The Hamid Mir episode unfortunately has proved that uniformed institutions have now made inroads inside the electronic and social media, and political parties as well
July 12, 2014
When Saleem Shahzad was abducted and mercilessly killed, I wrote a piece in an Urdu newspaper titled ‘Sheeshon ka maseeha koi nahi’ (There is no messiah for shards of glass) as pessimism had fully eclipsed my Panglossian optimism. Addressing Saleem’s soul, I had lamented that soon everyone would be busy and all his heroism would come to nought. One does not need to have paranormal powers to predict the obvious. Similarly, when Raza Rumi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, I plainly advised him that he should have preferred doing some kind of aalim or qutub (religious) talk show where he could have won accolades by selling faith-coated sweets to keen buyers in a very profitable market. Alternatively, he might have considered doing a programme on star signs or tarot cards for our idle and superstitions-prone elite.
And when Hamid Mir was riddled with bullets in Karachi, despondency again gained a firm grip over my relentless optimism as I sketched the day in a column dedicated to the hospitalised journalist. I contrasted the tale of two visitors to Karachi on the same day. In one plane landed the former dictator charged with the offence of ‘high treason’ while in the other came the journalist who had been campaigning for the human rights of missing persons and against any preferential treatment to an accused on account of his status. The dictator continues enjoying a comfortable stay in a highly secured residence and is readying his suitcases to fly to a foreign destination while the journalist made a slow recovery in Agha Khan Hospital. If Saleem Shahzad could not get justice, why should Hamid Mir be expected to see his assailants and schemers brought to justice? We, as a nation, instead of finding the culprits behind the assassination attack, found ourselves hit by a twister of madness that shook the foundations of the media to the core.
What has happened to a private news channel reminds me of the Khalil Jibran story that I have narrated earlier as well. There was a king who was loved and feared by his subjects and was held in great regard for his just and wise rule. One night, a witch entered the kingdom with the intention of causing unrest and mayhem by turning everyone mad. She poured a few drops of a magical liquid into the well from which the king’s subjects drew water for drinking purposes. The next morning anyone who drank the water from the well lost their sanity and, within a few days, the whole kingdom was abuzz with whispers that the king had become mad and unjust. The king and his ministers kept defending their position but to no avail. One day, a wise minister whispered something into the king’s ear and he ordered that a golden goblet filled from the well be brought to him. The king and his ministers drank from the goblet one by one and consequently lost their sanity. Within days the whispering campaign against the king died out and everyone was lauding the just and sane rule of the king again. It seems that in a country where madness is the norm, the private television channel that has been in the news of late has also been forced to take a drink from the goblet. It did not challenge the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA’s) ban and makes no reference to Hamid Mir any more. According to a report appearing in a section of the press, Hamid Mir has also quietly moved to the UK. Those who refuse to take a sip from the goblet find safety abroad, be it Ghamdi, Rumi or Mir.
In one of my previous writings, I had shared Dr Eqbal Ahmad’s views on the importance of the balanced growth of law enforcement agencies such as the police and army, and the opinion making institutions such as political parties and media for a well-functioning civil society. Pakistan inherited strong law enforcement institutions from the British colonial government but extremely underdeveloped opinion making institutions. After the successful movement of lawyers it seemed that now opinion making institutions were finally ready to check abuse of power by law enforcement institutions. The Hamid Mir episode unfortunately has proved that uniformed institutions have now made inroads inside the electronic and social media, and political parties as well. Those who were largely considered as icons of yellow journalism and warmongering suddenly were rechristened as the champions of freedom of expression. Some channels have dedicated their airwaves to the spreading of social discord and acting as campaigners for certain non-political forces and their political avatars. Journalism has become a golden egg-laying hen for business tycoons.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb is progressing well according to press releases issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). Cleansing the country of militants is important for the return of normalcy to the country. However, without a harmonious balance between civil society institutions and the military, the dream of a stable, thriving and secure society will remain elusive. To me, two indicators are very important: one, after regaining control from the militants the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are facilitated to return happily and content to their homes, and, second, Hamid Mir resumes his popular political talk show. Short of both, Pakistan will remain an extremism-infested garrison state.