Manufacturing assent.


What is wrong with Pakistani democracy?

If anything, the right of political opposition and pressure groups to protest and make demands of the government tick the right boxes in favour of democracy. In recent events, such mass protests have borne results. Demands were met, albeit after intervention by army and we saw the government letting go some of its key ministers to douse the swelling oppositions’ criticism. Judiciary gave political death warrants to key politicians—however unpopular, the decisions were accepted and cheered on by most Pakistanis.

The cost of this brand of democracy?

Many political analysts and social rights activists mull their heads at the lack of grassroots democracy in Pakistan. The 7-decades long history has established a tradition of dynastic politics. These political dynasties, constantly stepping in and out of power, are known for their marked agenda, which remains aligned and in critical view are easier to manoeuver by the kingmakers, since the power remains with the top political elite. The impact of the dynastic-governments has been seismic as most efforts are to preserve and ensure political longevity of the clan.

On another note, the politics of mass unrest raises another issue. In the absence of grassroots political awareness, the democratically ignorant masses could get away with murder. A lack of nationalistic awareness the demands made by one pressure group may not work for others, however popular.

Allowing dissent?

Another rights activist has disappeared in Lahore.

Raza Mahmood Khan, 40, went missing in Lahore earlier in December. He was last seen in Lahore, where he helped plan a public discussion about the controversial Islamabad protest by a hardline religious group. A participant reported that the rights of religious minorities were also discussed in the meeting. While, according to colleagues, Raza kept a low profile on twitter some of his recent post about the Islamabad protest were allegedly critical of the army.

International media states that a report, submitted to Pakistan’s top courts, claims that as many as 1498 cases of missing persons are pending government investigations while 2257 cases have been resolved. Many cases of social media activists are among them.

Reportedly, Raza’s computer was also missing from his residence. Raza was also a member of the Aghaz-e-Dosti organisations working towards India-Pakistan friendship. Other social activist and friends said that they would file habeas corpus writ in the Lahore High Court.

The recently enacted cybercrime laws make anyone criticising the state, its apparatus and, the army, a suspect. Cybercrime act is also criticised by the legal and media analysts for being vague in defining offence. The method of the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) to deal with such cases is also suspiciously hushed. Some of those cyber activists that returned after disappearance chose to remain mum on the issue. Last January two of the three activists Asim Saeed and Ahmad Waqas Goraya stated that they had been abducted by the intelligence personnel and endured torture.

The Intelligence Services deny involvement of any kind in the matter. The government, on the other hand, has done little so far to ascertain the identity of culprits. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has recently criticised the security agencies for the hundreds of missing persons’ issue, challenging the government position that disappearances are individuals own doing.

Dissent, a crime in democracy?

The Amnesty International publications on the issue of the missing persons in Pakistan and the danger bloggers and journalists face in Pakistan, criticise the government for not nabbing the culprits responsible for the detention of the four bloggers.

In a democracy the most important role of the government is to ensure and protect the rights of every citizen. Those, voicing the need to protect their rights, need to be heard and helped. The beauty of a democracy lays in the celebration of the diversity of the people and to create goals that help every citizen advance, no matter who they are.

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