Reporting the military

Published: January 20, 2011

The writer is a former vice-chairman of the HRCP and has spent over three decades in advertising zohra.yusuf@tribune.com.pk

Journalist Zahid Hussain’s new book The Scorpion’s Tale is rather scary. It meticulously details the rise of militancy in Pakistan, not only in the tribal areas but in the settled districts as well. It recalls the horrors we have lived through, or rather read about — the surrender of soldiers and their beheading; the reign of terror unleashed by the Taliban on innocent citizens, as town after town fell to them.

Hussain’s book, unintentionally, raises the issue as to what the role played by private television channels was, when the army was conceding ground to the militants after encouraging them through a series of peace pacts designed to be exploited to the militants’ advantage. This is not to say that there was a blackout on reporting. What has been significantly lacking is a deeper scrutiny of the army’s double-game in the fight against terrorism. It has been left to a few English language publications, such as Newsline and Herald, to probe the dangers of such a game. The mainstream electronic media, on the other hand, has continued to mindlessly glorify the military.

There have been some exceptions. Talat Hussain, while at Aaj TV, did an excellent series on the army operation in Swat (in spite of being ‘embedded’) and Dawn News did an investigative series of reports on Pakistan’s intelligence agencies last year. However, by and large, the private electronic media has remained in awe of the military. The coverage of the recent devastating floods is one example where the army was enthusiastically lauded while the political leadership was projected as inept and uncaring. Though the commendable job done by the army — in particular the jawans — in the rescue and relief operation cannot be undermined, private channels presented these national duties as acts of total selflessness. They failed to inform audiences of two crucial facts: firstly, the army is an integral part of the government and, secondly, soldiers are paid for duties performed in aid of civilian authorities.

Similarly, in the case of WikiLeaks, there was a distinct difference in the approach taken towards the exposures relating to the civilian leadership and those relating to the chief of army staff. Television newscasters and anchors gleefully broadcast and discussed ad nauseum the revelations pertaining to politicians. The WikiLeaks reference to General Kayani’s meddling in political affairs was reported, but mostly glossed over. The ISPR clarification was given prompt coverage.

There is much in military affairs that needs to be investigated and put under a spotlight. From lack of accountability in the case of missing persons, for example, to the insidious role in the making and breaking of governments, the actions of the military provide enough substance for scrutiny and investigative reporting. This is a role the private channels, reaching the ‘masses’ as they say, have shied away from. It is left to the liberal section of the print media to challenge the holy cows.

Even when news reports of corruption in military establishments appear, they are rarely given the prominence that a luckless politician, under suspicion of malfeasance, is subjected to. The hounding of political leaders by the media is often relentless, while there is little follow-up of revelations of military misdemeanours. Dawn, for example, printed a report on September 25, 2010 quoting the auditor general’s report on irregularities in defence spending, which amounted to Rs2.5 billion. The report, submitted to parliament, detailed losses incurred due to unauthorised expenditures and various irregularities. However, this story, published on the back page, was not followed up. The silence of the electronic media on issues of corruption in the military is deafening, as they say.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2011.

Reader Comments (27)

  • Anoop
    Jan 21, 2011 - 12:54AM

    Yeah, exactly! Like when the present ISI chief had called Baitullah a “Pakistani Patriot” in an interview in Ger Spiegel. Nobody remembers that in Pakistani media but wouldn’t hesitating in naming RAW as supporting him.

    Very convenient! I call it “head in the sand syndrome.” Never underestimate the power of denial. Recommend

  • Arifq
    Jan 21, 2011 - 3:01AM

    Authoritarian states such as Pakistan want to control everything especially media cause it affects their monopoly over power. Pakistan army influences electronic media in many ways, this is no secret.Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi
    Jan 21, 2011 - 1:00PM

    the recent devastating floods is one example where the army was enthusiastically lauded while the political leadership was projected as inept and uncaring. Though he
    commendable job done by the army — in particular the jawans — in the rescue and relief operation cannot be undermined, private channels presented these national duties as acts of total selflessness. They failed to inform audiences of two crucial facts: firstly, the army is an integral part of the government and, secondly, soldiers are paid for duties performed
    in aid of civilian authorities.

    You see, while I’m in total unison with the conviction that military, no matter how much of a holy cow it is, must be accounted for all its deeds and endeavours, I always tend to feel irritated by such misconceived and rather naive generalizations.

    For one thing, pointing out that military was a part of the govt was the best excuse given by the civilian (PPP) Govt to cover up its failure to manage the crisis on the civil infrastructure front.
    Secondly, the commendable duties performed by the Jawans could never have been performed if the officer cadre and military leadership did not have the dedication, sincerity, capability and competency to strategize and develop infrastructure and also tactfully and successfully deploy the resources available instantly at time of need. Yet we constantly question the military budgets. Pray tell, whose duty is it to put out the fires on the PNSC bldg in the heart of Pakistan’s industrial capital Karachi? I’d presume the Fire dept and civil defence authorities? Who must manage the public chaos after people become homeless in localities targeted by bombings or quakes? I’d assume the police and district management authorities? But the Navy choppers come in to manage the PNSC fires, Army and rangers are requested to manage public chaos and feed the homeless and attend after the injured and sick.
    Thirdly, the soldiers who jump off choppers through slings tied to their waists or swim against mighty river currents to rescue old men, women and children never get as well paid or in any case never a penny more than the many civilian officials belonging to the civil infrastructure such as police, fire dept, bureaucracy and public health, who have always failed to handle any urban emergency despite their budgets, infrastructures, training, salaries and privileges.
    Why then shall we not commend and sing songs of praise for the soldiers, who emerge time and again as the only state entity that despite all its alleged failings, also invariably delivers momentously at every juncture and moment of despair the nation has ever faced!? So why not salute those who do and reprimand those who repeatedly fail?
    Even the HR and NGO brigades local or foreign would never be able to deliver if it weren’t for the military infrastructure and their smooth management at troop, platoon, company, battalion, brigade, corps level. Recommend

  • maera
    Jan 21, 2011 - 3:23PM

    @ Haris; I totally agree with u.

    While being a regular reader of ET, I see a new brigade of liberals who have made a point to condemn Pak Army or agencies etc even if they are doing major good deeds in the country. The Author must be a great visionary and a democrat but i must say that Pak Army is an asset for the country no matter what.
    Of course the accountability should be there and I think PAC is already handling that part.

    @ Anoop

    Lastly, seriously man don’t u work, or posting venomous comments on ET is ur job.
    Highly bored of your useless criticism on every thing.Recommend

  • Farooq
    Jan 21, 2011 - 3:56PM

    Army Bashing, good business, very quick way to attain popularity. Well done.Recommend

  • Yousaf
    Jan 21, 2011 - 5:28PM

    All those involved in military bashing should just imagine this country without military. Corruption,nepotism, ethnic cleansing, kidnapping and brutal killings will be the order of the day. A trailer is already for every body to see. These pseodu intellectuals are out to sell their rusty ideas to the general public,but soon you would find the public clamouring for the military to intervene.Recommend

  • rehan
    Jan 21, 2011 - 5:33PM

    Nice article,I agree with you Zohra to quite an extent.But I feel like giving Harris Masood Zuberi a hug too!..and a handshake for Farooq too.Recommend

  • Jibran
    Jan 21, 2011 - 5:48PM

    @Harris: Yes I agree with you, the military deserves praise where it’s role is beyond doubt. But I also agree with the author that this praise by the media should never go out of hand. Pakistan’s military is not the only one that assists in flood devastated areas (although I must say it does a superb job), floods in Britain often leave local authorities short of the required resources to do the job and the military does the needful. The story is the same in many other developed countries.

    Furthermore, the military is in a position to do this because it is the sole institution with the highest chunk of Pakistan’s budget, thereby putting it in an incomparable position with regards to the police and the fire department. May I humbly remind that when helicopters are needed, the military has the necessary stock, not the Police and other departments. So while the military does a commendable job, I would add the addendum that it does so because it has the necessary resources which in turn it has because it occupies the biggest chunk of the tax pair collections of any central entity, not because it has hooo haaa good management skills that are beyond the reach of all the rest.Recommend

  • anas butt
    Jan 21, 2011 - 5:55PM

    to the last three comments, all i have to say is that the military assets you talk about are part of the government because they are paid by the government. they do not exist outside of the government. so when army/navy choppers do something it’s not as if they’re doing anyone a favor. it’s their job. so when the military indulges in a scam then its a part of the government which is doing so and no different from a scam in say the customs. the reaction by the previous three folks is exactly what ms. yousuf is pointing to – a mindset. just today an indian general has been convicted of a land scam. the day that happens in pakistan we’ll be on the right path.Recommend

  • Patriot
    Jan 21, 2011 - 6:34PM

    OK so first it was musharraf bashing…now it is army bashing by the pseudo intellectuals like the one above…nation has paid enough as a result of former’s bashing wonder where would we go if the later is also treated with disrespect!Recommend

  • R S JOHAR
    Jan 21, 2011 - 7:00PM

    Pak army continues to call shots whether it is in power or not. However, I donot subscribe to the author’s criticising media, lauding the efforts of Army during recent flood relief which may be the one of the worst floods of the century which Pakistan faced. One can well visualise the herculian efforts required to overcome this gigantic task and any praise will boost the morale of its forces. However, audit of the defence expenditure is essential for any country to avoid corrupt practices and loot which I am afraid that Pak defence budget continues to remain unaccountable to civilian govt scrutiny since many decades.Recommend

  • Jan 21, 2011 - 7:07PM

    Great article!Recommend

  • faraz
    Jan 21, 2011 - 7:47PM

    Army takes up 30 percent of the budget, what are its acheivements? It lost all wars and lead to dismemberment of the country; the society has been fragmented on ethnic and religious lines due to long periods of military rule. Pakistan is now considered the global hub of terrorism and pakistanis are stripped at airports; thanks to our strategic depth policy. Recommend

  • parvez
    Jan 21, 2011 - 9:36PM

    There is a lot of substance in what you have said. I hope responsible people read this and do not adopt a knee jerk state denial position which is so common.Recommend

  • Jan 21, 2011 - 9:41PM

    With the geography like Pakistan and unwarned movements at the borders, any army would have adopted the same measures.Recommend

  • Romm
    Jan 21, 2011 - 10:44PM

    Sounds Naive. Is Rule of law more important than Lives of Citizens of pakistan. Will releasing so called, missing persons improve or protect the lives of people of pakistan. Freeing missing persons guarantees not rule of law, but Rule of Terrorists. Recommend

  • Jan 21, 2011 - 10:55PM

    @Farooq

    Army Bashing, good business, very
    quick way to attain popularity

    Wonder why TV Channels do not do ‘army bashing’ if it is such a ‘good and popular’ business.All one sees there is Politician and Secular and America bashing.Any bright ideas.

    @Yousaf

    All those involved in military bashing
    should just imagine this country
    without military.

    Do not strain your ‘imagination’ too much, just look at Bangladesh where the military has been in power for a lesser period, or Malayasia or Indonesia or Sri Lanka or even India.

    And if you need further clarity, look at Myanmar or North Korea which has been under military rule for long.

    Is the choice still difficult?

    .Recommend

  • YY
    Jan 22, 2011 - 12:17AM

    Don’t worry about these ‘pseudo-intellectual writers’, they’re really just more like ‘pseudo-venal writers’. Democracy is good business, why not come and take a slice of the pie?Recommend

  • Romm
    Jan 22, 2011 - 1:46AM

    I think its too much. Extraordinary situation demands, extraordinary Measures. General Kiyani Ought to Intervene and Give us freedom from uncertain Situation and Hype created by Media. First Executive orders from Chief Marshal Law Administrator should cover! (1) to send all right wing Pseudo Intellectuals into Exile to UK for Good so that they can Try their freedom of Speech in Hyde Park. (2) IMMEDIATE Closure of All private News ChannelsRecommend

  • Romm
    Jan 22, 2011 - 2:07AM

    @jibran
    Just one Example! Census Department is there since more than half a Century and census Department officials are feeding themselves and their Families Since ages out of National exchequer allocated for national Census, which is Hardly Held. But in 1997, army was called by civilian govt to hold Census. Does not this speak total Failure of Civil Administration? Is checking of Ghost School Army’s Job? Don’t say, Are produced these Ghosts and White Elephants.Recommend

  • Qazi
    Jan 22, 2011 - 12:14PM

    @Haris Masood Zuberi:

    Simple questions sir!

    Who has ruled this country (directly/indirectly) most of its life?
    Which is the only institution this country has developed in 63 years?
    Who has been and still getting most of the taxpayers’ money?
    How much the people of this luckless country get for Health and Education?
    Which Sectors get a cut in the budget when we run short of money to purchase bullets and guns etc?
    How many times the AGP has conducted audit of the Military Accounts?
    What happens to a civilian government when it cuts the defense budget?

    Warm RegardsRecommend

  • Anoop
    Jan 22, 2011 - 8:58PM

    @maera,

    I am agreeing with the Author. Not criticizing. You have to first criticize the Author for saying what most analytical observers know about Pakistan.Recommend

  • FAHAD
    Jan 22, 2011 - 10:05PM

    @ Anoop “head in the sand syndrome” Hahahha Look Up Up Up In the skies. to the North .. What You see ? Yeah China.. “head in the sand syndrome”. I agree ” .” Never underestimate the power of denial.”. Keep denying , China is the THE POWER, You are no way near it. Look @ where You are. Shame on you!!!Recommend

  • Sara
    Jan 22, 2011 - 10:36PM

    @ All commentators

    Plz stop criticizing, bcz its so easy but difficult is ti MEND.

    Have u ever check the Budget of Pakistan?

    Plz read again, ARMY is not the major holder. secondly all nuclear weapon/development comes under ARMY BUDGET. One must know the price of a single HELICOPTER. No doubt army generates some of its budget by its own, there is also corruption in army, but where the army men come from?
    They dont belong from some other planet, they are among of us, How much nation is Corrupt, that much army may be.

    But still they are much much good than Bureaucrates, Police or other deptt. None of them is willing to die at the age of 22. At least ARMY dont plunder the common man as POLICE does (Remind Rawalpindi case, Police men plundered the home,) Police is doing dacoitis in UNIFORM and in CIVILIAN dress as well.

    Even then MARTIAL LAWS, people still LOVE ARMY.

    And MARTIAL comes, bcz our POLITICIANS are weak, If there would “vaccume” one knows the RESULT.Recommend

  • faraz
    Jan 23, 2011 - 1:19AM

    @Sara

    Only army has the talent to produce something like ZiaRecommend

  • Jan 23, 2011 - 9:55AM

    @Fahad

    China is the THE POWER, You are no way
    near it. Look @ where You are. Shame
    on you!!!

    If China is ‘THE POWER’, or USA or even Timbaktoo, I do not see the connection. Is Pakistan and its ‘janbaaz ghazis’ somehow responsible for China,USA and Timbaktoo’s greatness.
    How does China being ‘THE POWER’ explain that Pakistan army hogs the resources of a developing country and still does not deliver security to its people, Bangladesh, Waziristan, FATA , Swat and whole of Pakistan in general illustrate the point.
    And how does China being ‘THE POWER’ explain Pak army’s underhand dabbling in the political process.
    Or is the head buried so deep that it is no longer able to comprehend the issue at hand.Recommend

  • Jan 23, 2011 - 10:26AM

    @Sara

    Have u ever check the Budget of
    Pakistan?

    Plz read again, ARMY is not the major
    holder. secondly all nuclear
    weapon/development comes under ARMY
    BUDGET.

    In case you want to check the Budget againplease do so,
    http://finance.gov.pk/budget/BudgetinBrief201011.pdf

    On page 27 you will find that only General Public Services head has an allocation greater than the Military. GPS includes all Salaries, Pensions, Legislative and Administrative Expenses, Servicing of Foreign and Domestic Loans and repayments etc. Of all the Departments and ministries Defence has the highest allocation.
    Page 40 of the same document will also tell you that Atomic Energy Commission and Nuclear Regulatory authority have their separate allocations, so your claim about ‘nuclear development’ expenditure is not correct.

    About others not willing to die at 22, I recall a lady police officer and her Children being blown up in Hangu (Recommend

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