Nawaz Sharif’s pledge to a journalist
By: Dr Qaisar Rashid
Mian Zahid Ghani is now an old man. He deserves recognition by the state for the work he performed
The year was 1997. Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister (PM) of Pakistan. Aimal Kansi (or Aimal Kasi) was arrested from Dera Ghazi Khan and an American attorney, Robert F Horan, who prosecuted Kansi, uttered certain words that infuriated the Pakistani nation. In an interview to a local TV channel, Horan said that when these people could sell their mothers for $ 20,000, why were millions of dollars given to them to facilitate the arrest of Kansi? The comments stirred anti-US feelings, which led to countrywide protests, burning of US flags and the effigy of the then President of the US Bill Clinton, and stone pelting on US consulates in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
Kansi’s case was of a fugitive wanted in a foreign country for a terrorist act. Kansi was wanted for the killing of two employees of the CIA in Langley, Virginia, in 1993. The Los Angeles Times reported that federal agents paid $ 3.5 million to informants in Pakistan and Afghanistan to help catch Kansi, who was arrested in Pakistan four years after shootings outside the CIA headquarters. Kansi’s location was revealed by his friends who were protecting him during his fugitive period.
Nawaz Sharif, while finishing his Singapore visit, talked to the media in his aircraft and wanted that Horan should apologise for his derogatory remarks. Both the US Department of State and the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington tried their level best to seek an apology from Horan for one week but all their efforts went in vain. A few NGOs in the US also tried the same but with no result. The US Envoy to Pakistan Arthur W Hummel, Jr was summoned by the Foreign Office three times to protest Horan’s statement that had smeared Pakistan. At that time, there occurred a brief breakdown in Pak-US relations.
It was one man, Mian Zahid Ghani, a reporter, who spoke to Horan on the telephone, discussed the matter and convinced him to apologise. At that time, Ghani used to work for News Network International (NNI), a wire agency, and was in the US. Even Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US, was sceptical about the expectation of an apology from Horan, and she conveyed her apprehension to Ghani about it. However, the next day Sharif received a written apology (by fax) from Horan wherein the latter mentioned the persuasive role of Ghani to make him tender an apology to the nation of Pakistan for the words he uttered. Ghani received and faxed the copy of the apology letter to the NNI and the next day every Pakistani daily splashed Horan’s apology as a lead story.
In September 1997, when Sharif visited New York to attend the UN General Assembly Session, he had a meeting with Pakistani journalists. On the occasion, Sharif appreciated the role of Ghani in defusing the crisis and restoring Pakistan’s relations with the US. Sharif also pledged to honour Ghani with the Presidential Award for his journalistic services. In March 1998, Bill Clinton invited Ghani to meet him and personally thanked him for his efforts to resolve the issue and reduce anti-US sentiments in Pakistan. He also hugged Ghani and admired his journalistic efforts. The US authorities working under Clinton pledged to recognise Ghani’s journalistic services by offering him some privileged position in the US. Unfortunately, both Sharif and Clinton’s subordinates forgot their pledges afterwards. Sharif is now back in office and this situation has rekindled the expectations of Ghani to be appreciated by the present government for the credible and praiseworthy work he did about 16 years ago.
The question is simple: why should the prime minister of a country not recognise the services of a journalist? The point is not only the pledge Sharif made to Ghani, the point is of principle. When a journalist singlehandedly defused a crisis the persistence of which could deteriorate Pak-US relations further, why should that journalist not be appreciated publicly? Sharif has overlooked the fact that Ghani became successful in persuading Horan when both Riaz Khokhar, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, and Shamshad Ahmad, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, failed to convince Horan to tender an apology. Second, Sharif has blinked at the fact that the relationship between a journalist and a politician is of a permanent nature. When Sharif was in jail or in exile, he desperately needed the help of journalists to make his voice heard by people. Journalists helped him do that by even defying the military dictator. Third, Sharif may not have the realisation that another ugly incident can strain bilateral relations with any country and a journalist can again play an overarching role to resolve the crisis. Fourth, if Sharif fails to set a precedent in which the state of Pakistan recognises the services of a journalist, no journalist will be ready to see the concept of reporters without borders materialise. Pakistani journalists have already been playing an important role in Track II diplomacy with India. Journalists have the potential to play a role in reducing bitterness in Pak-Afghan relations as well. Fifth, Sharif may not be appreciative of the fact that the world has moved into an era where the role of journalists cannot be minimised vis-à-vis state functionaries.
Mian Zahid Ghani is now an old man. He deserves recognition by the state for the work he performed. The trend of awarding honour posthumously should be discouraged because there is no reason why a journalist should not be honoured in his lifetime. A precedent must be set by granting Ghani the Presidential Award to encourage other journalists to perform their duties to their utmost for the betterment of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif should also persuade the US to recognise the services of Ghani in restoring bilateral relations and by preventing them from deteriorating further. There is also a need for all journalists to raise the voice of appreciation for Ghani, an unsung hero of Pakistan’s journalist community. Ghani is now Editor-in-Chief of News Line International (NLI).
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org