The New Censorship Regime in Pakistan

Source: Pakistan Today

After ten years of relative democracy in the country after General Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from 2008 to the last election in 2018, the country enjoyed an oasis of the explosion of free expression. Again that free expression is an expression to be used in relevant terms. Either way, Pakistan has not seen such flourishing of journalism in its history until the new censorship regime was introduced by the military and bureaucratic establishment.

With the assumption of office of the current military establishment and their subsequent “selection” of the PTI administration under Imran Khan, the censorship of the media has never been escalated to such a degree. Other than the organized harassment campaigns against journalists, the twitter handles of three journalists were forcibly deactivated temporarily by the state agents. Sadly, there is ample data on the web for anybody who wants to write a paper on it.

Journalist Hamid Mir recently held a press conference in which he sounded like a political activist campaigning for rights instead of a reporter. Well, things have gone this bad for journalists in the country and probably more than ever before.

 

Only a few days back, the ruling political party removed all doubts whatsoever as far as its support of the crackdown on journalists is concerned. Many journalists can barely believe that a party that owes so much of its current support to the media.

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Pakistani state agenda’s true representative political party PTI went out of its way to launch a disgusting campaign against press freedom. What they pretty much mean is that if a journalist is not following state propaganda, they are committing treason. Some of the tweets even directly implied that as reported by Dawn.

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The powerful DG ISPR also routinely lectures journalists about what they should report on.

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The ruling party PTI, which rose to power as a result of constant media coverage when it was in the opposition, has routinely blocked coverage to the opposition. Particularly Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a new leader on the rise, protesting with the aim to free her father former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified and jailed following two controversial judgments. Media outlets such as Geo Network have been repeatedly blocked in local cable following the coverage of her rallies. Earlier interviews of President Asif Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif were blocked from the media but the latter was not even mentioned in the mainstream electronic media, which the military and bureaucratic establishment, along with the PTI considers the actual source of public information.

To many journalists, the kind of censorship practiced under the PTI regime even surpasses the standards set by the draconian Zia regime. However, the difference is that this 21st-century censorship continues despite the presence of social media on the parallel. Considering how dissent is considered “treason” by the patriotic lot in Pakistan, wonder when we will see a blanket ban on social media. We know our government has tried that before in the previous administration. The day people finally decide to come out on the streets against this draconian government, that day is not far off either.

Pakistan can become Sudan any day.

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Unleashing Cricket Bigotry

Source: The Sun

The Pakistan Afghanistan cricket game in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 was perhaps the darkest moment in the sporting event, politically speaking. Even though I cannot speak much for the Afghan side, but it is safe to say that the game brought out the worst in both the nations, at least among the rioting fans in the stands. Afghan and Pakistan fans brawled on more than one occasion after the game, clearly due to the verbal exchanges.

The game surely brought out the ugly, racist, and xenophobic side of Pakistan. The Pakistan twitter was terrible enough to trend “Pakistan v Namak Haraams,” an expression used for unfaithful traitors. Pakistanis particularly have a problem with the Indian Cricket Board supporting the Afghan team and providing it with a home base, something which the Pakistan Cricket Board offered earlier. Of course, the Indian “interferences” in Afghanistan, whether political or sporting, threaten the national security of Pakistan. So while we hate the Afghans, we need to be in charge of everything about Afghanistan.

In order to eloquently express and represent the sentiment of the nation about their Afghan brothers, Rawalpindi fast bowler Shoaib Akhter stepped up. With all the anti-Afghan bigotry he could absorb from my hometown, he repeated all the usual tropes, only stopping at not directly calling the immigrants parasitic, though he pretty much implied it. He probably took it down from his twitter later but this video has been saved for all posterity.

Even in Leeds, the venue for the game, the political atmosphere was full of tension. The Baluch and Afghan political activists found it the perfect opportunity to highlight the human rights violations in Baluchistan. A skywriting plane was carrying the message of “Justice for Baluchistan” and “End Forced Disappearances.” The “End Forced Disappearances” campaign has been making its appearance on public signage and newspaper front pages as well, which the patriotic British citizens of Pakistani origin have been tearing and destroying every chance they got in their exercise of “free expression.”


The playbook of the Pakistani xenophobes and racist nationalists, who are far worse than Trump’s base, attack Afghans in a standard fashion. For the usual part, they blame them as burdens on the economy and a source of crime. You can safely say that this xenophobia is prevalent from Peshawar and Gilgit-Baltistan to Islamabad and Karachi. The narrative also blames them for not being faithful enough for Pakistan even though it has given their refugees asylum for more than thirty years, even though it has refrained to allow citizenship to most of them.

Interestingly enough, the Pakistani nationalists believe the Afghan refugees owe Pakistan something for destroying their home country.

Gul Bukhari, the Pakistani dissident journalist, put the response to this baseless allegation by Pakistani nationalists in this tweet. With someone asking her if there are a more ungrateful people than the Afghans (who never repaid Pakistan’s generosity in kind), she summed up the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan political equation. Indeed they are a very ungrateful nation. We have been on the forefront for imposing war on them for forty years, pocketed dollars on account of Afghan refugees, and have imposed the Taliban on them to this day. With all the generosity, they have not bothered to thank (Pakistan) once. 

Pakistan almost lost the match against Afghanistan on June 29, but our people have certainly lost the moral high ground they think they always had.

Hanging Them in the Squares

Source: Naya Daur

Conservative and populist Nationalists in any nation enjoy a special license of holding trials when and where they wish. In Pakistan, a part of the Messiah Syndrome happens to be the longing for swift justice that suits them. It is pretty strange because this kind of swift justice was dispensed by leftist Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia and earlier Republican revolutionaries in France. Either way, this sort of swift justice is usually associated with challenging the established order. But which established order?

In Pakistan, interestingly enough, it is fashionable to support the forces responsible for the status quo while calling for the violent elimination of the forces that have mysteriously caused the moral corruption of the society. In order to cleanse this evil from society, it is important to selectively pick certain individuals who have somehow simultaneously threatened the interests of those deemed essential for the national security of the country.

The narrative of the casual fascism practiced by a number of the people of Pakistan for a long time, particularly the social conservative nationalists in Punjab, has only started to appear in the political mainstream with this audacity. A lot of people are condemning Faisal Vawda and his extremist statement about “hanging 5,000 odd people being necessary for fixing the state of the country,” but that is pretty much the sentiment of these social conservative nationalists across urban Pakistan.

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However, since Faisal Vawda is particularly more psychopathic than the rest of the elements in the current administration, he doubled down on his call by adding dragging them behind vehicles before hanging in the square. Unfortunately, the Constitution guaranteeing rights to citizens is the only hurdle in the way of this much-needed action. Of course, a person who is so widely broadcasting his savagery deserves all the condemnations in the world. But the overzealous and partisan speaker who often jumps at “expunging obscenities” from the house proceedings apparently did not have a problem with such vile statements.

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While it is true indeed that there is a wilder, savage side to the tribal justice in indigenous India or anywhere for that matter, as is often the case with undemocratic tribal societies. It is pretty interesting that even in very liberal settings frequented by respectable Senators, discussing very progressive ideas, you could hear them talking about the need to hang people to cure the country.

The sweeping statements from these conservatives remind how frighteningly close democracies remain to the rise of fascism. These bloodthirsty urges are far more dangerous than the campaigns of xenophobia and cries of economic nationalism. The thought of swift justice can sound pleasant to the depressed ears forever waiting to hear something good in the news. For them, the swift justice would be the fruit of the eagerly-awaited Messiah and just like the coming of the Messiah, it would turn around the age-old evils of social inequalities, injustice, and poverty. This is a path to hell paved by “good intentions.”

Be thankful for thoughtful fascist ministers like Faisal Vawda that have truly represented the idea of justice of a regressive administration elected by the morally constipated and hypocritical social conservatives.

On to the revolution.

Let’s talk about nice things

Well, let’s talk about nice things. At least I have been told to do so. Why talk about terrible, ugly things when there is so much beautiful about this world.

Why talk about that we need to immediately free Asia Bibi?

“Indus Blues” Premiere Held at PNCA Islamabad

Source: facebook.com/IndusBluesfilm

The feature documentary “Indus Blues” was finally premiered in Islamabad on June 14. I have had the good fortune of collaborating as a screenwriter and associate producer with director/producer Jawad Sharif and creative producer Arieb Azhar on this project, including many friends and colleagues from FACE including Zeejah Fazli and Mehnaz Parveen, and Asmat Bashir, Asif Ali, and Muhammad Qadeer from Bipolar Films.

All of those team members were there, with the exception of Arieb who is off for a tour to Europe and North America. The main guest who made the event possible was the German Charge d’Affaires Dr. Jens Jokisch, who is also the acting ambassador. He expressed his fondness for Pakistan and its culture and was glad to be the partner for the event. Senator Faisal Javed Khan and PNCA Director of Film Aijaz Gul also attended the event.

Source: facebook.com/IndusBluesfilm

The highlight of the event was the presence of one of the cast members, Boreendo metro Faqeer Zulfikar, who also appears on the poster of the film. He initiated the mood of the film with a couple of folk tunes on Boreendo and Damburi, but it somewhat took away the surprise and the marvel of the discovery of the Boreendo in the film.

I was anticipating a far bigger turnout but the fact remains that the general public does not care as much about the subject as you would like them to. But still, it was good to see people who value folk music and independent cinema turn up in fairly good numbers.

Being a part of the “Indus Blues” team, I would like to thank all friends who came to the event. We would continue to take the message of the film to all corners of the country so the neglected voices of our folk musicians and craftsmen can be highlighted the way they ought to be.

I would like to thank the audiences in Pakistan and around the world. Please keep on supporting Indus Blues.

Standing Up to Your Government’s Tyranny

Source: Reuters/ABC News

This iconic image means a lot to our generation. A generation that has only heard distantly about dangerous fascist threats in World War II movies and novels does not realize what it means to stand up to that government.

We absolutely have no idea about the courage and bravery of this great figure who decided to stand up to the tyranny and might of his authoritarian government. On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the number and extent of which nobody knows,  It was perhaps the last major push for a democratic China ever since the It is unthinkable that citizens in China today, except for those who witnessed and suffered it first hand, are not even aware of the scale of the atrocities that their government committed that day. ‘

It should only send shivers down our spine as citizens of Pakistan today that we are not dealing with a very different situation with the authoritarian military regime and its installed government in Islamabad. It should particularly unnerve the Pakistani youth with a hope of freedom and democracy in their hearts and minds, that the same Chinese regime that unleashed this tyranny on its people is knocking at the door and is already inside the boundaries of Pakistan in the name of CPEC and Belt and Road. More than ever before, the Pakistani government is adopting their ways to curb political freedom in the country. They are even here with their own version of the internet, which threatens free access to the internet for the people of Pakistan for the time to come.

Pakistan’s unhinged and unaccountable military regime, which does not even hide its intentions to undermine civilian democracy in Pakistan, is not bothered by any such concerns. Its state instruments are cracking down on the dissidents of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement on this very day, beating them and charging them with batons. Only days ago, protestors from the movement were directly fired upon as more stories of their violence on the Pashtun tribals appear on the global media.

At times like these, you cannot but admire the courage of the people who stand up to such tyranny and brutality without the fear of their personal freedom and safety. Especially in a country where extrajudicial detentions are the norm.

Maybe you are driven to be that fearless when you are really left with no choice.

Stranger in Your Home

Source: flickr

I used to see it in films and read it in books. Looking over your shoulder around at every turn, being insecure, paranoid about the people around you. Perhaps I am not that concerned, or afraid, though I should be. I should be more concerned than I am and perhaps it is my confidence that is seeing me through accidents of disastrous proportions. Why am I coming out of them unnerved and carefree? It is a cause of concern indeed as I see it in the eyes of my loved ones.

What if your home is not home anymore? What if you are living in it like a stranger? What if that means that you should plan to move on. Move on not necessarily to where the grass is greener but where at least you are out of the reach of the hounds. Does such a place exist?

I don’t want to leave my home. My home is leaving me.

It is swallowing me out.