Pakistan Becoming a Police State

riot police Karachi

The term ‘police state’ is defined as “a state controlled by a political police force that secretly supervises the citizens’ activities”. Is this a fitting description for Pakistan, which is supposedly a democracy? The answer to this question may be unsettling.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb was long overdue as terrorist outfits had been given leniency since too long which resulted in the inevitable. However, there are a growing number of examples of ‘national security’ being used as an excuse for ever expanding police powers against the citizens of Pakistan.

YouTube appears to be permanently blocked, despite the fact that no one can point to any legitimate reason why limiting access to the site is necessary. This is a relatively minor inconvenience as videos are widely available on other sites, and there are easy ways to access YouTube anyway. The point, though, is that is an early example of the state arbitrarily trying to control what information private citizens can get.

A more alarming example is the growing pressurisation of journalists and media with the most recent case being the firing of Daily Times columnist Mohammad Taqi under direction from Army. Taqi’s case has made international headlines, but it is not the only one. Actually, the media has become increasingly limited in what is reported and the positions that are presented. This is a process that began over one year ago as it was reported in February 2014 that media groups had begun directing journalists not to report anything critical of Army or right-wing political parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and PTI. During this time we have seen those like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid returning to the spotlight and preaching a certain agenda.

While the media is increasingly becoming a hyper-nationalistic mouthpiece, Army is expanding its role as well. Civilians in the government are being replaced by military officers, and military courts are being expanded to replace the civilian justice system. Besides Zarb-e-Azb, Karachi Operation also shows no signs of ending as Rangers continue to target liberal political parties while religious extremists continue to terrorise minorities.

In each of these cases, officials and their mouthpieces in the new media justify the expansion of police powers by saying it is necessary for national security. However the latest case was unexpectedly exposed and has revealed what is really going on. Of course I am talking about the announcement that Blackberry will stop providing services in Pakistan due to government demands. As per usual, state officials have said that they have asked Blackberry for help in catching terrorists, but now a Blackberry official has revealed the truth on their website.

The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message. But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive. As we have said many times, we do not support “back doors” granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.

Pakistan’s demand was not a question of public safety; we are more than happy to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity. Rather, Pakistan was essentially demanding unfettered access to all of our BES customers’ information. The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle.

What we said in July when rumors of Pakistan’s decision started to swirl remains true today: “BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers. Protecting that security is paramount to our mission. While we recognize the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers.”

While we are justifiably outraged by the statements from Western politicians that want to monitor all mosques and Muslims, treating everyone as if they are a potential terrorist, our government is doing exactly that already. Is it true that in order to secure the country, we must monitor every citizens as if they are a terrorist threat?

Actually there is another possible reason for blanket monitoring which has been done by totalitarian regimes in the past. By monitoring every citizen closely and reading their messages, totalitarian police states such as Nazi Germany and USSR were infamous for collecting private citizens secrets and using to blackmail them to spy on their neighbors. Is this what we have become already?

There is no question that we are in a fight for our lives against jihadi terrorists and their extremist takfiri ideology. In this fight, Army and other security forces have an obvious role to play, but we must be careful that their role does not seep into every corner of our lives and turn Pakistan into a totalitarian police state.

Axact Scandal: 007 Tie-In Only Makes the Plot More Thrilling

axact

The investigative report that exposed Axact’s alleged role in an alleged massive fake degree operation was described by many as ‘breaking the internet’. The embattled IT company has continued to dominate discussion like almost no other, and it’s no surprise. The story has all the elements of a blockbuster movie: Billions of dollars, a charismatic leader who little is really known about, and a network of successful businesses that some say don’t seem to actually produce anything. This is a winning formula on its own, but there is yet another sub-plot that has yet to really begin unfolding, and this one could make Axact the biggest blockbuster of all time: A 007 tie-in.

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RAW Accusations and Our National Credibility

Army’s broad accusation against Indian RAW of “whipping up terrorism” in Pakistan has been followed by allegations that RAW is responsible for specific terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. Various news channels reported that RAW was involved in the killing of Sabeen Mahmud. These reports were based on the statements of high level security sources.

Several news channels have now reported that ISI has obtained proof that RAW was behind the Safoora Chowrangi massacre.

These are serious charges. If they are correct, it means that a foreign agency has carried out a cross border killing of dozens of innocent civilians. This is a crime against humanity that carries serious consequences at the global level. If these accusations are correct, we can expel the Indian High Commissioner and all Indian diplomats as “persona non grata”. Our UN Ambassador can present the evidence before the UN and India can suffer economic sanctions or worse to compel it to stop its nefarious crimes. The true face of India can be exposed to the entire world.

However, what if we don’t do anything? What if we just report these accusations in Pakistan media and point fingers and talk about “evidence” without ever using the evidence to take appropriate action under international law? People like Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi have been blaming RAW since years, and this has destroyed their reputations. Now Army and Foreign Office are singing the same tune. If they fail to actually show any evidence and take the appropriate diplomatic and legal measures, we could face a future where our most sensitive institutions suffer the same blow to their own credibility in the eyes of the world.

Losing Our Voice

A recent column by Ardeshir Cowasjee for Dawn was one of those pieces that connects the dots and makes a picture of the world start to take shape. His column, Killing the Messengers, addresses a major obstacle in moving Pakistan beyond the mess that we’re in. It’s not that we’re having the wrong conversation, it’s that we can’t have any conversation at all.

Our inability to have a civil debate has become increasingly apparent. But this is not a ‘pox on both houses’ situation, as much as we like to cast blame equally. When Marvi Sirmed appeared on Shahid Nama with Zaid Hamid, she didn’t accuse anyone being a traitor or unpatriotic. She just offered an alternative point of view. More recently, it’s been Mubashir Luqman lobbing such accusations against Najam Sethi of being an American agent. Nevermind the fact that in listing the top ten mistakes of Pakistan, the same Najam Sethi lists as number one the alliance with America. But he also criticises the decision not to recognise Sheikh Mujib’s electoral majority in 1970 elections, and the Kargil assault, which some want to pretend happened differently than they did.

This is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2008, Javed Chaudhry wrote a scathing attack against Najam Sethi. But Javed Chaudhry didn’t debate his positions then either, rather he attacks him personally, saying Najam Sethi is mafia lord of a Lahore NGO sponsored by America to spread anti-Pakistan views.

If you take the time to actually listen, what these so-called “liberal extremists” say isn’t really extreme at all. Is it really “extreme” to suggest that secret conspiracies are not responsible for all of our problems? Or that maybe, just maybe, military officers have not always made the wisest decisions? People like Marvi Sirmed and Najam Sethi aren’t advocating an athiest Marxist-Leninist revolution. They’re not anarcho-syndicalists who want to replace the National Assembly with a federation of worker’s councils. Could it be that the right wing finds them far more threatening because when they speak, they actually make sense?

If someone says something the right wing doesn’t like, they don’t offer a reasoned counter-argument – they resort to character assassination. They term you a traitor and say you are spreading anti-Pakistan views. They say you’re a paid agent. And this is used not only against journalists, but politicians, government officials, and even private citizens who dare to have their own opinions. Zaid Hamid calls for politicians to be “hanged by the trees” and Ahmed Quraishi calls for a “ruthless military coup”. They resort to threats of violence because they cannot convince people with their ideas alone.

It’s easy to dismiss such threats as online taunting, but this right wing mindset has a bad habit of crossing the line between uncivil talk and uncivil behaviour. What starts as character assassination too often escalates to just plain ‘assassination’. Whoever killed Saleem Shahzad, there is little doubt that his killers were motivated by what he wrote. The killers didn’t offer any counter argument to Saleem Shahzad’s claims; they just didn’t like what he had to say, so they shut him up. Permanently.

Mumtaz Qadri murdered Salmaan Taseer not over any blasphemy that the governor committed, but because he disagreed with him about whether a law should be reformed. Once again, nevermind the fact that by advocating for rahma (mercy) Salmaan Taseer was not challenging Islam, he was living it. What he was challenging was a political ideology that can’t bear to be challenged. So, without a trace of shame, Meher Bokhari says he’s ‘Western’ and reads a fatwa against him on TV. When the character assassination doesn’t deter Salmaan Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri shoots him in the back.

In a way, it’s rather ironic. The self-appointed defenders of Islam have replaced the central message of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with central message of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. They’re replaced itjihad with jihad, reason with guns. Similarly, these same self-appointed guardians of the national honour (ghairat) are turning Pakistan into a pariah state, increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.

So who’s really being anti-Pakistan here? Is it the so-called ‘liberal extremist’ commentators who are merely telling what happened in the past so that we may be saved from repeating it? No, the real extremists here are Pakistan’s wanna-be coup makers who want to kill (literally) any criticism that threatens to expose their delusions and the self-defeating adventurism it justifies.

This brings me back to Cowasjee, who wrote:

In our universe, Pakistan is in the middle of a party celebrating its greatness and no one wants a messenger of bad news to interrupt the self-glorification. But in the real world, we can kill as many messengers as we like, the message that Pakistan is in big trouble is unlikely to go away.

You don’t have to agree with everything Marvi Sirmed or Najam Sethi or anyone else says. I don’t. But I respect their right to say things that I don’t agree with. It’s not anti-Pakistan to want the country to be the best that it can be, and it’s not extreme to recognise your past mistakes so that you can improve for the future. It’s your real friends who will tell you when you have food in your beard. It’s your enemies who let you walk around looking like a fool.