Silencing dissent

One would think that a nuclear-armed state with the world’s fastest growing nuclear programme would not be afraid of a discussion being held at a private university on a ‘sensitive’ topic. Think again. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) was going to hold a round-table yesterday (Thursday, April 9) on human rights in Balochistan titled ‘Un-silencing Balochistan’ but due to the intervention of state agencies, LUMS was forced to cancel this academic discussion.

According to a report published in Pakistan Today, LUMS faculty member Dr Taimur Rahman said: “A delegation from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) visited LUMS and presented a letter calling for cancellation of the talks. They said that Balochistan is a sensitive issue and that the moot could be used to malign Pakistan.” Dr Rahman added: “The talks were aimed at understanding the Balochistan issue and discussing ways on how to resolve the long-standing problems of the Baloch people. It was supposed to be an academic discussion, which was muzzled for no good reason.”

A press release issued by concerned faculty, students and staff at LUMS reminded the government of Pakistan that our country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees these fundamental freedoms and rights; these same rights are also enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. Asking a private university to cancel a discussion on Balochistan is a gross violation of democratic principles. One wonders why a state that boasts of its atomic arsenal at the drop of a hat is afraid of an academic discussion.

The Baloch have faced discrimination at the hands of the Pakistani state for over six decades now. There is a nationalist insurgency and uprising in the province as a result of the state’s oppressive policies. Thousands of Baloch have disappeared and hundreds of mutilated bodies of the Baloch have been dumped in various parts of Balochistan over the last few years. Both international and national human rights organisations have blamed the country’s state intelligence agencies for their involvement in this kill and dump policy. To quash an insurgency in this most brutal way shows how the state is unwilling to adhere to basic democratic norms. By forcing LUMS to cancel a discussion on Balochistan proves yet again how both the military establishment and the government in our country do not value the freedoms guaranteed by international covenants and/or our constitution. For them, any discussion on human rights violations by the state and challenging their policies is ‘anti-national’. Instead of focusing their energies and resources on curbing religious extremism, our state is more interested in curbing freedom of expression lest it leads to uncomfortable questions about state policies.

The government of Pakistan and the military establishment need to get their priorities straight if they are serious about saving our country from plunging into madness. Silencing those who believe in finding a democratic solution to our problems is no way to go about it. Discussions such as the one that was recently cancelled do not pose any threat to Pakistan’s existence. The real threat to our existence is the thriving terrorist/jihadi network spread all across the country. How about taking on the real threat instead of a perceived one?

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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