‘Missing Baloch Editor’s Body Found in Sweden: Are Pakistan’s Exiled Dissidents Now Under Threat?’

In March New Pakistan had reported on the disappearance of Sajid Hussain, editor of The Balochistan Times, who had been in exile in Sweden since 2012. Pakistan remains of the worst countries with respect to freedom but in recent years, dissidents abroad have been targeted for abduction or killings.

On April 23rd Mr Hussain’s body was found in the Fyris river outside Uppsala. Hussain was last seen boarding a train in Stockholm on his way to the city of Uppsala on 2 March.

It must be recalled that former President and Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, suggested a strategy of eliminating dissidents abroad similar to that pursued by Russia in a TV interview with Pakistani journalist, Wajahat S. Khan.

Below is the video with English translation of Musharraf’s proposed strategy:

In an interview Husain’s wife, Shehnaz said “before fleeing for Sweden, her husband had sensed he was being followed. As well as writing about forced disappearances, he had exposed a drug kingpin in Pakistan. “Then some people broke into his house in Quetta when he was out investigating a story,” she said. “They took away his laptop and other papers too. After that he left Pakistan in Septem­ber 2012 and never came back.”

Hussain was chief editor of the Balochistan Times, an online magazine he had set up, in which he wrote about drug trafficking, forced disappearances and a long-running insurgency. According to the press freedom charity Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Hussain’s controversial profile meant it could not be ruled out that he had been abducted and killed “at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency.” “As long as a crime cannot be excluded, there remains the risk that his death is linked to his work as a journalist,” said Erik Halkjaer, the head of the Swedish branch of Reporters without Borders (RSF).

New Controversy on 18th Amendment Threatens Provincial Autonomy

At an All Parties Conference held on April 26-27, all the major opposition parties in Pakistan – PMLN, PPP, JUI and ANP – questioned the government’s motives in seeking to review and possibly roll back the 18th Constitutional Amendment. This decade old constitutional amendment had enhanced the country’s federal form of government, restored parliamentary democracy, and made it much more difficult to launch a military coup.

According to Ahsan Iqbal, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), the largest opposition group, “Our nation is fighting against the coronavirus pandemic, and we need to unite against its economic fallout. [Under such circumstances,] no one can understand the logic behind creating a new conflict. The 18th Amendment was adopted with the consensus of all the political parties, which still persists. Such policies and efforts [to review this amendment] are undermining our national unity.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the second-largest opposition group, “warned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration against misinterpreting the amendment. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) political party had criticized the PPP’s administration in the southern province of Sindh for trying to implement strict measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. “A country’s leadership is supposed to make difficult decisions when faced with a national crisis,” he told the BBC’s Urdu Service. “But for the first time, the federal government and the prime minister are trying to detach themselves from the provinces.”

Aimal Wali Khan, a senior leader of the secular Awami National Party in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, alluded to an attempt to resist the move. Khan tweeted, “We will not let anyone roll back the historic 18th amendment which gave autonomy and rights to the provinces.”

According to former lawmaker Afrasiab Khattak, one of the framers of the 18th Amendment: “[The] 18th Amendment has become the bulwark of the democratization process, hence the need for its rollback. Khattak alluded to Pakistan’s powerful military’s support for Khan’s PTI since 2014 when it staged a months-long sit-in protest in Islamabad in 2014 as part of a long-term effort to roll back the amendment. Another significant issue is the question of the distribution of national financial cake. More money to the provinces means a smaller federal kitty which can endanger the huge allocation for military’s expenditure from the federal budget.”

Any amendment undoing of the 18th Amendment, however, requires a two-thirds majority and the PTI only has a wafer-thin majority in the National Assembly while it holds a minority in the Senate.

Imran Khan’s Favorite Maulana of Hoors Blames Women for Covid

On Thursday, April 23, well-known cleric and public speaker Maulana Tariq Jameel, while saying a longish prayer at the end of the Ehsaas Telethon, meant to raise funds for the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, alleged that “scantily dressed” were responsible for the spread of Covid19 in Pakistan and that these “immodest actions” have brought the Almighty’s wrath upon the country.

These remarks were immediately condemned by a wide range of Pakistani media personalities, human rights activists and politicians. 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) took exception to his comments and in a tweet, the commission said:

As an editorial in Dawn titled ‘Blaming women’ pointed out, Jameel’s misogynistic remarks were made in the presence of the prime minister and top broadcast journalists. “For the maulana to claim that women should be blamed for a global pandemic is not just ill-informed but also inflammatory. The statements are troubling; not only do they betray a deep-rooted misogyny, they were also aired, unchallenged, from a very high-profile platform. This mentality is reflective of society’s unfortunate tendency to marginalise women simply because social power structures allow them to be viewed as ‘lesser beings’. The remarks also reinforce a dangerous yet normalised idea that targeting women is permissible. The reality is that women in Pakistan, and elsewhere, face systemic discrimination and violence. During this pandemic, domestic abuse cases have soared as women are forced to stay home for extended periods with their tormentors. Despite these challenges, women strive to be recognised and shatter glass ceilings — as evidenced by the effective response of global women leaders in this pandemic.”

U.S. Ban on export of nuclear products shows Pakistan still seen with suspicion

Pakistan is not only referred to as Jihad Central but also as the land of the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network. While the country’s leadership may try to deny everything, the reality is very different.

On April 21, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an Order “suspending the general license authority under NRC regulations for exports of byproduct material to Pakistan. Exporters are no longer authorized to use the general license to export byproduct material to Pakistan and now must apply for a specific license pursuant to NRC regulations.”

While Pakistan was already on a list of countries that were treated as “restricted destinations,” but till now — unlike Iran and North Korea – Pakistan was not formally “embargoed,” and thus was technically still “eligible” to receive a general license for this material, usually used for radionuclides that are embedded in devices.

While we do not know more details, what the order does state is that “The Executive Branch has determined that suspending byproduct material exports to Pakistan under this 10 CFR part 110 general license is necessary to enhance the common defense and security of the United States and is consistent with the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, as amended.” As per 10 CFR 110.20(f) removal “may be done in response to significant adverse developments in the country involved. A key factor in this regard is the nonproliferation credentials of the importing country.”

Pakistan’s Coronavirus Ordeal becomes worse as Ramadan starts

With over 10,982 confirmed cases and 230 deaths, Pakistan’s Covid19 response has been marked by indecision, lack of clarity, and disregard of human lives by the government and the country’s mullahs. 

With Ramzan starting this Friday, Pakistan is the only Muslim majority country that has not asked people to pray from home. Instead the government has put forth a series of measures or Standing operating procedures for mosques to follow while they stay open! According to PM Imran Khan, “it was now the responsibility of ulema to ensure the people follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for collective prayers.”  Not only doctors and healthcare professionals but activists and others have appealed against this government decision.

According to veteran human rights activist and columnist, I.A. Rahman “what happens in the country in the immediate future will depend on how well or otherwise the challenges peculiar to the month of Ramazan are faced by the government and the people. The former will be tested for its ability to persevere with measures necessary to fight the coronavirus epidemic, and the latter will be required to prove their strength in preferring reason to emotion and narrow interest. And both need the will and capacity to deal effectively with the powerful pressure groups the month of fasting will throw up.”

Rahman, noted that the government decision, which was contrary to those of fellow Muslim countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, was based on pushback from interest groups like the mullahs and shopkeepers and vendors. “Why did the religious leaders strike a pre-emptive blow at the government? It is possible some scholars genuinely believe that they have a right to hold congregations in mosques regardless of the pandemic threat. Their indifference to requisites of their own safety is understandable though their lack of concern for the safety of the fellow namazi is not.” Also, “The second pressure group that could undermine the fight against Covid-19 comprises the huge number of beneficiaries of what may be described as the Ramazan economy. For a very large number of shopkeepers and vendors, Ramazan is the month of unbridled profiteering. They charge exorbitant prices for fruits, vegetables and other requirements for iftar. Even where raising prices is not possible, and no special bazaars are allowed this year, the demand for syrups, sugar, milk, bread and many other foodstuffs goes up in the month of fasting.”

Finally, as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted there is “an absence of clarity in the federal government’s measures – a clarity without which it cannot hope to curb the pandemic and create space for the country’s already fragile healthcare system. The government in Islamabad has sown confusion among the population by relaying mixed messages about the lockdown and inciting its supporters in Sindh to undermine the actions taken by the provincial government. Instead of learning from the experience of more developed countries that have suffered hugely at the hands of this pandemic, the federal government remains indecisive. Worryingly, despite clear warnings from the Pakistan Medical Association, it has allowed congregations in Ramazan under pressure from certain clerics, even though this contravenes lockdown decisions in other Muslim countries. When a large part of the population across Pakistan is at risk, it is deeply disappointing to see the federal government indulge in scoring political points against a provincial government, while capitulating to the big business and religious lobbies.”