Media and Pro-Taliban Narratives


Reading Gulmina Bilal Ahmad’s column in yesterday’s Daily Times about how Taliban are masters of public relations, my mind immediately turned to the way that these pro-Taliban narratives are being spread like wild fires throughout the media.

Gulmina reminds us of that golden rule of the public relations officer: “The rule is that if you cannot change the facts, change the glasses through which those facts are read and seen. The Pakistani Taliban are masters at this.”

While often there are facts that are simply false (how many times have we been told that some official will be relieved, or that there is some secret government policy that never actually happens?) but many times it is simply that the facts are not even discussed but rather there is a ‘spin’ on the context of the facts? This can often come in the case of a distraction or perhaps the claim of a conspiracy theory by some secret agents that make our minds take a distorted view of the facts.

Narratives are the basis of our worldviews. A paranoid mindset, for instance, is the result of a negative narrative that is based on an external locus of control rather than an internal one. In other words, if one is constantly being excused on the pretext that s/he is not to be blamed but only circumstances determine actions, then one is merely reactive and not pro-active. Blaming Zionist, Indian or American policies conveniently absolves us of our responsibility. Declaring that our present challenges are only because of militant madrassas or a certain province is to play into the hands of those who seek to confuse the narrative. This is similar to believing the Taliban-generated narrative that most Taliban apologists in the political and media circles have adopted: the means are incorrect but the end of establishing a just state is commendable.

How often do we see exactly this happening?

An editorial from the Friday issue of The Nation peddles its typical narratives of blaming America for everything under the sun and gives free pass to those who are killing Pakistanis the same day of a bombing. While suicide bombers are killing people in Mohmand, so The Nation is pointing a finger at US.

Islamabad, however must shoulder the blame. Given its servile attitude and the way in which the military has been carrying out operations in FATA, provoking a severe backlash among the locals, Pakistan seems to be virtually in the eye of the storm, something the Americans had badly wanted. The drone attacks targeting the tribal population besides the activities of the notorious US private contractors like Dynacorp and Blackwater (Xe services), who are allegedly behind a number of acts of violence, are also part of this strategy to directly destabilise Pakistan.

Sometimes I think, “These people are insane”. There was no Dynacorp or Blackwater that blew up Data Darbar. There was no Xe services killing people at Mohmand. We know who these people are. They are extremist jihadis who want to impose on our nation a backwards and extremist form of religion that is not practised here, and a dictatorship of mullahs that rule by fear and violence.

But then I remember other editorials by the nation and I begin to see a pattern forming. In a 8 July editorial they wrote, “the whole range of cooperation with the US in the war on terror should be brought to an end.”

While everyone wants the violence to stop and the war to end, what The Nation is advocating is not to defeat the enemy that is so heartless as to bomb the Data Darbar, closing the langer for the first time in almost 1,000 years. Rather they are asking that our military and police stop fighting back and just let these terrorists take over.

Or what about the column from 1 July by Ghulam Asghar Khan about “The Al-Qaeda demon”:

Al-Qaeda was nothing more than a bogey man, an invented invisible and non-existent phantom to frighten children and the ignorant populace and to provide an excuse for its unending War on Terror. It is part of the US global policy to commit ‘false flag’ attacks like the 9/11, the Bali, Madrid, London and more recently the Mumbai carnage, providing Washington an excuse to step in to “rescue and protect” global community from the rampant terrorism that was actually perpetrated by the US itself.

This is the paranoid rantings of a mad man, or the propaganda of a jihadi ‘public relations officer’? We may not have to look too far to find out.

On 22 June, The Nation published an Editorial titled, “A standing rebuke”. Let us remember that Editorials are written by Senior staff at a newspaper and are unsigned because they reflect the official position of the newspaper. With this in mind, let us examine the official opinion of The Nation

If we were to set aside Al-Qaeda’s terrorist role for a while, and have a dispassionate look at the list of demands made by one of its spokesmen, Adnan Gadahn, in a video broadcast in the US on Sunday, we might find a lot of rationality in them.

How can you “set aside Al-Qaeda’s terrorist role”? That is like saying, “If we can set aside the scorpion’s venomous role for a while, he is quite a good pet!” or “If we can set aside the evil of Satan for a while, he is quite charming!”

But that distorted lens is meant to keep us from seeing the venom so that we will let down our guard and invite the bandits into our own house. Here is the official opinion of The Nation according to their editorial:

[Al-Qaeda spokesman Adnan Gadahn’s] words certainly do not imply the end of all peaceful contact but are an expression of centuries-old pent-up feelings of Muslims exploited by the Western imperialist powers that are now led by the US. Similarly, the inhuman treatment meted out to Muslims picked up on suspicion of terrorist links, without any proof, is neither a secret nor the demand of their release questionable. The powers pursuing the so-called war on terror have to drastically review their policies and put an end to their reign of cruelty and subjugation of foreign lands, if they want to see the last of militancy in the world.

The official opinion of The Nation is that they agree with Al-Qaeda. This is not my opinion. They have said so themselves. They have announced to the world that they are terrorist public relations officers.

My question is why we allow this to continue. Yes I am all in favor of free speech and free press, but when there is a ‘fifth column’ during a time when we are at war, must we continue to allow it?

Today there is controversy because MPAs have passed a resolution about media criticising them for degrees. What a meaningless controversy. Outside there are terrorists bombing our shrines and our homes and the Three Js of “Judges, Journalists, and Jihadis” go without any comment.