ISI and media infighting
An editorial in a Pakistani daily on April 24, 2014 proved to be a very balanced analysis on the recent media/Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but perhaps its conclusion needs to be viewed from another angle. To begin with, the editorial reads as if the army (and ISI) is an entity independent of, or rival of the government; the government having “acquiesced” to their demands to target a certain media group. This implication is not without validity, given our checquered past but my view is that for over six years now, the army has been trying to undo this history, with some success. While the ISI might be manned by senior military officers, it is constitutionally mandated to report to the prime minister.
I am a retired soldier, an extremely ordinary one, but I served my country with pride and dignity. Many thousands of thousands did better than I but I did my humble best. In the past, the army has indeed been guilty of thinking of itself as ‘better’ mortals but what needs to be understood is that this is not the case today. The constant army/ISI targeting, however, deserved as it might have been in the past, is very damaging to the soldier of today.
Far from thinking of himself as a ‘better’ mortal, he feels that he has become a child of ‘a lesser God’. He feels insulted, derided, denigrated, isolated, excluded and even alienated. Here he is, supporting a democratic setup and fighting to protect innocent citizens of his country but when he dies, no one except fellow soldiers and family salute him. When Hakeemullah Mahsud dies, his elected leaders shed, albeit crocodile, but nonetheless, tears.
Religious leaders and self-styled maulanas declare Mehsud, the cowardly murderer, a ‘martyr’ and publicly announce that the dead soldiers that Mehsud killed do not qualify to be prayed for or to receive a Muslim burial. What is worse, the free press covers these announcements, sometimes with criticism, some of it muzzled, sometimes indifferently and sometimes even gleefully. The free media continuingly refers to those who make such imbecilic comments as ‘maulanas’, even after they have made them. How would you feel?
The soldier is fully conscious that he is doing no one any favours. He is merely doing his duty, which he is paid for. However, does he deserve to be insulted for doing his duty? Times have changed. When I was in uniform, a soldier saw perhaps a month of war for each year of service. Some, like me, saw a little more. Today’s soldier, even the non-infantry officers, see more than three months of war for each year of service.
His brothers are maimed and they keep smiling at their bleak future, taking pride in their sacrifice because they did their duty. However, is this what the soldier deserves from the ‘free media’? I am talking about all soldiers in any uniform of any hue. I am also talking about our brave youth, of the likes of Aitzaz Hassan, that young teenager who gave his life to save his schoolfellows; he can stand tall in any uniform. His unbelievably patriotic and courageous father said at Aitzaz’s burial, “I have one son left and will be proud if he follows in the footsteps of his brother.” How much coverage was given to him by our media?
I am a democrat and opposed the idea of military takeovers even when I was in uniform. I still do. I will stand alongside those who oppose another military misadventure but I cannot sit quietly when my sons, daughters, grandchildren, brothers and sisters are murdered, or raped, or tortured, or ‘disappear’. Nor can I stand silent when those brave boys and girls who are risking their all for us are being insulted.
I am opposed to constitutional immunity for anybody at any post. I am opposed to special privileges to soldiers and the military. I would like to see them all equal under the law but I am also opposed to the special privileges, corruption, ineptness, incompetence and indecision of cowardly leaders who pay homage to murderers and not to those who fight for the oppressed. It did me proud to see the army represented at the burial of SP Chaudhry Aslam and Aitzaz Hassan, even if no political party was.
The above-mentioned editorial, very aptly, uses the adjective “scurrilous” to define the coverage by the media house that is in the spotlight currently. If the elected leaders fail to take note of this, is it wrong of the army chief to nudge them a little? Can any one of you imagine the pressures General Raheel faces from his rank and file? And these are real soldiers, veterans of war, not chocolate-cream ones like many in our times who did not speak up. These boys have no dearth of courage.
I stand for freedom of the press, judiciary, bureaucracy and the citizen but I equally stand for accountability of them all, including the military, including General Musharaf. In seeking accountability of the media has the army really gone too far? I do not think you realise the anguish and angst of the soldier and our youth. Never forget Aitzaz. If this scurrilous reporting continues, beware the reaction of these oppressed. What will it take for people to understand the pot is close to boiling? It will be ill for Pakistan if it does.
We all are aware that if, and that is a huge ‘if’, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) does initiate action, the case will get to the courts. Perhaps there will be a mild slap on the wrist of Mr Mir. Perhaps the media house will learn to be more careful in reporting and become less sensational. If all this does happen, will it do any damage to freedom of the press in Pakistan or will it only help to make the press more responsible? The pendulum of the judiciary has begun to swing back; should not the media’s pendulum also begin to swing back?