Ammar Akbar |
Western thought and intellectual capacity generated in Anglo Saxon centers of education, form opinion, and social realities according to their universal agreed set of norms and values construct meanings to satisfy their mantra of freedom of expression. Today freedom of speech according to Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights advocate, is “the right to ideas of all kinds including those that may be deeply offensive. But it comes with responsibilities and we believe it can be legitimately restricted.”
However then why again and again Pakistan is labelled as a place where freedom of expression doesn’t exist? Pakistani writers who share the same opinion with our western partners have portrayed the free speech condition in Pakistan as precarious. Unfortunately, failure to learn from the historic and unpretentious lessons of civil rights movements have turned their arguments on Pakistan’s free speech into a rhetoric of bigotry, hatred, and anti-nationalism.
The motto of the civil rights movement was ‘Freedom’ but this was not at the cost of their African-American identity instead they legally fought their battle in the court of justice.
In short, the fight for ‘freedom of speech’ is being used as a pretext for instability and anarchy. Therefore, this socially constructed notion of ‘free speech’ shall never and will never exist in Pakistan.
What Really Civil Right Movements are
The advocates of free speech I think have missed the more fundamental difference between freedom of expression as a human right and freedom of expression as a tool for violation of a nations’ sovereignty. The key problem is confusing the two facets of freedom of speech and rather than fighting for Martin Luther King’s form of civil rights movement, the international pundits supported by their Pakistani so-called human rights activists have started to drawn comparisons of their struggle to universally acclaimed movements.
I wish that had been the case but sadly movements such as Pashtun Tahafaz Movement (PTM), do not struggle for human rights within state’s constitutional limits but they instead target ethnic discourse to weaken the positive sovereignty of the state. First, Martin Luther King’s message of change through peaceful means made his civil rights movement a model of achieving basic human rights globally. Two words: equality and nonviolence were the legacies that defined him.
Pakistan Army, the state organ, fighting the terrorists restored the writ and positive sovereignty of Pakistan in those regions.
What is so astonishing is the fact that how such a man achieved greatness for the black people against white supremacists’ racism without uttering a single word against America and its institutions. America was founded on the principle of nationalism and only fought for the American identity as a whole rather than the more officially recognized ethnic groups that make up the bulk of the American people. Americanization with national patriotism became the strength of modern America.
The motto of the civil rights movement was ‘Freedom’ but this was not at the cost of their African-American identity instead they legally fought their battle in the court of justice. The Supreme Court’s historic ruling on the landmark case Brown v Board of Education of Topeka Kans (1954) unanimously agreed that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. What a victory it was in the history of human rights struggle! The integrity of America remained intact and despite discrimination against the black community by the American institutions the pride of being an American shinned in future black Americans.
Read more: PTM killed my brother: Matorkay’s brother
But what is happening with Pakistan’s civil rights movements? The current movement of Masoor Pashteen under the PTM banner whose dual motto to win civil rights for ethnic Pashtuns wrecked by decades of war on terrorism and malign state institutions to break the social contract between citizen and state is clear manifestation of a façade of human rights movement. Pakistan has been the front-line state against the global war on terrorism and surely the Pashtuns civilian areas bore the brunt of the war as 90 percent of the militants were present in the trial Pashtun regions.
In fact, Pakistan Army, the state organ, fighting the terrorists restored the writ and positive sovereignty of Pakistan in those regions. So in so it gave Pakistani-Pashtun civilians the freedom to live their lives freely without any fear from the extremist laws set previously by terrorists. The recent coverage by BBC also explains how Pakistani-Pashtuns socio-economic dignity was restored in Waziristan. Then the question arises what is PTM about?
Americanization with national patriotism became the strength of modern America.
Its demagogue leader, Manzoor Pashteen, has set on a journey where human rights are secondary but challenging the sovereignty of the state is the goal. Division, anarchy, separation and ethnic conflict are the ultimate objectives. I wish he had put Pakistan first and then worked for the Pashtun rights. I wish Pakistanism would have made him proud and he through legal means would have strived for the legitimate rights of Pashtuns, if any.
Instead, the state has worked for the economic and social development of Pakistani-Pashtuns. The $800 million investment in tribal areas is a clear example of the projects for the empowerment of the local people. Sadly, anti-state slogans of PTM dictate their agenda and instead of fighting for the rights of Pashtuns they are forcing Pakistani-Pashtuns to commit constitutional crimes, which are punishable under law.
The irony is such that even international scholars such as Michael Kugelman, have failed to distinguish between a genuine civil rights movement and an illegal anti-state movement. The recent killing of Pakistani Pashtun Malik Matorkay, the man who exposed PTM’s anti-state policies, further sheds lights on the tactics of PTM and its leadership. Surely, their version of freedom of expression would never exist in Pakistan, definitely not at the cost of the nation’s sovereignty.
‘Constitutional’ Freedom of Expression
History is witness to the fact, how the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ripped apart the human dignity of our Afghan Pashtun brothers, daughters, and mothers. The International Criminal Court blamed American soldiers in Afghanistan of gross human rights violations including rape and torture. Thousands of innocent Afghans were killed by allies’ forces miscalculated surgical strikes.
The recent coverage by BBC also explains how Pakistani-Pashtuns socio-economic dignity was restored in Waziristan. Then the question arises what is PTM about?
Similarly, late-night search operations deep into the Pashtun residences without any consent while at the same time violating the positive sovereignty and dignity and right of privacy of the Afghan citizens clearly requires genuine civil rights movements in Afghanistan. It doesn’t have to be an anti-state movement such as PTM which challenges the American–backed Afghan government but a civil rights movement which consolidates the weak constitution and state of Afghanistan.
Read more: What is the future of PTM?
The objective has to be to promote free speech while supporting the state to change its sovereignty from negative to positive. The belief of Martin King’s Jr. on state and constitutional supremacy were the cornerstones of his successful movement. Therefore, Afghans for a peaceful future shall not act as proxies for foreign nations and work with a friendly nation like Pakistan for a stable region where constitutional freedom of expression exists. The movements of human rights have evolved from generation to generation in environments, which necessitated the need for restoration of basic human dignity and social equality.
The constitution of a country is supreme and human rights struggles have to contain themselves to legal laws of the nation rather than breaching other fundamental rights and laws of the sovereign state. John F. Kennedy said, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened”. Article 19 of the constitution of Pakistan 1973 guarantees free speech but the law in the interest of the nation’s integrity imposes certain restrictions. Therefore, our lovely so-called advocates of free speech your scandalous version of freedom of expression will never exist in Pakistan!
Ammar Akbar is alumni of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and alumni of Sheikh Zayed International. He is International Youth Ambassador at Global Youth Parliament, and a Defence Analyst, He is a freelance writer at The Express Tribune-Partnered with International New York Times. The viewx expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.