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Pakistan Press ( 6 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press on Confronting Islamophobia and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: New Age Islam's Selection, 6 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

6 November 2020

• Confronting Islamophobia With Dialogue

By Ikram Sehgal

• Gulbuddin Hekmatyar In Pakistan

By Muhammad Asif Noor

• Pakistan And The Rights Agenda

By Asif Durrani

• Breach Of Official Secrets Act

By S M Hali

• The Empathy Files

By Muna Khan


Confronting Islamophobia With Dialogue

By Ikram Sehgal

November 6, 2020


On his way home from work on a Friday afternoon in a quiet suburban town north-west of Paris an attacker, later identified as an 18-year-old of Chechen origin, who came to France as a refugee, cornered Samuel Paty, a middle-school history and civics teacher on the street, and stabbed him repeatedly. Witnesses say the killer shouted, “AllahuAkhbar.” “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down,” he wrote in a message briefly posted on Twitter, with a photo showing Paty’s severed head. Within minutes, the police tracked down the killer and shot him dead.

Felt deeply by Muslims for whom any depicting of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), nothing to say about making fun of him, is a sacrilege hurting their feelings it is being assiduously fanned by radical clerics. The real mystery is how come a middle-school history and civics teacher, supposedly a learned man in a ‘civilized’ and ‘enlightened’ country like France who over the years has known and taught Muslim students, could not comprehend that making fun of Islam and its revered personalities will create trouble. With a university education specializing in history, one can only dread what must have been the content of that education. How come the educated and civilized Europeans who have been allowing and even pushing denigration of Islam and the Prophet (PBUH) for decades cannot learn their lessons? Starting from 1988 when Salman Rushdie published his ‘Satanic Verses’ it is known that these sensibilities exist. And that in a country where freedom of religion is a basic principle of government?

The problem that has existed not only for the last thirty years but much longer is that maligning of Islam and Islamic personalities is legitimated by the “freedom of speech or expression”. Any idiot has the constitutional right to say aloud and propagate whatever comes to his or her stupid mind. In Europe one can make fun about Christ and Mary and God because in a secular society their existence is doubted at best and denied at most so making fun doesn’t hurt. The statement by the Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavistois very revealing, “I don’t understand anything anymore: when we make fun of black people we call it racism; and when we mock Jews we call it anti-Semitism; and when we mock women we call it sexism; and when we mock Muslims we call it freedom of speech”

Meaning the fear of Islam Islamophobia is an age-old disease in Europe and the West. Europe had traumatic experiences with Islam and Muslims starting from the Crusades and all through till Muslim rule in Spain knocked at the doors of France in the 8th century and later when Ottoman rule threatened European countries in the 14th to the 16th century. To stem the Muslim tide influential church reformers like the German Martin Luther took up the arguments of the crusaders saying that Muslims were uncivilized savages and that Islam was teaching them to kill, brutalize women declaring them to be God’s punishment for not properly following the Christian dogma. He created the fear of Islam among Christians so that they would remain under church influence.

Globalization -one form of which is colonialism – has swept millions of Muslims into Europe and the US in search of jobs and refuge. Europe and the West was unprepared for it then and is unprepared to deal with the problem of Islam and Muslims today. France is only one example. Given the fact that violence does not solve problems but only creates more violence means that we have to find another way. That way can only be peaceful. Pakistan’s Parliament has passed a resolution to boycott French goods. Boycotting French goods is not a good idea, boycotts and sanctions have never worked. What happened to the Danish boycott a couple of years ago? Danish butter and cheese are in the market and find their buyers. And after all, what French good do we use? May be our Armed Forces could avoid buying sophisticated weapons and submarines, what good will this do for the common Muslim?

What happened in France was wrong, the beheading was brutal and despicable, in the circumstances the reaction of the French President was emotional but it was also wrong

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday wrote a letter to the leaders of the Muslim states, asking them to make collective efforts to confront the growing trend of Islamophobia. That might help but only in the long run. Muslim solidarity has its difficulties. What everyone of us can do is study the history of Islamophobia and be ready to bring forward sensible arguments against it. We have to reason with them on their own turf, confronting them with their own weaknesses and misunderstandings. Compromises can only happen through dialogue. Only with reason and logic, facts will overcome fiction.

Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ is the thesis that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world and that wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures in the post-cold-war era. With this idea he closely follows the German historian Oswald Spengler’s theory that rejects the Eurocentric view of history, especially the division of history into the linear “ancient-medieval-modern” rubrics that suggest that all humanity would have to pass along the same path prescribed by the West sooner or later. According to Spengler, the Western world is ending and we are witnessing the last season. Spengler asserts that a characteristic of this last phase of downfall is that democracy is simply the political weapon of money, and the media are the means through which money operates a democratic political system. Huntington himself voiced that he was not advocating the desirability of conflicts between civilizations. He forgot, though, to add that his scenario should be used to balance out and avoid such a development.

One of the reservations even among Muslims against the creation of Pakistan was that while the Muslim majority Provinces would get their independence from Hindu rule, many more Muslims than in the constituent units making Pakistan would remain in India. In a sense their continued safety and comfort has stayed our hand in dealing with Hindu extremism in the language they understand – and have understood for over a 1000 years. The way the Hindu radical BJP extremists are dealing with Muslims in India (who make up 16% of the population) is really testing our patience. It also underscoreswhy the creation of Pakistan was being insisted upon by the Quaid as a must. In the same manner we have to be sensitive to the fact that there are many millions of Muslims living in Europe and USA. Do we want to condemn them to isolation and ostracism by shunning dialogue and indulging in confrontation that could lead to further violence?

What happened in France was wrong, the beheading was brutal and despicable, in the circumstances the reaction of the French President was emotional but it was also wrong. However we must engage France (and the French President) in dialogue, not get engaged in overlapping emotions that could lead to more violence. Over the years France has been a good friend, not adhering to draconian arms sanctions against us when they could easily have done so and were under constant pressure to do so. While we must strongly condemn any blasphemy, particularly targeting our beloved Prophet (PBUH), we must immediately engage in dialogue to avoid confrontation. The politics of dialogue and not the politics of boycott is the answer.


Ikram Sehgal is a defence and security analyst


Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Pakistan

By Muhammad Asif Noor

November 6, 2020


Former Afghan prime minister and leader of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Photograph: OMAR SOBHANI


Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned back to tumultuous Kabul after a three-day visit to Pakistan meeting with high officials including President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in Islamabad. While he lands back to Kabul, at least 12 people including children were killed after Afghan Military airstrike targeting Taliban fighters hit a religious school in the northeastern province of Takhar. This was a deadly error and investigation are on the way to investigate the cause of such deadly attack. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar offered to broker the deal with Taliban especially during the time when crucial intra Afghan dialogue is ongoing in the country. After meeting the officials here in Pakistan, Hekmatyar, who has a history of political bargaining and opportunist’s tactics in the power game within Afghan quagmire, has deep discussion with all the top brass. While talking at a local think tank event, Hekmatyar made a statement that all the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan and there should be an independent and powerful unbiased Afghan government to hold the Centre in Kabul. He was in Islamabad after the visit of another important political leader Dr. Abdullah Abdullah who is currently heading the Afghan Reconciliation Commission providing assistance in the peace process.At the regional level, Hekmatyar push his party’s trust on Pakistan and China as important regional players and the ones having strong and common coordinated position on Afghanistan. He once said that peace in Afghanistan is not only in the interest of Pakistan but also that of China as well. Twice Prime Minister of Afghanistan said that India is supporting the local militias to as spoilers of the peace process. Having a key eye at the national and regional level political struggles, Hekmatyar has an important presence in the entire solution of the Afghan conflict.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was one of the front line warriors against the former Soviet Union and US troops in Afghanistan. After signing a peace deal with the Afghanistan government in 2016 he became an active political icon in Afghanistan political sphere. Afghanistan is a multi-linguistic, multi ‘cultural & multi-ethnic country, the role of a religious party in their past experience has given a broader space to people like Hekmatyar. Afghanistan peace process is in a critical phase where all major power’s, regional, and non- regional actors want to maximize their own influence in Afghanistan. Historical linkage with the past government of Pakistan Hekmatyar himself is trying to find a safe room in future Afghan politics. In this visit, Hekmatyar said that there should be an independent government in Afghanistan especially with the strong presence to have stakes in the next and upcoming Afghan government and set up. The ideas that Hekmatyar has shared with the Pakistani government about independent government and his own motivation to be and have stakes in the upcoming government set up is still a question to be answered by the stakeholders. These visits from Afghan political leaders to Pakistan are in continuation of their own desires to have their place in the next government set up and political bargaining within the Afghan peace process. This is the second-highest Afghan dignitary visit to Pakistan in the last few weeks.

Afghanistan peace process is in crucial phase and requires wisdom and patience at the same time especially from those who are brokering the power sharing relations amongst the Afghan stakeholders

Pakistan is an important stakeholder in the Afghanistan with not only sharing the border regions with the country but also hosting the largest Afghan refugees in the region. According to the UNHCR report, as a result of the in the Afghan peace process, with shared political, cultural, religious linkage with Afghanistan both countries officials, Taliban fighters knew that without Pakistani diplomatic support Afghanistan will not be able to get out of internal instability. Hekmatyar visit is also important for the lingering political turmoil in Afghanistan after complete US withdrawal. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has a similar stance against the Kabul government, Hezb-e-Islami leader considers them as a puppet regime installed by the occupiers of Afghanistan. Power-sharing and legitimacy in Afghanistan will be the most notable reason for another possible Civil war in Afghanistan. Any align government in Afghanistan either from Pakistan, China, Russia, India, or the US will hamper the long-lasting peace goals in Afghanistan. This is high time for all the stakeholders in Afghanistan to find common political settlement of Afghanistan. Hekmatyar political wisdom is more favorable towards Pakistan. For factions like Hekmatyar Pakistan would be the best option in making peace in Afghanistan rather than another regional player. Gulbuddin and his faction, like many others including Taliban, believe that the key to Afghan’s imbroglio is complete and comprehensive withdrawal of Foreign troops for Afghan soil. To him, the people of Afghanistan are rational arbiters to decide the future political and security discourse of Afghanistan. Variety of external and internal actors, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar striving hard to make its political presence with the help of their well-wishers. For him, Pakistan is the reliable partner in this regard to get support for the political struggle in Afghanistan. However, it all depends that how the government and stakeholders view Hekmatyar and his ideas and expectations in this entire milieu.

Here we need also to closely evaluate the role that China is playing in creating headways in the peace, not only in the region but also in Afghanistan as well. After the advent of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has actively promoted and supported the cause of peace, reconciliation and convergence in the region that is its neighborhood. It is important for China and also for the region to have sustainable development and shared prosperity. For this matter, we have a regional alliance of SCO where there is an active Afghan Contact Group made in order to resolve the issues through the regional peace processes. As a friend and neighbor of Afghanistan, China respect the will of the people of Afghanistan and how they view development. China is also supporting Pakistan-Afghanistan relations to develop mutual trust and improve the bond. Recently after the signing of the peace deal between Afghan Taliban and US in February this year, however China is skeptical about US brokered deals as China believes that these deals will eventually lead to further instability. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s modern Silk Road project of BRI and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that has all the potential to expand in Afghanistan as a concept of shared future and destiny. As a result of the US presence in Afghanistan, the involvement of China is not that visible however there has been always a desire to support Afghanistan in the peace building. Even then, Chinese companies have won bidding procedures in Afghanistan to work on the natural resources of the country and help in economic development. China has also offered political good offices to Taliban in 2019 and invited them to talk and resolve disputes for peaceful coexistence and lasting prosperity.

Afghanistan peace process is in crucial phase and requires wisdom and patience at the same time especially from those who are brokering the power sharing relations amongst the Afghan stakeholders. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and others need to carefully understand that Afghanistan will remain unstable unless and until people of the country will not place their national interests above their self-interests. For lasting peace and stability of the country, afghan people need to take the destiny in their own hands.


Muhammad Asif Noor is Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies Disclaimer: The views expressed in this opinion piece, does not necessarily reflect the positon of the Institute


Pakistan And The Rights Agenda

By Asif Durrani

November 6, 2020

A few weeks ago, Pakistani diplomacy, known traditionally for punching above its weight, landed another historic win when Pakistan was elected to a fifth, three-year term at the UN Human Rights Council.

Building upon its earlier tally of 151 votes in 2017, Pakistan received 169 endorsements at the UN General Assembly in a contested election that saw five Asian States vying for four slots at the Council. Nearly 90 percent of the General Assembly membership elected Pakistan to remain at the Council, an endorsement of Pakistan’s sound credentials in promoting universal human rights considered sine qua non for an equitable and just world order.

Historically, Pakistan has been in the forefront of human rights issues, much before the UN Human Rights Council came into being. Although not much talked about, Pakistan’s high profile in multilateral diplomacy has always been acknowledged – a host of landmark international conventions were signed with Pakistan’s active participation or with Pakistan’s lead for their adoption.

First, Pakistani delegate Begum Shaista Ikramullah pushed through Article 16, for the equal rights of women and men, to marry and found a family during the negotiation phase of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948, which became Article 16 of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Second, Pakistan co-initiated the 1990 World Summit on Children which led to the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child. Third, Pakistan was a founding member of the Human Rights Council and remained an active participant in its predecessor, the Commission for Human Rights.

Fourth, Pakistan played a seminal role in ending colonization and securing liberties and rights, including the right to self-determination for peoples under subjugation. Many countries of Africa still remember the staunch support provided by Pakistan to their causes for independence within the halls of the UN as well as at other fora. Pakistan’s delegation at the UN has historically been considered a voice for the voiceless.

Within the Council, Pakistan’s conciliatory role has been appreciated by the West and the Islamic World on the one hand, and the developing and developed world on the other. A consensual approach adopted by Pakistan has more often accrued positive, win-win outcomes from a discourse often characterized by abrasive confrontations, Us-vs-Them and blame-and-shame mindsets, and political point-scoring.

One manifestation of our bridge-building diplomacy is the consensus Pakistan secures in the HRC on the EU’s resolution on freedom of religion and belief and the OIC’s resolution on combating intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. Pakistan has steered the work of the HRC to focus on eliminating inequalities within and among states for realization of human rights, and the role of states in responding to pandemics and their socioeconomic consequences in the context of advancing human rights. At a time of growing disparities within and among countries and regions, rising xenophobia and intolerance, and uncertainties stemming from unprecedented health and economic shocks, these strands constitute important pillars of the emerging human rights discourse.

Despite fierce opposition from India, it is due to Pakistan’s advocacy through the HRC and its affiliated mechanisms that there is greater awareness of and sensitization to the egregious humanitarian situation in Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. It is in part due to Pakistan’s efforts that these modern-day avatars of fascism are squarely and visibly on the radar of human rights campaigners, and countries with different cultural backdrops and societal mores are more attuned to the adverse impact of hate speech and disinformation.

Pakistan has always advocated a balanced approach between rights and responsibilities, as enshrined in international human rights law. Contemporary challenges with regard to the right to freedom of expression in the form of hate speech, incitement to violence and propagation of fascist ideologies, underscore the need to strike such a balance. Another vital linkage highlighted frequently by Pakistan is one between human rights and human development. Ultimately, promotion and protection of all human rights is contingent upon inclusive and sustainable development. Pakistan’s balanced perspectives stand in sharp contrast to the ongoing dialectic within the UN system that creates an artificial and uncalled for divide between human rights and human needs.

At the national level, Pakistan is advancing human rights through fresh and more strident legislation for protecting society’s most vulnerable, strengthening institutional frameworks, and shoring up reporting and monitoring mechanisms. Currently, the HRC considers Pakistan as one of the most progressive countries with regard to legislation on the rights of transgender people.

While facing impediments stemming from the country’s peculiar geopolitical circumstances and developmental challenges, Pakistan has neither shied away from engaging international human rights mechanisms proactively and constructively, nor from candidly admitting to gaps, and responding to constructive criticisms in areas that warrant attention. At the core of Pakistan’s efforts at both the international and national planes, is the fundamental Pakistani ethos of an unconditional, all-embracing compassion for humanity. This core value stems from both Pakistan’s ideology grounded in its Islamic moorings as well as societal norms and practices that predate the advent of Islam.

This key conviction animates governmental action in terms of the strong assent on social welfare and looking after the poor and vulnerable, and the resultant prioritization of welfare programmes. It is also evident in the visceral support of the Pakistani civil society to those in distress, whenever a disaster strikes, be it feeding the hungry and dispossessed during the Covid-19 pandemic or rescuing the victims of the earthquake of 2005 and floods of 2011.

At a time when many of the developed countries have closed their doors to refugees and migrants, Pakistan continues to host around three million Afghans, now for more than four decades. From Polish and Bosnian to Rohingya refugees, Pakistan has always been a place of shelter for those escaping persecution.

As Pakistan resumes work at the HRC for another term, an expansive agenda on an array of long-standing and emerging human rights issues awaits in Geneva. Besides the need to continue to draw international attention to various dimensions of human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir, the linkage between corruption; its abetment through safe havens; undermining of the right to development and reversal of illicit financial flows has to be more clearly drawn.

Climate change is now leading to climate disasters. It is impacting both human security and human life, with all its attendant rights and liberties. Pakistan’s billion and ten billion tree tsunami projects and advocacy for climate action have set the ground for a more result oriented and proactive response to climate change including at the HRC.

With the world becoming increasingly reliant on digital technologies; big data driving advances in economies and businesses; and privacy issues coming to the fore, it is imperative that a globally accepted framework outlining cyber rights and responsibilities is put in place. Changing drivers and contexts of trans-national migration flows must take into account the evolving multi-dimensional nature of the problem. Given the pandemic situation, Pakistan must lead the charge in highlighting mental health rights as well as rights of caregivers. Rights of hitherto neglected and marginalized segments of society, notably those with disabilities and transgender persons must now be more effectively spotlighted.

Finally, in a toxic environment of hate and blame, and rising xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia, it is imperative that Pakistan further bolsters its role of a country promoting understanding and bridging differences. With its rich history of eclectic influences, Pakistan is better positioned than most to fulfil this role.


Asif Durrani is a former ambassador.


Breach Of Official Secrets Act

By S M Hali

November  6, 2020

Official Secrets Act, 1923 is Pakistan’s Anti Espionage Act and was enacted to consolidate and amend the laws relating to official secrets in Pakistan. It stipulates that if a person uses the information in his possession for the benefit of any foreign power or in any other manner prejudicial to the safety of the State, shall on prosecution for the offence is liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to fourteen years.

Apparently, our politicians are unaware of the implications of the breach of this act or the gravity of disclosing state secrets. Military officers are expected to take an oath when they are commissioned as well as sign the official secrets act. Civilians too are bona fide citizens of the state and while in office and even when out of it, either as bureaucrats or parliamentarians, are expected to protect classified information, they may receive through briefings or exposure to documents. The advertent or even inadvertent disclosure of such information can be detrimental to the interests of the state.

Economic measures, which range from devaluation of the national currency, double digit inflation, disappearance of essential food items from the markets and later making them available at cutthroat prices are adopted by the enemy to create discontent

Pakistan is facing multiple threats, which imperil its very existence. There are various reasons why the detractors of Pakistan would like to destabilize it and decapitated it in the process. It is the only Islamic state in the world, which is equipped with nuclear weapons. Despite several attempts to defang Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, its strategic assets remain intact. There are different reports which disclose that some world powers actually conducted surgical strikes to take out Pakistan’s nuclear programme, when it was still in the nascent stage. They failed and Pakistan managed to disperse its nuclear assets, far from the prying eyes of would be assailants. Some international forces carried out wargames to study the possibility of acquiring Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal by brute force. They came to the conclusion that in the face of Pakistan’s robust nuclear command authority, it would not be possible.

The strategic location of Pakistan combined with its alliance with China and participation in President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative along with its flagship project the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the development of the deep sea port of Gwadar, have all made Pakistan a candidate for destabilization, fragmentation and breakup by its enemies.

Resultantly, macabre forces have been unleashed in the shape of separatist elements, terror mongers and agent provocateurs to wreak havoc. In all the heinous plots hatched against Pakistan, India plays a major role as it would gain tremendously with Pakistan’s fragmentation and annihilation.

Faced with the possibility of a nuclear holocaust if a full scale invasion of Pakistan takes place, India would prefer to use hybrid war instead. This fifth generation war has various elements and tools and is military strategy, which employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare, and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as propaganda, fake news, coercive diplomacy and foreign electoral intervention. By combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, the aggressor intends to avoid attribution or retribution. Hybrid warfare can be used to describe the flexible and complex dynamics of the battlespace requiring a highly adaptable and resilient response.

In modern times, the enemy seeks to discredit the adversary’s ruling dispensation as well as its armed forces by spreading rumours. Economic measures, which range from devaluation of the national currency, double digit inflation, disappearance of essential food items from the markets and later making them available at cutthroat prices are adopted by the enemy to create discontent. Placement of factotums in the seat of government to do the bidding of the adversary or feeding taglines to the political opponents to create mayhem and chaos is a common factor.

The mention of the Pakistan Official Secrets Act in the opening paragraph was essential to emphasize that information can be leaked to the media, which pertains to sensitive data. Unsuspecting or at times willing politicians who have the capacity to be manipulated by the enemy for bribes or blackmail are launched to disclose sensational information infringing on the breach of the Official Secrets Act, which can embarrass the sitting government but more importantly, shatter the morale of the people.

Fifth Generation Warfare next entails protest rallies, strikes and demonstrations, which erode the peace and harmony as well as the credibility of the government if the demonstrations turn ugly and the government cracks down with brute force. Sometimes ethnic or racial conflicts are orchestrated so that destabilization is achieved.

Some members of the political opposition, who have chosen to denigrate the law enforcing agencies, the armed forces and intelligence institutions, twisting facts, even going to the extent of nullifying victories gained in combat and demeaning the sacrifices of the martyrs are actually facilitating Pakistan’s detractors. If such politicians chose to disclose selected titbits from classified briefings, twisting facts and at times telling blatant lies, they are committing a breach of the Official Secrets Act and can be tried in a court of law.


S M Hali is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host


The Empathy Files

By Muna Khan

06 Nov 2020

WHEN I first began working in journalism, I would help compile the ‘Death File’ pages at Newsline. It was 1995; violence was a part of Karachi’s fabric; we had to scour a few newspapers to look for that information. Every day I would count the bodies shot, tortured to death, found in sacks, killed in disputes, extra-judicial killings, road accidents, etc which were spread over roughly four pages. We did this for record purposes; to advocate for the dead, to remind the authorities it was happening on their watch but I thought the compilation itself was grunt work.

As I progressed in my career, this indirect exposure to violence became an invisible tattoo on the mind. When I heard about a violent incident in the city in the late 1990s, early 2000s my immediate thought was how it would impact my route home, or to work, to social gatherings etc. I did not think how violence impacted the community because I guess I thought (resigned myself to think?) such things were always happening to someone else.

When I look back at the particularly gruesome times, I believe I reacted this way — by which I mean no reaction — as a coping mechanism. Or I was, like all Karachiites, resilient — the ubiquitous adjective to describe us. I also see how that non-reaction impacted the journalism I was doing. I had sympathy but no empathy in covering the communities the violence was impacting the most. Empathy, ie putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, enables journalists to be better listeners which allows them to tell better stories which are representative of the city, country etc. This kind of journalism also fosters trust between the media and its consumers.

At present, the political polarisation around the world is clear but perhaps what’s not so clear is how strongly associated that polarisation is with less trust in journalists. This is according to a poll by Gallup in December 2019 which studied the degree with which the public trusts journalists across 144 countries. “As political division grows, the news media and journalists willingly or unwillingly become participants in the political fray. Reporting on contentious topics and attempts to hold powerful interests accountable can lead to accusations of media bias,” they wrote.

There are many players who don’t want stories to be told.

How did we get here?

Here’s what we journalists/editors ultimately ended up doing by not reporting on vulnerable communities. We blacked them out, relegating their issues to talking heads or ‘experts’ on op-ed pages, or fancy data sets — X per cent below poverty line or X per cent killed in drone attacks and so forth. And here’s how it’s played out: today, we have to think about how to publish a story on the anti-Shia rallies under the enormous constraints of what can and can’t be said, because over the years, we did not adequately tell the story about how the discrimination impacted Shias. Ask yourselves how/what you’ve read about them outside news of their deaths, or the realm of op-eds or male anchors shouting on TV screens. (Kudos to the young journalists publishing blogs/vlogs on what it’s like to be Shia in Pakistan.)

Some issues in journalism are black and white, but increasingly, the world is grey and empathy can help reflect the complexities of the issue. Letting vulnerable communities tell their stories so that audiences can better understand where they’re coming from can make a powerful impact. Admittedly, it is harder to get these stories told — there are economic pressures, news cycles to follow, news managers to please, owners to butter up, etc. And, there are simply too many players now who don’t want stories to be told.

News organisations are catering to meet the needs of the folks who can afford to buy papers, cable licences etc, leaving the less affluent to get their informational needs elsewhere. The less affluent have all been abandoned by news organisations and the affluent only hear about the less affluent when something happens to this group. There’s no ‘Death File’, well because there’s no Newsline but the commitment to hold the powerful accountable has also waned.

Can empathy be a valuable tool in the newsroom? Research suggests so. According to psychologists Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock in The Role of Transportation in the Persuasiveness of Public Narratives “the more transported you feel, the more likely you’ll be to change your opinions and beliefs about the real world”.

The lesson for editors across platforms is to ask how to bring the underrepresented back to the fold (no pun intended), not because they’re potential customers — they aren’t — but because it is anti-democratic not to cover them. Underrepresented communities deserve better from journalists; they are not just an audience; they are people with issues that mirror realities in this country. To ignore them is to ignore those realities. And that is not the role journalists should ever sign up for.


Muna Khan teaches journalism at IBA in Karachi.



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