111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

My right to know

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I had a special interest in conversations my mother would have with my khalas and phupis during our weekly family unions. Their laughter would intrigue me. Their murmurs would create curiosity in me.

Back then I hadn’t mastered the tact of listening but looking the other way – for sensing my obvious curiosity in ‘adult talk’, I would be shooed out of the room to ‘go play with others’ – ‘children should spend time with children, not adults’.

Still I would always get the drift of the conversation. The mention of ‘in-laws’ and the sighs … I’d know what they were talking about.

Many years on, as an adult, I feel I’m being shooed out and told not to listen to talk that’s not meant for me. I can hear murmurs and sighs, and get a drift of the discussion. The difference this time is that the talk is about ‘out-laws’ not ‘in-laws’, about my country not my family. As a citizen of this country, I must know what the talk is about.

I’m thinking of the recent decisions that have taken place at a breathtaking pace in Pakistan: the scintillating delay in the appointment of the DG ISI by PM Imran Khan on October 26; the controversial agreement with the TLP earlier this month; and the finer details of a one-month long ceasefire between the Pakistan government and the TTP announced by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on November 8.

These actions, carefully shrouded in secrecy, affect millions of people across Pakistan, and can affect our neighbours and the entire world, today and tomorrow, five and 10 years on. The only thing that makes sense presently is to throw some unfiltered light on these actions, so we can see through them clearly.

Such deals and actions are adding a mix of incredulity and scepticism to the PTI government’s political decisions. Perhaps, the particulars are sensitive information on national security. Or, perhaps, they are ill-omened. Even more doubts will arise if the government doesn’t tell its people what it is doing in their name. Such actions impinge on the peoples’ right to know under Article 19 of the constitution of Pakistan, and reflect arbitrary censorship.

The PTI government holds a clear aversion to its commitment to freedom of information. It is ever ready to humiliate those who question and criticise its decisions. The proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) reflects its intent. If passed, it would indeed be a draconian law that will regulate films, electronic, print and digital media in Pakistan in the age of metadata, digital and social media, and internet-based content and advertisement.

The PTI must learn that nothing is more important than the sanctity of parliament in a democratic setup. PTI parliamentarians have literally abandoned the houses, with the quorum mostly incomplete. The PM’s presence is as rare as meaningful discussion on issues of national interest on the floor of the lower house. Bilawal Bhutto is justified in raising concerns over the ongoing talks between the government and the TTP. While talking to the media following an in-camera session of the national security committee of parliament on Nov 8, wherein military officials briefed the lawmakers on security related matters, he said that any agreement with the banned outfit will have no legitimacy without parliament’s approval.

When freedom of information is curtailed, corrupt and tragic decisions are made, which often leave us asking: what did we do to deserve this? When the people lack even the most fundamental access to what their governments and institutions are doing on their behalf, they cease to be active participants in the political processes.

I can already hear murmurs and sighs, and the discussion on the ‘outlaws’ is giving out ominous signals. I want to know – and not look the other way.

Alefia T Hussain, "My right to know," The News. 2021-11-16.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political decisions , Political processes , Democratic , Parliament , Security , PM Imran Khan , Fawad Chaudhry , Pakistan , PTI , TLP , TTP