The Army and the Media in Pakistan
TORONTO: Pakistan was fed on and grew up at many myths created by Pakistan’s omnipotent army and its intelligence agencies to retain unrivalled power over feeble civilian institutions. The latest among them is independence of the media. This is the story about how army has created the present Pakistan media, how it uses media to shut out even the slightest voice of opposition and how it is advancing, through media, its national, regional and global agenda.
This is the story of my 18 years spent as a journalist in Pakistan. I have lived and witnessed this story. This is what I observed from a front row seat. Does’nt have to be a story of my peers and adversaries. Also, I m not into proving this point and that point. Most of my observations are just that. They are facts but they are not documentary evidences as in the murky and shadowy world of Pakistan journalism, transparency, documentary proofs and hard-core evidences are as elusive as the facts and truths.
Testifying in front of Senate’s armed Services Committee in September 2011, soon after world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed by raiding Navy seals in Pakistan’s garrison town of Abbotabad, US Chairman joint chiefs Adm Mike Mullan said… “challenge we face is the impunity with which certain extremist groups are allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. The Haqqani network for one acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Internal Services Intelligence agency.” The words did resonate at that time but the information was hardly new to the people around the world who knew Pakistan and its army.
In fact, for many who cared to observe, Mullen’s words were the under-statement of the century. Indeed it was out of scope for that hearing, otherwise the Admiral would have told the senators that the entire government along with its Prime minister, President, Ministers even the Opposition along with the various arms of civil society including media are the veritable arm and an extension of the Pakistan army (its intelligence agencies led by ISI and MI). Not because the people love the military in Pakistan but because the process of strangulating the civil society set forth soon after the death of country’s founder figure Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 1948 has gone full circle with all the centrifugal forces beaten to submission by the army.
The jostling for power between the civilian politicians and the army started soon after the independence of the country that culminated in complete takeover by the army in 1958 and the noose was tightened by the time the ‘the guardians of Pakistan ideology’ (yes this is what they like to call themselves without ever caring to explain what that ideology was), lost their second war to India in 1971. The country, that many a times clearly expressed its deep desire for democracy, briefly enjoyed a period of civilian autonomy led by charismatic ZA Bhutto and that was that. From July 1977 ‘normal service resumed’ with army firmly in control. This was the time when army took over foreign affairs once and for all along with complete control of country’s exchequer.
From 1985 onwards, the civilian politicians begged for some share in power which was granted in form of few commissions and contracts here and there and that too to those who were ‘cleared’ by the ISI. Elections and government formations in the subsequent period all depended on ‘clearance” from ISI in the name of national interest while civilian politicians played their part of dummies in front of the world. However, after the departure of Musharraf from the scene in 2008, the army decided to knock bigger holes in the thin veil behind which Pakistani democracy was shrouded, they withdrew whatever lob-sided power-sharing arrangement was in place and told Zardari and company that under the new arrangement their status won’t be more than messengers for army if someone in the world had issues dealing brazenly with the generals. The civilian politicians accepted even this arrangement which is in place at the moment.
When the formal army rule started in 1958, General Ayub and his cronies launched an immediate crackdown on opposition politicians and the media. The Press was gagged through a string of draconian laws – Press and Publication Ordinance – and by setting up client organisations like Pakistan Writers Guild. When Zia’s Martial Law was imposed in 1977, the media’s opposing voices were blunted through Ministry of Information who controlled the few bold voices through fear or favour. However, Musharraf took it to new levels. The general controlled the national media not only through fear and favour but he went ahead and staffed the media houses with intelligence operatives.
An entire new consignment of journalists newly minted at the Inter-Services Public Relations factories were parachuted down at media houses across the country. This invasion coincided with the so-called liberalisation of the media under which dozens of TV channels mushroomed in nation’s big cities. The idea of granting singular and cross-media licences stemmed from military’s failed and defeated Kargil debacle that the sole government voice PTV tried but failed to sell it to public. The general’s favourite line was “we won at Kargil but lost at air-waves.” Just like in 1965, ‘we had India by the scruff of their necks but Bhutto lost it in Tashkent.” Also ‘we would have won if it was not for politicians like Mujib and Bhutto in 1971.”
Under Musharraf, the army’s media wing ISPR was expanded six-fold and put under the command of a Major General. The general’s job was of course to ensure that no independent or critical voice (both in print and electronic media) was heard and all the para-trooper journalists were treated like rock stars by the army…even if it was evident that they were seriously lacking basics of the profession and thus credibility. This jing-band of media stars painted a caricature of what this profession used to be about and where once Ahmed Ali Khan, Nawabzada Mazhar Ali Khan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nisar Osmani and Minhaj Burna plied their trade. The whole circus will be discussed in detail later in this space.
However the entire arrangement was tenter-hooked by a government watch-dog – Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). The body’s apparent job was to once again ensure that no ‘fahashi’ creeps onto TV screens and nothing steps out of line when it comes to national interest. And what is national interest…no one knew but the media generals of the ISPR. All kinds of shady businessmen stuffed their brief-cases and headed to ISPR. Everyone wanted to outdo the other to win the favour of generals. ISI did not have to dig deep into the inventory – the KSE brokers, the so-called chartered accountant businessmen, the insurers, the shippers all lined up. The motive was to make money for themselves and for the generals.
Geo was the first born child…so it was given the most attention. The publishing house that owned it had the reputation of succumbing to the fear and favour at the first crack of the whip. So the channel and its owner bent knees when the agencies stuffed it with their own people all along from top to bottom. The owner ostensibly agreed to whatever was thrown his way. So far it was ISI that plied its trade but soon it was going to have competition from the other agencies as well. Under General Raheel Sharif, the ISPR was elevated to new heights when a Lieutenant General was made its in charge and the general used to sit in Corps Commanders’ meeting….the highest military forum.
The venture that started because “we lost the media war in Kargil” has an equivalent of Mao’s Red Book…It is called Qaumi Biyania or loosely translated “National Narrative.” Ever since General Raheel took power if one turns on the TV in Pakistan no matter what hour, there is a fair chance that the host and the participants would be talking about national narrative. It means the mission statement of the state as seen and stated by the army. Not only anyone deviating is a traitor but anyone not embracing it is a traitor as well. It is absolutely imperative that not only the talk show hosts but the participants too do not even hint at defying the national narrative. It is roughly enclosed into these parameters but not in the order.
- Love for the armed forces of Pakistan
- Love for Sunni sect
- Love for Saudi Arabia and China
- Love for two-nation theory
- Love for Kashmir
- Love for Palestinians and muslims all around the world especially those living in non-muslim countries
- Love for Pakistan’s missile and nuclear program
- Love for cricket but not Imran Khan
- Love for spot-fixers of cricket (because they were victim of Indian conspiracy)
- Stating that Pakistan is on the rise ever since the new army chief has arrived
- Love for North Korea (since it gave missiles and also a friend of China)
- Love for Russia (very recent perhaps because it’s enemy of the US)
- Love for Tableeghi Jamaat
- Love for Jihadis fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan
- Love for Osama bin Laden
- Love for corruption (God has given him money)
The hate list is very long but the principles are:
- Hate for India, the US and everything associated with it
- Hate for Afghanistan and the West
- Hate for Iran and Syria
- Hate for all politicians (Almost all TV programs include this)
- Stating that politicians are most corrupt segment of society and root-cause of all evils
- Hate for any sportsman or artists who visits India
- Hate for Malala Yousafzai and Dr Abdul Salam (The Nobel laureates. Dr Salam because he was Ahmadi and Malala because she is US agent.)
- Hate for education
- Hate for women
- Above all Hate for truth and sheer hate for facts
- Hate for all countries who are friends of India
- Hate for NGOs