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.”

Goebbels had Lord Haw Haw, Asif Ghafoor Could Only Find Cynthia Ritchie!

For some time now, an American non-entity has been applauded by Pakistan’s hyper-nationalists as the ideal foreign observer and commentator on Pakistan’s affairs. Cynthia D. Ritchie describes herself as ‘World Traveler. Communications Consultant. Producer.’ On her website. But her biodata is, to put it mildly, skimp. She has yet to complete her Master’s in Strategic Communications from George Washington University and, except a strong social media presence and occasional articles in Pakistani media, she has no serious track record as a Communications Consultant.

Cynthia Rithchie

Cynthia Ritchie is an entirely Pakistani phenomenon. She claims that “I Attempt To Brush Off The Dust Of Propaganda in Search of Objective Human Interest Stories in Various Cultures” and often argues that she wants the world to see the good side of Pakistan. But her knowledge of Pakistan’s history and politics is poor and her approach to showing the good side of Pakistan is to praise its people and its landscape. Of course, it is quite another thing that the international criticism of Pakistan is based on its policies, not its landscape or people.

Recently ‘Cynthia Baji’ (as some on social media describe her) had a meltdown on twitter, abusing several prominent Pakistani liberals and defending Pakistan’s policies against Ahmadi Muslims (which have been criticized repeatedly by the United Nations.) Her critics suggested that she might be on the payroll of Pakistan’s deep state or ISPR. Her knee-jerk defense of Pakistan’s military and the puppet Imran Khan regime is definitely suspicious even if there is no evidence so far of Cynthia Ritchie being sponsored by the deep state.

Asif Ghafoor

If Cynthia Ritchie is being sponsored to ‘improve Pakistan’s image,’ the question arises, whether she is even doing what she is supported/paid/sponsored to do? Her propaganda is all directed at Pakistanis. Non-Pakistanis do not take her seriously. She in neither published in the international media nor is her name or voice recognized outside the circle of hyper-nationalist Pakistanis who might want to get their ‘positive views’ reinforced by a Caucasian woman (‘Gori’.) 

According to her website, Cynthia’s only significant work outside Pakistan was “ TV commercials for AT&T, Political Campaigns, HGTV.” What political campaigns did she work on? What did she do on HGTV—”an American basic cable and satellite television channel,” which primarily broadcasts reality programming related to home improvement and real estate.” How does any of that qualify her to become the principal foreign defender of Pakistan’s policies and chequered history?

It is not unusual for governments, deep state machines, or political parties to prop up foreigners as propaganda tools. The Nazis, through their Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, hosted a number of English speakers who broadcast glowing accounts of German accomplishments abroad. The most famous of these was Lord Haw-Haw ,  the nickname applied to the Irish-American William Joyce, who broadcast Nazi propaganda to Britain from Germany during the Second World War.

circa 1942: William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw, who broadcast Nazi propaganda in English from Germany. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

But these broadcasts, which opened with “Germany calling, Germany calling,” were directed outwards, not at the German people. Their purpose was “to discourage and demoralise American, Australian, British, and Canadian troops, and the British population, to suppress the effectiveness of the Allied war effort through propaganda, and to motivate the Allies to agree to peace terms leaving the Nazi regime intact and in power.”

It is a pity that Goebbels, the Nazi German Propaganda Minister, managed to get the services of Lord Haw-Haw but our media czars could only find Cynthia D. Ritchie. If Pakistan’s image is to be improved abroad, our version of Lord Haw-Haw needs to be heard and believed outside Pakistan.

If our propaganda is turned only on our own people, we will only attract con-men and con-women who might look cute denigrating our liberals on social media but who serve no function beyond our own boundaries and diaspora. The rest of the world will still believe what real news sources and credible scholars and public figures tell them while Cynthia baji remains a non-entity outside Pakistan.

What Does Pakistan Want in Afghanistan?

The Pakistani establishment has always believed that Pakistan has the right to decide the government and future of Afghanistan. With the recent decision by the Trump administration to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the question facing Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan is: Does Pakistan know what it wants in Afghanistan?

A recent editorial in Dawn stated the challenge facing Pakistan: “helping achieve an Afghan peace settlement that has the support of internal and external powers” before asking whether “Pakistan has a plan or ability to help achieve a region-wide desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

It seems that Pakistan’s quarter-century support of the Taliban has left Pakistan with few genuine friends in Afghanistan. Even before the Taliban, Pakistan favored Pashtun fundamentalists as Afghanistan’s rulers after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. 

It would be a tragedy if Pakistan uses the U.S. withdrawal as an excuse to instal extremists in power in Afghanistan again.

At least the latest talks have led to an end to lies that Pakistan has nothing to do with the Afghan Taliban as the ISI acts as facilitator for American contacts with Taliban leaders enjoying safe haven in Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, and Rawalpindi. 

According to the editorial in Dawn, “Abandoning Afghanistan after the Soviets were defeated, waging war in Afghanistan in response to 9/11 and allowing itself to be distracted by a disastrous war of choice in Afghanistan are some of the well-known reasons offered for US failure in that country.”

However, “as the US appears to be attempting to fashion a hasty exit after a prolonged stay, the US may create yet more problems for the region. A withdrawal without a peace settlement would risk not just plunging Afghanistan into chaos but could also have disastrous effects across the region.”

Yet, “as a Pentagon report this week has asserted, reintegration of Taliban fighters will take place if the fighters and Taliban leadership believe that they may be on the verge of outright victory?”

Targeted Killings Return to Karachi

Targeted killing is back in Karachi with the killing of 46-year old Syed Ali Raza Abidi outside his home in Karachi on Christmas. Mr Abidi previously led the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) but resigned from the party in September for “personal reasons.” His assassination comes soon after a drive-by shooting which killed two members of the the establishment-created Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) in Karachi.

According to news reports, “unidentified gunmen opened fire on Mr Abidi’s car as he arrived home. The assailants fled on a motorbike. Mr Abidi later died in hospital. “It’s hard to tell what the motive behind the attack is,” a Karachi police spokesperson told Dawn.com. “Whether it is a personal, political or religious issue. It is being investigated from all angles.”

That Mr Abidi was a voice of reason is reflected in the outpouring of condolence messages on social media from people from every avenue of life and different political parties.

Mr Abidi “was elected to the National Assembly in the 2013 general elections from Karachi’s NA-251 constituency on an MQM ticket. In November 2017, he had opposed Sattar and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) Chairman Mustafa Kamal’s short-lived alliance, and even announced that he was resigning from his NA seat as “this is not what I believed in and stood for”. Abidi was one of the leaders who had stood with former convener Sattar in the buildup to the 2018 elections when MQM-P was subject to an internal power battle. He contested the July 25 elections from Karachi’s NA-243 constituency, but was defeated by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

In September this year, Abidi tendered in his resignation from the MQM-Pakistan’s “basic membership” citing “personal reasons”.”

Mr Abidi “He was a liberal, progressive politician who was very vocal against religious extremism, sectarianism and intolerance,” said Owais Tohid, a veteran journalist and political analyst. “He was well entrenched in the civil society and campaigned for the rights of the religious minorities and the oppressed. His killing has come as a big shock,” he added. “He told me about receiving death threats when I spoke with him earlier this month,” Mr. Tohid said. “He said he was thinking of leaving the country. There could be political reasons behind his killing due to internal rivalries or his activism for rights groups.”

The SAATH (South Asians Against Terrorism and For Human Rights) Forum, comprising progressive Pakistanis, released a statement by members on the assassination of former member of Mr Abidi

Ordeal of Balochistan’s “forcibly disappeared continues

As previously noted in New Pakistan, as of end November 2018,  the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances reported that it has yet to solve 2,116 cases of forcible disappearances in Balochistan.

In a statement issued on December 24, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated “unequivocally that it stands in solidarity with the families that had initially camped outside the Quetta Press Club in November until they were forced to move away to the Chief Minister’s House to continue their sit-in, demanding reassurance from the government that they will have recourse to due legal process. HRCP is appalled that what has always been an intolerable situation for the families of the forcibly disappeared, should even have been allowed to reach this point – with women, children and the elderly camped out in large numbers in the open in Quetta’s winter, asking merely that they be heard and their constitutional rights respected. HRCP’s Quetta chapter, council members and vice-chair have attended the sit-in regularly to reinforce the Commission’s clear position on enforced disappearances and its solidarity with the victims’ families.”

While the HRCP welcomed the “government’s promises that it will listen to the protestors’ demands, and is relieved to hear reports that the latter have now returned from the Chief Minister’s House, it strongly urges the state to take the issue of enforced disappearances far more seriously than it is currently doing. Regrettably, the state has done nothing substantial to mitigate the anxiety of victims’ families. Indeed, disallowing civil rights activists from other provinces such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to join the camp in solidarity earlier, has only fuelled people’s anxiety and anger. HRCP urges the government yet again to take concrete measures not only to trace and safely recover the forcibly disappeared, but also to ensure that the perpetrators are punished; and to criminalise enforced disappearance and ratify the relevant UN conventions in line with the country’s international obligations and its moral responsibility to Pakistan’s people.”