Pakistan tries to silence critics ahead of Imran Khan-Trump meeting
- From blacking out unfavorable media commentary at home to blacklisting critics in academia and think tanks in the US, Pakistan has embarked on across-the-board censorship ahead of the Trump-Imran meet on July 22
- Blank editorial spaces have been appearing in Pakistani newspapers ahead of Khan’s visit
- Articles critical of his military-backed regime have been culled even as the pro-government media is drumming up enthusiasm for the visit
Blank editorial spaces have been appearing in Pakistani newspapers ahead of Khan’s visit as articles critical of his military-backed regime have been culled even, as the pro-government media is drumming up enthusiasm for a visit that the Trump administration is terse and business-minded about.
Khan arrived in Washington on Saturday evening to a low-key welcome – perceived in some quarters as a diplomatic snub — as he stepped out of a commercial Qatar Airways flight, only to be greeted by Pakistani Embassy officials who escorted him to a mobile buggy that transfers all disembarking passengers to immigration counters.
Clutching prayer beads in his left hand, he was later seen arriving at the Pakistani ambassador’s house, escorted by a full security detail, suggesting that formal protocol may have begun after his arrival at the airport terminal.
The Pakistani Prime Minister’s visit was preceded by a commentary in the New York Times – reportedly censored in Pakistan — by novelist and social commentator Mohammed Hanif, who in an oped under the headline “Imran Khan’s ‘New Pakistan’ Is as Good as the Old,” wrote that the country "looks like a struggling dictatorship," while outlining political vendetta unleashed by the Imran Khan government.
Hanif mocked Khan for talking about dignity in rejecting foreign aid while noting that one of his first moves after taking office was “chauffeuring Arab princes in the hope of getting soft loans” even though he “pays fewer taxes than many mid-ranking journalists” on assets worth $ 36 million.
Hanif denied on Twitter that that particular NYT oped had been blacked out, but acknowledged the Pakistani establishment had censored him in the past.
But in Washington DC, familiar complaints about Pakistan’s efforts to silence critics and detractors surfaced again with Christine Fair, associate professor at Georgetown University and a South Asia scholar, alleging efforts in some think tanks and national security platforms to censor her views.
Fair, a trenchant critic of Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment, whose sometimes-profane critiques online eclipses deep scholarship of national security issues in the subcontinent, says she has been “disinvited” from discussions on Pakistan at institutions such as National Defense University (NDU) and the US Institute of Peace (USIP) which are partly government- and tax-payer funded. She says she is also banned from writing in War on The Rocks (WoTR), an influential foreign policy and national security platform, after a long-running feud resulting from a critique in which she described a Pakistani analyst as a shill for the Pakistani establishment.
Indeed, in an email to Fair and Hussain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the US and also a critic of the PakMil establishment, an NDU official acknowledged during a 2015 episode that the Pakistani military attache’s office in Washington DC has protested “certain points of view,” on Pakistan, but the NDU leadership had “both weathered the protests and stood with its people.”
Not true, says Fair, insisting that the NDU and WoTR among others have disinvited her from commenting and writing about Pakistan because of her views. “Pakistan has grip on influential institutions in Washington DC and I resent the fact that Pakistanis get to flog their establishment line on our dime and our time,” Fair told ToI.
While establishment think tanks in Washington DC typically take their cue from the administration (witness the remarkable softening of tone on North Korea, a regime that was reviled not long ago), there’s not much Islamabad or Washington can do about controlling protests on the streets, which is the domain of the city government.
Sundry groups of disaffected Mohajirs, Sindhi, and Baloch are demonstrating against Pakistan at the Capital One Arena, Capitol Hill, and the White House on Sunday and Monday, revealing the great fissures in an unstable country that is trying to get back into Washington’s good books.
In fact, Trump, who is himself no great fan of the media or of human rights, gave some hearing to Pakistan’s critics, meeting representatives of persecuted Ahmadis and Christians in an Oval office meeting last week, along with a large group of victimized minorities from across the world.
In a meeting that drove the Pakistani establishment media catatonic, Shaan Taseer, son of the later Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor who was assassinated by an extremist, urged Trump to raise the issue of Christian persecution when he meets Imran Khan. Taseer was accompanied by Abdul Shakoor, whom the Pakistani media vituperatively described as a “Qadiani,” a Muslim sect that is officially and constitutionally discriminated against by the Pakistani state.