The governments of India and Pakistan have been at each other in the last three weeks since the cross-border terrorist strike at the Uri army base, with large sections of the media reflecting the voice of the establishment.
But it is also true that the Pakistani media is much more than the black-and-white picture that many of us here in India want to see. Sure, there are many who blindly subscribe to the narrative put out by the Pakistani military-intelligence complex.For example, in the wake of the Uri attacks, several Pakistani journalists put out the incredibly fantastical story that Indians themselves had attacked the Indian army base, echoing word-for-word the view of their Defence Minister Khawaja Asif.
But it would be a mistake to paint the Pakistani media with one thick, black brush. Several journalists have challenged the military-intelligence complex and some even paid with their lives for their independent views. As always, the complex truth lies somewhere, in between, chasing the shadows as much as the light that defines the destiny of every nation.
Over the last week, several threads have emerged in the Pakistani media, some a grim reference to the continued tensions that exist in the bilateral relationship, others a reminder to Pakistanis themselves that this was not what their country once set out to be. Here is a sample of some of those themes:
The unending tragedy of India’s Kashmir - known as “maqbooza” or “occupied” Kashmir in the Pakistani press- and the ongoing curfew as well as the brutal action of the security forces is a continuing subject of intense interest.
Hamid Mir, the hugely influential anchor of an hour-long programme called ‘Capital Talk’ on Geo TV, has several tweets on the subject in which he underlines the sheer cruelty as well as indifference of the Indian government’s handling of the crisis.
Mir’s comments, made in the ongoing month of Muharram, assume a greater gravity that cannot be ignored. The death of a boy from the continued use of the abhorrent pellet guns signals an ongoing moral crisis in the Indian state. Certainly, this is India’s moment of reckoning. Certainly, the Pakistan media is taking full note of it.
But the Pakistani media has also been jolted by a master scoop by Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida on how the “civilian government has informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state.”
Predictably, some Pakistanis were up in arms at this attempted disrespect to the saviours of the nation, the Army.
To which Almeida replied, with self-deprecating humour:
Of course Almeida’s story was denied, including by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office, not once but twice. In fact, the word “half-truth” in the first denial, was replaced by “fabrication” in the second denial. Perhaps that’s all that was needed to tell Pakistanis the political lay of the land?
As Salman Masood, the resident editor of the Islamabad edition of The Nation as well as Pakistan’s New York Times’ correspondent pointed out:
Masood followed up the Dawn news story with a big news break of his own in The Nation on Saturday, saying that the Director-General of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, Rizwan Akhtar, was being replaced .
Masood didn’t allude to the Dawn story or speculate why the ISI chief was being sent to Karachi one year earlier than scheduled. Perhaps India’s covert strikes inside Pakistan have instigated a certain ferment and given Nawaz Sharif the courage to ask searching questions of his own Army and intelligence services?
Certainly, part of the charm of Pakistan’s Twitterati is that it doesn’t take things lying down. Not when the Army chief’s fandom is touching new heights, not when Imran Khan takes a new wife (or indeed, becomes the new poster boy of the armed forces), and not when mullahs challenge the new anti-honour killing law passed by the Pakistan National Assembly.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the film-maker who has won more than one Oscar for her films on honour killings inside Pakistani Punjab, said:
SharmeenObaid @sharmeenochinoy 5h5 hours ago
Let us remind Siraj ul Haq that Islam doesn't allow killing of women he should worry about that more: http://dunyanews.tv/en/Pakistan/356046-Sirajul-Haq-stands-against-bill-passed-over-honou# …#honorkilling
The political upheaval inside Pakistan remained top of mind for their media. Azaz Syed, a reporter at Geo News, was echoing the only question on either side of the India-Pakistan divide when he asked whether it was Raheel or Nawaz who wanted Rizwan Akhtar thrown out of Rawalpindi:
Meanwhile, Adeel Najam, Dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and former vice-chancellor at Lahore University of Management Sciences, put it succinctly:
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Of Pakistanis who think they are more Pakistani than all other Pakistanis. Scary Super-Patriots are everywhere.
But Mosharraf Zaidi, a disruptive voice in Pakistan’s media and political space, was having none of it. He noted in response to Najam’s tweet: “Or stop being afraid. Most are bullies who fold fast.”
In fact, Zaidi’s important piece in The News newspaper earlier this week is a piece of soul-searching into what has gone wrong inside Pakistan.
Here is an excerpt. The rest of the piece must be essential reading to anyone interested in the future of South Asia:
Pakistan has serious problems with India, and history has established the limited scope available to seek solutions. The most Pakistan can do is to make sure that Kashmir continues to be something we remind the world of regularly. Even this our impotent Foreign Office is incapable of doing, because the Foreign Office and its people have historically been happier being the outward-facing supplicants to power in the twin cities, rather than being serious, thoughtful diplomats.
And then there is Khaled Ahmed, easily the conscience-keeper of the Indian sub-continent, whose new book ‘Sleepwalking to Surrender: Dealing with Terrorism in Pakistan’ has just been reviewed by Raza Rumi in the Indian Express
Rumi himself is in exile in the US, leaving the motherland after he narrowly missed a couple of bullets fired at him when he was in his car. Everyone knows, says Rumi quoting Ahmed, that the fundamental problem of Pakistan stems from the mullah-military alliance carefully nurtured over the decades.
Then Rumi adds:
The good thing is that this alliance is breaking up as the army has become a target of rogue jihadists and the Al Qaeda ideology that would like to see the Pakistani state — especially its military — diminished.
Perhaps the last word must be given to this satirical piece of TV, really a filler between the programming of the TV channel Geo Tez, called ‘Taizabi Totay’ or literally, ‘Acidic Pieces.’ The spoof says it much better than any high-falutin’ opinion piece.
Needless to add, this embedded video has gone viral. Watch here: