Imran Khan’s slogan of ‘Tabdeli’ has proved too good to be true. One had expected that General Elections in 2018 would prove to be harbinger of change for the good of the country. And after lapse of almost year instead of any positive ‘Tabdeli’ we are being subjected to witness transformation of the country from democracy of 2008 into what Hitler had given to Germany in the form of an oppressive Fascist state.
Indeed, the much promised aura of tabdeeli got nation converted too fast nation into a Nazi like contraption shattering the multi-faceted hopes of the masses for a change for the good of the country. Unfortunately I was one of the sceptics who had preferred not to pay any heed to IK’s slogan mongering and dismiss his tall claims as much a do about nothing. His promises were too illusionary to be believed in the right earnest. Indeed, the peaceful transition from one elected government to another a third time was surely something to be proud of. It had nothing to do with the ‘engineers’ having selected a prime minister who would dance to the tunes played by the unformed band pipers.
Following the peaceful transfer of power for the third consecutive time, a hope was ignited in people at large that we shall continue to move forward on our democratic destiny as envisaged by our founding fathers. Regretfully it did not happen. The clandestinely ‘engineered’ government and its leadership have proven to be otherwise. Their red carpet of plethora of promises remains an illusion. Much promised rivers of milk-n-honey have rendered hundreds of thousands of people unemployed, though promised half a million houses, shelterless are being offered tented villages and poor men’s Langar to feed them. No doubt they have been given Sehat Cards to provide the needy medicare, there are no hospital beds. One could understand the teething troubles faced by the government and that it was indeed passed on a legacy of socio-economic failures for which one year was not enough to deliver. It provided a fake opportunity to PTI supporters too short a span to take a spin.
However, the support that the selected government received from the Establishment was unprecedented. Prime Minister Imran Khan made no bones about the fact that his party’s manifesto was fully backed by the military as an institution. Perhaps no better news than this in the post democratic period following the divine fall of General Ziaul Haq from the skies. Not an iota of what he claimed as Establishment’s support to him was ever conceived by previous elected governments. Had martyred Benazir Bhutto received even an iota of support from the generals, Pakistan today would have among the top 20 countries.
This being an idle situation for PTI, its momentum to progress should have been phenomenal especially when it had no opposition from the quarters that did not earlier allow smooth functioning of democracy. Natural course for a government firmly in saddle from day one should have been to speed up delivery in various sectors of socio-economic endeavours. While PTI managers could dispute various claims of achievements by previous governments, there is one field in which Pakistan had progressed tremendously and that is the freedom of the press.
It is absolutely right freedom of information and the transparency it promotes, has a direct consequence on fighting corruption, fostering good governance and consolidating democracy. It is sad to note that Pakistan’s atmosphere of free and unbridled expression has taken drastic u-turns in last one year. Not only media has been subjected to volleys of attacks from the government starting from Dawn leaks that had actually opened the Pandora’s box. Soon one after another, attempts were made to muzzle the saner voices seeking politics of consensus, freedom of expression and fostering a democratic culture of tolerance.
Contrary actions of the government of the day including the latest action in arresting Mir Shakeelur Rehman, Chief Editor and CEO of the country’s largest media chain – Jang and Geo – is perhaps the most severe blow to freedom of expression. The IK government is leaving no ground unturned for planting seeds of a selective narrative that suits the game of the powers that be it a conspiracy to do away of the 18th Amendment or re-introduction of the presidential system that led to the tragic separation of the country into two parts 1971 when it was under both president and an army rule.
I opted to be a journalist when we had first martial law of military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan in 1962, I have been through to know the rigours of suppression of the free press. As an editor of a newspaper in Jang group that has ceased publication now under Imran Khan, I believed as per my personal experience that the worst of course was General Zia’s martial law in which publishing truth in the national interest was in violation of martial law regulations punishable with rigorous imprisonment. I cannot forget the whipping in public awarded to many of fellow journalists. Hundreds were incarcerated in prisons for years and denied of their legitimate means of livelihood. Gen ZiA tried through physical torture to castrate the free will of the people and their love for democracy. He did not succeed; people stood up to him and defied him at the cost of their lives.
Mir Shakeel’s arrest on baseless charges by the NAB that is being brutally used to strangulation of media by IK regime is nothing but a blatant warning that we are fast retreating back to square one to where Zia had left. Or much more. I feel that the carte blanche that is being most brutally deployed by the regime is all because of the forces that have the final say in their hands want the media to remain puppet on their chains, stop disseminating what is news and discourage independent views on main political issues – particularly something that exposes the predominant role of the Establishment to sustain its hold on absolute power.
Most outrageous has been its onslaught on 18th Amendment that it considers as bad as Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s ‘Six Points’ forgetting that not accepting them led to Pakistan’s break up. It is also much more to revive General Zia’s legacy of a quasi-theocratic state committed to clerical bigotry, marketing of Mullah-fuelled narrative with non-state actors to carry out its execution in cahoots with an establishment that enjoys running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
Every year we observe, with religious zeal, May 3 as the Press Freedom Day. It is time for us as a nation now to unite to demand the release of Mir Shakeel. Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah fought for free expression and stood by it. To him freedom of expression was a fundamental human right as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
“Indeed, media freedom and access to information are means to wider development of the objective of empowering people a multi-dimensional social and political process that helps people gain control over their own lives.”
This can only be achieved through access to accurate, fair and unbiased information, representing a plurality of opinions, and the means to actively communicate vertically and horizontally, thereby participating in the active life of the community. It is absolutely right freedom of information and the transparency it promotes, has a direct consequence on fighting corruption, fostering good governance and consolidating democracy.
Moreover, it is noted with concern that the powers that be are seemingly on a course to engineering a new political order in which civilian leadership is on the same page as military and are jointly character assassinating the leaders of certain political parties as corrupt or hostile to national security. This is rightly considered as a “decapitation strategy” destructive of the careers of many upright political leaders.