Media-Military Face-Off Divides Pakistan

The April 19 attempt to assassinate Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan's most well-known journalists, has sparked a fierce debate in Pakistan over journalistic ethics and national interests. Many Pakistanis have almost forgotten Mir, who is still nursing his bullet wounds in a Karachi hospital. Instead the focus has shifted to civil-military relations and an increasingly nasty mudslinging match between feuding television channels.

Posted on 05/7/14
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
(Image by Dave Bedford, Creative Commons License)
(Image by Dave Bedford, Creative Commons License)

Shell shock and combat fatigue are medical conditions common during violent conflict. Anyone going through the horrifying experience of being fired upon and have six bullets lodged in his body (two of them still there) would be in a state of trauma. Before slipping into unconsciousness at the hospital Hamid Mir made some startling allegations. Public posturing aside, he has subsequently not named anyone in the First Information Report (FIR) lodged with Karachi police, a very significant omission probably made with sound legal advice in the cold light of day.

 

Shift in the Balance of Power

By Zahid Hussain

Via Dawn, Pakistan

The season of commentary on civil-military relations is once again upon us. There has been much discourse on the subject in the wake of the latest political tension gripping the country. Can anyone dispute the imperative of civilian supremacy in a democratic system? Of course not. But what it really means is a point of contention.

 

There is a tendency, especially, among some liberal commentators to substitute substance with symbolism. Therefore, it is not surprising that the campaign against the ISI run by a section of media and the treason trial of a former military ruler are being described as a sign of ascendency of civilian control.

 

Nothing can be more erroneous than this assertion. It is not the first time the holy cow has been slaughtered. We have seen the sacking of two army chiefs in the past by civilian prime ministers. We have also seen popular uprisings, forcing military rulers to step down. But did they establish civilian supremacy? What happened afterwards is a matter of history.

 

Contrary to the liberal euphoria, the army has emerged much more powerful from this proxy media war. The outpouring of support for the military cannot be underestimated. When have we seen previously most of the media and even mainstream political parties lining up to publicly express their allegiance to the security agencies?

 

Even those federal ministers who had earlier come out with some critical remarks beat a hasty retreat assuring the military of their faithfulness. In fact, the events of the last two weeks have seen a great leap backward from what the democratic process had achieved in the past six years. Political forces and public opinion are now more polarised and fragmented. A premature and unnecessary confrontation has certainly not reinforced civilian supremacy as suggested by some commentators. The effort to bring the military under pressure has in fact had the opposite affect.

 

What our liberal friends fail to understand is that civilian supremacy is an evolutionary process and cannot be turned on and off. It can only be established through strong governance, a clear policy direction and an alternative and effective narrative. The transition from military to civilian rule also requires delicate balancing so as to not rock the boat.

 

With the military’s diminishing political power post-2007, it was an ideal situation for the elected government to assert its authority in various policy realms. Though the military continued to dominate national security policy and influence foreign affairs, its political role had certainly receded.

 

That provided significant political space for the elected civilian government to focus on critical issues of governance and on strengthening democratic institutions. An assertive superior judiciary also transformed the power matrix, further shrinking the room for any extra-constitutional intervention.

 

But surely it did not mean that the military was rendered completely powerless. Neither were civil-military relations during the PPP government free from friction. Yet this never really threatened to derail the democratic process. Despite the problems, the military remained in the barracks maintaining a low political profile.

 

The generals, however, did assert themselves forcefully when it came to issues directly affecting their wider institutional interests. There were at least two issues — the Kerry Lugar bill and ‘Memogate’ — which triggered a clash between the civilian government and the military. But the stand-off did not turn into a full-blown confrontation. The PPP-led government could have done better to assert its civilian authority had it concentrated more on governance and the economy.

 

With the country in the midst of a war and thousands of troops engaged in fighting the Taliban insurgency, the military’s widening role in internal security matters is inevitable. It was, indeed, a huge stride forward for democracy when in 2013, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, power was transferred from one elected government to another. That indicated the strengthening of the democratic process in the country. This historical transition, however, could not have been possible without the military’s backing for the democratic process. But the situation seems to have changed over the past few weeks and the military is forced once again to come out of the barracks, raising its political profile.

 

The generals may still not be interested in derailing the democratic process, but they are not likely to watch the political power game from the sidelines either if the present stand-off persists. For sure, military and civilian supremacy remains a major issue that has to be resolved for sustainable democracy. But it is increasing militancy and religious extremism that are the principal impediments. The country cannot move forward without combating these retrogressive forces.

 

It is more important at this point to unite the forces fighting the insurgents. Unfortunately, the political forces are divided on this critical issue threatening the pluralistic democratic system. The situation has become much more serious particularly with the ambivalence of the Sharif government. Any confrontation between the civil and military authorities would further strengthen the insurgents and non-democratic forces. It is crucially important for the two institutions to be on the same page when Pakistan is fighting for its survival. Any confrontation between the civilian government and the military will be disastrous.

 

Surely it is going to be a tough summer for the Sharif government with the emerging political realignment tilting the balance of power back to the military. It remains to be seen whether or not the prime minister is able to regain the initiative.

 

The writer is an author and journalist. He can be reached at zhussain100@yahoo.com

The unfortunate knee-jerk media reaction set in motion a regrettable chain of events that is eroding the sanctity of responsible and ethical standards in the media, and may ultimately affect its freedom.  Flashing the accusation for hours on the media goes beyond rushing to judgment, it influences public perception and therefore becomes character assassination of the worst kind! Even at the best of times the ISI and the armed forces are constantly subjected to vicious propaganda by inimical external interests meant to undermine their effectiveness as the prime defender of our country’s frontiers.  Coming from a national institution like Geo which servicemen across the board used to look upto, did anyone expect that these shocking but baseless accusations on primetime TV would be taken lying down without any reaction?

 

The polarization in the media because of this affair is most unfortunate, instead of upholding the dignity of their profession by indulging in informed debate the members of the “Fourth Estate” are engaged in mudslinging of the worst kind.  The facts of the failed assassination attempt being investigated by a judicial commission and thus sub-judice are not up for speculation, one can only comment that the botched attempt was despicable. As it stands today the attempt and instigation thereof could be out of motivated interest because of any number of reasons. Given that it was common knowledge that Hamid Mir had already made some allegations prior to the assassination attempt, anyone could have been trying to knock him off and blame the ISI in the process, two birds with one stone!

 

One may or may not agree with Hamid Mir, the media is right in defending his right to put forward the facts and express his views as he thinks fit.  The compelling caveat is that it is also incumbent upon a responsible media to correct the facts if they are found to be wrong, recurring denial and cover-up lends credence to conspiracy theories.  If his views are anti-govt, or even worse anti-state, Hamid Mir will answer for it if he is wrong.  The media should faithfully record the feelings of the intelligentsia and the masses, not sit in judgment themselves.

 

The forensics of voice recognition is now very advanced, in bio-metrics besides eye scans it is the most credible factor.  A few years ago an accusation was made on the basis of a voice recording between Hamid Mir and a Punjabi Taliban associate of late TTP Chief Hakimullah Mehsud that he was complicit in the horrible murder of Sqn Leader Khawaja by the TTP.  Khalid Khawaja’s family members attempted to lodge an FIR against Hamid Mir and he has never really satisfactorily explained this incident.  Given that the voice recording was probably made by the ISI, the reason for smoldering resentment against the agency? While one did not agree with Hamid Mir protecting the identity of the terrorist he was talking to, most of us gave him the benefit of the doubt. The (than) Chief Justice of Supreme Court in 2010 was running riot on suo moto issues, some of no consequence whatsoever (consider the liquor bottles allegedly found in Atiqa Odho’s luggage at Islamabad Airport), one reasoned that given tangible evidence Hamid Mir would have been “suo moto-ed” by the superior judiciary. Unfortunately the (than) CJ was carefully running his own  agenda on selective issues to remain “politically” bright for the future, that included being on the right side of those influential in the media.

 

A personal aside, Col Amir Tarar (codenamed Col Imam) being brutally executed by Hakimullah Mehsud was also shown in YouTube. That was the consequence of the inference made against Khalid Khawaja that he was working for the CIA.  Amir Tarar and myself were good friends as young subalterns in Lahore Garrison from 1966 to 1968, not only horrifying this video was also personally mortifying.

 

The media itself is divided between the “liberals” and the “conservatives”, both are fully entitled to their point of view. The public at large is becoming more and more incensed at what has happened. Running strongly in favor of the armed forces, public opinion does not take kindly to attacks against the khakis ( a reference to Pakistan’s military). The unfortunate problem is that vested elements jealous of Geo Group’s success are exploiting this to their full advantage to isolate Geo. This is a no-win situation in which Geo Group need not have been and from which it needs to extricate itself, not get further mired in the quicksand.

 

It is unbelievable that the federal information minister Pervaiz Rashid was being too clever for his own good in implying that the government was aligned with Hamid Mir and Geo TV against the armed forces! A freudian slip on the part of a loose cannon or a deliberate statement of intent by the Nawaz Sharif government? The unfortunate home truth is that the politicians have learnt no lessons from 1999, the PML (N) can barely conceal their venom and penchant for retribution against the army. The general perception in the armed forces (and increasingly among the public) is that the government is playing a double game, professing admiration for the uniform publicly but snide remarks made by the Prime Minister’s close aides makes it apparent they are hellbent on cutting the khakis to size and humiliating them. The ultimate incongruity is that people like Parvez Rasheed take them to be stupid.

 

The freedom of the media being a must for sustaining democracy, the media must not use its freedom as a license to tar and feather the army. One will have to accept in the ultimate analysis that without the sacrifices that the armed forces have given, and are still doing so on a daily basis, the freedom that the media enjoys today would be lost, as would be the country. Close your eyes for one moment and imagine “media freedom” under a Taliban-run country!

 

Without citizen participation at the grassroots level, we remain an incomplete democracy facing multiple crises. This country needs democracy but it cannot be at the cost of the existence of the country. If push comes to shove, the politicians (and the media) will spend another few years in the cold, 18th Amendment notwithstanding.  Pakistan has many problems, too many to be counted here. And for those counting on world opinion, please do look at Egypt again!

 

The need today is for all of us to remain within the parameters of good common sense and not cross fail-safe lines. We must together target solving the problems, not create inconsequential ones that detract from the national agenda.

 

We must unite, not fight.

 

The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be contacted at ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

Check Also

Misusing Religion

False flag operations, misinformation, incitement of people to rioting and revolt are means of hybrid warfare that is increasingly waged in Pakistan, as was seen during the shutdown by the supporters of TLP extremists in Pakistan.

Afghan Reconciliation Initiatives: Vindication of Pakistan?

The message from Beijing, Moscow, Turkey, and Tehran, as well as most central Asian Republics, is loud and clear; Pakistan alone cannot be held responsible for the problem as well as the resolution.

Leave a Reply