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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Antics of a Reckless Regime

Source: Aljazeera

With freedom and authority, comes responsibility. It is one of the quotes our state bureaucracy likes to parrot whenever there is a mention of civil liberties. You can only wish that they applied the same principle to themselves when it comes to their

The policies of our bureaucratic overlords governing the Pakistani state have attracted criticism from all over the world in terms of their commitment to world peace and support for terrorism. Their policy record is also pretty terrible in terms of military interference in India and Afghanistan. But just when they complain about catching too much flak from the public and want us to cut them some slack, they do something so outrageously inappropriate that it reminds you of their character.

Pakistan made sure that it tested its nuclear ballistic missile Shaheen on the occasion of election results in India. Our DG ISPR proudly flaunted the test on the social media reminding the world of its huge range. The test was critical to establish “deterrence stability” in the region. It was absolutely needed. But more than anything, it offers a glimpse into the demented minds of Pakistan’s ruling military establishment elite.

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Unapologetically shameful pro-establishment journalists like Wajahat S. Khan also rose to the occasion and declared the nuclear test an appropriate message. This was really needed to translate the cryptic message the Pakistani military was trying to send randomly to the Indian government. He did not forget to mention an Indian city that fell under the range of the Pakistani missile to make sure that no doubt is left in terms of delivering the message home.

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With the United Nations reporting that the threat of nuclear war is greater than ever since World War II, such steps are really the most responsible line of action. I am pretty sure our strategic depth nationalists will have an appropriate rationale handy. But what this really ends up showing is that Pakistan is a desperate and frightened state that is happy to pull the trigger or push the button when threatened. That it is sort of a more open, more liberal North Korea.

Of course, the once-revolutionary and now-puppet Prime Minister Imran Khan had nothing to say about it. He congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his massive landslide victory in the elections and Pakistan continues to play good cop-bad cop with the Indian state with its civilian and military entities.

Lasting peace with India will never be possible it seems with the warmongering military regime in charge in Pakistan.

The Asad Umer Debacle

Source: Public TV News

The PTI mandate on the election date as its voters saw it seems to be falling apart. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister asked the Foreign Minister, the main star of the team, Asad Umer to step down. Asad Umer was touted as the economic solution for the country for about the last 7 to 8 years by the party. The problems started to mount when people realized that the foreign minister of the populist communitarian party that had promised “the Medina welfare state” in the manner of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Islamic Socialism was too right-wing liberal for their liking. His changes, along with an aggressive anti-money laundering drive, resulted in a decline in economic growth, slow stock and real estate markets, and high inflation due to dollar appreciation.

Hungry and desperate for power, PTI promised just about everything under the sun to their voters ever since their antics during the 2014 sit-in protest. Burning power bills due to a hike in energy prices, it was no wonder that the people were not having anything from them when they applied the same policies. Always telling the people that the foreign debt was not the way to govern, PTI had little choice but to turn to the IMF for financing a bankrupt country.

Of course, PTI and Asad Umer did the right thing to turn to the IMF. They just had a hard time getting rid of a populist, anti-corruption narrative that they got elected on and which is still a big part of their campaigns targeting opposition leaders. Especially because they considered governance by foreign debt a part of corruption too. Many of their uncompromising fans, who were taught by them to be uncompromising, felt cheated.

You could argue that Asad Umer should be given the benefit of doubt. He was doing what he considered right as evident by his recent commentary. He said that PTI decided that they would not resort to populist politics and that the value of the Rupee was artificially appreciated by the PML-N foreign minister Ishaq Dar all this point. But as far as the inflation rate and fuel and power prices are concerned, people could only take so much and the deep state was not having it.

The problem is that as much the country has been right wing ever since the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it has always been keen on subsidizing the “basic necessities” for the underprivileged. Even President Ayub’s popular term was challenged due to public protests over the increase in the price of sugar which eventually led to its downfall. With such a history, the bureaucratic state in Pakistan fears to go Marie Antoinette on the Pakistan people, since they accept other modes of repression happily like curbing freedom of speech. But most people agree that this cabinet change came at a very inappropriate time, particularly Asad Umer’s position.

But does Imran Khan really lack judgment to this extent? His critics who always doubted his intelligence are not surprised. But he did have a lot of flair and sense during the early part of his political career as evident by these old clips. He used to openly criticize the role of the military and the security agencies. But in Pakistan, things change when you get to govern. But is it really his government?

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However, some people are offering some other reason why the Thursday cabinet reshuffle occurred. Some are calling it a coup. Others pointing toward a possible transition to the (Islamic) Presidential System. It could be that the cabinet reshuffle came as the eventual shift that the alleged installers of a weak administration wanted on their terms. Or it could even be a power move to remind Imran Khan not to attempt to make too many powerful decisions. Whatever may be the case, it either shows an indecisive Prime Minister unsure of his vision of governance or a toothless executive following the narrative of the deep state.

Some would argue that abandoning his stubborn and morally constipated political stance has finally earned him the position of Prime Minister and that he is finally acting like a politician as his critics had earlier wanted him to. Whatever may be true, it is evident that General Bajwa enjoys undermining his position as far as their body language in joint appearances is concerned.

What is particularly embarrassing for Imran Khan is the appointment of Brig. (R) Ijaz Shah, who now takes over Imran Khan’s Portfolio of Federal Interior Minister. Shah, whose appointment as ambassador was refused by the Australian government due to alleged terrorist group connections, He is also alleged by some to be among those responsible for the death of Benazir Bhutto. With such appointments, making the cabinet almost the mirror image of the state establishment sanctioned PPP cabinet, and raises a lot of question marks about the credibility of PTI.

Not sure if Imran Khan will reflect on the gravity of the situation, but at least the youth voters of PTI have tasted the consequences of their ballot for the first time. It has left them shaken and has induced self-doubt, if not buyer’s remorse. It did indeed cause a division in the loyal nationalist fanbase of the party.

Let’s just hope they learn to differentiate between idiotic rhetoric and the real world to make a fresh start. And also that a change in ministries doesn’t matter if the problem lies in the leadership.

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.

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.

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.

Hameed Haroon’s Case Against Media Censorship in Pakistan

Source: BBC

The pro-military nationalist and PTI trolls, which are effectively the same team now, have been trumpeting how comprehensively Hameed Haroon was ripped apart for his anti-establishment viewpoint, oblivious of the fact that hard line of questioning is the format of the show. Even some journalists were disappointed by his performance. But I cannot imagine why. There really was nothing about the interview that was not properly handled by him. I have shared the video in this post and clearly, all of them and I are watching completely different shows.

There are a few things to say about the content of the show and the way Hameed Haroon covered it. Other than the disingenuous questioning representing the supposed viewpoint of the nationalistic elements that Stephen Sackur had to come up with to keep up with the format of the show, Haroon used self-restraint for the most part. What the critics of his performance on the show are forgetting is that he could have been far more direct and blunt in his criticism of the military than he was. This was because he was obviously mindful of the fact that he was representing Pakistan on an international media forum.

But it is his duty to the people and journalism in Pakistan to present the case for preserving democracy and freedom of the press in the country. And when his media group is one of the primary victims, he is indeed rightful to make the case against the military imposed censorship. Furthermore, I am very glad he brought up that ridiculous chart that the DG ISPR had put up in his press conference as if to send a message that the bloggers were a criminal cartel or a terrorist group. What about his army of paid trolls? As for the question of Dawn favoring Nawaz Sharif, which any regular reader of the center-left leaning paper knows is simply not true, comes out only of op-ed pieces criticizing the unfair targeting of this political figure by the state establishment, not their reporting.

There is no doubt that Hameed Haroon could have been more articulate than he actually was, Obviously, in my humble opinion, while he is the perfect man to speak on the subject, on the question of evidence for military meddling in the media, he failed to bring up the dozens of journalists killed over a period of five odd years in Pakistan, as well as dozens, if not hundreds more. I am sure the journalists expressing their disappointment must be upset at things of that nature. Everything documented a bit too well by the international media. That is already incriminating evidence against the military intelligence thugs hard at work at curbing dissenting journalism in the name of national security. That is enough evidence you need.

But more than that, more than presenting hard evidence which sounds so cold, it is a matter of experience. It is about the shit we are dealing with every single day. The abduction of Gul Bukhari is not a myth. The harassment of Taha Siddiqui is not a concoction. Nobody made up the story of Umer Cheema picked up by the agencies, tortured, and had his head and eyebrows shaved. Hamid Mir actually got shot by a bullet and Saleem Shahzad paid for his doing his job with his life. A simple Google search will offer you all the evidence you are looking for.

Probably journalists in Pakistan are getting more than they bargained for. They should probably quit their jobs and start selling Pakistani flags and prayer mats to make a living to appease the nationalists at home.