The Televised Slow Killing of Another National Leader

Source: samaa,tv

Pakistan has a history of getting rid of its democratically elected leaders in a manner that is both torturous to them and to their supporters. From Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Akbar Bugti and from Murtaza Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto, there is a long history of the Pakistani deep state establishment influencing the demise of popular leaders. These days, another national leader is being killed slowly and his demise is being televised all across the nation. The only three times Prime Minister in the history of the country, Mian Nawaz Sharif.

The government has been resorting to the petty measures of denying the former Prime Minister proper medical care for several weeks, as promised in Imran Khan’s speech in a Washington D. C. rally, until his situation brought him on the verge of death. He was denied bail repeatedly despite recommendations from his doctors. A patient of heart disease, his level of blood platelets fell to a critical level. Even his kidneys are said to be affected of late and he has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Foul play is not being dismissed as an explanation for his condition.

On the other hand, President Asif Ali Zardari is also being held despite his worsening condition in terms of his cardiac health. His family is being prevented to see him. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is being held on frivolous allegations by NAB and was kept with the death row prisoners. The controversial and corrupt National Accountability Bureau, which was perhaps established to target political victims, remains to be the central body behind the inhuman treatment of national leaders who have not abrogated the constitution or committed treason, unlike their leniency for the former dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Meanwhile, the silence of his supporters and the people of Punjab for a man who has done so much in their service has been deafeningly loud. What is perhaps even worse is the attitude of his brother and current Opposition Leader and former Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the party leaders in his camp who remain silent on his dismal condition. These leaders, which include Former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Former Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, are still rooting for making up with the military and finding a way back into the cozy corridors of power that the Punjab politicians are so used to.

So leaders such as Ahsan Iqbal can bother to hold Kashmir Rallies to please the national security establishment but they will not take it to the streets for the health and safety of his leader. All he could ask for was prayers for his leader on the deathbed, with passively outraging about the brutal measures of the current administration. The PML-N loyalists should never forget how these leaders have behaved in these circumstances when Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif are being incarcerated for political reasons.

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But more than anything, it is the callousness and the indifference of the people of Punjab which hurts the most. They have betrayed yet another political leader who stood up for democracy and civilian supremacy in Pakistan. You would expect that there would be streets erupting with protestors in solidarity with Nawaz Sharif, angry at the kind of abuse he is being subjected to in the prison by the Punjab government.

Had Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman not announced his “Azadi March” against the government, the agenda of which does not even mention the political arrests of the opposition leadership, there would be no protests against the current government. The secular opposition is disappointing who would not even come out on the streets with their leadership on the verge of death and for ceding space to Islamist parties such as the JUI-F.

Nawaz Sharif’s situation has become stable since the scare on October 22 but he is still on his deathbed. Maryam had said much earlier that the government will be responsible if anything happened to Nawaz Sharif. But she can add her uncle’s name and her party leadership to the list of his killers.

The courts finally granted him temporary bail as a desperate measure. His daughter Maryam is still being prevented to see him. And people like Firdaus Ashiq Awan are still making fun of someone struggling for his life.

This is the price of public service in Pakistan.

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.

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.

The Election Day Post: Inching Toward Democracy

Source: Reuters/The Financial Times

Democracy is a very difficult ideal to pursue in Pakistan. And one that is much needed to because of many of even its urban educated people being completely oblivious to its aspects that ensure fundamental rights. However, they are well aware of their right to exercise their vote. They realize the importance of their voice and using that strong . And probably the older generation and rural population are more aware of this right than the cynical and disillusioned urban educated class with all their privilege.

With the presence of a bureaucratic deep state that undermines elected officials at each stage and propagating against them to the general public, we are about to witness the second consecutive civilian administration transferring power in Pakistan’s history. This election was sadly seen as a civil war between those who are for and against state establishment elements. Depending on tonight’s election results, we will supposedly get a referendum on the Panama verdicts and the prison sentence of the Sharifs. But let it be PML-N, PTI or PPP, the good news is that we are inching ahead with our democracy. And I hope that if the PTI wins, it makes a coalition government with the PPP and emphasize on collaboration instead of excluding dissenting elements.

Despite all the measures that the so-called “caretaker administration” and the judiciary have taken to undermine the incumbent PML-N for the anti-establishment stances taken by Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, the results of this election should be unanimously accepted. Despite all the arrests of PML-N workers on the night that Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz unexpectedly returned to Pakistan to accept their prison sentence, despite the midnight sentence against Hanif Abbasi, despite the official orders to curb the coverage of PML-N campaigns, despite all the delayed voting processes, the results of the elections must be unanimously accepted. Despite the widespread reports of military backed engineering echoed all across international media, it is important for us to unanimously accept the results of this election.

That is the best way forward for us, despite the fact that we have never seen darker and more sinister censorship from the military and bureaucratic establishment in Pakistani politics and media in decades. The silver lining is that a leader from Punjab has taken a stand against the military establishment and for the first time in the history of the country, voices of dissent and resistance have risen from the heartland of the military establishment.

This resistance for a better democracy must not go down. It is the way to a fairer, secular, and more democratic constitution.

Doubling Down on the Judicial Coup

Source: Dawn/White Star

Perhaps the judicial bureaucracy had not done enough to ensure a comprehensive ousting of the PML-N leader, they came up with another strike. The judicial coup was completed by the indictment and sentencing of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and curiously enough, his political heir Maryam Nawaz, who has started to play the defiant Benazir lately. The essentially political verdict statement, like the one of his disqualification, was standing on shaky grounds, to say the least. Especially for targeting Maryam Nawaz so heavily. Also, considering how the same judiciary is allowing General Musharraf to contest elections and has allowed the bail to controversial cop Rao Anwar in an extrajudicial killing case.

All the pieces are falling in place, as the “minus-two” understanding between the state establishment and PML-N leadership rule out any chance of an administration that resists the established order. This involves Shahbaz Sharif, the incumbent Chief Minister Punjab, leading the party and becoming the Prime Minister if PML-N wins. It’s just an insurance policy considering how Imran Khan’s huge ego could get in his way when it comes to submitting to their will, unlike in the case of his newly adopted wife-mistress. However, never have we seen PML-N candidates abandon their party tickets like we are seeing now… all because of pressure from the one that is not to be named.

For the military establishment, it does not matter what signal these measures send to the world. Their global reputation they have never cared about. Their policies despite the FATF grey-list development is a testament to that. The Election Commission’s clearance of fundamentalist religious parties, especially Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League, is a testament to that. However, it is their reputation among the Pakistani people that matters, especially in urban Punjab. It is an uprising in the heartland that it cannot afford.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, their reputation among the people of Punjab has been shaken. Before the clash with the PML-N, Punjabis used to issue certificates of patriotism and treason to Bengalis, Sindhis, Baluchs, and Pashtuns. Since Maryam Nawaz, Punjabi leadership has become a national security threat for the first time. But will the most popular political leadership of the country, the recipient of more votes than probably any entity in the history of Pakistan, going to inspire the people enough to get them out on the streets?

Not likely. Punjab has been traditionally politically dormant but never has the order been shaken in this manner. The recent confrontation is probably a reason enough to forgive Nawaz Sharif for seeking the patronage of a military dictator to launch his career. At least why blame Maryam for it?

But the real threat to the perpetuity of democracy remains to be the citizens who stand firmly behind the state bureaucratic establishment. Once we recognize the judicial coups and stop celebrating coups, we may inch closer to democracy.

Captain Safdar and the Lost Conscience of the Nation

Source: Dawn

A question that probably nobody has ever asked is if Pakistan ever had a collective conscience as a nation. Even though the next logical question should be an inquiry whether Pakistan itself is a nation or not. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is.

When it comes to the establishment of our theocracy, we completely lack any sense of morality and justice as a nation. We have utterly failed to produce even a fair and reasonable social contract and, even worse, are not even acknowledging that it is unfair to the religious minorities. Pakistan is indeed morally corrupt for its denial of the need of secularism.

A reflection of the state of morality of the Pakistani nation, at least of its majority, was offered by Captain Safdar on the National Assembly floor at the expense of perhaps the most vulnerable religious minority in the country.

Would the PML-N say that the husband of their probable future leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif is reflective of the official stance of PML-N? Could you say that this politician of no stature at all is appealing to the baser instincts of the conservative supporters by invoking his loyalty to the faith of finality of Prophet, for which you need to openly express your hate for one religious community? Could you say that it was a move to divert attention from the corruption cases against Captain Safdar and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who are facing criminal prosecution?

Could you say that they are playing good cop-bad cop? Challenging the naming of a Quaid-e-Azam University Physics Department named after Dr. Abdus Salam when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his father-in-law and party leader, himself recommended it to be named after the only Physics Nobel laureate in Pakistan’s history.

One way or the other, it is unbelievable that we have such a high place in our society and in our legislator, the highest institution of our democracy. But of course, when the constitution of a country is endorsing discrimination against a group of its citizens and essentially declaring them public enemy number one, how can you blame people like Captain Safdar. However, he particularly moved into very dangerous territory by questioning the national loyalty of Ahmedis and exposing his antisemitic tendencies linked them with Israel and declaring them a security risk.

Even if it was a good cop-bad cop move, the PML-N at least should have made an official statement to distance themselves from the bigotry and nonsense of Captain Safdar. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal did condemn the hate speech but without taking his name. At least it has undone the impact of moderation that the likes of Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif, and even Maryam Nawaz Sharif herself are trying to make.

Even though we have lost our conscience, humanity, and moral compass as a nation, I still need to say this.

Shame on Maryam Nawaz Sharif and shame on PML-N for putting up with this nonsense. And even if it is a deliberate move, the party should know better than this.

Setting The Right Conditions

Source: brecorder.com

Source: brecorder.com

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on a very successful tour to the United States. Earlier, the Army Chief has also met the US National Security Advisor. The United States is selling more F-16 jets to Pakistan, is looking to discuss a civilian nuclear deal, while also asking Pakistan to put the brakes on its growing nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, alongside the Prime Minister’s daughter, the American First Lady has also announced a program for education for girls. All these are very good signs for Pakistan’s future, not only economically, but in terms of defense as well.

As much as we criticize foreign aid, it’s a foreign relations tool that is not going to vanish any time soon enough. Probably countries such as Pakistan cannot do without it, but the United States must ensure that it serves its purpose of strengthening the alliance, and of promoting its interests.

The Jacobabad procession bombing is just a demonstration of how menacing the problem of domestic sectarian terrorism is, even when a massive operation has been conducted against anti-state Islamist terrorists. The Islamist terrorists who are not anti-state must be met with the same ruthlessness and vigor.

As a citizen of Pakistan, I would like to see the United States acknowledge Pakistan’s commitment and actions to fight against Islamist terrorism. But at the same time, as a concerned citizen of the world who would see the progress of secular values, I would also like to see the United States press Pakistan harder for taking actions against domestic terrorism. Not because the US government cares about human rights or dying minority sect citizens, but because such a country would be a threat to the national security of the United States and democratic values.

Lashkar-e-Jhangavi has again taken responsibility for the Jacobabad bombing and all we can do is to wait for the next Muharram for another one of these incidents. What is worse, these sectarian terrorists do not need an occasion or reason to attack the Shia, Ismaili, Hazara and Ahmadi population, as we have witnessed a plenty of times in the recent past.

All of us must commend the federal and provincial governments for all the hard work for protecting citizens and religious processions during the Ashura. However, it would be even better if they concentrate their efforts on proactively taking action against the roots of these sectarian groups, which are surely operating within the country. As much as it is a good thing that we are on the lookout for RAW agents, it would be helpful to pay attention to these immediate internal threats.

Fortunately, the armed forces also seem to be in the mood for taking on the challenge of extremism as well. The army chief has vowed that the military would do all in its power to protect Pakistan from the threat of ISIS.

It is important to recognize the growing religious intolerance in the society, especially when similar sentiment is prevalent in neighboring India, which is only going to make matters worse. But what the democratic and civilized world has in common is the commitment to fight religious extremism, which is a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere.

Just like the civil and military leadership has considered it vital to take action against miscreants in Karachi, it is probably even more important to protect the nation from the threat of sectarian terrorism. Not only are sectarian terrorists a threat to national unity, but they are a threat to freedom of religion and speech in this country.

I have complete faith in the civilian leadership and the commitment of the armed forces to fight terrorism. However, I wish that they would not require a nudge from a more authoritative entity to launch their pursuit.

Considering the relative inaction against sectarian terrorists, that surely seems to be the case.

But we know that wheels get moving when it comes to the bottom line.

So the US administration should set the right, strict conditions of action against religious extremism at home for military and civilian aid.

Not even that, they should make sure that the job is done properly.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.