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.”

HRCP: Dress code infringes right to choose

The notion that the state can impinge on citizens what they can eat, wear, and believe is old. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has over the years sought to impose one identity on Pakistan – an Islamic identity whereby the state defines who is a Muslim, what they can or cannot eat, what they can believe and even what they can wear.

Pakistan’s human rights activists and civil society have fought a constant battle against these steady and consistent encroachment by the state.

It in this context that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has criticised the notification issued by the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, “imposing a ‘dress code’ on its students that makes it compulsory, among other things, for women to wear a scarf or dupatta, and bars students from attending class if they do not conform to the dress code. In a statement issued today, HRCP has said that ‘Freedom of choice lies at the heart of human rights. Imposing a dress code that clearly projects a regressive notion of what women “should” wear in public is needless and absurd. ‘Universities are meant as institutions of higher learning and as places that enable students to think for themselves. The UET notification infringes on what is a fundamental democratic right – the right to choose. Moreover, to suggest – as the university’s administration is reported to have done – that students from remote areas do not know “how to dress” is patronising and does not justify the imposition of an archaic dress code for women or men. People’s right to receive an education must not be hampered by so small a consideration as what they choose to wear.”

Pakistan media was no better

In keeping with our tradition of patting ourselves on our back, throughout the India-Pakistan crisis the Pakistani media patted itself on its back saying that we were much better than the Indian media. It should not be a matter of pride that others were worse than us. We should seek to be better in and of itself.

As many Pakistani journalists and commentators have demonstrated however this was not true. According to Taha Siddiqui, the “Pakistan media was no angel either after Balakot with its half-truths and denials.” In a recent piece Siddiqui argues that “Pakistani media’s role has been no better and was perhaps even worse, given its blatant censorship of crucial facts.”

Siddiqui points out that the “popular narrative/portrayal that has gained ground is that Pakistan’s media appears to have taken a higher moral ground by saying it stood for peace while Indian media called for war in the aftermath of the terror attack in Pulwama.” However, “the reality is a little more nuanced. It may be true that it advocated for peace, but that is the position the Pakistani military has pushed for, and has been doing for almost two decades now since both neighbours went nuclear: Fuel the conflict through non-state actors, deny Pakistan has anything to do with it, and then hide behind empty peace overtures.”

Further, “How can the Pakistani media industry be sincere and committed to peace when it has been lying to itself and the public about some obvious facts surrounding the issue of militancy, particularly about this latest Balakot strikes, for which it has been mostly regurgitating what the Pakistani state is telling it to do. One of the main facts that the local media has blacked out is the presence of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) seminary in the area where the Indian bombs fell. Leading journalists like Hamid Mir and many more who went to the location of the bombing and did shows from the ground have not once mentioned the presence of the JeM seminary in their coverage, even though they recorded the show some meters away from it.”

Sidiqui also points out that “Mainstream newspapers in Pakistan like Dawn have published stories aggregating content from international newspapers like the New York Times, Reuters, Guardian to call out Indian claims, but these reports completely ignored the fact that international media has also linked the seminary to a terrorist group. Another thing that is conspicuous by its absence in the on-ground reporting by Pakistani media is the now-missing signboard of this seminary, which mentioned it was being run by Masood Azhar, the chief of JeM. The international media even reported how it was taken away last Thursday, after its photos went viral on social media.”

Further, “There has been a complete blackout of the February event in Peshawar city, reported by this paper, where the Jaish leadership (some of whom are under custody now) met and acknowledged that the Indian strike’s target was indeed their centre.”

Now Iran is Angry too: Why is Pakistan antagonizing every neighbor?

Why is it that every neighbor of Pakistan’s, including our Muslim neighbors, are upset with us? We tend to disclaim anything India says as ‘Hindu India’ defaming Muslim Pakistan. If that is true then why are Muslim brotherly countries like Afghanistan and Iran angry with us.

On the same day that the Pulwama terror attack took place in India, 23 members of Iran’s elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps force were killed in an explosion that attacked their bus in Khash-Zahedan sector of Sistan-Baluchistan province.

Iran has blamed the government of Pakistan and asked Pakistan to “not allow terrorists to use their border areas to organise anti-security moves against Iran.” Further, Major-General Mohammad-Ali Jafari of the Islamic Republic Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran said “We will avenge their blood. If Pakistan doesn’t do its duties in this regard, Iran, based on the international laws, has the right to counter the adjacent threats in the neighboring countries and will punish the terrorists that are the mercenaries of regional and extra-regional intelligence services.”

Further, Jafari said “Inasmuch as the Government of Pakistan knows the location of these elements that are dangerous to Islam and should be accountable for the crimes the terrorist have committed, it is expected that they do their duty with seriousness and not allow the terrorists to use their border areas to organise anti-security moves against Iran.”

This is not the first time that Iran has accused Pakistan-based terrorist groups of attacks and this is also not the first time that Iran has threatened to take action.

At a time when Pakistan needs all the friends it can get, maybe it is time we took a deep breath and eliminated all terror groups that operate inside our country.

Anniversary of Pakistan’s Human Rights Icon, Asma Jahangir

One year ago, Pakistan lost one of its leading advocates of human rights and civilian supremacy, noted Supreme Court advocate and founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir. At a time when Pakistanis continue to face the onslaught of the deep state and the media, civil society activists, and academics face constant threats to their rights, Asma Jahangir’s loss is felt deeply.

In a statement released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which she co-founded in 1987, “Today, more than ever, the human rights movement in Pakistan needs a collective conscience. Undoubtedly, were Asma Jahangir still with us, she would have continued to speak up against curbs on freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and freedom of expression. She would have demanded accountability for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. She would have defended the vulnerable and marginalised – women, children, peasants and workers, bonded labour, religious and ethnic minorities, and the transgender community. She would have criticised any electoral mismanagement and judicial hyper-activism, but defended the need for democracy and an independent judiciary. And in so doing, she would be speaking for all those who believe in the inalienability of fundamental rights and freedoms. Over the last year, HRCP has carried this work forward despite the vacuum left by Ms Jahangir. Her imprint remains on the institution she co-founded and the numerous human rights workers she trained. HRCP’s governing body and its staff across the country are committed to continuing Asma Jahangir’s work, and will always remember her spirit and steel. As she herself once quipped, “Human rights is not a job, it is a way of life.” For HRCP, this still holds true.”

An editorial in Dawn stated that Ms Jahangir was “one of the bravest daughters of Pakistan,” “redoubtable defender of human rights and democratic values, champion of the downtrodden, and fierce opponent of repressive forces.” Ms Jahangir “had been schooled in the politics of resistance very early; as a young woman she took on Gen Yahya Khan’s martial law regime in order to have her activist father released from prison. She was a thorn in the side of the next military dictator too, fighting on the streets and in the courts his myriad misogynistic edicts and violations of people’s rights, violations that characterise the ascendancy of anti-democratic forces.”

Further, “it was her sense of justice that must continue to inspire all those who seek a more equitable society. Individual freedoms, she believed, must be protected at all costs. She was undeterred by labels of being a traitor to her religion and her country, the usual emotive tropes so beloved of bigots and hyper-nationalists. When the National Assembly, to its enduring shame, listened in silence while the then prime minister’s son-in-law launched into vile invective against a persecuted religious minority, it was Asma who denounced him for his hate speech. It was also Asma who represented MQM supremo Altaf Hussain after the Lahore High Court banned the media from covering the party’s activities. In so doing, she was defending a basic tenet of democracy — freedom of speech — that everyone, including the MQM, is entitled to no matter what their politics. On that principle she would not compromise, even while faced with angry denunciations from a section of her own fraternity. Asma spoke truth to power, and we must continue her legacy.”