PPP’s Babar Speaks of ‘Creeping Coup,’ something his Bosses Won’t Talk About

In the last year there have been a number of analysts who have voiced their fear of a silent coup inside Pakistan: a coup in which the deep state has solidified its power, reduce the civilian government to a puppet and ensured there is no dissent from any segment of society.

 

At a recent seminar former senator and PPP leader PPP leader Farhatullah Babar spoke of what he called a “creeping coup” that “has taken place against the authority of the civilian government. The coup has taken place very quietly before the election. It is different from the martial law of the past, with two resulting outcomes: the civilian government exists, but has no authority; press freedom exists, but journalists have no freedom. All media has been controlled, whether it is social media, print media or electronic media. It is all happening very quietly. The restrictions from the security establishment are the greatest. There are also restrictions from non-state actors and your rulers. The media is being attacked on all fronts.”

 The senator remarked that why is it that in Pakistan “the ‘Dawn leaks’ controversy” was viewed as “against national security.” Yet when “A British newspaper reported on a secret garrison meeting earlier this year, yet no one is speaking about it.” And “If I ask how a former army chief received 90 acres of land, a tweet will be published saying that I am trying to ruin civil-military ties.”

 He further remarked, “Institutions that announce without any investigation that a journalist has undermined national security should be strongly protested against, and they should be told that if the journalist has done anything wrong, then due legal process should be adopted against them.”

 Senator Babar called for “an international conference on the freedom of expression. Parliament should be asked to hold a public briefing on the matter, and those against whom allegations have been levelled should also attend the briefing. Political parties should, in addition to human rights agendas, present road maps for press freedom and protection of journalists.”

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.”

Pakistan Army Declares War on Dissent

Every Pakistani reporter, blogger and columnist knows that Big brother is watching them. Amnesty international’s recent report of May 2018 “Pakistan: Human rights under surveillance,” shows how human rights activists in Pakistan have been targeted and their computers and accounts hacked. Global media watchdogs like Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders have consistently spoken about “overt press censorship” in Pakistan. Pakistan’s human rights watchdog HRCP also issued a recent statement titled “No room for dissenters” in which it expressed “grave concern over the increasing frequency and ‘sheer impunity’ with which anyone critical of the state is being targeted.”

On June 4 at a press conference on Monday June 4, DG ISPR spoke about “censorship on media reportedly at the behest of security establishment. He said he maintained contacts with media owners and all the journalists.” According to media reports: DG ISPR “said the army had never tried to dictate any media group or journalist to report according to their wishes. He expressed his gratitude to the local media, which, he said, often reports keeping in mind the country’s larger interest. Maj Gen Ghafoor raised serious questions over the use of social media to propagate certain message against Pakistan and its institutions.”

What was worrying was that the DG also “showed a chart featuring how certain individuals re-tweet anti-Pakistan content. Interestingly, the list includes certain political figures, whose identities were not shared, and some media personalities. Names of some journalists on the chart drew strong reaction on social media with some calling it an open threat to those who do not subscribe to the views of security establishment.”

The chart is reproduced below from social media:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “strong disapproval’ of the slide display of images and names of social media users and of branding them ‘anti-state’. ‘With less than two months to the elections,’ added the Commission, ‘an ominous pattern seems to be emerging: even the slightest expression of political dissent, especially by journalists and social media activists, can be labelled “anti-state”, often with worrying implications for their physical safety.”

One day before the press conference, several Pashtun ethnic rights activists were killed and at least 25 were wounded when their gathering in Wana was attacked by Taliban militants and security forces opened fire on protesters soon after. In a twitter post, Manzoor Pashteen, the head of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), said “that at least 10 people died and 30 were wounded during Sunday’s violence. In his Twitter post, Pashteen described how Taliban fighters had first attacked the PTM gathering. Later angry protesters threw stones, prompting “indiscriminate” firing by security forces, he said.” According to Reuters story: “Some PTM members said they suspected the gunmen who attacked them belonged to a Taliban faction that has covert support from Pakistan’s powerful military.”

Just one day after this press conference well-known journalist and activist and vocal critic of the military establishment Gul Bukhari was abducted by unknown persons in Lahore while on her way to the studios of Waqt TV. According to a report in Dawn: Bukhari “was abducted on Sherpao Bridge in Lahore’s Cantonment area. Her family had reported her missing to the police. Punjab Police said Bukhari had not been detained by its personnel.”

Bukhari was freed in the wee hours of the following morning after outrage and concern expressed on social media by media watchdogs as well as the British High Commission in Pakistan.

According to a report in BBC: “Gul Bukhari was freed several hours after being abducted, her family said. There had been outrage from colleagues. She had been on her way to work when she was stopped late at night in the city’s army-controlled cantonment area. A colleague said men in “army uniforms” were present at the abduction, along with others in plainclothes. It comes after a spate of similar kidnappings. Ms Bukhari, who has dual Pakistani-British nationality, had been on her way to television studios to record a show on which she appears, when she was seized. “They put a black mask on her face and took her,” Muhammad Gulsher, a producer on the Waqt show, told Reuters news agency. A number of pick-up trucks had stopped her car, he also quoted her driver as saying. Where she was taken remains unclear.”

In its statement HRCP was “appalled at the recent abduction of Gul Bukhari, a journalist known for her views on law enforcement organizations. While Ms Bukhari was returned safely home within a few hours, the fact that she was summarily “picked up” from the Lahore Cantonment should make it clear that enforced disappearances are rapidly becoming the norm—an easy and arbitrary means of intimidating those who do not toe the line.’”

According to the human rights watchdog: “HRCP feels acutely that this election is critical—more so than before—to preserving the country’s fragile democratic order. The right to non-violent dissent is part of this democratic order. We strongly condemn any use of extra constitutional means to intimidate and harass citizens, or to put them in a position that might compromise their safety.”

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!).”

‘Pakistan Establishment Paranoia: When even Books Threaten Security of Nuclear State’

If there is one thing that scares any authoritarian establishment it is the power of an idea: an idea can light the imagination of a people like nothing else and a taciturn, brittle, unimaginative institution does not know how to deal with it. So, it does what it can do: ban the idea.

 

Pakistan’s establishment paranoia about ideas is so strong that it extends to anything that is written – whether an opinion piece in a newspaper or a book. So, newspapers can be banned or not allowed to be distributed, news channels can be censored, and books can simply disappear from the shelves.

The recent hullaballoo about books and their authors has gone to crazy heights.

In 2006, when former ISI chief Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed published a book ‘The Myth of 1965 victory’ GHQ had all 22, 000 copies of the book bought “fearing that its contents could malign its image.”

According to a news report “The book titled The Myth of 1965 Victory, which was published by the Oxford University Press, was found to be “too sensitive” by none other than the Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf. The sources said that General Mahmood Ahmed had submitted the manuscript of his book to the GHQ as per the rules in vogue. However, after going through the contents, the GHQ referred the manuscript to General Musharraf who noted on the file that Mahmood should review some sensitive parts of the book as well as the title especially use of the word myth in relation to the 1965 war. As General Mahmood was subsequently suggested some major deletions by the GHQ, he refused to oblige, saying that it was already in the printing stage. Under these circumstances, the sources said, the GHQ directed the Army Book Club to immediately buy all the 22,000 copies worth millions of rupees directly from the publishers to stop it from being marketed. When some leading distribution houses contacted the Oxford University Press, they were informed that the book has already been sold out. Even otherwise, the sources said, there was a binding on the publishers under a revised contract not to provide it for general distribution.”

Something similar happened to Amb Husain Haqqani’s books. FIRs were registered against former Amb Haqqani “or delivering hate speeches and writing books and articles against the armed forces and the ‘sovereignty of Pakistan’.” In response Haqqani stated “A constant hyper-patriotic media circus at home will not change the impact of my ideas all over the world. Books that are used as texts in universities around the world should be read and understood at home too instead of being made the subject of frivolous police proceedings.”

And now two new books are once again being described as anti-Pakistan- the book ‘Spy chronicles’ co-authored by former ISI chief Asad Durrani and former RAW chief AS Dulat and Nasim Zehra’s book on Kargil.

As per a tweet by DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the former ISI chief Durrani has been “called in GHQ on 28th May 18. Will be asked to explain his position on views attributed to him in book ‘Spy Chronicles’. Attribution taken as violation of Military Code of Conduct applicable on all serving and retired military personnel.”

In her recently published book titled ‘From Kargil to the coup’ veteran journalist Nasim Zehra provides an in-depth analysis of Kargil. Instead of welcoming a book of this nature the reaction to within Pakistan’s establishment is why has such a book been published now? The book must be part of a foreign conspiracy to hurt Pakistan. A retired ISI brigadier’s statement on social media sums up the view “Kargil is 20 years old. Close chapter. What motives behind this controversial book? Why now? Who is/are sponsors?”