When Social Networks Came Together to Warn Pakistan

Source: New York Times/Aamir Qureshi/Agence France Presse/Getty

How many times in history has all the social networks come together, for a change, against a country? Well, Pakistan, a supposed democracy, made that happen this week. Pakistan’s PTI-led government under Prime Minister Imran Khan passed the ridiculously titled Pakistan’s Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm) without putting it up for either debate or voting in the House.

According to this New York Times report, the new rules will require social media networks to take down any content created by a user if it happens to irk the Pakistani government and the government could ask for the removal of content within 24 hours and even within a few hours in “emergencies” that will be declared by the Minister of IT. The rules are reported to have even more ridiculous conditions such as these organizations deputing their country representatives in Pakistan and to establish data centers for the country locally.

It should be shocking that a government would receive a warning such as this but with this government in power, it probably should not surprise anyone. The government’s rules were responded to by the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association that features facebook, Google, and twitter among others as its members. Now I am not sure whether a letter from this body amounts to this sort of headline or not, but it certainly is a damning sign for the people of a developing nation who are already struggling to thrive economically. Especially coming from the incumbent government that claims to be the party of the youth and has pledged developments on the digital front. Instead, it only offered the worst media censorship in living memory and curbs on journalism.

It is one of the many spectacles created by the government led by Imran Khan that has made Pakistan a laughing stock for the world. But far worse than just bad press, it concerns the freedom, economy, and the lives of the people of Pakistan. Just imagine if these services indeed pulled from Pakistan if the government does not roll back the new rules, how devastating it would be for a growing digital economy with millions of freelancers and dozens of thriving e-commerce startups. All just to satisfy the fragile egos of men in the military and civil bureaucratic establishment. Recently, the Modi administration cracked down on citizens for using VPN in Kashmir, an abomination in a democracy. Is that next for Pakistan since the FIA has nothing better to do but to monitor online content? The only fitting response to such a country must be international trade and financial sanctions.

Pakistan must correct its course because it ends up completely destroying itself. And the national security threat, in this case, is not the dissenting blogger, but the national security state itself.

 

A Victory for Hateful Ideologues

Source: Al-Jazeera

Perhaps the most toxic idea that I have learned about as a native Indian is the Two-Nation Theory. To most Hindu and Pakistani nationalists, communal violence in India is a great ideological victory. A vindication of their convictions. A “Thank You Jinnah” or “Hail Savarkar” moment. None of the communal violence that you see in India is a coincidence. The Indian Right Wing, dominated by Savarkar’s Hindutva philosophy, a reactionary cultural nationalist movement that largely sees Islam or any “foreign” faith as a threat to the “Indic civilization,” had been patiently building the popular support for a Hindu nationalist rule. It would have gone

The week following Shivratri and Delhi’s election with Aam Aadmi Party getting a sweeping victory was perhaps the bloodiest in North Eastern Delhi in living memory. The “Hindu retaliation” was in response to the street protests of the Muslim community in North-Eastern Delhi in the wake of the passage of the controversial CAA or Citizen Amendment Act, which singles out Muslims as a community. The retaliation particularly erupted after an angry speech by local BJP leader Kapil Mishra who warned of consequences for protesters blocking those neighborhoods in the capital. At least 30 people lost their lives, mostly Muslims, as a result, except dozens getting injured and losing their homes and businesses.

I recall that no too long ago, I used to have heated discussions with my fellow citizens in Pakistan about the Indian secularism and the BJP being a theocratic, fundamentalist political party. Even though I still believe India is a secular democracy as of this date, I do confess that I have to reconsider my stance on Narendra Modi’s and Amit Shah’s BJP. I do believe that the BJP is not any different from a dangerous theocratic party such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the TLP in Pakistan. The supporters of these hate groups are potential murderers of their opponents and are very dangerous people indeed.

This is not just a matter of opinion anymore, it has become an almost verifiable fact with plenty of evidence on social media. Examine the commentary of any pro-Hindutva or even a moderate BJP supporter and you will find an openly Islamophobic and malicious intention to purge India of anything that does not fit their view of what is supposed to be Hindu patriotism. They have successfully otherized a minority, Muslims, and convinced their followers that they are an oppressed majority persecuted by Muslims whose faith is a constant existential threat to them. Here are only a few specimens but you can literally follow them to read and watch such bile at just about any time of the day.

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That’s alright. This is their politics and they are proud of the fact but actually taking them as serious, well-meaning people reflect poorly on people who give their opinions space. I am always willing to listen to them but I wonder what many of the Muslims, especially those of the Bengali or Rohingya descent, might think about them. It is more like talking to your potential killer, you know, the kind of feeling a Pakistani Christian, Hindu, or Ahmedi might go through when speaking to a Sunni Punjabi.

In the end, Indian Hindus, and yes, largely Indian Hindus will decide how they want to see their country. Do they want to see it a bastion of theocratic nationalism that it is on the path of becoming, cornering, if not eliminating, unfavorable minorities, kind of like Pakistan, or whether it wants to be a liberal, secular democracy where each citizen has an equal chance, at least in theory. The Hindu-Muslim riots may be an ideological victory for communitarian theocrats in the subcontinent but it surely threatens the idea of the Indian Republic that gave the people of this land a hope after a dark partition.

As for Pakistanis such as myself, the death of a secular India will mean the death of a political idealism that associated us with the Indian subcontinent. With darkness all around, perhaps the American Constitution remains the only last hope for a liberal democracy if it is not consumed by partisan polarized politics in the United States.

So what if Indian democracy is dead.

When Peaceful Protest Became Treason in Pakistan

Source: YouTube

Pakistan is a funny country. We have been taught as citizens growing up by state propaganda to pledge our unity under one flag and that all the people in Pakistan are equal citizens. However, as we grow up and the reality of the country dawns on us, it becomes evidently clear that some people are more equal than others.

Perhaps no political movement has revealed this notion in recent years more than Manzoor Pashteen’s Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. It has become perhaps the largest non-violent civil rights movement of its kind in a country that has largely discouraged democratic ideas and protests. However, it would be unfair to say that the people of Pakistan have not been democratic or focused on civil rights, considering the various progressive movements, albeit failed, throughout the history of Pakistan. In that tradition, the stand that the young leaders of the Awami Workers Party has taken has been nothing short of heroic.

When Pakistan is declaring bright young political leaders such as Ammar Rashid as a traitor. There were around two dozens other political workers who were arrested during a non-violent and peaceful protest demanding the release of Manzoor Pashteen in Islamabad. The brutal police crackdown made a mockery of the claims of the current government’s claims of democratic values.

Source: Awami Workers Party

Ammar Rashid and other young AWP workers were arrested and charged with sedition and terrorism. Earlier, the organizers of the Student Solidarity March were also arrested and charged with sedition, and those arrested included Lala Iqbal, the father of Mishaal Khan, the martyred progressive student of the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, for alleged blasphemy.

The authoritarian regime in Pakistan is trying to intimidate anyone who has a dissenting voice, especially anybody going anywhere near the message of Manzoor Pashteen. A person like me would think twice and neither do I care enough about Pakistan to spend a night in jail, let alone two weeks like Ammar. Undeterred, Ammar and his comrades displayed courage in the face of harassment and intimidation and endured the harsh jail term

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We certainly have bigger civil rights resistance heroes like Manzoor Pashteen, Ali Wazir, and Mohsin Dawar, but Ammar Rashid is most certainly a hero for progressive politics and the cause of the people of Pakistan. Ammar’s struggle is important because someone from the strongholds of the Punjabi ethnic majority needs to stand up for the civil rights of all Pakistanis too. Ammar is one of such political leaders, although not well known by most of the voters in his constituency of NA-53 in Islamabad. Not only that, He has always been on the forefront by demanding people’s rights from issues such as rescuing Islamabad’s razed Afghan refugee slum to protesting against the Blasphemy law and the rights of students to form political unions, he has always led the right causes for civil rights.

I don’t know about others but Ammar Rashid has truly earned his vote for me as a progressive leader pursuing civil rights.

The Arrest of Awami Workers Party Protesters: Pakistan’s Fascism on Full Display

Source: Express Tribune

Manzoor Pashteen has become a symbol of resistance in Pakistan. He is singlehandedly freaking the Pakistani authorities out and bringing out the worst in them. Of course, he would argue that what his people have been going through at the hands of the Pakistani military is far worse. He was recently arrested in Peshawar following a peaceful rally. He was charged with sedition and terrorism. This probably did not come much as a surprise to many following the threats issued by the former DG ISPR.

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However, in the manner that the Islamabad police raided and arrested the peaceful protesters raising their voice against the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen only strengthened his criticism of the state. Perhaps in the most brutal crackdown on an obviously peaceful protest in the capital’s history, the police raided and assaulted the political workers of the Awami Workers Party expressing solidarity with the PTM in the protest space of the Islamabad Press Club.

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Islamabad Police had physically assaulted Ismat Shahjahan, the veteran leader of Awami Workers Party and the Women Democratic Front, and arrested several Awami Workers Party leaders, most prominently Ammar Rashid, a candidate from NA-53 constituency, and others such as Nofel Saleemi. Tooba Syed was spared somehow but at least she was free to tell the story. Waziristan MP and PTM mouthpiece Mohsin Dawar was also manhandled and arrested in the raid and later released. A day ago, he was a part of the press conference explaining the position of the PTM along with Senator Afrasiab Khattak, former MP Bushra Gohar, and Shahjahan.

Manzoor Pashteen himself was arrested under the charges of sedition. Cases against him are a pattern now which the state uses to arrest and abduct the activists of this non-violent movement, most probably for making “anti-national comments.” This time around, the charge of “conspiracy” has been added, which is very consistent with the rhetoric initiated by the former DG ISPR and which will be continued by the military establishment. These charges allude to the fact that Pashteen and his movement are the proxies of Afghanistan, another unfriendly neighbor of Pakistan. The news of the arrest even made it to the New York Times and other global publications, reminding the world that Pakistan does not enjoy the moral authority to lecture India on political repression and violating fundamental constitutional rights.

The shameless face of the fascism of the PTI government and the hybrid Bajwa-Imran regime is the Interior Minister Ijaz Shah. Not only does he f, he lies when he alleges that the peaceful protesters of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement have committed a crime. He should also elaborate on the “crimes” committed by the brave and peaceful political workers of the Awami Workers Party.

Let Pakistan’s fascism be out there for the world to see. But the people who need to see it the most and understand what that means are Pakistani citizens more than anyone else.

Every citizen must be ashamed of a state and a country like Pakistan.

My Pakistani Persons of the Year 2019: Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir

Source: Pakistan Today

Never before in the history of this country have we ever seen politicians such as Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir. The anti-establishment independent MPs from Waziristan are the standard-bearers of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movment, which fights for the civil rights of the Pashtun ethnic minority in Pakistan and against their targeted killings since they have been largely demonized and racially profiled by the Punjabi dominated military following the operations against military insurgency.

Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir aided the movement’s leader Manzoor Pashteen to articulate the viewpoint of the Pashtun people and make their grievances known nationwide despite a draconian state crackdown. They reminded the world about the non-violent and progressive political traditions of the Pashtun people and that Talibanization was an engineered phenomenon in an otherwise peaceful community.

In May 2019, they exposed the authoritarianism of the Pakistani state, when they protested the un. The military checkpoint at Kharqamar opened fire on non-violent protesters without a warning. However, both Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir were arrested following the incident, with the state institutions held to no accountability for massacring thirteen people. Ali Wazir’s detention was even more painful considering the fact that he almost lost his entire family to terrorism during the “War on Terror” days.

After months of incarceration and torture, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir were released in Septemeber 2019. The Speaker of the ruling pro-establishment party did not deliberately issue their production orders. However, Mohsin Dawar did have the opportuntity to speak his heart out after his release, which was shamelessly censored by the State Parliament TV with an ironical segment on “Lahore’s Historical Places.”

Check that particular clip over here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=797188270711265

 

Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir have singlehandedly exposed the authoritarianism with their non-violent political resistance and have given a new dimension to parliamentary politics in a country where the debate on the Assembly floor has been almost rendered useless. Mohsin Dawar has also co-sponsored a bill proposing more representation from the tribal areas, which passed in the lower house. In a country where passing laws through Presidential ordinances has become the norm, parliamentarians like Dawar and Wazir inspire and represent not only the youth but every repressed voice in the country.

Read about my Pakistani Person of the year in 2018 here.

A Case of Two Death Sentences

Source: Public’s Radio/Fareed Khan/AP

Pakistani people are known for their strange standards of morality, and nothing puts these paradoxes in the spotlight than issues considered “sensitive” in society. In a country, dominated by military dictatorship, a verdict such as the one issued by the Special Courts on December 17 was unheard of. This Special Court made of three judges in a 2-1 decision condemned former dictator Pervez Musharraf to death. Most liberal commentators, including Amnesty International, welcomed the verdict only for the supremacy and legitimacy of the civilian constituency over military dictatorship in a country with Pakistan’s history. These liberals went to great length to condemn or disapprove of “capital punishment,” while deeming such a stand by the judiciary necessary to uphold a civilian constitution in the country and to discourage military coups.

However, one of the Special Court judges, Waqar Seth overkilled the verdict by adding the infamous paragraph 66, probably to leave his personal political statement on the verdict, if not to sabotage it willfully. The paragraph or article reads as in the following picture, in which the judge orders the fugitive or convict’s “corpse be dragged to the D-Chowk, Islamabad, Pakistan and be hanged for 03 days” if found dead. To me, reading these words in a verdict by a Pakistani court is almost comical in a dark way, but it is indeed no laughing matter. And I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who has taken offense at such a verdict, even the pro-establishment nationalists and the government, involving public hangings, which have nothing to do with the law in Pakistan. Pakistan is not Iran and the anger of such social conservative uncles should not be enabled just because they happen to have convicted an authoritarian dictator.

Source: Muhammad Rizwan Safdar

It had to take a military dictator sentenced to death to start hearing about the cruelty and injustice of capital punishment from the pro-establishment social conservatives of the country. Most of these people are the lot who talk about hanging child rapists and “traitors” in squares.  However, it is important to understand that most of these people who you would otherwise not hear from on capital punishment are social conservatives. They have nothing against the death penalty. On the other hand, another brutal verdict from our courts went without any attention when Fulbright scholar and academic Junaid Hafeez was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges after being incarcerated for nearly six years. This must have come as a devastating blow to his family which is already ostracized and has suffered great financial losses ever since Junaid was arrested for the charge. The pain and grief of his father are evident from this VOA interview. You could hardly imagine what his mother would be going through.

Several reports and commentators have pointed out the flimsy evidence in the case of Junaid Hafeez. Many people believe that any court lower than the high court lack the courage to challenge the overzealous blasphemy mobs. This is not necessarily an unreasonable concern for even Sunni Muslim judges less likely to be accused of blasphemy. Rashid Rehman, a heroic lawyer, who opted to represent Junaid Hafeez as a defense attorney was murdered by the blasphemy zealots. It must be pointed out for the benefit of a novice reader who is not aware of the situation in Pakistan that killing of someone alleged to have blasphemed against the Prophet or anything remotely related to Islam is not only encouraged but is considered a great virtue of a hero. However, that does not absolve the so-called “moderate” Muslims or even liberal Muslims of their responsibility.

It is indeed these majority of moderate Muslims who allowed this new form of murderous religion known as “Barelvism” flourish in Pakistan. However, Deobandi Sunnis and Shia Muslims are also complicit in terms of their stance on blasphemy, the latter mostly out of fear, being a regular target of Sunni blasphemy zealots themselves. Even many of these liberal Muslims can be heard advocating the necessity of a blasphemy law but “minimize its misuse through reform.” Well, they have a point too, considering you cannot overturn blasphemy law overnight. But they are still pretty much okay with capital punishment for blasphemy, if not hanging them in the squares.

Ironically, many of the people advocate precisely what Judge Seth had written in paragraph 65 for the blasphemers and the “corrupt,” especially your common social conservative Sunni Whatsapp uncle, or sometimes even a PTI Shia uncle inspired by Khomeini’s revolution. Anti-democracy pro-establishment and anti-liberal social conservatives in Pakistan thrive on this narrative, especially targeted against blasphemers, “corrupt politicians,” and dissidents often labeled “traitors” by them. That is why the epithet of “traitor” stings so much as it is the treatment of their own medicine.

It is amazing how much two death sentences can reveal the hypocrisy and moral corruption of Pakistanis. There is outroar against the death penalty for a military dictator though there is a deafening silence on the sheer cruelty and barbarism with how the State of Pakistan is treating one of its gifted scholars in Junaid Hafeez. We should think twice before giving brownie points to pro-establishment liberals and conservatives in Pakistan for their “humanity.”

To Support Maulana’s Azadi March or Not

Source: geo.tv

Life throws some tough dilemmas your way. As if your everyday moral questions were not enough, history brought people to a crossroads which surely disturbed them in one way or the other. And sometimes the choices you make tell a lot about where you stand. Especially if they happen to be Pakistanis who are secular liberals and anti-establishment.

To support Maulana’s Azadi March or not.

There are many secular leftists who have simply rejected the idea of a Maulana vehicle being an ideal platform for the promotion of democracy. The likes of the Awami Workers Party and Jibran Nasir, who are always proactive on social issues, chose not to support the march because of the religious card, bigotry against Ahmedis, and the exclusion of women from the platform, something which Marvi Sirmed also pointed out.

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Most of the pro-establishment and/or pro-status quo or pro-Imran Khan liberals completely reject the notion of the Azadi March because it is being led by a religious party or because of the “religious card.” The religious card here particularly being focus on preserving the finality of Prophethood or Khatm-e-Nabuwat, a fancy name of the anti-Ahmedi movement in Pakistan, and against attempts to amend the blasphemy law. Many of these critics agree that anti-establishment liberals are compromising their principles by cheering for Maulana’s march.

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Other anti-establishment center-left and right liberals, especially those sympathetic to the current cause of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and the emerging anti-establishment leadership of Maryam Nawaz, are not playing so safe. They are fully behind the march and even taking jabs at those sitting out citing the religious card, including the pro-establishment liberals who are subtly supporting the Imran Khan administration.

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The politically incorrect Gul Bukhari is, of course, all for the march and disappointment at the PML-N for their half-hearted support.

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The PTM has distanced itself from the march citing its impact of perpetuating an “obsolete system of government,” albeit supporting their right to protest. PML-N and PPP, meanwhile, are partially participating and avoiding the march for some mysterious reasons only known to them.

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Many anti-establishment seculars tend to agree but acknowledge at the back of their minds that some kind of resistance needs to be offered to the current government.

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There have been no shortages of false comparisons with the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran to discredit the march and even dismissals mentioning that it is no Hong Kong or Beirut protest. Indeed this march is neither. But surely, it has been facing a media blackout which has become the characteristic of the Bajwa-Imran regime. These visuals were nowhere to be seen on national TV.

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As of today, the Awami National Party, which is as secular a party as they come in Pakistan, Another secular nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai had joined the march right from the start in Karachi on October 27.

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The Maulana’s caravans might enter Islamabad any hour now and the procession which was supposed to happen today has been delayed until Friday afternoon prayers, partially because of the Rahimyar Khan train tragedy.

It is clear that Maulana’s party does not see this march as a mission to enforce Sharia in the country, as much as some people trying to make it sound like that. It is indeed not directed against the military but it does channel some of the frustration of the public against the Imran Khan administration, if not against the Bajwa-Imran regime. It may occasionally mention the selectors but it is surely not against them.

So are you supporting the March too? I am not “supporting” a Mulllah’s party either but I sure as well don’t mind it is happening. And pretty much agree with all its objectives other than “protecting the Islamic provisions of the constitution.” If the capital can be paralyzed for the good part of the year for discrediting a legitimately elected government and for rigging allegations for four constituencies, it can surely be shut down for locking up the entire opposition and almost killing a three-times elected Prime Minister. And the latter is my biggest reason to march against the current administration.

The only problem is that the agenda of this march barely mentions that.