CPEC Marks the End of Free Speech in Pakistan

Source: par.com.pk

The latest provocative Dawn story about the CPEC might as well be a pack of lies but what about things unfolding right in front of our eyes. It is very hard, and almost feels immoral, to remain silent at the Interior Minister’s crusade against dissenting bloggers and social media activists. Since Zia’s period, we have not seen the Pakistani state practice such blunt and open crackdown against free speech and dissent in the countries. What are you to say of authorities who treat their own citizens, whose taxes pay for their livelihood, like the enemy?

It is deeply disappointing.

There is a reason why people are skeptical of China. The Chinese Road and Belt initiative does sound very good to the ears and who in their right mind would oppose economic cooperation beyond borders? But the reason why people find it hard to trust them is because of the political culture and ideology they practice in their country. They do not practice the freedom they have preached in this initiative. There are no Google and facebook in China and that is precisely why I am not too excited about the cross border optic fiber cable network from China border to Rawalpindi. The Chinese ideals are not shared by the Pakistani youth struggling for freedom of expression.

The Chinese cultural push in Pakistan also sounds more than just a rumor, with their political culture seems to be creeping into the country. You see, in Pakistan people like to dissent, even when it comes to the blasphemy law. They like to vote for other parties, speak ill of the people of other sects and ethnicities. And considering the totalitarian trends that are also creeping into Pakistani politics with unanimously passed constitutional amendments, it is important to remind that we are not a one party country and would never be no matter what happens. It is only sad to see that these values of the Pakistani people are not being shared by those cracking down on dissenters.

We can only beg our higher authorities to please think about the people of Pakistan above everything else and stop crackdown on dissenters.

Ever since the CPEC has started, the government has been responding very aggressively and reactively to any criticism, without trying to understand what the concerns might be. In good conscience, you cannot possibly support that, especially when the democratically elected officials stand behind such policies. China may genuinely have a very encouraging vision of the regional economy but the questions that the local Pakistani businessmen and cultural critics have are worth listening to.

The Pakistani dissenting bloggers may criticize or insult the Pakistani armed forces all they want, at least we knew that their higher echelons appreciated finer things in life. At least they valued some freedom for themselves, some of which trickled down to us mortals. But with an authoritarian influencer in the picture, are we even going to have the little freedom that we used to enjoy? The future looks uncertain and scary.

Also, please do not mistake these lines to be a contradiction to the title of this piece. The more frightening aspect is that now the Pakistani authorities do not even fear if their reputation gets affected by openly targeting dissent. And that is precisely the effect of the CPEC.

Consider this and all the pieces to come from hereon to be heavily self-censored.

Long live Pakistan.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Neglected Brat Fighting Back

Source: Dawn/Reuters

Source: Dawn/Reuters

Countries such as Pakistan, being peripheries in the larger theater of global politics, that have unusually large armies and unusually dangerous security concerns, tend to be paranoid. Strategically, they are always on the lookout of how the powers around them are responding to them. Of course, if you put the military leadership itself at the helm of foreign policy, the effect is manifold.

Considering how closely Pakistan has been to the United States in the Cold War years, being in the forefront of the war against Soviet Communism, had made its national security pretty much dependent on the American partnership. After years of dependable war partnership with Republican administrations, Pakistan is now apparently left alone by a fairly long but largely neglecting Democratic administration, pulling out troops, resorting to distant drone warfare, and one that does not give half as much priority to the Pakistani state as it does to India in its strategy for the region. Considering the growing Chinese influence, it only seems to make sense.

Where does this leave Pakistan? In an extremely precarious and insecure state, in terms of survival.

Peripheries are like surviving but perpetually underfed chicks in a jungle full of predators. You have to take care of them to make sure they grow up the way you want.

Pakistan’s recent shift to more authoritarian and undemocratic powers for its primary diplomatic partnerships is suggestive of the vacuum created by the democratic powers perceivably forsaking it. Sadly, with the weakening influence of the democratic powers, and under the influence of China and Saudi Arabia, you could find the already weak democratic values in Pakistan weakening even further. Especially when some people could argue an almost colonial influence of these countries growing in Pakistan, especially the religious influence of the Wahabi monarchy of Saudi Arabia. The recent religious decrees of the federal government and the recent visits of Saudi officials in the wake of the Yemen campaign are but a few signs.

The China Pakistan economic corridor sounds like an ingenious idea for its sheer simplicity, or complexity, and it is almost surprising that it didn’t already happen years ago considering how strong Pakistan China relations have been over decades. Of course, literally lending a good piece of land of your nation and its local opposition, considering the controversial nature of the province it is situated in, are sizable hurdles to the achievement of such an ambitious goal. Something that the Pakistani leadership finally decided to take on, with criticism more focused on provincial rights deprivation than the almost colonial nature of the deal.

There would surely be greater outcry if Pakistan were leasing out a port to a country such as India. But why would Pakistan be offering its port to a country such as India in the first place?

But what minimizes that realization is the tremendous business opportunity of a geographically disadvantaged power hiring you for improved trade efficiency. Even the harshest of critics, as well as the adversaries of the campaign, would not be able to ignore the economic possibilities of this deal. It’s mutually beneficial, right?

However, this step appears to be Pakistan’s own way of angrily reacting to the neglect that it perceived to have been a victim of, probably intended as a message to some powers. For a country that considered itself to be worthy of a civilian nuclear program deal instead of India, and which might have felt wounded getting its F-16s from Jordan than directly from the United States.

But apparently, it is something way deeper and darker than that. It also sends out a message of where the Pakistan’s allegiances would be in the next century. And it’s probably too late for the other interested parties. Perhaps, it is a brat spoiled by the United States itself.

But the bigger question to ask is this. Would the world be a better place with this deal? Would it open more strategic than mere economic opportunities for various parties?

Or maybe if these questions are so hard to ask, is that a side that Pakistan would really want to take for the next century.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.