By: Arshad Sharif

August 22, 2022

Today, Pakistan’s story is about creating a regime of fear to sustain an unpopular regime.

This is the story of midnight raids by security officials, climbing the walls in uniform, breaking the doors and arresting ordinary Pakistanis ahead of the opposition’s March to Islamabad on May 25.

This is the story of censorship to silence critical journalists and political opponents. This is the story of the persecution of journalists to make them dance to the tunes of the pied piper.

This is the story of gross human rights violations, including torture for extracting evidence to implicate a political opponent. This is the story of torture, the story of giving an electric shock to private parts and the sexual abuse of a political opponent.

The objective was, and is, to create a regime of fear to break the will of anyone willing to challenge a hybrid regime in Pakistan. 

A hybrid regime desperate to cling on to power supported by crutches of the establishment apparatus. The apparatus runs the regime by hiding behind the smokescreen of plausible deniability despite large footprints all over the place.

The story started in April 2022 when the then Prime Minister, Imran Khan, was ousted through a vote of no confidence.

Since then, Pakistan has changed.

Pakistan has changed for the worst over the last few months since the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif assumed office on

April 12.

Human rights organizations are crying out loud that fundamental human rights are being wantonly trampled.

The economy is in a tailspin. Official figures of inflation released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics measured inflation to be 42 percent for the month of August, the highest ever during the last couple of decades.

Security challenges in former tribal areas are mounting with the re-emergence of militants. Re-emergence of the militant outfit, Tehrik I Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after a tacit agreement with Pakistani authorities is a cause of concern for ordinary Pakistanis. Baluchistan, a province sharing borders with Iran and Afghanistan, is suffering an insurgency like situation.

Censorship is the norm of the day. Journalists are being hounded and persecuted.

More than 50 cases involving charges of sedition were registered against various journalists including Imran Riaz Khan, Sami Ibrahim, Sabir Shakir, Arshad Sharif, Ammad Yousaf, ADEEL Raja, Jameel Faruqi, Khawar Ghumman and Salman Iqbal, CEO of popular TV channel ARYNEWS. Journalists, including News Director of ARYNEWS Ammad Yousaf, Imran Riaz Khan and Jameel Faruqi were arrested and humiliated during custody.

ARYNEWS, Pakistan’s most popular TV channel with highest TRPs was shut down arbitrarily during the second week of August after former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s close confidante and Chief of Staff, Dr Shahbaz Gill, called upon government officials to only follow lawful commands. This was portrayed as inciting mutiny within ranks of Armed Forces and cases were registered immediately with multiple sections of law introduced in the subcontinent by the British during pre-independence colonial era.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, former Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, former Information and Law Minister, Fawad Chaudhry, claimed Dr Shahbaz Gill was tortured during custody, including being subjected to sexual abuse.

Professor Jeffrey Brown, Dean Gies College of Business at University of Illinois, the university where Dr Shahbaz Gill taught as a member of faculty, expressed concern about reports that Prof. Gill may have been subjected to abuse while in police custody.

 “As he is our colleague, we care deeply about his health & well-being, and we abhor violence and abuse of any kind. We call on the government of Pakistan and the international community to ensure that Dr. Gill be treated in accordance with international human rights law,” said Jeffrey Brown, the University of Illinois Professor in a statement released on twitter.

On August 20, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) imposed ban on TV channels to broadcast live speech of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

International human rights bodies like Amnesty International have voiced concern over human rights situation in Pakistan.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have expressed concern about harassment of journalists and deteriorating press freedom in Pakistan.

The coalition government of Pakistan a democratic Movement (PDM) led by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and supported by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) agitated for a better economy, media freedoms and good governance. However, developments since mid-April led to a volte-face in their actions as the government in power.  Behind the political facade of governance is an iron curtain through which the government is run.

On 21st August, the government registered a case under anti-terrorism laws against Pakistan’s most popular politician, Imran Khan. When the warrants for his arrest were issued, people with families came out on the streets throughout Pakistan in large numbers to voice their concerns. PTI leaders declared Imran Khan as their “red line”.

Thousands of supporters reached outside his residence in Bani Gala, a scenic place on outskirts of the capital Islamabad and surrounded it as human shields to thwart any attempt by the authorities to arrest Imran Khan.

Many Pakistanis wonder if things are ever going to get better.

Political pundits believe the worst is yet to come over the next few months.

Pakistan has changed for the worst and it is not likely to be over soon.