CENSORED: Who Will Pay?

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 26th Dec. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Pakistan Media

So Pakistan’s public will be made to bear the cost of about three million pounds damages and costs for the case filed by Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman (MSR) of the Jang/ Geo group against ARY channel for Mubashir Luqman’s twenty four libelous shows.
This will be the result of the UK High Court’s verdict against ARY for twenty four unbridled and defamatory programmes by Mubashir Lucman against MSR whilst at ARY.

But the UK court didn’t ask the citizens to pay, you might remark.
And you would be right to remark thus.
The court has stipulated ARY to pay out for damaging MSR’s reputation and endangering his life, as a lesson to ARY (and others) to not indulge in such activities.
But imagine: will the owner of ARY channel Salman Iqbal take this lying down, when he has no dog in the game except support from ‘the agencies’? A one-time loss he might even be willing to bear.
But given the slew of cases now being filed in the United Kingdom against ARY (including by the strongest Pakistani industrialist, Mian Mansha, and human rights activist Malala’s father) he would be inclined to bill the agencies for this bill, to set a precedent and basis for them footing the bills for all he has been doing at their behest.

Which brings us back to ‘Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency’.
Salman Iqbal will likely forward the bill to them.
And ‘they’ should rightly pay.
But what does that mean for us, the citizens? What it means is that in addition to its already invisible and unaccountable budget, millions of further pounds will have to be allocated, such that it can pay the bills for the new trend in foreign suits.

Is this, then, not the time for the people and the parliament to renew calls to bring the ‘the primary intelligence agency’ under democratic and financial oversight? This latest ARY casualty would just serve as the peg, the actual thousand leagues under the sea that is ‘the intelligence agency’ being the real target.

But here I must make a very important correction: in recent years the PR arm of the military has been a veritable arm of the military’s intelligence agencies, with the head of said PR agency, while leading the onslaught of military chief’s PR campaign, leading social media attacks on human rights and democracy activists, and leading social media attacks on ‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘ghaddars’ with his bevvy of the ‘Baloch girl’ army, has been reigning supreme.

So will this PR agency be made to pay part of the ARY bills (present and future)? Clearly, whilst ARY is now somewhat chained because of its broadcasts in the UK, BOL will carry on unfettered (to my knowledge it does not broadcast in other jurisdictions, and will cancel any plans to do so because of the ARY fiasco).

But what all this means is that we, the Pakistani citizens, will end up paying more for attacks against us, in the shape of (nontransparent) higher budgets for the country’s premier PR and intelligence agencies.

Moving on to Qazi Faez Isa and Najam Sethi’s take on the report: I was one of the first persons to identify the gaping hole in the honourable justice’s report.
That of not holding the Frontier Corp (FC) to account in any manner for the Quetta horror, obliterating in one fell an entire generation of lawyers and activists.
But Sethi saheb’s editorial of last Friday, whilst correctly criticizing Justice Isa’s report for not holding security agencies to account, ‘doth protest too much’ against the criticism of Chaudhry Nisar, the Interior Minister.
Not a word spoken against him in the Quetta Commission Report is untrue.
Did he not ignore all requests to proscribe Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Jamat-ud-Dawa Al Almi for months despite their claims (and no evidence to the contrary) of having perpetrated the Quetta lawyers massacre? Was he not caught hiding behind NACTA, which was hiding behind the ISI, which said, ‘they should have done their job per the law (despite the unwritten norms with regard to us’?

Whilst I’m the first one to agree with Sethi sahib regarding the egregious oversight with regard to security agencies far as the Quetta Inquiry Commission report is concerned, I am not with him in trying to exonerate the Minister of Interior.
I understand that what Sethi saheb is saying is that this is unfair.
But then rather than exonerate the boys’ man Chaudhry Nisar, why not question ‘them’? Why not try and expose ‘them’ rather than shield elements in the government? Let Chaudhry Nisar be the first casualty.
Only after might we be able to reach his enablers? My most humble submission to Sethi saheb: let’s catch what we can; only it can lead to the elements we have never been able to ‘catch’.
Let’s not exonerate obvious culprits.
Let’s try and get through to culprits via culprits.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist. Follow her on Twitter at @gulbukhari

Pakistani media: a noise box

Shaharyar Niazi on Geo

Due to the “absence of adequate evidence”, the Scotland Yard cleared, MQM chief Altaf Hussain in the money laundering case. According to Pakistan media, Metropolitan Police confirmed it that the investigation into the money laundering case against the MQM chief and others has been concluded.

Altaf Hussain was facing the media trial on the above mentioned case for more than three years. While his case was under investigation by the Law Enforcers of United Kingdom, the electronic media in Pakistan had convicted him with the crime.

Pakistani electronic media especially the evening talk shows are losing the credibility among the viewers. They have become more like a noise box than informative medium for the public. When it comes to journalistic ethics and norms, Pakistan electronic media has opted it out for the choice “Pay as you go” trend. The International Journal of Communication from the University of Southern California did a study called “Beyond the Western masses: Demography and Pakistani Media Credibility Perception” based on survey. The study examined Pakistani media’s credibility among the people of Pakistan with respect to their ethnic backgrounds. They found out that ethnicity is a key indicator in predicting media credibility. According to their result, the minority ethnic groups tend to find domestic television to be less credible, and international television to be more credible, than do members of the majority Punjabi group. In the study, “local television” was used for any type of television channel run by government or private media companies and serviced through aerial or cable/satellite connections in Pakistan, distinguishable from international television. But according to survey, in Pakistan the International media like CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera has smaller audiences as compared to Urdu-speaking channels.

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#CyrilGate: Has ISI Changed Its Tune on Fake News?

Corps CommandersNation’s top military leadership (in other words, the nation’s leadership) met to discuss the latest threat to national security: This news report in English daily DAWN. At the meeting, Army leaders ‘expressed their serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated story’ to the media. The confused and contradictory nature of officials’ response to the story has given it some credibility, and it must be noted that DAWN has defended the report saying it was only published ‘after verification from multiple sources’. However I am not writing to defend or deny the report’s authenticity. Rather, I am writing to ask whether there has been some change within the establishment’s position on fake news stories?

Disinformation and propaganda has been a tool of the establishment for decades or longer. DAWN itself has been a willing participant in such activities as can be seen on the archived pages from 1971 war.

17 December 1971 Dawn front page

One does not need to go back that far to find evidences of fake news stories, though. It was only a few years ago that Pakistan found itself facing international embarrassment after it was discovered that our media were reporting on a fake wikileaks cable in order to embarrass India. At that time, Ahmed Quraishi actually responded by defending the feeding of false and fabricated news stories. Today, without even a drop of shame, he is hosting a TV programme demanding an official commission to investigate the same.

hypocrite Ahmed QuraishiAhmed Quraishi’s shameless U-turn on the cleverness of false and fabricated news stories raises further points. AQ has actually been connected with several fake news operations during recent years along with others. Earlier this year, Umar Cheema exposed the fake news site ‘ABC News Point’ just as Cafe Pyala had exposed a dozen or more fake news sites being run under shadowy circumstances (also connected to Ahmed Quraishi!)

It remains to be seen whether the top brass have the good sense to cut their losses, but one has to wonder whether ISI’s M-Wing, which is headed by a Rear Admiral and staffed by several Brigadiers and other officers, sees the irony in having the Army Chief himself serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated stories.

Attacking Journalists. Damaging Pakistan.

Cyril AlmeidaIf the state was looking for global attention, it finally found it – but not for the reasons it had hoped. In a shocking mis-step, government officials informed Dawn columnist Cyril Almeida that his name had been placed on the Exit Control List as if he were a wanted criminal.

His crime? Reporting that the civilians had finally shown some backbone and demanded the military do its job and go after militants without fear or favour. Officials denied the story, but as usual they couldn’t let it go. The report has now been officially denied not once…not twice…but THREE times, assuring anyone with half a brain that there was something very true about it. If there was still any doubt, the Pindibot Corps has been carrying out social media surgical strikes that confirmed the reports authenticity.

The irony in this case is that if Cyril’s report is really so damaging, once again it is the response of government officials and their hyper-patriot lackeys that has turned a minor footnote into a global embarrassment.

Unlike Aabpara’s PM’s diplomatic envoys who failed to get any attention during their trip to Washington, their attempts to threaten and intimidate a respected journalist got more attention than they wanted.

Where Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi and Senator Mushahid Hussain have failed to get any attention from the international media, the state’s assault on Cyril Almeida’s rights has earned more coverage than they could have imagined.

At a time when the state claims to be attempting to improve Pakistan’s image in the world, what could have possibly been a stupider move than to attack another well respected journalist. Government denied the story, but couldn’t let it go. If the past weeks have clearly shown anything, it’s that western conspiracies and foreign agents are completely unnecessary to damage Pakistan. The sheer incompetence of our own civil-military leadership is more than enough.

Mushahid goes to Washington: Did we get the message?

Mushahid Hussain and Shezra KharalAfter finding little interest in Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent a group of special envoys on a diplomatic mission to Washington, DC. The timing seemed to be ideal. India was swirling in a mess of confusion and contradictions. Was Baramulla a terrorist attack or a case of ‘friendly fire’? ‘Surgical strikes’ were being declared and denied, and it was obvious that Indian officials were neither on the same page nor even in agreement on which script they were using. Islamabad, on the other hand, was taking things in stride. Yes, the Defence Minister was making unfortunate statements about nuclear war, but compared to what was being uttered on Indian TV this was hardly a footnote. While Indian talking heads were debating surgical strikes in Pakistani territory, Islamabad was carrying out a diplomatic surgical strike in Washington. It was a strategic stroke of brilliance. At least, that was the plan. What really happened though caught the PM’s emissaries completely off guard.

Expecting to find an audience receptive to Pakistan’s position, or at least willing to listen, Senator Mushahid Hussain and his entourage found themselves facing an audience uninterested and unwilling to listen. The entire trip can be summed up in a 30 second clip from another diplomatic theatre.

Expecting to find an opportunity for a good soundbite on Kashmir, our journalist was shut down before his question ever even finished. “I don’t want to go there…The security council has not been discussing it.” The journalist’s surprise was clear from his shocked response. How could the UN Security Council not be discussing Kashmir?!?

Meanwhile, in Washington, Pakistan’s envoys had arranged a busy schedule, the jewel of which was a public event at the prestigious Atlantic Council think tank which turned from a Pakistan policy press conference to a frustrating and humiliating slap when the microphone was turned over to the audience.

This was not the way things were expected to go. Senator Mushahid did his best, but he once again found himself on the back foot, repeating talking points about national sacrifices and defending instead of advancing Pakistan’s narrative.

If Nawaz Sharif was expecting to find sympathetic, or at least receptive ears, it was his envoys themselves who found themselves being lectured. The entire trip appears to have been completely ignored by the international media. Washington’s influential journalists seem to have taken no interest in any of the events. Even domestic media has given the results of the trip very little attention, and perhaps there is good reason.

militancy, particularly cross-border attacks, was an issue that the delegation had to confront at almost each of more than a dozen meetings it attended in Washington.

Everywhere that the diplomatic envoys went, they were met with questions and demands about Pakistan’s support for militancy. Rather than pointing to any success, Senator Mushahid Hussain was resigned to hoping that Pakistan’s chances will be better under the next American government.

Senator Mushahid Hussain hoped that the new US administration would be different from the Obama administration, “which hopefully would have more balanced, strategic, sustained and consistent policy”.

At the end of this high profile diplomatic mission, PM’s envoys left with Pakistan in no better position than when they arrived. Worse, this outcome seems to have come as a complete surprise. Our own media, largely stage managed to promote narratives rather than news, is largely responsible for this state of affairs. We mismanage our own expectations by constantly telling ourselves what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear. As a result, we are like the friend who never gets the message, who even when his friend says with exasperation, “I’m sorry, but it’s so late, shouldn’t you be going now”, replies with a smile, “it’s no problem, I’m not tired at all!” What will it take for us to understand the message that the entire world is trying to give?

Despite our best efforts to elevate Kashmir to the center of the world’s attention, the world has clearly shown no interest. Not just the UN and the US, the Gulf states too have been silent and unwilling to take a strong stand in support of Pakistan’s position. The only statements that come from the world’s power centres show sympathy to India for suffering terrorist attacks and call on Pakistan to stop supporting militants. The question now is whether the powers that be are able to get the message.