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 Absurdity of Ideological Radicalism

Source: youthlinemedia,org – EPA/NOAH BERGER

As I continue to age, I have learned something very important about politics. A lot of our ridiculous, unwavering, uncompromising political positions come out of ignorance and being completely out of touch.

This is something that has made me appreciate people evolving politically over the years and that is why changing parties is not such a cardinal sin in my eyes.

I cannot possibly even come close to talking down to anyone reading these lines as I have held many of these extreme positions in the past myself, and possibly I am also holding quite a few at this point in time. It is easy to dismiss your rival political position as ignorant and condemn your opponents as unintelligent and immoral, but as we go closer, the many shades of gray reveal themselves out of the black and white.

My absolute ignorance of the legalized trophy hunting economics helped me realize how a distant observer fails to see its contribution. Even though I still morally oppose hunting wildlife. However, a trip to Gilgit-Baltistan and speaking to the WWF officials who facilitate legal trophy hunting in the area would shed light on how the local communities benefit from it. And how the activity helps preserve certain species, contrary to the impression of the knee-jerk activist. You just can’t ignore the facts.

I have only recently become more appreciative of military interventionism of the United States, despite obvious disasters such as the Vietnam War and the 2003 Iraq War. And even bypassing the United Nations Security Council in some cases because in humanitarian disasters such as Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, and Mosul, when engaging with bureaucracy and particularly the Chinese and Russian votes at the Security Council could cost lives. At the same time, I can tell what a disaster being a blind hawk with neighbors such as India and Afghanistan can prove to be in an underdeveloped region constantly under the threat of a nuclear accident and in desperate need of free trade. And this by no means implies that cutting defense budgets would be any wiser.

I have learned over the years through the wisdom of my friends and by trying to stand in the shoes of struggling families, despite having a similar background, that safety nets matter. I have learned that you don’t exactly run a government like a business and oftentimes debt and stimulus are a necessity for economic sustenance. It cannot be emphasized how vital quality public education with critical reasoning is and how necessary an effective healthcare system is to the people. However, it is also important to recognize how the private sector can add value to both these spheres of social economy, especially medical research.

Flying routes that nobody else would fly has offered me an insight that perhaps having a national flag carrier is not a bad idea after all. But I do not have any doubts about private professionals managing it in a much more efficient manner. And that it is important to raise the alarm when far right partisans make efforts to either privatize or liquidate necessary government services such as public libraries and prisons. At the same time realizing that privatization of certain corporations unrelated to the government would be a better idea, as in the case of power supply companies and other for-profit corporations. I have also come to appreciate how arts and media education require close financial and promotional patronage from the government to thrive. Believe me, artists earn it.

It is important to weigh the facts of the world before becoming a Marxist revolutionary or a Libertarian anarcho-capitalist troll supporting the gold standard. Before completely condemning capitalism and the current global financial system as pure evil, we must consider the global prosperity and the technological advancement this economic model has brought about. It has made the rich richer alright but has significantly improved freedom of access and quality of life for more people than ever before. At the same time, we must never drop our watch of the shady practices in the business and industrial world and make all the strict measures and regulations to protect the environment, the consumer and the workforce rights.

The fact of the matter is that we live in a world that is far more complex than any ideology could possibly encompass. There is little use in investing ourselves in radical ideas and extremes so much that our idealism and passion turn into venomous cynicism and defeatism. College students are particularly prone to nonsense in their earlier years of high passion and idealism. While time corrects your course over the years, a consideration of more pragmatic options over what makes you feel good could always lead to a balanced and more productive worldview. And above all, cements your faith in democracy.

We need to see through ideological radicalism for its absurdity. This might help us build more bridges between people while getting things done.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Politics of Shipping Containers

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A government is supposed to protect the interest of its public. But what to do if it becomes the biggest hurdle in their way?

Now for the uninitiated, the politics of shipping containers probably sounds like manipulating the trade at the port, not that that was never a problem, but these shipping containers are contributing to the economy around a thousand miles from the shore. In the federal capital and in a very different way too.

We had all suffered the consequences of the blockade during the 2014 sit-in protest by PTI and PAT.  Now it is time to brace ourselves again to dread getting out on the roads and to find our way out of the gridlock. The question is, who has the time and money? No matter which side you are on, you would be forced to either stay home or join the political tamasha.

Can you blame the entire problem on the PTI and Sheikh Rasheed protests? Probably you can, because the containers were not there a couple of days ago. But here they are now. Still, they are not put into place by them. The fact of the matter is that the government can possibly handle this situation in another way. Imposing Section 144 is not the solution to every problem.

So I wonder if it is the fault of the protesters or the Federal Interior Ministry itself that people like me cannot go to work when they should be able to on a regular weekday. Of course, we are not fully aware of the reasons why shipping containers are used to block roads, perhaps to block suicide bombing trucks, who knows? But ever since these blockades have started appearing on our roads, the lives of the people of the twin cities have never been the same.

While the party in power uses shipping containers to block access from roads, the one in the opposition would use it as a stage to prolong, if not perpetuate, the misery. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s recent call to shut down the capital is just one such example, which has already sent the stock market crashing even when the actual sit-in protest has not taken place yet. To add insult to injury, he has decided to challenge the orders from the Islamabad High Court forbidding the shutdown.

The fact of the matter is that the people want to get on with their lives and are sick and tired of the storms of made-up revolutions that our political leaders like to stir in a teacup. Clearly, most of the people reject the politics of shipping containers, something which could even be a threat to our fragile democracy. But like always, this silent majority remains without a voice.

What is even worse is that the government that warns protesters of refraining from interrupting public life is doing all it can to make things miserable for them. This is what the politics in Pakistan have come down to, only to strengthen the ignorant belief that democracy is not fit for a “country like Pakistan.” Whatever that means.

Perhaps we cannot get past the days of tear gas because we have not evolved from rioting and destroying to the peaceful protest that is often met with ridicule in our society. Perhaps we would really attain the ideals that we speak so fondly of when we really start supporting peaceful, liberal democratic values on the ground and learn to respect the democratic process.

Out of all the rights of the people that the government is responsible to uphold, perhaps the most underestimated in Pakistan is the freedom to access. People are simply too willing to give too much for too little. This reflects the way our government thinks and it also offers an insight into our minds as well. This probably means that our days of living in an authoritarian state are not over and neither is the will to resist it. Or if things have improved indeed, we have still not been able to shake off the hangover from our past of dictatorships.

I hope some day our protesters would learn to make their point without blocking roads and that our governments could restore order without taking any lives.

Is it too much to ask?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

An Election of Unfortunate Choices

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Politico

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Politico

What a coincidence that at this critical point in history that we have somebody like Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton? It is hard to believe that it is happening to the world, let alone the American people, whose fate lies in the hands of these candidates. But more than anyone else, their fate lies in their own hands.

What an election year this has been. Probably one of the ugliest in American history.  But we have been expecting it, haven’t we?

Who would have thought we would get to this point, even despite all the anticipation. It sure makes great TV… or at least TV that makes you cringe. But still, to many of us, the campaign had not gotten half as ugly or entertaining as we would have been anticipating. But let’s leave it at that.

On the one hand, we have a billionaire loudmouth who thrives on spewing offensive gibberish and brags about his deliberate manipulation of the government to prove his point about government corruption. On the other hand, we have an apparently duplicitous politician, who is either shamelessly or bravely defiant in the face of even the most reasonable calls to accountability and who apparently has more than half of the media in her pocket.

It is almost beyond doubt that the leaks of the Access Hollywood Tape, in which Trump jokes about groping women, which could be tantamount to sexual assault, is disqualifying to many voters. As expected, many Republicans withdrew their support following the unacceptable comment. The revelation of such an unprecedented scandal earlier would have meant that Trump possibly would not have been nominated in the first place.

But you do not exactly have to be a pundit or have a mass communication degree to know how the media is playing its own part in manipulating public opinion, apart from the alleged hacks backed by Russia. As TMZ reports, NBC has been sitting on the tape for a while now. Imagine how different things would have been had the liberal media not held back its punches during the Republican primaries. No wonder Hillary Clinton must be thanking her stars she is running against Trump. Unless he wins of course.

However, it remains to be seen whether the much ignored Wikileaks revelations of Hillary Clinton’s emails and Wall Street speeches and those of her campaign manager John Podesta would prove even half as damning as the former. In other words, they won’t. It would have been a very different election had a serious, traditional candidate from the Republican Party like Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been competing with Hillary Clinton.

One way or the other, it is an election from hell and probably offers the worst choices to make at this juncture in world history. At least on the Republican ticket because you could have expected only worse on others. The third party choices are even more terrible, even though Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are probably the sanest persons you would find in the Libertarian leadership. And let us not even get started on the Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Some even believe that it is the ugliest election in the US history, bitterly dividing society and ending friendships. But for things that matter, we could not have asked for worse candidates at such a dangerous time in world history when Russia and Iran are at odds with the Western world over a strategic pressure cooker in Aleppo. But it also offers an insight into the mind of the voter. Just when the world needs the US to intervene in the Middle East the most, all of a sudden everyone has turned isolationist, regardless of the party.

It is only sad that at a time when we are facing arguably the biggest humanitarian and peace crisis since World War II, we are condemned with such a non-serious election for the most important position in the world. It is at times like these when you wonder whether too much power has been vested in the hands of the American voter who ultimately decide the fate of the world with their judgment. It is almost scary but nothing is more important than the democratic process.

This is precisely the reason we needed more intellectual Republican leadership at this point, which is what I had in mind when I wrote about Republicans being the right choice for fighting the Islamic State a few months back. Ironically, that is why Hillary Clinton is probably almost perfect for leading the world at this point because she is the closest thing. Because for whatever reason, Donald Trump chose to run on a populist platform.

Hillary Clinton possibly would be a significant improvement over Obama if her secret hawkish identity is to be believed. She is no way better than a traditional Republican when it comes to dealing with the chaos that ISIL is creating in the Middle East, especially if she insists on continuing President Obama’s shortsighted policies of maintaining the military vacuum in the region. But she is by far the best her party could offer any time in the foreseeable future.

The only reason why Hillary Clinton sounds so dangerous to people like me is her insistence to stick with President Obama’s policies on Iraq and Syria. You know, four more years of Obama. Of course, precisely the opposite for more liberal and isolationist voters, which is the general mood of the American public. But it is something that would prevent me from pulling the lever for her. But you cannot be sure if Hillary Clinton is to be blamed for it too much, especially due to the Obama and Bernie Sanders effect in her party.

As so many Wikileaks documents have revealed about her, let us just hope that is only a view she reserves for the general public. Let us just hope she really is the hawk that everyone accuses her to be. If anything, the duplicity of a politician instead of candid honesty could be a blessing in disguise in this crazy, surreal election.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Let’s Accept Porn

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

What is the best response to a government that proactively blocks porn websites and going out of its way to do so?

The answer is to openly and unashamedly embrace porn, regardless of the attacks from religious conservative and liberal moralists.

In the latest episode, the Pakistan government has moved to block 400,000 porn websites. You can either mourn the indirect ill effects of this monstrous but “necessary” step of internet censorship, or simply call a spade a spade.

Blocking porn is plain and simply wrong. Porn is not. Neither is it immoral. Only the people who act like moral police are.

There is no surprise that the government’s campaign has brought out their usual idiocy and inefficiency of blocking completely unrelated content. What else are you going to expect from a government that is so obsessed with taking public morality measures?

Thanks to our authoritarian government, accessing pornography and erotica could become a human rights issue, if it is not already. Blocking pornography is often justified by religious and moral decency. However, any religious freedom that curtails any other freedoms should be abolished, particularly in this case the access to pornography.

There has been no shortage of criticism, but pretty much all of them have always sounded more like indirect apologies for the supposedly inevitable action. As if it is alright to block porn. They would rightfully mourn the loss of platforms such as tumblr, for not being pornographic, with some accounts possibly containing links to some pornographic material. However, they would completely ignore the loss of access to thousands of porn websites important to millions of others.

For various understandable personal and professional reasons, activists and journalists avoid being vocal against blocking porn. Doing so could be deemed as its endorsement, no wonder a discussion about porn jumps immediately to child pornography (talk about red herring), even if some of them may not have substantial objections to the access of pornography privately.

This is why it is not only necessary for citizens and internet watchdogs to respond to the legal aspects of such internet censorship, but also address the terrible morality of it. And it is important to point out that blocking an adult’s access to pornography is morally objectionable, instead of the pornography content itself.

When the internet started, it became the paradise for libertarians and anarchists. But soon, the ill effects of the freedoms of anonymity began to show as the deep web became the comfortable hideout for data hackers, financial criminals, identity thieves, digital blackmailers, and harassers.

Taking action against them became necessary and the government had to establish its presence online to counter the unrelenting wave of cybercrime which became hard to ignore. With such measures, the governments of the world also took it upon themselves to filter and censor access to information on the internet as it suited their respective ideologies. And why the hell not? In a way, the internet came from the government anyway.

Just like various made up crimes in the penal code of Pakistan, such as blasphemy, attempt to commit suicide and gambling, possessing or displaying pornography or “obscene objects” is yet another crime. We need to convince our lawmakers that it is not, and being guilty about it is not going to help.

There is no need to feel discouraged by reports from journalistic sources crooked with respective ideological agenda such as Fox News and Huffington Post shaming Pakistan for accessing pornography. If indeed these reports are true, let us be proud of them. There is also no need to be ashamed by people discounting the right of accessing pornography of a Muslim majority population, only reflective of common people’s pursuit of freedom.

There is only one way to make voices matter in an environment of suppression. That is to be clear about your rights of freedom of access and freedom of expression.

So let’s not beat about the bush and be vocal about the morality of censorship.

Let’s allow access.

Let’s accept porn.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Bringing down the Sharifs

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

The Panama Leaks are the sort of story that was needed to shake the firm grasp of the Sharif family on the politics of Punjab.

Unlike the uproar in the media and warnings of a protest movement from PTI chairman Imran Khan, I am not convinced that the people of Pakistan are particularly bothered by the revelations in the Panama leaks. To some people, avoiding tax payment is a terrible sin, but let’s admit it, most people in Pakistan hardly believe in paying taxes or trusting the government with their money. Others consider smuggling fair trade. These views may outrage many liberals, but people are free to see the world that way.

Naturally, most businessmen and investors, particularly those who fear their assets would be frozen by a certain state for political reasons, would be attracted to offshore tax havens. Or perhaps they have a genuine desire of paying low taxes. In the past, the Swiss accounts of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari have been a matter of major controversy, and now the offshore assets of the Sharif family have surfaced.

To many people, the crime of the PML-N leaders lying about their offshore assets is far worse than the act of possible tax evasion. They would have to produce clean taxation and remittances records to eliminate the suspicion of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, such behavior seems more suited to businessmen than the leading political family in a developing nation.

However, what makes the leaders of the PML-N the hypocrites of the highest order is that they have gone to all lengths to demonize the PPP leadership for what they have been obviously doing themselves. 1999 actually taught them a lesson that heads of state not only need a haven for their financial assets but one for political asylum as well.

Instead of freaking out by Panama Leaks, it does not hurt to be optimistic about their aftermath. Personally, I would not like to see the Prime Minister go as long as he ends up clarifying his position, as did Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain. However, if he fails to present a strong case and succumbs to the pressure of the opposition, good riddance.

Some people are also seeing the military intervening as the ultimate solution for accountability as always, but nothing would be more disastrous for the progress of democracy. At least, for the development of the economy and services to the people of Pakistan.

In any event, you cannot ignore the fact that the Sharif brothers have become a bit too comfortable in their almost absolute political power in Punjab. The landslide in the last election stunned the rest of the parties, but their continual abuse of power hardly goes unnoticed as well.

A strong opposition, and ideally alternate terms for different parties, is good for democracy. Historically, Punjab does vote to balance the power between two leading parties, but due to the popular emergence of PTI, the opposition vote has been divided between PTI and PPP.

The PML-N infrastructure projects particularly require continuation of terms, but regardless of whether the party is good for the country, or at least Punjab, they need to be challenged. The PTI and the PPP will probably not find a better opportunity to strike a dent in the formidable wall of the political support of the PML-N in Punjab. In terms of producing electoral results, both the political parties would have to set aside differences and form an alliance in Punjab.

While the metro bus projects have been much the needed mass transit in the urban areas in Punjab, at least the twin cities, they reflect on how executive power is exercised in Pakistan by political governments. PTI and other liberal critics also make sense when they make a case for the lack of government funds in the health sector while such mega projects are being developed.

Opposition parties sense instinctively that something is wrong with this spending pattern, but are not able to make an effective case for some reason.

Unfortunately, the idea of limiting the executive power is not popular in Pakistani politics. As a matter of fact, these very opposition parties, with the possible exception of PPP, would favor more executive power, so that they are able to exercise it when they are in power. After all, elections are about getting things done.

So while we need to address the problem of corruption and tax evasion, the procedures on government spending and the permitted abuse of executive power need to be taken into account as well.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Time to Start Rejecting Mosques

Source: AP/Dawn

Source: AP/Dawn

Think about it. Why should we continue to support a group that is actively destroying our homes, cities, public infrastructure, lives and livelihood?

Why should we continue to support a group that is pitting brother against brother, citizen against citizen and promoting discrimination?

So let’s start rejecting their mosques, their sermons and their processions and give peace and love a chance. And if you cannot do without praying, at least stop funding them or donating to them.

Can we promise ourselves to hold back our charity whenever asked for a donation for a mosque?

There is no need to expect any different from them. You are not going to hear anything peaceful and sane out of these pulpits. All love that they reserve is for the Prophet, which always spells out as trouble for the sinful human beings living in the immediate vicinity of these utterances.

It is the students of these seminaries of hate and ignorance which bred enough hate to render a young man heartless enough to kill innocent Christian women and children. The same mosques have indoctrinated enough toxic hate in the hearts of millions in the name of love for the Prophet to call for killings and destroy public and private property.

The heartbreaking tragedy striking the helpless citizens of Lahore is nothing new from the enemies of this country. However, the disgusting display by the Sunni Tehreek, which should be declared a terrorist organization, and affiliated criminals in Islamabad on March 27 is an eye-opener to all. It has not happened for the first time and probably not for the last time, but the sheer audacity and absurdity with which completely unreasonable demands are made are unacceptable.

To add insult to injury, the Sunni Tehreek is distancing from the violence it unleashed on the capital and making the lives of its citizens miserable. Things get even better with their hideously ignorant and criminal demands it has put forth by gracefully offering to negotiate with the helpless government, whose leniency in letting these criminals wreak havoc is unforgivably disheartening and disappointing.

They are asking the government to glorify a convicted criminal and to give them a carte blanche to murder whoever they want in the name of the love of the Prophet. Not only does this challenge the highest courts of the state, but any standard of humanity and moral decency.

The fearlessness of these groups that is born out of never ever being questioned must be eliminated with an iron fist.

Why should we continue to be hostage to the mullahs who are hostile to our country, our law and our lives?

This is why we need to reject attendance in mosques.

There is a reason why I am saying this.

Personally, I have always considered mosques pulpits of hate and ignorance. However, religion is a necessity in a society like Pakistan, and if you deny that, odds are you don’t understand its makeup. Religion is closely linked with rites of passage and personal and social events such as birth, marriage and death.

Nevertheless, the more people continue to pray in mosques and listen to their hateful, blackmailing sermons, the more they are going to be under the influence. It is the constant exposure to the mosque and the sermon of the hateful mullah that has induced the tolerance of the liberties taken by religious extremists.

Liberals are busy trying to create a new Islam, particularly in the West, trying to fight extremism in their own way. While I wish them well, the realities of the faith in Muslim majority states are far from their utopian cherry picking and eloquent apologies. Therefore, perhaps aversion from the poisonous words of the cleric and religious scholar is a start to purge the venom.

So let the mullahs hear this message of rejection of their hateful mosques loud and clear.

At least until they can prove they are otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.