the last ten, nine years of Musharraf regime and how these were pampered indirectly or directly– Now is the civilian government and if we will support civil government and the government will manage rather than America send its troops so I am not – I am a peace activist, I am not in favor of troops. But America should not pull out it completely. I mean, America should not send the troops but America should support both Afghanistan and Pakistan regarding their, you know, facilitation, technical support like development projects, like human rights project, because and in '80s when America pulled it out in hurry so Pakistan were, you know, under the burden of refugees and these militant groups and we did not give, at that time, an alternative strategy and these militants grew further and further and expanded. So it’s not right to pull it out completely. I mean, but it should pull out the troops.

CAVANAUGH: Rubina, I wish we had so much more time to talk. Will you come back and talk with us at some time?

BHATTI: I – Well, it’s my pleasure and I would really love also to, you know, to suggest that you can bring some other women PeaceMakers and they also have some views about Pakistan and about this war. And we have a consensus that war is not the solution. We have a consensus that if we bring peace in the society, we have to give alternative strategies of – and – to the people and that basically the education, the basic needs and broader exposure. And America will, hopefully – I do believe that America will review its policies and will support Pakistani people to bring people out of fear and insecurity and depression because if, in this way, we will serve the humanity and we wish for – and we have longing for the fullness of humanity. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Consider this an invitation. Well, thank you so much.

BHATTI: Happy to be here.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Rubina Feroze Bhatti. She is part of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Women PeaceMakers program. Stay with us as we continue. Coming up, we’ll learn the fascinating history of cranioklepty. That’s next here on KPBS.

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