A State of Fascist Silence

Source: Pakistan Today

I shared the news of a family killed by the anti-terrorist police force in Punjab a week ago. There was much hue and cry all across the country in the wake of the incident. The news was all over the media and people were sharing the haunting images.

Days after that incident, the Baluchistan police happened to kill a bright young poet, intellectual and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement political activist Arman Luni. He was killed while allegedly resisting arrest and was assaulted, according to mainstream Journalist Hamid Mir, with a rifle.

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There were very few images of Luni circulating in the social media and many did not even notice unless they happened to have a leftist among their friends. Most Pakistanis are not even aware any such thing happened outside of social media websites. There was a complete blackout in the Pakistan electronic channels. Hamid Mir was the only exception, but given his history, it’s not a surprise. I find this one pretty haunting, although I did not’

Source: YouTube video

I do not know much about Luni and can only express my shock and sadness at his death. But I am sure that his passion came from honesty and sensitivity about his fellow citizens deprived of their fundamental rights. And I do not care if they were necessarily against the state.

Yet another Pashtun individual lost his life in an extrajudicial murder. Nobody, though, would bother to speak for justice for them because they have an “Indian” agenda and are traitors. Such vitriol has been spread from the mainstream media and the social media from the time that the bureaucratic administration realized that simply ignoring the movement is not doing the job for them. A good number of urban population, at least in Punjab and Sindh, have their minds made up about the movement but we will reach a point when it will start tearing the fabric of the federation. This is only possible if Pakistan decides to become more democratic, which unfortunately goes against its core values.

And of course, to add insult to injury, they have cracked down on the non-violent PTM protest rally in Islamabad. No reason was given for the arrests, among which is the highly targeted Pashtun activist Gulalai Ismail, who has probably become the second most wanted person after Manzoor Pashteen. After two days of detention from the authorities, Gulalai was finally released on February 7.

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All I can say is that the current attitude targeting the Pashtun people by the state is not going to end well. Right now, things are moving along without much trouble, but it might not remain that way eventually. And this is where the federal policymakers, who believe in the concept of the Pakistani federation including the military leadership, should get their heads together and think about where the country is headed. The fascist Pakistani nationalists give me shivers when they call our brothers and sisters of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement traitors. And with orders such as the Islamabad arrest, the military and bureaucratic regime gives me the chills and shocks me of the country that I grew up in. It’s like you are living in Iran or Venezuela

Right now, we are in a state of fascist silence and wonder who’s going to break it. The likes of Manzoor Pashteen and Gulalai Ismail are out there to unveil our guise of morality and righteousness.

No wonder they are called traitors.

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A Moment of Silence for a Nation Without Conscience

Source: Sky News

The final verdict has finally been delivered on Asia Bibi case, or so we think. It has finally been established by the highest court of the land that the poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy around 8 years ago in an obscure Punjab village was innocent of any of the allegations. Interestingly enough, it was not Asia Bibi but the moral conscience of the entire nation which was on trial. All I can have is just a moment of silence for those who would have done anything to see her hang and are now silent in retreat. Just imagine if they would have been successful in hanging her.

We have seen some of the most disgusting and vile displays of brutality with which certain circles of the society have reacted to her case. While this case was far from the only instance where this trend has been observed, the case has effectively established how the cult of the Prophet in Pakistan has gone totally out of control. This case resulted in the murder of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was the only politician in the country who had the courage to defend her publicly. He was gunned down by his Barelvi guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was widely celebrated by the followers of the cult of the Prophet. It was partially this case that actually became the basis of the rise of arguably one of the craziest political movements in the country. The extremist Barelvi party called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah or Tehreek Labaik Pakistan.

Fully backed by the Pakistani deep state to put the then popular PML-N of Nawaz Sharif out of power, the recent law enforcement operation against it could lead you to believe that they are a fringe group. This catchy yet vile anthem of the political party offers an insight into the mindset of a Tehreek Labaik Pakistan voter. There are dozens of fan uploads in which you can see the noose next to Asia Bibi’s photograph.

As a matter of fact, the line in this song about hanging Asia Bibi was covered by dozens of young boys and girls for a mobile video sharing platform. These indeed are no extremist clerics but regular, fun-loving, otherwise peaceful Pakistani Muslims whose conscience bears no guilt over this vulgar display of religious righteousness.

Today, many liberal optimists in Pakistan are saying that justice has been served by the eventual Supreme Court ruling by Justice Khosa. But before making such rosy statements, it must be appreciated how Asia Bibi had been ordered to hang to death even by the high court and the lower courts and how the entire nation had been out of her blood on the streets. Even the expression mass hysteria does not capture the violence and evil in this case. But perhaps they are right, even this ruling by the Supreme Court is nothing short of a miracle.

These are shocking realities that the Pakistani people are not willing to face. Until they address the darkness in their hearts which is at the center of their religious beliefs, until they abolish the atrocious blasphemy law, and until they are not willing to adopt a Secular Constitution, cases like Asia Bibi will keep on surfacing.

All we can hope is for them to surface instead of swept under the carpet.

Feature Documentary Indus Blues Wins Two Major Awards at Jaipur International Film Festival

Source: JIFF

My team’s feature documentary Indus Blues has won arguably its biggest honor yet. The film won “Best Documentary Feature” and “Best Cinematography Award” at the 11th Jaipur International Film Festival earlier this January. The film was screened in the festival on the evening of January 21 at Golcha Cinema in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

The screening of the film was particularly important because of the rich cultural ties of the Merwari musical tradition across the border of India and Pakistan, which the film celebrates in its unique manner. Even though unfortunately none of us could attend the festival but we strongly believed that it would strike a chord with the audience of the festival.

Other than the Best Documentary Feature Award, the film also managed to make a mark in the cinematography category. Usually, documentaries are not really noticed for their cinematography but the brilliant work in this film by Director of Photography Asmat Bashir has turned each frame into a work of art. And of course, the imagery of the film would be incomplete without the aerial cinematography by Muhammad Qadeer.

Source: Bipolar Films/Indus Blues

It was the moment the entire Indus Blues team was anticipating. When the awards for the 11th edition of the festival were finally announced, we knew that it was a big deal. We had won a few other awards as well, but this one was really special not only because it was coming from a great regional festival but especially because it came from across the border. This is truly a recognition of the difference the film has made to independent cinema in Pakistan.

Indus Blues is a 76-minute documentary that narrates the state and plight of the folk musicians and craftsmen of cultures across the Indus in their own voice. Shot in all major geographical and ethnic regions of Pakistan, the film covers 9 musical instruments with an ensemble of both folk musicians and craftsmen. The film is different in the sense that it also features musical craftsmen, a community that has been hardly ever covered by news media, let alone by documentary filmmakers. The film makes you realize that we are about to lose a cultural treasure by showcasing some of its memorable performances featuring fol

Source: Jawad Sharif

I am very glad that the film has received a very positive response and that people appear to have an appetite to enjoy a film about folk music. I strongly believe that the film even has commercial distribution potential but it is unfortunate that film producers in Pakistan usually do not have that kind of leaning. I only hope that Indus Blues finds an avenue where it is able to make a greater impact and becomes reachable to more and more people around the world.

I would like to thank Director and Producer Jawad Sharif and Creative Producer Arieb Azhar, without whose vision the film would not be possible, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this project. I, along with the entire team, sincerely hope that the project goes a long way in promoting awareness about the folk musicians and craftsmen across Pakistan.

The Pakistan premiere of the film is expected very soon too.

 

New Pakistan, Old Donors

Source: PTI Official

The faux populist and communitarian ruling party PTI has been touting a narrative of piety and financial purity. Inseparably entwined with this narrative of fiscal responsibility is the age-old push to curb financial corruption. Pushing false populism has always been the weapon of the Pakistani bureaucratic establishment to fool the politically unconscious people of Punjab and the rest of urban Pakistan. In its latest term, the PTI is following similar trends that the formerly pro-establishment PML-N had been following until the very recent past. That is feeding the narrative of corruption of politicians and targeting the other political party and enabling the bureaucratic establishment to manipulate politics in the country.

PTI entered the government with high hopes of the urban middle class of the nation. Not very different to the Islamic Socialist delusion offered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PTI populism is also full of empty slogans and misdirecting promises. But I guess that is how you win elections.

The talk about the mini-budget that supposedly offers vulgar relief to potential tax evaders, considering all the hullabaloo they made on the Panama Papers and the self-righteous tweets of the Prime Minister, and the possible rise in GST, only speaks volumes about the PTI. It is reporting losses of revenue in the budget while resorting to the same old financing activities such as bail-outs from Saudi Arabia and UAE and borrowed oil shipments. So much for turning the country on the path of self-sufficiency. The gulf between their ideological rhetoric and the reality is too painful to ignore.

But before we pathologically go too hard on PTI, the good thing is that the party is made up of people who don’t actually believe in the nonsense they vow about. Just like your average Pakistani, whose actions don’t match their beliefs. Though unlike average Pakistanis, they are a bunch of profiteering opportunists not genuinely interested in democracy in Pakistan. All the best to the PTI government for doing a great job for fixing the finances of the country. I guess rechecking public spending patterns for advertising is right on principle, even the media has taken a big hit because of that and they are on the right path on tourism. However, any amount of governance effort will only disillusion the party base because they are discovering that the things they consider financial corruption are simply acts of governance.

However, the hypocrisy of creating a false narrative of financial piety can only last for so long, especially considering every political entity falls out of the establishment’s favor sooner or later in Pakistan.

State Killers for Hire?

Source: YouTube video capture

Extrajudicial killings by state entities have become a norm in Pakistan. When the supposed exceptions of the excessive force by the state will be given free passes, those will eventually become the practice.

Indeed, on the other side of the picture, the same state offers complete impunity to violent rioters when it suits its political agenda to undermine civilian politicians. But unfortunately, the draconian iron hand of the state law enforcement goes far behind this.

This weekend, a family was allegedly shot dead, including a father and a mother and their teenage daughter, in front of the younger children that accompanied them, by the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police on their way to Burewala from Lahore on the motorway near Sahiwal to attend a wedding. The shooting has been termed as collateral damage by the Law Minister of Punjab in an alleged operation carried out to capture a suspected terrorist with links with the Islamic State. Even if this is true, the sanity of such an operation can be questioned, even though pretty much all the official narratives have been negated by evidence surfacing on the social media and the account of the children and eye witnesses.

This is an extraordinary occurrence in Punjab of its kind but the rest of Pakistan might not agree with it. Initially, many estimated that it could be the result of familial or tribal animosity. This may still very well be the case but the involvement of the state law enforcement changes the equation.

Does this mean that a sitting political chief in Punjab was involved in settling a personal score through state machinery? It also raises some serious question mark about the administration of the incumbent PTI who has been criticizing other parties who have remained in power to abuse police for their vested interest. The only problem is that it has probably never been used in a darker manner before.

The deceased family – Source: pakobserver,net

This situation is even more disconcerting than the Model Town massacre of the at the compound of the protesting Pakistan Awami Tehreek, which was a public affair in comparison. Regardless, even that was the use of, albeit in the name of restoring law and order over.

Either way, the factor that always gets buried in the politics of these extrajudicial killings is the lives that are ruined. Many were recalling the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi and rogue cop Rao Anwar getting a free pass. And while you don’t get to see that impact with the murder of just another young man in some remote corner of the country which includes Karachi ironically, the cruelty of the Sahiwal killing was well publicized on the local and social media. Perhaps also because of the sheer brutality of this heartless act too, which involved the shooting of parents in front of the eyes of their little children and leaving them behind.

None of us can remotely claim to understand, let alone feel, the grief of the surviving children. Google the pictures and videos of the surviving children to know what condition they were left in. But don’t, on the second thought. Even I could not stomach taking a peek at the video. It’s simply unbearable.

But this is what you get for not asking enough questions of the state authorities. And rest assured, there are still way too many people telling the outraging dissenters to hush up. Especially because this concerns the image of Pakistan.

 

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.

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.