No space for violence

17

 

As if last week’s crackdown on around two dozen activists of the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement was not a gross enough violation of civil freedoms, authorities in Pakistan have once again acted against two more voices of dissent in pure commando-style.

On Friday morning, several armed police officers, including many in plain clothes, swooped into Dr. Ammar Ali Jan’s residence in Lahore and arrested him on a host of charges. The prominent academic’s vicious crimes entailed participation in the PTM protest against the alleged extrajudicial murder of its senior member, Arman Loni. In a similar manner, Rizwan-ur-Rehman Razi, a senior journalist, was booked under cybercrime charges by the Federal Investigation Agency, at his residence in Lahore, on Saturday. Working for a private news channel, Already quite famous for his criticism of the incumbent government, Mr. Razi’s alleged “defamatory and obnoxious” comments against the judiciary, government, and intelligence services are being said to have landed him in hot waters.

Let us take a step back and absorb all that has happened in a mere week or so in this beloved republic of ours as it collides into military-era authoritarianism at rocket-speed. An academic is dragged in a horrific manner, befitting only a high-profile terrorist, by police forces merely because he dared protest against another grotesque violation of his country’s constitution: Mr. Loni’s extrajudicial killing. Mr. Loni, a PTM activist, died in a clash with police in the town of Loralai during a sit-in. Another disastrous consequence of his controversial murder previously landed 20 or so of those protesting it behind bars in Islamabad. Nearby and shortly afterward, a journalist is attacked for his ‘unacceptable’ remarks on social media. What more does the state need to rattle out of its slumber?

All of these acts can neither be recognised nor allowed by Pakistan’s supreme code. Yet, sadly, these occurrences are simply an old tale revisited with new faces.

With armed authorities determined to take aggressive action against all who dare question the “holier-than-thou” code, not much appears to solve this puzzle of shackles and blood. It is quite unfortunate that even in this age, likes of this editorial need to point out to those at the helm what should be done to effectively root out the ongoing crisis against all of our civil and basic freedoms. A lot appears amiss in this nonsensical approach of subordinates acting at their whims on the ground while their superiors appear oblivious to all wrongdoings. First and foremost, Islamabad desperately requires a thorough introspection of the kind of state model it wishes to pursue. If a twenty-first-century reincarnation of Orwellian dystopia is what it sought to achieve in the Naya Pakistan, the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf should have clearly explained this to their electorate. Under no circumstances, their leadership can be allowed to continue championing for change if all they are willing to do is stand behind excessive violations by those in public offices.

Making a mockery of their own allegations, the police personnel were not able to bring a solid case against Mr. Jan in front of the sessions court; resulting in his release. However, this short-lasting relief should not replace the general outrage at the overall dismal state of affairs. Mr. Razi has not yet been safely returned to his family. The PTM protestors languishing in prisons still await their due share of justice. Equally pressing is the immediate need to finally secure safeguards for dissent long-granted by our constitution.

To date, Pakistan has only won a quarter of its battle as a democracy when it overcame its latest military rule in 2008. Much more is needed than a peaceful transfer of power to establish it as a fully-functional democracy. Growing tolerance for those with different ideas to claim their due space would be an excellent step in a much-needed direction.