Why the confusion?


Abbas Nasir

The next six weeks promise to be as tumultuous a period in Pakistan’s often unfortunate history as any, with the fate of an elected government possibly decided via street protests and the question of who will replace the current chief of the country’s powerful army being answered.
Adding a totally new element to the whole equation are the five petitions before the Supreme Court, including one by the PTI, seeking the disqualification of the prime minister and some of PML-N’s leading lights in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal.
If the court rules that the petitions are not maintainable then the episode could remain a short, insignificant one. If they are deemed maintainable then the time it takes to conclude the case would be crucial, given that the current government is past the halfway mark in its five-year term.
Normally, in any democratic dispensation a political party exercising the right to free assembly and protest does not trigger fears for the system. Misgi­vings in our case are to be expected given the number of occasions such democratic exercises have been hijacked by vested interests and those with sinister motives.
It is clear from its public posture that the military high command is upset with the publication of a news story in this newspaper which has been variously described as half-truth, false and fabricated, an inspired leak and what not.
One can’t abandon the truth for therein lies the salvation of our country and the path to a plural society.
This reaction perhaps owes itself to the content of the story that suggested that perhaps for about 30 minutes (or was it an hour?) the civilian government functionaries spoke their mind to top security officials, for a change, after appearing to play second fiddle for almost half a term in office.
After all one can’t count the number of times we have read, courtesy unnamed sources, how the civilian government has been told it has been found wanting in the implementation of the various provisions of the National Action Plan and also in not delivering on its promises for the rehabilitation of those displaced by the Fata operations.
Here for a moment the shoe seemed to be on the other foot. Once the story was published, better sense should have prevailed and any unhappiness over the story discussed privately by the contending centres of power.
That did not happen. So, apart from historical context, what else led to such a course being abandoned in favour of the making of a public spectacle? I’d say the media too did not really play a constructive role. Let’s take a look at what is often seen as a monolith, the media.
The Pakistani media today represents a wide spectrum of people and interests. These could include straightforward professional working journalists to the flag-bearers of narrow institutional/ party interests no matter if they are dressed in the garb of patriotism. They stoked a fire.
This lot will dub even this column as anti-Pakistan because someone of their ilk, a ‘patriotic’ journalist across the border, will pick it up and spin it for his/her ulterior motives. My response would be: Rubbish. One can’t abandon the truth for therein lies the salvation of our country and the path to a plural society. This is a belief and conviction.
Then there are those falling in the saddest category, those suffering from a sense of confused identity. They can’t decide what to do. Whether to be a journalist, an editor, or anchor — or a politician or run for parliament? Then there are those who use journalism to position themselves for ambassadorial grandeur, others for the fruits of running NGOs. They will also attack any attempt at proper journalism and not even be clear on what grounds their diatribe is being delivered. I admit that to people in either of the two camps I may appear as judgemental too.
When such conflicting interests come into play in what some old-fashioned journalists still believe to be a sacred trust, journalism, a confusing cocktail of content can emerge, misleading in the best of times and dangerously destabilising in extreme cases.
So, what scenario can be built if one tries to strip away all agendas and biases?
One was hopeful the government would have the good sense to order a transparent probe into the Pana­ma Papers leaks if it had nothing to hide, like it said. It turns out this was a vain hope to start with. And now that the case is before the Supreme Court, the PML-N has a perfect reason for not doing anything.
Between now and Nov 2 what else can happen that can lead parties away from a confrontation on the streets of the federal capital and the other major urban centres if what some of the PTI leaders are saying is actually planned? If the size of the gathering is not significant, the government may choose to ignore the protesters and leave them to protest corralled in a defined area and disperse. If the PTI assembles a huge crowd and is actually able to affect a ‘lockdown’ of Islamabad, then the plot will thicken.
As he did during the last ‘dharna’ led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, the prime minister may move to Lahore and act as if it is business as usual while ensuring another Model Town-like incident doesn’t happen and wait to see who bats first.
One can’t discount the COAS-designate (assuming he is named by then) privately requesting protest leaders not to press the issue for now since the border situation is tense with India making ludicrously tall claims of surgical strikes on our side of the LoC.
If a showdown ensues for long then of course the side of the argument the guardians of national security throw their weight behind could win the day. All one hopes, and earnestly so, is that the democratic dispensation is not a victim whatever happens.