Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pakistan Hits Near Bottom on Press Freedom List

Fact: Pakistan came at 157 out of 168 countries in Reporters Sans Frontières Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2006.
Now note the slide over the past five years:

In 2002 Pakistan came 119 out of 139 countries

In 2003 Pakistan came 128 out of 166 countries

In 2004 Pakistan came 150 out of 167 countries

In 2005 Pakistan came 150 out of 167 countries

In 2006 Pakistan came 157 out of 168 countries


Our regime leadership has made it a habit to effusively praise the ‘press freedom’ that it claims exists in Pakistan. ‘’ At the 2006 awards ceremony of the All-Pakistan Newspapers Society Musharraf blithely announced : ‘I am for total freedom of the media, which is the fourth pillar of the state and is the first line of defence in today’s world.’

Not to be out done, Shaukat Aziz regularly blathers on about our press freedom. On one occasion the Business Recorder quoted him as saying, "There is a democratic environment in the country and that the press is free. We believe in the freedom of the press." But then inadvertently Shaukat Aziz came closer to the truth by adding, "We give permission for criticism…."

Yup, you are right Shortcut, but we also know that this permission is often forcibly withheld.

Now many readers of daily Yawn and some other English-language newspapers will probably disagree with me and point to the trenchant criticism of the military regime found in many of the Op-Ed columns.

My rejoinder to them is that there is no such ‘animal’ as part freedom. Either you have press freedom or you don’t. Here are some realities about the freedom of the English language Press:

  • Of a country of over 165 million people, due to shockingly low literacy rates, only some 2 million read newspapers and English language papers account for only a fraction of those readers. Take Dawn for example, according to one of its own editors, M. Ziauddin, the newspaper ‘can write whatever it wants these days, but that's because hardly anybody reads it’.

  • Secondly, the regime does not regard potentially hostile views of the English-speaking elite as posing any threat to its existence. And so allowing the English language press to be relatively free makes little difference as far Islamabad is concerned.

  • On matters sensitive to the regime - such as AQ Khan, the Balochistan insurgency, etc. - even the English language press is regularly prevented from printing newsworthy stories.

While the regime may largely leave the English language newspapers alone, the same is not the case for the vernacular press and the local TV news channels.

According to Reporters Sans Frontières’s 2006 Report:

Pakistan remains attracted to control and censorship. Omnipresent military secret services continue to harass investigative journalists, while the Urdu-language press is closely watched.

A former editor of The News Beena Sarwar has described the activities of these agencies:

Among the tactics of intimidation used are phone taps, surveillance, threatening or interrogating phone calls, or visits from intelligence agency personnel.

At times the regime moves swiftly to prevent ‘harmful’ news from spreading, as was the case in late 2005 when it closed a local FM Radio relaying a BBC World Service Programme, which began providing independent news on the earthquake relief efforts.

However the coercive effort of the regime to control the large number of TV news channels is much more significant.

Unlike the newspaper circulation which is restricted by high rates of illiteracy, cable TV news channels, such as Geo, ARY, Aaj, Roshini, KTN, etc., are watched widely in urban areas and have acquired viewership running in tens of millions.

Consequently all these news channels are very closely monitored by the secret agencies. As the news editor of GEO News TV once told your Blogger, “Agency control is always just another phone call away”.

To illustrate this rigid control I need just give one glaring example.


Look at the photo up above. It was taken at the Grand Baloch Jirga which took place in Kalat, Balochistan on 21 September this year.

It was the first time Baloch tribal elders have all gathered together in 125 years.

And what prompted the Jirga? The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti - a leading tribal chief, politician and possibly the best-known Baloch in Pakistan – at Musharraf‘s behest.

In view of Bugti’s death and the ongoing Baloch insurgency, the Jirga was a major news breaking story.

Now examine the picture closely. The man in the centre of the photo is the Khan of Kalat and in front of him are some two dozen microphones from every TV news channel in Pakistan - with the unremarkable exception of PTV. (Later from a person present at the Jirga confirmed that there were at least 25 to 30 news cameras present at the scene).

That evening the Baloch Jirga was the lead story on BBC Urdu News service. It was covered live by an on-the-spot BBC newsman. Listening to his radio your Blogger was startled to hear live chants from a reported assembled crowd of hundreds of armed Baloch youth loudly demanding ‘Azadi, Azadi’- much, I imagine, to the fury of Islamabad.

This certainly was news as far as I was concerned.

But did any of the news channels play their Jirga recording on their news programme that night (or even, for that matter, the next day)?

Not one.

The story was aggressively killed by a military agency and there wasn’t a peep from anyone of the two or so dozen channels.


The irony is that it has been recently announced that Musharraf plans to hold a counter-grand jirga of the Baloch on 8th November. At first it was to be held at Quetta but subsequently The News reported that the venue was as yet undecided:

It would be either Islamabad or Quetta, an official told this correspondent. However, he said, its holding in the federal capital would not send out a good message. He said the president was being counselled to chair the Jirga in Quetta…Invitations are unlikely to be issued to chieftains confronting or criticising the government. All guests would be supporters of the government. However, the official effort is to wean away maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat, Mir Dawood, in the wake of killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation in Kohlu mountains on August 31.

Umm...I like that bit about the effort underway to ‘to wean away maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat’.

Most likely it will be case of a plenty of stick rather than any carrots.

The latest news now is that the Grand Jirga will be held in Islamabad and the pressurized
‘Sardars, nawabs and tribal elders would be arriving in Islamabad on November 6 via a special plane from Quetta’.

One thing your Blogger can guarantee is that unlike the earlier media-throttled and genuine Baloch Jirga, this Hollywood-Jirga in Islamabad will take place in the full glare of press publicity and every TV news channel will be ordered to cover it extensively.

That, my readers, is the freedom of the press in Pakistan today.


Anonymous said...

Why is the fonst so small?

Anonymous said...

I mean font, sorry

Gedroshian said...

I bet this "my-jirga-is-better-than-your-jirga" is Musharraf's personal idea. Nobody can advise him something like this.

This is actually a 'Khan of kalat' Vs. 'Khan of Pakistan' situation. You can guess who has got more legitimacy.

(Urdu Link) a fictitious account of the expeted Grand Musharraf jirga.

Anonymous said...

Use the menu View/Text Size to change font-size.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. :)

Red Turquoise said...


Comment: Muslims, the world over, mourn the state of Musharraf's Pakistan


Monday 30th October 2006 marked a disgraceful new low in the tenure of Pervez Musharraf's military dictatorship of Pakistan. A missile strike against an Islamic madrassa in Chinagai in an agency of Pakistan's FATA area killed 80. There can be no doubt that when it comes to dealing with Muslims in madrassas, military dictator Pervez Musharraf's has shown none of his fabled penchant for moderation. In the aftermath of the incident, it was unclear as to whether it was a US strike, an attack carried out by Pakistani armed forces or even a joint effort. What is clear is that there may not be a more compliant leader today executing a flawed US foreign policy by proxy, than Musharraf. One must question whether there is a limit to depths that Pakistan will sink under his leadership?

When placed within the context of the present international situation and historical precedent, the utter bankruptcy of strategic planning within the highest echelons of Pakistani decision-making becomes more apparent. Most significantly it highlights the extent to which Pakistani sovereignty has been eroded in seven years of this disastrous military rule.

Constraining factors on US policy

Pakistan's current policy in the FATA area and with 'radical' Islamists is not formulated in a vacuum. It takes place within the context of a fluid international situation in which the US as the leading State has the greatest ability to influence world affairs. However 2 significant factors place caveats on this self-evident geo-political reality. This US administration is entering the 3rd year of its second term with the onset of 'lame duck' syndrome and there are the potential consequences of Democratic victory in next week's mid-term legislative elections.

Historically US Presidents have faced crises of one sort or another as the clock has ticked down on their administrations. In the early 1920s Woodrow Wilson's Democratic Government collapsed over his failure to take an isolationist America into the League of Nations. In the early 1950s President Truman's administration reached the end of its line over negotiations in Korea. Lyndon Johnson authority as President collapsed in 1967-68 over Vietnam, the crisis of confidence meant he did not seek a second full term as US President, a fairly unprecedented action. A decade later Jimmy Carter went down as a one term President. His failure in Iran, the hostage crisis and the subsequent botched rescue mission sealing his fate in the 1980 election.

Present American foreign policy is also naturally hampered as nations realise that they are negotiating with a President not fully in power - the lame duck syndrome erodes some bargaining power of any Presidency in its final years. With George W. Bush the situation is compounded by the fact that he has plummeting approval ratings, the threat of significant losses in next weeks mid terms and a deeply unpopular war in Iraq that is consuming the last days of his Presidency.

An adverse election outcome in next week's election means that a Democratic Congress can block any new Presidential legislative programmes. More importantly with respect to foreign policy it can withhold funding to prosecute a war. Significantly there is the spectre of Congressional investigations into the conduct of Bush administration officials. Once in motion this will hamper the ability of this administration to effectively govern, particularly in foreign affairs. Tying down the policy-making bureaucracy in endless rounds of investigations essentially stunts their ability to craft and execute an effective foreign policy.

Contrasting policies - Russia, Iran and North Korea's belligerence and Musharraf's complete compliance

It is little wonder that other states, fully appreciative of these factors seek to profit from this window of opportunity. Of course, it is states with a semblance of ambition that jockey for greater influence within their respective arenas, despite all facing, to varying degrees the power of America's diplomatic, economic and potential military might.

Take 3 current examples of nations seeking to capitalise on the appearance of paralysis with the Bush administration.

In Iran's case, she sees Washington as weak, with any potential threat of sanctions or military action against it being passed off as hollow. Sensing US vulnerability in Iraq she leverages the situation to best suit her interests by refusing accommodation over the orientation of the Iraqi government. Two months ago she helped encourage Hezbollah's actions against Israel, in achieving the transformational political goal of denting Israeli invincibility in the Middle East, but also at the same time helping shift the centre of gravity towards a Middle East where a Shiite Iran dominates policy and champions the cause of the Muslim world. Now the Iranians have not suddenly become sincere in their cause of defending Islam globally. There are many examples of their back channel dealings with the 'Great Satan' past and present. Nor should one discount Ahmedinijad's regime agreeing to a carve-up of Iraq in the months to come. The point is that she will leverage and attempt to manipulate the current situation to best suit her interests and goals. (A point of reference for Musharraf and his advisors should be that nations have interests and goals beyond their leader merely staying in power!)

Russia represents another case in point. She perhaps has most to gain from the Bush administration losing authority at home, and being stretched with concerns in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea. Thus we see Putin seeking to reverse geopolitical losses incurred by Russia during the early stages of the post 9-11 War on Terror with US moves into Central Asia and the later American-inspired (if not instigated) "colour revolutions" around the Russian periphery. Russia has aggressively sought to regain influence in surrounding regions. This week Russian energy giant Gazprom, no doubt at the Kremlin's behest, has said it will more than double prices of gas supplies to Georgia from 2007. Russia is unashamedly using Gazprom, a state-controlled natural gas monopoly, as a political weapon to keep its Georgia and other former Soviet republics in line. Just this month President Putin told wasted no opportunity in telling U.S. President George W. Bush that any efforts by a third country that encourage 'Georgia's destructive policy toward Russia are unacceptable'.

Russia has also made inroads into Central Asia, attempting to be back in favour with Islam Karimov after Uzbekistan's expulsion of U.S. air bases. Other smaller states in the former Soviet republics seek better terms with Russia - the Kyrgyz government, installed after the "Tulip Revolution," has been mindful of being on good terms with Moscow.

Even North Korea sees an opportunity to muscle flex. Kim Jong Il's North Korea becomes increasingly belligerent on the issue of proliferation. He has correctly calculated that whilst the United States wants to stop North Korea's nuclear proliferation and has focussed on multilateral diplomatic pressure to squeeze Pyongyang, these moves mean little without the threat of impending military action. Kim Jong Il's ostracised North Korea detonated a nuclear test 4 weeks ago and with it was buying international credibility as a significant nuclear power not to be trifled with. Whether or not they can accrue material advantage is not necessarily the point. The point is they have some interest, some vestige of ambition and some desire to manoeuvre regardless of their lack of choice and isolation regionally and internationally.

All this brings us back to Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan. When contrasted with the 3 cases above Musharraf does not even keep the pretence of being independent. One wonders what whether he took any strategic brief with him on his visit to the US last month. Does he have a set of advisors aware of the international situation, historic precedent or the dynamics of US politics? Could they not foresee the current predicament of the Bush regime and its impact on US policy? Pakistan could have at least crafted a policy that sought to stall US demands, allow breathing space to re-align Pakistan's own strategic objectives, the tribal deal brokered could have at least been given some time to materialise.

Instead Musharraf's regime has somehow manoeuvred a situation where he loses from both choices he is presented with. Either he discloses that this missile attack was a sole US action, confirming what many having long suspected anyway - the ceding of Pakistani territorial sovereignty. Or he is a leader who is bombing his own civilians at the behest of another power. His last pretence of independence in negotiating peace in the areas via negotiation with tribal elders to reign in on the Taliban and Al Qaeda has been evidently rejected in the starkest manner with this strike. Indeed US General Abizaid said as much last week before this attack when the Washington Times quoted him on Oct. 27 as saying, "I did talk to President Musharraf about it. I told him I was concerned about it ... The long run is, you've got to go forward in the tribal areas with economic, political and military solutions that the tribes cooperate with. But I'm very, very sceptical about this notion that people that have been harboured in the tribal areas are no longer going to be harboured. I'll believe that when I see it."

The temptation of describing Musharraf's predicament using the words 'rock', 'hard' and 'place' are all too tempting.


Yahya Khan is commonly highlighted as Pakistan's worst ruler. Widely derided amongst his contemporaries as a hapless drunk with a penchant for women of ill repute, he presided over the disastrous era of civil war with East Pakistan until its eventual separation as Bangladesh in 1971. Yet even in his darkest hours it is debatable that he did as much damage as a desperate Musharraf is doing. At least Yahya Khan stepped down after the events of 1971; Musharraf persists with the delusion that he is essential to Pakistan's survival.

The appearance of Pakistan maintaining territorial sovereignty has gone. The Pakistani people can stomach a lot. They can allow corruption, lack of ethics and incompetence in their leaders. What they cannot forgive or forget is a lack of integrity in a leader. Musharraf is a leader who schedules a high profile trip to the US last month where external agendas are enforced for the cheap price of some verbal support from the Bush administration for his own shaky position back home and some miserable airtime to plug a self-serving autobiography.

Musharraf and the liberal coterie of supporters will no doubt pour scorn on the Islamists inside Pakistan, deriding their calls for Shariah with sneering contempt as they call for strikes and civil disobedience throughout the country. He likes to portray advocates of Shariah law and the Caliphate system as irrational mullahs intent on taking Pakistan back to a medieval age. It is true that Islamic parties in Pakistan have woefully misrepresented Islam and its correct application for modern life. Nevertheless Islam itself is unequivocal in providing the only basis for an independent foreign policy and the exercising of free will in the international arena. Millions of Muslims can at least draw comfort and hope in Quranic ayahs of the type that state

"It is He who sent His Messenger with the guidance and the true religion, that He may make it overcome the religions, all of them, though the polytheists may be averse." (TMQ 61:9)
"You are the best nation (ever) raised for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and you believe in Allah" (TMQ 3:110)
"Allah has promised to those of you who believe and do good that He will most certainly make them rulers in the earth as He made rulers those before them, and that He will most certainly establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them, and that He will most certainly "(TMQ 24:55)

These people long for a State that constructs a foreign policy on sound foundations such as these. These ayahs if used as a foundation for international relations would provide the Muslims of Pakistan with a dignity and direction not apparent in 7 years of the 'Musharraffian' era.

Even if this desired Islamic change does not come about soon in Pakistan itself, these enduring ayahs will carry on providing hope where there is despair. Conversely history writers will recall Musharraf's era as one of 'blind capitulation' rather than the 'enlightened moderation' he so desperately craves.

A Feroze

Anonymous said...

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