Fortunately, it seems that Pakistan is not going on a full scale war with the United States, at least not immediately and apparently a large section of our media is very disappointed. The response of the media (particularly Urdu) to Admiral Mike Mullen’s scathing statement was not through introspection and logic, rather it chose the more exciting and certainly easier alternative of playing songs of war. It was at the same time fascinating and horrifying to see the utter disregard of rationality in our national discourse.
The obvious question of whether the Pakistani military establishment is in fact patronising the Haqqani group was rarely asked, and instead various permutations and combinations of the Armageddon scenario were dwelled upon in agonising detail. Most of the politicians and the retired army officers (most of whom are incidentally analysts now) decided to play along and hence there was hollow chest-thumping and bogus hysteria for days on TV. The long and pedantic monologues delivered to rhetorical questions was all that we could muster up in the face of probably our gravest ever national security challenge.
It is natural for the threat of external aggression to galvanise the population, yet it is not a pass for all kinds of silliness and dishonesty. Patronising a terrorist faction is defending the largely indefensible. Tough questions of why the military establishment persists on treating Afghanistan as a fifth province and how we can create a ruckus about infringement of our sovereignty by the United States, while we have no regard for that of another country, were never asked. Similarly the moral justification of hobnobbing with terrorists and clinging on to the dangerous and discredited theory of strategic depth hardly ever came up.
No one should confuse this fear and war mongering by television anchors as genuine bravado. In fact, courage was the one element which was conspicuously missing from the conversation. Real valour would have entailed the asking of hard-hitting questions from our military establishment. The attempt albeit vainly, was to send across a message that we are not afraid. I agree that it is imperative that the particular message be conveyed, but not at the cost of avoiding all self-accountability.
Nationalism by definition is irrational and almost all media is susceptible to jingoism in face of the possibility of war. Yet we can ill afford unrestrained media jingoism at this stage. A useful parameter was enunciated regarding the US media’s role in the invasion of Iraq in the phrase that media should not go from being a “watchdog to a lapdog”. On most Urdu television channels it seemed like uninterrupted and unadulterated transmission of ISPR content for days on end.
One Urdu newspaper ran an editorial with the nuanced thesis that no nation that believes in Allah can lose in a war. There are two possibilities that can provide impetus to such a fantastically ignorant editorial; firstly the said newspaper consists of pious simpletons who do not believe in modern military technology. Secondly and more likely, they decided to pander to the most deeply held convictions of society and hence not had to bother with the irritation of responsible journalism. The conflation of advocating mindless aggression with patriotism resulted in framing the discourse in two extremes. Either it is suicidal fatalism or treasonous passivity. Hence, conveniently and deliberately ignoring a continuum of possibilities in between the two extremes. In the event that a major unilateral act of aggression was to be undertaken by the US, I have no doubt that the entire population will and should stand with the armed forces to defend the country. However this does not obscure the fact that there are many who want reconciliation. And perhaps most significantly do not want our military establishment and the ‘deep state’ to support and protect terrorists who have been and still are responsible for the killing innocent civilians (including those of Pakistan). Imperialism needs to be fought and fought vigorously, but standing on the shoulders of homicidal religious fanatics is neither an acceptable nor an effective strategy to do so.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2011.