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.

Who’s Afraid of Declan Walsh?

Declan Walsh

One of the more interesting sub-plots of the Axact thriller is the case of the New York Times reporter who broke the story. The reporter, Declan Walsh, was unceremoniously expelled from Pakistan two years ago, a fact belaboured by Axact’s defenders.

What exactly were these “activities against the state”? Well, like his report on Axact, they were investigative pieces that lifted the lid on some rather unsavoury dishes. When the Axact expose burst onto the scene, many were asking which piece it was that got the New York Times reporter expelled. There’s some disagreement about which was the ultimate sin, but what is more likely is that there was not one piece but a pattern in the reporting that was objected to.

In 2011, Mr Walsh wrote a long report titled ‘Pakistan’s secret dirty war‘ about what’s going on in Balochistan – a topic that some quarters would prefer not be discussed.

In 2012, he filed a report on Kamra Airbase attack that the target was “believed to be one of the locations where part of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile” – a claim that was unwelcome for obvious reasons.

In 2013, Mr Walsh reported that American military officials believed Pakistan was lying about drone strikes to cover up our own airstrikes. A few days later, his visa was cancelled and Declan Walsh ordered to leave the country immediately.

For those of us whose perspective is molded by hyper-nationalist self-appointed ‘patriots’, that is to say all of us, this looks like a clear pattern of “anti-state activities” by the New York Times reporter. If we are willing to set aside our nationalist instinct towards defensiveness, though, another question emerges: Was any of his reporting actually wrong?

Whether or not these reports were factually incorrect is something that is not easy to answer. Those who know for certain are not interested in the truth coming out. But is this actually serving the country’s interests, or undermining them?

Questions about what is taking place in Balochistan are virtually unanswerable since the military has banned reporters from going there. The result of this is that all manner of allegations can be easily made but very difficult to disprove. Worse, if there are abuses taking place, they are not able to be exposed and corrected. This provides ready fuel to separatist propaganda and undermines the credibility of our own armed forces.

Army officials strongly denied that Kamra airbase was a nuclear site, but that doesn’t mean much. They would deny it even if it were true. Nuclear weapons sites are a carefully kept secret in order to keep them secure. But are they really more secure for being secret? When no one is sure where the weapons are kept, it’s hard to know if they’re really being targeted or not. We have to take Army’s word for it, and it does not serve Army’s interest for the public to know the details of such sensitive matters. Would our nuclear sites actually be more secure if they were public? Out of curiosity I did a quick Google search and discovered that America’s nuclear sites can be seen on Google Maps!

The missiles and their command bunkers have been in the same place “for decades,” Air Force Capt. Edith Sakura of the 90th Missile Wing Office of Public Affairs wrote in an email. “They are near county and state roads that are public access to people. You need security clearances to access the sites; however, it would be hard to ‘hide’ such facilities.”

Moreover, as other commenters noted, the sites are already visited by foreign militaries. Russian officers regularly inspect U.S. missile silos to make sure America is adhering to international arms-control treaties. (And the U.S. sends its own observers to Russia.)

America does not worry about whether someone knows where their nukes are because America’s Army is certain that they are secure. What does it say, then, when we so defensively keep ours a secret?

As for lying about drones, perhaps the less is said the better.

Army will deny each of the claims made in Declan Walsh’s reports, and because they involve sensitive subjects, it would be virtually impossible to prove them. Actually, even if some secret evidence was leaked, it would simply be dismissed as a Western conspiracy against Muslims as has been done in the past. We will accept the denials because what other choice do we have? We will dismiss Declan Walsh as “anti-Pakistan”, and we will sincerely resent him, not because we really believe that he’s a foreign spy but because there is that sinking feeling in the back of our minds that makes us doubt what we have no choice but to believe.

In an important piece by one of Axact’s victims, respected journalist Wajahat S. Khan reflects on his regrets about his brief experience with Bol:

But arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed. I contributed to all three, in my three months at Bol. And played along with the best of them, because of where they came from, who they are, and what it all meant.

Khan’s astoundingly open and honest words sparked an uncomfortable feeling, like they were hitting a bit too close to home.

Arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed.

Wajahat S. Khan may have contributed to all three in his brief time at Bol, but each of us has contibuted to all three during our lives as well. The arrogant tone of our insistence that we are the fortress of Islam. Our silent denial that jihadi ideology is devouring our nation. And the mirage that we have self-constructed that tells us that the number one intelligence agency in the world and most accomplished military in the world will keep us safe and secure…just as long as we don’t ask any questions.