The ISPR’s response to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) annual report is that it is a “pack of lies”. The brevity of the response is striking. However, it is not only the words; they have economised on reason and facts as well, resulting in a complete absence of both. To give some background, the HRW report criticised the government for failing to check human rights abuses by the intelligence and security agencies who have allowed extremist groups to attack religious minorities, activists and journalists. The report, amongst other things, also pointed out that the military has had known affiliations with religious and sectarian groups, citing the example of the LeJ and its impunity. These questions have been raised by many thinking, rational Pakistanis in the past. Yet, the ISPR in its response goes on to say the report is, “propaganda driven, totally biased, anti-Pakistan agenda” and, of course, an attempt to malign the “Institutions”.
One would have imagined that the military and ISPR would have been a bit busy these days. Lt-General (retd) Shahid Aziz’s sensational — or is it sensationalist — revelations on Kargil make for some pretty serious allegations (“pack of lies” might be useful here for multiple parties). There is also this small recent matter of a TTP spokesperson holding a press conference in South Waziristan. Roll this around your tongue a little. It does puzzle the mind on how this man remains elusive from our awe-inspiring, phone tapping, sleepless guardians, when, in fact, it seems some television anchors have him on speed dial. Perhaps, if the military spent less time threatening Ali Dayan and HRW and more time inquiring about the whereabouts of Ehsanullah Ehsan, only if.
The ISPR statement comes from a long but not proud tradition. The Hamoodur Rahman commission’s report was baseless propaganda to defame the Army. The IJI was never formed; okay maybe it was, but only in the “national interest”. The civilian PM ordered Kargil, OBL was never in Pakistan, Saleem Shehzad probably killed himself, the list goes on but you get the picture. They have a habit of issuing brief, threatening denials and sticking to them, up to the point they are proved false. At that point we are reminded, regardless of its failures the military should not be criticised because it lowers the morale of our troops and weakens the “Institutions” (The term is now running into diminishing returns, it is a thinly-veiled euphemism for the military, although the Supreme Court is making the occasional appearance). An example of another famous brief statement which one is reminded of is L’état, c’est moi (“I am the State”) by Louis XIV. It seems that we have little concept of state and “national interest” outside of the military.
The HRW report says almost exactly what the Supreme Court has said in relation to Balochistan and the role of the intelligence agencies. The FC and intelligence agencies have been in control in Balochistan and have failed to rein in the sectarian terrorist groups. That is a fact, yet when have we let facts come in the way of good old “patriotism”. Human rights as a concept is portrayed as “western, Zionist, etc.” and now this xenophobic and dangerous nonsense is being brought to the mainstream. The intention is very clear, i.e. to coerce away human rights organisations. This will not only affect or stop at HRW or Ali Dayan, rather it will extend to all human rights and indeed human lives in Pakistan.
The really disturbing bit about the current fiasco is the shameful role of a certain segment of the media. Is it too much to ask from the “fiercely independent” media that at least there is no incitement to violence and people’s lives are not endangered? The quality and tone of the ISPR release and some pieces by one journalist in particular have enough resemblance to make one wonder, if they are both written by the same person/institution (I have no idea which one though). One may attribute direct culpability to an anchorperson for the murder of Governor Taseer, and to our collective shame the offending hysterical anchorperson’s career instead of ending there, soared to new heights (or perhaps sunk to new depths). Now a dangerous and malicious attempt is underway against Ali Dayan; no doubt to punish him for being brave and honest in this blighted land. This is a test for the media as a whole, if they cannot or will not stand up to the military and equally significantly to bullies and the dishonest in their own ranks, it will make a lot of brave, moralising lecturing sound hollow.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2013.