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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Hanging Them in the Squares

Source: Naya Daur

Conservative and populist Nationalists in any nation enjoy a special license of holding trials when and where they wish. In Pakistan, a part of the Messiah Syndrome happens to be the longing for swift justice that suits them. It is pretty strange because this kind of swift justice was dispensed by leftist Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia and earlier Republican revolutionaries in France. Either way, this sort of swift justice is usually associated with challenging the established order. But which established order?

In Pakistan, interestingly enough, it is fashionable to support the forces responsible for the status quo while calling for the violent elimination of the forces that have mysteriously caused the moral corruption of the society. In order to cleanse this evil from society, it is important to selectively pick certain individuals who have somehow simultaneously threatened the interests of those deemed essential for the national security of the country.

The narrative of the casual fascism practiced by a number of the people of Pakistan for a long time, particularly the social conservative nationalists in Punjab, has only started to appear in the political mainstream with this audacity. A lot of people are condemning Faisal Vawda and his extremist statement about “hanging 5,000 odd people being necessary for fixing the state of the country,” but that is pretty much the sentiment of these social conservative nationalists across urban Pakistan.

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However, since Faisal Vawda is particularly more psychopathic than the rest of the elements in the current administration, he doubled down on his call by adding dragging them behind vehicles before hanging in the square. Unfortunately, the Constitution guaranteeing rights to citizens is the only hurdle in the way of this much-needed action. Of course, a person who is so widely broadcasting his savagery deserves all the condemnations in the world. But the overzealous and partisan speaker who often jumps at “expunging obscenities” from the house proceedings apparently did not have a problem with such vile statements.

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While it is true indeed that there is a wilder, savage side to the tribal justice in indigenous India or anywhere for that matter, as is often the case with undemocratic tribal societies. It is pretty interesting that even in very liberal settings frequented by respectable Senators, discussing very progressive ideas, you could hear them talking about the need to hang people to cure the country.

The sweeping statements from these conservatives remind how frighteningly close democracies remain to the rise of fascism. These bloodthirsty urges are far more dangerous than the campaigns of xenophobia and cries of economic nationalism. The thought of swift justice can sound pleasant to the depressed ears forever waiting to hear something good in the news. For them, the swift justice would be the fruit of the eagerly-awaited Messiah and just like the coming of the Messiah, it would turn around the age-old evils of social inequalities, injustice, and poverty. This is a path to hell paved by “good intentions.”

Be thankful for thoughtful fascist ministers like Faisal Vawda that have truly represented the idea of justice of a regressive administration elected by the morally constipated and hypocritical social conservatives.

On to the revolution.

The Culture of False Expectations

Source: ARY News

You would hear quite a few people complain about PTI being targeted for walking back on its vows and claims and election promises. Who doesn’t walk back on their election vows and promises, right? Well, in the case of the PTI, there is a reason why they should catch some flak more than usual.

PTI has spent the years before coming to power forming a mindset of its gullible and morally constipated followers which has worsened cynicism astronomically in politics in Pakistan. Feeding on the Caliphate Syndrome that all conservative nationalist and Islamist leaders in Pakistan have been guilty of, this culture of false expectations and detachment from reality. Apart from progressing the military and bureaucratic establishment-backed anti-corruption narrative.

There are several problems with the narrative of the PTI. While they do not really concede that even their party is not ideological but a personality worship cult, the colossal swings in their positions on issues have been devastating to their faithful fan base. The continuous decline in the purchasing power of the Pakistan Rupee is devastating an economy used to heavy subsidies from the government, and a system that PTI heavily endorsed until it assumed power. It is amusing to see how the party leadership and fanbase espousing the Medina State

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One of the most shocking yet pleasantly surprising u-turn was PTI’s stance on privatization. Actually, it was a huge surprise that a party heavily advocating government subsidies and welfare state interventions would support privatization so strongly. The talk of privatizing public hospitals made even PML-N look like social democrats.

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PTI started with burning passion and I wish them all the best to take the country on the road to prosperity, especially since Abdul Hafeez Sheikh has taken over the treasury. We are not rooting for ourselves if we are not rooting for them. But the party leadership must understand that you only have so much tolerance for bullshit.

The problem with such rhetoric is that it creates such a cynical and toxic political environment that enables and feeds both the prevalent Messiah complex of the nation and the military and bureaucratic establishment. The corrupt and the incompetent will keep on falling short and the unaccountable will continue to reign.

Therefore, the PTI must not campaign as if it’s the last time they are asking for votes because there will always be a next time.

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.

How Pakistan is Treating Its Hindus

Source: geo.tv

It is an open secret that the hate against the Hindu community and the larger idea of Hinduism are well ingrained into the hearts and minds of people all over Pakistan. This is particularly true for Punjab where the percentage of Hindu population is almost non-existent with the exception of a handful of prominent active temples. Even in the school textbooks, the tone used against Hindus in history mentioning ironically the time of the Arab and Turkic invasions is often antagonistic if not on the verge of being purely hateful. This upbringing indeed has its consequences.

This probably should not be the case when it comes to Sindh where the Hindus make a majority of the population. But you don’t have to be an expert on Sindh to know how the community is largely treated over there. But things enter a different, surreal zone when it enters the realm of the federal government expressing its views on this community. Earlier this month during the confrontation with India, such an incident occurred.

PTI Information and Culture Minister for Punjab Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan has developed a bit of a reputation of being a loudmouth. In his state of fury and emotions, he forgot to censor himself enough during a public speech and ended up spewing insults against Hindus that many Pakistani Muslims like him casually believe.

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Now he ironically himself is from Hindu ancestry, as are most people living on the eastern banks of the Indus river, if he is really from the family with that surname (Chauhan as shared by the Rajput warrior Prithvi Raj Chauhan). He represents the converted native Hindu people who have become self-haters and have started imagining themselves a part of an invader’s foreign culture.

Pakistan used to be a part of the larger Hindu culture of India and many important Hindu sites are located in the country. The land occupied by the Pakistani state has undeniable Hindu cultural roots. But ever since independence, it is safe to say that the community has been systematically cornered and driven out of the country. Only a few years ago, mass exodus of dozens of families to India occurred due to the trend of abductions and forced conversions that target teenage Hindu girls.

So when Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chauhan says something like this, it is the reflection of the mindset of a nation which is effectively eliminating a people who are supposed to be a part of it. Chohan later apologized and Imran Khan’s ruling party PTI momentarily did some firefighting by immediately sacking the minister. People appreciated the gesture across the board but like most PR shenanigans of the party, this one had a short-lived effect too. Recently, Chauhan has been reinstated as a Minister, this time for the Local Bodies. This move should have people wondering, especially the morally constipated followers of PTI, whether the party was wrong to sack him earlier or was it wrong to “promote” him, in columnist Marvi Sirmed’s words.

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Meanwhile, the Hindus in Pakistan continue to be targeted by the majority Muslim community with forced conversions of young girls of the community. Recently, the case of Reena and Raveena will be the

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The sisters Reena and Raveena, who were allegedly abducted on Holi Day, appeared at the marriage with the men who had taken them. Apparently, it was a case of the girls eloping. Many of the social conservative and nationalist Muslims are saying that the conversion was voluntary. Nevertheless, people who have reported from the courts where they appeared and had the first contact with their parents have a different story to tell. But the problem remains that the girls are underage and their marriage remains inappropriate and legally dubious, to say the least.

But this was hardly a solitary case. Even since the Holi day, quite a few girls have been abducted for the same reasons too. And only teenage girls are targeted by Muslim boys. The Hindus of Pakistan have no choice but to find themselves at the mercy of the majority community and watch what happens next with frustration. And while people will invoke all the violence and intimidation the underprivileged Muslim population of India is facing these days in the Hindu Rashtra mania triggered by Modi’s administration, unlike the Muslims in India, there is no one to stand for them in Pakistan.

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The good that could possibly come from this situation is that the civil society and the Hindu community itself have decided to speak up and protest. They are pressuring the politicians to legislate a ban on forced conversions and underage marriage. They are letting Pakistanis know that they have had enough of the nonsense. So whether Pakistan moves to become a Secular State or start pursuing the mirage of the “Medina State,” the sort of mindset that has resulted in the culture of forced conversions, it needs to address the protection of the Hindu community. In an Islamic Republic, the Hindus will take any political deal they can get.

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Source: Foreign Office/DNA India

Right after Pakistan had a hint of diplomatic upper hand over India by announcing to hand over the captured pilot Abhinandan Varadhaman as a peace gesture, it returns to petulant and self-isolating behavior again. What the ruling party obviously considers its diplomatic victory, Pakistan decides to boycott the Organization of Islamic Conference held in the UAE out of protest because Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had been invited. Because obviously if we did not do something like that, it would not be Pakistani foreign policy.

Of course, the corrupt but the comparatively visionary President Asif Ali Zardari had some better ideas about foreign policy on the National Assembly floor.

The OIC in its tradition has given a more of a pro-Pakistan statement on the Kashmir issue but it is important to notice that the only person who was heard on both Kashmir and terrorism in India and Pakistan was Sushma Swaraj.

 

 

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Despite the relevance of the mention of terrorism at the OIC platform, Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating the menace from the region remains dubious. The way the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been dodging questions about the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammed has been embarrassing, to say the least.

Despite the Foreign Minister and the DG ISPR denying time and time again refusing and embarrassing himself about the presence of terrorist groups that initiate attacks from the Pakistani territory, Pakistan finally decided to take action against certain groups including the brother of Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed.

If indeed the Jaish-e-Mohammed was not behind the Pulawama attack and had not taken responsibility, then surely the timing of these attacks is curious. Of course, these could be considered to be among the “any measures to deescalate the situation” as promised by Foreign Minister Qureshi. But what exactly prompted the Government to take this action all of a sudden is interesting. Perhaps it is the upcoming deadline for the FATF grey list review in May.

Of course, the PML-N supporters had a field day with the government taking action against Islamist militant outfits, something that was a part of the controversial Dawn Leaks which became the bone of contention between the military establishment and Nawaz Sharif administration. Former Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, often accused of treason back home, had his own words to offer about it.

Others like Pakistani journalists targeted by the local agencies were not buying any of Pakistan’s claims and shared this clip that was critical of releasing the captured Indian pilot Abhinandan. It is abundantly clear through evidence examined by the international media that the Indian claim of targeting a terrorist training camp in Balakot was a gross exaggeration but it is difficult to argue that groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed have not been spawning and thriving in Pakistan.
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The Pakistani government and security establishment should finally get serious in substantially dealing with these Islamist militant groups if they care about the people of Pakistan. The UN Security Council is all set to vote on Jaish-e-Mohammed and if China does not come to Pakistan’s rescue again, more than just diplomatic isolation and embarrassment will become Pakistan’s fate.

We do not expect the Pakistani security establishment to have any regard for our relations with India, which is causing misery to millions in the Indian subcontinent, or even to care for the financial losses its citizens will suffer, but at least they must watch their own interest. They will probably not care as much for the common citizen but greater diplomatic isolation on terrorism with India’s stronger case will not bode well for the financial and economic future of the country. It is something that is going to impact their own ability to attract finances to a fiscally challenged country.

The new regime focusing on the tourism of the country should not forget how any subsequent developments can hurt the country on that front.

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.