To hell with patriotism

4 Nov

“I don’t remember what happened, I fell down and someone was holding my neck in his feet, and the other guy kept beating and beating and beating”. This is what activist Asim Saeed had to say in an interview to the BBC about his illegal and unlawful detention by the powers-that-be. He was left in “shades of purple, blue and black”. Before you begin to throw out the labels we in Pakistan are so used to hurling at people we disagree with (“traitor”, “agent”, “blasphemer” – an ever-expanding list), take a minute and glance at our history. Not at the distorted history books we’re told are “facts” since we’re children; not at propaganda videos of the ISPR using children to tell you terrorists are scared of our young ones; take a long, hard look at what is real against what has been carefully manufactured to justify systemic abuse and denial of human rights in this country since our inception.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that around 728 people have “disappeared” in the year 2016 alone. These 728 people come from families not much different from ours; they have hopes and dreams not much different than ours; and a major component of their lives has been shaped by their desire to see a better, safer and more inclusive Pakistan. This vision of a Pakistan where people can breathe and speak without being abducted, tortured or killed has motivated these people to stand up and demand an end to the deep state’s abuse of its monopoly of force.

The attack on Ahmed Noorani is neither the first of its kind, nor will it, unfortunately, be the last. Attacks against and abductions of journalists and activists, particularly those critical of the deep state, are a dark and seemingly unending reality in Pakistan. Till date, there have only been three investigations into the murder of journalists that have resulted in conclusive findings. A prominent journalist poignantly wrote in a recent daily publication: “We live in a country where victim journalists are not only supposed to struggle for survival, they are also required to collect evidence about the identity of the attackers”.

Out of the nine core human rights conventions, Pakistan is yet to become party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CED). Considering our lack of adherence to the other seven key conventions we have ratified, one could argue it would make no difference were we to become a State Party to the CED. Maybe if the European Union tied some economic benefits to ratifying the CED, we’d be well on our way to considering it though.

For far too long have people been denied the right to question the deep state over “missing persons”, corruption of high-ranking army generals or even commercial enterprises operated by the military-industrial complex. This is despite the fact that their civilian counterparts are attacked (often without any substantial proof), made the subject of judicial and other inquiries and removed from their positions as though there is absolutely no sanctity or respect for civilian structures/institutions.

Before Mr. Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, the powers-that-be had already attempted to remove him through the street politics of the PTI. Long before Mr. Sharif’s disqualification, army generals had colluded with the same Mr. Sharif to build up pressure against Shaheed Benazir Bhutto because the highest-ranking military generals did not want to “salute” a female premier. The fact is that there can be no doubt in our minds, after all that this country has endured, that the real political decisions are taken not in Parliament or in political party meetings but at the GHQ. We daren’t state this fact lest we be threatened, abducted, isolated or beaten to death – God forbid we speak up against those that have ruled us for the majority of our history without “concrete evidence” though we forget all about standards of evidence and proof while holding civilians to account.

Even more dangerous and alarming still is the sheer brazenness with which people manifestly critical of the military are made to “disappear” and the entire military propaganda machinery driven into “narrative-building” that labels these “missing persons” one or often combinations of the following: “traitor”, “RAW-agent”, “separatist”, “foreign funded”, but perhaps the most dangerous: “blasphemer” or “kaafir”. How quickly the entire issue of “missing” bloggers was transformed from one of free speech and denial of due process (as it should have been) to that of the character and motives of these bloggers.

Article 4 of our Constitution clearly states that all individuals are to be dealt with in accordance with the due process of law. Similarly, there are provisions against high treason, arbitrary deprivation of liberty and freedom and various provisions in our penal code for the punishment of crimes listed therein. Why, then, are journalists and activists abducted, beaten and/or murdered? Our very own Supreme Court, in the Muhabbat Shah case, clearly stipulated that these enforced disappearances amount to “crimes against humanity”. So why is there no identification of or punishment for those involved? Of the hundreds of cases of missing persons, how many families have still not been told today where their loved ones are? Is this how civilized societies function?

If you criticize the state that has either engaged directly in these illegal and unlawful actions, or has turned a blind eye to them, you are a “traitor”. If you argue that the supremacy of the Constitution be upheld and the systematic denial of rights of citizens (particularly journalists and activists) be brought to an end, you are “anti-state”. But if you violate the Constitution through illegal abductions or military takeovers, and consistently shrink the space for debate, you’re a “patriot”? To hell with such patriotism that is so blinded by the blood of martyrs in uniforms but so apathetic to the plight of their own who are nothing more than “disappeared” or “missing” persons. Will we ever learn?

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