By Hamid Mir
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani media is again under attack from inside and outside. The charges are not new as these were actually framed by former president Pervez Musharraf who imposed the biggest ban on the media in the history of Pakistan on November 3, 2007.
Pervez Musharraf said the Pakistani media was responsible not only for political instability but was also involved in promoting terrorism. He planned to fix a top media tycoon and some TV anchors under sedition charges but failed because the whole media, the civil society and especially the lawyers were united against him.
Nobody can deny the fact actually it was the media and lawyers that put Musharraf under so much pressure that he brokered a deal with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) for his survival in October 2007.
Again it was the media that played an important role in his departure from Islamabad and Asif Ali Zardari availed the opportunity of becoming the president of Pakistan. Now the Zardari regime is repeating everything that the Musharraf regime used to say against the media. They are trying to put the blame of every wrong deed in the country on the media.
The rulers complained that Geo and the Jang Group always played a leading role in highlighting their misdeeds. Later others followed this lead and joined the struggle against corruption and misrule. Geo and the Jang Group, the rulers complained, are the trendsetters and others just follow in their footstep. They, therefore, considered that Geo and the Jang Group were responsible for the situation they found themselves in.
Musharraf used to tell Geo and the Jang Group, “You are the biggest group and number 1 channel.” Zardari has gone a step further by saying that a channel (Geo) has a monopoly.
They want to teach us a lesson for reminding them of their own promises, for exposing corruption and criticising bad governance but this time their strategy is different. They will not attack the whole media in one go like Musharraf. They will attack us one by one by adopting the strategy of divide and rule.
In the first phase, President Zardari targeted Geo TV without naming it publicly while addressing a big PPP gathering in Karachi recently. He never appreciated that it was the same TV channel, which aired interview of Nawaz Sharif a few days ago in which the PML-N leader supported the current democratic system and warned that he will not accept any unconstitutional move against President Zardari.
This interview killed many rumours against Zardari and the fact of the matter is that the interview of Nawaz Sharif on Geo TV was the biggest relief to Zardari in recent times at a time when political allies like the MQM were not happy with him. The Nawaz interview was not only telecast by Geo and also prominently displayed in all publications of the Jang Group including The News and Jang. The text of the interview was also published.
After getting some strength from Nawaz Sharif, the first thing President Zardari did was to attack Geo TV.
Some of the PPP ministers have informed us privately that President Zardari is not happy with the media due to its criticism of the Kerry-Lugar Bill and the NRO. PPP leaders like Raza Rabbani also criticised the KLB and the NRO openly. There was no doubt that PPP lost support from its own legislators over the issues of the KLB and the NRO but instead of putting his own house in order President Zardari threw the blame on the media.
In the last 20 months, the PPP-led coalition government committed at least 20 blunders. The media only pointed out these blunders and not a single blunder was actually created by the media. Here is the list of 20 blunders in the last 20 months:
1- Ignoring of Murree Declaration: The PML-N was part of the PPP-led coalition government in the beginning. Both parties signed a declaration for the restoration of deposed judges on March 9, 2008 in Murree. The PPP ignored the written agreement with the PML-N and finally the PML-N was forced to leave the federal cabinet. That was the first crisis that damaged the credibility of the new government right in the beginning.
2- Mistrust between the security establishment and the civilian government: The PPP presented a resolution in the National Assembly in April 2008, demanding investigation into the assassination of late Benazir Bhutto by the United Nations. This resolution gave an impression that the PPP leaders did not trust the intelligence agencies of their own government. Later, a UN commission for the investigation was also created that tried to contact many officials from the security establishment for the investigation and more tension was created.
3- Putting ISI under the control of Interior Ministry: The PPP government tried to put the ISI under the control of Interior Minister Rehman Malik in July 2008 through a notification. This move created a new controversy and within a few hours this move backfired.
4- Using secret funds to tame media: A sum of Rs480 million was drawn from the secret fund of the Intelligence Bureau in July 2008. Immediately after taking over, the new IB boss Dr Shoaib Suddle initiated an inquiry about the use of Rs480 million. A big chunk of that money was used to tame the media but it never worked and many independent journalists started asking questions from the government ministers about this money but they had no answer. The prime minister told one of his ministers that he was not aware how this money was drawn from the IB without his knowledge. A junior government official when contacted said, on the condition of not being named, that there was a talk about Rs480 million drawn from the secret fund but he did not know whether the money was distributed or not.
5- Differences between the prime minister and the president: Many PPP ministers shared inside stories of differences between the premier and the president with their friends in the media, but there was no confirmation. All these stories were confirmed when Prime Minister Gilani sacked his National Security Adviser Mahmood Ali Durrani who was actually a nominee of President Zardari. These differences surfaced once again over the appointment of a DMG officer as an ambassador in France. The prime minister refused to oblige the president. The media only reported the tussle between the two big wigs of the country.
6- Disqualification of the Sharif brothers: President Zardari used PCO judges to disqualify Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. This move created a lot of tension between the two big parties of the country and it also affected the stock market.
7- Imposition of the governor’s rule in Punjab: President Zardari imposed the governor’s rule in February 2009 in the biggest province of Pakistan. He tried to win the loyalties of PML-N MPAs in the provincial assembly for putting his own chief minister in Lahore. Some people in the media supported the governor’s rule in Punjab. Most of these people had also supported Musharraf in the past and their support to the new regime only discredited Zardari.
8- Forcing lawyers to start the Long March: President Zardari ignored the restoration of the deposed judges for the whole one year and finally lawyers were forced to start a long march from Lahore to Islamabad. Nawaz Sharif was put under house arrest but he defied the government orders. He came out on the roads and within a few hours broke the myth of the Zardari regime. The Army chief also intervened and finally the prime minister announced the restoration of all the deposed judges. The media was not responsible for the humiliation of President Zardari because the whole crisis was created out of his own governor’s rule.
9- Rental Power Plant projects: It was not the media but PPP Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf who announced that there will be no loadshedding in the country by December 31, 2009 with the help of rental power plants. These plants came under criticism in the federal cabinet and lots of wrongdoings were reported in these projects. Later, Prime Minister Gilani asked Raja Pervez Ashraf not to make any promises which could not be fulfilled.
10- Sugar crisis: The government completely failed to apprehend a big sugar crisis in the country despite repeated early warnings from many experts. State Minister for Production Ayatullah Durrani disclosed in the Parliament the names of owners of sugar mills who were responsible for the crisis but Federal Minister for Production Manzoor Wattoo contradicted his deputy. This crisis exposed the bad governance of the government. The media only reported the sufferings of the common Pakistanis created out of this ‘made by Zardari’ crisis.
11- Role of US private security agencies: It was actually Pervez Musharraf who allowed US security agencies to operate freely in Pakistan but the Zardari regime allowed them to buy land in many Pakistani cities and also allowed them to rent houses in Islamabad and Peshawar. Armed Americans clashed with Pakistani citizens many times in Peshawar and Islamabad but police never took any action against them. This damaged the credibility of the Zardari regime.
12- Ignoring trial of Musharraf under Article 6: The Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the emergency imposed on November 3, 2007 unconstitutional. Opposition parties demanded the trial of Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution but President Zardari told some media persons that he cannot try Musharraf due to an understanding with some foreign countries. This disclosure further exposed the level of foreign interference in Pakistan.
13- Differences with the army on the KLB: Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a press release in October 2009 and expressed the concerns of army high command on the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Differences between the army and civilian government came under discussion in the media. People around Zardari termed these discussions anti-democracy and conspiracies of ‘right wing anchors’.
14- Non-implementation of parliament resolution on drone attacks: US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas were started during the Musharraf regime but these attacks were doubled in last 20 months despite a unanimous resolution adopted by the new parliament against these attacks. A non-transparent policy on war against terror also damaged the Zardari regime.
15- Weak foreign policy: The Zardari regime claimed that the Friends of Democratic Pakistan forum will help us in these difficult times but there was no substantial help from this newly formed group. Zardari claimed more than once that India is no more a threat to Pakistan but Prime Minister Gilani declared India a threat for Pakistan many times. There was no unanimity on foreign policy among many government institutions.
16- Denying reports of the Transparency International: According to the recent report of Transparency International, corruption has increased in Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani ordered Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin to start an inquiry about the reported corruption in the light of TI revelations but Interior Minister Rehman Malik termed this report baseless. This dichotomy again raised a question that who holds the control of Islamabad?
17- Non-implementation of the Charter of Democracy: The PPP promised to implement the CoD signed between the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in its 2008 election manifesto. The Zardari regime failed to implement the CoD in last 20 months.
18- Rigging in Gilgit-Baltistan elections: The PPP and the MQM actually developed differences over reported rigging in the election for Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly. The PPP failed to satisfy its ally that is part of the government not only in Sindh but also in Islamabad.
19- NRO fiasco: The PPP leadership tried to make the NRO an act of parliament but its strategy failed due to the non-cooperation of the PML-N and the MQM. When the media started discussions about the beneficiaries of the NRO, the law minister came out with a list of 8,041 beneficiaries with names of President Zardari, Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar and Interior Minister Rehman Malik and many others. The defence minister and many others rejected the report and destroyed the credibility of their own government.
According to the decision of the Supreme Court on July 31, the NRO will lapse on November 28 and this lapse has created insecurity among the PPP circles.
20- PPP’s November 25 rally: The PPP leadership arranged a rally in Karachi on November 25 that created many new controversies. Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza claimed that the establishment was involved in conspiracies. He also mentioned ‘Sindh card’, while President Zardari attacked Geo TV and gave a clear impression that he is still under pressure. Most of the analysts said that Zardari was not speaking like a strong leader and his close friend Zulfiqar Mirza intentionally challenged establishment because he thought that Nawaz Sharif was on PPP’s side this time.