Aadiya bin Abdulla explores the persecution of bloggers in Pakistan and Bangladesh for Asian Lite. When the state abducts bloggers in Pakistan, the radicals butcher bloggers mercilessly in Bangladesh when the state apparatus conveniently close their eyes
Bloggers who try to work as missionaries of sanity in Pakistan and Bangladesh should be ready to lose their voice or even their lives. In Pakistan, they are kidnapped and released on condition that they would not disclose the identity of their kidnappers and their motives. And in Bangladesh they are brutally hacked by butchers with machete. Reasons behind the crime against the bloggers in the above two countries are contrastingly different.
In Pakistan, the “deep state” does the kidnapping in collaboration with its patronised Islamist groups. They divide the labour between themselves. The former kidnaps the victims; keeps them in their torture cells to extract as much information as they want; then they free them with the threat of death that they must not whisper a word about who kidnapped them, where were they kept and what were they asked. The job of the collaborating Islamists is to use all their might to malign the kidnapped victims as blasphemers and Indian agents and demand their death. When civil society members and human rights groups held country-wide agitations to demand the recovery of the kidnapped bloggers, the Islamists spread the rumour that they had escaped to India. Foreign counties, who expressed concern about kidnapped bloggers, were snubbed: “This is Pakistan’s internal matter”.
In Bangladesh, there are no signs or suspicion of intelligence agencies’ support to Islamic militants. These militants work on their own agencies which include converting Bangladesh into a theocratic State and purge it of Hindus and Christians, Bloggers are their target because they advocate and oppose religious bigotry and obscurantism. The massacre of 20 persons at a Dhaka cafe on July 1st last year was evident enough of these religious bigots’ hatred toward non-Muslim foreigners. The attackers made the people in the cafe their hostage ad shot 20 people among them were nine Italians and seven Japanese.
The killing of bloggers in Bangladesh started amid rising hostility between two main political parties: Awami League (AL), led by Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Begum Khaleda Zia. Before the 2014 general elections, the ruling AL started trial of war crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War and hanged Jamaat-i-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah (December 2013) for these crimes. The BNP announced that it would boycott the general elections. In a civil war like situation followed. And amidst this chaos and political uncertainty, Islamic militant groups went berserk and targeted bloggers, liberals, atheists, University teachers, civil society and human right activists. Hindu priests and temples were targeted. Buddhist monks and their places of worship were not spared either. These Jihadists were joined by activists of the Islamic State (IS) and Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) who want Bangladesh to drop its secular credentials and become a Caliphate. A newly formed outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) activists took upon themselves to kill bloggers. A number of young, bright scholars lost their lives only because of their strong belief in scientific temper, rational thinking and poignant writings.
In Pakistan the zeal against bloggers, civil rights and human rights activists and secularists is not the same as we see in Bangladesh, though the motive is the same – blind hatred. For the Army-patronised Islamic militants, Islam is just a mere cover: the real issue is how to protect Army’s image and their vested interests in the country. Thus, journalists and civil and human rights activists who expose Army’s atrocities in Baluchistan; its land grabbing activities; its cross-border terrorist activities against India and Afghanistan; its umbilical relations with terrorists and its lies about India’s hand in insurgency in Baluchistan to justify kidnapping and killing of the native Baloch and grab their land and mineral wealth, are all branded as anti-Islam, anti-Pakistan and Indian agents.
The Pak Army has acquired a great interest in the China-financed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Any Pakistani national, though her patriotic fervour may be beyond doubt but who criticises this project is called anti-Pakistan and pro-India. A leading Pakistan Supreme Court lawyer and well-known human rights activist Asma Jahangir recently told the BBC the reason of many disappearances of bloggers was their criticism of the CPEC. She said the abductors were intelligence agencies.
Farmers in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan bordering China’s Kashgar (in Xinxiang province) from where the CPEC starts have been forcibly deprived of their small orchids for facilitating this project. Their helpless cries cannot be made a subject of public debate in Pakistan because that would amount to supporting India’s opposition to the CPEC. Similarly there cannot be a public debate about the misery the CPEC project, the so-called game changer for Pakistan, has inflicted on the poor population of Baluchistan. Those dissident voices are quietly whisked away to unknown destinations or are attacked as were Asma Jahangir and Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir or are killed – most of them journalists and civil society activists.
One may like to question Jahangir on her claim that intelligence agencies kidnapped the bloggers. But a relevant question, in the context of Pakistan, will be about the truth of denials. A majority of Pakistanis support what Jahangir told the BBC. This conviction was strengthened when the Pak Army spokesman denied that intelligence agencies kidnapped the bloggers but he said, some people were harming the country’s integrity. Military affairs expert Ayesha Siddiqa said these kidnapping were a warning to the people to behave. For obvious reasons to not anger the Army, the Speaker of the National Assembly ignored the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)’s notice to debate disappearances of bloggers.
After the Pak Army, Islamist organisations even if banned, are the most feared entities in Pakistan today. They are free on social media and spew poison against any section of society, against the government policies and against foreign countries. They dare not say a single word against the Army. And here lies the contrast between Bangladesh and Pakistan. When in Bangladesh, the civil society, and the government of the day are determined to combat the ugliest face of religious bigotry; in Pakistan, the Army and religious fanatics (in popular term the Mullah-Military combine) are working overtime to distort the age-old social fabric and destroy the fundamentals of a state based on law.