The Coronavirus Debacle

Source: ARY News

Covid-19 or the disease caused by the Cov-SARS-2 Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. Perhaps but probably a bit too late. It was a bit too late because only then had governments around the world had started to take the threat of the coronavirus epidemic seriously.

The last new year’s eve, I suspected that 2020 would prove to be an ominous year, but never in my wildest imagination could I expect the Chinese authorities to report the first coronavirus case to the WHO on December 31. The outbreak occurred somewhere in November 2019 and was named covid-19, caused by the Cov-SARS-2 virus that closely resembled the virus causing the SARS epidemic in 2003. The Chinese Communist Party initially tried repressing it, even punished the doctor who blew the whistle to alert about the threat. However, the sheer number of casualties and patients went out of hand and soon even a communication ban could not prevent the impact. The world was cautiously and horrifyingly watching the videos of people dragged away to the quarantine. China had dealt with more than one epidemic in the recent past. They probably knew what they were doing or so it seemed.

On March 8, many of us in Pakistan were at the Aurat Azadi March. Many others were attending weddings, religious and political congregations. I knew on the back of my mind that it was dangerous but considering the social and political atmosphere of the country, it had become too important to miss. However, in the retrospect, organizing the march was risky, if not a mistake. The pandemic had reached Pakistan’s borders already and even days later some of the March’s organizers were calling on the government for a shutdown.

Like most populist and conservative governments around the world, the trend we are currently seeing in Brazil and Mexico, the government of Pakistan remained in denial for a long time. The same was true for Italy and Iran. The same was true for Spain and the United States. The same is true for India. Realizing

While Ashraf Ghani was taking oath after getting reelected in Afghanistan in a controversial and close election amid explosions, and while Pakistani people were outraging about Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir attending the inauguration, and while Pakistan was mostly obsessed with Aurat March placards and PSL, the coronavirus had reached Pakistani borders.

On March 9, Pakistan only had 5 cases and nobody in the country was talking about it.

Even nobody in the United States was taking it seriously other than California, the state which probably had the earliest cases.

By this time, the novel coronavirus epidemic had reached disastrous proportions in Iran and Italy, countries which had also remained in denial about the threat. Meanwhile, the outbreak has been largely controlled in South Korea and Singapore, which had a tough February with it. They carried out very aggressive testing after meticulously tracking cases and limiting the infection. Japan followed the same path. Meanwhile, China would still take a couple of weeks to come close to easing an extremely strict shutdown in the Hubei province.

The 5 known cases had entered Pakistan through the Taftan border in Baluchistan from the afflicted province of Qom. These were pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Iran and returning. While many expect the Baluchistan government to handle the quarantine of these pilgrims, their entry and disaster relief was a federal subject, especially considering the funds involved.

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Nevertheless, Dr. Zafar Mirza, visited the Taftan camp on February 28 and expressed his satisfaction over the facilities. Days later, the quarantined patients escaped citing unbearable living and sanitary conditions. Many of them were later subjected to a similar detention camp-like facility in Dera Ghazi Khan. While nobody is necessarily blaming the pilgrims or another religious congregation, and that the pandemic had to find its way in the country in one way or another, the Taftan debacle certainly helped propagate the infection.

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By this time, many of the pilgrims arrived in Sindh and were sent to a quarantine center established in Sukkur. The Sindh Government, perhaps the first among the provincial governments to realize the gravity of the crisis, started pressing the federal government over a nationwide lockdown.

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However, religious groups continued to pose problems for the government, as is evident by the protest of the quarantined pilgrims and violation of protective protocol at the Sukkur Quarantine Center, a feat by the Sindh government usually maligned for incompetence.

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Until March 19, while the Sindh government was making strides to control the coronavirus cases, the Punjab government was still not taking the crisis seriously. The Punjab government was acting as if the infection in Sindh could not reach Punjab, with even its officials ignoring social distancing advice instead of informing the public. As a matter of fact, revelations about the approach of the Punjab Chief Minister created quite a bit of media hype.

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Apart from that, around the same time, the federal government was still wondering about the extent of the problem, while the staff of the largest hospital in Islamabad issued a grave warning about the challenge ahead. Later several doctors in that hospital would get infected and quarantined.

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Around that time, the federal government had completely different priorities, such as shipping cooked desi food to the stranded Pakistani students in Wuhan.

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To add insult to injury, the annual Tableeghi Ijtema at Raiwind near Lahore was to take place for which Muslim missionaries and preaching delegates had arrived from all around the world. It is not like your formal conferences with good accommodation facilities, but an informal gathering with a center of gathering with compromised hygiene and sanitation. Many social and political commentators and media called on the government to ban the congregation but the Punjab government allowed it to happen. Later, the tableeghi jamaat would cause dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of infections in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and even Sindh. Even two positive cases from Gaza Strip are reported to have attended the tableeghi congregation in Pakistan.

After the pandemic status was declared by WHO on March 11, the media had started making noise about the coronavirus threat. It ignited a new debate pressured by certain circles within the media and the Sindh Government on whether to enforce a nationwide lockdown or not. The absence of the Prime Minister in terms of communicating to the nation was also criticized until things got even worse when he did address the nation.

In an address to the nation that could be considered to be misleading the people, he declared that covid-19 was just a form of flu. He did not recommend a lockdown or even appealed to the religious clerics or tableeghi jamaat to suspend their religious congregations, but stressed social distancing and precaution at the same time. All in all, he downplayed the crisis in the manner of any conservative government currently in power around the world without a word to assure the provinces that the federal government was with them.

Misrepresenting the demands of lockdown as effectively a “curfew,” he declared that a complete lockdown was impossible for Pakistan considering a huge number of the population lives below the poverty line. However, despite the risk of people going hungry and out of work and possible food shortages, there was no assurance from the national leader. Even the young Ammar Rashid of the Awami Workers Party had better ideas for the labor and working class.

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It was perhaps this reason that the very next day, the military, Imran Khan’s original installers, had to intervene and announced their own lockdown plan, assuring that the armed force is prepared to take on this crisis. The Punjab government also announced a 14-day lockdown  Either the government was playing good cop, bad cop with the people or the Prime Minister was completely out of touch with the necessary policy for fighting the outbreak.

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The citizen breathed a sigh of relief when his next address had some hope of a relief package, including income relief for the underprivileged. However, that too was plagued with partisanship. While the Prime Minister did the right thing to announce. He kept on insisting that a complete lockdown will be impossible because of. Talking to media in the Prime Minister House, he had earlier implied that the curfew will remain to be the last resort. However, when addressing the nation, he remains to be confused about the lockdown, which is inevitable in the situation and not something anybody is asking for out of pleasure.

Incompetence is one thing, a PTI trait that most people in the country have come to learn by now, but intentional partisan divisiveness in a crisis and misinformation amount to malfeasance. The Prime Minister has repeatedly told the public that the covid-19 pandemic was just like another flu. This was obviously false information that nobody should believe. Here is how covid-19 is different from and more dangerous than flu.

Paradoxically, the confused leader has also repeatedly been appealing people to self-isolate and to maintain social distancing. The only consolation is that his record on public advice was not as atrocious as Boris Johnson, who tested positive for covid-19. Still, Imran Khan’s federal government remained lax on the Friday prayers issue until the provinces were forced to take measures to ban congregations without locking the mosques down.

While we stand firmly behind our government to overcome the pandemic crisis, the least the public can expect from the government is honesty. Unfortunately, most of the innocent people of Pakistan have no clue what kind of a pandemic disaster is potentially threatening their lives. Hardly any country in the world has the means to properly fight this crisis but misleading the public, especially about the protective precautions. And even his solutions such as the “Tiger Force,” a youth recruitment drive to take rations and awareness campaigns to communities, reek of partisan bias and have already been rejected by the opposition.

The government must continue to learn lessons from its mistakes and ensure that the people have supply relief as well as universal basic income delivered to their doorstep.

By the end of March, we have more than 2,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 20 deaths. If we do not take stricter measures, offer a viable channel of aid relief through the military, and do not flatten the curve, we could be waiting for a disaster the likes of which we have never seen before.

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.

Finally Coming After Your Social Media

Source: Dawn

Well, recruiting an army of trolls just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because it didn’t work. It wasn’t enough because dissident journalists and bloggers such as Gul Bukhari and Ahmed Waqas Goraya were simply not shutting up.

After a humiliating exit of DG ISPR General Asif Ghafoor from his position, and rightly so because perhaps such erratic tweeting didn’t suit a DG ISPR, it seemed for a while that the troll army had retreated for a moment. This occurred after hundreds of fake accounts run by nationalist trolls were deleted by twitter. However, the new DG ISPR Babar Iftikhar does not sound like much of a fan of a free media either, as has been the case with the Bajwa-Imran regime.

Ever since the Bajwa-Imran regime has established itself in its full glory since the elections in July 2019, they have been hell-bent to curb media freedom. There has been a crackdown on bloggers and political dissidents and several

While people were wondering if it was about time that the government thought about pulling the cord on the social media, the government finally delivered a kind of low that has no parallel in history. The draconian Cybercrime Act under the PML-N had set the stage for this government overreach, which ironically resulted in the detention of the members of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s own social media team following the Dawn Leaks controversy. On top of that, the PTI government has proposed the Citizens Protection Against Online Harm Rules 2020, which the cabinet has already passed and which will not be up for voting in the parliament. Unfortunately, no opposition party is expected to deliver a reasonable response to this, let alone oppose this measure heavily criticized by many commentators. Obviously, these directives are coming from the military establishment.

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Not just that, the federal authorities in Pakistan went a step ahead by issuing journalist Gul Bukhari a notice on terrorism charges. They accused her of using incendiary language against the security institutions in Pakistan.

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It is probably the biggest joke considering how Ehsanullah Ehsan, the controversial spokesperson of the Taliban has been kept as almost a state guest by Pakistan authorities. What was worse Ehsansullah Ehsan had claimed to escape the custody of the military and was later found to be in Turkey. The Interior Minister Ijaz Shah later acknowledged that he is missing as well, sparking fury among APS parents.

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Supposedly liberal ministers in the PTI cabinet such as Fawad Chaudhary made an excuse for the policy, citing taxation on social networks. Diverting attention by insisting that the proposed draconian measures by the government are for economic reasons cannot fool either the skeptical dissenters and the suspecting foreign commentators who are well aware of the nefarious intentions of the state. It also does not require an expert to conclude that these directives are coming not from the PTI but a higher and deeper state authority. What is disappointing though is the silence of PTI, a party that rose to power thanks to the social media, and the shamelessness with which it is defending the unprecedented curbs on the media and freedom of speech.

If Pakistan indeed suspends social media citing a lack of control over content critical to it, then it must face repercussions from the international community. The greatest responsibility will be on the United States to see beyond its strategic relationship with the country and impose sanctions on the country. The European Union and Great Britain must also take similar action to press Pakistan over possibly denying its citizens the fundamental access to the internet. There could not have been a worse state of media and citizen freedom in Pakistan.

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.