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Pakistan Press ( 24 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press on Crisis of Media Reliability, X’mas and Trump Christmas Carol From Charles Dickens: New Age Islam's Selection, 24 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

24 December 2020

• Crisis of Media Reliability In Pakistan

By Kamila Hyat

• Unhappy X’mas: Will We Ever See An Unclouded Morn Again?

By F.S. Aijazuddin

• A Final Trump Christmas Carol From Charles Dickens

By Harlan Ullman

• Pakistan's Response to US War Machinery in Afghanistan

By Durdana Najam

• Pakistan's Response to US War Machinery in Afghanistan

By Durdana Najam


Crisis of Media Reliability In Pakistan

By Kamila Hyat

December 24, 2020

The credibility of news and the information received by people is important to their sense of their involvement in the affairs of any country. Unless they are aware of happenings and at least sure up to a certain degree that they know the truth, they will always feel left out and abandoned – like viewers at a sporting event who can hear the roars of the crowd but have no idea who has hit the ball for a six or which team has scored a goal.

While credibility has always been a somewhat disputed factor as far as Pakistan's history of journalism, and other forms of information dissemination go, it has now hit a new low. An example of this came in the frenzied attempts to pin down the number of people present at the PDM gathering in Lahore last week. Some television channels insisted the number was no more than two or three thousand. Others put it at nearly 50,000, and most said it was somewhere in between.

The vast difference in numbers meant that people actually had no idea what was going on, or who was telling them the truth and who was twisting or manufacturing the facts. The widespread rumours of pressure to present only some facts or broadcast only selected events naturally adds to the sense of uncertainty or being left adrift in a churning sea aboard a vessel that cannot be navigated or its precise location ascertained.

This lack of freedom to tell the whole truth is a common feature in journalism today. Because of pressure on newspapers as well as electronic channels, journalists are pressured into not presenting the news that they convey to millions of people around the country the way they would like to. The result, of course, is that people have begun to see through this and no one really believes the facts presented to them, or else chooses to believe what they like based on their own ideological opinions.

This is extremely dangerous. It breeds conspiracy theories and means people have no access to reliable relevant news or information when they require it or when it is necessary to guide them in any way or simply offer a reliable indication of what's happening in the country. In any democracy the involvement of the people, at least at the level of knowing what's happening, is obviously extremely important.

The situation has now become so chaotic that different newspapers and different channels convey totally different kinds of news, different facts, different figures and different details. Some broadcast particular events, others steer away from them completely. They also design talk shows to reflect a particular kind of opinion, based on what the orders are from those who control these channels, and their content.

While international watchdog bodies as well as local ones have strongly criticised the pressure placed on Pakistan's journalists, the harassment they face, the vitriolic comments made on social media directed towards them – and particularly towards female journalists and anchor persons – continues unabated. Some would argue it is growing worse.

There has been less analysis of what news is actually put out. The fact is that there is now simply no way for people to know the truth. Many have stopped, according to surveys, reading newspapers or watching television channels all together. Instead they rely on the smartphones constantly in their hands and visit websites or watch YouTube videos to try and assess what the situation may be. This is becoming the most convenient way to access news.

But does it give them a real opinion on what is going on, a real depiction of events as they unfold? This is open to dispute. Many social media channels, and all the posts scattered across social media are of course not subject to any kind of checks or any kind of regulation. This does not mean that they should not be allowed to function or be broadcast. But people must have some channels through which they can acquire news that at least intends to be reliable even if reporters sometimes make mistakes, or there are errors in judgement in assessing the number involved in a march or in a crowd.

Around the world, the numbers at rallies are always difficult to accurately determine. Today this process is often undertaken scientifically, by measuring the number of people that fit into a particular frame on the screen, or into a certain measured body of space, so that numbers can be counted. This is not entirely an accurate method either. But it does give some idea of what is happening at a particular public event. On the other hand, in Pakistan channels tend to simply come up with numbers that seem to have been pre-decided.

Real journalism is in many ways dead. Even those on YouTube do not always present the truth. Many are controlled by persons or bodies who are not involved in the news business, but simply interested only in meeting their own specific interests. Ethics have largely vanished and even media professionals who wish to stick with them really have little opportunity to do so. There is too much else involved.

The situation is a dangerous one. It means that anything can be concocted and anything can be put across and presented as news. In many ways, we are now even more limited in our ability to gain the truth from the media than was true in the days of General Ziaul Haq, when splotches of blank space appeared on pages depicting news that had been lifted off by censors.

The dangers of this current situation are many for the people of the country who have a right to information under the constitution of Pakistan as well as for others including political parties, who should be making a wider effort to ensure there are fewer restrictions on journalists and more ability to put across what is the truth or what is closest to objective facts as witnessed by a particular journalist. Of course, as experts such as Noam Chomsky have long established, there is no absolute objectivity in news – but it can be a goal towards which journalists aspire even if they are never able to attain it.

Today in Pakistan, they no longer try and move towards it, because they know it is not possible. Other pressures and other means of controlling information govern what goes out on a media channel or in a newspaper. It is difficult to know if this will change. At the moment, there seems to be less possibility of this as threats, harassment, and vicious social media attacks increase.

The future seems to be a dark one. Certainly, there is no room for a free or independent media in the country. And while similar pressures are faced in other countries, Pakistan has now become a place where valid information is very difficult for ordinary people to gain access to and as such, gather together any understanding of the events that are taking place around them in a time of much uncertainty.


Unhappy X’mas: Will We Ever See An Unclouded Morn Again?

 By F.S. Aijazuddin

24 Dec 2020

WHAT has mankind done to itself? World wars, global warming, lemming-like migrations, and now Covid-19. Will we ever see an unclouded morn again?

When January 2020 dawned, no one imagined that its tail-ender December would close on a note of such helpless despair. The world is undergoing an unprecedented convulsion as convivial celebrations shrink into forced isolation, annual traditions are packed away for a Covid-free day, and human emotions are being tested as never before. Joy has become a word to be used only in the past tense.

Worldwide, scientists have been developing vaccines faster one fears than the speed of safe practices. Three have emerged ahead of others in the Free World — Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford AstraZeneca. Rather like the major political parties in the West, they are identical in purpose, distinguishable from each other only in the detail.

To the layman, the major differences are the temperature at which the vaccine can be stored safely, and its cost to the vulnerable poor. Oxford’s vaccine can be stored at fridge temperature, Moderna requires storage at -20 degrees Celsius; Pfizer at an Arctic -78°C.

The comparative cost of the doses is equally disparate. One report estimates $39 for two doses for the Pfizer vaccine, $50 for two doses of Moderna, and a low $3 a dose for the Oxford. The Oxford loaves-and-fishes miracle might be made possible through Covax, a global initiative that hopes to distribute about two billion doses to 92 low- and middle-income countries at a maximum cost of $3 a dose.

On the far side of the once Iron Curtain, Russia has developed its own Gam-COVID-Vac (Sputnik-V) vaccine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a massive ‘voluntary’ free vaccination programme against Covid-19. Western reports indicate that only half of Russia’s population are willing to be inoculated ‘voluntarily’.

In parallel, China has been concentrating on two state-sponsored vaccines — Sinovac and Sinopharm. Although they have not been tested to the nth degree, these Chinese vaccines, like Covid-19 itself, have been exported already to other countries, hopefully with less lethal consequences.

In Pakistan, while the opposition PDM is busy with loftier distractions, the PTI government is occupying itself — as befits a bankrupt country with no healthcare — with Covid-19 prevention rather than its cure. It has privatised social distancing, leaving it to its citizenry to imitate self-restraint.

From its depleting coffers, the government has earmarked $150 million towards the procurement of a vaccine, “initially to cover the most vulnerable five per cent of the population” (ie front-line health workers and people above the age of 65 years). Experts have yet to decide from which source the vaccine supplies will be procured, Western or Eastern, when or at what price. $150m doesn’t buy much these days.

As a country dependent upon Saudi handouts and Chinese subventions, Pakistan’s access to the vaccine will be determined by the quantity available with manufacturers, its ability to pay, and, most importantly for a country with shallow pockets, the burden and the incidence of cost. Who will foot the bill, and how? One popular news channel has given this wishful forecast: “Two vials of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine will cost Rs1,000 in Pakistan. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s vials will cost Rs6,000. The Moderna vaccine will cost Rs12,000.” Charity may begin at home. It is not elastic. It does not extend to pharmaceutical companies.

Some may remember the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s brave attempt in 1972 to introduce generic medicines. The public welcomed his initiative hoping it would lead to a reduction in prices. Bhutto was thwarted by powerful Western pharmaceutical firms and their local licensees, abetted by the country’s medical profession. Will some socially conscious corporate obtain a licence to manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine locally? Theoretically, yes, provided it could remain one step ahead of Covid-19’s ingenious mutations. Meanwhile, our health authorities may achieve greater success with the anti-Covid-19 vaccine than they have with the innocuous polio one. Only time and failure will tell.

Covid-19 had been as destructive to modern civilisation as the mad monk Rasputin was to the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty, the latest television series The Crown is to the present British monarchy, and chain-mail coups have been to democracy.

In London, on Dec 25 — a date he shares with Jesus Christ and Quaid-i-Azam M.A. Jinnah — PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif will celebrate his 71st birthday with his sons in Avenfield House, Mayfair. He was elected Pakistan’s prime minister thrice — in 1990, 1997, and in 2013. After three doses, he should have developed an immunity by now to that insidious virus — power.

His fellow prime ministers — Boris Johnson and Imran Khan — have offered him a cruel choice of birthday gifts — be locked down in London, or be locked up in Lahore.


A Final Trump Christmas Carol From Charles Dickens

By Harlan Ullman

December 24, 2020

At this time of year, Charles Dickens makes a regular appearance in this column. Last year, the “ghosts” of Christmas Past, Present and Future who haunted President Donald Trump were Abraham Lincoln, John McCain and Vladimir Putin. This year, the number of ghosts vying for these three roles were, as Albert Einstein observed about the universe, finite but unbounded.

Readers can pick their favorite or most trenchant ghosts. Of Christmas Past consider these main contenders. The largest group comprises the tens of thousands of angry, duped investors and campaign contributors who lost or were taken for billions of dollars from the tsunami of Trump failed deals: the Taj Mahal and other casinos; Trump University, Airlines and Vodka; the Plaza Hotel; and most recently how campaign funds were diverted to secret accounts and possibly to Trump family pockets.

Roy Cohn, counsel to the infamous and sanctioned Senator Joe McCarthy and his destructive pursuit of imagined Communists, is also in the hunt. The two former Mrs. Trump might wish to haunt the president whether in the White House or Mar a Lago. While repeat ghosts are discouraged, John McCain might remind the president that his demeaning comments about captured war heroes cost him the vote in Arizona and probably the election.

Whomever this Xmas Past may be, the intent is to transport the president to Central Park on the evening of April 19th, 1989 as Jogger Trisha Meili was raped and murdered. Five young blacks were wrongly arrested and convicted of a crime they did not commit. Trump ran full page ads calling for the return of the death penalty as punishment for the so-called “Central Park” Five.

Christmas Present likewise has a full house of aspirants. North Korean President Kim Jung Un; Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx; and a litany of senior Trump officials who left or were “fired” include General Jim Mattis; James Comey; Jeff Sessions and Anthony Scaramucci. Trump would be whisked to Moscow by this ghost to watch as Russian cyber experts engineered what the largest hack in history is probably.

Christmas Future nominations are equally swelled. New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance is investigating allegations of potential business and tax fraud by the president.2024 potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination fill a robust list packed with serving senators, former governors and other senior officials. And where would Xmas Future transport the president in his final days in the White House?

Two locales are under consideration. The first is January 20th, 2025 when Donald Trump will not be inaugurated as president for the second time. The second is a date in 2024, when the president and key family members are eligible for parole after convictions in 2021 for wrong doings.

Of course, in Trump world, Dickens would tell a far happier tale. The three visiting Christmases would be filled by one figure: Fred Trump, the president’s intimidating father. One can imagine the scene.

Trump is awakened by the specter of his father. “Donald, you have committed the ultimate and worst sin possible, one I have always warned you to avoid.” “You failed!”

“You were not re-elected. You left a path strewn with enough evidence of wrong doing from fraud to outright lies, it is incredible that you were not convicted and thrown out of office after the impeachment. You were lucky that the Democrats were so incompetent. Cy Vance may not be so forgiving.”

For the first time since his father’s death, the president was speechless. Winning his father’s favour had driven the younger Trump. In a weak and quaking voice, the president asked his father where they were headed during these visitations.

“We are making only one stop: Washington, D.C. on January 20th, 2025.” Suddenly floating above Washington, Trump saw massive crowds flooding into the Mall. In front of the Capitol, President Joe and First Lady Jill Biden were on the stage next to the Chief Justice. But where was he, Donald Trump, as it was approaching noon and the swearing in of the next president?

Trump never got the answer. He woke immediately in his bedroom. His father was still present. “Son, I know the future. I purposely did not allow you to see who the next president will be. That is up to you.”

“But I have one warning. Do not fail again. If you do, you will never be welcome in the Trump family again. I guarantee you that.”

Still shaken and shaking, Trump stuttered, “What do I need to do?”

“Win next time—or else!”

Thus began the ex-president’s next campaign and another Christmas Carol story.


Dr Harlan Ullman is UPI’s Arnaud deBorchgrave Distinguished Columnist. His next book due out in 2021 is The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: The Tragic History of How Massive Attacks of Disruption Are Endangering, Infecting, Engulfing and Disuniting a 51% Nation.


Pakistan's Response To US War Machinery In Afghanistan

By Durdana Najam

December 23, 2020

The War on Terror descended on Pakistan after July 2007, when the incident of Lal Masjid occurred. The suicide attacks became a routine matter after that. The advent of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hereafter, challenged the writ of Pakistan’s state across the country. The most vulnerable targets of TTP’s attacks were the state’s security apparatus, especially the armed forces and other law enforcement agencies. Whatever the reasons for the Lal Masjid episode (this is not the space to delve upon it), the incident made terrorism Pakistan’s most complicated and intractable internal problem. This is where the argument of “whose war is this any way” surfaced and haunted the country for years to come.

The advent of home-grown terrorism in Pakistan added fuel to the anti-American sentiments, already rife in the country. In a Pew research study released in May 2013, about 64% Pakistanis were found having anti-American sentiments. As far as the war on terrorism was concerned, nine out of 10 Pakistanis considered Pakistan on the wrong track. Drone attacks were considered as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty that had killed more civilians than the actual targets: the Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists.

It is now common knowledge that military dictator Pervez Musharraf had given the United States the go-ahead signal to use predator strikes in Pakistan. In April 2013, Musharraf told CNN that he had authorised drone strikes in Pakistan while he was in power. Similarly, a diplomatic cable from the then US ambassador Anne Patterson, dated August 2008, and released by WikiLeaks, disclosed that then PM Yousaf Raza Gillani had agreed to the strikes in private. “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We will protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”

According to a report published in The Washington Post in 2008, the US and Pakistan had a deal whereby the US would throw drones at erstwhile FATA while Pakistan would put up a sham protest against the strikes. Even president Zardari is said to have given a green signal on the continuation of the strikes by saying during his meeting with former CIA director Mike Hayden, in New York, “Kill the seniors, collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”

On the other hand, the presence of CIA operatives in Pakistan complicated matters between the two countries in January 2011 when Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in Lahore in broad daylight. The incident embarrassed the Pakistan government and its military as their denial to CIA’s operatives working in the country got exposed. According to a Foreign Ministry statement, some 414 non-diplomats referred to as “special Americans” were living in Pakistan at that time. Most of them were living in Islamabad while some in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. An intelligence report suspected these “special Americans as operatives of US intelligence agencies who were on covert missions in Pakistan”. The Raymond Davis incident was badly handled by both governments. At one stage when the then ISI chief, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, talked to the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, to extract the truth about Raymond Davis being on a covert mission in the country, Panetta refused to acknowledge it. Eventually, the American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, had to convince the State Department and the CIA to open up, and own Davis as its contractor.

Pakistan was more than convinced that the US would eventually leave Afghanistan, returning the country back to Pakistan to install its favourites in Kabul. Pakistan was not happy with Karzai. He was found aligning too close to India by providing a wide space to the India-backed Northern Alliance in its government. In fact this prompted Islamabad to indulge in a two-track policy whereby the Pashtun Taliban were protected while the Al Qaeda Arab and non-Afghan fighters were handed over to the US.

Though relations between Pakistan and the US have improved to an extent that there is little firework aimed at one another for using or misusing the other to achieve one’s special interests. There is also an assurance to alleviate Pakistan’s fear that the US would not leave Afghanistan unattended, as it did after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989. Pakistan’s involvement is also assured in the peace talks held between the Taliban and the US. Pakistan could be rightly worried about Afghanistan entering into another civil war in the wake of US and US-led NATO forces’ drawdown in 2014, affecting its regional interests.

For Pakistan, the concluding assessment of Afghanistan and other related issues has been: one, to leave Afghanistan to its own devices without buying the headache as to who will rule that country; Pashtun or non-Pashtun. Two, there was a dire need to abandon the Jihadi extremist programme. Three, an urgent assessment was required of the key word “dysfunctional state” as was reported in the Abbottabad Commission reports that explained the flaws and weaknesses of the political institutions of the country.



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