Tagged with " Pakistan"

Respecting sovereignty – ours and theirs

Pakistan won the title of champions in a closely contested Asia Cup final against Bangladesh at Dhaka and what a match it was; fortunes fluctuated throughout the match and the Pakistani team scraped through by holding on to their nerves. It was a game that kept you glued to the TV screens and at the edge of your seats. Both teams deserve all the kudos for entertaining the cricket followers across the world.
There is no bad blood in cricket between Pakistan and Bangladesh so the rivalry is only of sporting nature and both, the Pakistani cricket team captain, Misbahul Haq, and the Man of the Match winner, Shahid Afridi, paid respect to the efforts of the Bangladeshi cricket team. What left a sour taste was the callous behaviour of some Pakistani fans. In the run up to the final and during the match, Pakistani social media chatter was abuzz with memes like ‘East or West, Pakistan is the best’, ‘kyunki Bangladesh bhi kabhi Pakistan tha’ (because Bangladesh was once Pakistan) and ‘Hum jeetain ya woh, jeet tau Pakistan ki hi hogee’ (whether they win or us, the victory is Pakistan’s). Making a mockery of a country’s sovereignty is in extremely bad taste. Anyone with a modicum of decency would find such blatant discount of a country’s identity as a separate entity objectionable — throw in the atrocities committed by the state of Pakistan against its own people in former East Pakistan and it is downright offensive. To do so just before the Bangladeshi Independence Day is downright odious.
Around forty-one years ago, when General Yahya Khan asked his commander of the Eastern Command to “sort out the Bengalis”, Operation Searchlight was launched on March 25, 1971. The “sorting out” in Yahya’s speech meant brutally crushing a popular uprising. The operation started with an attack on the dormitories of Dhaka University where heavy artillery was used against students and citizens of the country. Though it took another nine months for the transformation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh, many say it was the last night of a united Pakistan. The following day, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of the Awami League and Major Ziaur Rahman in Chittagong separately declared Bangladesh to be an independent state and all hell broke loose. The operation that was ostensibly launched to save Pakistan, accomplished anything but that and left death, destruction, loot, plunder, rape and genocide of the Bengali people in its wake.
As a nation, we are good at brushing the nasty collective memories under the carpet. We do not mention incidents like Operation Searchlight or the dismemberment of the country in our history books or national narratives. We shy away from admitting that our state has systematically used rape as an instrument of war against its own people. We do not talk about how the state machinery was and continues to stay involved in the brutal murders of the very citizens it is mandated to protect. However, our collective ignorance should not lessen the intensity of turmoil that they have faced. The Bengalis have fought a hard war for independence and such disregard of their feelings is distasteful.
Every other day, we see one political leader or the other foaming at the mouth, wanting other countries, especially the United States of America, to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan. It is about time we accord the same courtesy to other countries.
First published in The Express Tribune

Living with the internet nanny


Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being placed quite high on all the lists that a country must avoid. While it is one the most corrupt countries with bad governance record, it is also the most dangerous country in the world to practice journalism in. In addition, we are not far behind the countries that top the lists for suppressing the rights of religious minorities and have high maternal and infant mortality rates. Despite all this, Pakistan was doing ok as far as freedom to internet access was concerned. Not any more, as the government is just done seeking proposals to build a firewall that will filter and block a whopping50 million undesirable URLs. 
Censorship is not alien to Pakistan. The country has suffered numerous dictatorships and emergencies to be familiar with restriction and suppression. Nor it is the only country in the region that is trying its hand at internet filtering. Burma, Yemen, Bahrain, and Qatar monitor political discussion and access to information in their countries. The “great Firewall” that engulfs over a billion strong China is known to all. Governments in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE also filter content which they deem unsuitable to the cultural and religious sensibilities of their societies. Unlike all these countries which are either monarchies or authoritarian regimes, Pakistan is a multiparty democracy. Paradoxical is the fact that the political party currently forming the government not only claims but also has a history of battling dictators and censorship in the past.
The proposal calls for a blanket ban on pornographic and undesirable content but who gets to decide what will be tabled under the category of pornography? Feminist and gay rights websites have been filed under pornography in the regimes that block cyber content to limit people’s access to gender awareness and alternative lifestyles in the past. Even high profile social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have been called dating websites spreading immorality to curb access to them.
The government has already blocked alternative news websites such as Baloch Hal and others featuring stories from Balochistan that do not get any space in mainstream media, who knows what else will be bracketed ‘undesirable’ once the filters are in place and will be blocked. The centralized nature of the database under the proposed filtering system will enable the government to do it efficiently. It should also be noted that proposal does not call for any oversight or contribution from the elected representatives, rights groups, civil society organizations or any of the consumer groups.
As part of their licensing agreement with Pakistan Telecom Authority, all the internet service providers donate money for the National ICT R&D Fund that called for the proposal. As the ISPs get their money from the users, it will be the users who will end up paying for the cyber surveillance against themselves. How ironic!
In the day and age when most people are moving away from traditional sources of information, entertainment and employment and turning to the World Wide Web for it all, people will find ways to circumvent the government ban and all the money spent on the project would go down the drain.
Life with a firewall which monitors content is just like living with an cyber nanny who has the authority to slap your wrists if you said something or sought information that she does not like, what sensible adult would want to live like that? 
First published in The Express Tribune

A slap — and then some

If you happen to live in Pakistan and have access to any kind of media, mainstream or otherwise, you would know the step by step details of Waheeda Shah’s slapping of a polling officer roughly two weeks ago. The commotion that followed the incident may be justified but if looked closely, every episode in this murky saga including the initial slap truly reflects the society we live in and is
nothing out of ordinary.


A well heeled feudal woman slapped a government servant to show her might. She did it because she knew that she can get away with it. Had that slap was not recorded by the television cameras in all its violent glory, she definitely would have gotten away with it – something that happens every day in this country.


The media rightly reported the incident as an act of violence and desecration of the election process but then went on to add dramatic music and some crafty edits to make it look like a case of repeated slaps. Our esteemed media turned a grave violation of law into a caricature which is quite the routine.


Pakistani police also stayed true to its character in this sorry tale. Waheeda Shah slapped the poling officer right in front of a senior police official – a DSP – who did nothing to stop the aggression of a powerful and connected feudal.


Under duress, an FIR was registered against Waheeda Shah, but instead of booking her for assault on another human being which carries harsher punishment, she was charged with ‘disorderly conduct at polling station’, an offence punishable with just three months imprisonment, a fine of Rs 1,000 or both.


When a PPP candidate is involved in shenanigans of the worst kind, how can Pakistani judicial activism be far behind? The Supreme Court of Pakistan also decides to jumps into the fray and takes suo moto notice against Ms. Shah because, let’s admit it,  her slap is the biggest issue threatening the core of the country. Incidents like genocide of Hazara Community  in Quetta and brutal killings of Shias in Kohistan do not merit the same response. Just like the country it represents, the apex court has its priorities straight.


Some women rights activists on social media  criticized Supreme Court’s decision to take suo moto action and said that higher judiciary’s judicial activism is directed to women alone because they are easy preys, be it credit card theft case of Shumaila Rana of PML-N, possession of alcohol; case of Atiqa Odho of APML or PPP’s Waheeda Shah’s misconduct during elections.


After ECP disqualified the election of PS 53 Tando Muhammed Khan, PPP should have graciously accepted defeat and vowed to get their act together before general elections. But as Pakistani we never learn from mistakes and PPP officials also supported their candidate with Agha Siraj Durrani refusing to buy the rumpus that followed the incident saying that Shah had “only slapped the staff!”

As if the whole brouhaha surrounding the incident was not enough, Raja Riaz of PPP decided to add his voice to the commotion. He first denied Shah’s assault on the presiding officer and said she was just “pressed.”He then defended Shah’s act of violence as the grief of a traumatized widow and then blamed the victim in true Pakistani fashion for rigging the elections.  Waheeda Shah and her act of aggression is not unique, Pakistan has turned into this Orwellian nightmare where might is not always right, it wins in the end as well. 
First published in The Express Tribune,this is the unedited version.

Mar 2, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

A country for bigotry


It has been a year since Shahbaz Bhatti passed away. No, strike that, he did not pass away; his life was brutally cut short when he was murdered. Everyone from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan has been suspected with his murder either by the police officials or by home ministry yet no decent progress has been made. 
In a way, it all makes sense as only angry groups of men who mean death and destruction carry any weight around here. Bhatti was NOT that man. He believed in fighting for his rights the democratic way and had planned to introduce legislation that would ban hate speech and hate literature against all. He was campaigning for official holidays for minorities’ religious festivals and wanted Blasphemy Law to be repealed which turned out to be a crime worthy of death.
Bhatti’s death is not a lone incidence of brutal violence. Planned acts of aggression and cruelty against minorities – be them ethnic, religious, sectarian or communal– are becoming a norm in the land of pure. Intolerance has reached such levels that people with names that revealed their sectarian or religious beliefs are afraid to use them when they feel unsafe. Slain journalist Mukarram Khan Atif narrated one such incident which depicted the extent of narrow-mindedness and fanaticism in the country. Mukarram Khan and another Shia reporter were traveling south from Mohmand and in Khyber Agency – a Sunni dominant area – the Shia journalist took Abbas off his name and added a Khan and when they passed through Kurram Agency, the Shia journalist resumed his identity, but Mukarram Khan had to become Mukarram Shah to stay safe. In the end, even that was not enough and Mukarram Khan was murdered by TTP.
The minority communities – no matter who they are and where they are living – are constantly under threat. We have cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls – mostly minors – in Sindh who are forcefully abducted and married to Muslim men and then presented to the court as religious converts. According to a treasurymember of Sindh Assembly, around 20 to 25 forced conversions take place every month in the province. 
Acts of mob violence against Ahmadis are routine. Any random Ahmadi family can be threatenedwith blasphemy ordinance and it is business as usual for the law enforcement bodies. Their places of worship are gunned and/or ransacked because good God fearing Muslims of the land feel threatened by the security cameras there that are installed by the police, yet the government just silently looks on.
The perpetuators of the Gojra incident where a whole Christian colony was burned down still roam free and Hazaras in Balochistan are regularly targeted for their sectarian and ethnic identity. Go to any bookshop and you can find books written by religious fanatics denouncing Ismaili Shias as the degenerates out to destroy the faith, but what happened in Kohistanwhere Shia men were mercilessly killed after checking their Shia identity with their id cards takes it to another level of premeditated prejudice  and bigotry. Such was the desire of the killers to defend their faith that they even killed a Sunni man who made a mistake when asked a question about Fajr prayers.
It would be not wrong to say that intolerance rules our society and no one is safe in this country other than the men who perpetuate biases, bigotry and hatred.
First published in The Express Tribune
Feb 24, 2012 - published work, women    6 Comments

Politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone


Pakistan is a strange country. While on one hand it has had the first female prime minister of the Muslim world and has the maximum percentage of women in its legislative assemblies in the region; politics has not been used as a tool of empowerment for women at the grassroots.
It is a curious paradox and the reasons can be as varied as politics being a classist business in the country to general lack of women’s access to public spaces. If political parties are scrutinized, most female politicians are either siblings or children of the party heads or are married into the political families. There are hardly any role models, if any, of women political workers who assumed a leadership position after serving their parties over a number of years. Political ascendency on meritorious grounds is a novel phenomenon in Pakistan but more so in case of women political workers.
With exception of Bushra Gohar and now Nasreen Jaleel, no other party barring ANP and MQM has women holding pivotal positions in their parties and they too need to do a lot more. MQM’s Rabta Committee has a disproportionate number of men and the regressive elements in ANP still bar women from exercising their right to vote – as late as November 2011 when all the eight contestants of the constituency KP61, Kohistan decided not to allow women to cast their votes.
Importance of being out and about in politics is obvious to anyone with passing interest in it. The women’s rally staged by MQM last weekend showed us that politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone.
In a country where women are losing ground in the public spaces and confining themselves to fit to the desired patriarchal norms, the rally and its message that a strong Pakistan is dependent on independent women was a timely reminder that women need to go out and reclaim the spaces they have receded and find newer avenues to call their own such as political space at the grassroots. 
MQM may have wanted to show the world that Karachi is still their home and other political upstarts have a long way to go before they lay any claims to the city but what also comes across from this is that women as voters and citizenry are important and must be viewed as such by other political powers. The large numbers that turned up also showed us that women are interested if they are taken seriously and want to engage in the political process.
It is about time the political parties realize that women are a political constituency and their concerns needs to be addressed and fought for, not only in the parliament but also in their party ranks. This is the election year, should we not demand all parties to include issues important to women in their election manifestos and genuinely try to bridge the gap that exists.
In politics, the importance of constituency cannot be overstated. The MQM rally brought to fore the fact that the constituency of women across the ethnic, racial, tribal and class exists and needs to be catered to by all the political parties. Women’s caucus in the parliament have voted across party lines on issues that mattered to them as a group most and if the parliament is a microcosm of society, it can happen at a macro level as well. 
First published in The Express Tribune

PS:  The reason I have only mentioned ANP and MQM is that these are the only two parties where women hold positions as central as  Senior Vice-President and Deputy Convener. PPP’s CEC has a fair number of women, in addition, there are a few female politicians from PTI,  and the high profile female parliamentarians of PML-Q. With Maryan Nawaz Shareef, even PML-N is trying to score with women and young adults.

Hungry and about to explode

How many of us have seen children with thinning, rough hair with orange hue? They are the children who are trying to clean our car’s windshield at every other signal. It is the boy who is working at the tyre shop in our local gas station. It could be our maid’s child playing in our garage and eating dirt while she is attending to us and our children. These pale, skinny, listless children are all around us – everywhere –they are the malnourished children of our world. 
Pakistan is among thefive top ranked countries that have more than half of the world’s malnourished children, says a report publishedby ‘Save the Children’. One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In a country like Pakistan, the figure is much higher. Stunted growth means their body and brain has failed to develop properly because of malnutrition. About 43.6 per cent children in the country are officially reported stunted and if no concerted action is taken, Pakistan will have the highest percentage of stunted children population in the next 15 years. Apart from coming up with national level plans to deal with this acute shortage and price hike of necessary food items, the most obvious way of dealing with this issue is to have less number of children, yet we keep procreating at an alarming rate with absolutely no planning, hoping that God will provide for them – a fatalistic approach that has harmed the country to no end. 
The world malnutrition and hunger has put the philosophical approach that every child brings its own food to rest; however, it is still considered a valid excuse for having large families. What parents do not realize is that their malnourished children are not only disadvantaged as children, they will remain so as adults and will earn at least 20% less on average than those who have had a healthy childhood.
The country’s population is estimated to go up to 300 million by 2030, and our water resources – necessary for food growth, agricultural, dairy and poultry farming, hygiene and sanitation – are dwindling fast. Pakistan has slid from being a water affluent country to a water scarce country; imagine how bad the situation would be with 120 million additional mouths to feed and even less food & water than we have right now.
22 per cent of the people in Pakistan can never afford to buy staple foods such as meat, milk, or vegetables for their families every week, yet they keep on adding to their families. The policy makers and decision makers have to take notice now and take measures to realistically deal with this issue. Poverty reduction measures like Benazir Income Support Programe alone, can never tackle the population time bomb, it has to be paired with stringent population control actions.
In a country where advocating family planning is still a taboo, we need to address this issue as an emergency. There are sections in the society that take pride in the fact that we will become the most populous Muslim nation soon. What is the point in taking pride in producing world’s biggest group of hungry, malnourished children and adults with limited abilities to fend for themselves and lacking prospects for future growth.
We need to create a society where small families are socially desirable and it can be created through deliberate social engineering by the state and clergy. It has already happened in Iran and Bangladesh, and it can happen in Pakistan as well. 
First published in The Express Tribune
PS: Those who accuse me of being anti PTI should know that this piece was neutral, discussed a clear and present danger and never once mentioned ‘he who cannot be named’ yet one of the most dismissive comment I received on the newspaper website was by a PTI troll who prefers to hide behind the alias of Frank Observer. This is what he wrote: 
I’m sick of the liberals, wealthy and the privileged of this country lecturing the underprivileged on how to lead their life. Just because you had the privilege of western education does not mean that you can treat the ordinary working class of this country as ignorant and brainless individuals who need to be told by the upper class like yourself how many children they should have. I believe one should have as many children as one likes, and it should have no bearing on inequality, poverty and injustice in society. I for one don’t need your expert advise in my personal life. So thanks but no thanks. Also, you are distorting attention from the real root causes of inequality and poverty, which are embedded corruption in society, dishonest, selfish, and incompetent politicians and people like yourself who instead of lecturing the politicians are turning this country into a nanny state by dictating our personal lifes to the extent that we should now listen to you for family planning. Guys, bring down the statusquo in the next general election and vote for Imran Khan.

I rest my case 

Feb 3, 2012 - published work, terrorism    5 Comments

All you wanted to know about Difa-e-Pakistan Council but were too afraid to ask


One cannot be faulted for assuming that Difa-e-Pakistan Council comprise of officials of defence ministry, four star generals and decorated admirals who wish to ponder over the defense needs of the country and make major strategic decisions. To find out that it is actually a motley crew of 40 odd religious parties, banned terrorist outfits like Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), a few other political has beens like Sheikh Rasheed and Ijaz-ul-Haq, and the former spy master Hameed Gul among others can be shocking. To figure out what it stands for can be even more astounding. Let’s try and figure it out by asking a few questions. 

So what does this Council stands for? According to Hafiz Saeed of the JuD, it is a coalition with the aim to “defend Pakistan”. What do they actually do apart from claiming to defend the country? Not much besides holding rallies in different cities and threatening the government of dire consequences if their demands are not met. 

What are those dire consequences? Chaos, anarchy and suicide bombings. But don’t we have them – anarchy, chaos and suicide bombings – already? Yeah, but they have promised to upscale the operations if their demands are not met.

And what are those demands? For starters, they want the parliament to not restore NATO supply lines. But those supply lines have always been open and were blocked only a few weeks back, why this sudden realization that it undermines the sovereignty of the country? Well, it is better late than never, isn’t it?  
What else do they want, surely they cannot spend millions of rupees on all those public gatherings to seek that government does not restore the Nato supply lines? The ultimate goal is to severe all diplomatic, cultural, political and economic ties with United States of America. Errr, can our country survive this ultimate isolation? Most probably not, but the Council would surely like the government to try that. Is it Just USA that they want to do away with or has any other country faced a similar wrath? They hate India just as much and are angry with the government for awarding them Most Favoured Nation status.

But by regularizing trade with India, the government will not only discourage cross border smuggling of goods but will also benefit from taxes and duties levied on the imports which can be used for public welfare, surely that cannot be bad? Difa-e-Pakistan Council is not concerned with public good, According to its chairman, “the council’s sole agenda was to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan.”

What legitimacy do they have, if any, to demand all that? Between the 40 parties and organizations of Difa-e-Pakistan council, only JUI-F is in the parliament and they too have only 8 seats. One can surely figure out their legitimacy by their underwhelming electoral performance. They, of course, would like to think otherwise. According to Maulana Sami-ul Haq, Chairman Difa-e-Pakistan Council, their gatheringsare a clear message to US and it is a referendum for the government of Pakistan to immediately reconsider relations and foreign policy for US and its allies.

Does any of it make any sense at all? Not really, but then our politics has never been about logic, finding solutions and peace and harmony. It has always been about rhetoric, confusion, demagoguery and posturing and Difa-e-Pakistan Council is doing one hell of a job of it. 

First published in The Express Tribune
Jan 27, 2012 - Shahbaz Sharif    2 Comments

The buffoonery of Shahbaz Sharif



The buffoonery of PML-N leadership is well documented in Pakistani media but the Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s interview last night with Javed Chaudhry was so gallactically stupid, it makes one want to cry – literally. 
A few gems from this epic interview are:
“All conspiracies against Punjab government and corruption schemes are designed in the President House.”
 If the staff at President House managed to find some time off from fighting one case after another from a very partisan judiciary, they would’ve loved to hatch a scheme or two against Chotay Mian Sahib. Sadly they are busy fighting battles for the survival and finishing the term. Mian sahib should look closer to home if he wants to pin the blame – his own government.
“President Asif Ali Zardari is the responsible for everything that ails the country.”
Seriously? Is that your argument? Is that how you are gonna win next elections? By pinning the blame on a man who willingly gave up his presidential authorities to the parliament? Of course Asif Ali Zardari – the co chair of PPP – has control over the party and the government but you cannot blame his office for it.  

“CNG shortage is artificially created by the federal government to sabotage the public transport system introduced by PML-N’s government in Punjab.”
Gas is an exhaustible natural resource, and you would do well to remember that. No government, no matter how suicidal it is, would want to face public’s wrath during election years by making basic utilities unavailable – even if it is trying to make Chotay Mian sahab’s life miserable. 
“I don’t consider this person [Asif Zardari] the president of Pakistan.”
Errr …. All legislative bodies including the one you lead unanimously elected that person as your president. You may hate his guts but you can’t deny the fact that he indeed is the democratically elected president of the country. What makes it more ironic is that this statement was issued the same day when PML-N offers conditional support to the President.
“I am willing to take responsibility for the security of Mansoor Ijaz.”
I am so glad that Rehman Malik plans on filing a request for a ‘contempt of court’ notice against the chief minister.
Jan 18, 2012 - rant, TTP, USA    11 Comments

Another foul murder; RIP Mukarram Khan


On my way back home last evening, I received a text from my colleague that Mukarram Sahab has been shot and was taken to a hospital in Peshawar.  So stunned was I with the news that I did not realize when the signal turned green and only moved when the cars behind me honked. An hour later, I found that Mukarram Sahabb has succumbed to his injuries. 
Mukarram Khan Atif was a senior tribal journalist from Mohmand Agency and was killed on January 17th 2012 in a targeted attack after receiving repeated threats to his life. He was offering evening prayers in a mosque when he was shot in the head by two gunmen. 
I have known Mukarram Sahab for only a few weeks but he made a profound impact in that very short time. I am city girl, from Karachi, with my fair share of prejudices about the tribesmen and how they behave. Mukarram Sahab was one of those people who helped me in looking beyond the stereotype of a stern and unyielding tribesman with his intelligence, valour, grace, and self effacing sense of humour. He humanized the area and its people for me, a city dweller who only conjured up images of Hakimullah Mehsud and the likes in reference with the tribesmen from FATA. 
Mukarram Sahab had many interesting stories about his time as a reporter in the tribal region, be it about interviewing suspected suicide bombers, traveling to remote areas on foot for stories and sneaking into difficult areas as a goat shepherd. Back in 2001, Mukarram Sahab was taken hostage by Afghan Taliban along with a French and a Pakistani journalist. All three of them were charged with spying for USA by the Taliban government.  As none of the other two journalists could speak Pashto, he was asked to interpret for them by the Taliban government in Afghanistan. He said that he would do it but he would want to be paid for his services.  He actually managed to charge the Taliban govt. for interpreting for the two journalists in captivity. I asked him how he pulled off this incredulous feat and he said that he takes his work very seriously and believe in being paid for whatever he does.  I asked him to write all such fascinating stories and share it with the world.  Mukarram Sahab agreed and said that one day he would sit down and write. He kept an archive of all his radio reports for Deewa and thought that he would transcribe it all when he can spare the time. Unfortunately, he was killed by the TTP for not giving them enough coverage on those radio reports and the world will never know about his hard to believe escapades. 

Deaths and journalists’ murders are a sad reality in Pakistan, but what irritates me most is the way local media reports these incidents. Dawn, a supposedly responsible newspaper came up with the headline “Pakistani journalist working for US media shot dead. The News, a generally horrid newspaper came up with the headline “VoA journalist assassinated in Charsadda.” What are these reports trying to imply? That he was working for a US media house and in some way responsible for his own murder? Are we absolving his murderers of their brutality?  Does his employment for a foreign news organization make him less of a Pakistani or less of a human?  Mukarram Sahab was a Pakistani journalist working as a correspondent for Dunya TV and a stringer for VoA’s Pashto service Deewa Radio. It’s about time we claim our people and heroes and give them due credit for their courage, fearlessness, and bravery. 

Mukarram Khan Atif in Islamabad


Reporters Sans Frontier has declared Pakistan the most dangerous country for journalists second year in a row. I never thought that the first journalist to die this year would be someone I knew personally. Mukarram Sahab, you were a fine gentleman and a brave soul. May you rest in peace.
Jan 14, 2012 - published work    6 Comments

Land of rumour and hyperbole

They say there is no business like show business. The case of Pakistan, however, is a tad different and here there is no business like news business. Take any newspaper for instance; the front page would be full of statements, rhetoric, hearsay and guess work. There is hardly any good old-fashioned, solid news.

Every newspaper — national or vernacular — is wondering the state of Mansoor Ijaz’s visa application for his appearance before the judicial commission in Islamabad. Whether he has applied for the visa or not, and in case he applies for it, will he apply for a visa in Washington DC or London? Mansoor Ijaz, who vows to appear before the judicial commission yet again, even though he has made no concrete move to actualise his commitment, gets a headline. A news item like this, which is nothing but speculation and rhetoric, is usually given a prominent spot in most newspapers.

The news about the course of action advised by the coalition partners to the PPP government is one of the most prominently displayed ones, yet it is full of platitudes. The news about the army’s silence and how it is worrisome for the movers and shakers in Islamabad, is nothing but speculation. Similarly, the news about Altaf Husain talking to the Taliban and Imran Khan talking to all but the PML-N is mere political posturing.

The electronic media is worse and the events of the past couple of days are a good example of the fact that large segments of it seem to thrive only on sensationalism. Many anchors were willing to suffer coronaries and brain aneurysms to make their point. Some were so eager to ensure that they appear most earnest; they risked combustion by passionate rhetoric, if that’s possible. Dr Goebbels used propaganda as a war tool in Nazi Germany and he was quite successful in it. We, it appears, live in the age of rumours where it is used as a tool of political manoeuvring.

Similarly, the media’s news gathering is limited to a few big cities. A bomb blast in Lahore or rioting in Karachi gets maximum coverage and stays in the news for far longer than a blast in Charsadda and brutal massacre of government officials in Turbat. The lack of voices from Balochistan in the electronic media is unfair, if not criminal.

Those who sing praises of a free media should pause and ponder if the media is really doing what it is supposed to do? Does it give all the players equal opportunities to present their case? Does it posit the same pointing questions to all the players — political and apolitical — or does it do the bidding of a select group? Only this week, we have seen one TV anchor or the other championing coup, but were there any dissenting voices? If the honour of the armed forces cannot be questioned then why are we subjecting our elected representative to the repeated shame and humiliation? If the institution of judiciary is above any scrutiny — as presented by the media — then why not parliament?

Amidst all the rumours, rhetoric, conjecture, gossip, posturing and speculation, the real news gets lost somewhere. There are so many news worthy items that never get airtime because the media is busy peddling inanities.
First published in The Express Tribune.
Pages:«12345678...17»
``