Pakistani columnist Gul Bukhari writes about loving her country, but not blindly.
Every topic of any consequence in Pakistan has become too taboo for me to write about – the regime’s ‘love’ for me is so special and well known. Even if I say or do 10 per cent of what other writers do, I still get very special attention and am targeted. So, I have decided to write about myself to explain and document my position.
I have been cursed with every abuse known in Urdu and English. I have also been labelled a traitor, an agent of India, CIA and Afghanistan. I’m called anti-Pakistan for having and airing my opinions on what is wrong and how to fix the problems I see in Pakistan. This label is particularly vexatious. I have never labelled anyone a traitor just for disagreeing with me. It is also insulting to insinuate that I’m just a mouthpiece for someone else.
The trolling and the volley of abuse on Twitter hit me as soon as I open my mouth. The attacks are not always based on issues — they come even if I tweet about the weather or a song. It appears that the campaign is designed to bully me into silence.
The most vile, mean and fascist comments are from #TeamImran, #LoveKhan, #LovePakArmy, #ProudMuslim type of accounts often with pictures of the Quranic Qalma, or Imran Khan, or military men in the banner, asking me to share pictures and videos of my rape (on the assumption that I was raped in captivity).
Direct and indirect warnings are sent, but the message is always the same: Shut up. Clearly, dissent somehow threatens them; challenging the official narrative threatens them.
Writing in foreign media
“WHY YOU WRITE IN ENDIA (India)?”
Those of you who attack me with this question, please know that your establishment has banned me from writing for, and appearing on, every print, electronic, and digital media operating out of Pakistan. This is a classic case of exiling someone, chasing them out of the country and then taunting them with, “WHY YOU NOT COME BACK??” (and face the music at our hands).
Whether I write for Al-Jazeera, or the BBC, or ThePrint, I write what I think, not what they think. But you people first drive me out of Pakistani spaces, and then blame me for writing for foreign platforms. I don’t write differently than what I used to in Pakistani papers; nor do I say anything different on a BBC or VoA show than what I said on Waqt TV.
Learning to question
Being a privileged army brat, I could have been a potential present day ‘youthia’ in Pakistan (the popular term used for Imran Khan’s supporters). Growing up, I was very apolitical. But I found my political moorings when I accompanied my activist cousins to the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) and Hudood Ordinance protests and got beaten up with batons by General Zia-ul Haq’s police. But it was at the time of the Laal Masjid saga in 2007 when I started to become intensely political.
Fast forward to now, 2018. I am reviled by a section of the Pakistani society— consisting the military establishment and the ruling party. They are all the same. But more people love and respect me. The hate and violence of the establishment and the PTI cannot change my positions. Indeed, they harden my positions because they are unable to convince me otherwise.
Yes, I oppose the military’s interference in Pakistani politics, and the judiciary’s complicity in this matter – and who doesn’t? Isn’t that logical in a supposed democracy?
Pakistan is in trouble, and there needs to be a public conversation about what’s going on. The trouble is, people like me are not engaged with, but dismissed with insulting and hurtful titles. Bloggers were abducted and tortured in January 2017, but had to be released eventually – and they all left the country. I was abducted in June 2018, but had to be released within hours – but I stayed on in Pakistan. What on earth are they achieving except ignominy in the eyes of the world and common Pakistanis? They are putting our journalists and elected representatives on the exit control list, disallowing people to travel abroad. If someone has not committed an act of terror, or a crime and the state has no case against them, why are they prevented from travelling abroad?
‘Traitor’ who supports human rights
I look at every national or geopolitical issue from a human rights perspective.
Afghan refugees? A very dear friend of mine argued with me about how these refugees were imposed on us by the US and the UN, and how they must be repatriated. But look at the facts: Over 70 per cent of the Afghan refugees were born in Pakistan, they have never seen Afghanistan; their friends, families, jobs, and businesses are in Pakistan. How can we just throw them out? More importantly, Pakistan’s ‘jus soli’ law guarantees them citizenship as a birthright.
Others have argued, “Can Pakistan, a poor country, afford to sustain and feed these three million useless, good for nothing, gun and drug runners?” My response has been: “Excuse me, how are we affording them? Have we given them housing, schooling, or health facilities from our taxes, ever?” Silence. No answers. Conversely, they have been contributing to Pakistan’s economy. To which, the response is a xenophobic one similar to the Brexiteers: They took away our jobs (which is ridiculous – most of them are engaged in small to medium sized business and are actually creating jobs). Another entirely baseless charge against them is of them being ‘terrorists’. Proof?
I have been labelled a traitor, ‘ghaddar’, and ‘Afghan agent’ for defending the refugees and advocating a humane position for them.
Let’s now examine my support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). I made an effort to understand who Manzoor Pashteen, Mohsin Dawar, and Ali Wazir were, where they were coming from and what their demands constituted. I found all to be kosher, their demands urgent and important to be resolved for us to live as a people at peace with ourselves. All the demands were constitutional, the movement was peaceful, and the suspicions against the PTM I found to be unsubstantiated. Give me one proof they are working with a foreign agenda and I will condemn them. There is not a shred of evidence – just idiotic social media campaigns and censorship in mainstream media.
There are so many other issues: The mazareen of Punjab in Okara who are being made landless by the military and being herded into prisons for asking for their rights. The Sindhi, Baloch, Mohajir, Gilgiti, Christian, Hindu, and Ahmadi persecutions too are well documented. I speak for all of them because I believe in a plural society. How is that seditious? When I speak for their rights, I am branded as them. Earlier, when I had no public opinion or voice, I was seen as a Sunni Muslim, Punjabi woman of patriotic military stock. Now, I’m the ‘other’ – simply because I speak.
This is an attempt to explain myself: I do NOT hate Pakistan; I do NOT hate the military; I love Pakistan. Loving any institution is unnatural, but it can be respected — only if it respects me and my rights. Whatever I do, it is for the love of my people, not for money. No one pays me.
The author is a columnist and human rights defender based in Lahore.
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