Asif Haroon Raja
The DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor in his detailed press briefing to the media persons on December 6 punctured the balloons of despondency floated by the media and others casting aspersions on the three-month old incumbent government and the role of the Army in politics. He dwelled at length to dispel the impression that the Army stood behind PTI, asserting that the Army as the security establishment had always given security inputs and supported the policies of the government in power. He also dispersed the misgivings expressed over Kartarpur corridor saying it will be fenced and used by Sikh Yatrees only. His strong rebuttal to filibustering of Indian Army chief advising Pakistan to become secular in order to qualify itself to befriend India was heartwarming. He was spot on stating that BJP had bid goodbye to secularism in its desire to convert India into a Hindu State and was treating the minorities like slaves. Conversely, in Pakistan, minorities are treated with respect and their worship places protected.
Upgradation of Pakistani Media
It will be in fitness of things to understand as to why the need was felt to put the record straight and to remind the media to play positive. One mustn’t forget that the US regimes of George W. Bush and Barak Obama had doled out millions of dollars to transform Pak media into 4th pillar of the State. Motive was to reinforce the efforts of covert war launched from the soil of Afghanistan with a view to weaken Pakistan from within. Unfortunately, instead of acting as the first line defence against foreign propaganda, own media promoted the agenda of adversaries of Pakistan. By now, the media (over 100 electronic channels, several English medium newspapers, social media,) buttressed by bloggers, NGOs and human rights organizations have become the major tool of hybrid war.
Efforts to Destabilize Pakistan through Covert Operations
From 2003 onward, no stone has been left unturned by the adversaries to unravel Pakistan. They want a weak and dependent Pakistan and a self-reliant Pakistan. Foreign sponsored terrorism has caused Pakistan a human loss of 75,000 and financial loss of $123 billion. Hybrid war has further widened the existing divides in the society, polarized political and religious forces, heightened extremism and projected Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world. The Army and ISI which is the first line defence of Pakistan against external threats and has defeated terrorism and foiled all the sinister plans are being constantly castigated by alleging that they abet terrorism in Afghanistan, India and Kashmir and are meddling in political affairs of the country. Army is now accused of human rights violations in FATA and Baluchistan and held responsible for missing persons.
Change of Tactics to Create Political Instability
Failing to destabilize the country and scuttle CPEC through covert operations, the schemers decided to topple the PML-N regime that had secured two-thirds majority in 2013 elections and had done fairly well in controlling rural and urban terrorism, overcoming energy crisis, stabilizing the macroeconomic indicators, building network of road infrastructure, launching national action plan, and making the CPEC operational. Army had a big role in all its achievements since without harmony between the two and secured environment, socio-economic developments were not possible.
Despite the achievements, the ruling party was discredited by the media and the PTI. While PTI did so to achieve its political ambitions, the media working on foreign agenda did so to create political turmoil, spoil civil-military relations, melt down the economy and create chaotic conditions as had been done in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
PML-N Demonized and PTI Glorified
Till the completion of five-year tenure of PML-N regime on May 31, 2017 during which it went through several upheavals, the entire media was gunning for the Sharifs and their party PML-N, and saw everything black in them. The media eulogized Imran Khan (IK) and his party and cheered their violence and abuse filled politics. All their untoward acts were looked the other way, while the good acts of the ruling regime were undermined and mocked at and their bad points exploited to the hilt. An impression was built as if the judiciary, NAB and the Establishment silently backed PTI. This impression was deepened by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam after the disqualification of former on July 28, 2017.
The media played a key role in convincing the public that NS and his team were the most corrupt and biggest looters this country had seen and if not booted out in next elections, the country would sink. Anchors portrayed IK as Mr. Clean and the savior who had the charisma and determination to take the country out of the woods and make it corruption free and economically sound. The anchors strained their lungs and soured their throats in demeaning NS and his family and in glorifying IK. Social media supplemented electronic media in upping the ante by drawing battle lines between the Patwaris and the Youthias and fomenting hatred. Political uncertainty impacted the economic indicators, stock exchange and foreign exchange reserves.
IK’s Tall Promises
IK who had all along dreamt of becoming the PM got carried away by the media hype and the songs of the sycophants. He starting imagining himself as the much-awaited Messiah who would overhaul sick Pakistan and make it healthy and shining in no time. In his exuberance, he presented the highly ambitious 10-point agenda and announced that if elected, in his first 100-day rule he would bring about radical changes and set the compass bearing on a course that would transform the country into Naya Pakistan. To entice the public, he promised that he will carry out strict accountability of all, recover the $ 200 million looted wealth, build 5 million houses for the shelterless and 10 million jobs for the jobless, provide health facilities and clean drinking water, depoliticize the police and bureaucracy and turn Pakistan into a welfare state on the model of Measakh-e-Madina or Sweden.
These promises were so attractive and alluring that PTI’s vote bank swelled in the last two months before elections. Seeing that the dice had been heavily loaded against the ruling regime, the PML-N opportunist legislators jumped the ship and joined PTI.
PTI’s half-done Victory
The PTI won the elections but couldn’t achieve even simple majority in the Centre and in Punjab. Conversely, PML-N placed at a highly disadvantageous position gave a tough time and secured more seats than PTI in Punjab. It was this factor which brewed up troubles for the PTI at the very outset. It had to indulge in old tactics of wooing and winning over independents and to seek the support of PML-Q, MQM-P, and BNP-M to attain simple majority and form governments in the Centre and in Punjab and that too with a narrow margin. This glaring political weakness and handicap of depending upon unwanted allies should have been understood by IK and in his first policy speech he should have curtailed his ambitious 100-day transformation plan, but he didn’t.
Handicaps of the New Government
The allies and independent electables belonging to Old Pakistan, many of whom having taken berths in the federal cabinet of 45 members are in no mood to make Naya Pakistan. They are much attuned to hereditary politics and corrupt ridden practices and hence are creating impediments. The bureaucrats that have been drawing benefits from both the civil and military governments and play a key role in running the civil administration and governance, are at unease in the new setup which is anti-corrupt practices, and therefore are impeding the reforms. The team selected by IK to bring about radical changes in first 100 days lacks missionary zeal and commitment and is not up to the mark to deliver. One probable reason is that the party seem to have not done its homework in advance to start working on the refurbishment program from the day one. The task forces were made well after the formation of the government and they are taking their time to chalk out their plans to grapple with multiple challenges.
Economics Moves the Wheels
No plan can move ahead without economics. High hopes were pinned on Finance Minister Asad Umar who had been portrayed as an economic wizard but he looks lost and out of sorts and is still groping in the dark how to pullout the country from economic crisis. Neither any looted money stashed abroad has been recovered, nor have the Pakistanis living abroad flooded the banks with donations and remittances. Friends of Pakistan also didn’t come forward to loan $12 billion to enable the new regime to parry the blackmailing tactics of IMF. Paltry amount has so far been collected for building Bhasha dam to overcome water crisis.
Uncertainty Dipped Macroeconomic Indicators
Owing to indecisiveness and juvenile statements of the new leaders which bred ambiguity, when the macroeconomic indicators and stock exchange began to plunge, the Rupee depreciated and prices of daily commodities, gas and petrol shot up, spirits of the people dampened. People are in a state of shock and their exhilaration has been overtaken by sense of disillusionment and despair.
Media Changed Colors
Sensing the changing mood of the public, the media has also changed its colors and is now bashing IK and his party leaders. The Army and judiciary are also not spared. Army is accused of helping PTI win the elections. Media is unhappy over the muteness of NS and Maryam and on each meeting outside the courtroom where their trial is going on, the media persons elbow them in the hope of provoking them. The clash and not quietness or harmony suit the media. The opposition parties terrified by the noose of accountability have ganged up to defame IK and his party and to fail the government.
No Change in Foreign Agenda
It will be foolish to imagine that a change has occurred in the objectives of Indo-US-Afghan-Israel nexus after the change of government. They will reconcile only if Pakistan hands over the nukes, becomes a secular state (as stated by Indian army chief recently), accept hegemony of India and become a compliant state. How can they digest nuclear Pakistan becoming a welfare state and a role model for all other Muslim States to emulate? They will keep hatching conspiracies to stimulate chaos and to fail the government in power.
What has irked the enemies of Pakistan is that elections were held peacefully on July 26 and there was smooth transition of power. This was against their expectations since they had expected turmoil, or a hung parliament leading to political paralysis. What has troubled them the most is that the government, judiciary and the establishment are on one page! This kind of rapport was rarely seen before, which is a healthy sign and has the potential to realize the laid down objectives of making Pakistan strong and prosperous.
Opening of Kartarpur Corridor whose primary aim is to facilitate Sikh Yatrees annual pilgrimage to Kartarpur Gurdwara at Shakargarh, provides a platform to both the Sikhs and Pakistan to pay India in the same coin if need be. This issue was hanging in the balance for the last 70 years and it was owing to complete understanding between the government and the military that this milestone could be achieved. It is giving sleepless nights to Indian civil-military leadership
It is obvious that the enemies would be making hectic efforts to disturb the harmony between the three pillars of the state, and to this end have started assaulting these pillars with the help of media to spoil their reputation, or to create friction among them. Efforts to make CPEC and July elections controversial, to defame IK, and to energize the sentiments of Pashtuns through PTM, have been stepped up. Elements within TLP were incited to resort to violence. JUI (S) leader Samiul Haq was brutally murdered and SP Dawar was kidnapped and murdered to stir religious extremism and ethnicity. Altaf Hussain is being needled to disturb the peace in Karachi. The spoilers are also striving to impede peace process in Afghanistan.
DG ISPR’s Briefing
I guess, it was in the wake of dangerous designs of enemies of Pakistan huddled together in Afghanistan that the Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa had to say “No More” and on several occasions mentioned about the hazards of hybrid war. He and IK made it clear that Pakistan will never fight someone else’s war on its soil again, and will not allow anyone to treat it as a “hired gun”. DG ISPR also highlighted the security threats, human rights violations in occupied Kashmir and against Indian Muslims in India, continuous ceasefire violations of India across the LoC in 2017-18 (1881 and 2593 incidents resulting in 55 civilian casualties and injuries to 300), and PTM trying to cross the red line.
For the benefit of the media which has paid scant attention to Indian aggressive acts and activities of anti-state elements, he had to recount the achievements of the security forces in FATA, Karachi and Baluchistan where incidents of terrorism and crimes have dropped down sharply. He advised the media to shun disinformation and negativity and to stop playing the games of external enemies and instead exhibit greater sense of responsibility by building positive image of Pakistan and its premier institutions at least for next six months.
It seems that the security think tanks are foreseeing the future developments in the region boding well for Pakistan. Facilitation sought by the US from Pakistan is viewed as an encouraging development. They feel that the US now wants safe and honorable exit from Afghanistan and Pakistan can help in its exit as a friend and not as a defeated nation. Judging from the growing eagerness of all stakeholders for peace in Afghanistan, they are forecasting a political settlement followed by setting up of interim setup to hold presidential election by mid-2019 and return of foreign troops by end 2019 or first half of 2020. If so, it will bring a sea change in the fortunes of Af-Pak region which has gone through hell for the last four decades. Departure of USA will pave the way for reduction of perverse influence of India in Afghanistan. Among the neighbors, Pakistan has suffered the most on account of instability in Afghanistan.
Governed by the sense of optimism, Gen Asif Ghafoor has given the six-month timeframe to the media, hoping that by that time the PTI regime would hopefully overcome its teething problems and achieve a strategic breakthrough in economics. Political settlement and end of 17-year war in Afghanistan and closure of workshop of terrorism will enable the government to concentrate all its energies toward carrying out critical reforms and uplifting the economy. Under the circumstances, besides the government and the institutions putting their act together, the 4th pillar of the State should team up with the three pillars knotted together rather than jolting their balance by promoting foreign agenda.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. [email protected]