Freedom of thought and expression are essential to a democracy. In most democracies around the world national security is vigorously debated both in the legislature as well as the media. Pakistan is unique in that it is regimented democracy where the military has sought to restrict discussion of defense issues solely to ‘army approved’ analysts.
Civilian experts who write on national security issues are targeted as traitors and there are attempts to discredit them and their views. Civil society activists, journalists and bloggers who write on such issues are also targeted.
Over the years the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) – the media wing of the military – has sought to ensure that only army-approved analysts speak or write in the media or social media.
On April 4, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) “instructed all television channels to seek prior clearance from the ISPR before inviting retired military officers on news and current affairs programs “to solicit their views on matters of national security”. This was because PEMRA observed “that retired military officers, when invited on TV programs, are usually not fully conversant with the latest defense and security developments due to their service background and post-retirement time.”
In this context it is interesting that on Monday April 15, the ISPR issued a notification with a list of 26 retired officers of the armed forces who would be allowed to appear on media as defense analysts but added that “their views/comments/opinions on media shall remain personal/independent expression and not attributable to the institution.”
The names of “army approved” officers are “Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider, Let Gen Amjad Shoaib, Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool, Lt Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi, Lt Gen Asif Yaseen Malik, Lt Gen Raza Ahmed, Lt Gen Ashraf Saleem, Maj Gen Ejaz Awan, Maj Gen Ghulam Mustafa, Brig Saad Rasool, Brig Farooq Hameed, Brig Ghazanfar Ali, Brig Aslam Ghumman, Brig Nadir Mir, Brig Asadullah, Brig Asif Haroon, Brig Harris Nawaz, Brig Said Nazir, Brig Simson Simson Sharof, Admiral Ahmed Tasnim, AM Shahid Latif, AM Ikram Bhatti, AM Masood Akhtar, AM Riaz-u-Din, AVM Shahzad Ch and Air Cdre Sajjad Haider.”
The best comment on this topic was given by analyst and columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi