Finally Coming After Your Social Media

Source: Dawn

Well, recruiting an army of trolls just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because it didn’t work. It wasn’t enough because dissident journalists and bloggers such as Gul Bukhari and Ahmed Waqas Goraya were simply not shutting up.

After a humiliating exit of DG ISPR General Asif Ghafoor from his position, and rightly so because perhaps such erratic tweeting didn’t suit a DG ISPR, it seemed for a while that the troll army had retreated for a moment. This occurred after hundreds of fake accounts run by nationalist trolls were deleted by twitter. However, the new DG ISPR Babar Iftikhar does not sound like much of a fan of a free media either, as has been the case with the Bajwa-Imran regime.

Ever since the Bajwa-Imran regime has established itself in its full glory since the elections in July 2019, they have been hell-bent to curb media freedom. There has been a crackdown on bloggers and political dissidents and several

While people were wondering if it was about time that the government thought about pulling the cord on the social media, the government finally delivered a kind of low that has no parallel in history. The draconian Cybercrime Act under the PML-N had set the stage for this government overreach, which ironically resulted in the detention of the members of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s own social media team following the Dawn Leaks controversy. On top of that, the PTI government has proposed the Citizens Protection Against Online Harm Rules 2020, which the cabinet has already passed and which will not be up for voting in the parliament. Unfortunately, no opposition party is expected to deliver a reasonable response to this, let alone oppose this measure heavily criticized by many commentators. Obviously, these directives are coming from the military establishment.

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Not just that, the federal authorities in Pakistan went a step ahead by issuing journalist Gul Bukhari a notice on terrorism charges. They accused her of using incendiary language against the security institutions in Pakistan.

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It is probably the biggest joke considering how Ehsanullah Ehsan, the controversial spokesperson of the Taliban has been kept as almost a state guest by Pakistan authorities. What was worse Ehsansullah Ehsan had claimed to escape the custody of the military and was later found to be in Turkey. The Interior Minister Ijaz Shah later acknowledged that he is missing as well, sparking fury among APS parents.

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Supposedly liberal ministers in the PTI cabinet such as Fawad Chaudhary made an excuse for the policy, citing taxation on social networks. Diverting attention by insisting that the proposed draconian measures by the government are for economic reasons cannot fool either the skeptical dissenters and the suspecting foreign commentators who are well aware of the nefarious intentions of the state. It also does not require an expert to conclude that these directives are coming not from the PTI but a higher and deeper state authority. What is disappointing though is the silence of PTI, a party that rose to power thanks to the social media, and the shamelessness with which it is defending the unprecedented curbs on the media and freedom of speech.

If Pakistan indeed suspends social media citing a lack of control over content critical to it, then it must face repercussions from the international community. The greatest responsibility will be on the United States to see beyond its strategic relationship with the country and impose sanctions on the country. The European Union and Great Britain must also take similar action to press Pakistan over possibly denying its citizens the fundamental access to the internet. There could not have been a worse state of media and citizen freedom in Pakistan.

When Peaceful Protest Became Treason in Pakistan

Source: YouTube

Pakistan is a funny country. We have been taught as citizens growing up by state propaganda to pledge our unity under one flag and that all the people in Pakistan are equal citizens. However, as we grow up and the reality of the country dawns on us, it becomes evidently clear that some people are more equal than others.

Perhaps no political movement has revealed this notion in recent years more than Manzoor Pashteen’s Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. It has become perhaps the largest non-violent civil rights movement of its kind in a country that has largely discouraged democratic ideas and protests. However, it would be unfair to say that the people of Pakistan have not been democratic or focused on civil rights, considering the various progressive movements, albeit failed, throughout the history of Pakistan. In that tradition, the stand that the young leaders of the Awami Workers Party has taken has been nothing short of heroic.

When Pakistan is declaring bright young political leaders such as Ammar Rashid as a traitor. There were around two dozens other political workers who were arrested during a non-violent and peaceful protest demanding the release of Manzoor Pashteen in Islamabad. The brutal police crackdown made a mockery of the claims of the current government’s claims of democratic values.

Source: Awami Workers Party

Ammar Rashid and other young AWP workers were arrested and charged with sedition and terrorism. Earlier, the organizers of the Student Solidarity March were also arrested and charged with sedition, and those arrested included Lala Iqbal, the father of Mishaal Khan, the martyred progressive student of the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, for alleged blasphemy.

The authoritarian regime in Pakistan is trying to intimidate anyone who has a dissenting voice, especially anybody going anywhere near the message of Manzoor Pashteen. A person like me would think twice and neither do I care enough about Pakistan to spend a night in jail, let alone two weeks like Ammar. Undeterred, Ammar and his comrades displayed courage in the face of harassment and intimidation and endured the harsh jail term

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We certainly have bigger civil rights resistance heroes like Manzoor Pashteen, Ali Wazir, and Mohsin Dawar, but Ammar Rashid is most certainly a hero for progressive politics and the cause of the people of Pakistan. Ammar’s struggle is important because someone from the strongholds of the Punjabi ethnic majority needs to stand up for the civil rights of all Pakistanis too. Ammar is one of such political leaders, although not well known by most of the voters in his constituency of NA-53 in Islamabad. Not only that, He has always been on the forefront by demanding people’s rights from issues such as rescuing Islamabad’s razed Afghan refugee slum to protesting against the Blasphemy law and the rights of students to form political unions, he has always led the right causes for civil rights.

I don’t know about others but Ammar Rashid has truly earned his vote for me as a progressive leader pursuing civil rights.

The New Face of the Islamic State

Source: Amag/CNN

After the disintegration of the physical Islamic State from Iraq and Syria, the organization has found refuge in Islamist pockets around the world. The ruthless Easter bombings, killing at least 359 and injuring scores more, shocked the entire world for the sheer damage it did to a peaceful community. This was a coordinated series of at least 8 bombings hitting both churches and a couple of luxury hotels. Right away, the thoughts of the remnants of the LTTE groups came to many a people’s minds but many were deliberately trying to avoid even suspecting a Muslim group.

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Many usual critics of Islamist groups, including Tarek Fatah, were suspecting the Islamic State or an affiliated local group right from the start. No other entity would have the motivation to pick Easter and target churches and hotels in such an organized and cold-blooded manner. It indeed turned out that the Islamic State finally took the responsibility for the heinous attacks which was carried out by perhaps the strangest of their allies.

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Source: Sebastian Church/CBCP News

All the suicide bombers were found to be Sri Lankan nationals and suspected to be a part of the local Islamist group National Tawheed Jamaat. This .group featured a number of well to do Sri Lankan Muslims who bought into the agenda of Islamism, which aspires to a pan-Islamic world implementing God’s will on the earth. They believed they were doing their bit in Sri Lanka after pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State and its caliph Abubakar Al-Baghdadi. Shockingly enough for many, one of the suicide bombers was Fatima Iqbal, a wife of a Sri Lankan millionaire, also involved in the attacks. Something which proves that poverty has nothing to do with what motivates these Islamist terrorists, a part of whose agenda is to attain paradise through “murderous martyrdom.”

This is what the challenge of the Islamic State has become now. While the horrors of the physical Caliphate have been pretty much addressed, something which had become a major global crisis around 2015-16, the activities of the group have now turned it into the second Al-Quaida. And other than their non-Muslim victims worldwide, the real cost of this crisis will be paid by the local Muslim community.

In the end, the onus will again fall on the peaceful and well-meaning Muslims all around the world. Because sadly, this virus is incubating among their brotherhood and has begun to eat not only the people outside but within it. Following the shocking Easter bombings in Colombo, the Muslim minority in the country is already feeling tightened scrutiny. But none of it should come as a surprise.

Just like the overwhelming response of solidarity from New Zealand following the Christchurch Mosque massacre, the Muslim community needs to reach out to the world too. Not just in their words, but with their actions, they must reject the cancer of the Islamic State and their allies propagating violent political Islam. Though what are you going to do when they actually do point out the problem as early as 2014 and those too eager to not hurt the community’s sentiment completely ignore these warnings. The signs for the Sri Lankan Easter bombing were coming for a very long time. But they need to keep vigilant.

There is no easy way of dealing with them.

Pakistan’s Iran Opportunity

Source: Al-Arabiya

Pakistan can be very creative in its foreign policy when it comes to Afghanistan. Pakistan has been so nervous about its Western border since the days of the Cold War, that it is running proxies in the shape of Afghan Taliban to this day, manipulating who holds control in Kabul. With such a history, drastic foreign policy moves are not beyond Pakistan.

Pakistan has had a troubled history with terrorism. And now even the United States has lost Pakistan over its support for the Afghan Taliban. This means all the hard work done by the Pakistan ISI and the military to undo the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has gone down the drain. This means that all the Pakistan efforts for the War Against Terror during Bush and Obama administrations amounted to nothing. This means that Pakistan is not the hero of the Cold War anymore. That’s a huge problem for a nation that heavily depends on lending its military service to political conflicts.

Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place as far as its financial survival is concerned. It can thank Allah for making Saudi Arabia so rich and powerful in the region so that it can bail it out every time, along with the United Arab Emirates. But with its flirtation with China’s Belt and Road, . Then again, is Pakistan the only country to have entered into China’s debt trap? I think the West can live with it. But can it live with Pakistan’s ongoing support for terrorism?

A week ago in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, an alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad suicide bomber, a local Kashmiri youth named Adil Ahmed Dar killed 44 CRPF troopers in a bus. Jaish-e-Muhammad reportedly accepted the responsibility of the attack. India immediately blamed Pakistan for the attack, as well as vowed to retaliate and to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. A day earlier, a bus of Iranian revolutionary guards was attacked killing 27 guards in Zahedan near the Baluchistan border. Iran blamed an alleged Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-ul-Adl for the attack and asked Pakistan to either take action or allow Iran to enter Pakistan to retaliate. Pakistan has dismissed both the complaints while assuring its action on terrorism.

In the wake of these events on the occasion of the state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to Islamabad, a press conference was held by the Saudi and Pakistani foreign ministers was held. The Pakistani foreign minister was embarrassed by Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Foreign Minister for openly addressing Iran’s double standards on terrorism and commented that “it is very strange coming from the foreign minister of the chief sponsor of terrorism was calling out other nations for accusing others to be engaging in terrorism activities in Iran.” And then he went on to list Iran’s alleged contribution to global instability and terrorism.

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This perfectly elaborates how Saudi Arabia views Iran as far as terrorism is concerned. The United States, Israel, and most of the other Sunni countries are pretty much aligned with that viewpoint as well but should these states decide to surround and attack Iran, will Pakistan continue its stance of neutrality?

While nobody in Pakistan is excited at the thought of Iran being attacked, especially due to the way the Shias see Iran, it could still possibly be Pakistan’s “get-out-of-jail-free” card if it becomes a major player to take it down. Even though India has so far been unable to obtain a global consensus on Pakistan being recognized as the state sponsor of terrorism, such a development could further corner its progress. Ideally, Pakistan must do that while cracking down on the terrorists it is alleged to be supporting, but all things equal, this could be Pakistan’s redemption and the West may tolerate its irresponsible policies for one more good reason. This sounds far fetched but will probably not be too improbable especially if Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are reelected in their respective elections. Trump scrapping the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiated by the Obama administration and calling for the isolation of Iran are steps in that direction. And Iranian generals vowing the annihilation of Israel certainly doesn’t help either.

However, this strategy is not possible without bringing Israel into the equation with Pakistan. As a matter of fact, such a campaign will be the perfect time for Pakistan to establish its diplomatic relations with Israel openly and officially, even if it has to bypass Saudi Arabia’s approval. Though you could argue that if we reach a stage where Iran will undergo such a military siege, Saudi Arabia would arguably have become an open ally to Israel already, paving the path for the rest of the Sunni nations resisting this idea. Currently, Israel is offering unconditional support to India in its fight against terrorism, because frankly they have no motivation to take care of the interest of Pakistan since it has never reached out to them.

Pakistan can not only proactively offer its air bases to Israel and the United States for campaigns against Iran, it can even step up its role in the coalition against Yemen. Many like Kunwar Khuldune Shahid are arguing that Pakistan has already conceded that it is going to be a full Saudi Arabia client state by taking the expected deals worth $20 billion, which implies that it is going to fully become a part of the anti-Iran Sunni coalition despite its earlier reservations.

If that is indeed true then Pakistan is certainly not going to make Iran any happier and cannot change India’s arrangement with Iran. However, right now there is an illusion that Pakistan enjoys good relations with Iran. Such a naked policy will do away with even the comfort of that notion, while also putting to rest the delusion that Pakistan can play the role of a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So Pakistan can be lazy and wait for Saudi Arabia and China to keep on bailing it out on international forums for the foreseeable future or take a proactive step and reach out to the West again.

But there could even be another factor in Pakistan’s reluctance to call our Iran. Perhaps Pakistan does not want all the attention in the region focused on itself by the Western world for its irresponsibility and support of terrorism.

A Decade of Shattered Hopes

Source: Financial Express

Ten years ago, perhaps the worst terrorist attack in India’s modern history was carried out. Most likely by terrorists who planned it in Pakistan and crossed the border from the Western neighbor of India. The man who led the assault, Ajmal Kasaab, was put to death but even that has not healed the wounds left that day.

Nothing is more important on this day than the memory of the 165 innocent people killed in the Mumbai attack and all those who suffered injuries in the attack. However, still it is not insignificant to account for the massive tax that this terror attack had on the world, especially on India and Pakistan. Not only did the attacks see almost immediate suspension of relations between the two nations, despite Pakistani Prime Minister’s eagerness to send the Pakistani intelligence chief to New Delhi (later forced to retract), but also resulted in tensions that have not subsided since then. As a matter of fact, India has insisted on talking on terrorism before any other issue with Pakistan. The only development made on Pakistan’s end was the government allowing the alleged perpetrator Hafiz Saeed’s political party to run in the elections.

It is hard to believe that it has been a decade since this incident. However, it only goes to show how the irresponsibility of the Pakistani state and India’s failure to address its own domestic concerns are plaguing the lives of a billion people in the region. It is nothing short of a tragedy that India and Pakistan could not progress since the development in their relations since 1999 and before 2008, especially with India having ignored offenses such as the Kargil War and the attack on the parliament.

Perhaps the darkest day since the darkness of 1947 and, many would argue a consequence of that great historic accident.

The only difference is that since then hopes of the people of the region to have a better life have been shattered even more. The hope to move freely across both borders. The hope to trade and the hope to make new friends. And most of all, the hope to have access to and ownership of all India as an Indian citizen. And things are not looking to improve any bit.

A Regime in Love with Terrorists

Source: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Sometimes you feel for the passionate, Pakistani nationalists who feel compelled to defend the country in all sorts of nonsense that it commits. To have an estimate of what sort of judges operate in Pakistan, you need to read the judgment on the disqualification of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi when his nomination papers were rejected on the basis of not being considered “Sadiq” (truthful) and “Amin” (honest) as per the Article 62 and 63, with the terms theologically used to describe the traits of the Holy Prophet.

Other than the fact that Prime Minister Abbasi’s disqualification was surprising, it was backed up by an utterly ridiculous, even laughable, judgment.

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This enviable example of judicial activism could only impress people of these secret superpowers disguised as judicial clerks but things don’t seem as bright when we see their love affair with the Islamist terrorists. The political party of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist accused of being involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2011, is already contesting elections as the Milli Muslim League. To many people, even this decision is enough to question the criterion of evaluating the “honesty” and “qualification” of candidates. Even the abrogator of Constitution, General Pervez Musharraf is being allowed to run for office. However, quite a few political candidates have been apparently put to a much stricter scrutiny.

On the recommendation of the Punjab Home Department, the (so-called) National Counter-Terrorism Authority cleared up the name of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) and proceeded to unfreeze its seized assets. He is also allowed to travel to a foreign country, unlike a number of politicians and even General Asad Durrani, after he co-wrote the Spy Chronicles. Six months ago, the FATF, a global terrorism financing watchdog had put Pakistan on a terrorism funding watchlist. In its latest meeting, it has again put Pakistan on the grey list and the state had to pledge to take serious measures against terrorist financing patterns. However, giving Ludhianvi his freedom of finance and movement certainly looked like a promising start for the cause.

The Islamist leaning elements in the bureaucracy and the judiciary find it perfectly safe and legal to unfreeze the assets of and legitimize the electoral candidacy of Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, whose organization ASWJ was declared terrorist due to its activities related to sectarian militancy. This organization is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Shia citizens.

The sad bit is that the religious conservative nationalists don’t see this as the problem. Their selective outrage on financial corruption completely disappears when it comes to the question of Islamist terrorism, the alleged existence of which they actually consider a Western conspiracy.

Let’s face it. The Pakistani regime has a history of love affairs with terrorist entities. They have openly supported the Taliban regime in the past, even helped install them. They have sponsored infiltration in Kashmir and have maintained Islamist militants for decades as assets. It is not a surprise how one of the most wanted international terrorists is head of a party contesting elections while a terrorist of national notoriety is allowed to freely move his money and location.

It is an open secret that the Pakistani judicial, civil, and military bureaucracy have been using financial corruption charges as a measure to keep the power of elected officials in check. But far worse than that is the selective morality of the general urban educated population. These nationalist social conservatives highly skeptical of democracy do not recognize moral corruption an issue but only recognize financial corruption as the only form of offense for which the term “corruption” is used.

The problem is that if they were to address moral corruption in politics, the very discriminatory basis on which the state of Pakistan is founded. Then they will have to address the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Then they will have to address the question of Islamist parties contesting elections in a democracy. Then they will have to address the systematic and institutionalized apartheid-like discrimination that non-Muslim citizens, homosexuals, transsexuals have to endure. Then they will have to address the financial corruption of the bureaucratic state and the military. Then they will have to address Pakistan’s unreasonable support for local terrorist outfits.

That sort of questioning is what we are not prepared for yet.

What Diplomatic Isolation Looks Like

Source: The News

There finally comes a time in the relationships between nations when you start seeing the end of the concessions given to a party.

Pakistan has been given the warning that many have talked about around the world and finally has been put into the terrorism funding watchlist by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), perhaps only a day or two after the Pakistani diplomats were boasting of evading the banking and economic sanction. This was probably because they had decided to formally do that in the next meeting in June 2018, when the term of the current elected government of PML-N will pretty much be completed and had not made the announcement earlier. The last time Pakistan was on the watchlist was 2012, until 2015 when it was removed from the list by the body.

While Khawaja Asif’s delegation had thought that Saudi Arabia and China had done just enough to keep them off the list, especially ahead of Pakistan sending a thousand troops to the Kingdom, probably for the Yemen campaign, it wasn’t to be. The United States had particularly lobbied following the US administration’s tough stance against Pakistan’s policy on fighting terrorism.

While the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa made quite a few important comments in his speech at the Munich Security Conference, such as the premature withdrawal of military resources from Afghanistan by the US government, his overall case apparently failed to make an impression on the international community. Time and time again, the response of Pakistani military and diplomats have been pointing fingers back at the West for this failed policies. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has also brought up the US-Afghan Policy during the latter years of Cold War and has even gone far enough to say that it was a mistake to follow that path.

Listen to the speech of the Army Chief and you will get an impression as if the militant Jihad is some sort of a recent invention. He also probably does not realize that his speech really got weird for a foreign audience at a point when he said that a body of Islamic clerics from all sects had passed a decree that Jihad and suicide bombing were not permitted “until sanctioned by the state.” Yeah, right. That’s precisely what the security officials from around the world wanted to hear. I just hope I am wrong or he should fire his communications director.

Source: RFE/RL

But really our military establishment has more people’s performance to worry about than just their communications team. We can make it a national issue because of our bloated egos as in the case of the “Dawn leaks,” but the inaction of the security establishment to take. We are talking about a country where Hafiz Saeed, a certified terrorist in the eyes of India and the West and pretty much the rest of the world, has formed a political party which is contesting elections. And of course, anyone who claims that his Difa-e-Pakistan Council has no support from the military establishment is obviously living in a fool’s paradise.

Pakistan finally needs to decide whether it wants international acceptance or not. It is up to the Pakistani state to decide if we want to become Iran or North Korea in the world’s eyes or a progressive democratic nation. Pakistan is nowhere near going to be acceptable to the international community with the same course of action. The government and the military simply cannot keep on distracting and diverging when answered a simple question about taking action against terrorist elements within the country. The FATF restrictions are only going to make the people suffer from the horrific policies of their ruling state.

Yes, more is needed to be done indeed.