Dozens of reports pass through my computer every week, and few actually make me sit up and go… Wow! Really? But the report from the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies that dropped on the cyberdesk this week did just that. The publication of the Pakistan Security Report 2014 ought to have made headlines everywhere, yet it has passed almost without notice. Why headlines? Because the report, which is an aggregation of open-source figures relating to terrorism and the fatalities incurred thereby, shows that terrorist attacks and fatalities fell by 30 per cent in 2014. Thirty per cent! That is a very significant drop by any measure, yet it escaped the notice of most commentators across all media platforms.
So great is the reduction that one might reasonably expect that things would feel different — and yet they do not. Pakistan in 2015 feels no safer than it did in 2014. Lahore was bombed on February 17. There are reports from around the country of terrorist activity, of paramilitary forces being attacked and killed. The interior minister has taken himself off to a conference in the US on how to tackle extremism, and both the prime minister and the chief of army staff have in the last week spoken at length about fighting — and the need to defeat — terrorism.
My suspicion… I have no scientific basis for this… is that how we feel about the quality or otherwise of the security environment is determined by the media, in particular television, which in the absence of entertainment material has chosen to give us a rolling 24/7 crisis. A relentless bombardment of breaking news, tickers scrolling across the bottom of the screen and endlessly-looped clips where reality seems to happen in 30 second slices. There is no let-up to this, and it happens day in and day out across all the principal channels.
When the channels pause for breath and bring a few talking heads together — and it is a few, a travelling circus of punditry — all we get is the same old. The same tired arguments and entrenched positions get an airing, everybody blames everybody else for whatever the disaster of the day is and then they wrap up to go home for a cup of tea and a biscuit and a decent night’s sleep before doing the same thing all over again the following day. It’s enough to make one appreciate the advertising breaks.
There is no escape either. Go into almost any shop and there is a TV busy telling us how insufferably awful things are, and as was observed by the German propaganda minister in World War the second if you repeat a lie often enough it comes to be believed as the truth. Now I am not for one moment suggesting that the channels are lying to us because they are not, they are telling us the truth as they see it and reporting real and very unpleasant news stories — and in doing so condition our perception.
So do things feel any different, has anybody noticed a drop in the number of terrorist incidents or a reduction in fatalities? Nobody of my acquaintance has and yes I have asked around. Anybody feel easier walking around? Less likely to get blown up? Nope… did not get an affirmative from any door I knocked on. Yet there really was a reduction in the number of terrorist incidents and fatalities in 2014 — which suggests either that the terrorists are losing heart or the government and the many law-enforcement agencies are getting more right than they are wrong and we just never noticed. Or perhaps it is something of both. Either way it seems that it is not something that is going to get debated to death by any of the channels delivering a diet of numbing tedium.
Perhaps in a world where everything is suspected of being rigged, fixed or otherwise twisted a 30 per cent reduction in one of the core afflictions of the state is regarded as counter-intuitive, against the grain of the prevailing narrative. Our screens and these pages ought to be awash with analysis of one of the most important news events of the year. No? Oh well, back to sleep then.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2015.
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