Sevanti Ninan

Media Matters: Fighting a ghost war

Media nationalism goes for a toss when a country is in the international doghouse. The Pakistani media had its outraged jingoistic voices in the aftermath of then US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen's statement on the ISI and the Haqqani network, but it had other voices too. Pakistan is a difficult country to be a journalist in today, but the tribe has the courage to speak in different voices.

One extreme

Typifying the hard-line response within the country was the website which calls itself Pakistan's leading alternative policy institute and news service — “working towards creating awareness and highlighting the various global and regional security threats Pakistan faces.” It lamented the fact that whereas the US media and political establishment always fall in line on matters of foreign policy, the situation in Pakistan was rather different.

“While no one questions US military and CIA in Washington, Pakistani media carries commentaries questioning and sometimes ridiculing the country's core national security interests in the region. Some commentators have even openly endorsed American claims. [Some are doing this because they have been expressly funded by US government to influence Pakistani public opinion and media in covert ways.]”

One of Pakistan's widely known editors, Najam Sethi, was among those who drew flak for not responding with angry bluster to what the American admiral was saying. Instead he warned in a Friday Times editorial that “short of American boots-on-ground in Waziristan, only Pakistani boots-on-ground will work. But if the Pakistani army is still unable or unwilling to oblige, then cruise missiles and high altitude bombing could be options.” He also suggested that “the Pakistanis are likely to restrain the Haqqani network to stay clear of American civilian targets like embassies no less than loosening their relatively overt links with it in order to avoid the CIA's eyes and ears.”

Editorials in The Nation and The Frontier Post, on the other hand, suggested that America was making Pakistan a scapegoat for its failures in Afghanistan, a sentiment expressed in various Pakistani media outlets over the last fortnight. The headline of a Frontier Post editorial said as much: Making Pakistan Pay for the ‘War on Terror' Hoax. The Nation said “ the U.S. eventually would ratchet up its ‘do more' mantra to shamelessly transfer the blame for its fate to Pakistan.”

And the sentiment was echoed across TV discussions on different channels. The solution TV panellists like Maleeha Lodi suggested was to be a self-confident nuclear state and stay cool.

A TV show host, Mubashir Luqman, accused Sethi of being an American stooge on his show “Khari Baat”, and followed it up with a similar accusation when he was a guest on another morning show. Even more colourfully, the website ‘

Views Times' suggested that the US had halted 800 milliion dollars worth of military aid to Pakistan “on the advice of Najam Sethi and his gang.”

Detached view

But if there was, there was also Pakistan Media Watch (PMW), a feisty website run by journalism students and professional journalists. It Googled and suggested that Views Times was a fake news website.

PMW surveyed the media frenzy with amused detachment: “We knew it was going to be a special week in Pakistan media when we were treated to a special edition of Hamid Mir talking about whether the Americans were preparing to launch surgical strikes against Pakistan. Alarmed by the possibility of being caught in an American strike, we began searching for the source of this threat. We were unable to find any American officials making any such threats. If there could be any good reason to invent the threat of surgical strikes, though, Hamid Mir knew just what it was. US pressurisation had finally united the nation. No longer were there any divisions in Pakistan as everyone had joined hands in a shared commitment to ‘Crush America'.”

Then it added tongue firmly in cheek, “In the course of seven days, our media invented a war, fought bravely on the front (head)lines, and then quietly resolved the conflict without losing one single soldier. In fact, our media managed this war so effectively that the American media is not even mentioning their defeat.”

The Jang group, meanwhile, joined others in suggesting that US criticism had united the nation and was therefore a blessing in disguise for Pakistan.

But where was the united nation supposed to go from here?

One of the more thoughtful voices on the website called paid a tribute to Mike Mullen on his retirement and reproduced the rest of his much-quoted speech on the ISI-Haqqani network link. It had several paragraphs of Mullen stressing why Pakistan and the US needed to stay engaged. The writer Hamid Waheed suggested that both nations needed to cool down and “work with mutual respect giving due space to each other's national interest.”

Najam Sethi meanwhile said baldly on a TV show that while the Pakistanis may think of China as a great friend, it was not about to commit anywhere near the kind of money the US has invested in Pakistan. Angry anti-Americanism, in other words, was hardly an option.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 4:01:17 AM |

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