THE WAR INDOORS 

Media Responsibility

By Brig Samson S Sharaf

The crude nadir in civil military relations with a hyperactive media house spewing vitriolic propaganda is least surprising. When states cede too much space to non-state actors and misuse what they have, the consequence is logical. Successive regimes and security establishment cognisant of such threats failed to act in time. Previously they traded exclusive spaces for opportunism. Failure relates to absence of institutionalism and opportunism called collective megalomaniacism. The security establishment ignored the obvious with negligent abandon from 2001 to 2013.

In a series of studies beginning post 9/11 and culminating in Pakistan’s Future War, a hypothetical scenario suggested that the biggest threat to Pakistan would come from its exploitable internal vulnerabilities. The studies did not interest generals in Rawalpindi. Balancing acts failed and incrementally pushed the military and the country into a trap. Being the author of these studies, I scripted my fears in 2008 in the leading English media through a series of articles. My sojourn did not last. I summed up the series with remarks such as ‘why has the focus of charge sheet recently shifted from the country to the armed forces of Pakistan’, ‘Pakistanis need to understand that in the scheme of things, the degradation of the army is a key plank in the objective to rid Pakistan of its nuclear capability’ and ‘It now appears that events are timed in a manner to coincide with the upsurge of hostilities and socio-economic upheaval in Pakistan’. I was suggesting that the mother of all battles would be the degradation of the armed and nuclear forces of Pakistan.

Past six years indicate that events unfolded as scripted. Assessments merited attention but were ignored. Foreign funding of media and investigative journalism is no secret. Baloch separatism intensified under the eyes of judiciary and was glorified by segments of media. While India effectively elbowed out Pakistan from cricket, Geo Sports continues to telecast IPL matches. Times of India, Geo’s partner in ‘Aman Ki Asha’ led by Arnab Goswami airs a vicious programme to disgrace Pakistani participants. Where is Aman and where is Asha?

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The battle lines gathered critical mass following a mysterious and contentious electoral mandate subverted by lower judiciary and a segment of media. Victory was declared through the same media house with only 25% results in. Judiciary did not react to allegations. Election tribunals are snail pace. Thumb verifications are improbable. India is advocated as the lynchpin of Pakistan’s economic recovery. For a change, Punjabi ministers are in forefront of anti-military propaganda with dire implied threats. Battle lines are moving into the heartland of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s internal instability, subversion of regulatory mechanisms, militancy and unchecked stream of information airwaves has combined with personal vendettas to intimidate Pakistan’s security establishment into submission. Normatively such a policy would strengthen democracy, the conspicuous lack of political ethics in other shades of governance indicate an agenda laden with questionable intentions. The events being exploited are destined to accentuate. The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance and a sketchy counter terrorism policy belie the unwillingness of the government and opposition to squarely address the issue. It provides militants the time, space and legitimacy to reorganise and regroup to fight another day. It is shocking that some daydreamers compare the fighting capability of militants to Afghans who defeated Soviet Union and NATO. Use of non-state actors to subdue the law enforcement agencies in the remotest sense will invite domestic, regional and global reactions. Legitimately sanctioned international interventions could follow. It is the responsibility of the government to act in Pakistan’s interests and prevent the situation from becoming exploding mangoes.

Hamid Mir was a reluctant visitor to Karachi. Given that Hamid Mir and Jang group were cognisant, armed escorts were missing. The car was not bullet proof. Location was an obvious ambush site not secured. The assailants were in haste and lacked precision unworthy of a renowned agency; perhaps a spoiler group backed by hostile intelligence? The reaction of Jang Group and government ministers reflected a pre-determined and provocative mind-set; least, one of crises management and damage limitation.

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But this standoff is neither the first nor will be the last. It is a reflection of a mind set over turfs. Such policies of one-upmanship will continue to dent civil military relations. It is unfortunate that leads were not taken from the previous government. Lessons from the confrontational and bulwark attitudes of the past are ignored.

Since 2008, many incidents threatened to derail both the democratic process and civil-military cooperation. The memo scandal was built on the argument of civilian supremacy. Incidents like Salala, Raymond Davis and Abbotabad failed to undermine the indispensability of the armed forces to combat and defeat terrorism. Pakistan Army was capable of mopping up Waziristan after Swat. DGISI was in favour of quick and effective operations. The COAS ruled it out in fear of a backlash in urban areas. From a strategic point of view, this inaction from 2010 to 2013 provided respite to militants and their sympathisers in political parties. The military surrendered the initiative resulting in operational stalemate. It allowed sub conventional threats to grow. Had the military concentrated on operations and not checkmating President Zardari’s tenure, Pakistan’s political landscape would have been different. Extensions were non-productive. A genre of post 1971 security officials are expected to contend and clear a backwash they did not create. A wider and intense spectrum of militancy is now visible. The army needs the nation at its back than never before.

No political party in the opposition seems prepared to challenge the government on confrontational behaviour. PPP lacks the leadership but not the political sense to seize the moment of its choosing. It will play its waiting game, allow others to err and hope to bounce back popularly.

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The silence of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf is intriguing. It is the party most suited to fill the leadership void. In 2012, it emerged as a party of change. In 2013, it suffered most in election rigging. But strangely, the party maintains immoral neutrality over the events. What holds it from assuming a leadership role in a situation tailor made for its high ideals of Jinnah ka Pakistan?  This is a riddle only insiders can answer. Over the past few months, PTI has inched closer to Chaudary Nisar the interior minister at the cost of its cutting edge.

A nation does not live on slogans alone. Pakistanis have to find a leader with credentials to unfold the thesis of Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It can happen if social scientists are accorded space as political philosophers and thinkers.

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