My Pakistani Person of the Year 2017: The Missing Blogger

Source: Beena Sarwar

Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Salman Haider and the original Bhensa, with all of them largely unrelated but contributing in their own right to the cause of free speech, other than many more bloggers that have been abducted by the Pakistani deep state have made an impact on the society never seen before in the country.

This is the effect of the age of social media.

The year 2017 revealed the ugly, draconian face of the government and the state of Pakistan to its relatively insulated urban population like never before. I came to know first about the urgency of the issue when American scholar Christine Fair tweeted about the safety of Bhensa, a satirical antithetical blogger known for his scathing criticism of Islam in particular, and who obviously got harassed by patriotic bloggers in return.

Pakistan has always been an undemocratic and authoritarian country in its true essence. Meet its figures in the government, even including many in elected office, and their view on state affairs and the people of Pakistan are bound to disappoint the democrat.However, the abduction of the dissident bloggers finally truly revealed the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Pakistan to the entire world, with the most prominent news media around the globe covering the news from the New York Times to the Daily Telegraph.

The civil protest against the abduction of the bloggers still was not quite near as strong as it should have been but it did attract attention around the world. One nightmare that the Pakistani military establishment is not used to is the urban civilian educated population protesting against it.

The way the Pakistani deep state entities have approached the dissenting bloggers really reveal the thought process behind repressing political dissidents in the country. Things were going all smooth with the detention and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch resistance at home but considering the local backlash and the critical coverage in the international media about the blogger issue, perhaps this is the reason why all three of the most prominent bloggers were returned home unlike people finding their roadside corpse as previously found in the case of journalists like Saleem Shahzad.

The page Bhensa reappeared as well. However, there are still question marks behind the true identity of Bhensa thought to be Ahmed Raza Naseer of Nankana Sahib, another one of detained and acquitted bloggers, but one way or the other, the page has arguably never been restored to its original expression since the abduction. On facebook, the Bhensa ID is used to actually run an anti-liberal page.

All the returned bloggers said that they were tortured in their own way. Some like Netherlands based Goraya, perhaps the most defiant of them all, were more vocal and more explicit about what happened to them. He also directly accused the Pakistani military while speaking in the a side event of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Others like Salman Haider were far subtler, being a gentle, poetic soul caught up in the storm.

A national campaign of disinformation was launched by the trolls and journalists on the dark side to accuse the detained bloggers of blasphemy. Prominent news anchors and social conservative anchors, some of which are often the usual suspects for any cause backed by the deep state, were in the forefront to build up public anger and hate against the liberal bloggers.

Something which the state apparatus strongly backs to this day as new ways of legitimizing the hunt to crack down on free speech are being put into effect. Blogger Taimur Raza became the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media by a “counter-terrorism court.” What a joke! Another Ayaz Nizami is under detention for the same accusations. Back in August, even Punhal Sario, a Sindhi activist campaigning for the return of missing activists is thought to go missing himself. Most recently, peace activist Raza Khan has gone missing with no resolution to his case to this last day of 2017.

But it was not revealed who the great souls of justice were who were dispensing justice to the blaspheming bloggers. Only recently have the bloggers been acquitted by the courts of any such allegations due to the complete lack of evidence. Which begs the question why the dangerous tradition of blasphemy hunting goes unpunished and without reprimand in Pakistan. And like always, you could count on the disgusting goons of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah to harass and pelt stones at the activists supporting the bloggers.

However, I do not consider this verdict as a moment to celebrate as such since the legitimacy of these courts has already been tarnished for standing behind the draconian blasphemy law and announcing death sentences to freethinking citizens who committed no offense to humanity.

Despite the efforts of cover up by mainstream media in Pakistan, which is in the complete clutches of the military establishment, and despite other distractions on the political front, the impact the missing blogger has made on the civil society has proved to be the most moving. This issue has raised questions about the conscience of the society claiming to protect free speech and democracy.

They have been currently haunting M. Jibran Nasir, arguably the most progressive voice in mainstream politics, and an honorable mention is due for my Pakistani of the year 2014. The notorious TV Channel Bol Network has been in the forefront of targeting Jibran Nasir for raising his voice for the rights of Ahmedi citizens, which in his opinion is due to his opposition to the acquittal of the murder of a Karachi youth named Shahzeb at the hands of the son of a feudal from the Jatoi tribe. Whatever may be Jibran Nasir’s reasons, I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about changing the Second Amendment, and same goes for Minister Zaid Hamid et al.

In 2017, an elected Prime Minister was disqualified and ejected by the Supreme Court and when a group of Barelvi clerics brought the state down to its knees. But none of that matters and have had an impact on the consciousness of a nation like the missing blogger, perhaps only second to the brutal murder of Mishaal Khan, which arguably was largely ignored anyway.

But these missing bloggers still came from some layers of privilege in the Pakistani society, but as many of them have been pointing out like Sabeen, who is going to care about the struggle of the missing persons in Baluchistan?

Read about my Pakistani person of the year 2017 here.

The Moral Complexities of Supporting the Armed Struggle in Kashmir

Source: Indian Express

Source: Indian Express

The mind of a modern, liberal, enlightened youth in Pakistan is boggled with the moral puzzle of the armed struggle in Kashmir. Should Pakistan stop backing the Jihad in Kashmir? Or should Pakistan provide support for the freedom movement in Kashmir? What a world of a difference do these words make.

In a world that is unforgivably anti-Jihad since 9/11, and very rightly so, backing Kashmiri Jihadi group sounds like a recipe for diplomatic suicide. This could possibly isolate Pakistan, cost valuable alliances with the West and jeopardize economic prosperity and trade partnerships in the future.

But suspending the lifeline of the Jihadi struggle in Kashmir also sounds like an unacceptable option to many, especially the Pakistani establishment. Other than their political designs, it would effectively mean that a Kashmiri would probably never be able to see the face of a military grade weapon again.

It would mean that all they would ever have to respond to the occupying force of way more than 500,000 strength military is sticks and stones. It would mean the death of the Kashmiri freedom struggle, which is somehow acknowledged as legitimate by people who condemn the Jihad in Kashmir at the same time. No other country in the world is going to come to support the supposedly peaceful Hurriyet leaders.

Which route is easier? Certainly the former. It would make Pakistan less unpopular and who knows India would grace us with a bilateral cricket series. It could improve Pakistan’s image as the state recovering from hiding Osama Ben Laden right next to its military academy. Why should a Pakistani go out of their way to help a Kashmiri anyway?

Alright, a lot of Kashmiris live in Pakistan. They are our next door neighbors, relatives by blood, friends, and colleagues. So what? Even the Pakistani Kashmiris apparently do not seem to be too bothered with what is going on across the Line of Control. Why do we need to replicate the misery of the Indian Kashmiris in our lives?

However, with every mutilated unarmed Kashmiri teenager, and every raped Kashmiri woman and wounded mother, something stirs the conscience of a nation that is notorious for ignoring everyday atrocities within its own borders. A nation which cherishes a law that is designed to make its religious minorities suffer in constant terror. All of a sudden morality becomes much more complex than sheer self-interest. Even though it should not. It does not make any sense.

So would a Pakistani support the armed struggle in Kashmir or not?

It’s a question with a rather simple answer. Either you do or you don’t. But if you do, then it’s important to embrace the cause and defend its moral grounds. There was a time when the Pakistani state used to openly embrace it. And since when have we stopped referring to Kashmiri militants as freedom fighters? But it was a different world. Still, hanging somewhere in the middle reminds the world of the policy Pakistan has been adopting from selectively targeting Taliban factions to continuing old partnerships with the likes of Ben Laden from the days of the Afghan Jihad and pretending that we are fighting terrorism. The Americans have moved on, but our security leadership has been having a very hard time.

Of course, it is perfectly legitimate to defend the Kashmiri armed struggle on moral grounds. Are the Kashmiri Jihadi freedom fighters terrorists just because they are Islamists? Does the secular character of a freedom struggle immediately makes the cause legitimate? Surely, you cannot expect the Kashmiri freedom movement to turn secular overnight, not that it would ever have any such intention. Is targeting soldiers, even if sleeping, an act of terrorism or an act of war? Especially when the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is not exactly very friendly to the Indian State. But then there are Mumbai attacks, Parliament attacks, Hindu Pandits. Innocent lives. What to do?

With the exception of those who committed these atrocities, our intellectuals get played at the hands of the textbook Indian diplomatic rhetoric when they declare the Kashmiri freedom fighters terrorists. They end up endorsing foreign state propaganda in an effort to avoid the local one. Though they speak the truth in their own right. Pakistan has had enough of fighting other people’s wars and lying about it. Enough of freeing Afghans from the Soviets, or restoring Saudi custody of the Ka’aba, or sending pilots to fly Syrian planes or handing over bases to the United States. All for nothing but to make our generals richer, who, let’s face it, would have grown richer anyway. But we need to build our country. Who gives a damn anymore?

How do you harness an out of control Jihadi who is raised on hate? How do you expect that they would never hurt citizens? Does this effectively mean that supporting armed resistance in Kashmir is not any different to supporting and apologizing for terrorism? And India is surely justified in believing that any country that is supporting an armed movement in its borders is its enemy. Granted, but should Kashmiris be abandoned to their conditions of a whole state turned into almost an internment camp? Simply expressing solidarity will not get them anywhere.

India does not win the diplomatic battle for Kashmir out of any moral virtues or for having a clean human rights record, but simply because of the leverage it enjoys for being a sheer heavyweight. Anyone who does not recognize India as an emerging global power is sadly mistaken. At least, it’s the strongest military presence in the Asian continent after China, and not doing too bad in terms of economy either. So why pick a fight with India when we can avoid it?

But calling a Kashmiri freedom fighter a terrorist still is a resounding slap on the face of every Kashmiri who idiotically risks his life to needlessly wave a poorly sewn, incorrect Pakistani flag on some obscure building. It’s an insult to the desperate Kashmiri who shortens his misery by exposing himself to the pellets because he has to choose between a life of humiliation and a not-so-distant inevitable death. How is a Kashmiri to fight back? Does anyone bother answering this question? Are the Naxalites not fighting back?

The biggest moral problem is that if a Pakistani would not stand up for the plight of the Kashmiri, who else in the world will? Because the fellow countrymen of Kashmiris pretty much consider them expendable second class citizens and a distant border state with delicious produce and exotic vacation destinations. Still, it is a battle that would take anyone taking this road on a tough, treacherous ride.

It only takes a hypocritical Pakistani to realize the plight and it only takes a brainwashed Jihadi to fight this fight. And well, there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around. Neither our generals nor our Jihad backing secular liberals would have the gut to fight for anything, let alone Kashmir. So you can only count on Islamist fanatics. It’s just stupid.

Though as far as the right of an oppressed people’s armed struggle is concerned, it would be a betrayal of history not to recognize it. Just pray that you are not in their way. And the inherent, incurable hypocrisy of Pakistanis should not sabotage this right of the battered citizens of Kashmiris.

Let it be the humiliated Yazidis, the frustrated Palestinians, the courageous Kurds or the brutalized Balochs, it is almost insensitive to ask them to become Gandhi at the face of continual aggression. Walk up to the gas chambers in obedience. However, how they make their point tells a lot about a people. You would be judged differently when you blow up a civilian building instead of retaliating against an army camp.

Every liberty seeking individual should welcome India’s new stance to support the freedom movement in Baluchistan, even though more out of animosity with Pakistan than the love for the Baloch, and should welcome them to the club of “terrorist states” or “backers of terrorism.” Just like the United States and allies are backing the Syrian rebel army to overthrow the despotic Assad regime. Just like the British backed the Arabs to bring the Ottoman Empire down to its knees. Perhaps Pakistan’s role in Kashmir is not too odd after all.

Sometimes, you have no choice but to be a “backer of terrorists” to fight oppressive tyrants.

You get no extra bonus points for turning the other cheek anyway. All it does is get you crucified.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.