‘A Pakistani View of Pakistan’s Decline’

In a country where a certain set of institutions frame not only the narrative but what you hear in the news and ban or censor any news or newspaper or media house who does not fall in line, it is refreshing to read a piece that is brutally honest. In his latest piece for Dawn, columnist F. S. Aijazuddin undertakes a detailed examination of where Pakistan stands on the eve of the 2018 elections. He ominously predicts: “What will the Pakistan of 2023 be? Voters have been told to expect a ‘new Pakistan’. They should be prepared for the disappointment, similar to the one Francis Younghusband felt during his travels to Lahaul in the 1880s: “So I asked again how far Dadh was and the man said two miles. So I asked whether I could see the village, so he said yes, and showed me a village behind. Voters beware. Your ‘new’ Pakistan is behind you.”

Starting with the “dying parliament” Aijazuddin states: “It is dependent upon last-minute whiffs of oxygen, desperately resuscitating itself by passing insidious resolutions unanimously in a near-empty house. The most recent one will remain on our conscience for longer than it will stay on the statute books — the attempt to obliterate at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, the name of Dr Abdus Salam, our first Nobel laureate.”

Turning to Pakistan’s “toothless foreign policy” the columnist asserts: “After 70 years of cohabitation with the United States, we have decided that even a belated too little is more than enough. We have chosen to confront our long-term benefactor the US, this time over one of its Islamabad-based officials — Col Joseph Hall, defence and air attaché.”

On the economic front, Aijazuddin notes that “Our annual budget has been passed without a debate, without a glance. It has become yesterday’s rubbish, relegated to the grubby hands of those who buy waste by weight.”

Aijazuddin further points out that “The public is used to seeing lawyers punch each other in courtrooms. The paper-screen reputation of the judiciary has been perforated as now judges criticise each other. Over the years, many of the principles of British jurisprudence and legal canons were adopted by us. The only one left was to reincarnate another Judge Jeffries.”

He ends his column with these words about the 2018 elections: “Will the next National Assembly fulfil the expectations of 104,267,581 registered voters? Will it even matter? Or will it be no better than the committee of Richard Harkness’s definition: “a group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary”.”

Pakistan Hacks Human Rights Defenders’ Computers

In its latest report, “Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan” Amnesty International shows how “Human rights defenders in Pakistan are under threat from a targeted campaign of digital attacks, which has seen social media accounts hacked and computers and mobile phones infected with spyware. We uncovered an elaborate network of attackers who are using sophisticated and sinister methods to target human rights activists. Attackers use cleverly designed fake profiles to lure activists and then attack their electronic devices with spyware, exposing them to surveillance and fraud and even compromising their physical safety,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. “Our investigation shows how attackers have used fake Facebook and Google login pages to trick their victims into revealing their passwords. It is already extremely dangerous to be a human rights defender in Pakistan and it is alarming to see how attacks on their work are moving online.”

 

Amnesty International found that “several human rights activists in Pakistan have been targeted in this way, sometimes by people claiming to be human rights activists themselves. Over the course of several months, Amnesty International used digital forensic techniques and malware analysis to identify the infrastructure and web pages connected to online attacks on human rights activists in Pakistan. Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights team has been able to trace these attacks to a group of individuals based in Pakistan. The report reveals a network of individuals and companies based in Pakistan that are behind the creation of some of the tools seen in surveillance operations used to target individuals in Pakistan.

 

The Amnesty report states that “These online attacks are taking place against the backdrop of a broader assault on Pakistani civil society. Over the past few months, Amnesty International has noted with alarm that activists are being subjected to threats, intimidation, violent attacks and enforced disappearances. They include journalists, bloggers, peaceful protesters and other mainstays of civil society. “As an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan has a responsibility to uphold the highest international standards. It has repeatedly vowed to protect human rights activists and criminalize enforced disappearances, but what we are seeing shows they have they done nothing on this front while the situation is getting worse,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali. “The Pakistani authorities must immediately order an independent and effective investigation into these attacks, and ensure that human rights defenders are protected both online and off.”

‘Newspaper Founded by Pakistan’s Founder is Now Censored in Pakistan’

Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist or own a media house. Pakistan ranks 139th out of 180 countries in Reporters Sans Frontier (RSF)’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. According to another media watchdog, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 60 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992. Following on the ban against Geo/Jang/News group comes the news about the banning and censorship against Pakistan’s oldest newspaper, Dawn, that was founded by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

 

On May 12, the Dawn published an interview with former PM Nawaz Sharif in which Mr Sharif criticized what he called “parallel governments” inside Pakistan, spoke about how Pakistan had become isolated and stated ““Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the [Mumbai 2008 terror attacks] trial?”

 

The interview led to a pushback from the military intelligence establishment and within 3 days there was disruption in the distribution of Dawn newspaper in many areas of Pakistan. The Press Council of Pakistan “notified Dawn’s editor that the newspaper breached the ethical code of practice by publishing content that “may bring into contempt Pakistan or its people or tends to undermine its sovereignty or integrity as an independent country.”

 

According to RSF: “The interview, which reportedly displeased the Pakistani military, appeared in the 12 May (Saturday) issue and the blocking began on 15 May. According to RSF’s information, distribution is being disrupted in most of Baluchistan province, in many cities in Sindh province and in all military cantonments.”

 

RSF also stated: “The unwarranted blocking of the distribution of one of the main independent newspapers has yet again shown that the military are determined to maintain their grip on access to news and information in Pakistan. It is clear that the military high command does not want to allow a democratic debate in the months preceding a general election. We call on the authorities to stop interfering in the dissemination of independent media and to restore distribution of Dawn throughout Pakistan.”

Deep State’s Denial of Pashtun Awakening Gets Worse

Pakistan’s deep state continues to place restrictions and attempts to clampdown on activists associated with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). In end April, there was an attempt to prevent a rally in Lahore and the provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah asserted that “hidden hands tried stopping the PTM from holding a procession in Lahore.”

Now in May, there is an attempt to prevent the May 13 PTM rally scheduled in Karachi. The Sindh government. The administration in Karachi has denied permission to PTM to hold a rally in Pakistan’s financial capital on Sunday May 13 on grounds that PTM “aimed to foment anti-state feelings in the country, and that too a mere few days before Ramazan.” According to a story in The Daily Times “The administration blamed the PTM for disseminating false propaganda against state institutions, and in response, launched an investigation against the leaders of the movement in the city.”

In a blatant attempt that demonstrates the hands of Pakistan’s security establishment PTM’s leader Manzoor Pashteen was not allowed to board a Serene Air flight from Islamabad to Karachi. According to a story in Dawn: “When Pashteen and his associates reached the Serene Air check-in counter, those accompanying him were issued boarding passes but Pashteen was denied the same on the grounds that his details were “not in the system” and that he wasn’t cleared to board the flight.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a strongly worded statement condemning this action. “That the authorities have, once again, escalated their efforts to suppress the PTM is cause for serious concern. There is no credible reason for having prevented Manzoor Pashteen from boarding his flight to Karachi to attend the 13 May rally.’ The Commission is also ‘disturbed to learn that Naghma Shaikh, a Democratic Student Federation leader planning to attend this rally, was detained and physically harassed on her way to the airport. Ms Shaikh alleges that the authorities took away her passport and money. HRCP condemns such excessive tactics and strongly urges the government to refrain from interfering in people’s right to peaceful assembly.”

The HRCP also expressed concern over the arrest and charges leveled against PTM supporters in Karachi. “The Commission is gravely concerned over reports that more than 150 PTM activists and sympathizers – including Karachi University professor Dr Riaz Ahmed – have gone missing or been arrested, many of them on charges of sedition and terrorism. The authorities’ disproportionate response is unwarranted, given that the PTM rallies held to date have remained peaceful.”

‘Denying Diversity & Demanding Conformity: Pakistan’s Mistaken Approach to its Nationalities & Ethnicities’

The Pakistani deep state has perennially viewed ethnic nationalism and demands by Pashtun, Baloch, Sindhi and Muhajir groups as a threat to the Islamic state of Pakistan. The current Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement and the Baloch demands for more autonomy are seen as anti-national and any discussion of Pashtun or Baloch nationalism or identity is sought to be suppressed.

In a recent piece Karachi-based academic and analyst, Dr S. Akbar Zaidi writes that “one cannot mention either of them by name in our press or on television. It is as if by this silence they will disappear. The mainstream electronic media, for reasons now well understood, based on fear, ignores any reporting about recent developments regarding both national groups which constitute Pakistan. News about their large jalsas is absent from most newspapers. Even in our universities, one cannot talk about either of them in academic forums where one expects Pakistani students to be aware of, and engage with, the different constituents of their nation. After all, any notion of Pakistani nationalism, however one defines it, needs to be interrogated through its multiple variants in order to understand what it really is.”

Referring to the similarities “between the latest manifestation of Pakhtun consciousness and nationalism, and that of a Baloch nationalist militancy, are few, if any at all. Both are nationalisms of smaller ethnic or national groupings in a Punjabi-dominated ethnic state such as Pakistan, but do not share much in terms of social formation, a middle class, a history, or a politics. Both anti-majoritarian nationalisms need to be understood and addressed by mainstream actors, but both forms of consciousness differ markedly in how and why they exist, and what it is they are expressing.”

Zaidi argues for the need to understand “the sense of alienation amongst the different ethnic and national groups which constitute Pakistan — which is composed of numerous ethnicities and nationalities — majoritarian elites and institutions, such as the military, will fail to work through the country’s numerous contradictions. Marginalisation of any ethnic or national group only creates further alienation and resentment, undermining any notion of a federal state. What is often overlooked is that there is a huge difference between being anti-national, anti-state, subversive and unpatriotic. In fact, groups can be highly patriotic and, at the same time, critical of any form of majoritarian hegemony, whether institutional or from any dominant group. One could even argue that it is their patriotism which makes them question this institutional or ethnic dominance. To ask for rights granted to one social group for all others is probably the most patriotic act possible.”

Further, “The manifestation of nationalisms differs according to the stage of evolution of material forces and conditions, and usually depends on the presence, both political and economic, of a middle class. The latter, however defined, is usually at the vanguard of nationalism, where jobs, rights, guarantees and privileges are being demanded and negotiated. This is why one sees different expressions of nationalism by different ethnic and national groups, often changing over time. In nationalist or ethnic groupings which are ruled by sardars or what used to be called ‘feudals’, a non-inclusive, elite nationalism emerges which has few participants. In many ways, despite the substantial differentiation within the Baloch social formation, the older sardars, usually unrepresentative of their own people, have usurped notions of national and ethnic identity, rights and demands. Pakhtun nationalism is even more different, far more advanced and mature, in many salient ways. There are many reasons for this, not just the fact that Pakhtun political consciousness is many decades old, and has found political representation through mass-based electoral politics. This links up with the largely egalitarian society amongst the Pakhtuns, where large landholdings found in all the other provinces have been negligible. Moreover, with a growing and educated, highly political middle class, it is not surprising that Pakhtun nationalism will be the most vocal — although not necessarily the most militant — compared to any other in Pakistan. There is also the small fact that for four decades Pakhtun society and social structures have borne the brunt of war and devastation, all giving rise to demands which are deemed just.”

Ending his piece he argues that “The dominance of a single ethnic or national group, whether by circumstance or design, gives rise to a perpetual sense of a politics of inequality and brings about persistent resentment and discrimination, even if such issues are not always based on evidence or fact. Perceptions need to be addressed to make such developmental politics inclusive. Moreover, a dominant ethnic group which also manifests this dominance through other institutions, such as the military, gives rise to a further sense of alienation, and requires even more delicate handling. The recent manifestation of disenchantment in the way things are done and run in Pakistan is being articulated through the rising expression of injustice and dismissive treatment, particularly amongst the Baloch and the Pakhtuns. Specific conditions exist in both ethnic and national groupings, and this is being made clear by how their different representatives act out their frustrations with the federation and its dominant constituent. Belonging to very different social formations, the Baloch and the Pakhtuns have conveyed their concerns very differently. It is important that such demands are met with conciliatory terms which understand and address issues, rather than through the heavy hand of force. Pakhtun and Baloch nationalisms are not about to go away; if anything, they are only going to become much stronger.”