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.

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Unleashing Cricket Bigotry

Source: The Sun

The Pakistan Afghanistan cricket game in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 was perhaps the darkest moment in the sporting event, politically speaking. Even though I cannot speak much for the Afghan side, but it is safe to say that the game brought out the worst in both the nations, at least among the rioting fans in the stands. Afghan and Pakistan fans brawled on more than one occasion after the game, clearly due to the verbal exchanges.

The game surely brought out the ugly, racist, and xenophobic side of Pakistan. The Pakistan twitter was terrible enough to trend “Pakistan v Namak Haraams,” an expression used for unfaithful traitors. Pakistanis particularly have a problem with the Indian Cricket Board supporting the Afghan team and providing it with a home base, something which the Pakistan Cricket Board offered earlier. Of course, the Indian “interferences” in Afghanistan, whether political or sporting, threaten the national security of Pakistan. So while we hate the Afghans, we need to be in charge of everything about Afghanistan.

In order to eloquently express and represent the sentiment of the nation about their Afghan brothers, Rawalpindi fast bowler Shoaib Akhter stepped up. With all the anti-Afghan bigotry he could absorb from my hometown, he repeated all the usual tropes, only stopping at not directly calling the immigrants parasitic, though he pretty much implied it. He probably took it down from his twitter later but this video has been saved for all posterity.

Even in Leeds, the venue for the game, the political atmosphere was full of tension. The Baluch and Afghan political activists found it the perfect opportunity to highlight the human rights violations in Baluchistan. A skywriting plane was carrying the message of “Justice for Baluchistan” and “End Forced Disappearances.” The “End Forced Disappearances” campaign has been making its appearance on public signage and newspaper front pages as well, which the patriotic British citizens of Pakistani origin have been tearing and destroying every chance they got in their exercise of “free expression.”


The playbook of the Pakistani xenophobes and racist nationalists, who are far worse than Trump’s base, attack Afghans in a standard fashion. For the usual part, they blame them as burdens on the economy and a source of crime. You can safely say that this xenophobia is prevalent from Peshawar and Gilgit-Baltistan to Islamabad and Karachi. The narrative also blames them for not being faithful enough for Pakistan even though it has given their refugees asylum for more than thirty years, even though it has refrained to allow citizenship to most of them.

Interestingly enough, the Pakistani nationalists believe the Afghan refugees owe Pakistan something for destroying their home country.

Gul Bukhari, the Pakistani dissident journalist, put the response to this baseless allegation by Pakistani nationalists in this tweet. With someone asking her if there are a more ungrateful people than the Afghans (who never repaid Pakistan’s generosity in kind), she summed up the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan political equation. Indeed they are a very ungrateful nation. We have been on the forefront for imposing war on them for forty years, pocketed dollars on account of Afghan refugees, and have imposed the Taliban on them to this day. With all the generosity, they have not bothered to thank (Pakistan) once. 

Pakistan almost lost the match against Afghanistan on June 29, but our people have certainly lost the moral high ground they think they always had.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2018: Asma Jahangir

Source: United Nations/RFE-RL

A lot of people may not feel this way but perhaps there was not a Pakistani that was more important and critical to the country than Asma Jehangir. And this realization has become even greater with her death earlier this year. Asma Jehangir was easily the leading activist for secular democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in Pakistan. The realization of this void has only made the secular liberals and progressives in Pakistan realize about the grave challenges ahead of them.

Asma Jahangir was the brains behind the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and has also served as the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights for the United Nations. It is most remarkable how women tend to stand out in Pakistan for human rights efforts. While there is a long list of women who have broken through the shackles of an authoritarian, patriarchal state, the courage and initiative of Asma Jahangir were exceptional. She was also post-humously awarded the UN Human Rights Prize. Her work has inspired a generation in terms of the awareness of democracy and fundamental human rights, especially that of the oppressed women of the country.

One of the factors behind her position of moral authority was her non-partisan status. Not only was Asma Jehangir the leading crusader for human rights but she was also the biggest critic of the military establishment and their interventions in the political landscape of the country. However, it is only left to our imagination how she could have influenced the political landscape of a country in a partisan political position with a more authoritative role in the government.

The pro-democracy activists and political workers who have been left no choice but to clash with the military establishment is her legacy and that of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The organic support that Benazir Bhutto. Asma Jehangir was keeping the spirit of Benazir Bhutto and that of the scattered Pakistan left progressives alive in our times. This is why you will only find center-left groups mostly celebrating her and mourning her loss in Pakistan.

Source: Dawn/AFP

Another figure who has been instrumental in resisting and pushing democracy in the legacy of Asma Jehangir and the great Benazir Bhutto is Maryam Nawaz Sharif. The daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been influential in changing the face of PML-N from a traditionalist center-right party to perhaps the only popular establishment political force in Punjab. Maryam Nawaz Sharif has currently taken the role in a struggle that Benazir Bhutto was going through in 1996 and throughout the rest of her life in exile. Nevertheless, confident in her father’s ability to make a political come back, she is standing her ground against the military establishment for civilian supremacy.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif has remained defiant in the face of incarceration for controversial accountability court verdicts, which are nothing new in Pakistan’s political history, along with her father who was dismissed from the position of Prime Minister in July 2018. This was the 3rd interrupted term of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been elected to the office more than any other person in the history of Pakistan. Like 1997, his election in 2013 also occurred with a landslide majority offering them legislative freedom that was only limited by the control of the upper house by the PPP.

Source: Dawn

Maryam Nawaz is perhaps going to be the most important political figure in the years to come. However, her commitment to democracy and civilian supremacy will remain to be tested in the years to come, especially with regressive leaders such as her own husband Captain Safdar contaminating an otherwise reasonable party.

Of course, the winners this year were the First Couple, and the year of the triumph of Imran Khan finally came in 2018. His influence on Pakistan and especially that of his First Lady and the Army Chief in shaping the first six months of his administration and will remain to be pivotal in the years to come.

Happy New Year and here’s to another year in Pakistan.

Read about my Pakistani of the year 2017 here.

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.

RIP John McCain: The Senate Just Lost the Maverick

Source: ABC World News Tonight

War hero, Prisoner of War, an unapologetic and fierce defender of freedom, and a voice of reason and sanity in the Senate, John McCain of Arizona has finally succumbed to cancer after a recent diagnosis. He did not go down without a fight as usual but even someone like him knows when to stop wasting your energy on a lost cause. You can’t win every battle and you are not meant to.

Take the 2008 election for an example. Who could have been a more obvious . He probably would have been a sensible choice, had Senator Leiberman decided not to sabotage his campaign by pulling out. A lot can be said of course about how he handled that campaign, particularly the disastrous choice of picking Sarah Palin as the running mate. Especially with the persepective that if the popular but divisive Obama Presidency could be avoided, you could argue that things would have been a lot different in Syria today. However, even the staunchest of Democrat will attest to the dignity with which he ran the campaign. Compared to more recent politics, McCain almost sounds like a saintly figure despite being a Republican hawk.

Much is being said about the heroics of the man but few are focusing on the gulf he is leaving in the US Senate. Not only in the Senate and the GOP, but in American politics, he is leaving very big shoes to be filled in. One of the most important qualities of John McCain’s political career was his independence of views despite whatever was popular in the party. He often did not care about the party line and voted his conscience and stood up for issues when people least expected. He took a stand against torture and waterboarding as an unAmerican and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war, probably inspired by the unspeakable torture he suffered in Vietnam’s most notorious detention camps.

Lately, he stood up to the madness of President Donald Trump when very few in his party such as Governor John Kasich, at least in the elected office, had the courage to do so. His latest act of defiance came when President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans made their only real effort for a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare or Affordable Healthcare Act put into place during the term of President Barack Obama.

Where the passing of John McCain is even more tragic is the state of politics in which he has left America. Aftter the loss of Hillary Clinton and the seat left vacant by his death, sensible centrist leaders are becoming a rarety in American politics. While you could argue that the majority of Democratic and Republican Senators and Congressmen and women are still centrist liberals, the shift toward more extreme right and left has been prominent in the recent years and it is only going to get worse. While the respective groups might have their own reasons for their ideological polarization, primarily being the deadlock of the Congress and the establishment status quo (even though they might miss the status quo when it’s gone), there are quite a few reasons why centrist liberalism in America is important.

First of all, it is important to preserve the free market enterprise in the United States without making certain sections of the economy too heavily dependent on the government. Secondly, it is important to preserve the secular state of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which makes the United States of America such an exceptional democracy. Finally, it is important to keep the United States an interventionist power that establishes and exercises its political influence around the world and ensure to defend freedom of the citizens of the world where it is threatened.

Often accused of being a “warmonger,” Senator John McCain was the leader who was making a moral argument for the United States to take action when the Syrian Government was using chemical weapons against its own citizens. In fact, he was pushing for action against both the Assad regime and the Islamic State. All this time, President Obama chose to resist the idea of increased military conflict in the area, leading to massive losses suffered by the Kurds and Yazidis in the North and the failure of the Free Syrian Army to find any major breakthroughs. Obviously, it was not a priority for either President Obama or his Democratic base, or even the Republicans for that matter. Perhaps blame it on the lethargy caused by the two-term war-torn Bush Presidency and that was probably what also led to the comprehensive defeat of McCain in the 2008 election with Obama’s landmark campaign of Hope and Change.

Since President Obama’s term, and especially during the current scandal-infested term of President Donald Trump, American moral leadership around the world has significantly weakened. Unfortunately, even the American public has never been more unenthusiastic about the affairs around the globe and we have recently been seeing more isolationist turns taken in the popular politics. The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are a part of this trend in a time when China and Russia are coming back strongly in terms of establishing their hegemony on a global level. This only tells of much darker times ahead with these totalitarian powers gaining greater political influence.

The problem is that there is no other leader in sight who could take up a stand like this again. There is no other leader who could defend the idea of the American Empire like this. And that is what we mourn today more than the death of a towering figure in not only American, but both liberal and conservative, politics.

Asma Jahangir: Mourning Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero

Source: refrl.org

What we had feared for long finally happened this dull Sunday afternoon.

I often used to wonder how in the world Asma Jahangir was alive and well in a country where bloggers are getting abducted for criticizing the establishment and where journalists are getting murdered and attacked in the light of the day. I often used to wonder how this brave lawyer woman can get away with how openly and aggressively she attacked the bureaucratic oligarchy ruling this country.

Perhaps she was a part of that privileged class too but at least she spoke out about those who lacked it. She successfully managed to separate from the filth of the complacent privileged classes (which most of us in Pakistan, at least from urban Punjab, are connected to in way or another) by calling them out on their hypocrisy. She did so by speaking out for the helpless and the unprivileged.

She genuinely spoke out for the cause of democracy and human rights and in the meantime, even confronted politicians from all parties and even judges when she had to. Her fairminded activism earned her the position of the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights Council on Iran which magnified her voice on a global scale. Of course, her diplomatic role for the UN which only made a good name for Pakistan was seen as a traitorous act. But enough of the international impact.

She always knew that the real battleground was back at home in Pakistan, where the state of human rights was as abysmal as anywhere in this world. Could have immigrated to a Western country any day.

As unimaginable her death was to her followers and admirers, it only brought to surface the venomous bigotry that she had been fighting her entire life. Widely hailed as the conscience of the nation by several obituaries following her passing, this was how a large section of our urban population was treating someone who stood up for their very rights. Of course, anyone who had a different idea of living their lives other than the prescribed bigoted and suffocating convention in Pakistan is considered an Indian, Israeli or American agent.

Another one of the reasons why she will be so badly missed and has been irreplaceable is that she could say unimaginably brave things and get away with it. But at least she led by example and showed that it could be done. The question really is not what would have happened to another person, it is that nobody else dared to go even close.

In the end, there have been several calls to offer her a state funeral, with the most prominent one made by the Chief Minister Sindh. While the idea sounds great in theory, just imagine for a minute. Wouldn’t it have been the greatest insult to her legacy? Why would a discriminatory state mar the honor of her funeral? Why should the national flag obscure her individuality and her singular message of freedom and human rights for all?

She never needed a certificate of patriotism from anyone.

Source: geo.tv

When you are a hero, even your funeral becomes a symbol of resistance against ignorance.

Unbelievably, her funeral even became an object of conspiracy when orthodox misogynist Muslims condemned those mourning her to mix genders at the funeral prayer. These sort of opinions and the sort she fought all her lives might sound absurd in a parallel universe. But sad enough, they are a fact of life and have undoubtedly outlived Asma Jahangir.

This is why we are mourning the departure of Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero as we celebrated her life.

May God have mercy on us.

The Bigger Butcher is the Bigger Patriot

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

We should have no illusions in our minds about the moral standards prevalent in Pakistan.

“Civil rights” is an expression hardly ever heard in public discourse in Pakistan. And those who try to somehow, unconsciously mention a reference to it, are forced to make an apology and elaborately explain how they never meant any harm. Or any good, that is. And we get reminders from time to time of the appalling state of our morals.

The election legislation pushed by the ruling PML-N has somehow raised alarms, led by McCarthyists such as Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and his able patrons, who cried foul play with the country’s law regarding “The Finality of Prophethood.” Since then, officials such as Law Minister Zaid Hamid needs to recite the testimony to faith and the finality of Prophethood every time he makes a public appearance.

This has since started a renewed oath and reiteration of organized, institutionalized bigotry against Ahmedis, a relatively new sect of Islam of Punjabi origins which appears very reformist in its approach to many. Whatever their theology may be, the state of Pakistan has basically taken upon itself since the election of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to wage war on them. They had apparently “settled the Ahmedi question” by introducing the Second Amendment, formally excommunicating them from the faith of Islam by the decree of the Government of Pakistan.

Of course, the Pakistani public does not see it this way, but the Ahmedi population of the country and the diaspora considers this policy as discrimination of extreme proportions. It might be an exaggeration but some Ahmedi activists have even compared the national policy to Apartheid laws in South Africa. Others have compared it to the Nazi Germany, considering the tacit public approval of murdering Ahmedis, and how the state has singled out the community in the process of national identity registration.

And there is no way out of this vicious circle for them. The brilliant thing about the anti-Ahmedi Apartheid laws in Pakistan, which are also known as the “Namoos-e-Risalat” or the “Honor of the Prophethood” are that in order to prove yourself a supporter, you need to denounce Ahmedis and endorse the very basis of state persecution. Even blogging voices raising dissenting thoughts such as this one are only confined to very limited circles as openly questioning this policy implies treason and heresy.

So effectively, the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot. The harsher, more brutal you are in your hate toward the Ahmedis, the more loyal and moral you will be deemed in the Pakistani social and political world.

Take our Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for an example, who had to explain how true a Muslim he was after he was accidentally photographed with an American Pakistani who happened to be an Ahmedi. He had no choice but to deconstruct and explain the situation in the show of a morally constipated anchor.

To makes matter even worse for the ruling party alleged to be sympathizing with Ahmedi, which they later proved that they are certainly not by calling for worsening the discriminatory laws, Captain Safdar spoke out in the parliament. The son-in-law of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for the ban of Ahmedis from the military service, oblivious of the proud history of the service of Ahmedis in the military, perhaps one institute which had not been as invasive in its discrimination toward the community. Hopefully, the move must have worked convincing a lot of bigots in PML-N voters of his innocence following the corruption charges on him.

However, even the record of the military cannot undo the Constitutional dilemma of discrimination and inequality in Pakistan. Something which is growing even worse considering the rhetoric and the affirmation from the DG ISPR that the military will remain to be the guardians of the Honor of the Prophethood. We all know what that means. The discriminatory constitutional amendment is going nowhere.

Even the military seems to be helpless in undoing the damage in terms of the civil rights for minority religious groups in Pakistan. Actually many will argue has been one of the political contributors, if not the source, to the mess along with orthodox mullahs.

What are you to do when the national ethos consists of isolating and even butchering fellow citizens who tend to have a different philosophy and viewpoint?

What are you to do when the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot?

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya blogs.