PAKISTAN: Pakistan likely to take legal actions for desecration, cartoon

National Assembly debates about Washington Times cartoon and US military actions inconclusive, as Times responds and protests continue

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

By Raja Asghar

Islamabad -- The government on Tuesday hinted at the possibility of initiating legal actions against reported desecration of the Holy Quran by the US military interrogators and publication of an allegedly derogatory cartoon about Pakistan by an American newspaper.

The indication came on the second day of an inconclusive debate in the National Assembly on the alleged desecration at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which was condemned by speakers from both the opposition and treasury benches, most of them calling for an apology from Washington.

Pakistan Muslim League president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said Pakistan's Ambassador in Washington Jahangir Karamat had been asked to take up the matter with the US State Department and added that the whole house should pursue the matter in the absence of a satisfactory US reply.

Apparently referring to the cartoon carried by the daily Washington Times depicting Pakistan's role in the US-led war against terrorism as that of a faithful dog, he said: "I think a legal notice will be the best option."

Law and Justice Minister Mohammad Wasi Zafar said he thought a case against Quranic desecration could be instituted under international and US laws and called for a trial of those who committed this act.

"The government itself should pursue the case," he said while participating in the debate on several adjournment motions tabled on Monday by members from both the treasury and opposition benches based on a report in the latest issue of US weekly Newsweek.

But opposition members seemed to have little confidence in statements from the treasury benches as they continued accusing the government of being subservient to US policies and unable to stand up on matters of national or religious honour.

However, former National Alliance member Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada, who joined the PML last year when some allied groups merged with the ruling party, aroused repeated cheers from opposition benches when he asked his party president and other politicians to lead public protests on the issue to prove their sincerity.

He criticised long traffic jams often seen on roads due to tight security arrangements for President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and asked: "Why the president should be made a hostage?"

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) parliamentary leader Nisar Ali Khan told the house that the report in the May 9 issues of the Newsweek was not about a new incident as, he said, he saw similar reports in British newspapers during a visit to London in July 2004 although no Muslim country raised a voice against the alleged insult of Islam by Guantanamo Bay interrogators.

He said he thought the National Assembly could now ask why there had been American denial so far of such acts at the Guantanamo Bay base housing suspected Al Qaeda militants, whether those acts were in conformity with the US policy and, if they were not, why no action had been taken against people who did it.

The Newsweek did not specify the period when, according to its sources, the interrogators, "in an attempt to rattle suspects, placed copies of the holy Quran on toilets and, in at least one case, flushed a holy book down the toilet".

A Christian member of the ruling party, Haroon Qaiser, said the Guantanamo incident reflected a sick mind and not a Christian behaviour and asked all assembly members to be careful in their comments to avoid casting any reflection on Pakistani Christians.

Most of the 25 members from opposition and treasury benches who spoke on Tuesday accused the United States of targeting Muslims in the garb of war against terrorism, some of them urging the government to move for convening a special session of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Several opposition members complained of lack of government interest in the debate because of mostly empty treasury benches, where hectic chats of former prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali with other party colleagues received a lot of focus from the galleries because of his reported differences with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.

The house was adjourned till 10am on Thursday when it will resume the debate on the adjournment motions that began on Monday.

Protests against desecration of Quran

Peshawar -- The Pasban youth organization staged a protest demonstration here on Tuesday against desecration of Holy Quran by US interrogators in Guantanamo Bay and publication of a derogatory cartoon in The Washington Times. A protest march, led by Pasban's provincial chief Qari Masahib Gul, started from the Khyber Bazar and after passing through various markets culminated at the Peshawar Press Club.

Protesters also blocked the Sher Shah Suri Road for 20 minutes as a mark of protest against government's policies. They were holding placards and banners inscribed with anti-US and anti-government slogans. Pasban leaders, including Abdur Rehman and Syed Kamal Shah Bukhari, addressed the gathering.

The speakers criticized the MMA government for its silence on the issue, saying that instead of waiting for Islamabad's reaction, it should utilize all possible channels to convey people's sentiments to the US government.

They demanded that Islamabad should effectively express the resentment of 150 million Pakistani with the US government.

No offence meant, says US paper

Washington -- In an editorial comment published on Tuesday, the Washington Times said that it never intended to insult Pakistan or the Pakistani nation when it published a now controversial cartoon. The cartoon, published on Friday, caused a major stir in Pakistan, but the newspaper said it had meant to be a tribute to the role the country had been playing in the war against terror.

The newspaper also published a letter from a reader, Richard J. Douglas of Kensington, on the editorial page which said that "the cartoon was an insulting depiction of a friendly nation whose people have given lives and treasure to help us find and kill terrorists it did a disservice to our most important South Asian ally in the ground war on terrorism".

Referring to the demand for an apology from President Bush, the Washington Times said the US presidents could not prevent newspapers from publishing cartoons because if they could do so, they would have first killed those cartoons that had often ridiculed them.

"Newspaper cartoonists have been insulting, reviling, abusing, affronting and 'dissing' presidents for more than a century, and all that presidents can do about it is grin, bear it and ask for the originals for framing and display on desk or wall," the newspaper said.

The Washington Times pointed out that in the West, a dog was considered a 'noble' animal, and 'great (western) universities invoke him as mascot for their beloved athletic teams' and even national football teams, such as the Georgia Bulldogs, are named after this animal.

"The most loyal Democrats of yesteryear proudly called themselves 'yellow dogs'. Loyal Democrats of the present day style themselves the blue dogs," the paper said.

"The US should tender apology to the ummah and give an undertaking that no such incident would take place in future," a participant said.

Qari Masahib Gul termed the desecration of Holy Quran and publishing of the cartoon a part of the Jewish agenda.

He urged the world human rights bodies to raise the issue as it had shocked the emotions of entire ummah. Besides, the human rights bodies should also put pressure on the US government to stop its operation against innocent people, Mr Gul added.