Sunday, April 27, 2014

"We love Pakistan army and ISI"

With India in the middle of high-voltage drama season, can Pakistan be left behind?

The Guardian journalists are thrilled by the images of a David casting stones on the Goliath. However at the end of the day nothing much will happen but the demise of Geo TV. Pak military boasts of a solid middle class base and it is one institution that Pakistanis of all stripes (except perhaps Balochis and MQM followers) admire. Still, taboos are meant to be broken and this unprecedented defiance of the "agencies" may help future journalists in going where no one has gone before. 
For decades Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence was the spy agency that could not be named, let alone publicly criticised. The media would refer only to the "agencies", the "establishment" or, even more coyly, "the angels".

But in the past week that taboo has been broken by the Independent Media Corporation, Pakistan's largest media group, which has used the two biggest newspapers in the country and by far its most popular television network to daily hammer the ISI.
Geo editors cleared the bulletins for non-stop coverage of the attempt to kill Mir and the claims by his brother that the attack on his car had been directly ordered by the ISI's normally low profile chief, Zaheer-ul-Islam, whose picture the TV channel displayed for hours.

The agency, Mir claimed, had been infuriated by his Capital Talk programmes that criticised ISI tactics against separatists in Balochistan province, where the military is accused of kidnapping and illegally detaining suspects.

The Urdu-language Jang newspaper and its English stablemate, the News, which like Geo followed up with a daily barrage of attacks against an enormously powerful agency that has been accused of everything from rigging elections to backing Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

"It's unprecedented – the first time you have the ISI facing off with a media channel in such a manner," said Jugnu Mohsin, a veteran newspaper publisher who has watched the emergence of the boisterous private television business since the sector was deregulated under the former president Pervez Musharraf.

Public opinion is also divided, with many horrified by the unheard of attacks on an institution that has cultivated an image for itself as a guardian of Pakistan's honour. There have been calls on social media for the government to ban Geo and posters have gone up in some cities declaring "We love Pakistan army and ISI".

Although international human rights groups have reported on the ISI harassing, kidnapping and even torturing journalists in the past, they say there was simply no evidence to support Mir's claims that the ISI was responsible for the attack on him. Mir has also been threatened by the Taliban, although no militant group claimed responsibility for the Karachi shooting.

Others see the hand of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, in the broadsides against the ISI. The media mogul is the part-owner of the Independent Media Corporation who helped turn Geo into a powerhouse with its signature mix of sensationalist storytelling and commentators drawn from all sides of Pakistan's political debate.....Rahman is said to be convinced the much-trailed launch of a new television channel is part of an ISI-backed effort to erode Geo's dominant market position.

Others believe he would never have picked a fight with the ISI if he did not think he had high-powered support from the government. Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has pointedly failed to comment on Geo's explosive charges so far, but did rush to Mir's hospital bedside in a move interpreted as a strong show of support.

The army demonstrated its power when it asked the defence minister to send an official petition to the country's broadcast regulator to shut down the station for running what it claimed was a "vicious campaign" aimed at "undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of state institution". Boycotts of the group's newspapers have been reported at military bases across the country, while Geo has been dropped by many local cable providers, which the company claims have been pressured by the army.

Rival media groups have also gone on the offensive. The Express group has attacked Geo for "running a malicious slander campaign against Pakistan's premier intelligence agency".

1 comment:

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