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.”

Pakistan still has to do the hard part of combating extremism

In recent days, Pakistan has once again taken action against some extremist groups and sought to demonstrate to the world that this time round it is serious about acting against terrorism. One of the key reasons Pakistan has undertaken these acts is to get off the ‘grey list’ of FATF (Financial Action Task Force). The next meeting of FATF is in June and Pakistan would like to demonstrate that it has taken action.

However, as veteran journalist and columnist Irfan Hussain wrote in Dawn recently “this was the easy part and has also been attempted by past governments. But soon, the political bill is presented, and judicial and bureaucratic lethargy kicks in. Those arrested are released due to a lack of evidence as witnesses are often terrified of appearing against vicious killers. And judges, too, have been known to succumb to fear.”

Husain notes that “we’ve been here before. Déjà-vu. Grabbing the suspects is the easy part as they have been free to roam around in public despite being on several terrorism lists. The hard part is to try and sentence them. And the toughest bit is to drain the swamp of the extremist venom that has poisoned the public discourse.”

Further, he states “In Pakistan, an entire generation has grown up thinking it is normal for terrorist gangs to operate freely, apparently with the blessings of the state. So whenever there’s a terrorist atrocity in our neighbourhood, and a Pakistan-based organisation claims credit for the operation, the mantra from the Foreign Office, talking heads on TV, and much of the public is: ‘where’s the proof?’”

Hussain quotes a very senior air force officer who when asked “about our use of jihadi militants in Kashmir. “You civilians don’t understand,” he said in an obnoxiously superior tone. “With about 5,000 fighters, we have tied up several divisions of the Indian army in Kashmir. Had it not been for our boys, these divisions would have been on our border.””

Further, “By appearing to use militancy as an instrument of policy, we were becoming isolated in the community of nations. Even those who feebly support the Kashmir cause are critical of the unconcealed presence of an array of jihadi groups in Pakistan.”

Finally, Hussain notes that “In earlier FATF meetings, Pakistan had stonewalled by claiming that organisations like the militant Islamic State group, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed fell into the ‘low to medium risk’ category. Really? ‘Low risk’? Now they have been upgraded to the high-risk category where they belong. But as our negotiating team has discovered, the rest of the world is neither blind nor stupid. In fact, Pakistan has been given a lot of time on the grey list to block channels of terrorist financing. Now, the vice is tightening, and if our tottering economy is to avoid a mortal blow, the authorities had better deliver on their promises.”

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.”

Afzal Kohistani & Honor Killings

We at New Pakistan are saddened by the death of Afzal Kohistani who for years was at the forefront of Kohistan’s fight against honor killings. It was Afzal Kohistan who exposed the 2012 Kohistan video scandal, battled local jirgas, served time for crimes he hadn’t committed and persevered. Kohistani always feared for his life and just a few days ago he was shot dead in the city of Abbottabad,

Kohistani’s death leaves a massive void in Kohistan’s battle against the ‘choar’ custom — a form of ‘honour’ killings peculiar to the area. “Under the choar custom, any man or woman who interacts with the opposite sex becomes liable to death. Kohistani was among four brothers to be declared choar for the offence of sharing a video that spurred the scandal until it became viral. He was the ninth and final victim to meet the tragic end in connection with the Kohistan scandal.”

In an interview he gave the Washington Post, Kohistani said he had “had told officials of receiving “constant death threats” from tribal vigilantes since last July, when four men were arrested and later convicted of killing several of the girls. He had asked for police protection, but none was provided.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a statement strongly condemned the murder of Afzal Kohistani. “‘It is highly likely that Mr Kohistani was murdered for his role in exposing a series of suspected ‘honour’ killings that occurred in 2011, after a video – that showed a gathering of young men and women in northern Kohistan singing and clapping to the beat of a wedding song – was posted online. Mr Kohistani’s murder follows only seven months after an FIR was finally filed last August on his petition to the Supreme Court – an FIR that took seven years to be filed. ‘HRCP is outraged at Mr Kohistani’s murder. We are also gravely concerned that this will have a ripple effect on human rights defenders who monitor and report ‘honour’ killings and are reminded of what their work could cost them. ‘HRCP demands that the murder be swiftly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. It is also imperative that human rights defenders who bring such cases to light are given effective police protection when they have good cause to feel their life is under threat. Above all, both civil society and the state must take strong measures to eliminate parallel justice systems that enable and find ways to justify the brutal institution of ‘honour’ killing.’”

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.”