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Is Media under self-censorship or Enforced Muzzling?

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This year in August, torrential rains wreak havoc in the biggest city of Pakistan Karachi leaving 23 people dead and damaging city’s outdated infrastructure. The rains didn’t spare posh areas including Defence Housing Authority, commonly known as DHA, and extravagantly built Behria Town. Several feet high rainwater roamed on newly built wide roads and entered into the houses of the Behria town. Sorry tales of the posh town residents would have gone unnoticed had there been no social media accounts posting footages of rain water. Mainstream media, however, didn’t air awful footages of Behria Town instead kept televising urban flooding in parts of Karachi and Sindh.

This was not the first time that over 3 dozens of news channels ignored taking up issue related to Behria Town. Be it a National Crime Agency’s (NCA)£190 million settlement with Malik Riaz, owner of Behria Town, in 2019, or Riaz’s$2 billion settlement with government over illegal land occupation in Karachi, media keeps shameful silence.

The much touted town, built on all modern day standards and a luxurious place to live in, is owned by Riaz, who helmed to become real estate tycoon by allegedly illegal land grabbing and is known for buying anything. Channel owners, reporters and anchors are therefore of no exception. He feeds media with several minute long commercials during prime-time slots thus becoming a major source of channels’ revenue, gifts plots to anchors who then portray him as messiah and donates generously to needy families that helps him his image building.

Just when Karachi rains were occupying media screens, a story by Ahmad Noorani, an investigative journalist, drawn public attention when he revealed properties owned by Lt Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa (retd). Noorani alleged that Bajwa, who is currently head of the CPEC authority, runs a parallel business overseas and how Bajwa’s assets witnessed massive growth in no time. The story, startling in nature and demining for military circles, didn’t get space on news channels rather a TV channel termed Noorani as traitor and Indian agent while leading anchors, through their twitter handles, also doubted Noorani’s revelations. It was not surprising that the news did not made rounds as Bajwa himself is overlooking media affairs.

In the third week of July, Islamabad based senior journalist Matti Ullah Jan was abducted in broad day light by unidentified men from a busy street. Jan, known for coming hard on military and critical towards judiciary, was released twelve hours later after mounting pressure on social media. Just as dozens of other such stories remained off-air, Jan’s abduction also appealed none. 

Renowned and veteran journalist Sohail Warraich’s Urdu book ‘Ye Company Nhi ChaleGi” (this company will not run) is a satirical take on ruling PTI’s governance style. The book underlines why PTI government is in limbo and the author predicts that the Khan led PTI cannot have acquaintance with the establishment and thus bound to fall in near future. The cover of the book had a cartoon depicting PM Khan sitting in the feet of COAS and playing with a balloon. Soon after the book was launched in market, the publisher had to pick it from all selling points amid unknown reasons. The author however, said that it is better to adjust the cover of the book and adjust all reservations as I want readers to have book read.

Considered as one of the pillars of state functionaries, media made inroads in Pakistan in early 2000s when the then President Pervez Musharraf allowed private channels to set up offices. In less than a decade, the media witnessed tremendous boom not only providing thousands of jobs but also initiating culture of debate in otherwise ‘controlled’ atmosphere. The spree went on until 2007 when media freedom was first curtailed after imposing emergency in the country. Pervez Musharraf banned several TV channels and tightened noose around media networks forcing many to comply in line with what is a greater ‘national interest’.

Desperate measures to put the media genie back in the bottle turned futile. Media had become resilient by then and played role in ousting one of the powerful rulers in Pakistan.

After Musharraf, Pakistan was lucky to have two consistent democratic regimes which, despite unbridled vile campaigns and at times factually incorrect reporting against the governments, tolerated media and didn’t restrain their rights. This made media fearless and it went to lengths in discussing range of topics except defence and security strategies. 

Quite recently though, the media in Pakistan has once again come under consistent pressure by the government. Leading news channels went off-air, circulations of top newspapers disrupted, unusual delays or edits in print articles and stories, while many anti-establishment anchors were forced or they preferred to resign. The irony of the situation is that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf(PTI) perhaps would not have been able to form government had the media not given all-out coverage to its 126 days long sit-in, political rallies and violent statements which it now cannot let go on-air. Furthermore, anchors who rendered PTI as the savior, now face censorship on many of subjects they want to cover, let alone ‘no go areas’. Consequently, Pakistan now ranked 145 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, six places lower than it was in 2018.

And guess what, the ruling government is not learning at all. List of instances that underline besieged press is quite long under the aegis of PM Khan‘s government, ranging from sedition charges on a former Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Chairman to arrest and release of daily English newspaper news editor and a FIR against Islamabad based producer.  

Curbing media freedom has ostensibly caused two major problems. There is hardly any space left for voice of dissent and healthy criticism. This has compelled many critical journalists to establish their own YouTube channels where they can express views more frantically. The absence of guest who can cross check details made them believe that their analysis stands paramount. Furthermore, curbing media has brought international shame for the country with many of global media watchdog voicing concerns over media freedom in Pakistan.

Secondly, junior media workers bear the brunt more in case channels downsize their staff or impose salary cuts after they face revenue shortfall. A number of social media accounts shared pictures and sob stories of media technicians who previously were employed in TV channels but are now doing menial jobs to make both ends meet.

Media’s self-imposed censorship e.g. not to air news about tycoons and departments that are source of revenue for them is another problem. Owners at times, either keep mum about certain issues fearing from revenue loss, or they run smear campaigns against opponents, putting fact-check behind.  

Pakistan has had a tainted history with media censorship, military rulers and politicians alike imposing strict rules on what could be reported, often citing national security.

Healthy criticism doesn’t bring harm to the state rather it underpins loopholes in policymaking. In the past we have seen states that granted media freedom have done well than of the states who tried to take freedom away. Likewise, self-censorship can please a cult of ‘financers’ but it undermines quality content and balanced reporting. Attempts to threaten and muzzle media are destined to be ineffective. The world has changed, technology provides alternative ways e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and smartphones to access information. Pakistan, a nurturing democracy, cannot afford to suppress freedom of speech as the suppression cannot work for long.

Ameena Tanvir is a PhD scholar at the South Asian Center in Punjab University Lahore. She tweets at @AmeenaTanvir and can be reached at ameenatanir20[at]gmail.com

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Did India invade Kashmir?

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Friday prayers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. © John Isaac

Pakistan has decided to observe 27th October as Black Day. This was the day when, according to India’s version, it invaded the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State.  India says that Pakistan had earlier entered a lashkar (irregular forces) into Kashmir on 22nd October. But, it is eerie that India never approached the International Court of Justice, as pointed out by Josef Korbel  (the author of the Danger in Kashmir), or the  United Nations (under Chapter VII of the UN Charter) to get Pakistan declared an aggressor. It approached the UN under Chapter VI of the UN charter (mediation). India’s invasion of Kashmir is based on myths .

Myths

India claims that ‘Maharaja Hari Singh signed the treaty of accession with the Indian Dominion on October 26, 1947’. As such, India was justified in marching invading Srinagar. . As for the ‘accession instrument’ argument, curious readers may refer to Alastair Lamb’s ‘Incomplete Partition, Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990’, and ‘Birth of a Tragedy’.

On the question of who the ‘aggressor’ was, the factual position is that India marched its troops into Kashmir without Maharajah’s permission – a blatant act of aggression (Alastair Lamb, ‘Incomplete Partition , Chapter VI: The Accession Crisis. Lamb concludes: ‘According to Wolpert, VP Menon returned to Delhi from Srinagar on the morning of October 26 with no signed Instrument of Accession. Only after the Indian troops had started landing at Srinagar airfield on the morning of October 27 did VP Menon and MC Mahajan set out from Delhi from Jammu. The Instrument of Accession, according to Wolpert, was only signed by Maharaja Sir Hari Singh [if signed at all] after Indian troops had assumed control of the Jammu and Kashmir State’s summer capital, Srinagar.

Lamb regards the so-called Instrument of Accession, ‘signed’ by the maharajah of Kashmir on October 26, 1947, as fraudulent. He argues that the maharajah was travelling by road to Jammu (a distance of over 350 km). How could he sign the instrument while being on the run for the safety of his life? There is no evidence of any contact between him and the Indian emissaries on October 26, 1947. Lamb points out Indian troops had already arrived at and secured Srinagar airfield during the middle of October 1947. On October 26, 1947, a further airlift of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir took place.

The UN outlawed the ‘accession’; the accession resolution, passed by the occupied Kashmir’s ‘constituent assembly’ is void. Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions, Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951, and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957, to forestall the ‘foreseeable accession’. It is eerie to note that the ‘Instrument of Accession’ is not registered with the United Nations. India took the Kashmir issue to the UN in 1948 under article 35 of Chapter VI which outlines the means for a peaceful settlement of disputes on Jammu and Kashmir State, not under Chapter VII dubbing Pakistan as ‘aggressor’. India knew at heart that she herself was an aggressor.

In his books, based on Nehru’s declassified papers, speeches and correspondence, Avtar Singh Bhasin debunked Nehru’s perfidious failure to hold a plebiscite. In Chapter 5 titled Kashmir, India’s Constitution and Nehru’s Vacillation (pages 51-64) of his book India and Pakistan: Neighbours at Odd he makes a startling revelation. Nehru discarded Maharajah’s and Kashmir assembly’s ‘accession’; in a letter dated October 31, 1947, addressed to the disputed state’s prime minister, he shrugged off ‘accession’. He said in the letter, ‘after consideration of the problem, we are inclined to think that it [plebiscite] should be held under United Nations’ auspices’ (p. 28 ibid..). He reiterated in New Delhi on November 3, 1951, that ‘we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar] as we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council, or the United Nations’(SWJ: Volume 4: page 292, Bhasin p.228). Again, at a press conference on June 11, 1951, he was asked if the proposed the constituent assembly of Kashmir ‘decides in favourof acceding to Pakistan, what will be the position?’ he reiterated, ‘We have made it perfectly clear that the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was not meant to decide finally any such question, and it is not in the way of any decision which may ultimately flow from the Security Council proceedings’. He re-emphasised his view once again at a press conference in New Delhi on November 3, 1951. He said ‘we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar as] we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council or the United Nations’. Bhasin points out, ‘at a press conference on July 24, 1952, when asked what the necessity of plebiscite was now that he had got [accession by] the Constituent Assembly, he replied “Maybe theoretically you may be right. But we have given them assurance and we stand by it. Bhasin points out Nehru made a ‘tactical error’, one ‘of committing himself to the UN’.Accession documents are un-registered with the UN.

Concluding remarks

India’s prime minister Modi cartographically annexed the disputed state, spurning the UN resolutions and the Simla Accord. Let India know that a state that flouts international treaties is a rogue state: pacta sunt servanda, treaties are to be observed and are binding on parties. Mushtaqur Rehman elaborated why Kashmir is the most dangerous place in the world (Divided Kashmir: Old Problems, New Opportunities for India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri People, 1996, pp. 162-163).No talks, no mediation. That is an open invitation to war, perhaps a nuclear Armageddon.

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Bangladesh violence exposes veneer of Indo-Bangladesh bonhomie

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image source: Focus Bangla /dhakatribune.com

Protests in Chittagong, Comilla and elsewhere left 10 dead, besides loss of property. The protests were sparked over an allegation of desecration of the Holy Quran in a temple. The Holy  Quran was found resting on the thigh of a Hanuman statue in a Durga Puja pandal near a pond in Comilla called Nanua Dighi. A raft of issues from water disputes to religious tension mask mistrust in the relationship. Let us look at some of them. Broken promises indicate that India looks to its own interest.

CAA/NRC

India’s Citizenship Act and the national Register of Citizenship  does not confer citizenship on the Bengali immigrants at par with non-muslim refugees. In one of his speeches, India’s minister Amit Shah even called Bangladesh immigrants “termites”. The BJP leaders quote from Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s book to say that Mujib, as an East Pakistani national, wanted to annex Assam into East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Telangana T. Raja Singh Lodh demanded `Illegal Bangladeshi settlers and Rohingya should be shot if they do not return to their countries like gentlemen’. He made the statement in the context of the Supreme Court-monitored exercise to identify genuine Indian nationals living in Assam. A legislator from Goshamahal in Hyderabad, in similar vein, roared in a video message on a social networking site: “If these people, illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingya, don’t go back with ‘sharafat’ (like gentlemen) then there is a need to talk to them in their own language. They should be shot. Only then India will be safe. Such illegal settlers were “shot and driven out” from some other countries.

YS Chowdary of the Telugu Desam Party Said illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had settled in Assam as part of a “conspiracy to destroy India”. It is the responsibility of the government to send them back to Bangladesh, he added.

 “Shoot on sight”

Indian Border Security force has orders to “shoot on sight” if any Bangladeshi citizen living near the  4,096 kilometer (2,545 mile)alluvial/shifting border,   happens to cross over. Regarding border killings, Brad Adams, Executive Director of the Asia Department of Human Right Watch state that, “Routinely shooting poor, unarmed villagers is not how the world’s largest democracy should behave” (Adams, Brad  “India’s shoot-to-kill policy on the Bangladesh border” The Guardian. London). According to a report published by Human rights organisations, around 1,000 Bangladeshi civilians have been killed by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in a period of 10 years (from 2001 to 2010). The report also states that Indian paramilitary forces routinely threaten, abuse arbitrarily detain and torture local Bangladeshi civilians living along the border and Bangladeshi border guards usually don’t help the Bangladeshi civilians. Odhikar, a Bangladesh-based human right organization, allege that acts of rape and looting have also been perpetrated by BSF at the border areas.

Bangladesh Border Guards hate the BSF so much that a soldier, accompanying his commander for a flag meeting with DG was shot dead.

Onion export banned

India suddenly stopped exporting onions to Bangladesh. While addressing India-Bangladesh Business Forum, in Delhi, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina expressed grief on the onion crisis in her country. She taunted that she asked her cook not to use onions in her food. Hasina said, ‘We are facing crisis on the onion issue. I don’t know why you have banned onion export. Maine cook ko bol diya ab se khana mein pyaaz bandh kardo.” Indian Government had banned export of Onions on September 29 (Times of India ).

India is the biggest supplier of onions to Bangladesh, which buys a yearly average of more than 350,000 tons. India abruptly slapped a ban on onion exports to Bangladesh. Following the export ban, onion prices in Bangladesh jumped by more than 50 per cent, prompting the government to procure supplies from elsewhere.

Vaccine export contract cancelled

India backed out of its agreement (December) with Bangladesh to supply 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University in cooperation with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. The Institute announced that India had barred Serum from selling doses on the private market until everyone in India had received the vaccine.

Later, Salman F. Rahman, a Cabinet minister and co-founder of the Beximco Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate, took over the responsibility to distribute three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Bangladesh.

Concluding remarks

The ruling Awami League itself is mired in charges of corruption and nepotism. Its army chief also is being besmeared. It cracked down hard on its opponents  with the army chief’s help. The persecution of Muslims in India and laws like the citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizenship turned Bangladesh into a simmering cauldron of resentment.Demand for expelling all Bangladeshis from various Indian states is gaining momentum. The onslaught against Bangladeshi Muslims in India is part of Hindutva (perverted Hindu nationalism) frenzy to harass Muslim community.

Bangladesh is tight-rope balancing China and India. Many cabinet ministers think that Bangladesh’s future lies with stronger rapport with China. During her visit to China, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister discussed a broad spectrum of issues and signed several memorandum of understanding. They cover the power sector, riverine matters including Brahmaputra River, commercial loans and formation of various working groups. Bangladesh has also accepted the Belt and Road Initiative.

Bangladesh has contracted Chinese in a proposed $300 million project downstream of Teesta River.  Turkey also is improving relations with BD.

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Changing complexion of “militancy” in the occupied Kashmir

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Women walking past Indian security forces in Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nimisha Jaiswal/IRIN

Two teachers, Supinder Kaur and Deepak Chand, were shot dead in Srinagar on October7, 2021.The Resistance front owned the killing. The name implies that this organisation like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation front does not have religious moorings. The front explained that “they were killed because they harassed and warned the parents with dire consequences if the students did not attend the school function on August 15 (India’s Independence Day).

In a tweet, the Inspector general of Kashmir police disclosed that 28 civilians had been killed din the valley during 2021”. Five persons belonged to local Hindu and Sikh communities. . Two persons were non-Hindu labourers (pic.twitter.com/j5R2MVWrT3).

Each killing follows massive crackdowns, cordons and searches, and rounding up of innocent people as suspects mostly members of Jammat-e-Islami now banned, and Hurriyat members.

Who the Resistance Front is?

Very little is known about the Front. The Resistance Front publicly emerged in the aftermath of August 5, 2019, when the Central government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of autonomy under Article 370 and split the state into two Union Territories.  The Article 15-A also was abrogated. This article guaranteed special protections to Kashmiri people defined as “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Front came into limelight when it owned a grenade attack in October 2019. Eight civilians on Srinagar’s busy Hari Singh High Street were injured in the attack. The Front is shy of social posts. But, it did announce its debut on the chat platform, Telegram.

India attributes the April intense gunfight between with security forces in the Keran sector (Kupwara district) to this Front.  It left five personnel of the army’s elite Special Forces dead.

Another encounter has continued for five days until October 19 in Mendhar sector.  India admits having lost several soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer, in the fight The Indian forces dared not enter into the forest. They were content to use heavy guns from the outside. The Indian forces’ initial impression was that the front uses only pistols and improvised explosives. That has been proved wrong.

 To disguise their ignorance about the Front, the forces say, ‘These acts are committed by newly recruited terrorists or those who are about to join terrorist ranks’.  

IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar says, ‘A total of 28 civilians have been killed by terrorists in 2021. Out of 28, five persons belong to local Hindu and Sikh communities and two persons are non-local Hindu labourers.’

India shaken

The non local Kashmiri migrants have no faith in police protection. They are returning to their home towns. The remaining persons are being shifted to army camps.

India’s home minister has planned a visit to Srinagar to familiarize himself with the situation. Indian prime minister Modi is being blamed at home and abroad for emergence of the Resistance Front. The critics point out that Kashmiriat had been the crucible of several civilizations. But India’s reign of terror compelled the native Kashmiri to become xenophobic.  

Modi ventilated his ire at rights criticism in his speech before the National Human rights Commission.

He stressed that welfare measures like providing electric connection, alleviating poverty were more important than human rights.

The NHRC is a statutory body that was constituted on October 12, 1993, under the Protection of Human Rights Act. It takes cognisance of human rights violations, conducts enquiries and recommends compensation to victims from public authorities besides other remedial and legal measures against the erring public servants. However its present chairman is believed to be BJP stooge.

Kashmir, a Guantanamo Bay

Even Mehbooba Mufti, a former BJP ally, has been compelled to call Kashmir a Guantanamo Bay prison. She called for lifting ban on Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Jama’at-e-Islami, withdrawal of `sedition’ or `terrorism’ cases against Kashmiri leaders or ordinary folk. Her voice proved to be a voice in the wilderness.  What else could Mehbooba call Kashmir _ `Kashmiris feel that they are literally imprisoned in a cage from which almost all exit routes are barred save one, to India, which is also not without peril. Kashmiris are distrusted and treated poorly in many parts of India, whether as students or as traders’ (A.G. Noorani, Kashmir, a prison, Dawn January 12, 2019). Trade across the Line of Control has been stopped and `terrorism’ charges slapped on some traders. Even the tyrannical Dogras and their British overlords facilitated Kashmir trade with Central Asian and other states. Kashmiri markets used to be flooded with foreign traders and their merchandise _books, shawls, gold tillas, Russian textiles, Kokandi silk, Bukharan rumals (handkerchiefs) and coral.  Trade from British India would flow through Kulu via the Chang Chenmo route to Yarkand, bypassing the maharaja’s customs officials in Leh. In 1870, Maharaja Ranbir Singh signed a special treaty in Sialkot with Viceroy Lord Mayo to accept this route as a ‘free highway’, later known as Treaty Route.  Central Asians intending to perform hajj used to travel through this route to Karachi or Bombay sea-ports to board ships.  To facilitate pilgrims, highway provided rest houses, and supply depots jointly supervised by British and Kashmir officials. Now, even the Kashmir Highway stands closed to civilian traffic during military-convoy movement.. A minor, violating road closure, was brutally crushed by an Indian army vehicle.”

Mehbooba revealed her government was dismissed for expressing ennui at central-government atrocities, not returning dead bodies of `encounter’ victims and burning them, not allowing funeral prayers, demanding talks with Pakistan, registering an FIR against an army officer, resisting change in Kashmir’s special status, and so on (Indian Express dated April 18. 2019). A cursory look at Kashmir press is horrifying _ Sedition cases were slapped on three Aligarh- university Kashmiri students for trying to hold prayers for Hizb militant Wani, Kashmiri students and traders at Wagah border are forced to chant anti-Pakistan slogans and post them to face book. Kashmir students and traders were attacked or looted throughout India. About 700 students, including girls, fled to Valley. Even holders of PM Modi’s merit-based competitive scholarships had to rush back to Valley for safety. Kashmiri journalists in Indian states were roughed up, mercilessly beaten, and told to go back Meghalaya governor officially directed to boycott everything Kashmiri. Some Kashmiris petitioned Supreme Court to intervene. In its order, the Supreme Court directed 10 states and various institutions to take remedial steps, but in vain.

Fake encounters

People have lost trust In India’s claims of success in “encounters”, mostly fake. In July last year, security forces in Kashmir claimed to have killed three “unidentified hardcore terrorists” in a gunfight in Amshipora village of Kashmir’s Shopian district. They had last made phone calls to their families on July 17, 2020, a day before the purported gunfight had taken place.

An army inquiry and a police probe into the encounter established that the three suspected militants killed in Amshipora were shot dead in a fake encounter.

Indian army stages such encounters to earn reward of Rs. 20 lac per encounter. A year has gone by but the captain accused of masterminding and executing the fake Amshipora encounter is still unpunished.  He abducted three labourers from their homes and shot them dead as “terrorists”. Those killed in Shopian in July 2020 were Mohammed Ibrar of Tarkasi village, Imtiyaz Ahmad of Dharsakri village, and Ibrar Ahmad.

Concluding remark

It is obvious that it is not all hunky dory in Kashmir as India claims. The changed dimension of “militancy” is an incurable headache for the Modi’s government.

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