Flipping pages

On the same page?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Our country’s history predisposes us to dwell on the tensions of the civil and military relationship and the resultant impact on our politics. Implicit in the spasmodically yet doggedly publicized affaire of Dawn ‘Leaks’ is the underwriting of the thought that the armed forces and the civil government are/may/will be at cross-purposes; or that one or both of these bulwarks of the state may have conflicting currents within them: A more perilously confusing state—domestically and internationally—than the frank impropriety of civil government being subservient to military diktat; or the armed forces blatantly flouting or choosing to act independently of civilian policy’s direction and directives.

Military waywardness is currently being most often cited or perceived in regard to the portfolios of home and foreign affairs. Civil failure is drummed home in terms of government orientation and performance. There is a notion that each segment tries to use the distressingly powerful propaganda tools of information and disinformation to vindicate itself and vilify the other.

If this is true, it reflects an irresponsibility and immaturity that is shockingly reckless of the impact on national affairs. But it is equally true that any tactlessly indiscreet ‘exposure’ of the syndrome in the pursuit of investigative journalism and the right to free comment shows a shocking disregard of an international diminution of the national character and the state’s institutions. Thankfully, we have not reached the frame of mind where we can casually credit the elected civil government and institutions that are vital to national existence and beloved of the people, of such fecklessness:

That leaves conspiracy theorists’ saboteurs as prime instigators and purveyors of ‘alternative fact’ and spine-tingling disclosures.

A perception persists among their Pakistani audiences that media houses or hand-picked media personnel are only too ready to accommodate, foster, or let pass covert agendas, making use of the powerful tools of the press, and now the social media as well, in personalized rather than public commitment. Concomitantly, conspiracy theorizing in Pakistan has been fenced in by the ridicule and contempt attached to the undoubtedly threadbare clichés of the hidden hands proffered by the clumsier hands of the ministry of information and the ISPR.

While recognizing that our own biases and policies have provided fertile soil for self-furthering external intrigue, it would be foolish to carelessly acquit or ignore external hostile elements in evaluating national events and happenstance. Also, in recognizing that the media tends to carelessness and sensationalism, we are not focusing keenly enough on the accompanying loss of the credibility of the media and the consequences of the subsequent vacuum of verified information. If you are not in the loop what are the facts when they are not self-evident?

In the past—be it with a civilian PM like Mr Bhutto or a military dictator like Ayub—the Press, precisely because of the lack of freedom, was clearly identifiable as government propagandist or maverick declared champion of some form of determined, even if ineffectual, critique. Not so today. The platform is wide open; but working familiarity with press freedom is breeding an unhealthy contempt in the glutted yet addicted consumer of the junk food menu.

Where it is not politically charged and fraught, Pakistan’s climate is one of apprehensive uncertainty. Are the civil and the military on the same page, people are given to ponder, without knowing how the page or pages may read. Thus, about two years ago Parliament consensually moved against sending in troops for Yemen to reinforce a Saudi military combine, with sectarian undercurrents as well as interventionist overtones. Were the civil and military on the same page? The then COAS has now retired; and there is intermittent media stimuli keeping the question alive as to whether he may agree to lead a newer rather undefined coalition against IS. Forget about pages here, is it a new chapter or a new book?

And if the incumbent civil government were in fact soon turning over a leaf, as it may well do with Panama leaks making every effort to sink the helmsman; what pages may be expunged or inserted? Just what may we be underwriting or overwriting in going for the civvy jugular? Other of course than the PTI’s incorruptible Utopia:

The media and politicians sermonise over the gravity of the PM’s not having a ‘fulltime’ foreign minister: Just what is the policy they see or don’t see, and what change and directions do they envisage? Before spoon-feeding us citizens the counter-narrative, clarify the narrative.

(text 744 words)