Pashtun Students Will Spend Eid in Prison over Imagined Sedition

At a time when the media is facing censorship and political parties are under pressure, it is horrifying to hear that Pashtun students who protested in Islamabad against the attack in Wana on June 3 violent attack against unarmed activists of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) have been imprisoned on charges of sedition and are in Adiala jail.

 According to data gathered by The Daily Times “15 of the 37 youngsters held at Adiala Jail on serious charges including sedition are enrolled in various graduate programmes at leading public-sector universities in the federal capital.” Most of these young people hail from Baluchistan and are enrolled either at Quaid e Azam or International Islamic University.

 They include “highly accomplished individuals like Habib Kakar, who hails from Loralai district of Balochistan and is an alumunus of the prestigous Fulbright scholarship programme of the United States Education Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP). Others hailing from Loralai are Niamatullah and Hameedullah. The former is pursuing a PhD programme at the QAU’s Physics Department on a merit scholarship. Hameedullah is enrolled in an MPhil programme at the university’s Pakistan Studies Centre. At least five students hail from Zhob district of Balochistan. Of these, Aimal Mandokhail, Kamran Khan, Zulqarnain Mandokhel, and Mustafiz Khan are pursuing their undergraduate degrees in law at IIU. Roohullah and Kamil Khan are studying for a masters degree in sociology at the IIU. Among the incarcerated students are Akbar Khan and M Ishfaq Khan from South Waziristan. They are law students at IIU. Ishtiaq Wazir of Bannu recently graduated from the IIU’s International Relations Department; Raqeeb ullah of Pishin is enrolled in OAU’s Environmental Sciences graduate programme, and Ziaul Islam of Quetta is a a student of BSc (Economics) programme at IIU.”

 According to the lawyers defending these students “Every Pakistani wants peace and prosperity in the country but every citizen has the right to criticise the policies of any state institution. There are dozens of institutions in the country facing criticism on a daily basis, will the police arrest everyone criticising any institution? Booking someone under section 124A (sedition) for chanting some slogans is strange. If someone challenges the state, say by demanding separation, then the police are well within their authority to book them for sedition, but there is no justification for using the section to curb criticism of ill-designed state policies.”

Generals’ Election: When Political Engineers, not People, Dominate’

For the second time in Pakistan’s seven decades, the National Assembly and all Provincial Assemblies have completed their five-year term even though as with the PPP government this time too a sitting democratically elected Prime Minister was removed by the Supreme Court.

While there are concerns about what lies ahead and what role the Pakistani establishment will play, according to former Senator Afrasiab Khattak there are four new factors that may “turn the tables” on any attempts at “political engineering.”

First, “Nawaz Sharif, the three time elected Prime Minister, with a large scale following in the country, particularly in the key province of Punjab, has decided to challenge the political role of the deep state. Spending long years in politics, both in the government and in the opposition, he is the most experienced politician in the country. Now when his party is not any more part of the system, he can speak more openly about and give details of the creeping coup against his elected government. Moreover, the deep state can’t cross certain limits against its opponents in the Punjab because most of the army also comes from the same province.”

Second, “contradiction between the deep state and the elected representatives in the government is an open secret by now and the common people know as to who calls the shots in making important decisions. As we know the popular movement recently launched by PTM didn’t raise a single slogan against the PML (N) because they knew that the state policy which hurt the Pashtuns wasn’t shaped by the ruling party. Nawaz Sharif has successfully projected his victimhood at the hands of the forces of dictatorship among the masses. Business classes in general and Punjabi bourgeoisie in particular has come to believe that the deep state has thrown Nawaz Sharif out because he was taking the country from the geo strategic of the Cold War to the geo economic of the 21st century. Hence their sympathies for him. Broad sections of society are prepared to forget Nawaz Sharif’s past mistakes and judge him on what he stands for today.”

Third, “the growing international isolation of the country on the question of extremist violence is a source of concern for most of Pakistanis and they know that Nawaz Sharif, like most of other political leaders is opposed to appeasement of extremism and terrorism.”

And finally, “the growing role of social media has changed the rules of engagement when it comes to control over media and public opinion. Welcome to election 2018 (that’s if they are held!).”

Deep State’s Denial of Pashtun Awakening Gets Worse

Pakistan’s deep state continues to place restrictions and attempts to clampdown on activists associated with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). In end April, there was an attempt to prevent a rally in Lahore and the provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah asserted that “hidden hands tried stopping the PTM from holding a procession in Lahore.”

Now in May, there is an attempt to prevent the May 13 PTM rally scheduled in Karachi. The Sindh government. The administration in Karachi has denied permission to PTM to hold a rally in Pakistan’s financial capital on Sunday May 13 on grounds that PTM “aimed to foment anti-state feelings in the country, and that too a mere few days before Ramazan.” According to a story in The Daily Times “The administration blamed the PTM for disseminating false propaganda against state institutions, and in response, launched an investigation against the leaders of the movement in the city.”

In a blatant attempt that demonstrates the hands of Pakistan’s security establishment PTM’s leader Manzoor Pashteen was not allowed to board a Serene Air flight from Islamabad to Karachi. According to a story in Dawn: “When Pashteen and his associates reached the Serene Air check-in counter, those accompanying him were issued boarding passes but Pashteen was denied the same on the grounds that his details were “not in the system” and that he wasn’t cleared to board the flight.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a strongly worded statement condemning this action. “That the authorities have, once again, escalated their efforts to suppress the PTM is cause for serious concern. There is no credible reason for having prevented Manzoor Pashteen from boarding his flight to Karachi to attend the 13 May rally.’ The Commission is also ‘disturbed to learn that Naghma Shaikh, a Democratic Student Federation leader planning to attend this rally, was detained and physically harassed on her way to the airport. Ms Shaikh alleges that the authorities took away her passport and money. HRCP condemns such excessive tactics and strongly urges the government to refrain from interfering in people’s right to peaceful assembly.”

The HRCP also expressed concern over the arrest and charges leveled against PTM supporters in Karachi. “The Commission is gravely concerned over reports that more than 150 PTM activists and sympathizers – including Karachi University professor Dr Riaz Ahmed – have gone missing or been arrested, many of them on charges of sedition and terrorism. The authorities’ disproportionate response is unwarranted, given that the PTM rallies held to date have remained peaceful.”

Will the Pasthun Tahhafuz Movement change Pakistani politics?

Will the Pashtun Tahhafuz Movement help transform not only Pashtun but Pakistani politics and provide space for all oppressed communities to finally have a say in their country of birth? Or will the establishment strike back and suppress this movement? Pakistan’s future will be shaped by the future of PTM and movements like this.

Newsweek Pakistan notes that “Pakistan risks tragedy if it does not heed demands of basic rights by Pashtun protesters.” Tracing the history, the article notes: “Decades ago, Pakistan made the decision to “preserve” the tribal society of the Pashtun by keeping them separate from the rest of the country, resulting in little development and enforcement of primitive laws. As the Pashtun population outgrew FATA, it spread to the rest of the country through internal migration, destroying the roots of Pashtun culture. Nobody paid attention to this until “internal” became “external” and residents of FATA migrated to the Middle East. Then the Afghan jihad spawned local warlords who destroyed the jirga system of the tribes, and mere savagery replaced Pakistan’s badly scuffed administration. After this, Pakistan had to suffer the consequences of the original decision to retain FATA as a kind of tribal museum, without schools and without economic development. Karachi in time became the most populous Pashtun city in the world. Because of lack of policy elsewhere, it too started to become lawless like FATA.”

Former Senator Afrasiab Khattak writes “It is for the first time that a nascent sociopolitical movement has successfully beaten back the monopoly of state controlled and corporate electronic and print media on access to information by the effective use of  social media for spreading its message. This achievement is remarkable for the youth of a marginalised people living in an ‘ excluded area’ under the yet to be reformed colonial structures. But it is also important to remember that a strong wave of solidarity across the ethnic and regional boundaries attracted by the movement made this achievement possible.

Refuting insinuations “about the “engineered” nature of PTM” Khattak states: “Those who have raised no objection over Afghan Taliban Amir accepting oath of allegiance of Pakistani Taliban are perturbed over popularity of Pashteen cap across the Durand Line as an act of solidarity for peace in both countries! PTM has repeatedly stated that it stands for the rights of oppressed people within the limits of Pakistani Constitution but the intelligence agencies are orchestrating artificial and so called demonstrations against PTM to give the impression as if the the youth movement is a threat for the country. It is particularly weird in a country where 139 UN designated terrorist entities don’t face the type of hounding and maligning that is faced by a grass roots non violent human rights movement.”

 

Ending on a note of caution Newsweek Pakistan points out: “The truth is that the Pashtun represent the failure of Pakistan to become a normal state. The country was divided into Bangladesh and Pakistan in 1971 because of the mistakes it made in its evolution. Now the Pashtun want a correction that Pakistan would do well to understand before it suffers yet another tragedy.

HRCP: “An even playing field for all”

During its 70-year history Pakistan has had few ‘free and fair’ elections. With the next elections due this year, there are fears that the powers that be will once again try to manipulate the results. With this in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called for “the importance of ensuring an even playing field for all—without interference from any state agency.”

 

Demands for rolling back the 18th Amendment, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, mainstreaming extremist groups, and exclusion of civil society from the affairs of the state were only some of the key issues that concerned the HRCP.

 

According to the statement released after the HRCP’s 32nd Annual Meeting: “There must be special efforts to ensure that both women and religious minorities are able to participate in, and contest, the elections freely and without fear, pressure or intimidation. In this context, mobile polling stations could be a way of ensuring that people who might otherwise be unable to vote, are able to exercise this fundamental right.”

 

Further “The shrinking space for progressive thought in Pakistan is especially disconcerting. The fact that NOCs are apparently in the control of the security agencies and that donor money is not going to the areas where it is most needed—such as ‘no-go’ areas in Balochistan and FATA—means that human rights are increasingly under strain.” “Pointing to the recent case of Geo TV having inexplicably been taken off air, the continual harassment of journalists, the closure of the Quetta Press Club and restrictions on circulations of newspapers in the city, HRCP has underscored the fact that freedom of expression in Pakistan remains under attack.”

 

HRCP lamented that: “The space that has opened up for religious and militant organizations to operate with impunity is reflected in the hero’s welcome that awaited the 26 people acquitted by the courts in the case of Mashal Khan’s mob lynching.”

 

HRCP also welcomed the Pashtun Tahafuz movement “in the spirit that all people have a right to express their grievances peacefully. The legitimate concerns underlying the movement reflect a breakdown in the relationship between the state and the people. We urge the government to listen to these concerns and to refrain from interfering in the Pashtuns’ right of association as well as that of others.”

 

HRCP was also appalled by the recent Islamabad High Court ruling that “proposes making a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants, including for the armed forces, judiciary and the civil services. This ruling has serious repercussions for all religious minorities, not least the Ahmadiyya community. Such requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities.”

 

Finally the HRCP criticized the increasing trend of judicial activism, “Rather than relying on vague interpretations of morality, the superior judiciary should decide cases of public importance based on established constitutional and legal principles. The excessive number of suo moto cases in the last year have in no way served to strengthen democracy.”