Media trial instead of actual investigation

Another media trial appears to be in the making this time around former Chief Minister of Punjab and senior leader of PML-N, Shahbaz Sharif.

According to a story in The UK paper Mail “Shahbaz Sharif during his tenure as Punjab chief minister embezzled millions of pounds out of around £500m that Britain’s Department for International Aid has poured into the province for upliftment projects. According to the report, a substantial chunk of the money for the rehabilitation of the victims of the 2005 earthquake was also diverted into the personal accounts of the PML-N leader and his family through an elaborate money-laundering scheme.”

Shahzad Akbar, special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan, “at a press conference on Monday displayed copies of pay orders as evidence that millions of rupees had been illegally transferred from the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority to a company owned by Mr Sharif’s son-in-law.”

According to an Editorial in the Dawn “If proven correct, they could call into question DFID’s oversight mechanisms and imperil its development aid to Pakistan, which is the largest recipient of its international funding.”

The Dawn’s questions are relevant, “one wonders why the government did not hand over what it believes is incriminating evidence for NAB to investigate, rather than extending robust cooperation to a British tabloid — that too one which has been successfully sued several times. when the government has taken a strong position against media coverage to convicts and prisoners under trial, why was the writer of the MoS story given access to an individual arrested by NAB on suspicion of money laundering? And why was DFID’s earthquake rehabilitation funding directed towards Punjab at all when the brunt of the disaster was borne by people in KP and Azad Kashmir? One also hopes the government will be more forthcoming about how money was allegedly siphoned from funds handled by Erra, a federal authority, for the benefit of the then Punjab chief minister.”

And Dawn warns, “the matter seems to have become yet another media trial which does not strengthen the perception of an accountability process free of political bias.”

PTI’s Role as Junior Partner to ISI in Witch-Hunts and Repression

The PTI government of Mr Imran Khan appears to be doing everything he promised he as Mr Clean was fighting against: media censorship, suppression of freedom of expression, and witch hunts against opposition.

According to author and journalist Zahid Hussain “Few leaders have seen such a steep fall from a high pedestal within months of coming to power. A panic-stricken prime minister seems to have lost all sense of proportion. His most recent harangue in the National Assembly and his midnight address to the nation leave one wondering about his capabilities when it comes to navigating the country through the present financial and political morass. It’s a Greek tragedy unfolding. It was reminiscent of the sordid game that has long plagued Pakistani politics when the prime minister recently met some opposition legislators reportedly willing to cross the floor. A federal minister claims there were many more from Punjab waiting in line to shift their political allegiance.”

According to Husain, “Khan’s ‘Wasim Akram-plus’ seems to have finally blossomed into a fine craftsman engineering defections within the opposition ranks. Mean­while, a dexterous provincial governor through a ‘magic wand’ is said to have won enough numbers to change the PPP government in Sindh. “It’s a matter of time when the PTI will form the government in the province,” boasted a federal minister. What was unholy in the past has now been declared kosher under the rule of a self-proclaimed crusader against corruption. It’s certainly not awakening conscience that compels the opposition members to revolt against their ‘corrupt’ party leaders. Those of us who are familiar with our sleazy political culture know well how political engineering is done. There is no difference between the infamous ‘Changa Manga’ episode and the ‘Banigala’ meeting though the mechanics may vary. It is so pathetic to see PTI ministers hailing the turncoats selling their political loyalty.”

Finally he warns “One lesson of history that Khan should have learnt is that neither horse-trading nor political witch-hunts can provide stability to the government. It is a siege mentality that he needs to break for his own good. Facing a vociferous opposition is also part of the democratic political process.”

Pakistan’s Deep State Intensifies Media Censorship

Pakistan has one of the worst records when it comes to media freedom. This was demonstrated once again this week when on Monday an interview of former president Asif Ali Zardari was stopped from being aired shortly after it started on Geo News.

The interviewer, Hamid Mir “took to Twitter to express his outrage over the incident. “I can only say sorry to my viewers that an interview was started and stopped on Geo New[s] I will share the details soon but it’s easy to understand who stopped it? We are not living in a free country,” he wrote. In a series of tweets, Mr Mir said that within few minutes during the telecast Geo News announced Mr Zardari’s interview would not be aired. “I am getting calls from all over the world people asking what happened? State of Pakistan giving bad name to this country we don’t need enemies,” he said. In a snippet of the interview circulated on social media, the former president disclosed that an investigation into a big scandal, involving Prime Minister Imran Khan, was under way. “What’s wrong in it? I asked some questions to ex President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari he responded? Is he bigger criminal than Ehsanullah Ehsan former spokesman of TTP? Remember Ehsanullah Ehsan gave interview from official custody I interviewed Asif Zardari in Parliament House,” asked Mr Mir.”

Media watchdogs “took notice of the incident and condemned press censorship in the country. “Freedom Network slams what appears case of enforced #censorship as #interview of @AAliZardari with @HamidMirPAK is stopped minutes after it started,” the watchdog stated. The Asia Desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists termed it an “outrageous infringement on freedom of the press!”

The Government of Pakistan, however, argued that the interview was pulled off for special reasons. According to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan “the interview was pulled under Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) rules for three reasons. “[Firstly], an under-trial suspect who is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) can not appear in an interview before cameras in the parliament,” she explained. “[Secondly] the permission of the National Assembly speaker is a prerequisite for bringing in cameras into the parliament,” she said, adding that “[Finally], there is a designated spot outside the parliament for media talks [where such interviews should be held].” “The interview was [therefore] conducted in violation of the rules of parliament,” she concluded, adding that Pemra rules too do not allow the broadcasting of an interview of an accused who is under investigation and on remand.”

‘More money for Generals but Funding for Universities Faces Cuts’

The federal government has cut its allocation for higher education in the latest budget proposal but there appears to be no desire to pare the defense budget. The federal government “drastically reduced funding for the HEC this year, with overall cuts amounting to Rs18 billion, although Rs13 billion have been allocated for ‘knowledge economy’.” According to a news story “in the ongoing financial year 2018-19, the federal government had allocated Rs45 billion for the HEC’s non-development budget, but later cut that to Rs37 billion.” Investment in people and education are what make or break a society. The recent funding cuts show that what Pakistan’s establishment cares about is solely money for itself – the military – and not for the average Pakistani.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) recently announced that it would stop funding any new public universities. According to HEC Chairman Dr Banuri “no funding will be provided to the new universities. He said that money is tight to fund the operations of existing universities, which makes it even harder to set aside funds for new ones.” According to HEC Chairman Dr Banuri “the federal government did not release the full amount. He said that only Rs18 billion was actually given to the commission, while the remaining budget was not released due to the state of the national economy. In reply to a question, he said the HEC had demanded Rs103 billion from the federal government for recurring grants to public universities, but only Rs59 billion has been marked for the non-development grant. “We have asked the VCs of public universities to increase fees to fill the budget deficit while also banning new hiring,” he said.”

Many Vice chancellors across the country have spoken out against this. “Sufism University VC Dr Perveen Munshi said that although the HEC has issued an NOC for admissions, it gave no grant, while the provincial government has allocated Rs1 billion. Dr Munshi, who is also looking after the affairs of Begum Nusrat Bhutto University, was critical of this move by the HEC, saying that old universities are provided billions of rupees, which leaves no budget for the new universities. Government College University Hyderabad Acting VC Dr Nasiruddin Sheikh also confirmed to The Express Tribune that no funds had been allocated by the HEC or the provincial government for the upcoming fiscal year. He said he had tried to meet the Sindh chief minister to discuss the issue, and had discussed it with the Universities and Boards secretary, but the meetings were fruitless.”

Pakistan, 5 years after Landmark Supreme Court judgment on Religious Minorities

Five years after the landmark Supreme Court judgement on the protection of religious minorities’ rights, Pakistan’s minorities are worse off than they were in 2014. This was the concern expressed at a recent conference held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) along with other civil society organisations to reiterate the importance of implementing the judgement.

The conference was organised jointly by HRCP along with the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), and the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, was widely attended by civil society, including lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, and members of diplomatic missions.

HRCP’s honorary spokesperson, Mr I A Rehman, “said that the implementation of the Jillani judgement was ‘not just a matter of concern for minorities alone. It is the concern of all Pakistanis.’ He added, ‘States that do not take good care of their minorities, perish. Yet the state has created an environment in which the media is afraid to discuss the problems faced by religious minorities.’”

Peter Jacob, executive director of CSJ described the judgement as a “key catalyst in building pro-minority jurisprudence in Pakistan and criticised the state’s apparent reluctance to proceed on the judgement’s directives.”

The panel “included jurists, rights activists and representatives of different religious communities, spoke at length about the state’s lack of compliance with the Jillani judgment with respect to job quotas for minorities, the protection of sites of worship and the need to eliminate discriminatory material from school and college curricula. Speakers included Mr Imran Kabeer, a representative of Pakistan’s Kalash community; educationist Dr A. H. Nayyar; Mr Parkash Mahtani, a representative of the Hindu community from Sindh; Dr Adnan Rafique; and Bishop Joseph Arshad. Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chowhan, chairperson of the National Commission for Human Rights, impressed on participants the state’s historical and constitutional obligation to protect the interests of religious minorities. Justice (R) Nasira Iqbal said it was not just that the Jillani judgement had to be implemented, but that its ‘ethos must be understood and pursued.’ Former Senator Farhatullah Babar pointed out that, following the Jillani judgement, ‘we thought that all the decisions would be in accordance with the jurisprudence,’ adding that this had not been the case. HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique noted that there was a need to revisit the ‘concept of equal citizenship in Pakistan’s constitution, so that all citizens enjoyed the same rights irrespective of faith.’”