A State of Fascist Silence

Source: Pakistan Today

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

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

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

Source: YouTube video

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder they are called traitors.

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Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2018: Manzoor Pashteen

Source: Rahat Dar/EPA/The Guardian

In a year that has been widely recognized as one of the darkest, if not the worst ever, in terms of free speech in Pakistan, only someone who could take on the state could be the most important free speech hero.

As Pakistan becomes more and more of a police station since the Taliban insurgency and the War on Terror, the state is doubling down on authoritarian security measures. However, in the name of national security, you will often find the voice of political dissidents suppressed.  Such has been the case with Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement is a protest political movement against the active racial profiling against the Pashtuns in Pakistan as well as the missing persons abducted in the aftermath of the Waziristan operations carried out by the Pakistan military. Perhaps this movement would not have gathered such spontaneous support across Pakistan had the discrimination against Pashtuns not reached such pan-national scale. The boiling point came with the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, which triggered nationwide outrage from the Pashtun community, except for the ones too uncomfortably close with the state establishment.

Manzoor Pashteen is important of perhaps all the free speech heroes in Pakistan due to the influence he has been able to exert in a very short time and with no resources at all. And he managed to get under the skin of the Punjabi establishment, a sign of which was the state-backed propaganda against the movement on the mainstream media. The Punjab government even featured his image in an advisory against terrorists. And such state behavior ensued while no action was taken against the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which made openly rebellious statements and perhaps contributed to pushing the limits of free speech in Pakistan itself.

The PTM is a completely grassroots movement and primarily making use of the social media, the PTM leadership rose and rallied its supporters and sympathizers and now even have two MPs in the parliament. Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, whose names were recently included in the Exit Control List for a while, have been just as vocal about the issues. However, they lack the central attention that Pashteen has been able to garner with his unlikely charisma. His trademark Pashteen cap has become a symbol of defiance and resistance among the PTM supporters.

ANP veterans and secular progressives Senator Afrasiab Khattak and former MP Bushra Gohar were suspended from party membership due to their sympathy for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and outspoken rhetoric against the military establishment. They are doing their bit to make the PTM grievances more mainstream, while also sending a message how the movement is larger than partisan agenda, considering how the state has been portraying Manzoor Pashteen as more or less treasonous. Whether his campaign will be any more effective than it is, considering how politically passive the rest of Pakistan is becoming under a strict suppression of dissent, it is yet to be seen.

It was not just the pro-PTM lawmakers who had a hard time in terms of expulsions and blacklistings on the Exit Control List. Award-winning human rights activists were not immune from the penalty too. Gulalai Ismail, an ethnic Pashtun who has been recognized by the Government of France on her work on her NGO project “Aware Girls” was the biggest victim in the anti-PTM witchhunt by the state. A girl who used to be a hero is now interrogated by the FIA on arrival and her name has been put on the Exit Control List.

In a year that saw major assaults on free speech in Pakistan, there is no shortage of heroes here. The Pakistani journalist, in general, suffered a very difficult year in 2018. This year marked the violation of the boundaries of the Karachi Press Club, something which had never even occurred in the darkest days under General Zia according to Ghazi Salahuddin. Journalists Taha S. Siddiqui and Gul Bukhari have been two major names as well. Taha was assaulted and chased by armed men in civilian clothing but who obviously had the state’s agenda to carry out against journalists who were doing inconvenient reporting. Before his name could have been put on the Exit Control List, he managed to make a safe exit to France. The clearly pro-PML-N Gul Bukhari, who was also abducted briefly by similar mysterious people, has been vocal against the military establishment and the incumbent PTI government. Both of them are still vocal against the state establishment on social media.

Source: The Daily Times

Another great free speech hero that cannot be commended enough not only for his contribution to free speech in Pakistan but for his service in general to humanity is Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer of Asia Bibi. Asia Bibi was sentenced to death according to the It was his tireless efforts and advocacy that eventually helped overturn the death sentence of Asia Bibi and paved way for the Supreme Court to acquit her of the alleged charges. Now considering how hospitable Pakistan is to any such citizen, it is not a surprise that Saif-ul-Malook had to leave Pakistan and has now reportedly taken temporary asylum in the Netherlands.

Ali Raza Abidi, the former MQM MP, who has been openly critical of the incumbent government and was also estranged with the MQM leadership, also got silenced by unknown forces this Christmas. His assassination is a reminder that individual thought and secular liberal minds remain to be an endangered and threatened species in this country.

Finally, probably the greatest free speech hero we will ever have passed away earlier this year. Asma Jahangir who will remain to be the guiding beacon for people pursuing

As long as Pakistan remains a battleground for free speech, we will continue to see such obvious and unlikely heroes emerge.

Read about the Pakistan free speech hero for the year 2017 here.

How We Treat Our Heroes

Source: Pakistan Today

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

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

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

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

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

A New Low for the Pakistani State Every Day

Source: rferl.org

Just when you thought that the Pakistani state could not stoop any lower, it surprised you with its latest achievement. Although you really shouldn’t be surprised and probably many were not when they learned about the arrest of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail. Gulalai is a young Pashtun woman who has been vocal about women’s digital rights and free speech and has been recognized for her contribution abroad as well.

The cause for Gulalai’s arrest was her support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Pashteen, who has largely been dubbed as a traitor by the Pakistani state establishment. Gulalai was arrested immediately on her arrival in Islamabad from her tour and her name was put on the Exit Control List, a blacklist supposed to prevent citizens from traveling outside Pakistan. While she has been released on interim bail, the case against her by the FIA stands as her home in Swabi was also raided for her arrest.

Gulalai is a well-respected figure not just in Pakistan but globally for her work in human rights. Founder of NGO Aware Girls, focused on women’s rights and leadership, she has received the Chirac Prize for conflict prevention in France and there was no wonder it wasn’t long before Amnesty International was calling for her release.

It only goes to show the impunity of the Pakistani state and their sheer disregard of not even sparing human rights activists of an international repute. You can only imagine how the authorities must be treating more obscure political dissenters and human rights activists. You can accuse people like Malala and Gulalai of privilege as compared to their fellow citizens, even though that would be unfair, but figures like them become symbols of resistance when the struggle of the common man goes unnoticed.

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The way the Pashtun population has been treated in recent years, especially since the recent Swat and Waziristan operations and the APS incident, has been a disgrace, to say the least. They are particularly discriminated against at military check posts and the way the Punjabi establishment has been painting non-violent grassroots leaders like Manzoor Pashteen as terrorists in their public broadcasts has been simply unacceptable. Such an ad has been airing of late and the embarrassed Punjab government was forced to pull it off.

The Pakistani state must seriously reconsider the way it treats its citizens and must put an end to its long history of undemocratic authoritarianism if it wants democracy to flourish. That clearly has not been the goal of the civil and military bureaucratic establishment in the country.

Pakistan must keep in mind before lecturing other countries on human rights.