Why is Pakistan continuing to Slide?

Whither Pakistan and does anyone care where we are going today?

In his latest piece, veteran journalist Irfan Hussain tries to answer the question about “Our Missing Mojo.”

According to Hussain, “Older readers will recall that there was a time when Pakistan punched above its weight, and was taken seriously in international forums. Now, our green passport is listed at fifth from the bottom by the Henley Passport Index that ranks the acceptability of passports by other countries that permit their holders entry on arrival. Thus, Japanese passports, at the top of the index, are accepted at the airports of 190 countries, while 33 nations extend a similar courtesy to Pakistani passports. Even this number seems a bit high, considering the hoops Pakistanis are made to jump through when applying for a visa to most countries.”

Hussain traces the “slide to the bottom” to a number of factors: “So why have things got so bad? Wars have consequences, and this is something past generals did not manage to grasp. The 1965 war over Kashmir under Ayub Khan, the 1971 war under Yahya Khan, and the absurd Kargil conflict unleashed by Musharraf all had one thing in common: they were led by generals who had seized power through coups. Out of the three wars, the 1971 conflict with India has left the deepest scars, and not just because we lost on the battlefield. The bloody civil war and the widespread killing of Bengalis tarnished Pakistan’s image around the globe.”

Further, 1971 “was followed by decades of increasing levels of extremism that led to terrorism on a huge scale. Minorities and foreigners have been targeted, and the state and security personnel challenged as never before. As a result, the abiding image of Pakistan abroad has been that of a breeding and training centre for jihadis. Although the security environment has improved considerably over the last year, many still see the country as ground zero for the global jihad. Every now and then, televised images of ferocious, bearded men holding the country to ransom are beamed around the world.”

Also, “Constant political upheavals have not helped in changing this perception. Elected governments have either been turfed out by the military establishment, or destabilised by ambitious rivals. A hyperactive judiciary has added to the political uncertainty.”

Also, according to Hussain, “the rest of the world is tired of the 70-year-old Kashmir problem, and even our closest friends no longer talk about implementing the old UN resolutions on the Valley. This may seem unfair, but who said life was fair? The reality is that India is a huge market, and its soft power gives it a clout few countries can match. And our two-faced posture towards the Taliban in Afghanistan has served to lose us friends in the West, with Nato soldiers being killed and wounded by fighters who allegedly found shelter in our tribal areas. Small wonder our stock in Washington is the lowest it has been in decades.”

Dissident Pakistanis concerned over attempts to alter country’s Constitution

The increasing attempts by Pakistan’s military and judiciary to alter the country’s constitution and reduce the autonomy of provinces and ethnic groups led the South Asians Against Terrorism & For Human Rights (SAATH) Forum, a group of dissident Pakistani intellectuals, writers and human rights activists, to release a statement expressing grave concern.

The SAATH Steering Committee, which includes prominent personalities like former ambassador to U.S. Husain Haqqani, Dr Mohammed Taqi, Rashed Rahman, Gul Bukhari, Dr. Asim Yusufzai, and Taha Siddiqui, said that “unelected individuals were casting doubt over the landmark 18th amendment to the constitution of Pakistan,” taking away whatever remains of democratic rights.

“We are perturbed to note that first the Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had cast aspersions over this unanimous piece of legislation through his so-called Bajwa Doctrine by likening it to Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Six Points and now the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Saqib Nasir has attempted to create controversy over an amendment, which is as important as the 1973 constitution itself,” the statement said.

“By insinuating that the 18th amendment was not debated by the parliament, the CJP is trying to muddy the waters around not just this amendment but the constitution itself, the lawmakers and indeed the people’s right to elect their representatives,” the SAATH statement continued.

According to the prominent Pakistani democrats, “The 18th amendment represents the will of the Pakistani people residing in the four federating units of the country and the original spirit of the 1973 constitution.

The statement continued that the amendment was thoroughly discussed by various political parties represented in the parliament at the item as well as groups outside the parliament and came to fruition through the broad consensus of the lawmakers.

“The 18th amendment has done away with the virulent mutations introduced into the constitution by assorted military dictators and has blocked the way for any aspiring usurper,” SAATH pointed out

SAATH members said, “The Pakistani parliament, through this amendment, has delivered the quantum of provincial autonomy and the fiscal resources that the framers of the 1973 constitution had envisaged. It has delivered an independent, permanent election commission and electoral reforms, in line with the spirit of parliamentary democracy.”

“The SAATH Forum believes that the remarks by the unelected individuals impugning are not one-off, random comments. They are part of a concerted effort by the unelected forces to upend the multi-party parliamentary system,” the statement asserted.

SAATH said, “The smearing of the 18th amendment, the blatant gagging of free press, hounding of rights activists and a witch-hunt against the politicians under the garb of accountability, are a systematic campaign to steer the country towards a monolithic, if not one-party, state.”

According to SAATH, “Pakistan is a multi-ethnic, multicultural state where the federating units have rich resources and manpower and even richer cultural heritage. Any attempts to deny the people their rights and resources by rolling back the 18th amendment are bound to backfire.”

The SAATH Forum called upon “the Pakistani people, political parties, civil rights activists and opinion leaders to jealously guard the 18th amendment and the constitution, which it is a part of.”

Media is Imperiled in Naya Pakistan

In Naya Pakistan, the deep state appears bent upon destroying every institution that attempts to stand up to the state.

In a recent piece, Abbas Nasir, former Editor of Dawn, referred to this as akin to a “scorched earthy policy” because “In the Pakistani authorities’ lexicon, it seems that anyone who disagrees with the state-sponsored narrative is likened to an invading force, serving hostile foreign interests. With ideas being the only weapon in their arsenal, the dissidents need a vehicle to air their views and share their ideas. It appears that the civilian government in power and its powerful backers in the security establishment are now ensuring that those who disagree are denied a platform.”

According to Nasir, like Putin’s Russia, Pakistani journalists “are constantly told not just by officials but also their surrogates in their ‘think tanks’ how to report ‘positively’. Of course, such enforced ‘positivity’ leaves no room for you and I to truly believe that something may actually be against the national interest and vocally oppose it because our conscience so dictates. Your definition of national interest and mine amounts to nought. Just flip TV channels to assess what range of opinions and ideas are being discussed each evening, across dozens of channels and you will soon be able to see that the tightly set parameters start to rise out of the discussions like a concrete boundary wall. No transgressions are possible.”

Further, “One could argue that sections of the media, being heavily reliant on government advertising, are responsible somewhat for this state of affairs. But then, the alleged interference of security services in the distribution of TV channels on cable and newspapers through hawkers have also curtailed their reach and affected the commercial advertising market. Coupled with a dip in economic growth, this has led to a dire crisis in many independent media houses with some 1,000 workers, including journalists, losing their jobs since the PTI came to power; a TV channel and some newspapers have shut down, others are facing closure and brutal cost-cutting is taking place across the industry.

Finally, “official unhappiness with dissent anywhere including social media is evident in the extraordinarily large number of requests being made, for example, to Twitter, to close down accounts because the holders are ‘in violation of Pakistani laws, rules and regulations’. A close examination of the content, the tweets, of many of these accounts makes it abundantly clear that they are not espousing intolerance, hatred or violence but merely expressing concern at what they see as a violation of the constitutional provisions and calling for civilian supremacy. It is an irony then that calls for adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, upholding civilian supremacy and free speech, can be deemed a violation of Pakistani law. Such are the times we have fallen on.”

Nasir ends by stating: “Open debate has better chances of leading to formulation of policies with a genuine buy-in across the length and breadth of the country. To me, that would be far more preferable and lasting than any contrived, enforced positive outlook that fumbles and fails at the first reality check.”

Naya Pakistan is no less violent than purana Pakistan

2018 has been a violent and turbulent year in Pakistan but the image of “handcuffed corpse of Mian Javed Ahmed, the former CEO of the Lahore campus of Sargodha University” will haunt us for a long time to come. Mr Ahmed was arrested, placed in custody and apparently died of heart attack a week later. But why was he handcuffed and tortured?

As Irfan Hussain recently wrote, “we might well have created a monster that is now running amok.” The monster he is referring to is NAB. “NAB’s chairman, Javed Iqbal, claimed his organisation had no political agenda, and that it conducted no ‘revengeful activities’. Well, he could have fooled me. Ever since the accountability saga began under Gen Ayub Khan 60 years ago, the aim of the exercise has typically been to crush political opponents of the government. As far as I can see, nothing has changed since then. NAB’s head honcho lost his credibility shortly before the July elections when he ordered an investigation into a claim that Nawaz Sharif had laundered $4.9 billion via India. This accusation was based on a column in an Islamabad-based newspaper that caught Iqbal’s attention, in which this figure was cited. The figure itself is, in fact, entirely hypothetical. It was taken from a World Bank study that estimated how much money migrants sent home per capita. By multiplying this notional figure with the number of mohajirs who crossed to Pakistan from India at Partition, it arrived at the figure of $4.9 billion. As this ‘money’ had not entered the exchequer, the writer concluded that Nawaz Sharif must have been responsible for its disappearance.”

What is worrying as Hussain notes is “the politicisation of the whole accountability process. In fact, Nawaz Sharif should be familiar with the way his Ehtesab Commission went after Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in a nasty, highly targeted campaign. Other countries have similar anti-corruption bodies — but, normally, suspects are not dragged off to jail in handcuffs for up to 90 days without having been proved guilty. By granting NAB such draconian powers, we might well have created a monster that is now running amok. Clearly, we want to eradicate graft from society, but to do so, the system and the process must be seen to be neutral and free of political bias. With a budget of Rs2.6bn, NAB can (and does) run a large number of investigations. How­ever, the fact that a few members of the ruling party have been subjected to scrutiny, despite widely publicised allegations, shows that NAB officials know that, while it is open season on politicians no longer in power, targeting members of a sitting government risks having their budget slashed.”

Naya Pakistan is not Kind to Minorities

Seventy plus years after Partition and the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for the Muslim minority of the Indian subcontinent, where are Pakistan’s minorities? Why is it that our governments are quick to react when Pakistan is placed on human rights watch lists – like those of the US State Department Countries of Particular Concern with respect to religious freedom – but we do not really do anything to change our society.

In a recent piece veteran journalist Irfan Hussain states that Pakistan needs “to take a hard look at our treatment of minorities” if we seek to “become a just society.” He notes that “as a Pakistani, I have been deeply ashamed of how our non-Muslim citizens have been steadily marginalised over the years.”

Even though the “state has a responsibility to protect all its citizens” yet with “sickening regularity, human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, report incidents in which Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis have been targeted by extremist groups. Shias, specially the Hazaras, have been killed in large numbers. While the state may not have been complicit, it has created an environment of impunity by failing to arrest, try and punish those responsible for these murderous attacks. Mullahs incite mobs at regular intervals to torch churches and the homes of Christians. Hapless non-Muslims are regularly victimised under the blasphemy laws.”

Further, even though Pakistanis complain “of the growing Islamophobia in the West. But what our minorities suffer in Pakistan on a daily basis is far worse. There is discrimination against them in jobs, schools and society as a whole. Sanitary workers are considered sub-human, and have been unable to escape their untouchable status despite their conversion to Islam or Christianity. Mercifully, despite the regular terrorist attacks and uncovered plots, Muslims in the West are not subjected to this kind of mindless backlash. And as hate speech is a crime in many countries, victims can report incidents to the police. Here, non-Muslims stay as far away from the police as possible, knowing they can easily be accused of blasphemy as the charge does not carry the same burden of proof as other crimes do.”

Finally, Hussain argues that Pakistanis “tend to blame Gen Zia for the environment of fake piety that pervades the country. But the reality is that when we created a state in the name of religion, it was only a matter of time when the most extreme version of the faith dominated the public discourse. In this atmosphere of religious zeal, non-Muslims rapidly became second-class citizens, tolerated at best, and suspected of being anti-Pakistan at worst. Many liberal Pakistanis cling to the famous speech made by Mr Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly a few days before the creation of Pakistan. In his eloquent enunciation of the secular principle, he declared that non-Muslims would be guaranteed equal rights. But ask a student or a cleric what he thinks of the speech, and you will probably draw a blank. One reply is that if Mr Jinnah wanted a secular state, why did he insist on the partition of India? A fair point, and one difficult to refute. So when we are accused of ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious’ religious freedom violations, on what grounds do we protest our innocence? The state has a responsibility to protect all of its citizens, and not just Sunni Muslims. Time after time, those responsible for attacking non-Muslims have got off scot-free, encouraging others to pick these soft targets for persecution and mayhem. In all this, the police are usually silent witnesses. Mullahs are hardly ever prosecuted for provoking mobs, and non-Muslim villagers live in fear.”