National Sections of the L5I:

Pakistan: Social media activists free

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The reappearance of four social media bloggers, who were abducted on January 17 (see marks a big victory for the movement against forced disappearances.

This is particularly the case, because the four were the subject of a hate campaign that demonised them as anti-religious and Indian agents. In reality, they were abducted to silence any criticism of state policies and to intimidate other activists. The print and electronic media are already under state control and the disappearances were part of a systematic campaign to enforce restrictions on the social media.

The security apparatus wants to silence the voices that speak out against military operations, forced disappearances and the effects of mega projects on ordinary people. To date, 20,000 people are “missing” in Baluchistan, and there are many more in other provinces.

Overt oppression and abductions are still important means to remove political hurdles for the state and capital, but they are not the only ones. The slander campaigns by the media, monopolised in the hands of capitalist and reactionary forces, are another means to manipulate public opinion.

This time, however, they did not succeed. The hate campaign did not work and many people did not remain silent. Instead of fear, it was anger that spread across the social media and lots of people opposed the abductions. They planned protests in many cities of Pakistan. This even had an effect on some of the established media in which some voices were raised against forced disappearances although only to the extent of calling for allegedly unlawful activity to be prosecuted under the “cyber crime” laws.

This reflects a growing confidence among activists in the struggle for democratic rights, which has led some sections of the ruling class and the state to distance themselves from the abductions. The interior ministry tried to excuse itself of any responsibility, claiming that the state was not involved at all. The plans of those responsible for the abductions have thus back-fired and the democratic protests have changed the situation; instead of fear of state brutality resulting in silence and passivity, people have been organising in different cities and the cases of human rights violations and disappearances in Baluchistan have become very visible. The state was left with no option but to release the bloggers.

The movement had already scored an important success with the reappearance of Wahid Baloch, a well know Baloch activist who had been abducted. This showed that the fight for democratic rights and against disappearances is possible and that people can win. Now the momentum must maintained by building a larger movement against the disappearances.

The forced disappearances have been continuing in Pakistan for a long time. Most were from Baluchistan and included poets, writers, political activists, students and lawyers, but it is not only there that thousands are missing. In recent years, many others were abducted from urban and rural Sindh and other provinces. Worse, in these areas, numerous bodies of abducted people have been recovered.

The ruling class and media try to cover all this up. They present dissident voices as part of a conspiracy by India or other countries against progress in Pakistan. This propaganda is so powerful that many ordinary people think that they are poor and face crisis and hardship not because of capitalism and its profiteers, but because of those malign, dark forces. This has been used systematically by the state and provincial governments to crush any legitimate movement for national rights or against the mega projects. Military operations are presented as the only option left to secure the “order” necessary for development, investment projects and “progress”. Capital and state use this to control and exploit the natural resources.

In the past, the military operations and violations of democratic and human rights were legitimised by the needs of the so-called “war on terror”. Now, however, the government and the media point to the “China Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC) as the great step forward for Pakistan and present the fight to defend the democratic rights of oppressed nationals, local communities, peasants and working class people as an obstacle to the “progress” and development the project will bring. Whilst the only real concerns the state and the governments have are the profits of the capitalist and business, they present the whole project as the way out for the country and the working people.

In reality, it is a capitalist project that will mainly benefit Chinese imperialism and the Pakistani ruling class. It will be developed via debts that the working class and poor will then have to pay back. The capitalists will no doubt benefit from it but this will not be done in a harmonious way, as liberals claim, but via attacks on democratic and national rights, including forced disappearances and further military operations.

Now, however, the climate of fear and silence that used to surround this oppression is beginning to clear. A series of protests has developed, including long marches and hunger strikes. As the struggle develops politically, it shows the brutal nature of the state and of the ruling class parties. At the same time, it also shows the urgent need for a united front in defence of democratic rights, bringing together all working class organisations, trade unions and left wing political groups, as well as organisations of the youth, women, peasants and the nationally oppressed.