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.”

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.”

PPP’s Babar Speaks of ‘Creeping Coup,’ something his Bosses Won’t Talk About

In the last year there have been a number of analysts who have voiced their fear of a silent coup inside Pakistan: a coup in which the deep state has solidified its power, reduce the civilian government to a puppet and ensured there is no dissent from any segment of society.

 

At a recent seminar former senator and PPP leader PPP leader Farhatullah Babar spoke of what he called a “creeping coup” that “has taken place against the authority of the civilian government. The coup has taken place very quietly before the election. It is different from the martial law of the past, with two resulting outcomes: the civilian government exists, but has no authority; press freedom exists, but journalists have no freedom. All media has been controlled, whether it is social media, print media or electronic media. It is all happening very quietly. The restrictions from the security establishment are the greatest. There are also restrictions from non-state actors and your rulers. The media is being attacked on all fronts.”

 The senator remarked that why is it that in Pakistan “the ‘Dawn leaks’ controversy” was viewed as “against national security.” Yet when “A British newspaper reported on a secret garrison meeting earlier this year, yet no one is speaking about it.” And “If I ask how a former army chief received 90 acres of land, a tweet will be published saying that I am trying to ruin civil-military ties.”

 He further remarked, “Institutions that announce without any investigation that a journalist has undermined national security should be strongly protested against, and they should be told that if the journalist has done anything wrong, then due legal process should be adopted against them.”

 Senator Babar called for “an international conference on the freedom of expression. Parliament should be asked to hold a public briefing on the matter, and those against whom allegations have been levelled should also attend the briefing. Political parties should, in addition to human rights agendas, present road maps for press freedom and protection of journalists.”

Media Under Attack as Pakistan Establishment Fears Truth’

Pakistan has always been one of the toughest countries to be a journalist. However, in recent months, it appears that the Pakistani establishment seeks to “shackle” the media as never before.

According to a report in RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty): “free media is now being shackled like never before, as veteran reporters have been leaving after experiencing threats, the nation’s most popular TV station was forced off the air, and nationwide distribution of Pakistan’s oldest newspaper has been halted.”

Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui had to flee the country and is currently living in Paris. He “left Pakistan in January, shortly after armed men beat, threatened, and attempted to kidnap him in broad daylight as he took a taxi to the airport in the capital, Islamabad. “The army and intelligence agencies were threatening me and I suspect the people who tried to kidnap me were from the army,” says Siddiqui, speaking to RFE/RL from Paris, where he has relocated. “They do not like investigative reporting that uncovers the wrongdoings of those institutions.”

Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui talks to reporters after being assaulted by armed men in Islamabad on January 10. A well-known reporter, the 33-year-old’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and other Western media outlets. In 2014, he was awarded the Albert Londres Prix award, the French equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, for his coverage of Pakistan. The Islamabad bureau chief for India’s World Is One News channel, Siddiqui says he was questioned and warned by the army after a 2015 article he wrote for The New York Times about torture and abuse at army-run detention centers. He followed that up with another critical story about the army confiscating land from farmers for a military-owned housing scheme. He says he was warned by intelligence officers that he was “writing against the country’s interests and we will make a fake drugs case against you.”

The distribution of Pakistan’s oldest newspaper, founded by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dawn, “has been disrupted across most of the country. The disruption came days after Dawn published an interview with ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which the former premier criticized the army and alleged it was backing militants who carried out the deadly attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.”

Further, “On April 1, Geo TV, part of Pakistan’s largest commercial media group, Jang, was taken off the air in many parts of the country. The ban only ended a month later after talks between the military and the network’s chiefs, who reportedly pledged to make sure the network’s coverage does not cross the military’s line.”

Finally, “prominent Pakistani columnists have had articles rejected by news outlets. Pakistani journalist Syed Talat Hussain wrote on Twitter on May 28 that his regular column was rejected for its content. Pakistani writers have also seen the killing of articles that cover antigovernment protests by the Pashtun ethnic minority in which the army has been accused of forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and discrimination. Journalist Mosharraf Zaidi said on April 17 that his story about the Pashtun Protection Movement was rejected.”

Gilgit Balistan Order 2018 leaves its people as lesser citizens of Pakistan

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.”