WITH the passage of four months since New Delhi put India-held Kashmir under lockdown, another grim milestone has been passed. While the people of the forsaken Valley suffocate under India’s stifling restrictions, there is no sign that those who call the shots are willing to relent. As pointed out by the Foreign Office on Friday, the situation in IHK is getting worse, as millions of Kashmiris continue to live in an open-air prison. In fact, it would not be wrong to compare the situation in occupied Kashmir to the miserable plight of the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, where similar restrictions on fundamental rights are enforced by the Israeli military machine. Perhaps this is not coincidental, as an Indian diplomat in the US was recently quoted as saying that his country should follow the ‘Israeli model’ in Kashmir; it is evident that quite a few of Tel Aviv’s brutal tactics are being replicated by the Hindutva-infused government in New Delhi.
As the FO has indicated, Kashmiris are facing a multitude of problems, stemming from the communications blockade put in place by India. Thousands remain incarcerated under flimsy pretences. Speaking about the communications blackout, the Indian foreign minister has given the lame excuse that social media and the internet are being used to ‘radicalise’ people in IHK; this will convince few as the real reason New Delhi has blocked out the internet is to prevent Kashmiris from telling the world of their plight. In fact, as reports point out, India has even cracked down on some of its most loyal supporters in IHK, locking them up and treating them with contempt. For example, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — all former chief ministers of the held region — remain in detention along with other lawmakers, demonstrating that the BJP clique in New Delhi doesn’t even trust those that never tired of siding with India. Pro-India Kashmiris have said they are being treated like ‘enemies’ by their erstwhile masters, while others say that they have been held in humiliating conditions. It is clear that the BJP considers all Kashmiris — pro-freedom as well as loyalists — with suspicion and disdain, perhaps due to the rampant Islamophobia that thrives within its ranks.
The FO has appealed to the UN and other global bodies to speak up for the rights of the Kashmiris. India is mistaken if it thinks it can use brutal tactics to silence the people. Kashmiris have had enough of its suppressive tactics, and despite the restrictions, the desire for freedom will only grow. As India seeks to ape Israel’s repression in Palestine, those who rule from New Delhi should realise that Tel Aviv’s violence has resulted in even greater Palestinian resistance. If India wants to avoid a similar scenario, let it approach the Kashmiris with respect and let them exercise their democratic right to self-determination.
Threats yet again
THE ratcheting up of anti-press hysteria has escalated in yet another episode of manufactured outrage against Dawn, purportedly for publishing a news report which was never officially denied and which subsequent events proved was factually sound.
In the past week, angry protesters in Islamabad and Karachi have demanded this news organisation be shut down and its staffers hanged, and have declared it ‘anti-state’. All citizens have the democratic right to peaceful protest without endangering the lives of others. In tandem with veiled and direct attacks by government and other officials, as well as a renewed distribution blockade against this paper in certain localities, it is obvious that these protests are part of a years-long campaign to create a hostile environment for independent journalism in Pakistan and, in turn, to silence all dissent.
The press is by no means unaccountable, yet there are laws and rules governing its conduct — legal instruments that can be used if deemed necessary. It makes little sense why politicians, particularly those in office, would, instead, subscribe to the obscurantist tactic of branding any fact or opinion that offends them as ‘anti-state’ or ‘agenda-driven’ — without substantiating such claims with tangible evidence, and in full awareness of how dangerous such labels are.
Though Shireen Mazari’s and Firdous Ashiq Awan’s recent statements condemning the threats to Dawn are welcome, the fact that Ms Awan’s remarks were qualified with scolding reminders for the media to ‘protect Pakistan’s interests’ speaks to the PTI’s ambivalence towards fundamental rights. Citing vague ‘national interests’ has become synonymous with a systematic effort to erode citizens’ constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, expression and information. Yet it was precisely the exercise of these rights, under a more conducive climate for the media which aided then opposition politician Imran Khan’s rise to prominence.
As our elected prime minister, he ought to declare his full-throated support for press freedom and have his government demonstrate this intent. The undermining of the fourth estate represents a dangerous drift away from democratic norms, away from the very spirit on which this country was founded.
Political dissent and the medium through which it was articulated — journalism — are in Pakistan’s DNA; they played a key role in the emancipation of Muslims of the subcontinent from British rule. A democratic dispensation ought to embrace these intrinsic qualities of our history and identity, if for no other reason than that they might one day find themselves in need of a free press.
Jobs for the disabled
WITH limited opportunities for their advancement, and difficulties in independently gaining access to private and public places, including universities and government departments, life is tough for people with disabilities in Pakistan. Even though there are laws pertaining to PWD rights including a job quota of up to 5pc in government departments and private entities, PWD still find it next to impossible to get employment and become independent, productive members of society. Recently, at a job fair in Karachi organised by an NGO, as many as 30 companies from multiple sectors, including textile mills and banks, engaged with potential recruits suffering from a number of physical and sensory impairments. A feature that made the event successful was the installation of ramps, tactile flooring and appropriate lighting that helped PWD independently navigate their way. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for most public places in the country including schools, universities, government departments, even corporate entities which lack proper access for the disabled. This reflects poorly on both our government’s attitude towards PWD whose needs are not factored into urban planning. Given that they encounter difficulties in simply gaining access to public and other places, is it any surprise that the job quota rules for PWD sees such little implementation?
Moreover, at the government level there are lapses in data collection with regard to the total number of PWD in the country. There are also structural flaws in the ICT Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2018, tabled by the human rights ministry last year that need to be addressed before the bill is enacted into law. However, no law can be fully implemented unless public spaces are made accessible to PWD, ending their exclusion from the societal sphere. For this, no new law is required, only a change of attitude. Both the government and society at large would do well to be more sensitive to the needs of PWD and recognise that many of them can work just as well if not better than those without disability.