As we at New Pakistan have often stated, freedom of expression and of the media are critical for Pakistan’s future. Another sign that Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan is really worse than Purana Pakistan was seen on August 1 when the Lahore office of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) was sealed by the Lahore Development authority on the flimsy grounds that it was “commercial activity” within a “residential area.”
SAFMA’s Secretary General Imtiaz Alam stated that since the organization is a non-profit its activities “don’t fall in the definition of commercialization.” SAFTA is a subsidiary of SAARC and is a legally certified organization.
The LDA administration argued that “it took the action after many people of the area approached the Lahore High Court several years ago, requesting it to intervene into the matter by directing the government to stop commercial activities in the residential area.”
In an editorial Dawn pointed out that this action “comes at a time when different media outlets, journalists and local and international rights groups are complaining of increasing pressure on the media and restrictions on free speech in Pakistan.”
The editorial noted that “It is no secret that a few SAFMA officials have been vocal in raising their concerns over this growing pressure on major media outlets to toe a particular line and they have questioned the fairness of the July elections.”
The editorial asked the question: “We must ask to what extent can running a library and a school for teaching journalists the media code of ethics be classified as a commercial activity. Especially when the LDA has not taken action against those in other residential areas of the city who are seen as ‘causing disturbance to the people’ living there. The LDA should have come up with a better explanation for its sudden action as the case, according to SAFMA officials, is still with the Lahore High Court pending a final decision.”
Five days after Pakistan’s dirtiest elections ever, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) asserted the need for civilian supremacy within Pakistan. The HRCP stated that “a political mandate” was not “an end in itself” and that “political rhetoric alone” would not suffice.
The HRCP urged the new government “to take serious note of the challenges that continue to beleaguer Pakistan’s democratic development” and to address issues like “enforced disappearances, constraints to freedom of expression and association, tainted processes of accountability, lack of respect for the separation of powers, the erosion of independence among institutions, and the shrinking space open to civil society.”
The HRCP stated that “while the conduct of the polls was, overall, orderly and peaceful” both HRCP observers and political parties had lodged complaints “regarding the management of post-poll formalities. Numerous reports that vote counting was poorly handled – with polling agents prevented from observing the final count in many cases – and the unprecedented delay in results have cast a shadow over the electoral process. These questions must be diligently addressed to avoid any doubts concerning the credibility of the elections.”
The HRCP also noted: “The contention that has arisen over reports that polling agents and/or observers were not given a copy of Form 45 – to which they are entitled under the law – needs to be addressed swiftly and convincingly by the ECP. It is difficult to believe that this should have occurred in so many instances solely due to poor management. HRCP’s observers have confirmed similar reports in numerous constituencies, including, among others, Sialkot, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Charsadda, South Waziristan Agency, Kurram Agency, Chiniot, Lasbela, Gwadar, Mastung, Loralai, Panjgur and Quetta.”
The HRCP also referred to the fact that “polling staff relied visibly on security personnel to clarify balloting procedures. The ECP must address this apparent lack of training well before the next elections. In at least three cases, however, the presence of security personnel has borne out HRCP’s original concerns. In NA 24 (Charsadda), security personnel were observed separating ballots into invalid and valid votes. In NA 21 (Mardan), they intervened when observers attempted to ask the presiding officer about the ongoing polling. Observers at one polling station in Islamabad report that security personnel demanded that women voters show them their stamped ballots. The principle of vote confidentiality cannot be compromised in this way and HRCP maintains that the presence of security personnel inside polling booths is the thin end of the wedge.”
In its analysis of Pakistan’s elections, Bloomberg media titled “Meet the New Pakistan, a Lot Like the Old Pakistan,” states that Imran Khan’s “competing personas make him an embodiment of Pakistan’s identity crisis.” It “is a country with an increasingly urban middle class that buys designer handbags and good whiskey while engaging in social media debates about democracy and human rights” and yet it is “a nation where the risk of terrorism is constant, the Islamic State has a foothold, and the all-powerful army uses radical groups to destabilize Afghanistan and India.”
Writing cynically the online news outlet stated that “Khan outlined a blueprint for a “New Pakistan” modeled on Jinnah’s vision. Malnourished kids would have enough food. Poor farmers would get more cash. The rich would pay taxes. Corruption would end. Terrorism would stop. Minorities would feel safe. And Pakistan would get along with everybody—even archrival India.”
Bloomberg also noted the “side to Khan that has observers worried. Of late he’s become increasingly close to the military and more of a religious conservative—so much so that detractors have dubbed him “Taliban Khan.” In the past he’s vowed to shoot down U.S. drones and cut off NATO supply routes. His party’s regional government funded an Islamist seminary known as the “University of Jihad” that taught leaders of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He’s defended Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which mandate the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation, or innuendo” against the prophet Muhammad. This year the twice-divorced Khan married a veiled spiritual adviser. Critics have dismissed him as a figurehead installed by the army in a rigged election.”
In conclusion, the article states “The world will soon see if the flamboyant leader’s “New Pakistan” vision is anything more than an empty slogan.”