Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2019: Gulalai Ismail

Source: Dawn

In a country where freedom of expression is considered an abomination and where democracy is seen with disdain, the bar to become a free speech hero is not very high. But a person who took dissent and to a new level, it is Gulalai Ismail. The winner of the Chirac Foundation Prize in France for her feminist organization Aware Girls in Pakistan, Gulalai upheld the tradition of Pakistani women being global ambassadors of everything positive the country had to offer.

Gulalai became a victim of harassment by state agencies after she had openly expressed her support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. She was noted for speaking out against Pakistani military’s abuses against Pashtun women. Her fiery speech following the rape and murder of Farishteh, an Afghan refugee minor girl whose father was denied a police report because of their refugee status. She was arrested in February 2019 following that and was shortly released. However, her life remained under threat and her family was constantly harassed about her whereabouts after she withdrew from public life.

In September 2019, The New York Times reported in an explosive story that Gulalai had arrived in the United States and had applied for political asylum. This brought some relief to Gulalai but it was short-lived. While she was safe in the United States, her family was being harassed back home in Pakistan. She continues to speak out for her family’s rights, the rights of the Pashtun people, and especially women.

Gulalai’s father, Prof. Muhammad Ismail, is probably where she draws her fiery spirit from. Prof. Ismail, recently detained by the Pakistani authorities, is as fierce in his dissent as Gulalai and remains defiant of the state to this day. After a torturous detention, he was recently issued bail. His crime, being Gulalai’s father and a dissenter to the State of Pakistan.

An honorable mention is due to Ammar Ali Jan, the progressive political activist and academic from FC College Lahore, who has been abducted and charged with treason only for speaking out about the rights of the people and students. A columnist for The News, Ammar had not even joined twitter of late. However, his influence as a social activist. He was one of the organizers of the Students Solidarity March, along with the Progressive Students Federation, and was charged with treason among others after a successful display of non-violent force by the students on November 29. Today, the Students Solidarity March has prompted the lifting of the ban on the Students Union in Sindh Province and a similar resolution has been presented in the Punjab Assembly.

I feel proud to mention the name of Lala Iqbal Khan, the father of a great free speech hero and martyr Mishaal Khan in this post. Disgustingly, the case registered against the organizers of the Students Solidarity March also callously booked Lala Iqbal. Despite this treatment by the state, he stood on solid ground as far as his convictions were concerned.

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Last year saw the beginning of the #metoo movement in Pakistan. Despite odds, otherwise-seemingly- privileged artists such as Meesha Shafi came out against Ali Zafar. However, considering Pakistan’s social taboos, Jami jolted the conscience of Pakistani society with the revelation of being raped by Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon, a journalist who many would like to see as a free-speech hero in his own right considering the harassment of the Dawn Group. Jami’s struggle is going to be long and potentially fruitless. I don’t know if I am educated enough to even comment on it, other than showing unconditional support and solidarity to him.

An important and unlikely dissenter who should be mentioned among free speech heroes is Mufti Kifayatullah, and it would be dishonest to ignore him simply because he is a theocrat. Mufti Kifayatullah defied the convention that theocratic politicians are pro-establishment in the country and proved to be a breath of fresh air for a change for openly speaking out against the military.

Special mentions, of course, go to journalist Gul Bukhari, journalist Taha Siddiqui, and blogger Ahmed Waqas Goraya, all three of whom have been assaulted extrajudicially by the Pakistani authorities, who have been relentless in their criticism of the military establishment and state authoritarianism in Pakistan. They have particularly been a nuisance in getting obnoxious responses from the current DG ISPR. Goraya recently claimed to be responsible for the shut down of thousands of twitter accounts of trolls which he alleges to be hired by the information wing of the Pakistani military.

However, more than them, many of the prominent journalists still in the country, who cannot appear on TV anymore are probably greater free speech heroes, including Talat Hussain, Matiullah Jan, and Najam Sethi. Hamid Mir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, and Asma Shirazi are also fighting the good fight while still on the air.

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero for 2018 here.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2018: Asma Jahangir

Source: United Nations/RFE-RL

A lot of people may not feel this way but perhaps there was not a Pakistani that was more important and critical to the country than Asma Jehangir. And this realization has become even greater with her death earlier this year. Asma Jehangir was easily the leading activist for secular democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in Pakistan. The realization of this void has only made the secular liberals and progressives in Pakistan realize about the grave challenges ahead of them.

Asma Jahangir was the brains behind the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and has also served as the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights for the United Nations. It is most remarkable how women tend to stand out in Pakistan for human rights efforts. While there is a long list of women who have broken through the shackles of an authoritarian, patriarchal state, the courage and initiative of Asma Jahangir were exceptional. She was also post-humously awarded the UN Human Rights Prize. Her work has inspired a generation in terms of the awareness of democracy and fundamental human rights, especially that of the oppressed women of the country.

One of the factors behind her position of moral authority was her non-partisan status. Not only was Asma Jehangir the leading crusader for human rights but she was also the biggest critic of the military establishment and their interventions in the political landscape of the country. However, it is only left to our imagination how she could have influenced the political landscape of a country in a partisan political position with a more authoritative role in the government.

The pro-democracy activists and political workers who have been left no choice but to clash with the military establishment is her legacy and that of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The organic support that Benazir Bhutto. Asma Jehangir was keeping the spirit of Benazir Bhutto and that of the scattered Pakistan left progressives alive in our times. This is why you will only find center-left groups mostly celebrating her and mourning her loss in Pakistan.

Source: Dawn/AFP

Another figure who has been instrumental in resisting and pushing democracy in the legacy of Asma Jehangir and the great Benazir Bhutto is Maryam Nawaz Sharif. The daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been influential in changing the face of PML-N from a traditionalist center-right party to perhaps the only popular establishment political force in Punjab. Maryam Nawaz Sharif has currently taken the role in a struggle that Benazir Bhutto was going through in 1996 and throughout the rest of her life in exile. Nevertheless, confident in her father’s ability to make a political come back, she is standing her ground against the military establishment for civilian supremacy.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif has remained defiant in the face of incarceration for controversial accountability court verdicts, which are nothing new in Pakistan’s political history, along with her father who was dismissed from the position of Prime Minister in July 2018. This was the 3rd interrupted term of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been elected to the office more than any other person in the history of Pakistan. Like 1997, his election in 2013 also occurred with a landslide majority offering them legislative freedom that was only limited by the control of the upper house by the PPP.

Source: Dawn

Maryam Nawaz is perhaps going to be the most important political figure in the years to come. However, her commitment to democracy and civilian supremacy will remain to be tested in the years to come, especially with regressive leaders such as her own husband Captain Safdar contaminating an otherwise reasonable party.

Of course, the winners this year were the First Couple, and the year of the triumph of Imran Khan finally came in 2018. His influence on Pakistan and especially that of his First Lady and the Army Chief in shaping the first six months of his administration and will remain to be pivotal in the years to come.

Happy New Year and here’s to another year in Pakistan.

Read about my Pakistani of the year 2017 here.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2018: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar

Source: Express Tribune

This year was probably unique in the history of Pakistan for being a witness to the most shameless display of narcissistic abuse of authority. While many people felt nauseated by the judicial activism of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, the movement of whose restoration helped the exit of General Pervez Musharraf, the words and actions of Chief Justice Saquib Nisar would simply make them want to kill themselves.

The current Chief Justice with his Caliph Syndrome is a living nightmare for anyone who cares about the role of the judiciary for democracy in Pakistan. Disguised in the shell of populism, the appeal of Chief Justice remains to be the same old theory that lies at the heart of Islamic or even Judeo Christian political movements: Messianism. The Chief Justice portrays himself as the savior to all the problems of the people of Pakistan.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan clearly has political ambitions and with a populist leaning too. Perhaps he should reserve his political activism after his retirement due on January 17, 2018. A date that apparently many citizens in Pakistan cannot wait for.

His absurd statements are too numerous to be perfectly presented in this blog. However, a few are presented in this blog, some of which are so outrageous that someone from another country will hardly believe that these are the statements of the highest official of the judicial branch of the government.

The incumbent government has no capabilities. (Source: The Frontier Post, Nov. 13, 2018)

Anyone who hinders construction of dams (that the Chief Justice is raising funds for) will be tried under Article 6 (Treason) (Source: The Business Recorder, Sep. 15, 2018)

Since when has PTI (the ruling party) started acting like thugs? (Source: The Express Tribune, Sep. 30, 2018)

I will guard dams after retirement. (Source: 92 News, Sep. 8, 2018)

I would have banned trade unions had they not been permitted under the Constitution. (Source: The Daily Times, Aug 2, 2018)

The state has the mandate to take over the (private) schools. (Source: Geo News, Jun 28, 2018)

Faithful adherence to Article 62 (A widely criticized and arbitrary theocratic article that requires every MP to be Sadiq (Truthful) and Amin (Honest) ) provides a recipe for cleansing the fountainheads of the State from persons who suffer from character flaws. (Source: The Economist, Mar 28, 2018)

I am fighting against social menace. (Source: The Dawn, Feb. 28, 2018)

I was always told that a speech should be like a woman’s skirt. It should not be too long to not reveal anything and neither too short that it doesn’t cover the subject. (Source: The Hindustan Times, Jan 22, 2018)

Source: AFP/The National

While there have been several other idiots who have been competing for this spot, particularly due to their antics around the elections, with the greatest of all being none other than the TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi. While the manipulative Rizvi is no idiot because he precisely knows what he is doing, there simply is no other spot reserved for him on this blog.

But sadly the biggest idiot that Khadim Hussain Rizvi has revealed through his politics of Islamic hate is the Pakistani Muslim.

Read about the Pakistani idiot of the year for 2017 here.

What the Armistice Day Means 100 Years Later

Source: Irish Independent

Today is a big day. It is exactly 100 years since the Armistice was signed, silencing the guns across the Western Front and relieving fatigued, abused soldiers fighting the First World War. The leaders of France and Germany, hand in hand, walked up to the newly unveiled monument.

Leaders of the world were present in Paris to commemorate the occasion and observe remembrance of the fallen soldiers of probably the most traumatic battlefield experiences in history. The moment is celebrated around the world as two civilized nations reiterate the commitment to peace and promise to avoid war at all costs. People around the world aspire to moments such as these.

The European colonial powers have finally figured out how destructive war is and rightly so. The bitter experiences of centuries of war had reduced a very small continent to rubble. War has vanished from Europe, thank God. But has it from the world?

The Armistice Day 100 years later brings a message of hope and optimism. A message inspiring nations in conflict around the world to set aside their differences and settle issues with diplomacy. Even to nations like India and Pakistan and those in the Middle East.

More importantly, a message of caution was sent out by the French leader who recognized that the “old demons” were coming back to life again. He warned against “nationalism,” which like a century ago had become synonymous with fascism.

However, it also sends a message of disappointment to nations where many wars are actually being fueled, directly or indirectly, by the very nations that are commemorating the Armistice Day. The citizens of Libya, Yemen, and Syria might not appreciate this ode to European harmony too much. And not just out of plain envy.

Perhaps on this Armistice Day, the world is satisfied that the center of war and conflict has shifted outside Europe 100 years later.

The Election Day Post: Inching Toward Democracy

Source: Reuters/The Financial Times

Democracy is a very difficult ideal to pursue in Pakistan. And one that is much needed to because of many of even its urban educated people being completely oblivious to its aspects that ensure fundamental rights. However, they are well aware of their right to exercise their vote. They realize the importance of their voice and using that strong . And probably the older generation and rural population are more aware of this right than the cynical and disillusioned urban educated class with all their privilege.

With the presence of a bureaucratic deep state that undermines elected officials at each stage and propagating against them to the general public, we are about to witness the second consecutive civilian administration transferring power in Pakistan’s history. This election was sadly seen as a civil war between those who are for and against state establishment elements. Depending on tonight’s election results, we will supposedly get a referendum on the Panama verdicts and the prison sentence of the Sharifs. But let it be PML-N, PTI or PPP, the good news is that we are inching ahead with our democracy. And I hope that if the PTI wins, it makes a coalition government with the PPP and emphasize on collaboration instead of excluding dissenting elements.

Despite all the measures that the so-called “caretaker administration” and the judiciary have taken to undermine the incumbent PML-N for the anti-establishment stances taken by Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, the results of this election should be unanimously accepted. Despite all the arrests of PML-N workers on the night that Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz unexpectedly returned to Pakistan to accept their prison sentence, despite the midnight sentence against Hanif Abbasi, despite the official orders to curb the coverage of PML-N campaigns, despite all the delayed voting processes, the results of the elections must be unanimously accepted. Despite the widespread reports of military backed engineering echoed all across international media, it is important for us to unanimously accept the results of this election.

That is the best way forward for us, despite the fact that we have never seen darker and more sinister censorship from the military and bureaucratic establishment in Pakistani politics and media in decades. The silver lining is that a leader from Punjab has taken a stand against the military establishment and for the first time in the history of the country, voices of dissent and resistance have risen from the heartland of the military establishment.

This resistance for a better democracy must not go down. It is the way to a fairer, secular, and more democratic constitution.

What Diplomatic Isolation Looks Like

Source: The News

There finally comes a time in the relationships between nations when you start seeing the end of the concessions given to a party.

Pakistan has been given the warning that many have talked about around the world and finally has been put into the terrorism funding watchlist by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), perhaps only a day or two after the Pakistani diplomats were boasting of evading the banking and economic sanction. This was probably because they had decided to formally do that in the next meeting in June 2018, when the term of the current elected government of PML-N will pretty much be completed and had not made the announcement earlier. The last time Pakistan was on the watchlist was 2012, until 2015 when it was removed from the list by the body.

While Khawaja Asif’s delegation had thought that Saudi Arabia and China had done just enough to keep them off the list, especially ahead of Pakistan sending a thousand troops to the Kingdom, probably for the Yemen campaign, it wasn’t to be. The United States had particularly lobbied following the US administration’s tough stance against Pakistan’s policy on fighting terrorism.

While the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa made quite a few important comments in his speech at the Munich Security Conference, such as the premature withdrawal of military resources from Afghanistan by the US government, his overall case apparently failed to make an impression on the international community. Time and time again, the response of Pakistani military and diplomats have been pointing fingers back at the West for this failed policies. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has also brought up the US-Afghan Policy during the latter years of Cold War and has even gone far enough to say that it was a mistake to follow that path.

Listen to the speech of the Army Chief and you will get an impression as if the militant Jihad is some sort of a recent invention. He also probably does not realize that his speech really got weird for a foreign audience at a point when he said that a body of Islamic clerics from all sects had passed a decree that Jihad and suicide bombing were not permitted “until sanctioned by the state.” Yeah, right. That’s precisely what the security officials from around the world wanted to hear. I just hope I am wrong or he should fire his communications director.

Source: RFE/RL

But really our military establishment has more people’s performance to worry about than just their communications team. We can make it a national issue because of our bloated egos as in the case of the “Dawn leaks,” but the inaction of the security establishment to take. We are talking about a country where Hafiz Saeed, a certified terrorist in the eyes of India and the West and pretty much the rest of the world, has formed a political party which is contesting elections. And of course, anyone who claims that his Difa-e-Pakistan Council has no support from the military establishment is obviously living in a fool’s paradise.

Pakistan finally needs to decide whether it wants international acceptance or not. It is up to the Pakistani state to decide if we want to become Iran or North Korea in the world’s eyes or a progressive democratic nation. Pakistan is nowhere near going to be acceptable to the international community with the same course of action. The government and the military simply cannot keep on distracting and diverging when answered a simple question about taking action against terrorist elements within the country. The FATF restrictions are only going to make the people suffer from the horrific policies of their ruling state.

Yes, more is needed to be done indeed.