By Najam Sethi
THE cold- blooded torture leading- to- murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad by “invisible agencies” has roused the journalists of Pakistan to unite and demand an independent and credible commission of inquiry to unearth the facts and punish the perpetrators.
Amedia “dharna” outside parliament in Islamabad protesting the PPP government’s dubious intentions is aimed at securing an independent Supreme Court judge to head the inquiry instead of Justice Agha Rafiq, the Chief Justice of the Federal Shariat Court, nominated by President Asif Zardari.
Two questions arise. First, why has the media united in such an unprecedented manner in this case when it didn’t do so in the case of the sixteen journalists so far killed this year in Pakistan? In other words, what is so particularly frightening or significant about this murder that has compelled the media to stand up and speak with one voice? Second, why has President Zardari handpicked a “Zardari- loyalist” and “PPP jiyala” who, as a district judge, was earlier rejected for elevation to the superior judiciary by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
IS THIS aimed at shielding any slipup or criminality on the part of the PPP government? In other words, if the inquiry is palpably not aimed at uncovering any willful act of criminality by any public servant that could embarrass the government, who is President Zardari trying to shield and why? The answers are not hard to find. Saleem Shahzad had recorded his problems with the ISI and left a testament indicting it of criminality if he was harmed in any way. He was writing a book exposing the inroads into the armed forces and ISI made by elements of Al- Qaeda through the offices of retired and serving military officers sympathetic to Al- Qaeda’s violent ideology. Any such exposure was deemed irrevocably embarrassing to the national security establishment not only because it would explain the lack of preparedness on the part of the military to defend and protect itself — as evidenced in the terrorist attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi and on the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi, and the US Navy Operation Geronimo in Abbottabad — but also because it would confirm the fears of the international community about the security rot that is setting in a nuclear- armed military establishment, and set it thinking about pre- emptive action against Pakistan’s nuclear assets in the event of any seizure of such assets by rogue military elements allied to Al- Qaeda. When Saleem Shehzad shrugged off the ISI’s advice and went ahead with the publication of his book, he had to be taught a lesson and silenced.
That, at least, is the media’s perception of what happened to him and why. From this it follows that the media must band together to expose the rogue elements in the military and demand accountability so that the same fate doesn’t befall any other journalist. If this perception is wrong, an independent commission of inquiry should be able to establish the innocence of the ISI and redeem its credibility. If it is right, the ISI must be chastened and cleansed of such elements. What is wrong with this way of thinking? Indeed, when an attempt is made to hide the facts behind a stooge commission, such suspicions and perceptions take deep roots and protests are inclined to become more widespread and violent. The next step, if the PPP government doesn’t heed the media’s demand for a credible commission of inquiry, is for the media to announce a blackout of all government news and military press statements and advice.
Much the same sort of trouble for the government and military may be forecast for another commission of inquiry pledged by parliament to uncover the truth behind the humiliating American raid to extract Osama bin Laden from the backyard of the military last month. In this case, too, the military seems to have leaned on the weak government to desist from seriously inquiring into the mishap because it would deeply embarrass the “ national security establishment” and conceivably jeopardise its “ strategic relationship” with its Pentagon counterpart in the USA. In both instances, however, there is one critical factor that threatens to derail the unholy nexus between an incompetent and weak government and an arrogant and unaccountable military.
THAT IS the opposition led by Nawaz Sharif. The PMLN is standing solidly with the fearful media in the first instance and with the outraged public in the second. No less significantly, the sympathies of the newly independent judiciary are with the media, opposition and public. This is an inherently unstable and precarious situation. Where do we go from here? The military has no option but to press the strategic “ Paradigm Reset” button.
The country’s stakeholders have increased in number with the coming of age of the new media and judiciary. The military must realise that it is no longer capable of “ managing” or “ manipulating” or “ blackmailing” the twice- bitten Opposition to do its bidding blindly. It must also concede that it doesn’t understand the revolutionary changes sweeping the media and empowering it by means of “ citizen’s journalism” — there are 20 million internet users in Pakistan and 4 million Facebook freaks and Tweeters, the same organic lot that defied the dictators of the Middle East and smashed their censors to trigger and fuel the Jasmine revolutions for freedom and democracy and accountability.
Indeed, the situation is so fraught with dangers of unmanageable upheaval that the military must adjust its sights accordingly.
If, for example, the US were to launch any fresh unilateral action in any part of Pakistan that pitted it against the media, Opposition and public of Pakistan, the military would be caught squarely in the middle.
Unable to resist the public storm but unwilling to make an outright enemy of America and be savaged in the process, it would be the biggest loser in the game. The only way it might then be able to salvage itself would be by ditching its present leadership and the weak and discredited civilian government behind which it is trying to shield itself. Forewarned is forearmed.
The writer is editor of The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today, New Delhi