A New Low for the Pakistani State Every Day

Source: rferl.org

Just when you thought that the Pakistani state could not stoop any lower, it surprised you with its latest achievement. Although you really shouldn’t be surprised and probably many were not when they learned about the arrest of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail. Gulalai is a young Pashtun woman who has been vocal about women’s digital rights and free speech and has been recognized for her contribution abroad as well.

The cause for Gulalai’s arrest was her support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Pashteen, who has largely been dubbed as a traitor by the Pakistani state establishment. Gulalai was arrested immediately on her arrival in Islamabad from her tour and her name was put on the Exit Control List, a blacklist supposed to prevent citizens from traveling outside Pakistan. While she has been released on interim bail, the case against her by the FIA stands as her home in Swabi was also raided for her arrest.

Gulalai is a well-respected figure not just in Pakistan but globally for her work in human rights. Founder of NGO Aware Girls, focused on women’s rights and leadership, she has received the Chirac Prize for conflict prevention in France and there was no wonder it wasn’t long before Amnesty International was calling for her release.

It only goes to show the impunity of the Pakistani state and their sheer disregard of not even sparing human rights activists of an international repute. You can only imagine how the authorities must be treating more obscure political dissenters and human rights activists. You can accuse people like Malala and Gulalai of privilege as compared to their fellow citizens, even though that would be unfair, but figures like them become symbols of resistance when the struggle of the common man goes unnoticed.

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The way the Pashtun population has been treated in recent years, especially since the recent Swat and Waziristan operations and the APS incident, has been a disgrace, to say the least. They are particularly discriminated against at military check posts and the way the Punjabi establishment has been painting non-violent grassroots leaders like Manzoor Pashteen as terrorists in their public broadcasts has been simply unacceptable. Such an ad has been airing of late and the embarrassed Punjab government was forced to pull it off.

The Pakistani state must seriously reconsider the way it treats its citizens and must put an end to its long history of undemocratic authoritarianism if it wants democracy to flourish. That clearly has not been the goal of the civil and military bureaucratic establishment in the country.

Pakistan must keep in mind before lecturing other countries on human rights.

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It Could Have so Easily Been You and Me

Source: CBS News

Source: CBS News

Why is no one in Pakistan talking about Raif Badawi with the exception of a couple of bloggers here and there?

Why is he not in the news?

Because he insulted Islam or the Saudi royalty? But of course.

But what does this tell the world about us? Or about our leaders who took the trouble of protesting against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but would dare not even think about the flogging of the Saudi blogger.

Both liberal and conservative free speech critics would find great offense in a political cartoon mocking a holy religious figure, but would not find any problem in a theocratic monarchy persecuting the freedom of its citizens.

Therefore, the draconian penalty of 1,000 lashes to blogger Raif Badawi largely goes unaddressed by the likes of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, and overshadowed by the sad demise of King Abdullah. With the exception of a few extremist bloggers, Western publications and maybe Amnesty International.

I heard a few US senators did manage to write a letter strongly protesting the flogging. I hope that really happened.

But the torture goes on, despite appeals and concerns about Badawi’s health.

Obviously, the penalty of 1,000 lashes is carefully designed to prolong the humiliation and mental torture, without attracting significant disapproval of the Western countries. Not that they really care though.

After all, it is important to set an example.

I know it is dangerous and sensitive to talk about anyone who has allegedly blasphemed, but let us put this case this way.

Let’s not even waste our time with the question whether Raif Badawi insulted Islam or not, and whether he should be punished for it or not, without giving up the defense of his right to.

But what if the law of the land requires your free expression about your society to be punished like this? Especially when half of the people in Pakistan want the country to turn into Saudi Arabia and the other half wants it to become Iran.

 

What if you were arrested and publicly flogged for wondering why Ahmedis are persecuted in Pakistan?

What if you were penalized for wondering why Hazara and Shia are being targeted and publicly naming the culprits?

What if you were wondering about the unjust theocratic influences on the law and the constitution, and therefore on the society?

What if questioning the theocratic parts of your constitution would put you on a trial for treason?

The kind of opinions that could so easily be projected to be insulting to religion and, therefore, the religious figures, you never know.

 

Raif Badawi’s opinions were not too different to these seemingly innocuous political inquiries.

This is where more moderate and liberal elements in the society are the only hope to inch toward sanity. This is why they need to focus on Raif Badawi and put more pressure on enemies of free speech such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and even though not as much, but Pakistan too. But I am glad I am enjoying enough freedom to write these lines and am proud of that.

As we speak, Raif Badawi’s second round of flogging has been postponed for the third straight week, albeit for health reasons. We should continue to speak until the floggings are called off as a matter of principle.

 

There is a reason why Raif Badawi matters so much.

It could have so easily been you and me.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Legitimizing the Drone

Source: thenewstribe.com

Source: thenewstribe.com

Would you believe that the drone is a divisive issue? But what isn’t.

A recent Amnesty International report with a rather emotional title was widely hailed by anti-drone activists, and locally by staunch anti-war parties such as the PTI. However, at the same time the report was criticized by people who think the weapon was doing a great job in firing terrorists. The accuracy of the report has also been questioned, although by some who have a history of defending drone strikes.

Obviously, you cannot expect the US government to concede that drones violate international law. However, I believe that when international human rights watchdogs are disapproving of drones and if the UN considers their use a violation of international law, there is no real need to go out of your way to defend the US drone campaign. Amusingly, a lot of commentators have been doing precisely that to justify the US government and military.

This does not mean that they do not have valid reasons to do that. Drone warfare is not any worse than conventional warfare, except for the fact that it is a constant threat looming on the heads of certain civilian populations, where militants are present. I think relatively safer populations cannot understand how a threatened population may see drone strikes.

The usual response to criticism of drones is that jet bombing kills more if not the equal number of people, can be as terrible for the people suffering the bombing and human rights, and that conventional bombing is more erratic than the drones. All these points are valid.

Whoever is opposing drones but advocating jet or artillery fire is not understanding the benefit of the technology. Pakistani nationalists opposing drones because they violate the sovereignty of the country is merely a nationalistic political viewpoint and has nothing to do with the human loss.

Drone technology is superior, indeed. But if the UN and other international and nonpartisan bodies are maintaining that US drone strikes violate international law, there is no sense in persisting with the support of an illegal device of war.

However, this does not mean that the use of this particular technology is condemned, even though it is a violation of people’s privacy and safety in any case. I do not see the reports criticizing drones and the civilian deaths caused by them as an attack on the technology, but one on the political force controlling these drones.

The drone can be legitimized. The US should stop carrying out drone strikes unilaterally and, since the technology is so accurate and helps minimize losses, the United Nations Security Council should be authorizing and supervising drone strikes when and where needed.

This does not necessarily have to require the US giving up the drone technology to the UNSC, but the UN body would only supervise the US strikes, as in UN Peacekeeping Missions. In this way, drone strikes would at least not violate the international law and the instances of possible abuse can be minimized. Critics may question the feasibility of this proposal, but the viewpoint of defending violation of international law is unreasonable.

Maybe all the criticism on the drone strikes is more about the distrust of the invader, instead of the weapon.

It’s not the drone that kills, but the people behind it.