“Something Went Wrong”: The Chilling Effect Of State Terrorism On Journalism

Something went wrong

When Najam Sethi discussed the assassination of Sabeen Mahmud on his show, an interesting thing happened. The audio feed cut in and out during the program. Many viewers ignored the brief periods of silence, chalking it up to technical problems with their sets or with the the transmission. Only later was it realised that the missing audio was probably not an accident.

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Tsunami 2: Holes In The Plot

Imran Khan terms Iftikhar Chaudhry as incorruptible

2014 has been termed as a ‘year of sequels’ for the movie industry, and it appears that politics will be following suit. First we saw the release of ‘TUQ-TUQ 2’, and now comes announcement of ‘TSUNAMI 2’, opening in Islamabad on 14th August. The latest Imran Khan production, however, includes some very large holes in the plot that make it hard to appreciate.

Director Imran Khan has been very inconsistent between the story lines in his 2013 blockbuster 2013 and his latest sequel. Just last year, the PTI Chairman termed the elections ‘victory for the democratic system‘. Even in April this year Imran Khan said that he accepted the elections

There is also the problem with the role of Najam Sethi. In the first ‘Tsunami’ drama, Najam Sethi was a good guy! Imran Khan endorsed Najam Sethi as Caretaker CM Punjab and held private meetings to discuss poll administration with not only Imran Khan but PTI leaders Javed Hashmi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Naeem-ul-Haq and Jahangir Khan Tareen also. In that version, Imran Khan was all smiles and handshakes.

Imran Khan and Najam Sethi discuss 2013 poll administration

It was also Imran Khan who requested polls under the judiciary since at the time he was Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s biggest defender. Actually, it was Imran Khan who termed Iftikhar Chaudhry as ‘incorruptible and a man of high integrity‘.

Sequels are not known for being most creative. They are often little more than a repackaging of old characters into same old plot lines. With Tsunami 2, however, Director Imran Khan is using the worn out cliche of turning yesterday’s good guys into today’s goondas, with only himself as the pure and noble hero. If this is the ‘Naya Pakistan’ he has been promising, expect ticket sales to be very low.

Fear of Aabpara

hamid-mir-car

The attack against Hamid Mir on Saturday was not the first time that the senior journalist has faced a life attack. In 2012, the Taliban attempted to kill him with a car bomb in retaliation for ‘pursuing the secular agenda’. Neither was this the first time Hamid Mir faced such a threat. In 2011, he released evidence consisting of SMS messages and phone numbers that had been threatening his life. This time, though, it wasn’t the Taliban who were allegedly behind the threats, but the ISI.

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Losing Our Voice

A recent column by Ardeshir Cowasjee for Dawn was one of those pieces that connects the dots and makes a picture of the world start to take shape. His column, Killing the Messengers, addresses a major obstacle in moving Pakistan beyond the mess that we’re in. It’s not that we’re having the wrong conversation, it’s that we can’t have any conversation at all.

Our inability to have a civil debate has become increasingly apparent. But this is not a ‘pox on both houses’ situation, as much as we like to cast blame equally. When Marvi Sirmed appeared on Shahid Nama with Zaid Hamid, she didn’t accuse anyone being a traitor or unpatriotic. She just offered an alternative point of view. More recently, it’s been Mubashir Luqman lobbing such accusations against Najam Sethi of being an American agent. Nevermind the fact that in listing the top ten mistakes of Pakistan, the same Najam Sethi lists as number one the alliance with America. But he also criticises the decision not to recognise Sheikh Mujib’s electoral majority in 1970 elections, and the Kargil assault, which some want to pretend happened differently than they did.

This is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2008, Javed Chaudhry wrote a scathing attack against Najam Sethi. But Javed Chaudhry didn’t debate his positions then either, rather he attacks him personally, saying Najam Sethi is mafia lord of a Lahore NGO sponsored by America to spread anti-Pakistan views.

If you take the time to actually listen, what these so-called “liberal extremists” say isn’t really extreme at all. Is it really “extreme” to suggest that secret conspiracies are not responsible for all of our problems? Or that maybe, just maybe, military officers have not always made the wisest decisions? People like Marvi Sirmed and Najam Sethi aren’t advocating an athiest Marxist-Leninist revolution. They’re not anarcho-syndicalists who want to replace the National Assembly with a federation of worker’s councils. Could it be that the right wing finds them far more threatening because when they speak, they actually make sense?

If someone says something the right wing doesn’t like, they don’t offer a reasoned counter-argument – they resort to character assassination. They term you a traitor and say you are spreading anti-Pakistan views. They say you’re a paid agent. And this is used not only against journalists, but politicians, government officials, and even private citizens who dare to have their own opinions. Zaid Hamid calls for politicians to be “hanged by the trees” and Ahmed Quraishi calls for a “ruthless military coup”. They resort to threats of violence because they cannot convince people with their ideas alone.

It’s easy to dismiss such threats as online taunting, but this right wing mindset has a bad habit of crossing the line between uncivil talk and uncivil behaviour. What starts as character assassination too often escalates to just plain ‘assassination’. Whoever killed Saleem Shahzad, there is little doubt that his killers were motivated by what he wrote. The killers didn’t offer any counter argument to Saleem Shahzad’s claims; they just didn’t like what he had to say, so they shut him up. Permanently.

Mumtaz Qadri murdered Salmaan Taseer not over any blasphemy that the governor committed, but because he disagreed with him about whether a law should be reformed. Once again, nevermind the fact that by advocating for rahma (mercy) Salmaan Taseer was not challenging Islam, he was living it. What he was challenging was a political ideology that can’t bear to be challenged. So, without a trace of shame, Meher Bokhari says he’s ‘Western’ and reads a fatwa against him on TV. When the character assassination doesn’t deter Salmaan Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri shoots him in the back.

In a way, it’s rather ironic. The self-appointed defenders of Islam have replaced the central message of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with central message of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. They’re replaced itjihad with jihad, reason with guns. Similarly, these same self-appointed guardians of the national honour (ghairat) are turning Pakistan into a pariah state, increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.

So who’s really being anti-Pakistan here? Is it the so-called ‘liberal extremist’ commentators who are merely telling what happened in the past so that we may be saved from repeating it? No, the real extremists here are Pakistan’s wanna-be coup makers who want to kill (literally) any criticism that threatens to expose their delusions and the self-defeating adventurism it justifies.

This brings me back to Cowasjee, who wrote:

In our universe, Pakistan is in the middle of a party celebrating its greatness and no one wants a messenger of bad news to interrupt the self-glorification. But in the real world, we can kill as many messengers as we like, the message that Pakistan is in big trouble is unlikely to go away.

You don’t have to agree with everything Marvi Sirmed or Najam Sethi or anyone else says. I don’t. But I respect their right to say things that I don’t agree with. It’s not anti-Pakistan to want the country to be the best that it can be, and it’s not extreme to recognise your past mistakes so that you can improve for the future. It’s your real friends who will tell you when you have food in your beard. It’s your enemies who let you walk around looking like a fool.

Part the dark clouds, let the sun shine in

Light Shining Through CloudsPM has convened an independent commission to investigate the Abbottabad incident and ascertain the full facts regarding the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. This is a commendable decision and one that should be fully backed by those whose primary concern is truth and justice. It is time that we part the dark clouds hanging over the nation and let the sun shine in.

The 2/5 operation may have come at the first of the month, but the past few weeks have been a string of incidents. After Abbottabad we saw the terrorist attack on PNS Mehran. We saw suicide bombings almost daily. Yesterday the sad news was announced that the body of another journalist was found tortured to death. Surrounding each of these incidents has been an aura of suspicion, doubt, and conspiracy. This is not unusual and may even be considered as ‘status quo’. When tragedy strikes, it is hard to part the dark clouds to see clearly.

But these tragic events are not the only events that have caused confusion. There continue to be questions about visas issued to American nationals, even after the Embassy in Washington has made multiple press statements including providing access to the data on these visas to show that there has been nothing out of the ordinary.

Najam Sethi got the memo and corrected the record on Aapas Ki Baat recently, but obviously this information is not being made widely available since Javed Chaudhry and Shireen Mazari continued to perpetuate the conspiracy on Kal Tak that 7,000 Americans were issued visas without proper security checks.

Drones is another issue that is surrounded by dark clouds of confusion and misinformation. Listening to Imran Khan and others talk about drone attacks, it is easy to come away with the belief that 30,000 innocent Pakistanis have been killed by drones and not one single terrorist. But actually none other than the terrorist leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by drones. Actually, according to data confirmed by independent news reports, maximum number of drone deaths are militants. This fact was also confirmed by GHQ when General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing earlier this year:

“Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

Never the less, incorrect statements and conspiracies continue about both visa policy and drone strikes. Now we have talking heads on TV telling that Osama bin Laden was not killed at Abbottabad, PNS Mehran attack was a CIA-RAW-al Qaeda conspiracy, and now there are even those saying Saleem Shahzad’s murder was a conspiracy to harm the image of the farishtas in our agencies.

We all know that good Muslisms cannot lie, therefore the people who are perpetuating these statements must be like so many people mistaken due to not having the facts. The only solution to this problem is to have an independent commission verify the facts so that the confusion can be resolved and we can move forward to solve the grave issues facing the nation. Abbottabad is a good place to start since it was the first incident in the past weeks (though surely not the first incident in history).

But we should also convene independent commissions to investigate the other issues also – PNS Mehran, Saleem Shahzad murder, visas, drones etc – and take the nation into confidence so that myths, conspiracies, and confusion can be buried for good. In order to ensure that there is no doubt about the results of these findings, the independent commissions should be open and transparent for all citizens to inspect.

We have been living for too long under the weight of dark clouds. It is time to let the light shine upon the truth. Only then will we fund real justice.