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.

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.

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.

Funny What Amounts to Treason in Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Pakistan is a strange country. Here people are more outraged about who helped catch the most wanted terrorist in the world than the fact that Osama Ben Laden was found hiding in the backyard of the country’s military academy.

Now whether the most wanted man in the world was a prisoner of ours or his presence there was a complete could be up for debate. However, there is no doubt in my mind that both the military and civilian leadership of the time were absolutely committed to fighting terrorism, including Al Qaida.

It is also not difficult to assert how Pakistan has been committed to its alliance with the United States for fighting terrorism, despite all the differences and suspicions. This is why it should really not be so shocking that Pakistan would do everything in its power to help the United States achieve its goals.

If that is the case, what is the big deal with certain Pakistani government officials helping the United States out to locate Osama Ben Laden? I personally disagree with killing Ben Laden instead of arresting him alive, but I am pretty sure that would have been the last resort.

There has been one constant theme since the Abbottabad raid in 2014. Outrage over the United States violating over sovereign air space, even though they were curiously not bothered even any step of the way except for the resistance at the terrorist compound.

Since then we have been trying our best to determine the traitors who tipped off the US authorities about the location of Osama Ben Laden so they could violate our sovereignty. And are absolutely not bothered about the people who kept Osama Ben Laden in the lion’s den for who knows how long.

There is absolutely no doubt that the matter about the Abbottabad incident should be clarified to the public. People deserve to know what really happened that day as opposed to the official narratives the reliability of which have been highly doubtful.

Ambassador Haqqani’s op-ed piece in Washington Post, as narcissistic it was, it failed to demonstrate the reason that everyone in Pakistan seems to be upset about. Though not sure if providing his own example offered any solace to the skeptical and angry American vote. That Ambassador Haqqani’s cockroach skills could survive a nuclear holocaust is not a recent revelation. However, what we are seeing in a new light are the incurably twisted priorities of the Pakistani nationalists.

I tried hard finding how the ambassador could have hurt Pakistan during his one-man crusade, duo if you count President Zardari, against Osama Ben Laden and failed to find any bad news. The gentleman, if we are to take his word for it, used his contacts to help out the US intelligence locate the position of Osama Ben Laden after 8 elusive years. And now that we finally got him, the Obama administration gets to take all the credit for the find. Of course, they get the credit for the kill entirely.

Opposition leader Khurshid Shah pounced at the news by declaring Mr. Haqqani a traitor after our bellicose defense minister raised the issue. A lot in the national media are apparently doing the same. After the habitual retaliatory statement, PPP succumbed to the pressure of national security like always, even though they are aware that their voters do not give a damn about the Haqqani affair.

If anything, this episode speaks volumes of the vision and intelligence of President Zardari for making such a bold diplomatic feat possible. Of course, it is not treason if the Prime Minister and President order something, if Haqqani’s account is true, that is. I only wish the names of the Pakistani civil and military officials would go down in history in the rightful spirit of their valuable contribution when it comes to the operation taking out Osama Ben Laden.

But this also tells us something about Obama administration abandoning its close allies in Pakistan since then, which you could argue could have done more to promote the democratic regime. Under the extreme pressure of military establishment and judicial activism, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had to resign to appease our anti-corruption witch hunters.

With the deal of the CPEC closed and the troops of Communist China parading in Pakistan for the first time in history, Pakistan is now under the thumb of the authoritarian Far Eastern power than ever before. No outrage over that either. Meanwhile, Washington is trying to abandon Pakistan as much as possible under the influence of an unpredictable President and crazy isolationist conservatives and left progressives.

But if we stop blaming others for our miserable situation for once, we better consider our national priorities for one second. I am not endorsing a foreign country violating Pakistani borders and air space. Of course, the Americans should have kept the Pakistani authorities in the loop (yeah right), but I am just confused by the lack of outrage at Osama Ben Laden living like a king in Pakistan. Please tell me what I am getting wrong here, or were our objectives in the war against terrorism contrary to that of the United States?

This is supposed to be common sense, but since it is not, you would find people stating the obvious every now and then, which clearly is not so obvious.

Also, this is a good reason why the world has a hard time believing us.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

No Hope for the Citizens of Quetta This Independence Day

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

Nothing makes the idea of security from terrorist attacks more ironic than probably one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in terms of damage since 9/11 in Pakistan. The terrorists struck mercilessly in Quetta, the troubled capital of the troubled province of Baluchistan. Where the state’s strategic assets take precedence over the lives of the people, like the rest of the country, but where the distinction is more pronounced than anywhere else.

The August 8 suicide bombing on the Quetta hospital targeting and wiping out almost an entire generation of lawyers should have shaken the conscience of the nation to the core. It should be considered an attack on our way of life. In a country under constant threat of dark forces constantly trying to implement Sharia which would bring Mullah Fazlullah-like courts operational, the attack is really significant. It irreversibly harmed the secular, legal system that is very unpopular among a rapidly radicalizing local population.

As usual, the attack was all about harming Pakistan’s strategic and economic plan and the CPEC Project. The Taliban and the Islamic State accepted responsibility, but the obvious culprits to the state remain to be RAW operatives. To other demented minds in the opposition, the blame fell almost exclusively on the Prime Minister. As if he enjoys enough influence over the various complex forces to cause terrorist attacks at will. Regardless of the fact, no one seems to be mourning enough about the fact that the top legal minds of a city are no more. Imagine had this happened in Lahore or Islamabad.

This brings us to the realization of priorities when it comes to national security. Imagine the security measures that our military goes through in order to protect the most sensitive and valuable of our military installations. But what good are these military installations if not for the protection of the intellectuals of the country. Even if that does not mean anything for some people, what good is a military if not for the protection of a country’s judicial system?

No matter what happens, our people would not face up the real threat that Islamist terrorism poses. We do not realize that the threat is to the very existence of human civilization as we know it, and Islamist extremists are not going to rest unless it is destroyed and transformed into a form they consider fit. It is an anti-intellectual cult of death and misery that needs to be fought. But that is only possible if we recognize it as a real threat.

In this mental struggle of countering the problem of organized and brutal terrorism, the people of Quetta must be feeling completely helpless. There is no doubt that you cannot possibly guard or police every single square inch of a country, and doing so could itself spark outrage from the citizens. Our security forces often face harsher than necessary criticism for it. However, no one can argue that tragedies such as the August 8 bombing are a failure of those in charge of intelligence.

We may declare people pointing toward this fact as traitors, but it is not going to solve the problem of terrorism. After an experience of fighting terrorism over the decade, we must also come to terms with the fact that there is only one factor that motivates suicide bombings in this region. Shying away from these facts only makes matter worse. The murder of Quetta lawyers is not going to derail the CPEC project a single bit at this stage, but it shows that we are devoting too much security to protect infrastructure and not enough for the most valuable of our citizens.

As the rest of the nation celebrate the Independence Day, there is no hope for the hundreds of families affected from the tragedy and thousands more who have suffered losses. They know nothing is going to change in terms of the protection of their legal institutions. There is no hope of realizing that we are not really independent unless our judiciary is safe and free.

There is no hope except for the same old resilience that has helped us endure tragedy after tragedy since the waves of terrorism since the 2003 Afghanistan War.

Happy Independence Day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.