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Traitors and national interest

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“WE cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein had argued. The ruckus kicked up by indignant patriots after the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir proves just that.

Outdated notions of national security and national interest and an unflinching commitment to entrench them oppressively are alive and well and dutifully being served by servile disciples across our state and society. Will witch-hunts in the name of national security make Pakistan a stronger state?

The attack on Hamid Mir, Geo’s response to the attack, the ISI establishment’s response to Geo coverage, and the acute polarisation caused as a consequence of this back and forth is proof of our degeneration into an intolerant lynch mob. We are unable to distinguish between suspicion and conviction, between fair reporting and slander. We have no patience for accountability and due process. Anyone questioning our security state’s version of national interest is a traitor who must be banished.

At least three aspects of the Hamid Mir story deserve attention. One, what happened to Mir and continuing attacks on journalists that make Pakistan one of the most dangerous places for journalists. Two, how Geo treated Amir Mir’s accusation against the DG ISI as a key suspect in the attack against Mir. Three, the vilification campaign launched against Geo and Hamid Mir to brand them traitors and ban them.

Freedom of speech is not freedom to slander or malign. The right to hold and express an opinion needs to be protected. But presenting opinion as fact is a disservice to journalism. Geo crossed a red line in reporting Amir Mir’s accusation against the DG ISI not because it aired the accusation, but because the manner in which it did amounted to running a media trial, and not just indicting but condemning the DG ISI in the public eye. And this wasn’t the first time.

Components of the Jang-Geo group ran a vile campaign against Asma Jahangir on the eve of her election as president Supreme Court Bar Association. They have run similar campaigns against politicos/public officials (Raja Rentals, Mr 10pc, etc) and condemned them in media trials for being corrupt or unscrupulous, without presenting opposing viewpoints. Not only have they gotten away with partial journalism, once the hallmark of evening rags, the practice is now entrenched and followed by most media groups.

It isn’t that journalists and media houses don’t know how to do it right. The practice of slander is deliberate, as the power to scandalise is what is used to extort and exert influence. Geo’s news desk could have run Amir Mir’s accusation without putting the DG ISI on trial with sound effects and all. It could have presented the response from the DG ISI or his office simultaneously. It could have highlighted the need to investigate the serious allegation and moved on to other aspects of the story instead of cultivating the melodrama for hours.

Just because media houses have gotten away with slander in the past, doesn’t make it right. Slander is condemnable, period. And not just when it involves the DG ISI. The media was wrong when it presented Khawaja Asif’s 2006 speech critical of the army as one delivered by him in 2014 to put Khawaja in the dock, or when it ran a campaign against Hussain Haqqani; just as Geo wasn’t right in drumming up charges against the DG ISI in the Mir case.

“I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, Evelyn Beatrice Hall had written in Voltaire’s biography. No matter how unpleasant or abhorrent Geo’s presentation of accusations against the DG ISI, it is nowhere close to being as abhorrent as the attack on Hamid Mir.

Geo can be prosecuted for defamation and slapped with heavy penalties if convicted in accordance with the law, but it must not be condemned as a traitor or banned just because it had the audacity to voice a victim’s suspicion against a ranking general.

The ludicrous claim that Geo or Hamid Mir is a national security threat is a matter of opinion. What is a matter of fact, however, is that someone executed a plan to kill Hamid Mir, who wound up injured in hospital with six bullets in his body. What is a fact is that 29 journalists have turned up dead in Pakistan in the last four years and many more have been attacked for exercising their right to speak freely.

What is a fact is that intelligence agencies threaten journalists with dire consequences for reporting unpalatable stories or expressing undesirable opinions. What is a fact is that almost all studies analysing abuse of power by intelligence agencies (starting from Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan report in 1989 to the Missing Persons, Saleem Shahzad and OBL commission reports recently) highlighted that powers exercised by intelligence agencies were liable to abuse and needed to be subjected to effective checks and balances. What is a fact is that our khaki-controlled security establishment has not heeded any such recommendations.

This old game of branding as traitors those critical of failed conceptions of national security and national interest has not served us well. A doctrine of national security that condemns citizens who seek to speak their minds and aims to instil fear in the hearts of dissenters brash enough to point fingers at holy cows cannot possibly help a country in need of urgent reform.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

Twitter: @babar_sattar



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (19) Closed



Omer Apr 28, 2014 09:48am

I was expecting a more balanced view from a lawyer of Mr Sattar's stature. One, the MoD took recourse to law, opted for a legal approach instead of resorting to extra-legal maneuvers. Two, and if I am not wrong, the MoD application to PEMRA to revoke Geo's license is accompanied by proofs and evidences. Will the lawyer let law take its due course instead of suggesting, and influencing in the process, what the outcome of the application should be, by terming it unwarranted?

cognizance Apr 28, 2014 09:50am

what an article...commendable indeed sir....pakistan still has gems like u... that is incentive enough ..

Khaled Apr 28, 2014 09:52am

Very true

"This old game of branding as traitors those critical of failed conceptions of national security and national interest has not served us well.'

Anuj Rahul Joshi Apr 28, 2014 11:04am

the military establishment of pakistan cannot countenance anyone but themselves as the only truw patriots in Pakistan, and any written, commented or published/aired word against by someone giving inside dirt on the khaki wallahs, will get the noose or the boot. Patriotism is the sole preserve, it seems of these defence people now on the defensive.

Shahjee Apr 28, 2014 11:35am

@Anuj Rahul Joshi So How Is The Weather in Mumbai These Days

naeem khan Apr 28, 2014 12:31pm

Ijaz Apr 28, 2014 12:40pm

Parvez Apr 28, 2014 12:46pm

I thought that was balanced and clearly put. I feel you have also called it like it is......andthe fact that both sides have indulged in excesses, not really realising the damage they have and are doing.

Asad Apr 28, 2014 01:00pm

I agree with the writers assertions that elements within the Geo/Jang group (if not the entire group) have been repeatedly involved in slandering and running media campaigns against politicians and other segments of society. We all watch TV and know very well that most television channels run more like tabloids. Objective journalists are few and far between. If a politician in this country had the power to do so, he or she would have already taken GEO/Jang to task by now either by taking a legal recourse, or as is the way in our country, through other heavy handed approaches. This difference this time is that GEO/Jang has stirred up an institution that has exactly those kind of powers and can respond in earnest. So far we have seen the aggrieved party taken the legal route, and lets hope that remains so. GEO/Jang and the likes must rectify their behavior, establish editorial boards and sort this matter out on their own. People need objective and balanced news, not a soap opera on their news channels.

Tahir Ali Apr 28, 2014 01:52pm

If GEO can slander institutions in the garb of freedom of speech, so have people the right to display their disgust over what GEO has done. Why certain intellectuals (including so-called) are getting perturbed over the issue is beyond me. Let the law take its course: GEO must prove the allegations it has leveled against ISI Chief and security establishment must prove the allegations it has leveled against GEO, though one may be skeptical about the outcome in view of known N Sharif-GEO-Ch Iftikhar Nexus. NS is tacitly supporting GEO while Ch Iftikhar still have his contacts in judiciary. BTW this champion of independent judiciary, who 2 years back stated that, being a salaried person, he could not buy a car, is now constructing a house worth about Rs 400 million.

So while the notions of national security and national interests would remain relevant, its the changing nature of threat which needs to be focused on - country being destroyed from within.

Ashraf Apr 28, 2014 02:05pm

@Omer ! I don't know what your idea about balanced is. Please read again. He says, "Geo can be prosecuted for defamation and slapped with heavy penalties if convicted in accordance with the law, but it must not be condemned as a traitor or banned just because it had the audacity to voice a victim

fahad Apr 28, 2014 02:46pm

So, what should have ISI done if not follow the law and submit a complain with pemra? This campaign, of banning geo is not only ISI's propaganda. I know a lot of real people who are not ISI agents, to the best og

fahad Apr 28, 2014 02:53pm

I know a lot of people, who are not linked to ISI and still want geo banned. Unfortunately, some people are so fond of generalizing that they refuse to identify individual opinions. As a result everyone with opinions similar to PTI is a troll or Taliban sympathizer, people wanting to ban geo are all ISI agents, and media is all dollar khors.

Ali S Apr 28, 2014 04:44pm

One of the most succinctly argued pieces written on the whol Mir-Geo-ISI saga. The point is crystal clear: the establishment and ISI should be above criticism, but everyone else is fair game. This is the single biggest issue here, the importance of Geo's blatant disregard for ethics (which is common to nearly every TV channel, by the way) pales in comparison. Until and unless we bring down these 'sacred cows' of our society who have been constructing a destructive national narrative with impunity for decades, there is no way our public will ever be able to engage in a fruitful intellectual or ideological debate that allows them to learn from history and progress as a nation.

AAA Apr 28, 2014 04:48pm

@fahad They are PTI trolls and closet jihadis.

Imran Ahmed Apr 28, 2014 07:22pm

"Geo can be prosecuted for defamation and slapped with heavy penalties if convicted in accordance with the law, but it must not be condemned as a traitor or banned just because it had the audacity to voice a victim

Muhammad Mubeen Qureshi Apr 29, 2014 01:59pm

Good Article

farooq Apr 30, 2014 12:05am

"A doctrine of national security that condemns citizens who seek to speak their minds and aims to instil fear in the hearts of dissenters brash enough to point fingers at holy cows cannot possibly help a country in need of urgent reform". Agreed totally with mr. sattar!! a very good piece indeed!!

jayesh May 01, 2014 03:12pm

Voltaire said " To learn who rules over you,simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize". You have written unfortunately what is true. Brave stuff sir. I am sure a lot of people in the establishment will not like it.