A Delu­sion of In­fal­li­bity?

Pak­istan’s most pop­u­lar TV chan­nel has taken a di­rect hit at the ISI. True to its form, the ISI has struck back, de­mand­ing a ban on the chan­nel. Is this re­ally what Pak­istan needs?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Arsla Jawaid

The na­tion must unite and for that to tran­spire, sen­sa­tional al­le­ga­tions against state in­sti­tu­tions must stop.

Ten­sions be­tween Pak­istan’s civil­ian govern­ment and the coun­try’s armed forces seem to be es­ca­lat­ing at a break-neck speed. The an­i­mos­ity, though not al­ways ex­plicit, comes at a time when nei­ther side, es­pe­cially the civil­ian com­mand, can af­ford it. Peace talks that have been ac­corded sec­ond chances, more than twice, are still in the works with no res­o­lu­tion in sight. The state re­mains weak and dither­ing for clar­ity while its cit­i­zens are tar­geted reg­u­larly. The mil­i­tant nar­ra­tive has gained in­creased space in the pub­lic con­scious­ness, cour­tesy the wide cov­er­age ac­corded to it, par­tially due to fear of at­tacks on the me­dia but largely due to a shame­less race for high rat­ings. While the fre­quency of mil­i­tant ac­tiv­i­ties re­duced, the 40-day cease­fire ini­ti­ated by the TTP failed to bring a com­plete halt to mil­i­tant at­tacks, prompt­ing se­ri­ous con­cerns re­gard­ing the ‘loose af­fil­i­a­tion’ of groups un­der the TTP ban­ner and rais­ing con­crete ques­tions re­gard­ing a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion to safe­guard the in­tegrity and fu­ture of the state.

Against this back­drop, the civil­ian govern­ment seems to have been more pre-oc­cu­pied with es­tab­lish­ing its su­pe­ri­or­ity and com­mand over the Army rather than fo­cus­ing on the real is­sues of na­tional se­cu­rity that plague the na­tion. Pur­su­ing the po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated trial of Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf, the PML-N federal govern­ment bla­tantly and cat­e­gor­i­cally re­jected the gen­eral’s ap­pli­ca­tion against putting his name on the Exit Con­trol List (ECL). Pub­licly terming Mushar­raf a ‘traitor’, vil­i­fi­ca­tion of the for­mer COAS, and by ex­ten­sion the army, en­sued in the me­dia.. As a re­sult, se­vere dis­con­tent be­gan to brew in the army ranks. There is no doubt that the me­dia has es­tab­lished it­self as a pow­er­ful fourth es­tate but it fails to act like one. De­void of ob­jec­tiv­ity, the me­dia now serves as an opin­ion­maker in a coun­try that re­mains im­pres­sion­able, nev­er­the­less. There is also no doubt that the mil­i­tary prefers to con­trol the nar­ra­tive. Though un­der Gen­eral Kayani, and now Gen­eral Sha­reef, the mil­i­tary has main­tained a

some­what non-in­ter­fer­ence ap­proach in pol­i­tics, it does still pre­fer that the state play by the mil­i­tary rule-book.

Gen­eral Sharif, cog­nizant of mil­i­tary sen­ti­ment, met with the Prime Min­is­ter to ex­press the army’s dis­ap­proval of the han­dling of Mushar­raf’s trial and to dis­cuss a safe pas­sage for the gen­eral’s exit. In a rare show of de­ci­sive­ness, Prime Min­is­ter Sharif re­jected the de­mand and Mushar­raf re­mains in Pak­istan to­day, un­able to visit his ail­ing mother in the UAE.

While the PML-N govern­ment, po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated by its need to seek re­venge from the gen­eral who de­posed it in 1999, may be terming this a tri­umph of democ­racy, it seems to for­get that now is not the time. De­spite the govern­ment’s ob­se­quious at­tempts to ap­pease the mil­i­tants, very few in Pak­istan are ex­pect­ing the peace talks to suc­ceed. In the likely event that they fail, the Pak­istan Army will be­come the only in­sti­tu­tion that the coun­try will rally be­hind. At a time when the Army re­quires pub­lic sup­port to boost its morale in what seems to be an un­end­ing war against mil­i­tancy, the govern­ment seems to care lit­tle.

Per­haps em­bold­ened by the govern­ment’s bold ac­tions and the need to es­tab­lish su­pe­ri­or­ity, the me­dia ex­ploited its own po­si­tion to add salt to the wounds. On April 19, Hamid Mir, a prom­i­nent an­chor at Geo (the big­gest pri­vate me­dia group in the coun­try) sur­vived an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in Karachi. As Geo News went into ed­i­to­rial over­drive, within min­utes, Mir’s brother (also a jour­nal­ist) ap­peared on the chan­nel claim­ing that Hamid Mir had re­ceived threats from the ISI and had in­formed fam­ily and friends that Di­rec­tor Gen­eral ISI, Za­heer-ul-Is­lam, should be held re­spon­si­ble in the event of any un­to­ward in­ci­dent. For hours the chan­nel pounded the ISI and as pic­tures of the DG ISI flashed on the screen, a GEO TV an­a­lyst de­manded the pub­lic res­ig­na­tion of the ISI chief.

Geo News has carved a sen­sa­tion­al­ist rep­u­ta­tion for it­self. To not only level an al­le­ga­tion but to also is­sue a ver­dict lies far be­yond the am­bit of the me­dia. As pub­lic outcry emerged, many chan­nels and an­a­lysts ac­cused Geo News of in­dulging in ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­ior that could have a far-reach­ing im­pact on the Pak­istani state. In­tox­i­cated with the in­flu­ence and power it wields, the me­dia in Pak­istan has be­come an unchecked, ir­re­spon­si­ble beast. While ac­cus­ing the ISI of be­liev­ing it is above the law, the me­dia too has de­luded it­self into be­liev­ing that it is in­fal­li­ble. Lack­ing an eth­i­cal code, it re­lies on sensationalism, hun­gry for higher rat­ings.

As the fire burned, the govern­ment con­spic­u­ously re­mained mum, re­fus­ing to throw its weight be­hind the army and is­su­ing a catagor­i­cal ad­mon­ish­ment of the drama. Though the in­te­rior min­is­ter termed it a ‘slan­der­ous cam­paign against state in­sti­tu­tion’ the pre­mier made no state­ments. This is no sur­prise though. Prime Min­is­ter Sharif has re­mained vague and largely quiet on the is­sue of a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion against mil­i­tant hide­outs, prompt­ing many to ac­cuse him of be­ing an am­biva­lent and in­de­ci­sive leader. Again he re­frained from tak­ing a strong po­si­tion on the me­dia cov­er­age and com­men­tary against the ISI, al­low­ing the mat­ter to snow­ball into a ma­jor cri­sis. Iron­i­cally, the one time Sharif has been vo­cal and de­ci­sive has been over the is­sue of the Mushar­raf trial. Some cir­cles be­lieve that Sharif’s de­ci­sion to stay silent on the ISI mat­ter stems from his own de­sire to see the mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence agencies be taken to task, even if by a seem­ingly ir­re­spon­si­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The ISPR is­sued a prompt no­tice pray­ing for Mir’s re­cov­ery and stat­ing that an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry must be held im­me­di­ately, “How­ever rais­ing al­le­ga­tions against ISI or head of ISI with­out any ba­sis is highly re­gret­table and mis­lead­ing.” Against the back­drop of the al­le­ga­tions, COAS Gen­eral Sha­reef vis­ited the ISI head­quar­ters, per­haps to send a strong sig­nal to the civil­ian govern­ment, in­form­ing it of the strength and power the two or­ga­ni­za­tions wielded to­gether. As pub­lic opin­ion against Geo News reck­less and ac­cusatory com­men­tary in­ten­si­fied, the Min­istry of De­fense is­sued a defama­tion no­tice to PEMRA ask­ing for the can­cel­la­tion of the me­dia group’s li­cense over its base­less and ma­li­cious reporting that both dis­re­spected Pak­istan’s pre­mier in­tel­li­gence agency and “harmed na­tional in­ter­ests.” Geo News has been banned in cer­tain govern­ment and army of­fices and has been pushed fur­ther down on ca­ble providers’ lists.

The mat­ter seems far from set­tled. How­ever, the ban on Geo will most likely not be sup­ported by the me­dia or po­lit­i­cal par­ties, prompt­ing yet an­other col­lu­sion with the mil­i­tary. TV chan­nels have crit­i­cized Geo News com­men­tary fol­low­ing the at­tack on Hamid Mir and have thrown overwhelming sup­port be­hind the ISI’s ar­gu­ments, per­haps hop­ing to bring down its strong­est ri­val. How­ever, a ban on a pop­u­lar news chan­nel will be seen as a strong in­fringe­ment of free­dom of speech. Cen­sor­ship like this will un­doubt­edly at­tract more in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and ou­trage. If the ISI suc­ceeds, news chan­nels united against Geo News must re­mem­ber that in the fu­ture, they too will be pre­vented from ex­er­cis­ing free­dom of speech, as they know it now.

Pak­istan is fac­ing a far greater na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis that re­quires ur­gent at­ten­tion. There is no time for ir­re­spon­si­ble and ma­li­cious prac­tices by the me­dia, whether con­ducted in­de­pen­dently or at the be­hest of cer­tain “high-level” or­ders. In this sce­nario, the na­tion must unite and for that to tran­spire, sen­sa­tional al­le­ga­tions against state in­sti­tu­tions must stop. In the same breath, cen­sor­ship curb­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion, and bans against the me­dia are no so­lu­tions to a cri­sis ei­ther. Make no mis­take - it will back­fire on both camps. The writer is Man­ag­ing Edi­tor, Strate­gic Stud­ies at the In­sti­tute of Strate­gic Stud­ies, Is­lam­abad.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.