Standing Up to Your Government’s Tyranny

Source: Reuters/ABC News

This iconic image means a lot to our generation. A generation that has only heard distantly about dangerous fascist threats in World War II movies and novels does not realize what it means to stand up to that government.

We absolutely have no idea about the courage and bravery of this great figure who decided to stand up to the tyranny and might of his authoritarian government. On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the number and extent of which nobody knows,  It was perhaps the last major push for a democratic China ever since the It is unthinkable that citizens in China today, except for those who witnessed and suffered it first hand, are not even aware of the scale of the atrocities that their government committed that day. ‘

It should only send shivers down our spine as citizens of Pakistan today that we are not dealing with a very different situation with the authoritarian military regime and its installed government in Islamabad. It should particularly unnerve the Pakistani youth with a hope of freedom and democracy in their hearts and minds, that the same Chinese regime that unleashed this tyranny on its people is knocking at the door and is already inside the boundaries of Pakistan in the name of CPEC and Belt and Road. More than ever before, the Pakistani government is adopting their ways to curb political freedom in the country. They are even here with their own version of the internet, which threatens free access to the internet for the people of Pakistan for the time to come.

Pakistan’s unhinged and unaccountable military regime, which does not even hide its intentions to undermine civilian democracy in Pakistan, is not bothered by any such concerns. Its state instruments are cracking down on the dissidents of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement on this very day, beating them and charging them with batons. Only days ago, protestors from the movement were directly fired upon as more stories of their violence on the Pashtun tribals appear on the global media.

At times like these, you cannot but admire the courage of the people who stand up to such tyranny and brutality without the fear of their personal freedom and safety. Especially in a country where extrajudicial detentions are the norm.

Maybe you are driven to be that fearless when you are really left with no choice.

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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.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2017: Mishaal Khan

Source: Dawn

For a country that is so hostile to free speech, it is remarkable how many free speech heroes we have in Pakistan. You might hold a dissenting view or two, but if you have not been menaced by the mobs yet, chances are you are not taking half of the risk that could possibly have an impact on this obscurantist society. However, some go even beyond that knowingly or not and end up exposing the hideous, decaying collective moral state of a people.

Mishaal Khan became a free speech martyr in April this year to a case of brutal flogging by a lynch mob that shook the entire world. It also supposedly shook Pakistani Muslims who suspected that the Mardan University student probably deserved it and paid the price for it.

You don’t necessarily have to be killed to be a free speech hero… or let us just say not killed yet. Anyone who is putting their voice out there. Mishaal Khan, a brave student activist and political worker, did the same despite being surrounded by obscurantist and totalitarian religious extremists, whose views could possibly qualify them as mentally ill and psychopaths in a more civilized society.

The Mishaal Khan’s murder is significant considering how it reveals the sheer brutality and lack of moral sensibility in general in the society in Pakistan. But more than that, because it is shockingly symbolic of the struggle between education and obscurantism, between enlightenment and ignorance, between knowledge and violent superstition. Mishaal Khan, a student, was killed in an educational institute by other students. Perhaps it must take an irony as brutal as this one to help someone understand the battle of free speech in Pakistan.

You could say that people like Mishaal are looking for trouble in an obviously bloodthirsty society. Well, they are better than you and me because they are doing what they are supposed to do without fearing for consequences and despite that knowledge. However, it will be idiotic to say that Mikaal got what he deserved or that he was looking to die. And speaking your mind should not be considered committing suicide.

Mishaal Khan’s family has been as brave as their slain son and the way they have stood by him is the dream of every fighter for freedom of speech in Pakistan. Imagine their helplessness and suffocation, yet another manifestation of the forces of ignorance laying a siege around the enlightened and the freethinkers.

Bushra Gohar speaking at the Mishaal Khan protest in Islamabad

Even though he died alone, Mishaal left many of his allies in unity, albeit with a weak impact on an authoritarian society. There are so many more free speech heroes in Pakistan. People like Pervez Hoodbhoy, Bushra Gohar, Marvi Sirmed and Farzana Bari who were at the forefront of protests against Mishaal’s murder in Islamabad and especially people like Asma Jehangir who are taking on the military establishment heads on. Curiously, some of our politicians also deserve a place in this list in their resistance to the deep state. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif became the first top diplomat in a long time to concede that entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were a burden on Pakistan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who condemned fatwas of apostasy and blasphemy on the national assembly floor. And especially all of those who protested the murder of Mishaal Khan and those of the missing bloggers and activists. A special mention in this post remains to be for the many bloggers resisting the oppressive state in Pakistan but there is a more special place reserved for them.

Pakistan remains to be a battlefield for free speech like so many other countries in the world. But the battle in Pakistan is unique because of the character of this nation-state in terms of its cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity despite the apparently monolithic state. And whether the people win this battle or not, we must not go down without a fight.’

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2016 Qandeel Baloch here.

The Antisemitism Behind the Defense Minister’s Faux Pas

Source: Daily Pakistan

Source: Daily Pakistan

Some people need no reason to hate the Jewish people. For some, it’s almost an instinctive reaction, to others, it is a religious obligation, and for even more people, because Israel.

However, our honorable Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who became the laughing stock of the world when he reacted to a fake news about Israel offered us a unique insight into how he thinks. And believe me, it is pretty anti-Semitic.

First of all, let me commend our Defense Minister’s support for the Syrian people expressed in the same twitter feed. Now, I am not sure if he tweets himself or has a communications professional doing it for him, but it is certainly the work of someone very emotional.

And why the hell not? After all, it is an emotional medium. But not sure if one fit for the communication of a public official, especially one serving in the role of a national statesman whose voice is heard around the world. Especially when they don’t bother to fact check.

Well, the honorable Minister reminded the Israelis that “Pakistan, too, is a nuclear state” when the Israeli Defense Minister supposedly threatened Pakistan with a nuclear attack for sending troops to Syria to fight ISIS. All based on a fake news story. And what is worse, he did not even bother to respond to the clarification from the Israeli Defense Ministry.

I don’t want to see such stories about a Pakistani Minister, for who I have great respect, in the New York Times.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with a high ranking official of such an important country entertaining a conspiracy theory?

Citizens can only hope that some day, Pakistan would give up its anti-Semitic foreign policy. And now we have some evidence that it is fueled by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. I wonder what is going on in the mind of other government, bureaucratic, and military officials.

The Pakistani Defense Minister believed this obviously fake news, that anybody with a little common sense could have figured out, because he is taking this lie for granted that Israel and similar powers are behind the Islamic State. It is as embarrassing as having a 9/11 truther as a foreign minister.

By that logic, he thinks that the Israeli Defense Minister is supposed to be upset at Pakistan acting against the Islamic State, when in reality anyone would welcome it.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

The conspiracy theory is the favorite of anti-Semites. Israel created ISIS. Though, often in the next breath, they would wish an Islamic State terrorist attack on Israel. Just like Israel created so many other evils in the world. You know, like countless scientific innovations. Though I take such inventions to be the common progress of humanity and not belonging to any one country.

Israel might possibly be having some schadenfreude at the expense of its immediate rival, but by no means is the Israeli government or the people supportive of the plight of the innocent people in Syria. Only days ago, Tel Aviv saw one of the more prominent protests in the region against the atrocities committed in Aleppo. Israeli hospitals have admitted several injured Syrian refugees.

Now let me remind you, the Satanic Jews that Pakistanis love to hate so much were not out on the streets because they wanted to see the children of Muslims bleed. But because they are good hearted, decent people who feel for the carnage underway in Aleppo by the ruthless forces of President Assad and by the Russians to some degree.

The only such protests in Pakistan were perhaps held by the Jamaat-e-Islami, thanks to Aleppo being off-limits to the outrage of our progressive liberals. That’s the only common ground that I have ever found with the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Also, Israel is by no means safe from the Islamic State. And if you think it is, then you are suffering from a special kind of delusion. For people who like to cite the lack of threats as evidence of the Islamic State being a product of Israel, they have already threatened Israel several times. And God forbid, they would follow up on their threats if and when they are able to and we must fear that day. As we are in fear and mourning now for the beautiful people of Iraq and Syria.

If a few terrorists from West Bank can devastate Israel with arson crimes, surely the Islamic State can do great damage if it infiltrates even the West Bank settlements. So, you can bet Israel is vigilantly aware of this security threat. And no, Israel is not safe. Despite the allegations that “Jews rule the world.”

Israel has also taken limited action against Islamic State assets when inevitable, but not in as larger scale as they would have. They should have perhaps, as a responsible nation. But then again, the tiny state can hardly defend itself against home-made rockets in Gaza, you cannot expect them to invite a new, much larger, more ferocious enemy to its gates without the much-needed support of more powerful allies.

Where are President Obama’s forces, someone who would go down as the most complacent President to Islamist terrorism in history? Where are the French and German forces? I say President-elect Donald Trump is right to criticize the lack of responsibility of Western Europe for their part in NATO. Where is the Arab coalition against the Islamic State?

Shame on the world. Not just Israel, but the entire civilized world. Shame on all of us.

But most of all, shame on our honorable Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif.

The Pakistani idiot of the year 2016, in my books.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Politics of Shipping Containers

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A government is supposed to protect the interest of its public. But what to do if it becomes the biggest hurdle in their way?

Now for the uninitiated, the politics of shipping containers probably sounds like manipulating the trade at the port, not that that was never a problem, but these shipping containers are contributing to the economy around a thousand miles from the shore. In the federal capital and in a very different way too.

We had all suffered the consequences of the blockade during the 2014 sit-in protest by PTI and PAT.  Now it is time to brace ourselves again to dread getting out on the roads and to find our way out of the gridlock. The question is, who has the time and money? No matter which side you are on, you would be forced to either stay home or join the political tamasha.

Can you blame the entire problem on the PTI and Sheikh Rasheed protests? Probably you can, because the containers were not there a couple of days ago. But here they are now. Still, they are not put into place by them. The fact of the matter is that the government can possibly handle this situation in another way. Imposing Section 144 is not the solution to every problem.

So I wonder if it is the fault of the protesters or the Federal Interior Ministry itself that people like me cannot go to work when they should be able to on a regular weekday. Of course, we are not fully aware of the reasons why shipping containers are used to block roads, perhaps to block suicide bombing trucks, who knows? But ever since these blockades have started appearing on our roads, the lives of the people of the twin cities have never been the same.

While the party in power uses shipping containers to block access from roads, the one in the opposition would use it as a stage to prolong, if not perpetuate, the misery. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s recent call to shut down the capital is just one such example, which has already sent the stock market crashing even when the actual sit-in protest has not taken place yet. To add insult to injury, he has decided to challenge the orders from the Islamabad High Court forbidding the shutdown.

The fact of the matter is that the people want to get on with their lives and are sick and tired of the storms of made-up revolutions that our political leaders like to stir in a teacup. Clearly, most of the people reject the politics of shipping containers, something which could even be a threat to our fragile democracy. But like always, this silent majority remains without a voice.

What is even worse is that the government that warns protesters of refraining from interrupting public life is doing all it can to make things miserable for them. This is what the politics in Pakistan have come down to, only to strengthen the ignorant belief that democracy is not fit for a “country like Pakistan.” Whatever that means.

Perhaps we cannot get past the days of tear gas because we have not evolved from rioting and destroying to the peaceful protest that is often met with ridicule in our society. Perhaps we would really attain the ideals that we speak so fondly of when we really start supporting peaceful, liberal democratic values on the ground and learn to respect the democratic process.

Out of all the rights of the people that the government is responsible to uphold, perhaps the most underestimated in Pakistan is the freedom to access. People are simply too willing to give too much for too little. This reflects the way our government thinks and it also offers an insight into our minds as well. This probably means that our days of living in an authoritarian state are not over and neither is the will to resist it. Or if things have improved indeed, we have still not been able to shake off the hangover from our past of dictatorships.

I hope some day our protesters would learn to make their point without blocking roads and that our governments could restore order without taking any lives.

Is it too much to ask?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Saudi-Iran Conflict: Just the Sort of Diversion the Islamic State Needed

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Despite an almost unanimous agreement about the evil that the Islamic State embodies, the world is still having a hard time forming a military alliance to take substantial action against the group. From lamenting the consequences of unrelated past foreign military intervention to equating ISIL with other Arab states, there is no shortage of absurd political opinions making excuses for inaction.

At a time like this, it was probably not surprising that the usual suspects of the region were busy making matters even worse in the Middle East. Through some very deliberate measures, Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen to strain their already tense diplomatic relations seriously.

Things started getting worse when Saudis executed dissenting Shia scholar Nimr Al-Nimr, sparking violent anti-Saudi protests in Tehran during which protestors set the Saudi embassy on fire. As a reaction, Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE and Bahrain, expelled Iranian missions to their respective countries. The region started worrying about a new conflict and Islamic State found just the sort of relief they needed.

Of course, whenever relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran suffer, you can expect increased pressure on Pakistan, both from the Saudi government and from the people at home. While the careful approach the Government of Pakistan has taken in this regard is the way to go, it must be warned to move a step forward in terms of its commitment to fight ISIL. In an ideal world, a military operation against ISIL with Pakistan’s participation should have been underway.

The Gulf states have been facing much criticism for their inaction against ISIL, which have been regularly resisted by Shia militia in Iraq. As a matter of fact, people have been speculating Saudi hand behind ISIL since the extremist group share the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom. Now that they have made a military alliance, it is being condemned by some for being meant for exclusively targeting Iran and its sponsored militant groups.

While protesting the Saudi-led anti-terrorism alliance makes little sense, this is the expected consequence of choosing to join a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Probably for spiritual reasons, the local Sunni and Shia population have linked their religious fervor with the terrible political entities of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. This is why commentators with this concern have been calling for Pakistan to join a US-led alliance to fight the Islamic State.

So far we have seen a lot of talk about the anti-terrorist alliance but little action. Only substantial military action by the Saudi led alliance would put the conspiracy theories to rest. The lack of action is yet another reason for Pakistan to wonder if it is in the right camp. But then again, fighting ISIL proactively is hardly a priority for nations around the world, and Pakistan seems to be no exception.

This is where the United States and other Western powers would have to lead and work with Saudi Arabia and Iran to focus on eradicating the Islamic State. Unless a comprehensive global alliance is formed for the purpose under the leadership of the United States, it would be difficult to organize the much required military efforts.

We are at a point in history when extraordinary measures are required for the elimination of the evil Islamic State. Global and regional powers, which are otherwise adversaries, need to come together to get rid of this common threat to human civilization, but the local Muslim population is busy squabbling about the power struggle of Iran and Saudi Arabia instead.

This will severely hurt any possible military campaigns that had any chance to be initiated by Muslim majority countries in the Middle and adjoining regions because everyone would need to take a side in this conflict. I appreciate the passion of everyone who wants their countries to remain neutral in the Saudi-Iran conflict, but that would not be the case for long if the situation escalates further.

The recent episode only proves the irresponsibility and recklessness of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers and goes to show that they should be the last countries leading other Muslim majority nations. While it is a good idea expressing solidarity with them and offering military aid for necessary defense and peacekeeping, it would be a disastrous mistake to follow their lead in shaping foreign policy.

This is why it is important for global powers to avoid the distraction of Saudi-Iran conflict and refocus their attention on the threat of ISIL by rallying a global alliance. Pakistan must also play its part as a responsible nation and must distinguish itself with significant participation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Misguided Sense of Entitlement

Source: onlineindus.com

Source: onlineindus.com

Last few weeks have seen people coming together and protesting against the oppression of the “private school mafia”, or as one newspaper puts it, cartel. While it sounds really good to save the middle class from the rising prices of private education, most of us have started mistaking these private institutions as government subsidized utilities.

Probably it’s not really the fault of a misguided population, which does not like paying any taxes and expects government regulation to subsidize or, worse, enforce a price ceiling. However, this does not take away the notion that the government has no business in regulating the tuition fee rates. Instead of trying to demand a service that they are not able to purchase, people should try sending their children to more affordable private schools. Even better, they are always welcome to try public schools, which are not as terrible as many would like you to believe in major cities.

But then again, we have recognized education as a right in the Article 25-A of the cherished 18th amendment, promising the provision of free education up to high school. I totally support the idea, as cruel the joke maybe on the people of Pakistan. And though it is easy to say that we pay enough taxes to fund that, pretty much everyone would agree that public education would need more funding to work. Even those who consider funding public education an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer.

However, who knew that the right to free education now means the government forcing schools to lower their tuition fee? This sort of false sense of entitlement is unhealthy and unreasonable.

The best thing about the private sector is that it offers you such multitude of options. You don’t need to remain confined to any one choice. You could always reject a private school for its pricing, but those whining why a certain educational institute charges this much to admit students have other goals in mind.

You could argue about the greater need of education funding, but that would only mean paying for public schools, unless the government collaborates with NGOs. Apart from the mismanagement and lack of willing workers in remote areas, the public school infrastructure itself is lacking, requiring greater state funding for improved performance.

However, complaints about private schools ripping people off are understandable when so many urban citizens rely on private schools for quality education. Now some troublemakers may cite that as an argument against public education, but this does not mean that the public schools are any less popular among people with lower income groups.

As a matter of fact, tuition fee subsidies for private school student do not sound like a very bad idea under the circumstances. Though more progressive of commentators would like to see a rather regressive transition of the society entirely to the public schools.

But do we need to shove a standard public school system down everyone’s throats?

Again, the notion of establishing such social justice and standardization sounds very good to the ears. But it is like enforcing a system and curriculum of education on millions of unwilling people, and is a violation of personal freedom, freedom of education, and arguably freedom of speech.

What we need are democratic leaders standing up to this sort of nonsense that populist parties have been feeding to the public, especially if the matter come up for debate in the parliament. However, I hardly expect it from any member of the legislature, though I would be pleasantly surprised if someone did.

What we certainly don’t need in the legislature are the sort of recommendations a recent editorial offered, that is, the mandatory requirement for legislators to send their children to public schools in the wake of response to the private educational institute “crisis.” Whether serious or a dark satire in this context, as citizens of a democracy, we need to fight such political ideas of absolutism and utopian mandate in order to preserve individual freedom.

But maybe the legislators should be forced to send their children to school to public schools, because they passed the 18th amendment without giving a second thought to what it actually meant apparently. Especially when the national budget allocated for education does not provide for the colossal task. Probably to them it is just a common recurring election promise for all the parties so that they can win people’s vote for its pursuit.

Nevertheless, demands for regulating or even nationalizing private educational institutes are everything wrong about Pakistani politics today. This is why people need every service subsidized without paying enough taxes to back the spending.

But with political leaders like these, can you blame them?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.