‘Insecure Stare: Pakistani Intelligence Harasses Activists and Their Families’

Openly threatening activists families, kidnapping prominent journalists, raiding houses of human rights activists and journalists has now become open practice in Pakistan. It looks like the security establishment has declared open war against anyone it perceives as a threat to its narrative and its image.

In January 2017 several bloggers including Prof Salman Haider and Ahmad Waqass Goraya were picked up and tortured by the security agencies. In our article Arrest Militants not Scholars we had said “If terrorism is going to be defeated in reality and not just in slogans, state agencies will have to carry out operations against extremist militants, not scholars.”

Mr Goraya was forced to leave Pakistan and seek asylum in Europe. On June 20, Mr Goraya tweeted that his family that is being targeted and “his elderly parents were threatened directly with abduction and torture to ‘teach me a lesson’.” In a statement issued today the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned what it saw as “this latest attempt to cow human rights defenders into silence. To use a person’s vulnerable elderly parents as leverage is nothing short of cowardly. That Mr Goraya has reportedly been warned to refrain from tweeting or writing, in his words “at least till the elections”, is an ominous sign at such a critical point in Pakistan’s democratic development.’”

Pakistan’s brave journalists continue to be targeted as well.

As mentioned in our story Pakistan army declares war on dissenters, in early June of this year, just one day after DGISPR Asif Ghafoor’s press conference in which he showed a list of prominent journalists who the security establishment viewed as threats, well-known journalist and activist and vocal critic of the military establishment Gul Bukhari was abducted by unknown persons in Lahore while on her way to the studios of Waqt TV. According to a report in Dawn: Bukhari “was abducted on Sherpao Bridge in Lahore’s Cantonment area. Her family had reported her missing to the police. Punjab Police said Bukhari had not been detained by its personnel.” Bukhari was freed in the wee hours of the following morning after outrage and concern expressed on social media by media watchdogs as well as the British High Commission in Pakistan.

On Thursday June 21, the residence of prominent journalist, analyst and Daily Times’ correspondent Marvi Sirmed “was ransacked as the family entered home after being away for holidays. Two laptops, one smartphone, passports of family members among other travel documents were taken.” In a Daily Times report: “Marvi sirmed said that from the look of it she could tell that the miscreants went through all of the family’s belongings but no valuables such as the jewelry was taken. She said her wedding ring was also gone and she couldn’t find two of her bangles and assumes were also taken. She said the miscreants detached the new passports and took the valid ones while leaving those expired behind. Marvi said the police have written a complaint but an FIR hasn’t been lodged yet. She added that she doesn’t know much about the incident except that it was similar to an incident that happened in 2010 while they lived in another house in F11. “I don’t know who would want to rob my house as I don’t even have precious jewellery or such valuables here.”

In its statement the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “also expressed its alarm ‘at the growing frequency with which human rights defenders are being targeted. HRCP calls for a public and transparent investigation of the incident to make it clear that such callous attempts to intimidate human rights defenders or their families are unacceptable and unconstitutional. This ugly state of affairs simply cannot be allowed to continue.’”

Army’s tricks against Nawaz Sharif don’t bolster country’s image

For the apologists of the Pakistan army’s meddling in politics, who also worry about Pakistan’s image, the latest issue of The Economist poses a problem.

Apologists for the Pakistan army’s interference in politics have always sought to blame the civilians and argued that the Pakistani military helps bolster Pakistan’s image abroad. It is also claimed that the military’s views have the overwhelming support of the people of Pakistan. In recent years, some apologists for the military have even argued that a Western audience does not understand Asia or South Asia “At the core of this Eurocentrism is a tendency to view Pakistan’s civil–military relations through a foreign policy lens, while almost entirely neglecting the domestic political and structural issues at play.”

This kind of an apologetic view comes in for strong critique in the latest issue of The Economist. The influential weekly journal states that the Pakistan army has always interfered in politics, that the army is using every trick in its handbook to sideline former PM Nawaz Sharif, that the army has targeted the media, and that this time around the Pakistani people do not want the army to interfere and are pushing back through groups like Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). The article’s tone also makes it clear that far from improving Pakistan’s image, the political shenanigans of the military and its apologists actually distorts how the world views Pakistan.

In an article titled “General dysfunction: Pakistan’s army is using every trick to sideline Nawaz Sharif, Ordinary Pakistanis are resentful of its unchecked power” The Economist notes this is not the first time that “Pakistan’s army decided to respond to claims that it was attempting to fix next month’s general election … In 1990, for instance, the army-dominated spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, funnelled cash to opponents of the left-wing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), helping to secure its defeat. The military spokesman, General Asif Ghafoor, sternly denied that any such “engineering” was going on this time around. But a pile of evidence to the contrary is poking through the camouflage.”

The Economist noted: “The object of the army’s meddling is Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by the courts last year. Mr Sharif had been the beneficiary of the army’s largesse in 1990, when he began his first stint as prime minister. But they soon fell out. He resigned under pressure from the army in 1993 and was toppled again by it in a coup in 1999. Mr Sharif returned to power in 2013 eager to assert civilian control of foreign and security policy, which the army regards as its exclusive domain. In reply, the army undermined Mr Sharif, backing a months-long street protest by a big opposition party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI), aimed at overthrowing his government. It also refused the government’s request for help in dispersing another group of protesters that had blocked a busy intersection last year. A general was photographed at the scene handing money to the protesters. The army bristles at claims that it steered the Supreme Court to remove Mr Sharif last year on flimsy charges of “dishonesty”. But Mr Sharif (pictured, with gun) blames its unseen hand. Indeed, Mr Sharif is trying to turn the impending election into a referendum on his treatment by the generals, although he coyly refers to them using such codewords as “the establishment” and “aliens”. Last month he accused the army of facilitating a terrorist attack in India in 2008, in which 166 people were killed. Never has the army felt its privileged position so threatened, says Talat Masood, a former general.”

The Economist scathingly wrote: “Indirect elections to the upper house of parliament earlier this year give a sense of how the army operates. Weeks before the country’s four provincial assemblies were due to select the new senators, the government of the sparsely populated province of Balochistan, which was led by Mr Sharif’s party, the PML-N, collapsed owing to the abrupt defection of several lawmakers. One of Mr Sharif’s allies accused the ISI of orchestrating the insurrection. At any rate, independents and the former PML-N members went on to form the pro-military Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), which then secured several of Balochistan’s seats in the senate. The new senators, in conjunction with an improbable alliance of otherwise feuding opposition parties, together mustered enough votes to defeat the PML-N’s candidate for chairman of the senate. (An Urdu-language newspaper carried details of how the army allegedly helped senators to remember how to vote, by marking the corners of their ballot papers.) That, in turn, put paid to the PML-N’s hopes of passing legislation to scrap the woolly articles of the constitution that the courts had used to justify Mr Sharif’s dismissal. Imran Khan, the leader of PTI, does not deny that the army interferes in politics. He says a stronger civilian government (meaning one led by him) is the answer. He may have his way. PTI has benefited from a wave of defections from the PML-N in the most populous province, Punjab. In private, many politicians admit to being pressed, in some cases with the threat of corruption charges, to leave the PML-N. If the PTI can make headway in Punjab, where the PML-N won 116 of 148 seats at the last election, in 2013, Mr Khan stands a good chance of becoming the leader of a coalition government. Such a government would be “preferable” to the army, adds Hussain Haqqani, a former diplomat.”

The Economist pointed towards the censorship and attacks on the media: “Media outlets that caterwaul about all this become the victims of commercial crises. Geo, the most popular television station in the country, was mysteriously dropped by cable companies. They relented when it toned down its criticism of the judiciary and its support for Mr Sharif. Gul Bukhari, a journalist who supports the PML-N, was recently abducted for several hours. This week Dawn, a liberal newspaper, announced that it is being barred from distributing in much of the country. We are “110% muzzled”, sighs one journalist.”

The Economist article also notes popular sympathy towards Mr Sharif and PTM: “The only thing standing in the way of the army’s plan is voters’ apparent sympathy for Mr Sharif. His rallies draw large crowds. Polling by Gallup puts the PML-N 13 points ahead of the PTI nationally, and 20 points up in Punjab. “We know the establishment might attempt to manipulate the elections,” says Muzzafar Mughal, a resident of a swing district in the city of Rawalpindi, “but we will vote for him again.” Indeed, many Pakistanis have recently begun expressing unheard-of criticism of the army. A burgeoning civil-rights organisation, the Pushtun Protection Movement (PTM), was formed last year to protest against the army’s tactics in its campaign against Islamist insurgents. The PTM accuses the army of indiscriminately flattening villages. It wants the UN to investigate the fate of 20,000 missing people, and calls for the removal of military checkpoints and curfews in the tribal regions where most of Pakistan’s 30m Pushtuns live. The army’s response has been fierce: 37 PTM activists have been arrested for “sedition”. Manzoor Pashteen, the movement’s charismatic 24-year-old leader, was last month prevented from boarding a flight to a rally in the southern city of Karachi. He drove for two days to get there instead. When he arrived, he found 10,000 supporters sitting on the ground in the dark. The firms contracted to provide chairs and lights for the event had suddenly pulled out—yet another of the unexplained reversals that are so common when criticism of the army is involved. Non-Pushtuns are starting to support the PTM, a source of particular concern for the army. At the rally in Karachi, a 66-year-old woman from Balochistan, where locals have also long complained of military abuses, held up a picture of her son, missing for a year, for the cameras. Some generals counsel a softer response. The PTM activists awaiting trial have belatedly been granted bail, possibly a sign that the army is relenting slightly. But it does not seem to have the courage needed to make a broader retreat from politics.”

Hard Facts on CPEC, not Propaganda Videos

When governments are concerned about reality or hard facts they resort to gimmicks. Most pragmatic people today agree that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not the panacea it was promised to be and that Pakistan may end up becoming so deep in China’s debt that it will face long term consequences very few people have thought through. This is why for the last year the government appears to be encouraging gimmicks on youtube and social media.
Last April 2017 many of us viewed an advertisement by Shan Foods for their premade biryani masala mix in which a young Chinese woman, residing in Lahore with her husband who works for a Chinese company that is part of CPEC, uses the masala to prepare biryani and thus build a bond with her Pakistani neighbors. The advertisement went viral serving the government’s purpose of focusing on the ‘feel good’ rather than the reality.
The reality about CPEC was revealed in Dawn the following month, May 2017. As per Dawn’s report “The plan lays out in detail what Chinese intentions and priorities are in Pakistan for the next decade and a half, details that have not been discussed in public thus far. The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history in terms of how far it opens up the domestic economy to participation by foreign enterprises.”
Now we hear of news reports that Chinese and Pakistani filmmakers will cooperate in scriptwriting, shooting, post-production, and screening of “a movie showcasing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to highlight the “intimate friendship” of the people from the two countries. The movie named “The Journey” will tell stories of Chinese businesses participating in the construction of the corridor.”  
Xinhua quoted Wang Haiping, director of the scriptwriting committee of the China Television Artists Association at the first SCO festival as saying “The intimate friendship of the people from the two countries will be highlighted in the movie.” The shooting for the film is likely to start in early 2019.

Pakistan’s Media is no longer free

Close on the heels of Amnesty International’s report that the Pakistani deep state has hacked into the accounts of human rights activists and reports by both Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without borders (RSF) on how the Pakistani security establishment intimidates journalists, comes a report by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for media freedom, that was founded in 1950.
The IPI sent letters to Pakistan’s caretaker central and provincial governments, the Chief Justice, the Chief Election Commissioner Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza and Chairman of the Senate highlighting “a number of serious threats to press freedom ahead of the country’s July 25 elections, including the physical intimidation, abduction and torture of dissenting journalists; the forcible denial of the public’s right to access independent newspapers through the widespread disruption of newspaper distribution; and the effective blockading of independent channel broadcasts to television audiences.”
According to the letter written by IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi “These actions deny the public’s fundamental right to receive news and information and to participate in informed debate about matters of public interest, in particular the military’s role in civilian affairs. Such a climate is inimical to both democracy and the free flow of information necessary to this upcoming election”, Trionfi wrote. “IPI is worried that the continued persecution of the independent media is designed to convey a clear message: that any criticism of the military’s involvement in civilian affairs will have dire consequences for the survival of an independent press in Pakistan. Unless rigorous measures are taken to halt further attempts to influence reporting in the media, and to ensure that newspapers are allowed to publish freely, and television channels are allowed to broadcast in Pakistan without any further harassment, doubts may be cast on the credibility of the upcoming elections.”
Trionfi’s letter “highlighted a number of troubling incidents, which she said must be viewed against the backdrop of the upcoming elections. According to media reports, on June 6, a senior woman journalist, Gul Bokhari, from the Nawai Waqt/Nation Group, was abducted for several hours, late at night, while on her way to work. The same night, another broadcast journalist, Asad Kharal, was physically assaulted in Lahore. Additionally, the director general of the Armed forces’ Inter-Services Public Relations has reportedly produced a list of prominent journalists and activists that described them as “anti-state elements”. Numerous newspaper editors have been forced to drop dissenting columns from newspapers, leading some columnists to post their uncensored columns on social media platforms.”
Trionfi said IPI “was greatly concerned that the Pakistani military appeared to be increasing pressure on the country’s media so as to impose a narrative of its own choosing with relation to its involvement in civilian affairs. Trionfi added that she was troubled to see that, as part of this recent escalation, the military had publicly castigated independent media as a threat to national security, as a consequence of which dissenting journalists have been targeted on social media and threatened with bodily harm.”

Will UK Courts Stop Pakistan Media’s ‘Traitor’ Propaganda Against Dissidents?

For years Pakistan’s establishment and its favoured media have run campaigns of intimidation against dissidents by describing them as ‘traitors’ or circulating other unsavory allegations against them. Pakistan’s spineless judiciary has never implemented the country’s libel and defamation laws effectively. In case of allegations backed by the establishment/army/ISI, the Pakistani Supreme Court has inverted the principle that accusers must prove their accusation to ‘the accused must prove their innocence.’

All that has been an insurmountable hurdle but the success of Jang/Geo Group’s Mir Shakil ur Rehman in forcing the shutting down of ARY News in the UK has opened a path for Pakistani dissidents to at least fight back.

ARY called Mir Shakil an Indian agents on its shows and the poor man could do nothing about it in Pakistan. He then realized that ARY also runs in UK and decided to approach the British Office of Communications –an arbiter of fairness in media – and also to demand reparations through British courts. He won.

ARY News decided to declare bankruptcy in U.K. and shut its operations there. Its programs are now shown in UK under the banner of ‘New Vision Limited.’ As The Guardian noted, the case put Pakistan’s media on notice.




Another web based news source, Eurasia Future, pulled down an article against Mir Shakil written by a Pakistani after being threatened with defamation action. It also had to run an apology.





Now it seems that former ambassador and author Husain Haqqani has decided to take the same road.

Called all sorts of names on Pakistani TV channels, Haqqani can do little in Pakistan to stop his defamation because the law in Pakistan is subject to the whims of the ‘patriotic’ establishment. But Haqqani could, like Mir Shakil, demand of all media outlets that also operate in UK (or elsewhere) to prove their allegations.

We know how difficult it is to prove allegations when the judges are not already in one’s pocket. That is why Haqqani has never been put on trial in Pakistan for any crime and even First Information Reports (FIRs) against him have only been registered within the last few months, seven years after his resignation as ambassador.

His threat already resulted in Global Village Space pulling down an article by well-known Haqqaniphobe, Capt (retd.) Syed Haider Raza Mehdi within hours of putting it up.

The strategy of suing over defamatory material under the laws of other countries will not stop habitual slanderers and abusers in Pakistan. But it will incur a cost for those in Pakistani media who want to be read or watched outside Pakistan too. It could also result in financial loss like the one incurred by ARY.

Pakistani media owners are in the business for making money. They are unlikely to want to lose the UK market. Unless, of course, the establishment that provokes them to abuse dissidents is willing to spend more money to subsidize its abuse.