At this point, the entire world seems to be trying to grapple with what is going on in Pakistan’s media industry, specifically with its journalist community. The violent attacks on journalists and activists considered “anti-establishment” have picked up at a stunning pace.
What seems puzzling to the world is that this is happening in the tenure of the west’s darling Imran Khan. He is considered “one of us”, not the typical obscurantist Pakistani,—a liberal, instead. The latest incidence of famous senior journalist Hamid Mir taken off air, triggered by his speech to protest the criminal and brazen assault on journalist Asad Toor, has brought Pakistan back into sharp focus.
There is no mystery. Imran Khan is neither liberal, nor popular, nor popularly elected. He is merely the face of a fascist regime, strutting around as a democratically elected PM, whilst furthering the agenda of the army’s hegemonic designs of total control over this country, its people, and its resources.
For himself, he is happy to be able to wear a sherwani, sit in the PM’s chair, do “quom se khitab” and call the citizens of this country “mere Pakistanio”, and provide cover to the unprecedented corruption—unrivalled in its nakedness—his cronies inducted in the cabinet are carrying out.
Indeed, the people are now subjected to jails and torture not just for criticising the army, but also for criticising and calling out Imran Khan and his utter failure at governance. Pick up any one of the hundreds of speeches he has made since coming to office, and you will only hear him rail against the opposition, make wild accusations, and announce bizzare projects of “anday” to women, “murghian” to the poor, and exporting “gaddhay” to China.
He attacks the press if it shows the poor on the streets blame this regime for the sky high inflation and increase in their poverty. He sets his ministers and social media trolls on journalists and activists who dare expose the economic and political meltdown as a result of his failures.
The shocking interview of former DG FIA Bashir Memon clears all doubt about Imran Khan’s democratic credentials.
According to Mr Bashir, Imran Khan said to him, “how can these people sit in this country and abuse me? ... You have to file cases on them and put them in jail (corruption, terrorism, and treason cases on various different critics) .... I should take you to Saudi Arabia where you will learn how officers obey the Crown Prince.”
And, “Look, I told NAB and they did it in a minute.”
The media crisis, which apart from violence on journalists, includes financial strangulation of organisations and individual journalists, is intricately related to the state of democracy in Pakistan.
The election was stolen by the generals who posted over 375, 000 soldiers in polling stations, and Imran-the puppet was installed. The puppet then went on to appoint serving or retired military officers to every state sector organisation, state institution, or government department like the national airline, the national steel mill, the CPEC authority, or the Election Commission of Pakistan etc.
Imran Khan has not only helped the army’s tentacles deepen and choke all structures of governance, but also institutionalised the army’s ingress in other ways like constituting an apex economic policy making body—the National Development Council—and appointing army chief General Qamar Bajwa and the ISI and MI chiefs to it.
Imran Khan’s lust for the PM’s sherwani has led to an ever more complete military takeover of the country: be it politics, the economy, the media, the public sector enterprises, delivery of justice, or even the senate and the parliament.
The speaker and deputy speakers of the National Assembly, as well as Chairman Senate are all parachuters, who take dictation from a serving army colonel who is known to “run” the assemblies. No business of the house, bills, motions or voting takes place without his direction.
The question that has now arisen is: Will the army step back or change its tack after the international outcry at Hamid being banned from his show? No.
Because of its track record on such matters, I do not expect to see the Pakistan army change its tactics or strategy.
It has linear institutional thinking, and stock responses to everything and everyone it considers weaker than itself: use of force and fear. It has become so blindsided because of its own sense of power that it cannot see the terrible reputational damage it has caused itself. And this is because the impunity the army enjoys under this government has made it so smug, that it flaunts it.
Only a few examples of the naked show of power by the army are General Bajwa’s “briefings” to anchor persons openly flaying opposition politicians, and the former DGISPR’s tweets, including the one declaring victory on Election Day!
Is it a wonder, then, that journalists are beaten, tortured, and abducted under the nose of CCTV cameras and no one gets punished? Even Hamid Mir’s own incidence is demonstrative of what I assert with regard to how the army will respond to the world-wide reaction.
The army used its intelligence goons to beat up Asad Toor. Did it induce fear? No, it brought out journalists all over the country who challenged the army’s thuggery to enforce censorship with the most powerful and fearless protests. Hamid’s show’s suspension resulted in strong international approbium.
But the response? It was more of the same. Applications to try Hamid for treason were filed across the country, and a ludicrous “media advisory” was issued by the ISPR to media houses, essentially asking them to highlight the fact that Hamid and Asad’s loyalties could be judged by looking at who were supporting them, followed by a list of names of traitors, with my name at the top of that list.
The perfect collusion of Imran Khan’s PTI and the army in this attack is demonstrated by the resolution moved in the National Assembly by a PTI member to try Hamid for treason. The democratic world needs to urgently recognise that Imran Khan’s government is not even a hybrid regime—it is an actual military dictatorship-plus in a pretty frock.
Can the world not see the visible glee with which office-holders celebrate the curbs, and are bringing more legislation to try and kill digital media now, because social media is the only place where anyone can breathe?
Imran Khan and his ministers shamelessly claim that Pakistan’s media is freer than even the UK or other western media. No prime minister in history other than Imran Khan has called on national television the abduction of a journalist (Matiullah Jan) a joke. We have never heard of any other government discredit the credentials of journalists, instead of responding to accusations of rising violence against journalists.
They did it with me, then with Absar Alam and Asad Toor. And finally very recently Communications Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on BBC’s Hard Talk that he doesn’t consider Talat Husain a journalist, instead of giving an honest answer to why Talat was managed out of Geo News.
The world only sees the ugly sore—the attack on journalism. It needs to diagnose the cause: absolute military dictatorship.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)