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 Writing on the Wall

Source: clarionproject.org

Source: clarionproject.org

Well, the writing on the wall is clear.

Now it begins. So much for the days of freewheelin’ secular and leftist bloggers. It’s all over.

Now is the time for the Islamist social conservative and the militant nationalist to reclaim the space on the social media that they probably should never have given up. So that these secular bloggers never should have started in the first place.

Now begins the time to silence our pens and tongues from dissenting.

On the bright side, at least the social conservatives and religious fanatics might stand against the banning of social media websites, which actually comes as second nature to our authoritarian government.

As I said earlier that the Jamaat-e-Islami goons could be the first on the streets protesting a facebook ban.

But I’d understand if you accuse me of too much optimism here. Because the picture on the ground… on the cyberspace, rather… is quite dismal.

We get it. There are some matters which are too sacred and important to be discussed.

But whichever force is behind the sudden disappearance of the three bloggers, could you please return them to safety as citizens of this country?

While we are sadly aware that an allegation of blasphemy is considered verdict in this society, and even though that’s what the fight is all about, could we still hope for some respite for them?

We totally understand. We know that perhaps some of the nationalistic entities absolutely have no regard how the world sees us in terms of our tolerance for free speech.

We would keep that in mind whenever we are going to write. Because we want to live peacefully in the one and only life that has been enforced upon us.

Not only do we assure of good behavior, we would also be particularly respectful of any ideas that is held by our social conservative ideological adversaries. Because there really is no other choice.

But even if we do adhere to these rules and do not wake up the dormant, if not dead, conscience of the nation, we still cannot ignore the damage done. We simply cannot ignore the “disappearance” of the secular bloggers.

And now we hear that all of them have committed blasphemy. How convenient. So, who is the entity that takes such action against such people and how have we decided that they are guilty?

Of course, the ones who get caught are always the blasphemers and the traitors.

Alright, we get it. There are certain lines that we are not supposed to cross. But not everyone is going to agree. There are always going to be some people who are never going to agree.

What are we going to do with them?

Are we going to make them disappear, kill them, or try them all for blasphemy and treason? Hang them on public squares?

And if yes, then what is the message that we are sending to the world about Pakistan? What sort of a country treats its citizens in this way?

The guardians of national security should think about it.

Now this may offend the loyalist of the state and religion, but there is a reason it is our duty to stand up for these missing bloggers.

One of us could be next any day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Bored Baby With the Dangerous Toy

Source: telecompk.net

Source: telecompk.net

While I did expect that it would happen one fine day, but just when I was done with an overdose of patriotism with the March 23 parade, I found out that my blog was not a safe surfing area for people living in Pakistan anymore.

Of course, I was not receiving any special treatment and it was wordpress.com which was blocked, and along with it hundreds of other Pakistani blogs. From what I read in the papers, it was because of national security. No confirmation from the PTA, but apparently it was just another of those switch on and off episodes. Nothing to worry about.

Perhaps the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority is either incompetent, or is being malicious on purpose.

The PTA has become an out-of-control psychotic. Or if that sounded too harsh, probably more like a bored baby with a dangerous toy in his hands, with rather juvenile and cute, but obnoxious antics, only with potentially dangerous consequences. The idle and overly concerned bureaucrats in this government body, which probably should not exist in the first place (at least the department of censorship), must invent new things to keep themselves occupied and feel purposeful about themselves.

We often hear political parties make big fuss about public infrastructure and welfare projects being a waste of money for partisan reasons, but no one ever bothers considering these bureaucratic agencies, not to mention completely useless organizations such as the Islamic Ideological Council, a burden on the poor taxpayer. They are just drawing salaries out of your tax money, and they need to be there because, well, they are a part of the government.

But there is an even more dangerous question to ask.

How far will our government go in curtailing our civil liberties and access to information in the name of national security?

Sadly this question remains as unanswered in advanced democracies such as the United States and the EU, as it is in countries with almost theocratic preoccupation. So why bother.

Despite the tendencies among the Pakistani people to accept every single state absurdity in the name of national security, they do come across as pretty freedom loving. So would they be willing to give up facebook one day in the name of national security, decency or for the protection of all things that are holy?

Or would that trigger a riot for the demands of their beloved social media platform one day, with the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami leading it? Only time will tell.

I really do hope we live to see that day. Wishful thinking.

Though the question of the temporary blocking of wordpress.com should not go unanswered. We should demand a response from the PTA, who should explain to the Pakistani people why they take them for an intellectually challenged group.

Why do they believe that blocking words of dissent on one platform would prevent the people from its harmful effects?  And that if they are curious, they can always find ways to reach such information.

Why is Pakistan trying so hard to become China?  I am not even sure if our other horrible ideal, Saudi Arabia, practices this much internet censorship.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs

The Condemned Heroes of Pakistan’s Democracy

Source: Dawn.com/White Star

Source: Dawn.com/White Star

We often find our political experts singing praises of the responsibility which political party leaders such as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari have shown in coming together over issues. While there is no denying that Pakistani politicians have certainly learned their lessons as far as preventing the suspension of the constitution is concerned, the kind of consensus that we have been seeing of late is hardly doing democracy any favors.

Some would say that veteran politician Raza Rabbani has proved to be a great hero for democracy for speaking his mind about voting against his conscience during the passage of the 21st amendment in the Senate. He is certainly a hero for democracy, but hardly for simply shedding tears when his constituents waited for him to do the right thing, at least in his view. In the end, it was his vote that would have made a difference, albeit at the cost of the seat of Chairman Senate.

But the heroes that I am talking about are the ones who are condemned and cornered by their parties and are pressured every election season to follow the party leadership. No one is opposing a little whipping every now and then, but when the Prime Minister writes to the Election Commission for suspending the membership of an MPA for voting for the Senator of another party, you know that things have gone too far. Similar is the case for constitutional amendments preventing voting against party liners.

People such as Javed Naseem of the PTI, who has been thrown out of the party for issuing dissenting statements against the alleged corruption of the party leadership (treatment of own medicine), and Wajihuzzaman of PML-N, both from the KP Provincial Assembly, are lone warriors for the fight of the rights of the individual legislator. Same goes for many more individual MPs, such as Jamshed Dasti, breaking away from their political parties for whatever reasons they had to give.

The greatest damage that the party leaders are doing to the very fragile democracy in Pakistan is to try blocking individual vote of dissent in party lines in the name of preventing corruption. Just the very mention of the expression “horse trading” triggers a knee jerk reaction from the media and the people alike, limiting the individual delegate’s choice and influence. We must remember that the claims and allegations of corruption are not its proof, and a politician who switches parties is not necessarily corrupt. The need of discouraging “horse trading” stems more out of political parties protecting their investment than looking after the interest of the people or penalizing corruption.

The greatest example of such suppression of individual legislators could be witnessed in the recently concluded Senate elections. Even though all parties try blocking independent voting within their rank and file, two have been at the forefront for proposing amendments to the Senate election procedure. PML-N and PTI were all for changing secret ballot to open show of hands, only to be blocked by the PPP & JUI-F.

While there is no harm at all in open voting, it is also important to understand the motives of the political parties supporting the proposed 22nd amendment. This is probably to discourage what little hope individual MPs have to vote for the candidate of their choice, even if they are not from the same party. What our party leaders are now happy with is the absolute consensus for passing controversial constitutional amendments and electing the Senate Chairman unopposed, as long as their orders are obeyed. Party discipline.

Actually secret ballot hardly even matters as dissenting members of the legislature are pressurized by their parties already. However, open voting works well in legislative systems where members are not threatened with suspension for voting as per their will.

In Pakistan, the entire purpose that it would serve for now would be helping the media figure out which Senators from other parties voted for Shibly Faraz, the PTI candidate for the position of Deputy Chairman Senate, over Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, the cleric backed by the consensus of secular parties.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

We Win or No Democracy

Source: AP/Indian Express

Source: AP/Indian Express

The current political crisis in Pakistan is a case of dangerous and deluded impostors posing as saviors and false prophets, playing with the hopes of children.

We have a political group in our country which is willing to accept democracy only if it manages to win an election. It is willing to accept the function of a state if only it submits to their dictates.

And if not, then the democratic system they so disapprove of must go in favor of military rule, or even mob rule, no matter if nearly 60% of the population voted for it.

They would rather see the military rule established, then see this corrupt, unjust democracy exist.

In other words, a considerable number of people in this country need babysitting. Actually, babies are easier to manage.

It is a world of well meaning idiots who believe that the eschatological Messiah has arrived, and no one else has the right to rule. Like followers of a cult’s true prophet, they would bow their heads to every demand he makes.

It is a world of delusional moralists who would cite fundamental rights to justify their excesses as they would selectively invoke Islam and Hadith, while otherwise having contempt for democracy.

It is a world of audacious cynics whose day would not pass without making a dozen jests about the futility of democracy and the rule of law.

It is a world of self-righteous patriots who would gladly jump to shout treason and would justify insulting and storming the symbols of the state.

It is a world in which there is no room for dissent.

Yet their struggle must go on for true democracy, which is as elusive as the cryptic true Islam that they follow. One that is being  perpetually misinterpreted.

Their struggle must go on until the demands from their beloved leader are met, in the exact order and no matter how unreasonable they sound.

But the protest must go on till true justice is served.

Until this air conditioned populist revolution is brought about.

Until the ultimate act of salvation is attained.

Until the Mighty Imran Khan becomes the Prime Minister.

And the President, and the Chief Justice, and the Caretaker, and the Emir, and the Law.

The Libertarian Case for the Baloch Resistance

Source: balochistanpoint.com

Source: balochistanpoint.com

No resistance movement is popular in the State against which it is initiated. The Baloch resistance to Pakistan is not any different.

But do they have the right to resist the tyranny of the State and struggle for freedom? And does that also extend that right to the Taliban? It is illegal, but arguably, yes.

This pertains to their fundamental rights, which should be covered by the Constitution, even if they are not currently.

The resistance movement would prove very sound from a Libertarian viewpoint as well, but from the standpoint of the defending State, it would be rightful to enforce law and order and curb it. So in terms of warfare, it is a violence for violence battle. But what is the limit?

While there is little doubt about the Baloch right for the secession, what should the State do to win the hearts and minds of the Baloch people?

Should the State continue to rule a people like a colony, as an alien ruling class, or should it start allotting more aid to the province? Should the State take measures to free the local people from the tyranny of local Baloch nobles and feudals or would that be the tyrannical intervention of the Federation on one of its independent units or States?

How should a civil war be treated? Is it justified to use violence, or any means possible, to preserve the Union?

There are arguments on both sides, but the dissidents are arguing beyond Pakistani nationalistic fervor here. Their opinion may not necessarily be liberal, but would reach out to the violated individual liberty of the freedom fighter.

The Libertarian case for the Baloch resistance would be the recognition of their right to bear arms and engage in an armed struggle against an oppressor. It would be the recognition of their right to life and liberty and protection from any unwarranted searches, detention and unlawful killing. It would be the recognition of their right to free speech for expressing dissenting views against the State and rejecting the Constitution.

This is where the Pakistani state law enforcement and military agencies are making a big mistake.

Pakistani agencies are allegedly detaining Baloch citizens on the suspicion to be a part of the treasonous resistance, which is both illegal and unconstitutional. An extrajudicial killing after torture would be even worse.

Now there would be a lot of Pakistani nationalist friends who would defend this act, which is supporting the idea of curbing the resistance by all means necessary.

But if this sort of behavior were to be given legal approval, then the State could detain any citizen for any given cause, without warrant. If it does not alarm a citizen, then they need to be more aware of the excesses of the government that could threaten their liberty.

I am not saying that the State has no right to curb an uprising by force and to enforce law and order. What it cannot do is to alienate its own people. So while it is curbing an uprising, it is up to the State how it treats its own people.

But above all, it is the responsibility of the State to not violate the liberty of an individual based on suspicion, instead of a legal warrant based on reasonable doubt.

This is not how a democratic republic should curb an uprising. Of course, a military dictator or monarch could use any means at their disposal, but surely that would be the wrong way of doing things. In another words, not the democratic way.

Now arguably all the rights for the Baloch resistance also apply to the Taliban. Which is true, like it or not. So let it be the Baloch cause or the Taliban, the liberty of the individual citizen must not be violated.

Surely, it would be outrageous for some for me to mention both of the different resistance movements together, considering the different morality of their ideologies. But then again, morality of ideologies is relative.

Of course, all that makes Baloch cause any better to that of Taliban is that the latter is fighting to enforce the authoritarian Islamism on an unwilling population. While others could have the same distaste for the Baloch resistance if it were Socialistic or Anarchic in nature.

While you could talk about just about any resistance movement regardless of the ideology or cause, there is a reason to present the case of the Baloch resistance. At least in the context of Pakistan. At least when we have inspirational people like Mama Qadeer marching all the way from Quetta to Islamabad to make this point.

The Baluch people have allegedly seen brutal assaults from the State elements and have had their liberty violated.

This is the perfect way to make enemies of already dissenting and defecting citizens.

—————-

Disclaimer: The post does not reflect my support of or opposition to any of the resistance movements anywhere.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2013: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: inc.com

Source: inc.com

A right that is almost taken for granted and even denied in Pakistan is that of free speech, and any honor for its promotion is barely ever acknowledged.

Since no one else would bother to say this, at least I would have to. And I am upset with myself for not acknowledging a free speech hero last year. Anyway, partially, that hero was also prominent this year, that is, Malala Yousafzai. No surprises there.

Apart from Malala, a number of people like assassinated politicians Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, journalists Saleem Shahzad and Umar Cheema, Oscar winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and alleged blasphemer Asia Bibi, who everyone has conveniently forgotten, have been prominent in years prior to 2013. It is also important to acknowledge PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for publicly expressing his wish to see a non-Muslim as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in his lifetime, contrary to the provision in the constitution.

But more important free speech heroes are the ones who are in close proximity to threats and yet take the initiative to speak their minds, even if that means challenging the blind authority and unreasonable norms of the society.

To my mind, the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2013 is social activist and entrepreneur Sabeen Mahmud.

Sabeen took flak after she started a counter initiative to respond to the anti Valentine’s Day campaign of Tanzeem-e-Islami. Her campaign involved rather amusing messages promoting love, such as “Pyaar Hone De” or roughly ‘Let there be love’, in front of the billboard messages from the religious movement prohibiting Valentine’s Day celebrations, citing verses and traditions. It immediately became controversial.

The content cannot be found any more on the Express Tribune website, the publication which primarily covered her campaign, because it is considered in bad taste by a number of Muslims. The publication even issued an apology for the campaign slideshow.

However, I have seen the pictures from the campaign and can testify that there was hardly anything about the campaign that was offensive. It would have been seen in a completely different light, if many of us had a little sense of humor.

Yet Sabeen was harassed by random people on social media, which included death threats, apart from coarse and abusive language. She was even threatened with a fatwa.

Her apt and enterprising response to the hate speech onslaught was the Nafrat Aggregator, an online tool that quantifies reported hate speech on social media.

Sabeen Mahmud has also been the driving force behind other initiatives such as the Pakistan for All campaign with Muhammad Jibran Nasir and Taimur Rehman, which involved the formation of human chains around Cathedrals and churches to express solidarity with the Christian community in major cities around Pakistan, the Hug YouTube campaign and Pakistan’s first hackathon in Karachi. She is also the founder of T2F in Karachi and is the Director of PeaceNiche.

It is a shame that such individuals are harassed instead of being admired by our society, as it is supposed to be in a democracy, just because they have a dissenting voice on certain issues.

But this is precisely why she is an inspirational free speech hero. I fully support and endorse her, even if I am not half as enthusiastic to legislate against hate speech.

While I admire all her work, this acknowledgment is primarily for her stance in the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy.

To quote her: “Fear is just a line in your head”.