One month since Sehwan blast and already we have lost plot

Hundreds of innocents killed in a new wave of terrorist attacks, a new military operation announced, and within weeks we have already lost the plot. In just the past few days we have seen Islamabad High Court and Interior Ministry announce possible new social media ban to crack down on alleged problem of ‘blasphemous content’. This was followed by a petition against Zara Hut Kay for daring to question the IHC Judge.

Soon after, some of our so-called ‘journalists’ selectively read an article by former Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about American politicians meeting Russian diplomats and somehow managed to turn it into an admission that he helped capture Osama bin Laden. Only in Pakistan is helping capture the world’s most wanted terrorist considered treason, but this is our reality. However this interpretation doesn’t even match what is in the supposed confession. Haqqani says that he brought a request to Islamabad (which was his job) and that American intelligence agents were operating in Pakistan (this is no revelation or have we forgotten that ISI was working with CIA in Pakistan at the time?). The important line that nobody seems to have read is when Haqqani notes that “the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation”. Never mind the facts, though, as PPP grasped at the opportunity to disown their former Ambassador, something they do once a year as part of their desperate attempts to slow their slide into political irrelevance.

Meanwhile, COAS Bajwa has met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Army has announced new operations will defend Saudi Arabia from cross border attacks. This news has broken only two days after Chinese media reported that Pakistan Army Chief has also promised to protect Chinese workers and investments in Pakistan. It has not been clarified where Pakistani citizens come in the priority, but some are speculating that the current list is:

  1. Chinese investments
  2. Saudi Princes
  3. Kashmir-based ‘freedom fighters’
  4. Cricket tournaments
  5. VVIPs

Operation Raddul Fasaad was launched on 22 February. Less than four weeks later, we find our selves in essentially the same chaotic mess that we have remained leading many to ask if Raddul Fasaad and the national ‘unity’ is anything else but a facade.

Narratives and Counter Narratives: Who Are We Supposed To Believe?

President Mamnoon Hussain has joined the call for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism. This statement puts the President on same footing as ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif who gave a similar recommendation at World Economic Forum in January. With such luminaries making the case for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism, one would be sure that the state had finally reached a unified approach to combating the threat of militancy. Despite these lofty remarks, however, the message reaching the people remains divided.

Lt Gen Muhammad Asad Durrani

Ex-DG ISI says terrorism justified

President and ex-COAS have called for counter narrative against terrorism, but former DG ISI Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani has a new piece in Dawn justifying terrorism as a ‘technique of war‘, and possibly just ‘part of human nature’.

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

Ex-COAS says Taliban ideology is equal to Islam

Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani’s pro-terrorism stance was quickly supported by no less than  ex-Chief of Army Staff Gen (r) Mirza Aslam Beg who wrote in The Nation that Pakistan’s national security was threatened by anyone who criticises Jamaatud Dawah and Taliban, both of which are black listed in the world as terrorist groups. In case there was any doubt, Gen Beg explained that Taliban can never be defeated because of their ideology which he says is equal to Islam.

Official press releases declare that whole nation is unified against terrorism and extremism, but the reality is not clear. We have always been taught to trust our Generals as beyond doubt. Now they are telling us that we should be for terrorism and that Taliban ideology is Islam. Others are telling us that terrorism is never justified and Taliban ideology is not Islam. Meanwhile whole nation is divided and confused who to believe? Pakistan will continue to suffer.

Khaki TV

Gen Musharraf Bol TV Gen Musharraf who had tightened the noose on journalists at one time, is also often credited with granting the media the freedom that allowed it to grow into what we have today. However, like many things in Pakistan, there is more to media ‘freedom’ than first meets the eye. Actually, the claim that Musharraf himself freed the media came from none other than the general himself, and was mocked in the international media at the time. Even Moeed Pirzada once admitted that ‘a carefully-created perception of free media inside Pakistan helped the military dictator to market himself’. Despite being exposed in the international press, the strategy worked better than could ever have been dreamed at home and led to the rise of an entire industry of Army/ISI media proxies. Now it looks like that strategy is coming into its latest phase.

Ever since becoming ‘free’, media has seen the likes of Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid whose journalistic credentials were less important than their talking points. Mainstream anchors have also raised questions about media independence as certain well known voices are widely considered as Army mouthpieces, and those who dare question or criticise GHQ are silenced with threats or worse. It is a coincidence that in this era of ‘media freedom’, this is the quality of ‘journalism’ we are subjected to?

Waj bro will soon have competition, though, from a new media personality even closer to GHQ: The ex-dictator himself. Gen Musharraf has announced that he is joining none other than Bol TV (yes, the same channel that has long been rumoured to be an ISI front). It is more accurate to say that Gen Musharraf is returning to TV since he has played this role before.

Gen Musharraf PTV coup

At a time when whole world is trying to solve the problem of ‘fake news’, Pakistan media is doubling down on the strategy of ‘a carefully-created perception of free media’ to market the Army to itself. Now they will even be joined by the founder of this strategy himself.

Prisoners of Our Own Narrative

Since the devastating string of terrorist attacks last week which ultimately bore the horror of Lal Shahbaz shrine suicide bombing, the national discussion has been dominated by questions: How did it come to this, and what do we do now? Both of these are very sensitive questions whose acceptable answers are largely limited by how close they come to challenging certain national narratives.

As quickly as security agencies moved against militant bases (begging the question being asked by many why they didn’t go after these militants before they attacked rather waited until after), media warriors were at work winning the battle to control the narrative. Army’s official spokesmen immediately posted on social media once again pointing all blame at hostile foreign powers.

Army broke all diplomatic norms and usurped the Foreign Minister’s power completely by summoning Afghan diplomats to GHQ where they were demanded to take immediate action against militant camps on Afghan soil or else face the possibility of cross border attacks by our own forces. Meanwhile, unofficial spokesmen were busy writing saber rattling articles that promote this official narrative. Two examples are a piece for Dawn by disgraced former Ambassador Munir Akram who claims that ‘We know the ‘hostile powers’ that have sponsored these attacks: the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and India’ and calls on Islamabad to answer by stepping up support for anti-Indian jihadi groups.

Next is a piece by another former Ambassador Zamir Akram who like his disgraced older brother also sees an Indian conspiracy behind every one of Pakistan’s problems. Ambassador Akram does not mention the Sehwan attack. Actually, it seems that his piece was written before the last week since he awkwardly repeats the mantra that Zarb-e-Azb has ‘broken the back of the al Qaeda while the TTP and its allies are on the run’. Rather his piece appears to have been written with another enemy in mind: Washington Think Tanks critical of Pakistan’s national security policy.

One can be grateful that the former Ambassador was better behaved than his colleagues at the Washington Embassy who embarrassed the country with their own response to a critical think tank report. However even though it is well written, still the facts are the facts and this piece is a better example of the kind of ‘alternative facts’ that we hear so much of these days.

Ambassador Akram complains that these Washington Think Tanks ignore all the evidence that Afghanistan’s NDS and India’s RAW intelligence agencies are responsible for terrorism in Pakistan quoting the case of Kulbhushan Yadav. Perhaps we should consider why that is? If we do, we might remember that none other than Sartaj Aziz admitted that the case against Yadav was weak, telling media in early December that “So far, we have just statements about the involvement of the Indian spy in terror activities in Pakistan” adding that further evidence needs to be gathered. PM’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs later told the Senate that ‘The (provided) material, in our view, was insufficient’. The dossier was shortly handed to Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, but received no attention anywhere. Even Pakistani media reported that same as with previous dossiers, ‘these dossiers were weak in their provision of evidence, and the government knew this’.

There is more evidence against Kulbhushan Yadav than there is to support Ambassador Akram’s claim that ‘it is also possible that their paymaster is the Indian — American lobby rather than the institutions to which they are affiliated’, for which he offers no evidence other than that the report is critical of Pakistan having a confusing policy towards militancy, a reality that is not even denied by state agencies following last week’s attacks. What else could be meant by COAS’s statement, ‘no more restrain for anyone‘? Even the Army Chief admits that the state was showing restraint towards some groups while fighting others. It should be noted that it’s not only American Think Tanks that are critical of our policy towards militancy. Just a few days ago, it was reported that Saudi Arabia has deported over 40,000 Pakistanis out of terrorism fears! Does our dear Ambassador believe that the Saudis are on Indian lobby payroll also?

We can call everyone RAW, fully cooked, or half-baked agents, but it won’t change the reality of how the world, including even our Muslim allies, sees us which is as an increasing hot bed militancy that has gotten beyond our control. If we are going to change this, we will have to first break free from the prison of our own narrative.

World Is Cracking Down On Fake News: Is Pakistan Media At Serious Risk?

After Donald Trump brought the problem of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ to the attention of the world, internet editors have begun to ask questions about the credibility of so-called ‘news’ sources. The latest sign of a widespread crack down on fake news is the announcement that Wikipedia has banned using UK newspaper Daily Mail as a source, terming it as ‘generally unreliable‘. This is a major development because it is banning of a newspaper that was founded 120 years ago, not some shadowy website that popped up over night.

With wide spread concern about the ill effects of ‘fake news’, banning of Daily Mail  may be just the beginning, and Pakistan media may be at serious risk. Since the past several years, dozens of fake news sites in Pakistan have been exposed. The most famous example was blog Cafe Pyala that shined the light on shadowy propaganda rings that appeared close to the deep state including even a Pakistani fake news source called ‘Daily Mail‘! Then last year an APP report may have  accidentally busted another fake news operation with ties to ISI.

Tight control of Pakistan media by Army is already well reported in international media. In 2015, The Guardian published an expose about Army officials threatening journalists and forcing them to self-censor. How can such media be deemed as reliable if it is well known that it is threatened and coerced by Army? These threats have again come under view after a group of bloggers who dared question Army mysteriously disappeared earlier this year, resulting in new global attention to the dangerous turn of censorship in Pakistan.

However, it’s not just censorship that threatens the credibility of Pakistan media as a whole, it is also the number of obvious deep state puppets who dominate the media. There are the obvious jokers like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid, but there are also the more ‘serious’ journalists like Mubashir Lucman, whose fake news cost ARY millions after being judged by an international court, or Moeed Pirzada who is widely seen as close to the establishment.

As the world makes moves to limit the negative influence of fake news, will Pakistani media find itself caught between the rock of international questions and the hard place of establishment operations to keep tight control over national discussions? If UK Daily Mail is termed as ‘generally unreliable’, what can we say about most of Pakistani news? As the world community takes on the problem of fake news, Pakistani media will be facing a lot of difficult choices.