Pakistan: Chained Meida, Deal or no Deal and Ayesha SiddiqA


London: In politics a week is a long time. Media’s freedom euphoria has been short lived. It has landed in much worse situation than square one. First daring journalists were served with bulleted warnings by a Karachi-based ethnic group followed by an orchestrated anti-media diatribe by GPM & Co and then Pemra ordinance with Draconian restrictions took Pakistan back to General Zia’s martial law when the press was not allowed to report truth even if it was in public and national interest. Pemra– manned by hardcore police thugs— has already gone on the loose blocking TV programmes at will.

Electronic media’s exposure of the recent events has sent shock waves to the bunkered usurpers in Islamabad . The print media already at it with its incisive pen exposing a dying regime now joined by the TV channels–have come to be a lethal combination threatening to uproot authoritarianism. With imperatives of changed realities no Pemra watch-dog would be in a position to bark or bite the media back to submission. The spontaneity shown by the media, lawyers, political parties, NGOs and public to instantly organise protest marches against clamp down is in continuation of the judicial crisis in keeping with the resurgence of a populist movement hitherto unknown to Pakistani politics for upholding the constitution, rule of law and democracy.

What we see today is the power of constitution unfolding in Pakistan . It is a sure harbinger of an amazing change that will transform the fate of its people. The resistance by the media to the military rulers ignites a strong hope that it would not buckle in to their pressure. Whatever freedom media has wrested through unparalleled sacrifices must not be frittered away at any cost and no amount of intimidations should succeed in re-imposing the perpetual fear that marred robust and incisive journalism not too many moons ago. The new Pemra restrictions—though claimed to be withdrawn—were nothing but a hopeless bid to save the tottering regime.

This, indeed, is the time to defy the regime with full national might. The media must continue to expose the regime and its collaborators who black out TV programmes at will. No doubt many daring journalists, TV channels and newspapers have been put on notice by the ethnic killers. It needs to remember that it is the devil that proposes but it is the divinity that deposes. Such criminals that threaten by leaving bullets in envelops are no better than thugs who are basically cowards who squeeze-in their tails between their legs and run at the first sight of challenge. Notwithstanding all that—the media has opened floodgates for an inevitable and irreversible change.

In the same context look at the international furore Dr Ayesha Siddiqa’s sensational book on Pakistani military’s multi-billion dollar business has caused. Following launch of her book “Military Inc.” there has been a desperate bid to clamp down on her. Initially the regime try its best to discourage her from publishing the Military Inc., it has now gone to the extent of lifting her book from the market. When everything failed, it ordered to nab her but she escaped abroad to avoid arrest.

While the amended Pemra ordinance was the desperate attempt by the regime to use it as the last straw to save it from drowning, the Praetorian Quawwali sung in praise of him by his uniformed humnawas at the Corps Commanders meeting followed by his handpicked National Security Council’s—were nothing but an abortive attempt at giving kiss of life to a dead body in the process of decay.

Pakistani history is witness to sudden about turns by close confidantes of a ruler who a while ago were singing paeans in praise of him. Notwithstanding the much publicised support extended to him, insiders who know of what actually took place in the Corps Commanders meeting have a conflicting story to tell. Many of those present consider the General clearly imbalanced. Even his colleagues have been raising eye brows.

Some of them discreetly conveyed their fear that a situation was arising where the people will do to them in Punjab and of course rest of the country, exactly what the Mukti Bahini did to them in former East Pakistan in 1971. This opinion is shared by those serving as well as retired. The General’s connivance with MQM and his open admission of support while stating in the same breath that he was Urdu-speaking has not been taken favourably by the “Punjabi army”.

GPM is finally isolated. Newspapers are replete with stories of his being let down by PML-Q. He has openly come out complaining to his party that its members do not support his policies nor his actions, that he has been left alone to defend himself and his message to them was clear: if I am sinking you will sink with me. He expressed displeasure over the continuous silence of treasury members over recent crises and questioned as to whether he was alone to defend the government policies.

Acting as if he is the real PML-Q president, he was reported to be harsh while expressing his annoyance at a meeting of the treasury members of National Assembly at Prime Minister House. He referred to the issues including Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, Nawab Akbar Bugti, March 9, 2007 and May 12 Karachi events. He is reported to have asked them: was it not the responsibility of all PML-Q members to respond to critics on recent amendments regarding the PEMRA Act. His gigolo-appearing prime minister went a step further when he accused his own party members of having joined the opposition in the anti-government movement. Obviously this means that their efforts are much similar to re-arranging the deckchairs when Titanic of their power is sinking.

Now one would like to comment on the “deal” stories that have become a permanent fixture in the media. One day one reads a story that a deal has been finalised between PPP and GPM. The next there is another that claims that the “deal” has hit snags. There have been editorials and other comments too.

The wider perception is that a deal is in offing–much of it of course is disinformation by the regime. PPP does not close doors on dialogue. Such dialogue has taken place several times since 1999 but not resulted in any agreement. PPP is not interested in a deal but in a transition to democracy.

Any understanding only on cases could have taken place several times since 1999. PPP leadership sacrificed and suffered for national interest of restoring democracy.

Now the situation has changed. PPP options have increased manifold while the regime’s have minimised. Two years ago no western country was willing to listen anything against General Musharraf. Now International media is writing that he will have to win over Benazir Bhutto for political support since she is the only federal leader that has the continuing charisma to rally the people around.By her painstaking struggle for democracy and rule of law she has got herself accepted as the only viable alternative within and outside.

Now PPP hands are tied by fast changing and newly emerging ground realities. I think the best proposal has been made by her. She wants an interim government of national consensus for holding transparent elections. She has also suggested to Musharraf through the media to summon a round table conference of all political leaders–all shades and views–including herself and Mian Nawaz Sharif and seek guidance from them to get out of the quagmire created by him.

The regime has been attuned to running with the hares of all sorts and hunting with the hounds of all breed. It thinks it can impose a settlement by suggesting that cases would be withdrawn. However if this was the sole basis for offers, settlement would have taken place long ago. We also know that Ms Bhutto and Senator Asif Ali Zardari suffered long and expensive legal battles. She deserves to be given credit for her tenacity, perseverance and dauntless courage. By waging a many pronged-war—be it legal front, political or disinformation–and by not surrendering to oppressive prosecution and persecution both within and abroad at the cost of billions to the poor nation’s exchequer–she has written with the sweat of her brow, blood and toil a new chapter in defiance against heaviest odds in the defence of her innocence and truth. She has firm faith that the Lord above cannot be corrupted by any military ruler and that her innocence would ultimately be triumphant.

A number of foreign governments and quite a large number of gullible people within Pakistan had initially believed in the concocted tales of corruption spread against PPP government and its functionaries through a concerted disinformation campaigning by firstly Farooq Laghari/MNS government followed by Musharraf regime. Ten years down the road with none of the cases against her proven, truth and justice after all—are emerging triumphant.

In normal legal procedures onus of proving a person accused of doing anything unlawful lies on the prosecution. In Pakistan a Bonapartist Chief Justice—Sajjad Ali Shah– in collaboration with President Farooq Laghari—(popularly nick named “FL”) in order to seal PPP government’s fate–passed a judgement against it on the basis of newspaper cuttings and his mala fide intents were clear when he announced his verdict just a few days ahead of February 1997 elections.

It, indeed, goes to former Prime Minister’s credit that taking on herself to prove her innocence and good governance in her days–(one example of her multifaceted achievements was her successful power policy that averted huge hours of load-shedding over a period of time and kept the wheels of industry going) she stood her ground over the last ten years. It is rightly believed that no court in the world would have courage to uphold Islamabad provided filth against her as proof especially when they know it now how its military ruler summarily treats/dismisses the Chief Justice of the country. Pakistani judiciary that has lately unshackled itself from the all-powerful executive’s stranglehold would surely perform more independently and provide instant relief to her when she ends her exile. After all no charges against her can be proved if cases are decided on merit rather than the dictate of the executive to keep her out of politics.

Remember, the past despicable conduct of the leading light of the regime’s team of legal brains in Chief Justice Chauhdry Iftikhar’s case–Justice (R) Qayyum who had broken all records of judicial demeanour by taking dictates on phone from Senator Saifur Rahman to convict and award her maximum sentence that he was ordered to by the ex-NAB Senator. In her appeal before the Supreme Court the bench headed by Justice Jehangiri, damaging strictures were recorded on the questionable conduct of the proceedings held by Justice Qayyum and the order passed by him. The Supreme Court also knocked the bottom out of the allegations by reverting the case.

Time to think and ponder is that only national consensus is the sole exit route available. Many half cranked intellectuals do not understand that Pakistani state is far too fragile for more boisterous experiments and GPM as a fast fading figure head so far (I cannot be sure of tomorrow) is not fully written off by his western supporters; he is seen as the face of continuity and his mentors want to preserve him until such time when a firm and unshakeable democratic government is well-established in his place.

I have lot of faith in the street power to bring about a change but in a muddled scenario like Pakistan’s with too many players playing their games hiding in the closets, violent jolts are neither needed nor desired. I do not believe in the government orchestrated so-called 7% growth rate. It is more or less a fiction but it is helping it in surviving in power. It needs to be underscored all power is ephemeral. Those who have exercised it know it too well. Political power is the most transient of all, indeed.

In conclusion, it is reiterated that dialogue is a constant process for the transition of democracy since this is the preferred option in the absence of the possibility of a viable revolutionary movement for change in Pakistan . To us Pakistan ‘s survival, its uncompromising sovereignty and democratic future are issues that matter most and not individuals like Musharraf. Ms Bhutto has time and again reiterated that she wants peaceful transfer of power through transparent elections, return to democracy and rule of law. She has not compromised on any of these vital issues. It is Musharraf’s problem–whether he comes out of the present crisis or not–we are only interested that Pakistan survives and we have democracy back on the track to slam doors on dictatorship and the Talibanisation in the country.

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