The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are Pakistanis and deserve the right to be treated as full citizens of Pakistan. It is in May 2018 that FATA has finally been made a part of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Gilgit-Baltistan also deserves its rightful place.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has come out strongly against the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Order 2018 reiterating that the people of GB must be treated at par with the citizens of other provinces for any reforms to be meaningful.
A statement by HRCP noted: “In claiming to grant the people of GB their fundamental freedoms, the GB Order has clipped their right to freedom of association and expression. It has denied any Gilgit-Baltistani the right to become a chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court or to have any say in internal security. Above all, it has disregarded people’s needs despite continual public pressure in GB to address their problems fairly and in accordance with local aspirations. The continuing imprisonment of Baba Jan and his comrades for having stood up for their fundamental rights is a sore case in point. There is nothing in the GB Order to protect others like Baba Jan in the future.”
Further, “The people of Gilgit-Baltistan deserve nothing less than to enjoy the same rights as other citizens of Pakistan. Under the country’s Constitution, the GB people’s ‘loyalty’ is to the state, not to the GB Order itself or, by extension, to the head of government. That the Order gives the Prime Minister extraordinary powers with respect to the governance of GB will not help in its being recognized as a province.”
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”.”
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.”
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.”
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.”