Tightening the Authoritarian Noose Around the People’s Neck

Source: flare.pk

Pakistan is not a country we should feel proud of anymore. It has increasingly become an entity that is acting hostile to the people it is supposed to stand for. This is clear and evident by the recent curbs on political freedom and freedom of speech in the current year reminiscent of the years of the military dictatorship in the country. However, the comment of the current Chairman PTA, who happens to be a military officer (surprise, surprise) is unprecedented.

The PTA Chairman Maj. Gen. (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa, whose name sounds eerily related to the current Army Chief, said that social media in Pakistan should be blocked in the manner of China and the UAE. He recommended that Pakistan should develop its own social media channels to allow for state censorship and censor inappropriate content. Appointed in December 2018, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, General Bajwa mainly focused on “blasphemous content” to make his case of taking away the right of citizens to use social media to express their voices. If anyone had doubts about democracy being under threat in Pakistan, this statement should remove it.

The Chairman PTA was testifying to the Senate panel examining purported grievances where he remarked that “either the technical abilities of the organization be enhanced or the allow them to block social media websites to stop the circulation of blasphemous material.”  Even though nobody is ever going to explain what a retired general is doing serving this position and one which he is most likely not qualified for, his comments will largely go unaccounted for other than some fringe criticism on the social media of all the places. Nobody is going to mention it on the mainstream media and any criticism on the national news is improbable.

Surely, for the PTA chairman, blocking more than 850,000 porn and news websites are not enough. It is pretty clear that for these state authoritarians, it is not nearly enough. They want to go after the internet itself and if not the internet connectivity to maintain a facade of modernity, they will neuter it to an unusable state-regulated version.

With the launch of CPEC development projects and the rolling out of the optic fiber link from Khunjerab to Gwadar, one of the biggest fears is the Chinese internet spilling over into Pakistan. While thankfully the CPEC projects in Pakistan have appeared to slow down, it has nevertheless inspired the civil and military bureaucratic despots at the reins of administration in this country.

Unfortunately, the narratives these anti-democratic forces have nurtured for the past seventy years have duped well-meaning conservative citizens into believing that their civil rights and political freedoms are bad for them and for the country. Even in the name of blasphemy and national security, there is no shortage of urban nationalist conservatives in the country who would gladly sacrifice the internet as a public enemy.

The greatest tragedy of all is the fascist administration of PTI, a party that was pretty much built by and through the power of social media, other than a little help of our military establishment of late. More than the duplicitous and malicious leadership of the PTI, the people who would be the greatest losers are the urban educated voters of the party who look down upon the traditional and less privileged voters all across Pakistan. The government they voted in might be infringing on their rights but they have a choice to speak up. Pretty soon this little freedom we have will be gone.

Pakistan still has a lot to lose, which it continues to lose every day.

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Standing Up to Your Government’s Tyranny

Source: Reuters/ABC News

This iconic image means a lot to our generation. A generation that has only heard distantly about dangerous fascist threats in World War II movies and novels does not realize what it means to stand up to that government.

We absolutely have no idea about the courage and bravery of this great figure who decided to stand up to the tyranny and might of his authoritarian government. On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the number and extent of which nobody knows,  It was perhaps the last major push for a democratic China ever since the It is unthinkable that citizens in China today, except for those who witnessed and suffered it first hand, are not even aware of the scale of the atrocities that their government committed that day. ‘

It should only send shivers down our spine as citizens of Pakistan today that we are not dealing with a very different situation with the authoritarian military regime and its installed government in Islamabad. It should particularly unnerve the Pakistani youth with a hope of freedom and democracy in their hearts and minds, that the same Chinese regime that unleashed this tyranny on its people is knocking at the door and is already inside the boundaries of Pakistan in the name of CPEC and Belt and Road. More than ever before, the Pakistani government is adopting their ways to curb political freedom in the country. They are even here with their own version of the internet, which threatens free access to the internet for the people of Pakistan for the time to come.

Pakistan’s unhinged and unaccountable military regime, which does not even hide its intentions to undermine civilian democracy in Pakistan, is not bothered by any such concerns. Its state instruments are cracking down on the dissidents of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement on this very day, beating them and charging them with batons. Only days ago, protestors from the movement were directly fired upon as more stories of their violence on the Pashtun tribals appear on the global media.

At times like these, you cannot but admire the courage of the people who stand up to such tyranny and brutality without the fear of their personal freedom and safety. Especially in a country where extrajudicial detentions are the norm.

Maybe you are driven to be that fearless when you are really left with no choice.

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Source: Foreign Office/DNA India

Right after Pakistan had a hint of diplomatic upper hand over India by announcing to hand over the captured pilot Abhinandan Varadhaman as a peace gesture, it returns to petulant and self-isolating behavior again. What the ruling party obviously considers its diplomatic victory, Pakistan decides to boycott the Organization of Islamic Conference held in the UAE out of protest because Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had been invited. Because obviously if we did not do something like that, it would not be Pakistani foreign policy.

Of course, the corrupt but the comparatively visionary President Asif Ali Zardari had some better ideas about foreign policy on the National Assembly floor.

The OIC in its tradition has given a more of a pro-Pakistan statement on the Kashmir issue but it is important to notice that the only person who was heard on both Kashmir and terrorism in India and Pakistan was Sushma Swaraj.

 

 

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Despite the relevance of the mention of terrorism at the OIC platform, Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating the menace from the region remains dubious. The way the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been dodging questions about the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammed has been embarrassing, to say the least.

Despite the Foreign Minister and the DG ISPR denying time and time again refusing and embarrassing himself about the presence of terrorist groups that initiate attacks from the Pakistani territory, Pakistan finally decided to take action against certain groups including the brother of Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed.

If indeed the Jaish-e-Mohammed was not behind the Pulawama attack and had not taken responsibility, then surely the timing of these attacks is curious. Of course, these could be considered to be among the “any measures to deescalate the situation” as promised by Foreign Minister Qureshi. But what exactly prompted the Government to take this action all of a sudden is interesting. Perhaps it is the upcoming deadline for the FATF grey list review in May.

Of course, the PML-N supporters had a field day with the government taking action against Islamist militant outfits, something that was a part of the controversial Dawn Leaks which became the bone of contention between the military establishment and Nawaz Sharif administration. Former Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, often accused of treason back home, had his own words to offer about it.

Others like Pakistani journalists targeted by the local agencies were not buying any of Pakistan’s claims and shared this clip that was critical of releasing the captured Indian pilot Abhinandan. It is abundantly clear through evidence examined by the international media that the Indian claim of targeting a terrorist training camp in Balakot was a gross exaggeration but it is difficult to argue that groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed have not been spawning and thriving in Pakistan.
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The Pakistani government and security establishment should finally get serious in substantially dealing with these Islamist militant groups if they care about the people of Pakistan. The UN Security Council is all set to vote on Jaish-e-Mohammed and if China does not come to Pakistan’s rescue again, more than just diplomatic isolation and embarrassment will become Pakistan’s fate.

We do not expect the Pakistani security establishment to have any regard for our relations with India, which is causing misery to millions in the Indian subcontinent, or even to care for the financial losses its citizens will suffer, but at least they must watch their own interest. They will probably not care as much for the common citizen but greater diplomatic isolation on terrorism with India’s stronger case will not bode well for the financial and economic future of the country. It is something that is going to impact their own ability to attract finances to a fiscally challenged country.

The new regime focusing on the tourism of the country should not forget how any subsequent developments can hurt the country on that front.

Another Defeat for the State?

Source: samaa.tv

So the Pakistani state capitulated to the religious extremists again?

Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah won again.

However, the best part is that it only took us 3 days of mindless violence and rioting to get there. At least it saved the nation the weeks of inconvenience that the PML-N government had subjected the citizens to last year. At least this time we did not see a shutdown of the social media.  And especially because there was no attempt of a violent police operation against them. Actually, politically it works perfectly for PTI.

You know, it’s wise to settle these matters more tactfully and avoid violence on the protesters at all cost. Even if they burn the entire city down. It is very important not to stir any tensions or hurt any sentiments.

And it is perfectly fine to tolerate a “political party” that is calling for the death of alleged committers of blasphemy in their party anthem.

This time the protesters did something even cooler than before. They called for open rebellion against the State of Pakistan, asked for the 3 justices who acquitted Asia Bibi to be murdered and asked the military to impose martial law after deposing the Army Chief who is alleged to be an Ahmedi. Especially after this sort of rhetoric, forget the almost billion dollars they managed to waste with all the rioting, that they will not be forgiven this time around.

The difference is that instead of dispensing stipends among the miscreants, our security institutions are now in the hunt for people who did all the damage. And that is in strike contrast with the military not moving in despite requests from the defeated Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal last year, and particularly with the infamous optics of a Rangers official distributing money among the TLP protesters to apparently pay for their trip home.

But what has not changed and what will probably not change in the near future is that the state is not strong enough to stand up to the blasphemy cult, which is essentially Islam as sanctioned by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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The daring speech of the Prime Minister turned out to be dud after all as he, holding the Interior Ministry portfolio, had left for China for a reprimand debriefing for his previous stance on the CPEC before the TLP matter could be resolved. The matter resolved on its own with the PTI government conceding to most “reasonable” demands of the TLP and pushing them to apologize for killing a couple of people and destroying a billion dollar worth of property of innocent and defenseless private citizens and of the government.

Also, the government in principle agreed to the idea of putting Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List to ensure that she is killed by a Pakistani civilian even if the state acquits her.

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All liberals were able to achieve was getting the twitter account of Khadim Hussain Rizvi blocked.

Meanwhile, the fate of Asia Bibi continues to hang in balance.

And Khadim Hussain Rizvi keeps on getting stronger every day.

Witnessing History in Korea

Source: AFP

Sometimes even a handshake is significant progress for peace.

Historic handshakes have a tendency to remain forever in the memories of people for many years to come. Today, such an event occurred with the historic handshake of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In. Something that many of us never thought we would live to see.

Of course, in the case of any peace summit between two rival entities, the results are always unspectacular and underwhelming. That is because you can’t resolve decades, sometimes centuries, of problems overnight. The same skepticism surrounded the detente policies of Nixon and Kissinger, as well as Reagan-Gorbachov talks. The same pessimism cast a dark shadow on the Sadat-Begin hug, and the Rabin-Arafat handshake in the White House lawn in 1993. The same disappointments met all the fuss around the Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh talks in India.

On this day, it is significant because the dictator described as the devil incarnate in the global media has made such a warm and peaceful gesture. The handshake was followed by a Summit declaring the end of the Korean War and the commencement of the peace regime. And as needed, the meeting will be followed up by President Moon Jae-In’s visit to North Korea later this year. This is a particularly interesting time as the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, is also a Korean.

Now there is a significant role of the United States and China behind this arrangement. Apparently, CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s talks with the North Korean leadership was about something. This will hopefully continue into the future and result in the ambitious denuclearization that it promises of the Korean peninsula. However, history suggests that the promises of denuclearization are seldom kept and dictators and democratic republicans alike will feel reluctant to let go of nuclear power. The Pandora’s Box has now been opened.

You cannot help but feel proud and optimistic at the state of the world at this moment. You feel optimistic about the future as the likelihood of conventional war becomes slimmer and slimmer with every passing day in such traditional conflict zones. Surely, this does not mean that all the remedies of the world will be resolved but at least some reduction in suffering is an improvement.

One way or the other, I believe that such symbolic gestures are very important, if only for the history books. Because moments such as these, the few that I have mentioned above, will serve to be living memories for the civilization to be inspired for peace. It will remain

This is why this handshake is more than an empty gesture.

 

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 Words of a Perpetually Angry Minister

Source: voanews.com

The recent blown-out-of-proportion episode of Dawn Leaks saw the civilian leadership reprimand the military for not being tough enough against Islamist militant outfits. However, the recent tirade by the Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, makes you wonder if they need to give a lecture to people in their own ranks.

Like a raving lunatic, Nisar went on to flaunt his love for a theocracy while serving in a democratic regime. His favorite target as always were his biggest critics but easily the softest ones in the country, of course. The secularists. I would not go as far as some as far as calling his comments a provocation to lynch the faithless, with Mashaal Khan’s murder fresh in memory, but let’s just say it was a pretty appalling display.

Basically, what gets under the skin of Chaudhary Nisar is the allegation that he is in bed with the Islamist terrorists of the country. While he completely considers it baseless, he has been seen often in talks with the religious fundamentalist leaders who are often seen to be behind Sunni sectarian terrorism. One of the recent episodes being his meeting with the ASWJ leadership.

Given Nisar’s predicament as the Interior Minister, which you cannot expect the likes of Jibran Nasir to fathom, you may have to engage such elements from time to time. However, his onslaught is more targeted to his more substantial PPP archrivals such as Senator Aitezaz Ahsan and other more secular peers who have often targeted the interior minister for his record.

But where he makes matters worse for himself by dodging the allegations by declaring himself a defender of Islam and emotionally blackmailing the religiously fervent public. And even worse, misrepresenting secularism in front of the masses while holding his secular office.

Furthermore, secularists in Pakistan are also lamenting the fact that the Interior Minister is playing an intellectually dishonest narrative by equating secularism with a lack of religion. While many secularists would not mind a society without religion, the tactic used by the Interior Minister is a classic one to create a roadblock for secularism in a society like Pakistan.

But what these critics of secularism fail to understand is that since a secularist deems religion to be an individual affair, they are least bothered about what religion anyone is practicing. It is precisely the paradigm of interfering with another’s religion that defines the viewpoint of someone who wants to impose a theocracy. The trouble with religious conservatives is that they expect everyone else to share their invasive ideas about religion in society.

Either that or Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan is more malignant than he is ignorant. As Wusatullah Khan points out in his latest BBC Urdu column, it is strange that someone educated at Aitchison would confuse secularism with atheism. But what if the minister is playing the ladeeniyat (faithlessness) card on purpose, and like always has used the dirtiest trick to block the already narrow path to secularism by equating it with a lack of religion.

Of course, a lack of religion means a lack of moral compass to religious people, especially with the oldest beverage in the world getting an honored mention in his speech. But it is funny how all these reservations are absolutely disregarded with atheist communist friend China by the same theocrats like him who attack others for stooping to anything for power. You know the atheist communist China which actually persecutes Muslims horrifyingly as opposed to the meek critiques of the toothless and terrified Pakistani secularists. It would indeed be fun to watch how China tolerates Pakistan’s vision of religion as it invests physical assets more heavily than ever in an ally cursed with theocratic instability.

But perhaps more than anything else, the honorable federal minister is just a very compulsively angry man who probably should not be serving as the boss of the national cops and federal agencies. It is under him that we have seen the worst crackdown against bloggers in history and he is still at it by announcing a new witch-hunt against websites which defame the Pakistani military. He might also want to take a look at a few of the members of his own party for those instances.

If you find yourself confused that Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan belongs to the same party as that of the Prime Minister who has spent two straight Holi festivals with the Hindu community, nobody should blame you too much. And for as long as the PM keeps this relationship for a handful seats in the Rawalpindi district, it would remain to be the bane of his existence.

As it would be of ours.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.