Two democratically-elected parliamentarians Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar were recently placed on the Exit Control List — a decision which was later reversed by the federal cabinet following outrage on social media. Earlier, on November 30, the two Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM)-linked MPs from North Waziristan were offloaded from a Dubai-bound flight and informed that their names have been placed on the no-fly list due to a case registered against them in Swabi over their participation in a PTM public meeting. The MPs were detained by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for three days. There is no law that stops citizens from participating in a peaceful gathering. Even after u-turn on the decision, there has been no explanation from the relevant authorities as to why the public representatives were mistreated. Although Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto condemned the development, the parliament could not issue a unanimous condemnation, which ideally should have been the case. But that would be asking for too much because the Parliament has turned a blind eye to intimidation and harassment of the PTM activists. Such acts cannot be challenged even by politicians because those committing them are above the law and cannot even be named let alone questioned. Those who dare to question such overreaches of the deep state have “foreign agents” and “traitors” labels thrown at them. In some instances, brute force has also been used against dissenters of the state. This is what you call controlled democracy. Attempts to forcibly restrict the activities of the PTM have been going on ever since the movement started getting international recognition because of the large crowds it was able to attract despite having no formal organisational structure. The demands put forth by the PTM resonate with the countless victims and affectees of the war on terror in Pakistan’s tribal areas. DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor, in a recent press briefing, reiterated the commitment to holding talks with the aggrieved Pashtun youngsters, but warned them against crossing ‘red lines’ in the same breath. We have been told by the military that fifth generation hybrid warfare is underway and that media should cover “positive” news to counter the threats. “Positive reporting” is an uphill task given the dismal status of human rights in the country. Worse, the state is in denial about it all and wants to cover up by making claims of a “hybrid war”. But no matter how many individuals and groups are hired to show a “positive image” on social media, the curtailment of civil rights will continue to raise eyebrows. Thus, belittling the demands of the PTM is an insult to the constitution of Pakistan. Because the movement merely demands provision of rights to the citizens as enshrined in the constitution and an end to the violation of these rights. Demanding an end to enforced disappearances and investigation of the war on terror’s fallout is neither offensive nor unconstitutional. The “hybrid war” narrative basically entails carrying out all-too-familiar propaganda campaigns against critics of the deep state and justifying censorship. While PTM leaders and supporters are being harassed, the government is shying away from taking a meaningful and decisive action against Khadim Rizvi’s outfit Meanwhile, leader of extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) Khadim Rizvi was (finally!) detained along with several workers a few weeks ago. Terrorism and treason charges were placed on him, but nothing has come out of those cases as yet. We were told by Information Minister Fawad Chahudhry that Rizvi was taken into ‘protective custody’ in order to maintain law and order. Needless to say, a known hate preacher does not need to be ‘protected’. Instead, Pakistan’s citizens, particularly the members of the religious minority communities, are the ones who need protection from the likes of Khadim Rizvi. There is a stark difference between the state’s treatment of disgruntled Pashtun activists of the PTM and extremists of the TLP. While PTM leaders and supporters are being harassed and intimidated, the government is shying away from taking a meaningful and decisive action against Khadim Rizvi’s outfit. And it appears that the government failed to build a strong case against Rizvi and his supporters who have been inciting violence against state officials as well as members of the minority communities. There are now sufficient grounds for a blanket ban on Khadim Rizvi’s group and initiation of a proper trial against him after consultation with legal counsels. But the government seems to be satisfied with its decision of detaining Rizvi in ‘protective custody’ and does not plan to do more. This is because the group had clearly been receiving some kind of patronage from the deep state. And removing this patronage will have to be a gradual process. Because — as has always been the case — the act of patronising extremist groups to subjugate elected governments backfired. And now they will have to be handled with care. The deep state seems clueless as to what to do with Rizvi and his ilk. To begin with, it should be decided once and for all that the practice of backing any kind of extremist group for vested interests will be put to a halt. Former Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) leader Ehsanullah Ehsan should also be tried for his crimes. The authorities need to realise that peaceful dissenters of the state are not the threat, the groups who incite violence in the name of religion are. And it’s about time the policy of patronising and/or appeasing extremists is brought to an end. The writer is Assistant Editor, Daily Times. She writes on counter-terrorism, human rights and freedom of speech among other issues. She tweets at @AiliaZehra and E-mail: [email protected] Published in Daily Times, December 24th 2018.