Lies, damned lies

Published: December 10, 2010
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The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist whose reports frequently appear in The New York Times 
salman.masood@tribune.com.pk

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist whose reports frequently appear in The New York Times salman.masood@tribune.com.pk

A news report carried on December 9 in several national newspapers including The News, Jang and The Express Tribune that purportedly mentioned cables sent out of the American embassy in India — and disclosed by WikiLeaks — has turned out to be completely fabricated and concocted. The News and Jang were forced to retract the news report after carrying it as their lead story in December 9’s edition.

The fictitious cables seemed to have validated and substantiated every allegation and insinuation that rightwing nationalists and hawks of the military-intelligence apparatus harbour against India. But the revelations contained in these cables failed all tests of veracity and dampened any celebrations planned by those who penned them down and the right-wing, nationalist gallery the cables were intended for.

The fingers of blame are being pointed at the Online news agency, thought to have links to the country’s ‘powerful’ intelligence agencies. It is hard to exactly point at the origins of these fake cables. Was it done at the behest of some officer of the spy agency or some overzealous employee of the news agency, pretending to be a journalist? It is hard to tell. I am quite sure that there would be no denial or mea culpa and a predictable silence would be maintained by those who thought of and cooked up such a fanciful set of lies.

It is clear that this was a botched and very shoddy attempt at trying to extract any benefit from all the negative fallout of the WikiLeaks disclosures. The effort was bound to fall flat but the temerity of those who penned these fake cables is quite astounding. Did it not cross their mind that their imaginary cables would eventually be exposed for being fake after scrutiny by a vigilant and aggressive media and blogosphere? It appears such a thought, if at all did exist, was shunned away at the cost of expediency and taking one chance in hell.

I am surprised but not shocked. Sometimes officials here just don’t seem to think things through. I am reminded of several incidents but for now would cite one briefing by the Strategic Planning Division in early 2008. Initially, the organisers had said that the briefing was a backgrounder. But as soon as the general finished the briefing, a female journalist and a few others pestered him as to why the briefing couldn’t be ‘on-the-record’. “Ok, fine, it is all on the record”, the general replied in a rather generous mood. Almost immediately, all journalists took out their BlackBerrys and filed to their newsrooms and editors. About half an hour later, officials from the Inter-Services Public Relations started calling the participants, pressing them not to mention the name of the general in their reports and to take out the reference from their online stories. Obviously, it was not possible, and too late as well, as the name of the general had already been circulated all over the web.

Our intelligence agencies often exhibit behaviour that defies logic and common sense. An indication of this can be gleaned from what transpired in the Supreme Court on December 9 when it was revealed by a lawyer for the intelligence agencies that 11 alleged terrorists were indeed in the military’s custody, even though for months the government had claimed otherwise in front of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Why deny for so long when eventually you admit to the contrary?

The reason lies in the prevalent culture in the country that lacks transparency and accountability. Intelligence and spy organisations make the most of this pervasive malaise as they operate in a grey and opaque environment, used to flouting normal legal procedures and dismiss and discard any hindrance to their desired goals. The methods deployed to achieve their goals have often been crude and unrefined.

But in this age of fast and easy digital communication, they would have to be more imaginative and sophisticated to either silence their critics or put forward their own agendas. Crude and brutal ways such as the torture of journalists like Umar Cheema, who was abducted and tortured in September, or simply stupid attempts like the fake cables would achieve nothing but ignominy.

Published in The Express The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Dec 11, 2010 - 12:05AM

    I believe the fake cables are not meant for you or anyone policing the web. They cables made headlines in the local newspapers and that was good enough for the generals. The television channels have not apologised – they had interviews with top ex ISI officials whose glee at the fact that Hindu militants are more dangerous than Al qaeda could barely be contained.

    The purpose for those in power is to reinforce a message of an antagonistic India and I believe the fake leaks did just that. International reputation, or even credibility vis-a-vis rational Pakistanis matters little. Recommend

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos
    Dec 11, 2010 - 12:16AM

    Its pretty simple. It seems that they have shaped and nurtured a cult like devotion for so long that they now believe their own propoganda. Recommend

  • Iqbal Masood
    Dec 11, 2010 - 1:12AM

    One more instance of how shortsighted our leaders have become. Our country has no credibility left whatsoever, not our politicians (current and former), not our military, and now not even our intelligence agencies. May Allah save our country.Recommend

  • RSN
    Dec 11, 2010 - 2:22AM

    You make the point that the ISPR needs to be less clumsy about meddling with in the press because people are watching.The way you put it, it seems like you’re arguing that ISPR should be more sophisticated in the way it meddles so that no one finds out. I’d rather that doesn’t happen. Recommend

  • vasan
    Dec 11, 2010 - 6:27AM

    I think the whole purpose of such false wikileaks is to poison the Pak people’s mind with more of “Hate india” syndrome which is the back bone on which Pak Army survives.Recommend

  • Jay S
    Dec 11, 2010 - 8:13AM

    The “intelligence” agencies’ strategy is simple, just keep throwing mud and some of it will stick. Millions of Pakistanis have read the PakiLeaks but it is quite possible that not all of them will learn about the retraction. That will be termed as a success in the Pakistani “intelligence” circles. Of course, there’s nobody around who cares for what Pakistan loses in the bargain – credibility. India can get away with anything in the future because no country in the world will believe the Pakistani version of events even if it is true – no matter what the ‘proof’.Recommend

  • Dec 11, 2010 - 10:36AM

    Those responsible for giving fabricated news on this ONLINE news agency, have forgotten that information is now a media, where fabrication cannot hold its hollow ground for long and it will only rebound back ferociously on those involved in such immoral acts, unbecoming of a news media, which will lose its credibilty for ever. These newspapers, including yours, must take not of this grave damage done to their reputation by their unverified Investigative Reporting. The Editor and your management must take note of what is the common factor between the three daily newspapers who had common sources and made such a blunder. I hope you can take this advice seriously.Recommend

  • Paras Vikmani
    Dec 11, 2010 - 10:50AM

    even surprisin is tht ET newspaers carried out such useless reportsRecommend

  • Shahida Kazi
    Dec 11, 2010 - 1:16PM

    Can things like this really happen in this day and age of globalisation and digital media?This is more in keeping with the cold war days of the 50s.Recommend

  • Sara
    Dec 11, 2010 - 3:13PM

    Indians comments more..where r Pakistanis? Indians alwayz happy 2 criticize ISIRecommend

  • J.Oberoi
    Dec 11, 2010 - 5:08PM

    @Sara, I am the only Indian who praises the ISI. Well done, boys !! Keep it up. You’re making it easier for us.Recommend

  • Muaz Siddiqui
    Dec 11, 2010 - 6:39PM

    haha@JOberoi. Recommend

  • Raqib Ali
    Dec 11, 2010 - 9:50PM

    Newspapers fell in the TRAP of a WEB ONLY CRAP NEWSPAPER. There is one ‘newspaper’ that cannot be found anywhere in Pakistan. It is only available online and none of its writers are known journalists. It is such a small establishment, that it has copied name of a fomous British rightwing daily newspaper. It says that it has 28 correspondents from India alone that write under ‘pen names’ because they cannot risk their identity!!! What a joke!

    According to that newspaper’s website, ONLINE AGENCY subscribes to them and they subscribe to that agency. ONLINE AGENCY says that it ‘forgot’ to mention name of the newspaper. That newspaper says that other papers saw this JUICY story and couldn’t resist and published that without due acknowledgement.

    That newspaper which often has dodgy stories without due credit and is a work of extremely unknown rightwing journalist. That online only newspaper is ‘sticking by its story’ and claims that ‘facts are facts’.

    It is about time that ET and Jang Group sue that paper and online agency for damaging their repuation. Recommend

  • Jo Drathjer
    Dec 12, 2010 - 2:31AM

    I believe that it is very important to get this information out to the people who do not read newspapers regularly.

    And it is good to see that it really helps to have more than one source for the cables, so they can easily be verified.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Dec 12, 2010 - 4:49AM

    Had a laugh thanks to ISI! :DRecommend

  • harkol
    Dec 12, 2010 - 10:40AM

    The fake news for not the consumption of anyone other than Brainwashed souls within Pakistan, who have for long believed that India is evil, out to get Pakistan any which way, so fighting it with all means (fair and foul) is par for the course.

    The subsequent denials of the source of the news will do nothing to quell the conspiracy theories and reinforcement of the strong beliefs of these blind.

    A handy tool for LeT to recruit more Kasabs…

    Sad state of affairs…Recommend

  • Devarajan
    Dec 12, 2010 - 7:19PM

    Indians will do anything for money. Pakistani’s will do everything to further erode their country’s credibility and help to retain the army’s strong hold on them.Recommend

  • S.Mukherjee
    Dec 14, 2010 - 11:45AM

    ‘Fakingnews.com’ a satirical web site in India is complaining that Pakistan mainstream media is infringing on their turf.Recommend

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