By: Ella Bjurman
On Monday, July 24 2017 my fellow interns Dustin Ruhe, Simone Williams, and I attended, “Media Diplomacy: Challenging the Indo-Pak Narrative,” hosted by the Atlantic Council. The talk centered around a moderated discussion between Mushahid Hussain, a prominent member of the Pakistani Senate as well as the former Minister of Information and Media Broadcasting for Pakistan and Manish Tewari, the former Minister of Information and Broadcasting for India.
Hussain and Tewari offered their individual perspective about the state of media in their own countries and the role it plays in the relationship between the neighboring nation-states. The politicians both agreed that media has played a role in sparking tension between India and Pakistan and expressed that it is still important to, “maintain free and open media,” since it, “allows for the exchange of all ideas.”1 They further stressed that the government must be involved to allay tension.
While I was keen to hear both speakers’ outlooks, I was especially interested in what Senator Hussain had to say. A key figure in the nation’s political scene, Hussain is deeply entrenched in the Pakistani establishment, so I expected his views and comments to reflect this cronyism. It was during the question and answer portion, when another attendee and I made inquiries about issues specific to Sindh that the Senator confirmed my assumptions.
Throughout the almost two-hour discussion, the Senator repeatedly admonished that Pakistan’s future is dependent on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a part of the former’s larger One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.1 Yet, when a member of the audience expressed his frustration about the Pakistani state media’s failure to report on the negative implications the corridor is and will have on Sindh stating, “The Sindhi people and the Baloch people, they beileive [CPEC] is a design to further colonize Sindh and Balochistan,” the Senator failed to directly address his concerns.1 Pakistan’s former Minister of Information and Media Broadcasting rebutted that with eleven projects currently underway in Sindh, making the province the, “biggest beneficiary of CPEC”1
Sindh is actually home to thirteen CPEC backed projects, however several experts and officials have identified a number of faults that cast CPEC’s supposed benefits into doubt. One area of fault in particular is the negative environmental impact CPEC projects are projected to have on communities. Port Qasim and Thar Coal Block I & Mine Mouth Power Plants are two of the largest CPEC projects in Sindh, however scholar Michael Kugelman has expressed concern over such projects labeling them as, “emissions-belching technologies.”2 However, perhaps the greatest environmental threat posed by a CPEC project to Sindh is located more than 900 miles away in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The five-dam Indus Cascade could potentially, “stop the flow of silt – the lifeline of agriculture downstream – as well as drastically reduce the flow of water in the Indus, especially affecting downstream areas like Pakistan’s Sindh province.”2 While the exact the impacts are still unknown, researcher Hassaan Khan cites the consequences to the agriculture sector in places like Sindh could be significant. These ramifications would be grave for Sindh, as agricultural work accounts for nearly fifty percent of the province’s entire labor force.3 The Senator reasoned that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will create long-lasting prosperity to all of Pakistan, yet the potential risks posed by projects such as the Indus Cascade will only bring about hardship in Sindh.
The apathetic attitude the Senator demonstrated towards my fellow attendee was not an isolated occurrence. The Senator extended the same elusiveness to me when I asked about using Pakistan’s growing digital news media sector to combat issues particular to Sindh, such as the more than 1,000 forced conversions of Sindhi girls belonging to religious minorities that take place in Sindh every year:
You talked about the rise of digital media in both countries [India and Pakistan]…still not a lot of attention is given to [issues affecting] smaller provincial governments, such as Sindh…Do you think it is possible or is there a way to increase awareness about issues [forced conversions] occurring in Sindh that will not only transcend the provincial level, but also the national level and hopefully the international level?1
The Senator did not attempt to give a substantive answer to my question, instead he quipped that the Parliament of Pakistan has taken a, “strong position,” on the issue of forced conversions and that, “it’s the responsibility of both the federal government as well as the provincial government to ensure the protection of rights of all Pakistanis, including those who are not Muslim.”1 The legal actions that the provincial and federal governments have implemented have not improved the plight of the victims of forced conversions. In November 2016, the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill was passed into law by the Sindh provincial government.4 The law makes it illegal to for anyone in Sindh to convert to another religion before the age of eighteen.5 Yet, the perpetrators of forced conversions taking place in Sindh have circumvented this measure by simply falsifying these girls’ birth certificates. Ultimately, the ineffectiveness of the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill renders the Senator’s answer to my question hollow.
These two incidents highlight a couple of key issues. Most obviously, the other member of the audience and I’s individual encounters confirm Senator Hussain’s consistency to prop-up the Pakistani establishment at all costs. More importantly it also shows how little attention he and the Pakistani government as a whole places on the well being of Sindh. This stance is not only disheartening it is also very troublesome. During the talk Senator Hussain revealed that a U.S. delegation is due to visit Pakistan in the coming weeks to discuss the former’s planned strategic overhaul for South Asia.6 Privy to such vital information, the Senator possesses the power to help direct the future of U.S. – Pakistan relations. Yet, his attitude exhibited during the discussion at the Atlantic Council indicates that the direction will not be to Sindh’s benefit, rather it will likely be to its detriment.
During the first half of the talk, Hussain agreed that it is necessary to have channels in both India and Pakistan that will allow for the free and open exchange of all ideas. This sentiment was in regards to India and Pakistan’s entangled narrative with particular emphasis on Kashmir. However, it must be asked how Pakistan can even begin to propose and implement such notions with other nation-states when the country prohibits such openness in its own provinces. Furthermore, insisting that Pakistan allows for the open exchange of ideas dismisses the more than 437 recovered bodies of Sindhi political activists, the victims of enforced disappearances perpetrated by the Pakistani government.5
In conclusion, while the focus of “Media Diplomacy: Challenging the Indo-Pak Narrative,” was between India and Pakistan’s media relationship, the stance maintained by speaker Senator Hussain revealed worrisome implications for Sindh. His refusal to address the issues raised by my fellow attendee and I in any real length and detail are further indication of suppression of access to information the Pakistani establishment exercises on smaller provinces like Sindh. This results in the human rights violations occurring in Sindh to be veiled to the international community.
- Hussain, Mushahid. Interview by Bharath Gopalaswamy. “Media Diplomacy:
Challenging the Indo-Pak Narrative,” 24 July 2017, Atlantic Council South Asia Center, Washington, D.C. Moderated Discussion.
- Ebrahaim, Zofreen T. “CPEC and the Environment: Good, Bad or Ugly?” The Express Tribune, Lakson Group, 1 July 2017. Web. 1 August 2017.
- United States. Congressional Research Service. “Pakistan’s Sindh Province.” By K. Alan Kronstadt. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2015. Print.
- Qazi, Shereena. “Pakistan’s Sindh Province Outlaws Forced Conversions.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera Media Network, 25 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 August 2017.
- “Third Annual Sindhi American Youth Advocacy and Leadership Program Report for Congressional Offices.” Sindhi American Political Action Committee, 10 July 2017. Print.
- Iqbal, Anwar. “S. Asia policy: US team likely to visit Islamabad soon.” Editorial. Dawn [Karachi] 26 July 2017: n. pag. Dawn. Dawn Group of Newspapers, 26 July 2017. Web. 31 July 2017.