The media and Zarb-e-Azb
The ongoing military operation, Zarb-e-Azb, to target miscreants in North Waziristan and destroy and eliminate the threat posed by terrorists, challenging the writ of the government and disrupting the law and order situation in the country, was long overdue. Although the armed forces of Pakistan are the main executants of the operation, the green signal to go ahead was to be provided by the civilian government. Much debate has already been carried out into the merits and demerits of the timing of the operation and its tardiness. The rationale of the military having its hands full in post-Swat operations and South Waziristan operations, the threat from the eastern adversary and preparations for a full-scale war in the treacherous terrain of North Waziristan have been advanced. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the daring attack on Karachi airport on June 8, 2014, triggering the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, 2014.
A nation of divided opinions, a majority of which preferred negotiations with the terror group to the use of brute force, finally put its weight behind the military option. Its patience, which was at its last tether owing to incessant terror attacks, target killing, kidnapping for ransom, looting, arson and extortion, finally gave out and the nation urged the government to take severe action. Thus, when Pakistan air force jets pounded the enemy hideouts, terror camps and arsenals of weapons, followed by ground action, the people heaved a sigh of relief. There was the expected fallout of the nearly one million IDPs, whose pathetic plight was somewhat allayed by generous helping hands.
The entire conduct of the military operation would have been controversial and open to criticism from various sections of the masses but the media played a responsible role firstly in building public opinion in favour of the military operation, highlighting the gross excesses of the harbingers of terror, bringing forth their brutal attacks on women, children, educational institutions, places of worship, hospitals and public places in addition to targeting military and government installations. Secondly, it helped by focusing public opinion on the lethality of attacks by the armed forces and successes achieved in eliminating terror centres. Whereas terror leaders had, in the past, confused public opinion by justifying their heinous assaults under the garb of religion through the presentation of distorted verses of the Quran, this time around, the media exposed the duplicity of the terrorists. More importantly, good sense prevailed and terror leaders were denied media space. Most harbingers of doom and gloom are highly eloquent and powerful orators. In the media glare, they manage to divert public sympathy towards their distorted and warped agenda as was witnessed during the Lal Masjid fiasco and other occasions. Barring their unfettered appearance on media outlets impeded the terror leaders’ propaganda and subliminal programming of the masses.
It goes to the credit of the military that it provided access to select groups of media outlets to visit and provide glimpses of the training camps established by terrorists and the factories used to assemble improvised explosive devices and suicide jackets to the world. This exposure of the lethal and noxious terror centres swayed public opinion further in not only condemning the terrorists but also convincing those sitting on the fence into supporting government action.
Military operations, especially asymmetric ones, cannot succeed without public support.
Pakistan’s war on terror has been extremely demanding because non-state actors managed to penetrate the local population. Faceless, sans identities and appealing to the largely uneducated masses, particularly in religious studies, the enemy found supporters both in the rustic populace as well as some sections of the media, comprising overenthusiastic reporters, willing to release the terrorists’ viewpoint for the sake of scoops and breaking news or creating sensationalism.
Fortunately, despite being baptised under fire, the media acquired the requisite dignity, maturity and sense of proportion in covering the military operations. This newfound sense of responsibility was visible during its coverage of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The military, which has been at the helm of affairs in national politics because of usurpers and dictators, has been the target of criticism and censure by the media. Fortunately, since 2008, the military has visibly demonstrated its willingness to adhere to its constitutional role only, i.e. the defence of the motherland against external and internal threats.
Media reports pertaining to the ongoing military operation against terrorists in North Waziristan have been exclusively objective, purposive and pointedly expressing reverence for the sacrifices rendered by the armed forces in shielding the nation from the odious machinations of terror groups. The national media deserves kudos for its restraint and prudence while covering Operation Zarb-e-Azb, giving credence to the words of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah: “The press and the nation rise and fall together.”