Pakistan’s men in uniform ‘lording’ over Pakistani media organisations

London: Ever since cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan assumed office as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in August, Pakistan Army is leaving no stone unturned to maintain their “clean image” on media platforms, while dictating terms and conditions on Pakistani media organisations on what to report and how to portray the Army.

While Pakistani media has been burdened by a burgeoning fiscal crisis for a while, the Army has now started to take advantage of it. In a disturbing trend, the armed forces possess the tendency of coercing journalists, freelancers and bloggers behind the scenes to not only report about their criticism directly but also of the policies they have formulated, according to The Economist, an English-language weekly magazine-format newspaper.

For instance, the Pakistan Army strongly believes that it should be the sole judge of identifying threats to national security and territorial integrity. In a related development, Nawaz Sharif, who was the Prime Minister and enjoyed the Army’s backing, chaired a national security meeting two years ago.

It was then Sharif had apparently accosted the top military brass for supporting violent extremism.
“The Army considers various militant groups useful, either because they extend Pakistan’s influence into Afghanistan (the Haqqani network) or because they discomfit India (Lashkar-e-Taiba). But supporting these outfits undermines Pakistan’s relations with America and India, among others-a situation Sharif was keen to reverse,” the report said.

The meeting cost Sharif his position and led to his downfall in the Pakistani political spectrum. Along with Sharif, the clampdown on Dawn, the country’s well-known English newspaper also started.

Its journalist Cyril Almeida, who broke the story, too landed in trouble. Before the general elections in July, the newspaper also found itself on a sticky wicket — its distribution was halted in several cities in Pakistan.

Almeida could face treason charges after interviewing Sharif, where the latter tacitly acknowledged Pakistani terrorists had carried out the ghastly 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and that Islamabad should start getting cosy with New Delhi.

Such is the pressure from Pakistan Army, that media organisations cannot report on the military brass’ constant meddling in public life. They are under massive pressure to support Imran Khan and portray Sharif as a “demoniser”. Although it is okay to report on corruption cases against politicians, it would be disastrous for them to report that why the Pakistan Army is being allotted acres of land to dole out to its officers. This also includes former Army Chief Raheel Sharif, who received 90 acres of land outside Lahore on retirement, as per the report.

Scribes who disregard the dos and don’ts ostensibly listed by the Pakistan Army, disappear into custody, only to appear into the picture again, albeit in a meek and humiliating manner. Various publishers and producers have expressed grave concerns that they get threatening calls from anonymous numbers on what to report and how to attend meetings with top military brass.

Threats of closure and censorship are also not taken very lightly. In March this year, Geo TV, Pakistan’s biggest television channel went off the air for a month supposedly over its positive coverage on Sharif, among other issues. Journalists and bloggers are harassed in private lawsuits filed against them to denounce them as “enemies of the state.”

Summing up the gloomy atmosphere, a veteran journalist was quoted by The Economist saying, “I have never in my life experienced anything as tough as this.”

“After the extent of the Army’s intervention in civilian affairs and foreign policy was revealed by Sharif, this cohort’s reaction was not to retreat, embarrassed, from the political sphere. Rather it sought to co-opt Imran Khan and sculpt an administration more to its liking. If so, there are lessons for Imran Khan, whose government is struggling to find a sense of direction. Once upon a time, the army helped Sharif into power, too,” the report concluded.