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Editorial | Govt Finds New Way To Hound Opposition

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Fantasies are always revealing. They do not always come true, but this does not take away from their value in explaining the psychology of a subject. This applies in politics just as much as in persons.

And so, the PTI’s wishes for censorship must be understood not just in how they are difficult to implement, but in terms of what they reveal about the ruling party. While speaking to the media after a federal cabinet meeting this week, Special Assistant To Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan once again spoke of “those convicts and absconders who looted public money”.

As far as the ruling party is concerned, media coverage of opposition leaders is inherently wrong. This is because as convicts, they should not be “glorified in the media”, as they “frequently come on TV and claim to be innocent and criticize the government and its policies” to put it in Dr. Awan’s words.

This could be addressed by pointing out that most democracies do not treat “convicts” as outlaws in the way that the ruling party proposes.

But even more alarmingly, it is yet another instance of the current government engaging in what is called “lawfare” – the use of legal instruments to delegitimize and attack opponents. It is clear that those currently in power would prefer a situation where the leadership of the PML-N in particular, but also the PPP and others, were prevented from expressing their political views on the media. Already the government has taken a U-turn on its earlier idea of establishing “media tribunals” to police the press.

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A vindictive and authoritarian impulse seems to be ever-present in the psyche of the PTI – even in cases where it cannot be fulfilled. That bodes ill, but not just for the liberties of Pakistani citizens. It also makes the possibility of reaching some sort of working accord with opposition ever more remote. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision requiring the government to introduce legislation on the controversial extension being granted to the Army Chief, a situation may well arise where the legislative support of the opposition is required in parliament. In that case, it would be interesting to see how the ruling party will manage to reach out to the very opposition that it proposes to hound in new ways every week.

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