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.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2019: Gulalai Ismail

Source: Dawn

In a country where freedom of expression is considered an abomination and where democracy is seen with disdain, the bar to become a free speech hero is not very high. But a person who took dissent and to a new level, it is Gulalai Ismail. The winner of the Chirac Foundation Prize in France for her feminist organization Aware Girls in Pakistan, Gulalai upheld the tradition of Pakistani women being global ambassadors of everything positive the country had to offer.

Gulalai became a victim of harassment by state agencies after she had openly expressed her support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. She was noted for speaking out against Pakistani military’s abuses against Pashtun women. Her fiery speech following the rape and murder of Farishteh, an Afghan refugee minor girl whose father was denied a police report because of their refugee status. She was arrested in February 2019 following that and was shortly released. However, her life remained under threat and her family was constantly harassed about her whereabouts after she withdrew from public life.

In September 2019, The New York Times reported in an explosive story that Gulalai had arrived in the United States and had applied for political asylum. This brought some relief to Gulalai but it was short-lived. While she was safe in the United States, her family was being harassed back home in Pakistan. She continues to speak out for her family’s rights, the rights of the Pashtun people, and especially women.

Gulalai’s father, Prof. Muhammad Ismail, is probably where she draws her fiery spirit from. Prof. Ismail, recently detained by the Pakistani authorities, is as fierce in his dissent as Gulalai and remains defiant of the state to this day. After a torturous detention, he was recently issued bail. His crime, being Gulalai’s father and a dissenter to the State of Pakistan.

An honorable mention is due to Ammar Ali Jan, the progressive political activist and academic from FC College Lahore, who has been abducted and charged with treason only for speaking out about the rights of the people and students. A columnist for The News, Ammar had not even joined twitter of late. However, his influence as a social activist. He was one of the organizers of the Students Solidarity March, along with the Progressive Students Federation, and was charged with treason among others after a successful display of non-violent force by the students on November 29. Today, the Students Solidarity March has prompted the lifting of the ban on the Students Union in Sindh Province and a similar resolution has been presented in the Punjab Assembly.

I feel proud to mention the name of Lala Iqbal Khan, the father of a great free speech hero and martyr Mishaal Khan in this post. Disgustingly, the case registered against the organizers of the Students Solidarity March also callously booked Lala Iqbal. Despite this treatment by the state, he stood on solid ground as far as his convictions were concerned.

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Last year saw the beginning of the #metoo movement in Pakistan. Despite odds, otherwise-seemingly- privileged artists such as Meesha Shafi came out against Ali Zafar. However, considering Pakistan’s social taboos, Jami jolted the conscience of Pakistani society with the revelation of being raped by Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon, a journalist who many would like to see as a free-speech hero in his own right considering the harassment of the Dawn Group. Jami’s struggle is going to be long and potentially fruitless. I don’t know if I am educated enough to even comment on it, other than showing unconditional support and solidarity to him.

An important and unlikely dissenter who should be mentioned among free speech heroes is Mufti Kifayatullah, and it would be dishonest to ignore him simply because he is a theocrat. Mufti Kifayatullah defied the convention that theocratic politicians are pro-establishment in the country and proved to be a breath of fresh air for a change for openly speaking out against the military.

Special mentions, of course, go to journalist Gul Bukhari, journalist Taha Siddiqui, and blogger Ahmed Waqas Goraya, all three of whom have been assaulted extrajudicially by the Pakistani authorities, who have been relentless in their criticism of the military establishment and state authoritarianism in Pakistan. They have particularly been a nuisance in getting obnoxious responses from the current DG ISPR. Goraya recently claimed to be responsible for the shut down of thousands of twitter accounts of trolls which he alleges to be hired by the information wing of the Pakistani military.

However, more than them, many of the prominent journalists still in the country, who cannot appear on TV anymore are probably greater free speech heroes, including Talat Hussain, Matiullah Jan, and Najam Sethi. Hamid Mir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, and Asma Shirazi are also fighting the good fight while still on the air.

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero for 2018 here.

Khalid Hussain: Another Casualty for Pakistan’s Freedom of Press

Source: Khalid Hussain/The Nation

Pakistan is probably seeing perhaps the worst year in press freedom under the Bajwa-Imran regime in an age in which communications are supposed to advance.

The Nation, one of the traditionally conservative English language newspapers, which had taken a turn for a more liberal narrative in recent years, fired its political cartoonist about a week ago or so. Muhammad Khalid had drawn a satirical cartoon highlighting the toothlessness of Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose megalomania has created an illusion of his person becoming an important statesman capable of resolving long-time international disputes.

The context of this caricature is President Trump offering to mediate between Pakistan and India to help resolve the Kashmir issue.

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Here is what The Nation Apology reads:

We would like to apologize deeply for a cartoon that appeared on our pages. The artwork fell short of our editorial standards and does not reflect our editorial policy. It should never have appeared.

We are proud to be a nationalistic paper and we regret sincerely the attention taken by an artwork that was inappropriate, especially at the time of the UN General Assembly session taking place in New York.

The necessary steps have been taken to ensure our internal procedures. And once again, we humbly extend our sincere apologies and regret.

This dismissal may sound like the prerogative of the editor of the publication, who paradoxically had published it, but this is becoming all too common in the self-censoring media in Pakistan. The Nation, an about-to-collapse publication which has been heavily infiltrated with the sympathizers and representatives of the military establishment, could obviously not bear to support such expression on its pages.

The curbs on media freedom in Pakistan have taken a turn for the worse under the Imran-Bajwa regime and several international observers, including Reporters Sans Frontiers, have critiicized the administaration for falsely denying it. Recently, Dawn’s iconic magazine The Herald also closed its operations and several other printing publications are under the threat of vanishing in the country.

Speaking to Gandhara, Khalid Hussain said, “I don’t know how long they will not be printing my cartoons or whether they will ever print my cartoons [again].” He further clarified what he wanted to convey in the cartoon. “I didn’t aim to hit Imran Khan personally. But as the prime minister of the country, he symbolically represents the country he rules,” he said. “What I felt was that Trump has repeatedly assured Pakistan to mediate between India and Pakistan. But he later said that Modi has not agreed to [his mediation].”

Khalid may still try making his political caricatures independently but can never be sure how he is going to pay his bills. This concern has become the biggest moral compass for many professionals in the journalism industry in Pakistan, which increasingly deprives them of fair and timely wages (if they are paid at all) and editorial protection.

This is yet another casualty for freedom of the press in perhaps one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. But then again, the truth being a casualty in Pakistan is just another day in the war-like theocratic Sultanate.

How Pakistan Observed the International Day of the Victims of Religious Violence

Source: Reuters/Hindustan Times

When the UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared August 22 as a new UN International Day for the victims of violence based on religion and faith, Pakistan was certainly a country that came to mind. It is an open secret that Pakistan holds a dismal record of offering all its citizens equal rights and the freedom to practice its religion. For years now, Pakistan has been on the list of countries of most concern by the United States State Department and there are good reasons behind it. Pakistan’s problems with its minority religious communities date back as early as 1953, if not earlier.

While you would expect the Government of Pakistan to introspect on this day and actually vow to start making amends with the minority citizens, they spent the day lecturing India instead. In continuation of its campaigns condemning the Indian administration and comparing it to the Nazi Party, the Prime Minister reminded of the “ethnic cleansing” in Kashmir.

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The Minister of Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, who should be the responsible office-holder for responding for the rights of the citizens that have been attacked on the basis of their faith.

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She instead was busy writing to the UNICEF complaining that actor Priyanka Chopra should be removed from her position as a Peace Ambassador for some imaginary offenses.

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This was a great opportunity for the Pakistani administration to concede all the wrongs done to the minority religious communities in Pakistan, especially the most frequently targeted Hindus and Christians. And mentioning

Pakistani American Ahmedi activist Kashif Chaudhary made sure to remind the government at least about the state of Ahmed

 

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He also mentioned the ridiculous notion of the President of an Islamic Republic, who would never dare to utter the word “secular” in connection with his country, worried about the decaying state of secularism in India. I agree with him.

 

 

While Pakistani nationalists were celebrating the meeting of President Trump with Prime Minister Imran Khan, the very same leader listened to someone these patriots would not stand. Trump met with an elderly Pakistani expatriate Abdul Shakoor, who represented the persecuted Ahmediyya community of Pakistan settled around the world. Shaan Taseer, human rights activist and the son of slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, accompanied him to translate his message to the President. The poor man was sentenced to five years in prison with a heavy fine for selling religious books. He informed the President that he could not identify as a Muslim in his native Pakistan but he can in the United States.

 

The current US administration is in particular interested in religious freedom around the world. Vice President Mike Pence has issued a statement during a religious freedom summit rebuking Pakistan for the state of its religious freedom and urged the government to release Professor Junaid Hafeez accused of blasphemy. However, it was a shame that President Trump did not publicly bring the religious persecution in Pakistan during his meeting with the Prime Minister.

Other than that, there is no count of the number of people abused and killed from the Hindu and Christian communities which are routinely targeted by the majority religious community. The forced conversion of Hindu and Christian girls is on the rise too and the local law enforcement is proving to be inadequate for either providing security or justice to the affected citizens, who are effectively second class citizens in Pakistan.

You can only hope that an administration that claims to be very tolerant toward the minority religious groups of Pakistan would know better than imaginary standards of social justice like “Riyasat-e-Medina” or the Medina State. You can only hope that they would have the sense to address the problem in their country first because that is the least what their citizens expect from them and lecture India on Nazism and fascism later. Otherwise, you can only hope that the United States should finally take a stand and threaten Pakistan with sanctions.

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.

The New Censorship Regime in Pakistan

Source: Pakistan Today

After ten years of relative democracy in the country after General Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from 2008 to the last election in 2018, the country enjoyed an oasis of the explosion of free expression. Again that free expression is an expression to be used in relevant terms. Either way, Pakistan has not seen such flourishing of journalism in its history until the new censorship regime was introduced by the military and bureaucratic establishment.

With the assumption of office of the current military establishment and their subsequent “selection” of the PTI administration under Imran Khan, the censorship of the media has never been escalated to such a degree. Other than the organized harassment campaigns against journalists, the twitter handles of three journalists were forcibly deactivated temporarily by the state agents. Sadly, there is ample data on the web for anybody who wants to write a paper on it.

Journalist Hamid Mir recently held a press conference in which he sounded like a political activist campaigning for rights instead of a reporter. Well, things have gone this bad for journalists in the country and probably more than ever before.

 

Only a few days back, the ruling political party removed all doubts whatsoever as far as its support of the crackdown on journalists is concerned. Many journalists can barely believe that a party that owes so much of its current support to the media.

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Pakistani state agenda’s true representative political party PTI went out of its way to launch a disgusting campaign against press freedom. What they pretty much mean is that if a journalist is not following state propaganda, they are committing treason. Some of the tweets even directly implied that as reported by Dawn.

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The powerful DG ISPR also routinely lectures journalists about what they should report on.

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The ruling party PTI, which rose to power as a result of constant media coverage when it was in the opposition, has routinely blocked coverage to the opposition. Particularly Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a new leader on the rise, protesting with the aim to free her father former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified and jailed following two controversial judgments. Media outlets such as Geo Network have been repeatedly blocked in local cable following the coverage of her rallies. Earlier interviews of President Asif Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif were blocked from the media but the latter was not even mentioned in the mainstream electronic media, which the military and bureaucratic establishment, along with the PTI considers the actual source of public information.

To many journalists, the kind of censorship practiced under the PTI regime even surpasses the standards set by the draconian Zia regime. However, the difference is that this 21st-century censorship continues despite the presence of social media on the parallel. Considering how dissent is considered “treason” by the patriotic lot in Pakistan, wonder when we will see a blanket ban on social media. We know our government has tried that before in the previous administration. The day people finally decide to come out on the streets against this draconian government, that day is not far off either.

Pakistan can become Sudan any day.

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.