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.

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.

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.

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.