Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFFEE: Hamid Mir and the failing state, The Daily Times, April 26, 2014

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Dr Haider Shah
The main issue here is not if the charge against the ISI and its chief is correct or not. What concerns me more is why such a situation prevails in the country where we are not clear about whose side our men in uniform are on

They both landed in Karachi on the same fateful Saturday. One was the former dictator charged with the offence of ‘high treason’. The other was a journalist who had been campaigning against any deal, which would facilitate the fleeing of the dictator. Enjoying his VVIP protocol, the dictator is readying his suitcases to board for a flight aboard. Riddled with six bullets,the journalist is making a slow recovery in Agha Khan Hospital while a section of the media is running a campaign to malign the victim.This is how Pakistan appears to the outside world.

Recently, the influential Foreign Policy magazine compiled a list of the top 25 failed states of the world. Mostly civil war stricken African states appear on that list. Pakistan occupies the unlucky 13th positionon the list. Personally, I have always maintained that it is unfair to categorise Pakistan as a failed state. It has a constitutionally elected democratic set up, independent judiciary and an assertive media. The inability of the state to provide security to its citizens while the non-state actors grow in strength and influence does make Pakistan arguably a‘failing state’ but not a ‘failed state’. The Hamid Mir saga, however, plunges the state into a new quagmire. Trapped between its democratic credentials of being a media friendly political party and pressure from the military establishment, the PML-Ngovernment seems to be awkwardly getting crushed.

Judging by the discourse in the media after the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir,it is not hard to see that dehumanisation has gripped society to its core.For promoting their commercial interests and settling petty old scores, various groupings can happily go down to any low. The disturbing evidence emerged as soon as Hamid Mir was attacked. Almost all channels, except the one he works for, not only censored this shocking news but, to add insult to injury,kept reportingMusharraf’s movement from ChakShahzad to Karachi. The silence on other channels only changed into a loud chorus when they were fed with an excuse to curse the victim. Some began a marathon smear campaign against the bed ridden, bullet-wounded journalist. Veterans like Zaid Hamid are now joined by the new kid on the block,Faisal Raza Abidi, to issue certificates and medals of loyalty and treason.

Not that I see things in black and white, and do not find any problems with our electronic media. Not that I find any affinity with the worldview of AnsarAbbasi but I would be proving myself a real ‘liberal fascist’ if I allow my differences of opinion on certain fundamental issues to influence my position when these journalists are taking a stand on a just cause and are facing life threats. As President Kennedy once borrowed a quote from Dante’s Inferno, “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in time, of moral crisis preserve their neutrality”, we cannot pretend to be balanced analysts by not taking a clear side. The main issue here is not if the charge against the ISI and its chief is correct or not. I do not know;we are often not even supposed to know. What concerns me more is why such a situation prevails in the country where we are not clear about whose side our men in uniform are on. If journalists are suspected of breaking any law or involvement in anti-state activities the intelligence agencies can collect evidence and get them prosecuted in a court of law through the police. That is how terrorist suspects are arrested and prosecuted in the UK. What are the laws that empower the personnel of intelligence agencies and which laws define their boundaries? My concern is that I do not have an answer.

Once, Mr Farhatullah Babar had asked thissame question in the senate but the then senate chairman nervously did not allow the question to be discussed. In SaleemShahzad’s case, the inquiry commission recommended a legal framework for regularising the work of intelligence agencies. Yes, the media has been, on many occasions, irresponsiblebut media channels work under accountability pressures of the market at least. The viewers can easily switch over to MubasharLuqman and Zaid Hamid if they do not like Hamid Mir and NajamSethi. The customer is under no compulsion to stay loyalto any channel. However, in the case of law enforcement agencies, no such free choices are available. If there is the need for a media code there is an even greater need for a code to regulate the affairs of the intelligence agencies. Wali Babar was allegedly killed by the militant wing of the MQM, Raza Rumi was ambushed by a banned sectarian outfit andExpress News cameramen were killed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). If, in the case of SaleemShahzad and Hamid Mir, fingers get pointed at our guardians then it is a very alarming situation. The captain of a football team should not be apprehensive of the self-goals of his own players.

The channels accusing Hamid Mir’s private television channel, not a long time ago, ran live press conferences of Malik Riaz where the then chief justice was vehemently abused. They also aired malicious speeches of Faisal Raza Abidi. No heavens came crashing down then.

The activists of certain political parties in Karachi often disrupt various channels. When people in uniform conduct themselves in the same way I find it more difficult to argue my case with those who call Pakistan a failed state.

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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