‘Hybrid War’ is Only an Excuse to Suppress Dissent

Dissent is patriotic but in Naya Pakistan, like in many other parts of the world today, states view any form of dissent as being anti-national and seek to repress it.

In an article in The Daily Times, Ailia Zehra argues that the Pakistani state must understand that “peaceful dissenters of the state are not the threat, the groups who incite violence in the name of religion are.” According to Zehra, the deep state is using the narrative of “fifth generation hybrid warfare” to suppress dissent and justify censorship.

The non-violent and peaceful Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) is one target of the deep state. “Two democratically-elected parliamentarians Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar were recently placed on the Exit Control List — a decision which was later reversed by the federal cabinet following outrage on social media. Earlier, on November 30, the two Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM)-linked MPs from North Waziristan were offloaded from a Dubai-bound flight and informed that their names have been placed on the no-fly list due to a case registered against them in Swabi over their participation in a PTM public meeting. The MPs were detained by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for three days. There is no law that stops citizens from participating in a peaceful gathering. Even after u-turn on the decision, there has been no explanation from the relevant authorities as to why the public representatives were mistreated.”

Further, “Attempts to forcibly restrict the activities of the PTM have been going on ever since the movement started getting international recognition because of the large crowds it was able to attract despite having no formal organisational structure. The demands put forth by the PTM resonate with the countless victims and affectees of the war on terror in Pakistan’s tribal areas. DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor, in a recent press briefing, reiterated the commitment to holding talks with the aggrieved Pashtun youngsters, but warned them against crossing ‘red lines’ in the same breath. We have been told by the military that fifth generation hybrid warfare is underway, and that media should cover “positive” news to counter the threats.”

Yet, the state is “shying away from taking a meaningful and decisive action against Khadim Rizvi’s outfit. Meanwhile, leader of extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) Khadim Rizvi was (finally!) detained along with several workers a few weeks ago. Terrorism and treason charges were placed on him, but nothing has come out of those cases as yet. We were told by Information Minister Fawad Chahudhry that Rizvi was taken into ‘protective custody’ in order to maintain law and order. Needless to say, a known hate preacher does not need to be ‘protected’. There are now sufficient grounds for a blanket ban on Khadim Rizvi’s group and initiation of a proper trial against him after consultation with legal counsels. But the government seems to be satisfied with its decision of detaining Rizvi in ‘protective custody’ and does not plan to do more. This is because the group had clearly been receiving some kind of patronage from the deep state. And removing this patronage will have to be a gradual process. Because — as has always been the case — the act of patronising extremist groups to subjugate elected governments backfired. And now they will have to be handled with care. The deep state seems clueless as to what to do with Rizvi and his ilk. To begin with, it should be decided once and for all that the practice of backing any kind of extremist group for vested interests will be put to a halt. Former Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) leader Ehsanullah Ehsan should also be tried for his crimes.”

Media is Imperiled in Naya Pakistan

In Naya Pakistan, the deep state appears bent upon destroying every institution that attempts to stand up to the state.

In a recent piece, Abbas Nasir, former Editor of Dawn, referred to this as akin to a “scorched earthy policy” because “In the Pakistani authorities’ lexicon, it seems that anyone who disagrees with the state-sponsored narrative is likened to an invading force, serving hostile foreign interests. With ideas being the only weapon in their arsenal, the dissidents need a vehicle to air their views and share their ideas. It appears that the civilian government in power and its powerful backers in the security establishment are now ensuring that those who disagree are denied a platform.”

According to Nasir, like Putin’s Russia, Pakistani journalists “are constantly told not just by officials but also their surrogates in their ‘think tanks’ how to report ‘positively’. Of course, such enforced ‘positivity’ leaves no room for you and I to truly believe that something may actually be against the national interest and vocally oppose it because our conscience so dictates. Your definition of national interest and mine amounts to nought. Just flip TV channels to assess what range of opinions and ideas are being discussed each evening, across dozens of channels and you will soon be able to see that the tightly set parameters start to rise out of the discussions like a concrete boundary wall. No transgressions are possible.”

Further, “One could argue that sections of the media, being heavily reliant on government advertising, are responsible somewhat for this state of affairs. But then, the alleged interference of security services in the distribution of TV channels on cable and newspapers through hawkers have also curtailed their reach and affected the commercial advertising market. Coupled with a dip in economic growth, this has led to a dire crisis in many independent media houses with some 1,000 workers, including journalists, losing their jobs since the PTI came to power; a TV channel and some newspapers have shut down, others are facing closure and brutal cost-cutting is taking place across the industry.

Finally, “official unhappiness with dissent anywhere including social media is evident in the extraordinarily large number of requests being made, for example, to Twitter, to close down accounts because the holders are ‘in violation of Pakistani laws, rules and regulations’. A close examination of the content, the tweets, of many of these accounts makes it abundantly clear that they are not espousing intolerance, hatred or violence but merely expressing concern at what they see as a violation of the constitutional provisions and calling for civilian supremacy. It is an irony then that calls for adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, upholding civilian supremacy and free speech, can be deemed a violation of Pakistani law. Such are the times we have fallen on.”

Nasir ends by stating: “Open debate has better chances of leading to formulation of policies with a genuine buy-in across the length and breadth of the country. To me, that would be far more preferable and lasting than any contrived, enforced positive outlook that fumbles and fails at the first reality check.”

Naya Pakistan is no less violent than purana Pakistan

2018 has been a violent and turbulent year in Pakistan but the image of “handcuffed corpse of Mian Javed Ahmed, the former CEO of the Lahore campus of Sargodha University” will haunt us for a long time to come. Mr Ahmed was arrested, placed in custody and apparently died of heart attack a week later. But why was he handcuffed and tortured?

As Irfan Hussain recently wrote, “we might well have created a monster that is now running amok.” The monster he is referring to is NAB. “NAB’s chairman, Javed Iqbal, claimed his organisation had no political agenda, and that it conducted no ‘revengeful activities’. Well, he could have fooled me. Ever since the accountability saga began under Gen Ayub Khan 60 years ago, the aim of the exercise has typically been to crush political opponents of the government. As far as I can see, nothing has changed since then. NAB’s head honcho lost his credibility shortly before the July elections when he ordered an investigation into a claim that Nawaz Sharif had laundered $4.9 billion via India. This accusation was based on a column in an Islamabad-based newspaper that caught Iqbal’s attention, in which this figure was cited. The figure itself is, in fact, entirely hypothetical. It was taken from a World Bank study that estimated how much money migrants sent home per capita. By multiplying this notional figure with the number of mohajirs who crossed to Pakistan from India at Partition, it arrived at the figure of $4.9 billion. As this ‘money’ had not entered the exchequer, the writer concluded that Nawaz Sharif must have been responsible for its disappearance.”

What is worrying as Hussain notes is “the politicisation of the whole accountability process. In fact, Nawaz Sharif should be familiar with the way his Ehtesab Commission went after Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in a nasty, highly targeted campaign. Other countries have similar anti-corruption bodies — but, normally, suspects are not dragged off to jail in handcuffs for up to 90 days without having been proved guilty. By granting NAB such draconian powers, we might well have created a monster that is now running amok. Clearly, we want to eradicate graft from society, but to do so, the system and the process must be seen to be neutral and free of political bias. With a budget of Rs2.6bn, NAB can (and does) run a large number of investigations. How­ever, the fact that a few members of the ruling party have been subjected to scrutiny, despite widely publicised allegations, shows that NAB officials know that, while it is open season on politicians no longer in power, targeting members of a sitting government risks having their budget slashed.”

Naya Pakistan is not Kind to Minorities

Seventy plus years after Partition and the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for the Muslim minority of the Indian subcontinent, where are Pakistan’s minorities? Why is it that our governments are quick to react when Pakistan is placed on human rights watch lists – like those of the US State Department Countries of Particular Concern with respect to religious freedom – but we do not really do anything to change our society.

In a recent piece veteran journalist Irfan Hussain states that Pakistan needs “to take a hard look at our treatment of minorities” if we seek to “become a just society.” He notes that “as a Pakistani, I have been deeply ashamed of how our non-Muslim citizens have been steadily marginalised over the years.”

Even though the “state has a responsibility to protect all its citizens” yet with “sickening regularity, human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, report incidents in which Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis have been targeted by extremist groups. Shias, specially the Hazaras, have been killed in large numbers. While the state may not have been complicit, it has created an environment of impunity by failing to arrest, try and punish those responsible for these murderous attacks. Mullahs incite mobs at regular intervals to torch churches and the homes of Christians. Hapless non-Muslims are regularly victimised under the blasphemy laws.”

Further, even though Pakistanis complain “of the growing Islamophobia in the West. But what our minorities suffer in Pakistan on a daily basis is far worse. There is discrimination against them in jobs, schools and society as a whole. Sanitary workers are considered sub-human, and have been unable to escape their untouchable status despite their conversion to Islam or Christianity. Mercifully, despite the regular terrorist attacks and uncovered plots, Muslims in the West are not subjected to this kind of mindless backlash. And as hate speech is a crime in many countries, victims can report incidents to the police. Here, non-Muslims stay as far away from the police as possible, knowing they can easily be accused of blasphemy as the charge does not carry the same burden of proof as other crimes do.”

Finally, Hussain argues that Pakistanis “tend to blame Gen Zia for the environment of fake piety that pervades the country. But the reality is that when we created a state in the name of religion, it was only a matter of time when the most extreme version of the faith dominated the public discourse. In this atmosphere of religious zeal, non-Muslims rapidly became second-class citizens, tolerated at best, and suspected of being anti-Pakistan at worst. Many liberal Pakistanis cling to the famous speech made by Mr Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly a few days before the creation of Pakistan. In his eloquent enunciation of the secular principle, he declared that non-Muslims would be guaranteed equal rights. But ask a student or a cleric what he thinks of the speech, and you will probably draw a blank. One reply is that if Mr Jinnah wanted a secular state, why did he insist on the partition of India? A fair point, and one difficult to refute. So when we are accused of ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious’ religious freedom violations, on what grounds do we protest our innocence? The state has a responsibility to protect all of its citizens, and not just Sunni Muslims. Time after time, those responsible for attacking non-Muslims have got off scot-free, encouraging others to pick these soft targets for persecution and mayhem. In all this, the police are usually silent witnesses. Mullahs are hardly ever prosecuted for provoking mobs, and non-Muslim villagers live in fear.”

Focus grows on CPEC’s Negative Impact on Pakistan

For the last few years, every government in Pakistan has waxed eloquently on how the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will solve all of Pakistan’s economic problems. Five years later, what we see is a worsening economy and the coming to light of certain provisions of CPEC that demonstrate our worst fears: that BRI is not “purely an economic project with peaceful intent” but that through CPEC China seeks to achieve its “military ambitions.”

According to a recent report in the New York Times “China’s biggest projects in Pakistan had clear strategic implications. A Chinese-built seaport and special economic zone in the Pakistani town of Gwadar is rooted in trade, giving China a quicker route to get goods to the Arabian Sea. But it also gives Beijing a strategic card to play against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea.”

Further, “a less scrutinized component of Belt and Road is the central role Pakistan plays in China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to the system’s military service, allowing more precise guidance for missiles, ships and aircraft. The cooperation is meant to be a blueprint for Beidou’s expansion to other Belt and Road nations, however, ostensibly ending its clients’ reliance on the American military-run GPS network that Chinese officials fear is monitored and manipulated by the United States.”

Furthermore, “Military analysts predict that China could use Gwadar to expand the naval footprint of its attack submarines, after agreeing in 2015 to sell eight submarines to Pakistan in a deal worth up to $6 billion. China could use the equipment it sells to the South Asian country to refuel its own submarines, extending its navy’s global reach.”

According to the New York Times report, “Pakistan already builds Chinese-designed JF-17 fighter jets, like this one. Under a secret proposal, Pakistan would also cooperate with China to build a new generation of fighters. According to the undisclosed proposal drawn up by the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials at the start of the year, a special economic zone under CPEC would be created in Pakistan to produce a new generation of fighter jets. For the first time, navigation systems, radar systems and onboard weapons would be built jointly by the countries at factories in Pakistan. The proposal, confirmed by officials at the Ministry of Planning and Development, would expand China and Pakistan’s current cooperation on the JF-17 fighter jet, which is assembled at Pakistan’s military-run Kamra Aeronautical Complex in Punjab Province. The Chinese-designed jets have given Pakistan an alternative to the American-built F-16 fighters that have become more difficult to obtain as Islamabad’s relationship with Washington frays.”

Finally, “Pakistan’s first debt repayments to China are set for next year, starting at about $300 million and gradually increasing to reach about $3.2 billion by 2026, according to officials. And Pakistan is already having trouble paying what it owes to Chinese companies.

The recently concluded meeting of progressive Pakistanis, the Saath Forum, passed a resolution on CPEC: “The participants of this Forum note with concern that the terms of agreement of China Pakistan Economic Corridor suffer from utter lack of transparency and open debate in the Parliament and media. The Forum, thus, demands that all bilateral and multilateral economic, political or other agreements that the government of Pakistan becomes party to, and all federal projects must ensure full transparency and equitable distribution of benefits that should be shared by all the federating units and territories.It is also a matter of grave concern that many CPEC related development projects are resulting in drastic changes in demography in Gilgit, Gawadar and other Baloch areas. There have been instances of forced migration especially from Dasht area of Balochistan under the garb of security to the CPEC corridor. In Gilgit, entire valleys are being vacated for the use of Chinese professionals working on the corridor. In Sindh, the Thar Coal project is producing extremely hazardous effects on the environment, climate change and health of the people. There needs to be a thorough environmental impact assessment of all these projects.The Forum demands that rights of all peoples be fully respected over the natural resources and wealth of the province. The government should ensure the inclusion of all communities and stakeholders in the decision-making regarding projects under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC).The Forum draws the attention of the parliament to China’s debt-trap diplomacy that it has long been employing while lending to developing nations especially in Africa and Sri Lanka. This policy has invariably brought suffering to the economy and peoples of these regions without being able to uplift the economic status of the people. The Forum urges the parliament and the government to meticulously safeguard Pakistani resources and people’s rights while agreeing to any arrangement with China.”