Banning Altaf Hussain: What’s Really Going On

In a remarkable decision today Lahore High Court ordered all TV channels and newspapers not to publish or broadcast any Altaf Hussain speeches, statements, activities, or even his photograph! This ban is remarkable because the MQM leader still has not been convicted of any crime. He may be accused of many things, and may be facing many cases…but he is not convicted of anything, so on what grounds is he banned? Compare this with the same Court’s treatment of another controversial figure the accused terrorist mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi who they ordered released due to ‘lack of evidence’ and is free to give speeches and show his face anywhere in Pakistan. Okay, okay, Lakhvi is a ‘good terrorist’. Then let us ask why it is banned to broadcast statements by Altaf Hussain but not TTP spokesman? Why is Ahmed Ludhianvi still allowed to be broadcast? The list can go on and on but the answer remains the same: There is a double standard being applied to one man.

It is also worth noting that once again the Courts have resorted to ‘banning’ something that is deemed too embarrassing or upsetting. Like YouTube and Facebook and Bollywood films termed as ‘anti-Pakistan’, the banning is really just a matter of sending a message and not really blocking one. It is impossible in the era of global internet to truly stop access to any information. No, this is the Court sending a clear message that even though he has not been tried and convicted on any count, Altaf Hussain has been declared unacceptable by certain powerful quarters. This is understood by all who see the many news reports. Actually it is wrong to say that Altaf was not tried and convicted because he was, only it was a trial and conviction by media with the sentence given by a Court. Who was the judge and jury though is the important question that will remain unanswered, but it is undeniable that the objective is to ‘control the narrative’ rather than punish any crime.

LHC’s order will serve as a means for pressurizing MQM supporters and even those who do not support MQM but do support basic rule of law. It has a chilling effect that spreads much further than simply preventing TV channels from broadcasting his statement. Will blogs be targeted for posting photos? What about social media? Where does it end? For those who care about such things, we should be very aware that we have entered a new phase where trials and convictions are no longer considered necessary, and even showing a person’s photograph can land one in hot water. We have criminalised not only acts, but the being even too far out of sync with the official narrative. And what does that say about the next time extremists and militant sympathisers are broadcast…?

Injustice System: Why We Don’t Get Cooperation From Foreign Governments

injustice

Chaudhry Nisar has requested the British government to stop Altaf Hussain from criticising Pakistan Army. Even setting aside how insecure this makes Pakistan Army look, it is a ridiculous request that will be laughed out of Whitehall. UK government will not force Altaf from criticising Pakistan Army any more than our government will force Imran from criticising NATO. However there is another matter that more properly follows legal protocol: The registration of a FIR against the MQM chief under the section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and 506 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). This move may not be as entertaining to British Ministers, but it will meet the same success as the Interior Minister’s request for a simple reason: Our ‘justice’ system lacks any credibility.

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Hate speech has no place

Sindh Senior Minister Zulfikar Mirza’s recent statement against mohajirs this week was beyond the pale and has no place in politics. But rather than react in anger, we should take this opportunity to reflect on a poison that plagues politics and hold us back from realising our potential. The poison I’m speaking of is, of course, the prejudice and bigotry that continues to divide us against ourselves.

To his credit, President Zardari is taking the member of his party to task, summoning him to the presidency and publicly scolding him in the press.

“The president has asked Mr Mirza to suspend his political engagements in Sindh and immediately come to the presidency,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.

President Zardari is reported to have been annoyed by the statement in which Mr Mirza made derogatory remarks against MQM chief Altaf Hussain.

“The Pakistan People`s Party has already disowned the statement and called upon its ranks to show restraint in public statements,” the spokesman said.

Unfortunately, Mirza’s act is not unusual. Who can forget Altaf Hussain’s speech making fun of Punjabis?

Or can we forget PML-N politicians objecting to cabinet member Kamran Michael presenting the budget on grounds that he is Christian?

No, it is not one politician or one political party. Sadly, it has become a weapon to be pulled out when the speaker has no ideas worth giving. It is then that he can only resort to the lowest forms of attack against his fellow countrymen. It is a strategy of divide and conquer, and it has no place. Politics should be a battle of ideas, not a war of words.

After his outburst, Zulfiqar Mirza has given an apology which was published in the media. This is a good step, but it does not excuse his behaviour. The most important point is that such hate speech should never exist in the first place. The differences between us are not our weakness, but our strength. Diversity is what holds the name of our great nation together. Or have we forgotten the words of Chaudhry Rahmat Ali who was one of the earliest proponents of the creation of the state of Pakistan. He is credited with creating the name “Pakistan” for a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia:

At this solemn hour in the history of India, when British and Indian statesmen are laying the foundations of a Federal Constitution for that land, we address this appeal to you, in the name of our common heritage, on behalf of our thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN – by which we mean the five Northern units of India, Viz: Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan.

Pakistan Declaration

Baloch, Pakhtun, Punjabi, Mohajir, Sindhi, Sufi, Shia, Barlevi, Deobandi, Christian – We are all Pakistanis.
Pakistani diversity

Military Accountability: The Role of Political Parties

The presence of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad has led to an opening of a Pandora’s box. The Pakistani military has had to pick and choose from limited options; that is either complicity or incompetence. The civilian government, already incapable of influencing any foreign policy, has once again chosen to side with the military and the intelligence agencies. On the surface, however, they have tried to act tough by establishing an “independent” commission in charge of analyzing the Osama Bin Laden mishap. The likes of Najam Sethi, Nawaz Sharif and Asma Jehangir have already called the commission useless. Nawaz Sharif was upfront about labeling the Osama Bin Laden a “security lapse.” He also criticized the PPP for not trying hard enough to ensure accountability within the military.

It is fair to assume that Nawaz Sharif has been bitter with the military since he was ousted in October 1999. His second tenure as the prime minister was marked with him trying to decentralize the military’s power in the political sphere. General Jehangir Karamat was nice enough to resign in face of civilian aggression, but Musharraf pounched on Sharif’s ego and ultimately ousted him. Sharif finally has seen an opportunity to once again engage in a verbal war with the military( and the election campaign of 2013). This time, the military may have found a more schrewd Sharif, and a public that is more aware of the military’s alleged incompetence. This situation is much similar to 1972, when army dictatorship collapsed.

The creation of East Pakistan sent shockwaves across Pakistan, as it lost 52% of its population within a matter of months. Martial law ended with Zulfikar Bhutto becoming both the Chief Martial Law Administrator and the President of the nation. While the public raised furor over the military’s policies, it was not fully aware of its atrocites in East Pakistan. Zulfikar Bhutto chose to keep it that way. In order to appease the military and ensure his future Presidency, Bhutto decided to conceal the “Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report” from the public. The report was also questionable in nature, as it did not indict General Tikka Khan, a military figure complicit in the army’s lawless actions in East Pakistan. General Tikka Khan went on to serve as the chief of army staff for four years under Zulfiqar Bhutto. The military, after a brief interruption in politics due to unpopularity, reinserted itself back into politics in 1978. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto missed the chance as Chief Martial Law administrator by not conducting a thorough investigation into the incompetence of the army. The result was the reinsertion of Martial Law in 1977.

Today, the PPP has once again allegedly decided to take the easy route by protecting the incompetence of the military. In fear of retaliation and possible aid withdrawal from foreign nations, it has decided to conduct an investigation in accords with the military’s wishes. Now, it would be foolish to assert that the military’s present blunders are remotely comparable to the atrocities of East Pakistan. Similarly, it is also unwise to assume that today’s PPP government is as strong as Zulfikar Bhutto’s government in 1972. Far from it, actually.

The morals of these two situations remain the same though. Public perception of the military is changing, just as it did in 1972. The PPP needs to act together with other civilian parties in order to ensure accountability in the military. It similarly needs to establish a proper independent commission in accord with the consent of the opposition parties. Najam Sethi, a distinguished Pakistani scholar, has critiqued the commission for catering towards the military’s needs. A commission needs to be established for ensuring justice within the military, not one that should be used by a party for political security from the military.

Three years ago, political parties were able to join together to restore the Chief Justice from a military dictator through unity. MQM President Altaf Hussain has already critiqued the alleged extremism within the army, and has demanded swift action within the military. Nawaz Sharif has called for a proper investigation into the blatant “security lapse” of Abbotabad. Imran Khan also wants a re-evaluation of military policy on the war against terror. This is the time for political parties to join together for a cause. Otherwise, public frustration with the military will frustrate itself to passiveness, and parliamentary democracy might once again meets its deadliest foe; martial law.

 

Wanted: Principled Leadership

The Raymond Davis saga took a turn for the worst over the past few days as principled leadership on the issue has been sacrificed on the altar of political ambition and populist groveling. The explosive statements of former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has changed his reputation in the media from an American puppet to a Ghazi almost overnight. We should stop and ask ourselves if what is really going on is as it is being spun in the media (that would be a first) or if perhaps this new story line is once again not exactly as it seems.

FM Qureshi with US Secretary of State ClintonFirst let me say that a lot of people have taken to attacking Mahmood Qureshi, which is unfortunate. He’s not a bad guy. Actually, he’s really smart and capable man, if a little out of his element lately. Trying to define him as a demon does not do anything for the case of reason and rule of law over rule of mobs. Unfortunately, those same people who would demonize him as an American puppet last week are now ready to present him with his very own laal topi and declare him as one of the faithful. So let’s throw out all the self-serving statements and take a look at the facts.

Qureshi’s recent behaviour is unfortunately not out of the ordinary. Between Rehman Malik’s telling that he will kill blasphemers with his own hands and Babar Awan‘s trying to trade Raymond Davis for Aafia Siddiqui as if he were a bakriwallah bartering in a market and not Law Minister – too many of our politicians continue to play to the populist gallery rather than provide real leadership on hard issues.

When I first read Malick’s column in the The News I thought, ‘this is rich’. Suddenly the Americans’ darling Mahmood Qureshi is now their victim? The whole thing seemed a bit too tidy to me. It was just too convenient a headline. But there was more to the article than simply the headline that bothered me.

According to Malick, this supposed story starts in a high level meeting in Islamabad that was attended by President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the DG ISI Gen Shuja Pasha. Let’s stop here for a minute. If this is the cast of characters who was in attendance, it means that one of them has to be the leak. Reading the rest of the article, it’s clear that the source for Malick’s article is none other than Qureshi himself. This becomes even more clear as more articles begin pouring into the media with quotes from Qureshi which shows that the man whose silence got us into this mess is now incredibly accessible to every journalist in the country. So we must ask what is the purpose of Qureshi leaking his own story to The News which is not exactly a mouthpiece for the government?

And let’s consider Qureshi’s previously impenetrable silence, can we? The shooting that started this whole mess happened three weeks ago. According to Qureshi now, he has “strongly argued the case that Raymond did not enjoy unlimited diplomatic immunity under law, flatly refused and even said that if need be, he’d rather resign”.

Really? Since when? Because everyone has been demanding that the FO decide the question of diplomatic immunity for weeks and Qureshi was nowhere to be found. If he was really being pressurized to act against his convictions and was so adamant about resigning rather than facing the tune, why did he never resign? In fact, it’s only since he’s been sacked that Qureshi has suddenly found this adamant conviction on the issue.

And then there’s the issue of Qureshi’s sacking, which wasn’t really a sacking at all. When the PM dissolved the cabinet in order to reduce the bloated number of ministers and began making reappointments, it was decided to offer Qureshi a new portfolio – Water and Power. Unfortunately, Qureshi felt that he deserved foreign affairs, and if he wasn’t given the position he wanted, he was going to take his ball and his bat and leave the game. In fact when he was supposed to be sworn in as a cabinet minister, he didn’t bother to show up at all, rather he sent a terse note saying, “I am not interested in water and power ministry in place of foreign affairs”. This is a curious response to the offer of a cabinet portfolio, a position for which only a handful of people are selected out of the 180 million citizens. Could it be that Mr Qureshi’s reason has fallen prey to his personal ambitions?

And rather than a punishment, offering a cabinet position to Qureshi was actually something of a token. After all, has there not been constant frustration with his performance as FM over the past years? Manmohan Singh blamed Qureshi personally for his poor handling of talks last summer. This was an ongoing problem that Qureshi had, pushing his Indian counterparts away when it was his job to hold talks and find solutions to issues. And it was under Qureshi’s guard that India has become considered for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while Pakistan remains without a civilian nuclear deal. Also he has taken great criticism from diplomats such as Tayyab Siddiqui for his comments on Iran.

He skipped the SAARC meeting in Bhutan last month, and in the midst of the negotiations over Raymond Davis, he even skipped a meeting with an American delegation last week. More on that point: As I stated earlier, if Shah Mahmood Qureshi truly felt so  adamant about Raymond Davis’s status, why was he silent and missing in action for the past weeks? Why did he not make statements when it could have mattered? If he was actually being pressurized, why did he not resign then? He said himself that he would have kept his position of FM if it was offered, so don’t try to have it both ways please.

And let’s not forget that it was only a few short days ago that the Foreign Office under the leadership of FM Qureshi stated that Raymond Davis at a minimum does enjoy at a minimum “partial immunity”. Then Salman Bashir calls the newspapers and says that if he committed some immoral act, he would not request diplomatic immunity for himself, which is essentially admitting that Raymond Davis does have diplomatic immunity, but it is annoying to the FO. This is another example of the failure of the foreign office by trying to have everything both ways. Whether or not Salman Bashir would invoke diplomatic immunity is irrelevant – Raymond Davis has invoked it. If Qureshi was unable to make a decision one way or the other, the country needed someone in the Foreign Office who could.

But the problem is not just Qureshi’s failure to act on principle. We’re also seeing other leaders like Babar Awan trying to barter Raymond Davis for Aafia Siddiqui as if Islamabad was filled with goat traders at a market, or Altaf Hussain comparing apples to peaches by saying that “Just the way US court gave the decision of Dr. Aafia’s case, US must also wait for Pakistani court’s decision on Raymond’s case”. Whether or not Aafia should be repatriated, she has no claim to diplomatic immunity, so her case is nothing like that of Raymond Davis.

Last fall, Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned against being influenced by concocted messages sent through media over Pak-US relationships. He now seems to be playing the same game. Unfortunately, he is not the only one doing so. It is now three weeks since the tragic incident that has brought diplomatic relations with the US to stand still. As Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi could have ended this mess weeks ago by declaring Raymond Davis’s status one way or another. But when Qureshi had the opportunity to speak, he was silent. Now that his opinion carries no consequences to his own skin, suddenly he has found his voice. Elsewhere, our political leaders are asking the courts to help them out of a difficult situation and making populist speeches and goat trading to protect their own hides. The courts are telling those responsible in government to please do their jobs. Outside in the street it is the same as in the media – we are blinded by ghairat when the situation requires objective reason.

Again let me state that I do not think any of these are bad, dishonest, or incompetent people. I think the problem is one that is a larger problem in society. We allow issues to be hijacked by people who use emotional blackmail to keep us from using our brains. As a result,  good and capable men lose all sense of reason and proportion.

At present, everyone appears to be playing hearts and demanding to take the trick. But spades are trumps in this game, and diplomatic immunity is the ace of spades. If Raymond Davis plays the trump card, he takes the trick no matter how many hearts are thrown. But we should also keep a sense of proportion. The Raymond Davis case is only one trick and it is not for game. We need to stop acting like it is for all the chits. We need leaders with the courage and principles to play by the rules instead of trying to upend the table when they don’t like their hand.