We are being attacked by a group of zealous party activists who have threatened us with dire consequences. We are being called names. We are being hindered from doing our work. Our editorial balance is being questioned. And, there are the personal attacks as well. Party loyalists have abused us. The threats are unending. The party leadership says it cannot control the workers given that their leader has been “misquoted”. Sound familiar? Except this time, it is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
I am not angry. I am disappointed. This is not only the party of Imran Khan, who I respect for the work he has done by setting up the Shaukat Khanum Hospital. It is also the party of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Shafqat Mehmood — people with integrity and common sense.
I remember in 1996, when as a foreign correspondent, I attended a press conference at the President Hotel in Islamabad where Imran Khan was holding forth. Nasim Zehra was his media adviser. Imran was talking democracy in Pakistan. The Western press was lapping it up as it usually does. One magazine has already dubbed him the next prime minister of Pakistan. And in all this talk of responsibility to the people and the need for elections, I asked the great Khan a simple question: Sir, how many times have you voted in an election in Pakistan? The answer: None. There was a hushed silence for a second or so. If looks could kill, I think Nasim Zehra’s stare would have done the job for me there and then.
Imran Khan has come a long way since then. Like every Pakistani, I have also been hopeful of his rise and his attempts to bring clean people into politics. There have been many questions asked along the way. He has been dubbed a Taliban apologist. He has been berated for bringing into the party fold people of questionable backgrounds and dubious credentials. Some have accused him of letting the capitalists dictate party policy. People have left, others have joined. This is nothing that one can hold against Imran Khan or the party.
I admit, I am confused over the policy that Imran Khan and his party have adopted over drones. He told one rally that he would order the PAF to shoot down the American drones. Does he not know that the Pakistani military is very much a partner in the drone policy with the US? Then he said before starting his rally to Waziristan that it was only the Zardari government that was stopping him from entering the volatile area. The military, which is conducting an operation in that area, had also advised him against this adventure and it was ultimately the security forces that turned his motorcade back. So, why blame President Asif Ali Zardari and poor Rehman Malik?
Yes, I have been warned several times of the PTI trolls. People have actually advised that they don’t criticise the PTI because of them. These are PTI supporters who will attack you online. They will spam your inbox, post vicious comments and generally take you apart on social media. Possibly, they are the online equivalent of the once infamous Islami Jamiat Talba’s Thunder Squad.
This is not the first time we have been attacked by the PTI’s Thunder Squad. In the past when we have had op-ed pieces, where people — most of them not even our staffers — have been critical of the PTI, we have had our inboxes flooded with mails. We have been accused of bias because of cartoons we published or blogs. We have been told that our website, which is one of the most popular news websites in the country, would be boycotted.
This week we ran a story in which Imran Khan said that the war in Afghanistan amounted to jihad by Islamic militants. We have the story in print and on the web. This is what Imran Khan said. We have it on tape. At the same time, we are aware that this could have been a slip of the tongue and all one needed was to issue a clarification.
Instead, we were attacked. The onus was on us — we misquoted the great leader on purpose. We had an agenda.
When contacted, Information Secretary Shafqat Mehmood said his party had nothing to do with these attacks. Yes, sending thousands of emails with the same message was not a coordinated attempt. More worrisome, I wonder, what if the PTI comes into power and its supporters attack us physically — will the message from Mr Mehmood be the same? I shudder in anticipation.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2012.