Fascism on the rise in Pakistan

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The government in Pakistan with its imminent collapse unfolding is seen intensifying its fascist stranglehold on dissent. It has unleashed a blitzkrieg crackdown not only on the media but opposition politicians, honourable members of civil and other dissenting voices with flood gates of violence against women and minorities especially the peace-loving Shia Hazara community—according to Human Rights Watch in a report it compiled for year 2021. The report details constant increase in violence in treatment of minorities, abuse of women, children and less privileged members of Pakistani society.

PTI authorities have let loose a reign of police terror to harass the weaker segments of the society. Most often its targeted victimisation includes defenders of human rights and journalists for taking to task the high-handedness of the government especially its oppressive policies mainly targeting anyone found on the right against the government.  Most prominent to be abused by the PTI government is the National Accountability Bureau, supposed to have been originally established by the former dictator President General Pervez Musharraf as his anti-corruption watchdog, to prosecute and intimidate political opponents, critics of the government, including Pakistan’s most prominent editor-journalist-owner of Jang/Geo group Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman who was forced to remain incarcerated for more than six months without bail. Not only that, cases of journalists and dissenters getting picked up in the middle of the night to be dropped badly bodily mauled by the so-called law-enforcers following great public hue and cry.

The situation is so deplorable that despite strictures by the superior courts in the country, all fret and fuming of the apex judiciary ends up in nothing but empty pleadings leading nowhere to provide victims some sort of relief. As a matter of fact, some times the judicial strictures are so severe against the NAB to the extent calling for its disbandment as the most useless and unproductive organisation. In this context particular mention must be made against NAB’s abuse against him by the Vice Chairman of the Senate –Senator Saleem Mandviwalla. “Pakistan’s continuing assault on political opponents and free expression has put the country on an increasingly dangerous course is the considered view at Human Rights Watch. “Threatening opposition leaders, activists, and journalists who criticize the government is a hallmark of authoritarian rule, not a democracy.”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz addressing to protestors outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on 19th January. PDM Head Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other political leaders are also seen in the picture.

In its voluminous World Report 2021, its 31st edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth argues that the new United States administration should embed respect for human rights in its domestic and foreign policy in a way that is more likely to survive future US administrations that might be less committed to human rights. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, other governments stepped forward to champion rights. The Biden administration as harbinger of fresh air should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort.

Human Rights Watch Report has dealt in great detail the incidence of violence against Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya religious community worsened in 2020, with at least four Ahmadis killed for alleged incidents of blasphemy. Among them was Tahir Naseem Ahmad, who was charged with blasphemy, imprisoned in 2018, and fatally shot in July by an assailant who had smuggled a gun inside a high-security courtroom in Peshawar. The Pakistani government also failed to amend or repeal blasphemy law provisions that have led to arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, and provide a pretext for violence against religious minorities. Similarly, Shia Hazara community also feels singled out for killing fields in Quetta. Only recently 21 miners were brutally done to death in Maach area of Balochistan. What is most agonising is the fact that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his sectarian government deals with deep empathy the issue of Shia pogrom. Like his previous lack of interest on the recent tragic incident too Khan showed his contempt to the sad plight of people protesting with bodies laid out openly to shake the conscience of Khan and his government.    

It must be pointed out here that in August last, Pakistan’s leading women rights activists and journalists issued a strong worded statement condemning the “well-defined and coordinated campaign” of social media attacks, including death and rape threats, against women journalists and commentators whose views and reporting have been critical of the government. It is indeed, a total failure of Khan’s chief minister Usman Buzdar in minimising rape of women and molestation of children especially female kids at the hands of the increasing number of paedophiles among the clergy in the biggest province. In September last, nationwide protests took place to demand end to police state after Punjab police chief made a public statement suggesting that a woman who had been gang-raped on a highway in Punjab was herself at fault because she should not have been travelling “without her husband’s permission” on a motorway late at night.

According to statistics available with Human Rights Watch Pakistan had over 350,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with at least 7,000 deaths in 2020. With little testing available, the actual numbers were most likely much higher. Partial or complete lockdowns to prevent contagion had a disproportionate effect on women workers, especially home-based and domestic workers. It must be appreciated that that the Sindh provincial government took some concrete measures to protect workers from layoffs and to ensure pay. It may be noted that data from domestic violence help lines across Pakistan indicated that cases of domestic violence increased 200 percent from January-March 2020, and further worsened during the Covid-19 lockdowns after March. It is regretfully stated that the PTI government in the upsurge of the new wave of co-vid strain has totally failed to gear up counter measures. Not only that it seemed to be sleeping in its opiated slumber that the leadership is known for.

(Author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)

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