News Analysis: In Pre-election Pakistan, a Military Crackdown Is the Real Issue

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Gul Bukhari, who has been a staunch critic of the military in her newspaper columns and on social media, was abducted for nearly four hours by armed men late Tuesday night.

Military officials would not comment on the record about Ms. Bukhari’s abduction or about General Ghafoor’s news conference.

The two events have further chilled the political environment in Pakistan’s already beleaguered democracy.

“There is a palpable climate of fear about what can be said about whom, how, and where — not just on mainstream media but also on social media,” said Adil Najam, the Dean of Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University. “This is not healthy for the state of democracy in general, but especially not right before an election.”

Even when journalists do talk about the military, it is usually in code, referring to the “authorities” or the “powers that be” rather than directly naming the security establishment that has so asserted its dominance over civilian institutions.

One of the few Pakistani journalists who has repeatedly and directly condemned the military for its crackdown, Taha Siddiqui, can do so because he has fled the country. He narrowly escaped an abduction attempt in February.

On Wednesday, Mr. Siddiqui said Ms. Bukhari’s abduction was another frightening statement.

“They want to send a message to the rest of Pakistanis and the world that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to dissenters,” he said in an email interview.

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