A Military At War With Its Own People

Source: ISPR

Perhaps the Pakistan military ran out of RAW agents to target and to showcase to the national media. A few nights ago, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the official mouthpiece of the Pakistan military, displayed a chart featuring a bunch of “traitor” bloggers and journalists who they allege to be connected to the enemies of the state.

A good number of these social media activists and bloggers were affiliated with PML-N. A number of other prominent journalists were also “mapped” and presented in a manner as if they are a part of some international cartel. He also went on to insult the tribal cap that Manzoor Pashteen wears as a foreign fabrication. In other words, our military is hellbent to push the dissenters to the fringe and exclude them out of the national discourse. And that is abundantly clear by the media blackout of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

Manzoor Pashteen and his trademark cap – Source: niazamana.com

Now, there is a lot of anger we are talking about here. I say this because I have a good idea of how these men think like. The tone with which the DG ISPR was speaking said everything. Obviously, military men like him cannot help but crush the heads of all the traitorous snakes they disapprove of, but in this day and age, it is not that easy. However, the unlawful “disappearances” that the civil society laments continue.

The Foreign Network Blogger Chart – ISPR

Just a day ago, Pakistani-British dual national journalist Gul Bukhari, who currently has an undeniable pro PML-N bias, was mysteriously abducted. It’s really chilling how that happened almost next to the sinister presser by the chief propagandist of the military. Her return to her home the very next day only goes to show that her abductors were anything but any random stalker. It is abundantly clear who her secret stalkers are. Of course, the ISPR denied any responsibility.

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You would wonder what sort of action the secret agencies carry out when they monitor anti-state accounts. The question is whether they act against the bloggers in the form of such abductions? Now, see how Salman Haider, one of the abducted blogger activists replied to journalist Salman Masood’s tweet about the statement from the ISPR.

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To the military and the nationalist patriots, it is nothing but these hideous policies in the name of security that cost people their lives. And people like Lt. Gen. Asif Ghafoor justifies such disgusting tactics by saying that there is no place in Pakistan for traitors. Especially when he has broadened the definition of traitor so liberally. We have a military at war with its own people.

It is almost like the military is openly threatening dissenters, and in my opinion, it is working. Why spoil your comfortable lifestyle and see the inside of a detention center? That too, for a state with a discriminatory constitution and a shameful raison d’être? It’s just not worth it. You are kind of stuck with it now.

But had it been about actively lobbying for Israel or India, or even actively working for a regime change, or being a Hussain Haqqani, it would have been completely different. These days just being an outspoken PML-N could get you in trouble. That has been unheard of, especially for the people of Punjab who have been mostly blind to this side of the Pakistani state.

Whatever was left of democracy in Pakistan is dying a slow, rotting death. The state had never been more threatening to the freedom of press. The role of the military in politics has become even darker than during old school coups as in the terms of Ayub, Yahya, Zia, and Musharraf. Never would you have ever felt more pessimistic about Pakistan and its future.

With a state like this, you don’t need to be paid money to turn against it.

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A Wake Up Call for the Interior Minister

Source: Dawn

Ahsan Iqbal is easily one of the most dignified, educated, and well spoken politicians in Pakistan. He is a visionary and has been promoting a progressive economic vision since the earlier terms of PML-N.

He became an unlikely candidate for the position of Interior Minister when the self-righteous Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, an ultra conservative pro-establishment PML-N dissident, stepped down. When the Prime Minister was also disqualified, the tensions got even more intense and paved way for Ahsan Iqbal’s rise to the powerful but controversial position of becoming the civilian security boss of the country. Many expected that the position will not suit him well, a man of a scholarly background. Especially because it was in this current tenure that the social media was blacked out during a protest for the first time in history in Pakistan.

Back in November, when Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was occupying the parliament square in Islamabad, the greatest test came of his leadership. His resolutions to the problem drastically failed when due to the unwillingjness of the military, a half backed operation ended up further strengthening the hands of the rogue Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah, a radical Barelvi political cult whose agenda is to reinforce the laws about the Finality of the Prophethood and to make life further miserable for the already marginalized Ahmedi community of Pakistan. Ahmedis are perceived as a threat by orthodox religious Muslims in Pakistan to the tenet that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, even though the Ahmedis respond that they share the same belief.

The recent controversy over the Ahmedi oath for the parliament members sparked the protest in the first place with the blame falling on the , apart from generally on the entire leadership of PML-N. Sunni clerics even issued fatwas that voting for the party was haram or forbidden.

Despite the threat to the party, and some would say that particularly because of it, the PML-N federal government decided to appease the extremist Muslims by making laws about blasphemy and speech even stricter. The Ministry of Interior, as well as the National Counter Terrorism Agency, are running campaigns that openly call for people to hunt for perceived blasphemies in the guise of acting against hate speech. While such narrative has not been started by the Government of Pakistan so proactively, as you can thank the narrative of the local cleric for that, it has emerged with full force as a countering reaction to unpopular speech on social media.

Today, hours ago actually, Ahsan Iqbal was shot at by an angry citizen in a meeting with the constituents in his native Narowal District. Fortunately, the bullet only brushed his arm and his life was spared. The would-be assassin Abid Hussain has been captured and he has confessed to have made an attempt on the Minister’s life because of the “Finality of Prophethood” or “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” issue.  While this complex term may not mean anything to most people, it is the article of faith of the Muslim population, and takes an extreme in the more radical elements of the Barelvi sect that is particularly devotional to the Prophet.

Source: Times of Islamabad

While the Minister has been lucky, all the citizens hunted by the extremists such as his assailant are not so much. Especially when the one putting them to death is the judiciary. The 30 year old blogger who got convicted by the court for just expressing himself was not so lucky. Often people tend to forget how harmful and dangerous these so-called responsible information campaigns are. And it is important to remember that government campaigns calling for reporting blasphemy are as dangerous in creating the mindset that resulted in the attempt on the life of Ahsan Iqbal as the hateful teachings in the mosque.

I wish the Interior Minister will consider this unfortunate event a wake up call. We are very happy that he is safe but it is time that he starts thinking about safeguarding the speech and lives of his citizens. Of course, he can’t fight the atrocious courts in Pakistan but at least he can tone down the explicit witch hunt. Or the same poison that stung him today could get just about any one of us.

The Calls for Revolution in Lahore and State Censorship

Source: Dawn

We are living in fascinating times.

Never before a civil rights movement that is about something as fundamental as the demands for the recognition of the Pashtuns of the tribal areas has emerged on this scale. To add insult to the injury of the authoritarian state which does not recognize the legitimacy of the movement, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement decided to hold their congregation in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, the majority ethnic province the population of which traditionally makes up most of the bureaucratic establishment that runs the Pakistani state.

While Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of democracy, few would have thought that the kind of draconian measures that were imposed during Zia’s term would still be around. Especially when another dictator Pervez Musharraf, who had started imagining himself an elected leader after his sham referendum. But after that period of euphoric media freedom the likes of which the people of Pakistan had never seen before, who would have thought that you would see absolute control of speech on TV and censored, deleted newspaper articles.

After Express Tribune censoring the articles from New York Times about blasphemy years ago and more recently Mohammad Hanif’s article criticizing the military establishment for its covert support to the Islamist militants, a new phenomenon is underway. Published newspaper articles going missing.

Renowned journalists, analysts, and columnists are being prevented from writing about the Pashtun

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One such article by Khan Zaman Kakar was deleted by The News, which was later shared on his profile by Ahmed Waqas Goraya. Nobody wants to hear anyone calling the PTM a non-violent movement. Especially when the state is so responsive and cooperative to Mullahs threatening violence and rioting to fulfill their demands.

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Apart from an organized defamation movement against the movement of Manzoor Pashteen, accusing it of collusion with enemy countries, the mainstream media is deliberately blocking all mention and all news.

Very few in Pakistan know that the City District Government of Lahore, working under the domain of Government of Punjab, released sewage water in the ground near Lakshmi Chowk in Lahore where the congregation had to take place. The movement workers had to get rid of the flooding on their own to make the event possible.

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If this were not enough, the state resorted to arresting the leadership of the political movement ahead of the rally and after it. You could argue that it is a blatant violation of the Constitution but we can only thank our stars that the government did not shut twitter and facebook down. The crackdown on the TLYRA Protest in Islamabad on November 26 last time has shown us that the government can even go to that limit when twitter and facebook saw a temporary blackout. Sadly, our Supreme Court and judicial activist Chief Justice would remain silent on these constitutional violations.

But who will know about these constitutional violations when no one is going to learn about them? And when the press will be prevented from covering such news?

Yes, press censorship is back in full flow and the freedom of press is dead.

The Pashtun March and the Right Side of History

Source: Youtube

A day ago, a massive procession took place in Peshawar of a movement that is being shunned by the mainstream media in Pakistan like the plague. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or the Protection of the Pashtuns Movement, spearheaded by young fearless activist Peshteen Manzoor.

The movement started with the extrajudicial killing of a charismatic young man Naqeeb Mehsud in Karachi. It was not long when the Pashtuns started to see a pattern in an almost national scale of profiling. It was not long before it was noticed that people of a certain ethnic and lingual persuasion were being stopped more frequently at the military checkposts.

Of course, there is some recent history to the predominantly Punjabi military being suspicious of rebellion among Pashtuns. The war on terror, the anti-state Islamist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the attacks on high-ranking military personnel, and the latest friction between Islamabad and Kabul have all been a part of it.

Now with the recent xenophobia setting in about the Afghans, it would not be wrong to say that the Pashtuns have never felt more alienated. Traditionally, the Pashtuns have never really considered Afghan a hard border and it has been porous throughout the history of Pakistan. But with the recent military leaders putting stricter fences across it, and the way the military polices parts of the Pashtun majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA considering the Mullah Fazlullah episode.

However, it has been an open secret that the military has been traditionally backing up the Islamist elements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has always considered the secular and leftist elements a threat, as in the rest of Pakistan. People even raise question marks about the way the military operation was carried out against the militants. This leaves the Pashtuns, with a good number far more progressive than the social conservative majority in Punjab, with absolutely no choice but to follow a very narrow path of nationalism that the military establishment approves of.

All of this becomes a disaster and an extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement in Karachi proves to be the last straw. Forget the Balochs, dozens of Pashtun families have coming out with their list of missing persons, which are in all likelihood have been abducted and detained by state security and military intelligence agencies. The state of the federation is not strong indeed.

But it is very important to think beyond the idea of Pakistan or the precarious federation that the nationalists so love to cling on to. It is important to give precedence to human rights over any brutal ideas of nationalism.

Your claims to support the dissenting minorities in governments you don’t like sound hypocritical if you are not sensitive about the rights of your own. And you can’t possibly claim to be a democracy if you are cornering dissenting voices like that. The same happened with Mama Qadeer, who was leading a dissenting movement for the rights of the missing Baloch people. All they want is a day in the court. But then again, the support for democracy, or even the understanding of the idea, is already scarce in a country where you find a great conservative nationalist majority rooting for the military rule.

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People like Zaid Hamid, a pro-military nationalist opinion leader, are already calling Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen a traitor and an agent of India’s RAW. That is the way to further alienate an already wounded community and to push a dissenting patriot out of the circle of debate, especially when he insists that his movement is non-violent and only looking for justice in the court of law. How are those unfair demands? Some say it was the movement that prompted Army Chief Bajwa to visit the slain Naqeeb Mehsud’s home, only five days ago, and the DG ISPR also had to acknowledge Pashteen in his press conference.

Often the idea of avoiding repeating another Bangladesh is brought up when it comes to the rights of the people of provinces other than Punjab, but the Pashtoon Tahafuz Movement is an opportunity for food for thought. Perhaps, there has been a greater disconnect with the Balochs but the Punjabis and Pashtoon live in such an intertwined society that a conflict between them will spell utter chaos. This is why it is important not to push a marginalized group further to the brink and to further escalate tensions by racial profiling, whether subtle or more explicit. It is sad if anyone has respect for a state which promotes such discrimination.

It is very important to stand on the right side of history today because even if you are a Punjabi that sides with Manzoor Pashteen, history might not judge you kindly in the future. This movement for the demands of just being treated fairly needs to reach beyond ethnic lines.

A Jumping Escape from Justice

Source: Pakistan Times Youtube

It was not a leap of faith. It was a jump of desperation.

It would be criminal of us to even remotely pretend to know what this person must be going through.

Sajid Masih is the latest casualty of the impeccable Islamic Sharia Justice system that we are so proud of. But wait, it is not Islamic Sharia system. Because in the case of Islamic Sharia, he would have been beheaded long ago. Though would he have endured the kind of abuse that Sajjad did is debatable. At least you can be sure of it in Pakistan’s imperfect law enforcement and the justice system. Let’s blame it on the colonial times.

Pakistan’s federal law enforcement agency FIA has been accused of abuse and torture by a dying man. That man is a Pakistani of Christian faith known as Sajjad Masih. He is the cousin of fellow detainee Patras Masih, who is accused of blasphemy and was detained with his cousin. According to him, apart from brutally torturing them, the FIA officials forced them to have oral sex with each other. While other mortals might have succumbed to their vile demands, Sajjad chose to break free and jump from the fourth floor of the building instead, regardless of consequences.

Check this tweet out by politician and activist Jibran Nasir.

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Now you may say that this is simply the big government going out of control but this is far more than that. While the sadistic FIA officials may have a habit of having fun at the expense of the detained individuals but they were not keeping Sajid and his cousin locked for fraud or murder exactly. It makes the occurrence all the more tragic and infuriating when you realize that they were being held for committing absolutely no crime at all. There really is no need to prove the insanity of

Here is the video in unadulterated form.

It is important to document instances such as this because of the social conservative majority in Pakistan that refuses to accept the wrong a theocratic constitution is doing to the non-Muslim minorities. It is also important to remind them that a secular constitution.

Source: Reuters

Sajid Masih’s misery and his struggle with life and death are a direct consequence of the draconian blasphemy law in Pakistan. People failing to recognize and at least voice their opinion against them are being complacent to one of the most blatant systematic and apartheid murders happening in our times. And if Pakistan was not getting enough bad publicity, Rome made the Colosseum go red to protest the blasphemy law in Pakistan.

The secular democratic forces in Pakistan must unite in the manner of the manifesto of such a larger movement proposed by the Awami Workers Party, which actually deserves another post but here goes.

If not for any other reason, we must come together to get rid of this evil from Pakistan. We can’t claim to reform our corrupt authoritarian state but perhaps we can at least do our due to defeat the organized apartheid theocratic terrorism in Pakistan.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2017: The Missing Blogger

Source: Beena Sarwar

Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Salman Haider and the original Bhensa, with all of them largely unrelated but contributing in their own right to the cause of free speech, other than many more bloggers that have been abducted by the Pakistani deep state have made an impact on the society never seen before in the country.

This is the effect of the age of social media.

The year 2017 revealed the ugly, draconian face of the government and the state of Pakistan to its relatively insulated urban population like never before. I came to know first about the urgency of the issue when American scholar Christine Fair tweeted about the safety of Bhensa, a satirical antithetical blogger known for his scathing criticism of Islam in particular, and who obviously got harassed by patriotic bloggers in return.

Pakistan has always been an undemocratic and authoritarian country in its true essence. Meet its figures in the government, even including many in elected office, and their view on state affairs and the people of Pakistan are bound to disappoint the democrat.However, the abduction of the dissident bloggers finally truly revealed the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Pakistan to the entire world, with the most prominent news media around the globe covering the news from the New York Times to the Daily Telegraph.

The civil protest against the abduction of the bloggers still was not quite near as strong as it should have been but it did attract attention around the world. One nightmare that the Pakistani military establishment is not used to is the urban civilian educated population protesting against it.

The way the Pakistani deep state entities have approached the dissenting bloggers really reveal the thought process behind repressing political dissidents in the country. Things were going all smooth with the detention and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch resistance at home but considering the local backlash and the critical coverage in the international media about the blogger issue, perhaps this is the reason why all three of the most prominent bloggers were returned home unlike people finding their roadside corpse as previously found in the case of journalists like Saleem Shahzad.

The page Bhensa reappeared as well. However, there are still question marks behind the true identity of Bhensa thought to be Ahmed Raza Naseer of Nankana Sahib, another one of detained and acquitted bloggers, but one way or the other, the page has arguably never been restored to its original expression since the abduction. On facebook, the Bhensa ID is used to actually run an anti-liberal page.

All the returned bloggers said that they were tortured in their own way. Some like Netherlands based Goraya, perhaps the most defiant of them all, were more vocal and more explicit about what happened to them. He also directly accused the Pakistani military while speaking in the a side event of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Others like Salman Haider were far subtler, being a gentle, poetic soul caught up in the storm.

A national campaign of disinformation was launched by the trolls and journalists on the dark side to accuse the detained bloggers of blasphemy. Prominent news anchors and social conservative anchors, some of which are often the usual suspects for any cause backed by the deep state, were in the forefront to build up public anger and hate against the liberal bloggers.

Something which the state apparatus strongly backs to this day as new ways of legitimizing the hunt to crack down on free speech are being put into effect. Blogger Taimur Raza became the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media by a “counter-terrorism court.” What a joke! Another Ayaz Nizami is under detention for the same accusations. Back in August, even Punhal Sario, a Sindhi activist campaigning for the return of missing activists is thought to go missing himself. Most recently, peace activist Raza Khan has gone missing with no resolution to his case to this last day of 2017.

But it was not revealed who the great souls of justice were who were dispensing justice to the blaspheming bloggers. Only recently have the bloggers been acquitted by the courts of any such allegations due to the complete lack of evidence. Which begs the question why the dangerous tradition of blasphemy hunting goes unpunished and without reprimand in Pakistan. And like always, you could count on the disgusting goons of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah to harass and pelt stones at the activists supporting the bloggers.

However, I do not consider this verdict as a moment to celebrate as such since the legitimacy of these courts has already been tarnished for standing behind the draconian blasphemy law and announcing death sentences to freethinking citizens who committed no offense to humanity.

Despite the efforts of cover up by mainstream media in Pakistan, which is in the complete clutches of the military establishment, and despite other distractions on the political front, the impact the missing blogger has made on the civil society has proved to be the most moving. This issue has raised questions about the conscience of the society claiming to protect free speech and democracy.

They have been currently haunting M. Jibran Nasir, arguably the most progressive voice in mainstream politics, and an honorable mention is due for my Pakistani of the year 2014. The notorious TV Channel Bol Network has been in the forefront of targeting Jibran Nasir for raising his voice for the rights of Ahmedi citizens, which in his opinion is due to his opposition to the acquittal of the murder of a Karachi youth named Shahzeb at the hands of the son of a feudal from the Jatoi tribe. Whatever may be Jibran Nasir’s reasons, I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about changing the Second Amendment, and same goes for Minister Zaid Hamid et al.

In 2017, an elected Prime Minister was disqualified and ejected by the Supreme Court and when a group of Barelvi clerics brought the state down to its knees. But none of that matters and have had an impact on the consciousness of a nation like the missing blogger, perhaps only second to the brutal murder of Mishaal Khan, which arguably was largely ignored anyway.

But these missing bloggers still came from some layers of privilege in the Pakistani society, but as many of them have been pointing out like Sabeen, who is going to care about the struggle of the missing persons in Baluchistan?

Read about my Pakistani person of the year 2017 here.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2017: Mishaal Khan

Source: Dawn

For a country that is so hostile to free speech, it is remarkable how many free speech heroes we have in Pakistan. You might hold a dissenting view or two, but if you have not been menaced by the mobs yet, chances are you are not taking half of the risk that could possibly have an impact on this obscurantist society. However, some go even beyond that knowingly or not and end up exposing the hideous, decaying collective moral state of a people.

Mishaal Khan became a free speech martyr in April this year to a case of brutal flogging by a lynch mob that shook the entire world. It also supposedly shook Pakistani Muslims who suspected that the Mardan University student probably deserved it and paid the price for it.

You don’t necessarily have to be killed to be a free speech hero… or let us just say not killed yet. Anyone who is putting their voice out there. Mishaal Khan, a brave student activist and political worker, did the same despite being surrounded by obscurantist and totalitarian religious extremists, whose views could possibly qualify them as mentally ill and psychopaths in a more civilized society.

The Mishaal Khan’s murder is significant considering how it reveals the sheer brutality and lack of moral sensibility in general in the society in Pakistan. But more than that, because it is shockingly symbolic of the struggle between education and obscurantism, between enlightenment and ignorance, between knowledge and violent superstition. Mishaal Khan, a student, was killed in an educational institute by other students. Perhaps it must take an irony as brutal as this one to help someone understand the battle of free speech in Pakistan.

You could say that people like Mishaal are looking for trouble in an obviously bloodthirsty society. Well, they are better than you and me because they are doing what they are supposed to do without fearing for consequences and despite that knowledge. However, it will be idiotic to say that Mikaal got what he deserved or that he was looking to die. And speaking your mind should not be considered committing suicide.

Mishaal Khan’s family has been as brave as their slain son and the way they have stood by him is the dream of every fighter for freedom of speech in Pakistan. Imagine their helplessness and suffocation, yet another manifestation of the forces of ignorance laying a siege around the enlightened and the freethinkers.

Bushra Gohar speaking at the Mishaal Khan protest in Islamabad

Even though he died alone, Mishaal left many of his allies in unity, albeit with a weak impact on an authoritarian society. There are so many more free speech heroes in Pakistan. People like Pervez Hoodbhoy, Bushra Gohar, Marvi Sirmed and Farzana Bari who were at the forefront of protests against Mishaal’s murder in Islamabad and especially people like Asma Jehangir who are taking on the military establishment heads on. Curiously, some of our politicians also deserve a place in this list in their resistance to the deep state. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif became the first top diplomat in a long time to concede that entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were a burden on Pakistan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who condemned fatwas of apostasy and blasphemy on the national assembly floor. And especially all of those who protested the murder of Mishaal Khan and those of the missing bloggers and activists. A special mention in this post remains to be for the many bloggers resisting the oppressive state in Pakistan but there is a more special place reserved for them.

Pakistan remains to be a battlefield for free speech like so many other countries in the world. But the battle in Pakistan is unique because of the character of this nation-state in terms of its cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity despite the apparently monolithic state. And whether the people win this battle or not, we must not go down without a fight.’

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2016 Qandeel Baloch here.