Why does Pakistani State not allow Internet in Balochistan?

The state of Pakistan has always sought to control access to information. There is censorship of the media – social media, print and electronic – and muzzling of civil society and academia. Nowhere is this more visible than in the province of Baluchistan. What is disturbing to note is that for the last two years mobile and internet services have been shut down in parts of Balochistan on grounds of ‘national security.’

In a recent piece for The Diplomat, Shah Meer Baloch, talks in detail about “Balochistan’s Great Internet Shutdown.” According to Baloch “In late February of 2017, before beginning to collect population census data, 3G/4G mobile internet services were suspended in Kech district. The sole reason given was “security reasons.” Over two years later, 3G/4G services remain suspended, and now the flood had ensured that even wired internet connections are no longer functioning.”

When in 2018, “a large group of students and a few lecturers from Balochistan took a trip to Punjab province and Islamabad, where they got the opportunity to meet the director general (DG) of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistani armed forces. A curious student from Kech posed a question about the suspension of mobile internet services and told the DG that it was affecting their studies. The DG replied that anti-state elements use these services and disturb law and order in the region.”

When a local lawyer Zamurani challenged the shutdown of 3G/4G services in Turbat High Court he “could not see the case to its end. He had to withdraw the case from court after some people in plain clothes visited him in his chamber and told him he was challenging national security by questioning the mobile internet shutdown. “They — people from security agencies — told me that they have restored peace in some villages of Kech by closing these services,” Zamurani explains. “Challenging this was like I was questioning the national security. So, I had to withdraw the case without any questions.””

According to The Diplomat article “The suspension of mobile internet services is not limited to Balochistan province. The services are also suspended in what was formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA, now part of Khyber Pakhthunkwa (KP) province In early June 2016, at Torkham, the border forces of Pakistan and Afghanistan clashed over the construction of a gate by the Pakistani authorities on the border. This clash led to the suspension of 3G/4G services in bordering towns and tribal areas. “Since then the former tribal areas have no internet services,” says Shahid Kazmi, a local from KP province. “The government had announced they would restore it, but they actually never did.””

HRCP: Govt of Pakistan must pass a bill against forced conversions

Pakistan has always ranked high in the ranks of countries where minorities face religious persecution and threats. In the last few days two minor Hindu girls in Ghotki were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam and a Christian married mother of three was also abducted, raped and forcibly converted.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called on the Sindh Assembly to “take swift, serious measures to resurrect and pass the bill criminalising forced conversions. It is imperative this bill be passed and steps taken to implement it. At present, forced conversions are too easily – and too often – disguised as voluntary conversions, leaving minor girls especially vulnerable. The ugly reality of forced conversions is that they are not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern ‘mainstream’ (Muslim) Pakistan. The two young girls reportedly abducted in Ghotki are a case in point: that their families were unable to lodge an FIR is shocking. This should be the first line of defence in all such cases.”

As HRCP points out “‘The state has a responsibility to all its citizens to protect their freedom of religion or belief. This implies serious introspection into why the 2016 bill against forced conversions was not ratified by the governor at the time, Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui. No reasons were given, nor is it clear whether he returned the bill officially or left it pending. Equally, the Sindh government should not have given in to pressure from a minority of religious parties who had objected to the bill. The present Sindh Assembly is morally bound to revisit the bill and ensure it is passed without capitulating to the religious far right or to any individuals or parties that object to its contents or underlying spirit.’”

The Lost Republic Day of Pakistan!

Sixty-one years ago, on March 23rd 1956, Pakistan inaugurated its first constitution that declared Pakistan as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Till then March 23rd used to commemorate the 1940 Lahore resolution. Within two years, however, Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan took place and since then March 23rd was celebrated as Pakistan Day.

Over time, instead of celebrating Pakistan’s democratic and republican credentials the day has become a military-dominated event due to a military parade that was started in 1973, to boost military’s morale after its ignominious defeat and surrender in 1971.

National Day Parade

In a recent piece Zulfiquar Rao traces the history of March 23rd and makes the argument that there is a need to restore March 23rd as Republic Day so that “as a people” Pakistanis can move forward “historically.” He argues that there is a need to “restore Republic Day to inculcate a passion, fondness and commitment towards a democratic Pakistan- it would add positive energy and a sense of festivity with a sort of PSTD effects for our painful memories of atrocious dictatorships in Pakistan and that of pre-independence servitude to the British.”

Rao argues that the reason why the military has chosen to celebrate March 23rd as Pakistan Day not Republic Day is that “Commemorating it with the 1940’s Lahore Resolution doesn’t allow us to imbibe nationalism without profusely invoking the memories of Hindu atrocities, both real and imagined, on our ancestors.”

Rao refers to the symbolism of the first Republic Day celebrated in 1956 “Indeed it was such a unique distinction as Pakistan ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown and became the first Islamic Republic in the world. It meant that Pakistan will be a democracy. It was also agreed by the then political leadership of the country to celebrate this day annually as Pakistan Republic Day. The same year a commemorative postal stamp was also issued which proudly sported ‘Republic Day’ in bold fonts.”

With the coup of 1958 “when Pakistan was neither a democracy nor did it have any constitution to declare it a republic- the rulers in country could not have certainly celebrated a Republic Day.

So Ayub Khan, who had removed Iskandar Mirza within just over a fortnight of his imposition of martial law, and his cronies found it so convenient to celebrate that day as Pakistan Day, linking it just to Lahore Resolution of 1940. Then onward and until August 1973, as the country was ruled either under dictatorship of Ayub Khan or under one form of interim Legal Framework Ordinances, only Pakistan Day could be celebrated.”

During the 1990s “The idea of celebrating a Republic Day would certainly have looked so remote then. At the end of the 90’s, the rise of another military dictator, General Musharraf, was hardly seen with a shred of surprise who then continued to rule Pakistan till 2008.”

 Rao argues that “the political history of Pakistan didn’t offer us the luxury of thriving under continuous democratic regimes or a democratic republic and celebrating it year after year. By extension, our sporadic democratic governments couldn’t enjoy the confidence to restore a fully pronounced Republic Day celebration ever since 1958. Nevertheless, today, we as a nation have moved forward. Pakistan saw for the first time a democratic political transition after a full term in 2013. Even the current government is heading towards the end of its elected term. The domestic outlook of the politics offers optimistic prospects of another round of general elections by early 2018.”

 Rao appeals to Pakistan’s political leadership to “spread the conviction in keeping this country a democratic republic and promote celebrating Republic Day pronouncedly instead of reticently murmuring that it is ‘also’ one.”

HRCP: Government must compensate Kartarpur residents

We at New Pakistan always welcome dialogue, discussion and positive moves between India and Pakistan. In this context we welcome the Kartarpur corridor that will benefit our Sikh brothers and allow them to visit their holy sites inside Pakistan.

However, this should not happen at the cost of people’s homes and livelihoods. A fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has “expressed strong concern” that “at least six villages will be affected by the land acquisition – two of which will be demolished entirely.”

According to the statement released by HRCP “The Ministry of Religious Affairs is said to have acquired 1,500 acres around the Kartarpur gurdawara. The deputy commissioner in Narowal estimates that another 1,500 acres may be required in the future. This land has been acquired under the colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894, which is skewed in favour of the state rather than those affected by land acquisition. Many small landowners say they have no knowledge of how the acquisition plan will be sequenced and whether they are even to receive any compensation – not only for their land, but also for the crops destroyed in the process. The residents of the village of Dodhy, which is home to 1,500 to 2,000 families, also fear it will be demolished, but they are unaware of any plan in place for their resettlement and rehabilitation.”

Further, “‘Any allegedly forcible evictions are unacceptable and the right to fair compensation must drive all land acquisition. Equally, the right to information is vital. Many of these families have lived here for generations and it is not clear how long they will have to wait to be compensated. Migrating elsewhere and rebuilding their homes and livelihoods – when most of them have farmed all their lives and do not have the skills needed to change occupations – is an enormous task, which the Land Acquisition Act 1894 does not address. Moreover, while the deputy commissioner in Narowal has said that the government will ensure that residents are compensated for their land at a higher rate than scheduled, he too has acknowledged that delays in compensation are likely.”

Finally, HRCP urged “the government to ensure that no involuntary resettlement occurs until a systematic census and inventory has been carried out to the satisfaction of the residents affected by the project. Given the lack of information that many have complained about, there should be a transparent and efficient grievance redressal mechanism to address any violation of people’s economic, social or cultural rights. Their demand for fair compensation – keeping in mind the likely increase in price of agricultural land in Kartarpur – and for alternative land to farm must be given due consideration. In the longer term, the government must seriously consider amending the Land Acquisition Act 1894 to institute a rights-based approach to all land acquisition in Pakistan.’”

What do we really know about CPEC?

The Pakistani people are fed a constant refrain that CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) will transform Pakistan. However, the state consistently refuses to divulge details about the projects and work that form a part of CPEC.

What is also interesting is that while in opposition the PTI of Imran Khan regularly joined the “chorus of demands for greater transparency on CPEC” but now that is in power it seeks to “keep the country in the dark.”

Recently announcements were made by Planning Minister Khusro Bakhtiar that the cabinet committee on CPEC had made changes with respect to projects in agriculture, education, health, poverty alleviation, water supply and vocational training. While Chinese experts were consulted, apparently Pakistan’s National Assembly is unaware of what is being planned and how the projects will be paid for.

This led the Special Committee of the Senate on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor to demand greater transparency in the execution of work. According to the chairperson of the committee, Senator Sherry Rehman “her committee gets more information from the media than it does from the government, a state of affairs that is entirely unacceptable.”

As an editorial in Dawn noted, “The Senate committee is right to emphasise its stake in the enterprise, and the government should move to allay its concerns.”