Pak media deserves a round of applause
Pakistani newspapers, Dawn and The Nation, have shown exemplary courage in letting the country and the world know about the differences of opinion, which marked a recent meeting between the civilian and military officials.
In it, the civilians were said to have pointed out that Pakistan was facing isolation at the international level because of the army’s failure to check terrorism.
The army has since described the “leak” as a “breach of national security” and blamed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office for it. But the two newspapers have stood behind the journalist, Cyril Almeida, who was briefly put on the list of those who could not leave the country.
A Pakistani commentator has since noted that one possible fallout of the revelation of what transpired between the civilians and the military will be that the army chief, General Raheel Sharif’s term will not be extended.
To Indians, and to the world, what the “leak” exposed will be regarded as common knowledge. It is one of Pakistan’s worst-kept secrets that a major reason why there has been no forward movement in negotiations is the Pakistan army’s use of the anti-Indian jihadist to scuttle talks in order to continue bleeding India “with a thousand cuts”.
However, this is the first time that the cat has been let out of the bag. The Pakistan army’s discomfiture is evident, but what is more to the point is that the “guilty” correspondent has been let off with no more than a slap on the wrist.
This leniency is in marked contrast to the abduction, torture and murder of SaleemShahzad, a well-regarded journalist, in May 2011, for referring to the links between the ISI, the Al-Qaeda and LeT. He also wrote that 26/11 was originally planned by an ISI special cell before being abandoned.
Shahzad was one of the 12 journalists who was recently killed, according to Reporters without Borders, which has its headquarters in Paris. The New York-based Committee for protecting journalists says that 59 media personnel have been killed in Pakistan since 1992.
It is not only journalists who face death at the hands of a “rogue” army and the ISI – the so-called Deep State. Even a retired army officer, Major-General Ameer Faisal Alvi, was killed by shooters riding motorbikes in October 2008, for talking about a connection between the ISI, the Tehreek-e-Taliban and a Taliban group, Sipah-e-Sahiba.
While the Dawn wrote about the “unequal power-sharing arrangements” between the civilians and the military in Pakistan where there is “very little or no tradition of holding the armed forces to account”, The Nation advised the government to act against the terror masterminds, Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar (who is China’s favourite jihadi) rather than try discipline the media.
While these Pakistani newspapers have to be lauded, it is worth asking why the former Indian finance minister, P Chidambaram, wanted to know “why are you guys falling like nine pins” after an interview with him was cancelled by an Indian television channel.
There is little doubt that in the aftermath of the present deterioration in India-Pakistan relations, several channels have shown an excess of nationalist zeal notwithstanding Narendra Modi’s caution against chest-thumping.
It will take a brave person nowadays to run the gauntlet of TV presenters in India by supporting the view of the film and television producers guild that a filmmaker should not be punished for having included a Pakistani actor in his or her film before the ties between the two countries worsened.
The TV anchors can be said to have lined up behind parochial organisations like the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena which now direct their ire against the Pakistani actors and not the Bihari vendors, taxi drivers and others as before.
Meanwhile, the Internet Hindus are continuing their tirades against anyone who opposes the saffron dispensation with one of them warning “dear journalists” that if “you do not mend your ways”, then “citizens may start surgical strikes within a country (sic) to get rid of terror mongers”.
For all the vilification about “paid” news, journalism has never been an easy profession, especially if a scribe follows the advice of a British counterpart that the only relation between the media and the government should be like the one between a dog and a lamp post.
From the time a person takes up the job of a reporter, his or her focus is expected to be to ferret out information which is damaging to the high and the mighty. While following this precept, the Dawn correspondent must have known that he was taking on powerful enemies.
His job in a reputed newspaper in a metropolis acted as a shield. But this protection is not always available to those working in small towns, like the bureau chief of the Hindi daily, Hindustan, who was killed in Siwan, Bihar, recently.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)