Attacking Journalists. Damaging Pakistan.

Cyril AlmeidaIf the state was looking for global attention, it finally found it – but not for the reasons it had hoped. In a shocking mis-step, government officials informed Dawn columnist Cyril Almeida that his name had been placed on the Exit Control List as if he were a wanted criminal.

His crime? Reporting that the civilians had finally shown some backbone and demanded the military do its job and go after militants without fear or favour. Officials denied the story, but as usual they couldn’t let it go. The report has now been officially denied not once…not twice…but THREE times, assuring anyone with half a brain that there was something very true about it. If there was still any doubt, the Pindibot Corps has been carrying out social media surgical strikes that confirmed the reports authenticity.

The irony in this case is that if Cyril’s report is really so damaging, once again it is the response of government officials and their hyper-patriot lackeys that has turned a minor footnote into a global embarrassment.

Unlike Aabpara’s PM’s diplomatic envoys who failed to get any attention during their trip to Washington, their attempts to threaten and intimidate a respected journalist got more attention than they wanted.

Where Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi and Senator Mushahid Hussain have failed to get any attention from the international media, the state’s assault on Cyril Almeida’s rights has earned more coverage than they could have imagined.

At a time when the state claims to be attempting to improve Pakistan’s image in the world, what could have possibly been a stupider move than to attack another well respected journalist. Government denied the story, but couldn’t let it go. If the past weeks have clearly shown anything, it’s that western conspiracies and foreign agents are completely unnecessary to damage Pakistan. The sheer incompetence of our own civil-military leadership is more than enough.

CENSORED: The Myth We Believe In

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 17th Sept. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Gen Raheel

In Pakistan your patriotism is gauged by your love for the uniform. Not just any uniform though. Not blue, not white nor the greys. The respect is deeply attached to the Khaki tone. If you worship the cloth you are a true Pakistani, if not you’re simply a traitor.

Choosing sides is fairly easy when it comes to the skirmishes involving the khakis. One fairly common battle is the khaki vs the sherwanis. Everyone knows who wins these. The Sherwanis’ squeaky attempt at going head to head with the former has been a sore retelling throughout our history. The dabs of corruption and opportunism give an outrageous edge to the Khaki’s who manage to woo the crowd. Not much good happens when the crowd sides with the Khaki’s alone. However, the support is not up for debate. It never has been; as far as the unsaid laws of this country go.

There are other battles as well; or at least there should be. The Khaki has been a bully dominating a playground that was made for others to play in. Take the real estate for example. Retired khakis who have only retired officially but maintain their kahki ego and influence, monopolise some of the most lucrative endeavors in the real estate business. Somehow, the field in question is a money minting machine if you’re a khaki. Besides a certain rarity (who himself has often exhibited himself as an accessory to the Khakis), those who don’t wear the color usually don’t prosper as much. Why this happens is a matter of perspective. The ex-Chief’s brother and his adventures give some insight. The Ferrari crash too, clears the picture. And then there is so much more. There are the banks. There are the factories. And indeed, so much more.

The khakis have managed to maintain dominance in the setting of other uniforms as well. The mammoth budget directed to the uniforms out of our tax money has the lion share go to the them. No other uniform ever protests this. Then there is the obvious usurping of power sectors that the other uniforms -thankfully so- don’t even dream to venture into. The populace has believed in the myth the Khakis want them to believe in. In times of despair or political frustration, the chief in Khaki is looked upon. As time has taught the nation of Pakistan, these expectations are never really a good idea.

No one dares challenge the might of the Khakis. Those who do simply don’t exist. The rules of the game in this country dictates it as so. However, someone just did. A person bearing the grey uniform did what he was paid to do. The khakis didn’t like that. Figures of an elite force were called in to help their khaki brothers. The greys were beaten. There are pictures and first and second person accounts. The beating was not the end for the greys were then forcefully kept at Attock fort.

The said incident does not raise many eyebrows. The term ‘bloody civilian’ has been often repeated by men who believe being rude dictates authority. Similarly, the traffic police too have not had to face the anger of a disappointed influential who’ve insisted on not paying their dues. This incident is but a usual affair in our country.

What is interesting however is how the country has reacted. The reaction takes us back to the initial premise of this article whereby one’s patriotism is dictated by having complete faith in the army. There have been ludicrous justifications to the incident. Those who seek to justify the actions of the men involved have just made a mockery out of the institution. ISPR too has brushed this aside with a rather casual term: sad. Now there is supposed to be an internal inquiry of the men involved. Strange, why the said men are not being brought to the civil courts for more transparent proceedings. After all, wasn’t this the expectations the civilians attached to the civilian cases sent in to the military courts?

If this incident is not brushed under the carpet it will make an impact that has been much awaited. However, those found guilty must be held accountable to the public at large as well. With secret proceedings and rulings, not many of us will know what exactly happened with the case. Most of us will forget about it much sooner than we should. Here is to hoping that the ISPR does a better job at this than the tweets it has most recently become fond of. A detailed ruling must be shared with the public. The Khakis are good at making the public believe in their myth; let’s hope they can make the public believe the truth too.

The writer is working as a health economist in a think-tank based  in Islamabad

Seditious Minds

JNU students protest

Support for JNU students and clear understanding of India’s over stepping the boundaries of democracy with fascistic tendencies is widespread. Most recently Dawn published a very good analysis by India’s expert lawyer A.G. Noorani that terms the offense of ‘sedition’ as a relic of the colonial era whose shelf life had long expired.

How is it possible to organise by purely constitutional and peaceful methods a campaign against a government in respect of its policies without diminishing whatever ‘affection’ it enjoys? The same is true of moves in parliament. The notion of ‘disaffection’ is out of place in a democracy. It is rooted in British law which placed a premium on loyalty and affection for the ruling monarch.

He then quotes former British Minister of Justice Claire Ward speaking on the topic of freedom to criticise one’s government:

“Freedom of speech is now seen as the touchstone of democracy and the ability of individuals to criticise the state is crucial to maintaining freedom.”

If the ability of individuals to criticise the state is crucial to maintaining freedom, what do we have in Pakistan? Allow me to remind my dear readers that our government has arrested over 50 activists in Gilgit-Baltistan for none other than sedition! Fazl-ur-Rehman has even said that social media is leading youth towards ‘sedition’ because they are using to make  jokes about politicians. How often analysts and commentators accused of treason on social media for daring to make some criticism of the government or national agencies?

If we can support freedom of speech for JNU students, why can’t we support freedom of speech in our own country?