Pakistan under the China model of governance

Daily: Future Directions International
Date: 04.08.20

Key Points

  • Pakistan’s top spy agency, backed by the Army, controls the media, both print and
    electronic, and is stifling the voice of pro-democracy Pakistanis.
  • Most judges in Pakistan’s higher judiciary cannot resist the advances and ambitions
    of Pakistan’s spy agency to control the country by stealth.
  • Kidnapping, humiliating and torturing journalists who speak for constitutionalism have
    become the norm.
  • The remnants of military rule, in both person and ideology, haunt Pakistan today.
  • Pakistan is fast sliding into an undeclared authoritarian rule.


On 21 July 2020, a senior journalist, Matiullah Jan, who is known for his outspoken views,
was abducted from outside a school where his wife worked as a teacher in Pakistan’s
capital, Islamabad. Footage from two CCTV cameras showed a dozen persons in plain
clothes and a few armed persons in police uniform in five vehicles approached and
apprehended Mr Jan in the street and bundled him into one of their cars, which then drove
away. The incident fuelled an outcry, which prompted the release of Mr Jan after 12 hours
of illegal custody. He was released by being driven late at night to a deserted location on
the outskirts of Islamabad and abandoned there.


Most Pakistanis perceive an agonising drift from democracy in Pakistan. They are gradually
awakening to the reality that the China model of Procrustean rule – reduced opposition,
controlled society and structured consent – is becoming the norm in their country. The
Pakistani media is one victim of that trend.

The “crime” that Matiullah Jan had committed is known to all Pakistanis. As a reporter
covering proceedings at the Supreme Court, he reported and interpreted a judgment
pointing out the biased behaviour of the judges of the Supreme Court against a fellow
judge, Justice Qazi Faez Isa. In February 2019, Justice Isa had issued a judgement in the
Faizabad sit-in case against the surreptitious role of Pakistan’s top intelligence agency in
arranging protests – by mobilising religiously-fanatical people and aiding them monetarily –
against a sitting government to make it fall. In retaliation, the intelligence agency cooked up
a case against Justice Isa in an effort to eject him from the panel of the Supreme Court.
The fellow judges heard the case for almost one year and acknowledged the existence of
dubious content in the allegations but shied away from offering Justice Isa full relief. The
outcome of the case still hangs in the balance but the acquiescence of the judges to the
intelligence agency dismayed all those who wanted to see a fair and prompt outcome.

As a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Isa is known for his integrity and bold decisions
that spare no centre of power. In his decisions, he produces legal and logical reasons that
convince the reader of his erudition. He is also known for his intrepid pro-democratic
penchants. Those attributes make him a thorn in the flesh of people and organisations that
seek to impose the China model of governance on Pakistanis without their consent. In the
eyes of Pakistan’s top spy agency, supported by the Pakistani Army, both Justice Qazi Faez
Isa and Matiullah Jan defy the tenets of controlled society and structured consent, and
hence must be held responsible for their actions.

Pakistan’s media and society are divided between those who support the principles of
Justice Isa and those who are pitted against them. Pro-democracy Pakistanis stand by
Justice Isa and, by extension, support Matiullah Jan. As they see it, the major objective of
kidnapping Matiullah Jan was to make him absent from appearing before Chief Justice of
Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who had taken a suo moto [on its own motion] notice
against a tweet from Matiullah Jan that criticised the capitulation of the judges to the
pressure of the spy agency. The journalist’s absence from the contempt of court hearing on
22 July was designed to unleash hostile a section of the media against him, thereby
damaging his reputation and making him appear inconsequential. The CCTV footage that
showed his apprehension was followed by vociferous reaction from the pro-Justice Isa
school of thought and the pro-free media sections of society. These entities placed
unprecedented pressure on the Imran Khan government to intervene and ensure the
release of Matiullah Jan. The journalist was bold enough, however, to issue the details of
his enforced disappearance – a phenomenon not uncommon in Pakistan – through a video
clip uploaded on 24 July on his YouTube channel, MJ TV.

He informed the viewers of the manner in which he was handcuffed, blindfolded,
transported, locked up and battered, besides being reproved for what he did as a reporter.
In the lock-up, where he was blindfolded and handcuffed, the kidnappers warned him in no
uncertain terms that if he did not cease his unfavourable reports, his children would be
harmed. That was a grave threat to the reporter, who was being asked to compromise his
professional ethics for the safety of his family. Moreover, the warning indicated that the
kidnappers had conducted surveillance of the reporter’s family as well. Compounding the
issue, other than taking superficial measures, no authority – local or national – appears to
be interested in apprehending the kidnappers, who are visible on the CCTV footages. It is
understandable that the culprits will never be brought to justice. The State of Pakistan, it
appears, is complaisant to the hidden powers that are in actual control.

There are four major methods applied to suppress journalists. First, apprehend and torture
them to death, as happened in the case of Syed Saleem Shahzad in May 2011. Second,
assail journalists by shooting them in the lower half of their bodies to make them suffer
greatly without actually killing the victim, as happened in the case of Hamid Mir in April
2014. Third, kidnap a journalist and subject that individual to torture in an attempt to
discourage unfavourable reporting, as happened in the case of Matiullah Jan in July 2020.
Fourth, physically attack a journalist and leave that individual’s body mauled and badly
maimed by unknown attackers, tacitly stating that the beating could recur in the future if the
journalist continued to annoy the authorities.

Matiullah Jan was lucky that his apprehension was recorded on CCTV. It transpired that, on
21 July, the kidnappers had waited for him some distance from the school where, after
dropping his wife, he sat in his car for more than an hour reading some documents. That
was unusual for him. Losing their patience, the kidnappers felt something was amiss and
rushed to the school to abduct him, which was why they were recorded on the CCTV
cameras. That was the turning point in the whole episode. The original plan probably was to
apprehend him in some other street on his way to the Supreme Court. Had there had been
no CCTV cameras outside the school or the kidnapping event not been recorded, Mr Jan’s
life would likely have been jeopardised.

While the Pakistani print and electronic media are virtually controlled by Pakistan’s
intelligence community, social media is not and became a platform for discussing for the
fate of the missing reporter. That was the second factor that saved the life of Matiullah Jan.
There are moves, however, to ban social media in Pakistan, likely via a court order. Retired
Pakistani Army generals and brigadiers dominate the country’s print and electronic media,
including on TV talk shows, to push their opinions on the readers and viewers, construct a
pro-military narrative and promote the China model of governance under the ruse that a
hybrid war or a battle of narratives is being waged. They, the self-proclaimed champions of
the war of narratives, have created their own reasons to assert their narrative over those of

Over the years, owing to issuing political decisions and yielding to the pressure of
intelligence agencies, Pakistan’s judiciary has lost its credibility. This is why judges like
Justice Isa are considered a ray of hope and this is why journalists like Matiullah Jan are
held in high esteem in Pakistani society.

Understandably, the Supreme Court was under pressure from certain quarters to take
action against Matiullah Jan’s rebellious tweet. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar
Ahmed, succumbed to the pressure and performed the unprecedented act of taking a suo
moto notice on a tweet. That point alone indicates the existence of a compromised higher
judiciary that dances to the tune of its puppet masters. In Pakistan, there is a history of
judges being blackmailed by the country’s intelligence agencies. For instance, on 11
November 2007, the UK’s Sunday Times published a story that alleged that some of
Pakistan’s Supreme Court judges had been sexually blackmailed to force them to legitimise
General Pervez Musharraf’s decision to run for the office of president while remaining the
army chief. The newspaper revealed that the country’s feared military intelligence made
films to influence the judges’ decision.

Under the China model of governance, which has become more discernible after 2014,
there could be absolutely no tolerance of defiance. Disagreement, under that model,
amounts to insolence, which incurs the rage of the dominant, who are armed with weapons
bought with public money and who run dungeons to imprison dissenters for years.
According to that model, all tongues should be stilled, lips sealed and eyes closed. People
may hear of various issues but they cannot cross the red lines that are set, not by the
Constitution of Pakistan, but by Pakistan’s top spy agency.

Pakistan has finally reached the crescendo where even the tweets of journalists merit a suo
moto action by the Supreme Court. This is an example of the way Pakistan’s highest court
exposes itself to public ridicule and wrath. If one tweet of a journalist can move the Supreme
Court to shift its attention from the thousands of pending court cases in order to penalise
the journalist, one hundred tweets could, perhaps, bring down the whole judicial system. It
is a pity to see the Supreme Court allowing itself to be influenced by a mere tweet by a
journalist and seeking to punish him for it. Apparently one honest tweet is more potent than
one hundred pages of flimsy judgement. The suo moto notice can only be seen as a ploy to
demonise the journalist and expose him to maltreatment by the spy agency.

Pakistan is an established democracy underpinned by a Constitution. Frequent military
dictatorships coupled with their long spells spanning decades have dented democracy,
mutilated the Constitution and ruined the normal lives of people. The current headache
wracking Pakistanis is the China model of governance. Deviants are inspired by that model.
Pakistan needs judges like Justice Qazi Faez Isa and journalists like Matiullah Jan to bring
Pakistan back to the path of democracy, constitutional supremacy and normality.

In this interconnected globalised world, the international community, which promotes free
speech and upholds human liberties, cannot sit idle and remain silent. Pro-democratic
Pakistanis fear that a terrible future awaits them. Many journalists, who today uphold free
speech, democracy, constitutionalism and human freedom, may vanish in a short while.
Pakistan is running out of time. This article must be seen as an appeal to the international
community to play its role in saving Pakistan from sliding further into the morass of the
China model of Procrustean governance.  

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