Sadiq Saleem: Lagay Raho, Media Bhai

This article by Sadiq Saleem appeared in The News on November 4, 2009

On Monday, November 2, thirty-five innocent Pakistanis lost their lives to a terrorist attack. These were ordinary people, standing in line at a bank to receive their monthly salary. They must have gone there with plans of spending that money on their parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters. But for the Pakistani media, especially the TV anchors who have now become the arbiters of what is important and what is not, the death of these poor people was not important. With their usual cast of characters from —Jamaat-e-Islami to Imran Khan to the two Muslim Leagues— the electronic media that day was exclusively focused on the so-called NRO issue.


Although the PPP has defused the matter by withdrawing the ordinance from Parliament, there is something artificial about the manner in which the matter of the NRO was made the primary focus of national discussion. The NRO issue took over from debate over the Kerry Lugar Bill, which also died its natural death. Those in the media who considered the Kerry-Lugar Bill a matter of national sovereignty have not even asked the PML-N or PML-Q to bring their own resolutions in the National Assembly on the matter.



Now that Hillary Clinton has spoken, the two Muslims Leagues would not dare condemn the US through a resolution in Parliament. The purpose of the fuss over the bill, like the NRO non-debate, was to undermine the Zardari presidency. The Pakistani military is fighting the battle for the country’s survival in Waziristan.


For years at least some of our anchors have claimed that the Mehsud militants are backed by foreign enemies of Pakistan. But neither the war in Waziristan nor the terrorist attacks in Rawalpindi have received the kind of attention that befits them. For the overzealous TV anchors, the real issue is how to embarrass President Zardari. Some of them claim they have the establishments backing in doing so.


Those striving for a Constitutional knockout of President Zardari need to reconsider whether they will accomplish anything even if they succeed. The first consequence of such a knockout would be to give the PPP and the Bhutto-Zardari family the mantle of victimhood once again. After the initial grumbling is over, the People’s Party will most likely rally round the family that has given the greatest sacrifices for it. Even if Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani becomes part of the knockout plan, which is highly unlikely, he would be reduced to the same position as Farooq Leghari was within months of his action against Benazir Bhutto in 1996.


If the fingerprints of the establishment are found in President Zardari’s decapitation, as the anti-Zardari anchors and columnists claim, it would revive in all likelihood the anti-establishment polarization that the military sought to end by withdrawing from politics after the eclipse of General Pervez Musharraf. In any case, why should the establishment become part of an anti-Zardari game plan if all it would do is bring Mr Nawaz Sharif to power?


The issue of civil-military relations will certainly not be resolved to the establishments satisfaction because if Mr. Nawaz Sharif rises to power with the weakening of a Zardari-led PPP then he is unlikely to be more deferential to GHQ.


Since the unfortunate era of General Ziaul Haq the Pakistani establishment has had a pro-Jihad faction that operates politically through the media and various political actors. These people did not respect General Asif Nawaz, General Abdul Waheed, or General Jehangir Karamat. General Pervez Musharraf pleased them by championing adventurism in Kargil but lost their backing in the post-9/11 context. Now, too, it is not General Ashfaq Kayani who wants an army (or establishment) role in politics. It is the beneficiaries of Jihad Inc., including the many media figures beholden to the Jihadis, who want to shoot at a liberal government using the establishments shoulder.


If Pakistan will gain nothing from upsetting the applecart, why are some people so insistent on continuing to distract the nation from fighting terrorism and from sympathizing with terrorist victims? Why not allow the Parliament to decide matters even if it is with a single vote? Why don’t the TV anchors ask Imran Khan how he can judge the government’s actions and claim to speak for the people without being elected? Why is every initiative of PML-N a media initiative and never brought to the elected chambers? Is it not the purpose of democracy to find a way to get past issues instead of getting bogged down by them?


The media, especially its electronic manifestation, seems like a bunch of quacks (fake doctors) that keep generating campaign after campaign against someone they dislike (President Zardari). It is time the people fight back and say let there be some sanity in the country. Let priorities be priorities.


Like the title of the Hindi movie Lagay Raho Munna Bhai, we need to learn to ignore the TV anchors and say Lagay Raho media Bhai and pay attention to the lives of people instead of the artificial politics of talk shows. If the talk show crowd has evidence of corruption, let them take it to the independent judiciary, which they claim they got restored. If there is an issue that requires Parliamentary attention, let Parliament vote on it. It is time for real action, not media campaigns.


For twenty-four hours after a tragedy like the Rawalpindi terrorist attack, the nation should be allowed to grieve and sympathize with the victims. The media and the establishment some anchors so frequently quote should give the people a break.

 Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and part-time analyst based in Toronto, Canada.


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