Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2019: Gulalai Ismail

Source: Dawn

In a country where freedom of expression is considered an abomination and where democracy is seen with disdain, the bar to become a free speech hero is not very high. But a person who took dissent and to a new level, it is Gulalai Ismail. The winner of the Chirac Foundation Prize in France for her feminist organization Aware Girls in Pakistan, Gulalai upheld the tradition of Pakistani women being global ambassadors of everything positive the country had to offer.

Gulalai became a victim of harassment by state agencies after she had openly expressed her support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. She was noted for speaking out against Pakistani military’s abuses against Pashtun women. Her fiery speech following the rape and murder of Farishteh, an Afghan refugee minor girl whose father was denied a police report because of their refugee status. She was arrested in February 2019 following that and was shortly released. However, her life remained under threat and her family was constantly harassed about her whereabouts after she withdrew from public life.

In September 2019, The New York Times reported in an explosive story that Gulalai had arrived in the United States and had applied for political asylum. This brought some relief to Gulalai but it was short-lived. While she was safe in the United States, her family was being harassed back home in Pakistan. She continues to speak out for her family’s rights, the rights of the Pashtun people, and especially women.

Gulalai’s father, Prof. Muhammad Ismail, is probably where she draws her fiery spirit from. Prof. Ismail, recently detained by the Pakistani authorities, is as fierce in his dissent as Gulalai and remains defiant of the state to this day. After a torturous detention, he was recently issued bail. His crime, being Gulalai’s father and a dissenter to the State of Pakistan.

An honorable mention is due to Ammar Ali Jan, the progressive political activist and academic from FC College Lahore, who has been abducted and charged with treason only for speaking out about the rights of the people and students. A columnist for The News, Ammar had not even joined twitter of late. However, his influence as a social activist. He was one of the organizers of the Students Solidarity March, along with the Progressive Students Federation, and was charged with treason among others after a successful display of non-violent force by the students on November 29. Today, the Students Solidarity March has prompted the lifting of the ban on the Students Union in Sindh Province and a similar resolution has been presented in the Punjab Assembly.

I feel proud to mention the name of Lala Iqbal Khan, the father of a great free speech hero and martyr Mishaal Khan in this post. Disgustingly, the case registered against the organizers of the Students Solidarity March also callously booked Lala Iqbal. Despite this treatment by the state, he stood on solid ground as far as his convictions were concerned.

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Last year saw the beginning of the #metoo movement in Pakistan. Despite odds, otherwise-seemingly- privileged artists such as Meesha Shafi came out against Ali Zafar. However, considering Pakistan’s social taboos, Jami jolted the conscience of Pakistani society with the revelation of being raped by Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon, a journalist who many would like to see as a free-speech hero in his own right considering the harassment of the Dawn Group. Jami’s struggle is going to be long and potentially fruitless. I don’t know if I am educated enough to even comment on it, other than showing unconditional support and solidarity to him.

An important and unlikely dissenter who should be mentioned among free speech heroes is Mufti Kifayatullah, and it would be dishonest to ignore him simply because he is a theocrat. Mufti Kifayatullah defied the convention that theocratic politicians are pro-establishment in the country and proved to be a breath of fresh air for a change for openly speaking out against the military.

Special mentions, of course, go to journalist Gul Bukhari, journalist Taha Siddiqui, and blogger Ahmed Waqas Goraya, all three of whom have been assaulted extrajudicially by the Pakistani authorities, who have been relentless in their criticism of the military establishment and state authoritarianism in Pakistan. They have particularly been a nuisance in getting obnoxious responses from the current DG ISPR. Goraya recently claimed to be responsible for the shut down of thousands of twitter accounts of trolls which he alleges to be hired by the information wing of the Pakistani military.

However, more than them, many of the prominent journalists still in the country, who cannot appear on TV anymore are probably greater free speech heroes, including Talat Hussain, Matiullah Jan, and Najam Sethi. Hamid Mir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, and Asma Shirazi are also fighting the good fight while still on the air.

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero for 2018 here.

The Student Solidarity March: Students Across Pakistan Are Waking Up

Source: Pakistan Today

The progressives students across Pakistan did it. They were not threatened. They were not deterred. They were not intimated… by the threats of authority, by the threats of the state establishment, by the threats of their conformist parents and teachers, and by the threats of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Never in the living memory of the generations since the 70s, has such a large, broad, and vibrant secular, leftist crowd taking to the streets in Pakistan. It is the kind of student politics that I most certainly missed during my college days and was always looking for. I was looking for a platform to express my secular liberal views but were not finding any like-minded people, let alone allies around me. I am relieved to say today that so many of the young students today cannot say that. The struggle of the leftist activists in Pakistan has made its impact.

Students all across Pakistan, from Karachi and Sindh to Quetta and from Southern Punjab to Lahore and from Islamabad and Peshawar to Gilgit, students came out in great numbers. They made their presence felt and reminded the authorities of what to expect in the future.

The most beautiful part of the march was the participation of Iqbal Lala, the father of martyred secular student Mashaal Khan. Any such march is incomplete without saluting heroes such as Mashaal Khan who have become a symbol of resistance against Islamic fundamentalism and the tyrannical state of Pakistan who collectively murdered them.

 

The progressive students also revived the spirit of Bhagat Singh, an indigenous hero of the War of Independence against the British that the Islamic Republic has completely forgotten.

There still is a long, long way to go for us. This is only the beginning. Still, there were nearly not enough people coming out. Still, the numbers nowhere near matched the injustice and threats faced by the students, women, labor, and minorities in Pakistan. There is still a long way to the restoration of student unions in a country that only appreciates monolithic behavior. There is still a long way to go for improving access to education and better health, or even the right to life and dignity in most parts of Pakistan.

Most importantly, there is a long way to go before the secular left, socialists, and social democrats can become a considerable voting bloc in Pakistan. The ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has always been a start but it is somehow disconnected to the left in the rest of the country.

While many liberal friends were put off by the Marxist and revolutionary slogans in the march, they must never forget the bigger secular, democratic cause, In order for the struggle of the secular left to be more effective, broader coalitions need to be built without sacrificing the principles of social democracy. We are up against the dictatorship of the military establishment and the ignorant, obscurantist tyranny of the Islamic Republic, the ignorant rule of the PTI and conservative Punjab, and the violent Islami Jamiat Talba. It is in the best interest of all center liberals, secular liberals to progressive left and socialists to unite to build a secular coalition, just like in the recent Israeli elections where Kachol Lavan appeared as a major coalition.

Zia must be turning in his grave on this day because he did all in his power to destroy the left from reemerging. But on this historic day, it has. Who would have thought that these visuals would be possible in the 80s.

Congratulations, progressive students of Pakistan, you have made history.

You are waking up. You are alive.