The Fight for Democracy in Venezuela

Source: News Hub

As we speak, protests are underway on the streets of Caracas as pro-Guaido and pro-democracy opposition political activists and defecting soldiers are marching the streets against the draconian dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro. A potential coup is underway in Venezuela and the armed forces of Maduro are suppressing the uprising brutally. Tense for months now, this means that the conflict in the nation has finally reached the tipping point and images like these are making it clear which side is the fascist here.

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It is true that any dictator would resort to brutal measures such as this to hold on to power. But it is important to stay on the right side of history at crossroads like this. While I do not get people who support Maduro, though it’s purely out of the hate of American imperialism, the situation in Venezuela has gone too bad for too long to be able to defend the corruption of Maduro, if you are to still attach some kind of righteous heroics with the late Hugo Chavez. If that is to be believed, Maduro has certainly betrayed his legacy. This VisualPolitik video sums it up perfectly.

Juan Guaido was declared the legitimate head of state by the parliament making his claim to power legitimate. Many Western governments including the United States and Canada have recognized his regime.

The defenders of Maduro from all the regressive powers from Russia and Cuba to the resource-greedy China are targeting the United States for its interference in the country’s affairs. Apart from these countries being enough to give you an idea which side of the debate is democratic, their own vested interests are at stake with the precarious and financially corrupt authoritarian socialist dictatorship.

Removing a dictator is never easy. I always like to analogize it with pulling out a rotten molar. You have to pull it out. All we can do as democracy and liberty-loving citizens of the world can wish the people of Venezuela good luck.

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Keeping Mashaal Khan’s Mission Alive

Source: Dawn/Tanveer Shehzad/White Star

Secularism in Pakistan sounds like a hopeless cause. There are simply not enough people to give the movement any traction and nobody likes to openly express the cause save the leftist Awami Workers Party, which is sadly a fringe entity in Pakistani politics as much as they would like to tell themselves otherwise. But it is very important to show solidarity with them whenever they are out for the cause of countering fundamentalism and promoting democratic values, and all the allies who agree on the common cause of secularism and rejecting fundamentalism in Pakistan.

On the occasion of the second death anniversary of the brutally killed progressive student Mashaal Khan in Khan Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, the Progressive Student Collective organized short protest marches all across the major cities in Pakistan. In Islamabad, the speakers include civil rights advocate Tahira Abdullah, PTM activist Khan Zaman Kakar, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar and academic and analyst Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Apart from remembering Mashaal Khan and the brutal conspiracy to kill him, which was very well exposed by his teacher Ziaullah Hamdard, more contemporary issues were highlighted to protest Pakistan’s current trajectory. Post-Pulwama developments and the possibility of the country being blacklisted by the FATF was brought to attention.

 

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Pervez Hoodbhoy spoke passionately about the unabated fundamentalism in Pakistan, which is easily distinguished from the Islamist militancy that the Pakistani military took action in. Unfortunately, this brand of fundamentalism has been intertwined with Pakistan nationalism observed by social conservatives and has also become inseparable with the idea of hating Hindus and India.

It is similar hate and religious bigotry that led to the killing of Salmaan Taseer, the killing of the English literature professor in Bahawalpur, the blasphemy accusation on Multan teacher Junaid Hafeez, and of course the cold-blooded murder of Mashaal Khan. Hoodbhoy also mentioned how Pakistan could be blacklisted by the FATF soon but if it happens, it would not be a surprise considering the country’s seriousness in taking action against Islamist militants groups which are pointed out by the US, EU and several other countries including India.

Other speakers also talked about the bans on student union, which as per Ammar Rashid, could have saved Mashaal’s life. Progressive voices are already scant on our academic platforms considering the dominance of IJT or Islami Jamiat Tulaba who impose their Salafi Islamist agenda which remains a carrier for the Islamic fundamentalism that the state has promoted.

The IJT is great in numbers and the progressives only handful, but if they continue to carry Mashaal’s mission forward in some form, the seeds of secularism may even spread in Pakistan too.

Don’t You Dare Dissent

Source: The Daily Times

What is going on? The generation on the eastern bank of the Indus who was born after Zia’s period has never seen anything like this in their entire lifetime. And ironically, this is the generation that is standing up the most in dissent. Are they insane?

Their world view has been shaped by the ideals of Western democracy and is inspired by the recently concentrated focus on social justice. How can the activism triggered by these values be reconciled by the fact that they have been brought up in a faux democracy that has a violently grim history?

Well, nothing has changed as far as the Pakistani state is concerned. Except for they are not afraid anymore. Or so it seems to us, clueless commentators.

The revolution of dissent inspired by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement has even taken overnight arrests to the heart of Punjab. Of course, it has happened before the last time the PTM decided to hold a rally in the provincial capital of Punjab following the killing of activist Arman Luni. This time around, Dr. Ammar Ali Jan, a Cambridge educated progressive professor of Punjab University from Lahore, was apprehended at the strike of dawn from his residence.

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Ammar Ali Jan was later released and he articulated his ordeal in a column demanding for a new social contract.

Dr. Ammar Ali Jan was not the only facing the wrath of the authorities. This time the arrest was supposed to make more legal sense when Rizwan Razi was picked up from his home, in classic detention style by the FIA wing under the Cyber Crime Law passed under the last PML-N administration. While I and many prominent bloggers and journalists had a feeling what this, for which the previous administration, as well as the PPP controlled Senate needs to take full responsibility (although, of course, the terms were dictated from the bureaucratic state) but it’s sad how the assault on free speech has been meticulously legislated in Pakistan.

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So what’s next is the question. Banning twitter and facebook in Pakistan? We know these websites have been temporarily suspended from user access in Pakistan before. We also know that our state institutions have an army of trolls to defend the ideology of the state as well. But something on the lines may be days away because of the latest threat by the Ministry of Information, warning of strict action.

Unfortunately, we have a similar history of repression of political free speech throughout the history of Pakistan. Only recently the memo case against the former ambassador in exile, Hussain Haqqani, was dropped from the courts. That case was simply going nowhere and the court ended the hearings because the petitioners themselves were not interested to show up.

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The court simply concluded that the government should proceed against the Ambassador if it wishes to do so. Haqqani is known for his sharp anti-establishment political views about Pakistan and currently heads the Hudson Institute in Washington DC. Despite the hostilities at home, he remains committed to a free and democratic Pakistani society.

But that is not possible without civilian supremacy and a transparently functioning democracy in Pakistan. I know that the buzz is all about the India-Pakistan border conflict but these things also marked a very dark February in 2019.

A State of Fascist Silence

Source: Pakistan Today

I shared the news of a family killed by the anti-terrorist police force in Punjab a week ago. There was much hue and cry all across the country in the wake of the incident. The news was all over the media and people were sharing the haunting images.

Days after that incident, the Baluchistan police happened to kill a bright young poet, intellectual and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement political activist Arman Luni. He was killed while allegedly resisting arrest and was assaulted, according to mainstream Journalist Hamid Mir, with a rifle.

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There were very few images of Luni circulating in the social media and many did not even notice unless they happened to have a leftist among their friends. Most Pakistanis are not even aware any such thing happened outside of social media websites. There was a complete blackout in the Pakistan electronic channels. Hamid Mir was the only exception, but given his history, it’s not a surprise. I find this one pretty haunting, although I did not’

Source: YouTube video

I do not know much about Luni and can only express my shock and sadness at his death. But I am sure that his passion came from honesty and sensitivity about his fellow citizens deprived of their fundamental rights. And I do not care if they were necessarily against the state.

Yet another Pashtun individual lost his life in an extrajudicial murder. Nobody, though, would bother to speak for justice for them because they have an “Indian” agenda and are traitors. Such vitriol has been spread from the mainstream media and the social media from the time that the bureaucratic administration realized that simply ignoring the movement is not doing the job for them. A good number of urban population, at least in Punjab and Sindh, have their minds made up about the movement but we will reach a point when it will start tearing the fabric of the federation. This is only possible if Pakistan decides to become more democratic, which unfortunately goes against its core values.

And of course, to add insult to injury, they have cracked down on the non-violent PTM protest rally in Islamabad. No reason was given for the arrests, among which is the highly targeted Pashtun activist Gulalai Ismail, who has probably become the second most wanted person after Manzoor Pashteen. After two days of detention from the authorities, Gulalai was finally released on February 7.

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All I can say is that the current attitude targeting the Pashtun people by the state is not going to end well. Right now, things are moving along without much trouble, but it might not remain that way eventually. And this is where the federal policymakers, who believe in the concept of the Pakistani federation including the military leadership, should get their heads together and think about where the country is headed. The fascist Pakistani nationalists give me shivers when they call our brothers and sisters of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement traitors. And with orders such as the Islamabad arrest, the military and bureaucratic regime gives me the chills and shocks me of the country that I grew up in. It’s like you are living in Iran or Venezuela

Right now, we are in a state of fascist silence and wonder who’s going to break it. The likes of Manzoor Pashteen and Gulalai Ismail are out there to unveil our guise of morality and righteousness.

No wonder they are called traitors.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2018: Asma Jahangir

Source: United Nations/RFE-RL

A lot of people may not feel this way but perhaps there was not a Pakistani that was more important and critical to the country than Asma Jehangir. And this realization has become even greater with her death earlier this year. Asma Jehangir was easily the leading activist for secular democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in Pakistan. The realization of this void has only made the secular liberals and progressives in Pakistan realize about the grave challenges ahead of them.

Asma Jahangir was the brains behind the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and has also served as the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights for the United Nations. It is most remarkable how women tend to stand out in Pakistan for human rights efforts. While there is a long list of women who have broken through the shackles of an authoritarian, patriarchal state, the courage and initiative of Asma Jahangir were exceptional. She was also post-humously awarded the UN Human Rights Prize. Her work has inspired a generation in terms of the awareness of democracy and fundamental human rights, especially that of the oppressed women of the country.

One of the factors behind her position of moral authority was her non-partisan status. Not only was Asma Jehangir the leading crusader for human rights but she was also the biggest critic of the military establishment and their interventions in the political landscape of the country. However, it is only left to our imagination how she could have influenced the political landscape of a country in a partisan political position with a more authoritative role in the government.

The pro-democracy activists and political workers who have been left no choice but to clash with the military establishment is her legacy and that of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The organic support that Benazir Bhutto. Asma Jehangir was keeping the spirit of Benazir Bhutto and that of the scattered Pakistan left progressives alive in our times. This is why you will only find center-left groups mostly celebrating her and mourning her loss in Pakistan.

Source: Dawn/AFP

Another figure who has been instrumental in resisting and pushing democracy in the legacy of Asma Jehangir and the great Benazir Bhutto is Maryam Nawaz Sharif. The daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been influential in changing the face of PML-N from a traditionalist center-right party to perhaps the only popular establishment political force in Punjab. Maryam Nawaz Sharif has currently taken the role in a struggle that Benazir Bhutto was going through in 1996 and throughout the rest of her life in exile. Nevertheless, confident in her father’s ability to make a political come back, she is standing her ground against the military establishment for civilian supremacy.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif has remained defiant in the face of incarceration for controversial accountability court verdicts, which are nothing new in Pakistan’s political history, along with her father who was dismissed from the position of Prime Minister in July 2018. This was the 3rd interrupted term of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been elected to the office more than any other person in the history of Pakistan. Like 1997, his election in 2013 also occurred with a landslide majority offering them legislative freedom that was only limited by the control of the upper house by the PPP.

Source: Dawn

Maryam Nawaz is perhaps going to be the most important political figure in the years to come. However, her commitment to democracy and civilian supremacy will remain to be tested in the years to come, especially with regressive leaders such as her own husband Captain Safdar contaminating an otherwise reasonable party.

Of course, the winners this year were the First Couple, and the year of the triumph of Imran Khan finally came in 2018. His influence on Pakistan and especially that of his First Lady and the Army Chief in shaping the first six months of his administration and will remain to be pivotal in the years to come.

Happy New Year and here’s to another year in Pakistan.

Read about my Pakistani of the year 2017 here.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2018: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar

Source: Express Tribune

This year was probably unique in the history of Pakistan for being a witness to the most shameless display of narcissistic abuse of authority. While many people felt nauseated by the judicial activism of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, the movement of whose restoration helped the exit of General Pervez Musharraf, the words and actions of Chief Justice Saquib Nisar would simply make them want to kill themselves.

The current Chief Justice with his Caliph Syndrome is a living nightmare for anyone who cares about the role of the judiciary for democracy in Pakistan. Disguised in the shell of populism, the appeal of Chief Justice remains to be the same old theory that lies at the heart of Islamic or even Judeo Christian political movements: Messianism. The Chief Justice portrays himself as the savior to all the problems of the people of Pakistan.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan clearly has political ambitions and with a populist leaning too. Perhaps he should reserve his political activism after his retirement due on January 17, 2018. A date that apparently many citizens in Pakistan cannot wait for.

His absurd statements are too numerous to be perfectly presented in this blog. However, a few are presented in this blog, some of which are so outrageous that someone from another country will hardly believe that these are the statements of the highest official of the judicial branch of the government.

The incumbent government has no capabilities. (Source: The Frontier Post, Nov. 13, 2018)

Anyone who hinders construction of dams (that the Chief Justice is raising funds for) will be tried under Article 6 (Treason) (Source: The Business Recorder, Sep. 15, 2018)

Since when has PTI (the ruling party) started acting like thugs? (Source: The Express Tribune, Sep. 30, 2018)

I will guard dams after retirement. (Source: 92 News, Sep. 8, 2018)

I would have banned trade unions had they not been permitted under the Constitution. (Source: The Daily Times, Aug 2, 2018)

The state has the mandate to take over the (private) schools. (Source: Geo News, Jun 28, 2018)

Faithful adherence to Article 62 (A widely criticized and arbitrary theocratic article that requires every MP to be Sadiq (Truthful) and Amin (Honest) ) provides a recipe for cleansing the fountainheads of the State from persons who suffer from character flaws. (Source: The Economist, Mar 28, 2018)

I am fighting against social menace. (Source: The Dawn, Feb. 28, 2018)

I was always told that a speech should be like a woman’s skirt. It should not be too long to not reveal anything and neither too short that it doesn’t cover the subject. (Source: The Hindustan Times, Jan 22, 2018)

Source: AFP/The National

While there have been several other idiots who have been competing for this spot, particularly due to their antics around the elections, with the greatest of all being none other than the TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi. While the manipulative Rizvi is no idiot because he precisely knows what he is doing, there simply is no other spot reserved for him on this blog.

But sadly the biggest idiot that Khadim Hussain Rizvi has revealed through his politics of Islamic hate is the Pakistani Muslim.

Read about the Pakistani idiot of the year for 2017 here.

How We Treat Our Heroes

Source: Pakistan Today

The people who are at the helm of communication and authority in Pakistan often seem to be worried about the image of the country. They would go to great lengths to try, devoting all their energies to divert attention from all the bad news about Pakistan.

However, the same people would turn a blind eye when the heroes earning a good name for Pakistan are treated in a horrific manner if they ever differ from the state sanctioned views. Only recently, the way Gulalai Ismail has been treated with her passport confiscated and her name put in Exit Control List is just an example. All because of her support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

This has been just a glimpse of the greater decay at the heart of the Pakistani democracy. A lot of commentators are saying that they have not witnessed such an assault on free speech even in the days of the Zia regime. Perhaps for the first time ever, armed guards from a security agency violated the sanctity of the Karachi Press Club.

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What is even worse, supposedly the most progressive parties are shutting their most brilliant and outspoken leaders down because they are expressing dissent with the Pakistani establishment. ANP has just recently suspended membership of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar. This is what it comes down to when you talk about democracy in Pakistan.

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It probably would not have been half as much disappointing if it was just a case of Pakistani people giving up on democracy. Because unfortunately, that is what has been happening for decades now. Despite all the sacrifices from brave pro-democracy leaders, achieving what people like me cannot even remotely imagine about. What really breaks your heart is that this is how we treat our heroes.