Tightening the Authoritarian Noose Around the People’s Neck

Source: flare.pk

Pakistan is not a country we should feel proud of anymore. It has increasingly become an entity that is acting hostile to the people it is supposed to stand for. This is clear and evident by the recent curbs on political freedom and freedom of speech in the current year reminiscent of the years of the military dictatorship in the country. However, the comment of the current Chairman PTA, who happens to be a military officer (surprise, surprise) is unprecedented.

The PTA Chairman Maj. Gen. (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa, whose name sounds eerily related to the current Army Chief, said that social media in Pakistan should be blocked in the manner of China and the UAE. He recommended that Pakistan should develop its own social media channels to allow for state censorship and censor inappropriate content. Appointed in December 2018, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, General Bajwa mainly focused on “blasphemous content” to make his case of taking away the right of citizens to use social media to express their voices. If anyone had doubts about democracy being under threat in Pakistan, this statement should remove it.

The Chairman PTA was testifying to the Senate panel examining purported grievances where he remarked that “either the technical abilities of the organization be enhanced or the allow them to block social media websites to stop the circulation of blasphemous material.”  Even though nobody is ever going to explain what a retired general is doing serving this position and one which he is most likely not qualified for, his comments will largely go unaccounted for other than some fringe criticism on the social media of all the places. Nobody is going to mention it on the mainstream media and any criticism on the national news is improbable.

Surely, for the PTA chairman, blocking more than 850,000 porn and news websites are not enough. It is pretty clear that for these state authoritarians, it is not nearly enough. They want to go after the internet itself and if not the internet connectivity to maintain a facade of modernity, they will neuter it to an unusable state-regulated version.

With the launch of CPEC development projects and the rolling out of the optic fiber link from Khunjerab to Gwadar, one of the biggest fears is the Chinese internet spilling over into Pakistan. While thankfully the CPEC projects in Pakistan have appeared to slow down, it has nevertheless inspired the civil and military bureaucratic despots at the reins of administration in this country.

Unfortunately, the narratives these anti-democratic forces have nurtured for the past seventy years have duped well-meaning conservative citizens into believing that their civil rights and political freedoms are bad for them and for the country. Even in the name of blasphemy and national security, there is no shortage of urban nationalist conservatives in the country who would gladly sacrifice the internet as a public enemy.

The greatest tragedy of all is the fascist administration of PTI, a party that was pretty much built by and through the power of social media, other than a little help of our military establishment of late. More than the duplicitous and malicious leadership of the PTI, the people who would be the greatest losers are the urban educated voters of the party who look down upon the traditional and less privileged voters all across Pakistan. The government they voted in might be infringing on their rights but they have a choice to speak up. Pretty soon this little freedom we have will be gone.

Pakistan still has a lot to lose, which it continues to lose every day.

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The Potential Menace of Islamist Politics

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

For a long time, I have held this rather well meaning but terrible belief that Islamist or religious parties should participate in democracy. Now I must say that I realize the gravity of such disastrous ideas.

Probably the most underestimated factor in democracy is that church and state should be separate. Not only is that fact being undermined in countries with Muslim majority population, but also in some Western and perceivably more democratic nations.

In Pakistan, however, the problem is particularly disturbing. Even though the Jamaat-e-Islami gets very little love at the polling booth, a large number of people agree with their populist Islamist rhetoric. This is a problem when anyone who wants to see democratic value flourishing in a country with such a poor track record in the subject.

Belief in Islamism and the tenets of Islam in general encourage a draconian system of governance and a violent medieval system of justice, contrary to freedom and democracy. If this statement sounds like an Islamophobic sweeping rant, then consider the following statement by former Jamaat-e-Islami Emir Syed Munnawar Hassan.

Syed Munnawar Hassan just called for Qital Fisabeelilah or murder in the name of God in order to fight oppression. While this sounds just like a noble call for the righteous kill from the Bolshevik revolutionary in your high school mate, it is a far more dangerous than militant socialism, or even authoritative conservatism for that matter.

When an Islamist leader calls for something, he or she, pardon me it’s always going to be a he, is always going to invoke the name of God for any action. Since religious people in general and Muslims in particular are conditioned not to question religious authority, they are bound by whatever sort of decree comes down upon them. Their potential for menace is far greater than what most people imagine.

It’s not that Jamaat-e-Islami, or other Islamist and other religious parties for that matter, should be banned for statements such as these. Instances like these only show how dangerous they are. They should be banned anyway because they endorse and promise to enforce undemocratic or religious principles.

I understand the dilemma of our secular politicians allowing the religious parties to live with them. They are afraid of their violent backlash if they are not allowed to maneuver politically.

However, if the Communist Party of Pakistan can be banned for all its undemocratic values, by ironically a military dictator without any violent resistance from them, why should we treat the Jamaat-e-Islami any differently? I would always endorse serious violent crackdown on Islamist parties in case they try rioting or disturbing the peace and quiet of our cities.

Apparently, there is a lot of hope in the Pakistani society as you see great resistance to the political ambitions of Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that is linked to Muslim Brotherhood and has sympathies  for, if not possible connections to, Al Qaeda. You would see the most conservative quarters rejecting JI candidates. A JI candidate has not won a major seat in Punjab or interior Sindh in my living memory.

However, there is no shortage of well meaning and religiously bound idiots who would still endorse Islamic system of governance and Shariah. As if giving up their freedoms would redeem them. A more dangerous breed among them recognizes that only religious parties can truly enforce this system of governance and support Jamaat-e-Islami without holding back.

Just imagine the horror of an Islamist group gaining access to power through a democratic process, when they should actually not even be participating in it. The irony.

So it is a disappointment when I see Information Minister Pervez Rasheed speaking at an anti-Israeli rally held by Jamaat-e-Islami. Or Governor Punjab validating their political forum by offering them a speaking appointment.

We must come to our senses before we end up destroying whatever democracy we have left. We must also understand that democracy must have no room for religious political parties. All the more reason for a secular constitution.

In other words, Jamaat-e-Islami should be banned.

Note: As published in The Nation blog.