By Mansoor Jafar
6 May 2014
In the third week of political turmoil following an assassination on a senior journalist in Pakistan, the country is still suffering from the shockwaves and there are many unanswered questions left.
The entire country is in a state of total confusion about the why there was an abandoned attempt on the life of Hamid Mir, a senior anchor of Geo TV network. Adding more controversy is the owners of the Geo TV channel claiming the attempt related to the suppression of freedom of expression by the country’s premier spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Geo also assembled demonstrations by journalists against the recent move to try to shut the TV channel.
There have also been counter demonstrations against the TV channel over the last two weeks by some right-wing and mostly unknown and small political groups.
These protests, believed to be backed and orchestrated by the Army, support the armed forces as defenders of the nation and accused the TV channel of betraying the nation and working for enemies like Indian secret agency RAW and the American CIA.
Frankly, many senior journalists have not been able to assess with certainty the motives behind the moves and counter moves from Geo TV and the Army.
Geo TV vs. ISI
The biggest question nagging people's minds is why the TV channel hurled direct allegations against ISI chief for the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir without any proof. Such a blunder is the last thing expected from the oldest TV news channel in Pakistan owned by country’s largest media house.
The past two weeks have created more fears and divisions among Pakistan as people witness growing tension from each side, not knowing who is pulling the strings behind the insane use of accusations.
Though defense and military affairs have largely been a “no-go” area for media, it has enjoyed relative freedom. All the political and military governments over the last two decades had been full of complaints against media intrusion into state affairs and government business with the extent of running unsubstantiated material and caricatures of politicians that were often humiliating.
The fact is that Pakistani media has enjoyed a lot of freedom compared to other parts of the world including Europe, U.S. and even neighbouring India where mainstream media had always towed country's foreign policy blindly. Indian media is accused of taking sides with the army even against the accusations of gross violations of human and women rights in Kashmir, East Punjab and many other provinces engaging in countering freedom movements.
Similarly, why on earth would the Pakistan army poke political groups and people to rally on streets, highlighting the sacrifices of army's martyrs for the defense of homeland over the last five decades and painting a TV channel as traitor and agents of enemies, demanding its closure? Such kind of political muscle flexing is a serious violation of the philosophy of the working of the institution of armed forces in a democratic country.
The Truth about Geo TV
In an interesting development, the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has come out openly against the Geo TV, accusing it of being part of electoral rigging in last year’s general elections in which Imran’s party, Pakistan Tehrik Insaf, won much less seats than the pre-polls surveys predicted.
Imran alleged that Geo predicted the win of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N as soon as the polling ended, which was a proof it was hand in glove with the forces that rigged the elections.
Imran announced to stage rallies and sit-ins across the country on May 11 against the rigging and the ‘dirty’ role of Geo TV against democratic forces in the country.
Interestingly, May 11 has already been chosen as the day for launching countrywide protest movement by another controversial figure in Pakistani politics, Dr. Tahirul Qadri, who heads his religious organization Tehrik Minhaj ul Quran and its political wing Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT).
Dr. Qadri who obtained Canadian citizenship about a decade ago, leads the party through video conferencing while sitting in Toronto.
He had been demanding a total revamp of country’s electoral system which he accused of allowing only the capitalists to win. PAT protests for May 11 were announced over a month ago and are aimed at demanding the change of electoral system so as to allow an equal opportunity to win for the middle and poor class candidates.
Last year, Dr Qadri led a march of motorcade from Lahore to Islamabad to press for the same demand and remained there staging a sit-in for five days before striking a mysterious deal with the then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani to disperse.
Under the present scenario, the joining in the fray by Imran Khan and Dr. Qadri looks quite sinister and may bring a bad omen for the immature democracy in the country.
Pakistan’s army snatched political power from the politicians just ten years after country was created, and since then the country had always been under direct or indirect rule of army generals who enjoyed absolute immunity against every law and rule.
The fear of backlash has prevented both politicians and general public from expressing open anger or hatred against army’s dubious political role in the country.
For five decades, even the loud mouthed politicians would only dare accuse army generals of plundering political power and national resources, until General Pervez Musharraf’s unwise use of force against civilians pushed them to the limit and gave them the much awaited courage to openly condemn the abuse of political authority by the power hungry generals.
Musharraf’s unilateral moves to join the U.S. war on terror against majority public opinion and causing huge damage to country’s social fabric and economy, pushed the army elite further back vis-à-vis their political plans, and it during the last political regime the army exercised extreme restrained despite many direct or indirect provocations to grab power.
It is alarming to see that anti-Geo protests has also been used glorify the military dictators like General Musharraf and his predecessors who abused political power and enslaved the country before Washington without any precondition, causing an estimated loss of over 100 billion dollars for the sake of war on terror.
Some political quarters argue that Geo TV’s folly to directly accuse the ISI might have been part of the conspiracy to create sympathies with the army generals and present them as victims of unrestrained media freedom and misadventures for the sake of Pakistan’s enemy, India. One wonders if the entire episode of Hamid Mir’s assassination attempt and Geo’s unwise response was part of the conspiracy to pave the way for another martial law?
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad.