This was always going to be a problem, once the principle of an activist judiciary was conceded as being a sound one in Pakistan today. I’m not arguing against the judiciary taking a pro-active role in delivering justice (and forcing the government to deliver governance) to the people, but this comes with the territory: you now have a Lahore High Court, always known for being the most conservative in the country, that’s handing out blanket bans on websites like they were Eidi.
(In other news out of that court, lawyers of a murder accused helped him escape from the court after his bail plea was rejected. What, exactly, is going on over in CJ Khwaja Sharif’s little fiefdom? Apparently senior lawyer Ahsan Bhoon, of marching-with-the-lawyers-and-then-taking-oath-as-a-PCO-judge fame, ‘saved’ the unfortunate policeman who tried to stop them – the lawyers were about to take him to the bar room to ‘teach him a lesson’. I’m guessing that this lesson wasn’t going to be on, say, the finer points of constitutional law . . .)
The question is, after this provisional ban on Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, MSN, Hotmail, Youtube, Islam Exposed and In The Name of Allah, what happens next? The lawyers community of Bahawalpur has already announced that it is going to observe a complete strike on Wednesday . . . . . . against the ‘publication’ of this ‘blasphemous’ material on these websites.
Leave aside, for a moment, the absolutely nonsensical nature of the ban – both because of the fact that it violates basic right to information and because it betrays a complete lack of understanding of how the internet works (even if you agree, for some reason, that ‘objectionable’ material should be banned, banning search engines is a bit like ordering that all of Karachi’s roads should be dynamited because an aunty made an illegal U-turn on Amir Khusro Rd). Let’s talk about getting the ban reversed through legal means.
The only way to do this is to file a constitutional petition in a High Court or the Supreme Court, arguing that the ban is, to put not too fine a point on it, idiotic on every level. Here we run into the trouble I pointed out in my last Op-Ed – will the SC or an HC rule in your favour, because it will be seen to be ‘supporting blasphemy’, a move politically akin in Pakistan to stabbing yourself repeatedly in the heart while simultaneously reading Vogon poetry? Well, we’ll never know if we don’t try – otherwise this country will continue to move incrementally towards the intolerant right. This case, of course, is subtly different from the Facebook case in that it calls for blanket bans of search engines, which do not even host the material that is being found objectionable – it can be argued, therefore, without reference to the acceptability of the material itself.
The way to fight this ban, ultimately, is not just on the Op-Ed pages of English language newspapers, or in witty comments on Twitter (I plead guilty to the latter), it’s through the processes of government. I’m not based out of Karachi at the moment, but I am willing, if others want to pursue this case, to arrange the drafting of a constitutional petition and to find a Sindh High Court advocate who will argue the case pro bono. Get in touch if you’re interested.
In today’s other news:
– The commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has handed in his resignation after this politically ill-advised profile in Rolling Stone, and its now up to US President Barack Obama to either accept it, or let him stay on. And even though McChrystal, an ex-Ranger known for his gung-ho attitude and the ‘prophet’ of Counterinsurgency (COIN) tactics, called everyone in the White House a bunch of “wimps”, aiming particular snipes at US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and national security advisor James Jones, he may yet survive this, because Obama needs continuity in Afghan operations. Either way, however, his position is going to be weakened: either fire the general and appoint a new head of operations in a war you’re trying desperately to turn around, or leave him be and undermine your own authority by allowing such comments from your military top brass. Between the devil and . . well, a gung-ho ex-Ranger. Read Maureen Dowd, Simon Tisdall and Michael Tomasky on the issue to really get to grips with how difficult this choice is going to be for Obama.
Also, I strongly recommend reading the profile itself. As a reporter, it makes me go all tingly.
– On the court front, the LHC is not the only court doing some crazy things. The SHC CJ, Sarmad Jalal Osmany, has apparently asked for, and been granted, funds by the government to fly to the US for surgery. The government is footing the bill for his flights as well as his treatment. Now, I’m sorry that the CJ has dodgy ankles, and from all accounts he’s an excellent and fair judge who tolerates no nonsense in his court, but it is simply not the government’s place to pay for this treatment, particularly after a provincial and federal ban on precisely this sort of thing.
And this is coming a few weeks after the same CJ demanded that he be given an incredibly expensive bullet-proof vehicle. Why? Because the CJ of the Peshawar HC got one.
Dear god, give me strength.
– Today’s uplifting story of the day: How International Relations Theory can be adapted to deal with a Zombie Apocalypse. Brilliant.