Then They Came For The Academics

Then They Came For The Academics
This youth can no longer be fooled into believing that Fatima Jinnah was a traitor or that Justice Isa is corrupt. They see it clearly that the country is being run according to the whims and wishes of the few who bypass authority and violate democratic norms, writes Omer Azhar Bhatti.

Sipah-e-Sahaba had been banned in 2002 on the charges of sectarian terrorism. But Azam Tariq, leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba, was released from captivity to cast his crucial vote in the national assembly in favor of Parvez Musharraf’s PM candidate Zafarullah Jamali, who came out the winner in that election by only one vote. The government enlisted the services of a banned outfit, involved in sectarian terrorism, primarily because it needed a vote. Over time, such irrational decisions and compromises by Pakistan’s powers-that-be have damaged the country more than initially envisaged.

The short-term benefit with intended power grab and maximizing the political space has been the art of the deal for Pakistan’s powerful establishment. But we’re not discussing terrorism here. Sectarian harmony and security are topics for another day. But censorship isn’t.

Pakistan’s establishment underwrites the continuity of the system, a controlled democracy, whilst trying tirelessly to squeeze out critical voices whose vision for Pakistan is different from that of certain state institutions. With a hybrid regime operating at the top, a clampdown on voices against the government, following a rigged election, started with politicians being thrown into cells without being charged and then staying locked up for months without prosecution. Then came the media. And now it’s academia’s turn.

While the process can help them tighten their grip on the system, it will damage the state-citizen relationship to an end that is not worth the risk. The large number of students who praised Ammar Ali Jan (now ex-professor, FC College, who was forced to leave his job last week) also believe in propelling democratic norms, tolerance, and adherence to the rule of constitutional supremacy at the state level.

The socio-information dynamics cannot allow Parvez Hoodboy’s (Nuclear Physicist whose contract the same varsity has refused to renew) criticism of Imran Khan’s support for the Taliban in 2014 and his bashing of the ideological state of Pakistan to be swept under the rug. While the establishment’s censorship gurus understand that collective human actions organize knowledge, they fail to realize that knowledge cannot be controlled the way it could be previously.

Dawn’s columnist Cyril’s exposition of a different set of variables to achieve the same outcome continues to strike the right chords for the readers and the audience of Pakistani politics. (Cyril was pressured into resigning from Dawn). The students, readers, and witnesses of the drama comprise largely the urban youth and they cannot be brainwashed anymore.

If the urban youth is privy to information regarding a highhanded censorship project and systemic dismantling of Pakistan’s democratic structure, the youth in smaller cities and rural areas across central Punjab and KP are no different either. This is exactly why the masses residing along the GT Road belt responded to Nawaz Sharif’s call for ‘Vote Ko Izzat Dou’ back in 2017-18. They came out in big numbers because they saw the ouster of Pakistan’s civilian prime minister as part of an ongoing power struggle in which they wanted to be on the side of the democrats.

The system’s overlords fail to recognize that the youth in Pakistan now see things for what they are. We all saw how the rise of PTM unnerved those who have enjoyed unquestioned power in this country since the day of its inception. This youth can no longer be fooled into believing that Fatima Jinnah was a traitor or that Justice Isa is corrupt. They see it clearly that the country is being run according to the whims and wishes of the few who bypass authority and violate democratic norms.

This, after all, is not a numbers’ game. This is not a question of the number of Imran Khan’s voters vs. the number of PML-N’s voters. This is about the perception of Pakistan’s politics. And our overlords must realize that controlling an increasingly valiant, informed section of the population will be impossible in the long run.

This youth is intelligent enough to recognize the pattern here. First, they came for the politicians who locked horns with the powers-that-be on foreign and domestic fronts but were eventually defeated and locked up. Then, it was the media’s turn. Media houses were financially stifled and forced to lay off thousands of employees. With the arrest of Geo’s CEO Mir Shakil ur-Rehman, the last TV channel that somehow maintained some semblance of independence has also fallen in line. So now they have turned to the academics, who are being pressured to stop teaching the generation that must now take it upon itself to face Pakistan’s biggest challenges in the 21st century. Nobody knows where this will stop, but many understand that this cannot possibly end well for Pakistan.

The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.