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.

 

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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.

Doubling Down on the Judicial Coup

Source: Dawn/White Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Calls for Revolution in Lahore and State Censorship

Source: Dawn

We are living in fascinating times.

Never before a civil rights movement that is about something as fundamental as the demands for the recognition of the Pashtuns of the tribal areas has emerged on this scale. To add insult to the injury of the authoritarian state which does not recognize the legitimacy of the movement, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement decided to hold their congregation in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, the majority ethnic province the population of which traditionally makes up most of the bureaucratic establishment that runs the Pakistani state.

While Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of democracy, few would have thought that the kind of draconian measures that were imposed during Zia’s term would still be around. Especially when another dictator Pervez Musharraf, who had started imagining himself an elected leader after his sham referendum. But after that period of euphoric media freedom the likes of which the people of Pakistan had never seen before, who would have thought that you would see absolute control of speech on TV and censored, deleted newspaper articles.

After Express Tribune censoring the articles from New York Times about blasphemy years ago and more recently Mohammad Hanif’s article criticizing the military establishment for its covert support to the Islamist militants, a new phenomenon is underway. Published newspaper articles going missing.

Renowned journalists, analysts, and columnists are being prevented from writing about the Pashtun

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One such article by Khan Zaman Kakar was deleted by The News, which was later shared on his profile by Ahmed Waqas Goraya. Nobody wants to hear anyone calling the PTM a non-violent movement. Especially when the state is so responsive and cooperative to Mullahs threatening violence and rioting to fulfill their demands.

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Apart from an organized defamation movement against the movement of Manzoor Pashteen, accusing it of collusion with enemy countries, the mainstream media is deliberately blocking all mention and all news.

Very few in Pakistan know that the City District Government of Lahore, working under the domain of Government of Punjab, released sewage water in the ground near Lakshmi Chowk in Lahore where the congregation had to take place. The movement workers had to get rid of the flooding on their own to make the event possible.

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If this were not enough, the state resorted to arresting the leadership of the political movement ahead of the rally and after it. You could argue that it is a blatant violation of the Constitution but we can only thank our stars that the government did not shut twitter and facebook down. The crackdown on the TLYRA Protest in Islamabad on November 26 last time has shown us that the government can even go to that limit when twitter and facebook saw a temporary blackout. Sadly, our Supreme Court and judicial activist Chief Justice would remain silent on these constitutional violations.

But who will know about these constitutional violations when no one is going to learn about them? And when the press will be prevented from covering such news?

Yes, press censorship is back in full flow and the freedom of press is dead.

Note on the Disqualification Verdict of the Prime Minister

Source: Reuters/NDTV

And you thought that you would live to see the day when an elected head of government could complete their term.

More than anyone else, it was highly unlikely for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as much as he was the likeliest candidate to make it.

As much as his political party has been able to consistently win more two-third and clearer majorities than any other political party in the history of Pakistan.

As much as he was the perfect compromise for the people of Punjab between the bureaucratic establishment and a socially conservative and economically liberal tilt toward democratic values.

In many ways, it is an end of an era. Who knows? Just like in the 1990s, we might see Nawaz Sharif contesting the elections again. Though not likely after such a unanimous damning verdict, as absurd as it is. But Nawaz Sharif will remain to be the Prime Minister who initiated the Sunday as weekly holiday and constructed the motorway on his initiative.  And at least it offers a chance to Shahbaz Sharif to become Prime Minister.

One way or the other, the judicial coup of one of the most popularly backed elected government is complete. This is how Prime Minister will be dismissed in the post-military coup era.

Right after the farce of the JIT, which has essentially established the civil and military bureaucracy and intelligence as an extension of the judiciary, was put up by the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister was destined to be ousted.  The judges had already made up their minds. The only noteworthy and far from a substantial conclusion that the JIT had drawn, apart from a list of endless conjectures, was that the Sharif family was living way beyond their means.

In the end, the judgment by Supreme Court about the disqualification simply hinted that it was politically motivated. Even some of the most seasoned political commentators, publication editorials, and senior lawyers are analyzing it as such. There was a time under Iftikhar Chaudhary when you had the impression that the judges hear and judge cases after reading the papers. It seems those times have returned.

In other words, we have again had a mockery of democracy and our Constitution. Now at the hands of its guardians. What a shame.

However, there is little to expect from a Supreme Court that instead of safeguarding people’s right to the free internet, chose to uphold the YouTube ban. The bureaucratic institutions yet again let the people of Pakistan down by attacking democratic institutions and the mandate of the people’s vote.

What is worse though is that people who usually celebrate military coups are jubilant over the dismissal of the Prime Minister like they always are. Without realizing that the verdict has come against the mandate of the vote of the people, even though the grounds for qualification were clearly not of corruption. At least not in the least bit to warrant a lifetime disqualification.

Even though it is the day of thankfulness for the supporters of the PTI, I would neither be rejoicing nor be thankful if such a verdict came for an elected Prime Minister of that party. A part of me also wants Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister so that for once, they can be on the receiving end of this type of “justice.” Sadly, the party has been brainwashed to the degree of cynicism that some of them are even willing to see Imran Khan disqualified, being happy to see only the military rule.

But what do I know? Maybe I am missing the plot here. Maybe this is going to be really good for democracy after all.

Perhaps the judges have only lost their minds, or are being overly honest in their overzealousness of being “Sadik” and “Amin” instead of being malicious on purpose.

For once I hope that my friends on the other side are right and I am wrong.

In all seriousness, I would have no problems in conceding that I am at fault here.

 

But if only that were true.

Time to Ban the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Young Fascist Goons Nationwide

Source: Babar Shah/PPI

Jamaat-e-Islami is a political organization which appears to rule the hearts and minds of a majority of urban people in Pakistan despite their dismal electoral performance. This statement would be heartening for a supporter of the Islamist party still struggling to make a dent in the secular wall of Punjab and Sindh.

One of the reasons to demonstrate that is the complete lack of checks and control over their band of young fascist goons, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT). Any given elected civilian government and even the military establishment are heavily under the influence of their ideological supremacy. They promise to establish Sharia in Pakistan despite having already influenced the theocratic elements in the Pakistani constitution. This is other words means that we are a work in progress to reach the excellence of the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria).

The IJT are in the news again for disrupting a cultural event in the public educational institution Punjab University held by a secular Pashtun student organization PSF. This obviously resulted in a clash that has seen many injured and the environment of calm and peace destroyed for thousands of students in Lahore. Yes, this is Punjab we are talking about.

This is not for the first time of course and it surely would not be the last. Just a simple internet search about news related to them should suffice. Exhibit A.

I wish it would be the last straw that would have us say that enough is enough.

The pioneers of violence in student politics and the prime factors resulting in the creation of counter fascist (not counter-fascist) secular movements like APMSO, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (Islamic Student Organization) has remained a menacing force in politics in Pakistan. The Islami Jamiat Talaba pretending to be representative of a democratic party and democratic values, always resort to violence for a reason. Because they actually work on a theocratic logic (which is never democratic) and are trained to silence everyone that holds a different world view. Because that is just the way religion works.

Also, it is about time we stop buying the same arguments about the alleged democracy of their mothership, the Jamaat-e-Islami, because that is precisely how they work as well. At least they promise Sharia in their manifesto in addition to what we have in Pakistan. Their so-called democratic process of electing an Emir is the biggest farce you are ever going to see.

Offering us the worst of the both worlds, the IJT is a mixture of toxic Islamist ideology and second hand anger fueled by misplaced male hormones, a trait they share with their secular brethren. This group of goons, just like the undemocratic party they represent, should be immediately banned from participating in politics nationwide in educational institutes at least. And there are valid reasons why.

Ask yourself this question honestly. How many times have you heard the activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba have disrupted cultural and educational activities? While I know that the secular and progressive student unions do not have a clean sheet to offer as well and I am not a fan, there is simply no parallel when it comes to the history the Jamiat enjoys. And that too, completely unchecked. Even in the overwhelmingly theological International Islamic University Islamabad, the organization (which enjoys a complete totalitarian control there) has been known to disrupt mixed gender conferences in its relatively and nominally secular business school.

I know a lot of my friends would disagree and I would understand, but I was relieved that student unions were banned by military dictators during my days in college. Because that offered the students some peace due to the break in regular violence. Still in those days, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) enjoyed unchecked influence not only in institutions heavily funded by Muslim majority Gulf states but also in various public secular institutions like the Punjab University.

They had always been a major force in the Karachi University at least. They introduced weapons and violence in the politics of Karachi under the secure guidance of our state which kickstarted the shitstorm the city is in today. But even that is a smaller and long forgotten crime in comparison to the good work they are doing every day.

The biggest reason to ban the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) is simply the fascist, authoritarian, and totalitarian ideology they are poisoning the minds of our youth with. They abuse the freedoms offered by the democratic process to push their theocratic agenda and aim to make Pakistan a far more frightening state than Iran or Saudi Arabia.

I know a lot of people would jump to attack this piece as endorsing undemocratic ideas but sadly the IJT and their sympathizers do not know the first thing about democracy. Yes, even the political party of Adolf Hitler won a popular vote election and then suspended democracy. So, just having an election is not democracy, unfortunately.

Like other authoritarians such as Communists, fascists and Nazis, the Jamaat-e-Islami, IJT, and their ideology are the very anti-thesis of democracy, make no doubt about it.

I know the title of this piece is kind of ridiculous because any time to ban the IJT nationwide is good and it should have been done long ago.

And of course, whenever a ban on student unions is indeed put in place, the solution is to punish everyone for their crimes.

Because why discriminate against totalitarian theocrats?

Thanks to them, we have a theocratic constitution anyway.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Bringing down the Sharifs

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

The Panama Leaks are the sort of story that was needed to shake the firm grasp of the Sharif family on the politics of Punjab.

Unlike the uproar in the media and warnings of a protest movement from PTI chairman Imran Khan, I am not convinced that the people of Pakistan are particularly bothered by the revelations in the Panama leaks. To some people, avoiding tax payment is a terrible sin, but let’s admit it, most people in Pakistan hardly believe in paying taxes or trusting the government with their money. Others consider smuggling fair trade. These views may outrage many liberals, but people are free to see the world that way.

Naturally, most businessmen and investors, particularly those who fear their assets would be frozen by a certain state for political reasons, would be attracted to offshore tax havens. Or perhaps they have a genuine desire of paying low taxes. In the past, the Swiss accounts of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari have been a matter of major controversy, and now the offshore assets of the Sharif family have surfaced.

To many people, the crime of the PML-N leaders lying about their offshore assets is far worse than the act of possible tax evasion. They would have to produce clean taxation and remittances records to eliminate the suspicion of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, such behavior seems more suited to businessmen than the leading political family in a developing nation.

However, what makes the leaders of the PML-N the hypocrites of the highest order is that they have gone to all lengths to demonize the PPP leadership for what they have been obviously doing themselves. 1999 actually taught them a lesson that heads of state not only need a haven for their financial assets but one for political asylum as well.

Instead of freaking out by Panama Leaks, it does not hurt to be optimistic about their aftermath. Personally, I would not like to see the Prime Minister go as long as he ends up clarifying his position, as did Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain. However, if he fails to present a strong case and succumbs to the pressure of the opposition, good riddance.

Some people are also seeing the military intervening as the ultimate solution for accountability as always, but nothing would be more disastrous for the progress of democracy. At least, for the development of the economy and services to the people of Pakistan.

In any event, you cannot ignore the fact that the Sharif brothers have become a bit too comfortable in their almost absolute political power in Punjab. The landslide in the last election stunned the rest of the parties, but their continual abuse of power hardly goes unnoticed as well.

A strong opposition, and ideally alternate terms for different parties, is good for democracy. Historically, Punjab does vote to balance the power between two leading parties, but due to the popular emergence of PTI, the opposition vote has been divided between PTI and PPP.

The PML-N infrastructure projects particularly require continuation of terms, but regardless of whether the party is good for the country, or at least Punjab, they need to be challenged. The PTI and the PPP will probably not find a better opportunity to strike a dent in the formidable wall of the political support of the PML-N in Punjab. In terms of producing electoral results, both the political parties would have to set aside differences and form an alliance in Punjab.

While the metro bus projects have been much the needed mass transit in the urban areas in Punjab, at least the twin cities, they reflect on how executive power is exercised in Pakistan by political governments. PTI and other liberal critics also make sense when they make a case for the lack of government funds in the health sector while such mega projects are being developed.

Opposition parties sense instinctively that something is wrong with this spending pattern, but are not able to make an effective case for some reason.

Unfortunately, the idea of limiting the executive power is not popular in Pakistani politics. As a matter of fact, these very opposition parties, with the possible exception of PPP, would favor more executive power, so that they are able to exercise it when they are in power. After all, elections are about getting things done.

So while we need to address the problem of corruption and tax evasion, the procedures on government spending and the permitted abuse of executive power need to be taken into account as well.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.