The enemy and the role of the media -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

The enemy and the role of the media

Arif Ansar

In the battle to influence global perceptions and perspectives according to their respective interests, each international actor relies on the information media. Pakistan’s media has yet to fully realise its role and potential in building a national consensus.

The deadly terrorist attacks against the Ahmedi religious centres in Lahore have been followed up by explosions in the shrine of the widely-respected Muslim saint Hazrat Ali Hajveri, bombing in Mohmand Agency, and the target killing of moderate Baloch leader Habib Jalib Baloch this month in Quetta. Such incidents continue unabated and so does the discussion about them. The centrifugal forces acting upon Pakistan’s historical, political, ethnic and sectarian fault lines are gradually escalating, as if almost by design, and cutting through the very fabric of the country’s statehood.

Two dominant questions related to the Data Darbar incident have come to the forefront. Ironically, these questions are similar to the ones that have surrounded other attacks taking place routinely across the country. These are: 1) who is responsible for these attacks, and 2) is the source internal or external? So overwhelming and convoluted does any discussion on this topic become that it hardly ever reaches the pivotal question: how to counter and prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place.

For example, the prevalent perception in Pakistan regarding the Data Darbar attack has been that it was carried out by ‘Pakistani Taliban’ and their, yet to be specifically ascertained, foreign masters. The attack has, nonetheless, exposed another dangerous fault line, the fissure between the adherents of the Barelvi and Wahabi sects. This perspective’s premises are that the foreign enemies of Pakistan, states like the US, India and Israel, want to pit Muslims against Muslims, similar to Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the Pakistani Taliban are nothing but Indian and US agents, acting to create large-scale chaos in the country, which will inadvertently lead to foreign intervention to secure Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Azam Tariq, has denied involvement in the Data Darbar attack. The press release sent to offices of the media in Peshawar quoted the spokesman for the Punjabi Taliban Mohammad Omar as saying, “In the broader context we must assure the Pakistani people and think tanks that we are not against them. We are against the Pakistani establishment, both civil and military, which are working on the US agenda or better call it Jewish agenda, to break this country before 2012.”

Logically, the identification of the enemy is the first critical step for developing effective counter-measures. Clearly, there is confusion leading to lack of consensus among the country’s civil, political, and military intelligentsia on not only who the enemy is, but also what are the roles of different institutions of Pakistan to fight this menace. Most of the focus revolves around: 1) the basic causes of extremism in Pakistan; 2) ethnic tensions; 3) the role of the Pakistani Army; 4) rampant corruption of the politicians; and 5) military or political solutions.

Pakistan’s different institutions lay more emphasis on the present geopolitical and religious factors as opposed to understanding the current crisis in the context of economic, social, cultural and historical underpinnings. They approach the problem as being linear and fail to take into account the interconnection of the above listed variables, which requires taking a multidimensional view of the reality being confronted.

There are four key challenges that scholars of organisational transformation often identify: resources, cognitive, political and motivational. The cognitive hurdles are pointed out as the hardest of all, i.e. to identify and develop an agreement on the right causes of the problem and thus making a convincing case for why a strategic shift is needed. These have also been called the ‘cognitive traps’ by Professor Max Bazerman, which “prevent a person from seeing, seeking, using, or sharing highly relevant, easily accessible, and readily perceivable information during the decision making process”.

As the nation finds itself in the predicament described above, the media will have to play a facilitating role in helping the nation overcome its mental hurdles. Media has increasingly become an indispensable tool through which informational and psychological warfare is waged every day around the world. Like the masses, the extremists and the governments also rely on the media to sense public perceptions, as they are instrumental in developing an opinion. Media plays a critical part in shaping the public perception, giving it a direction and setting the national agenda. The responsibility of the media does not stop at just informing and presenting the views of all sides; it also has to help its audience make sense of the unpredictability and chaos that exists. Ultimately, it is the perception of the masses that matters the most and the media anchors play a key role in initially formulating the public perception, which later develops into a perspective.

The enemy is within and without. There is a need to overcome the cognitive traps in developing a shared threat perception and an effective counter-terrorism strategy. It is foremost the homeowners’ liability to anticipate and proactively implement all protective measures to safeguard the precious belongings, irrespective of the religion or nationality of the intruder. In the battle to influence global perceptions and perspectives according to their respective interests, each international actor relies on the information media. Pakistan’s media has yet to fully realise its role and potential in building a national consensus, and to deliberate not only about the identity of the enemy but also contemplate how to save the country.
Source: Daily Times
Date:7/28/2010