Under the banner

Published July 15, 2016
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

IT is a shame that a Peshawar-based policeman with a most ingenious bent has gone uncelebrated amidst this hullabaloo over a handful of banners that have appeared at strategic points in various Pakistani cities. Until now, this unsung, unknown policeman’s remains the easiest and, in comparison with many others, plausible explanation about the sudden re-emergence of Gen Raheel Sharif posters.

This is what makes the man stand out in a crowd of people, each one trying to outdo the other in their eagerness to decode the message and unveil the messenger: “…[W]hen asked whether the inscription on the banners amounted to sedition, a Peshawar police official said in a lighter vein that the message on the banners was vague and the organiser of the party might be asking the army chief to come to Peshawar”.

Simple. The logic can then be extended to other host cities where the banner has been spotted, such as Islamabad and Karachi and Lahore, and the case dismissed as being one of local significance only. One city sending out an invitation to someone cannot be equated with a call by the patriotic and the conscientious for saving the state to those who we know can save it.


By disowning the banners, ISPR has exposed itself to the old questions about what it should be clarifying and on what it should remain silent.


Actually, there are too many angles to the story. Explanations abound about the motives and the identity of those who got these banners printed for a post-Eid display of gratification and desperation rolled into one neat, impressive advertisement. There are the usual justifications that claim that it didn’t quite matter who it was who had got these posters, bearing a plea to and a picture of the army chief, printed. Then there are the unusual explanations ventured by those wanting to impress the audience with the depth of their insight.

In a most intriguing example, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and Doctor Allama Professor Tahirul Qadri are — to use for one last time an expression that has been done to death — on the same page about these banners. Senator Ahsan suspects that the banners have been secretly sponsored by the PML-N “to put pressure on the opposition and are being used to create an atmosphere of uncertainty”.

It is a tough one to understand like most submissions offered these days by the backward PPP politicians. The implication, perhaps, is that the PML-N desperately wants to use the old democracy card, wooing the other parties to its side with the slogan that democracy was once again under siege.

That’s rather old-fashioned, very PPP-like. It is unlikely to deter the main force, the PTI — shouting for a Pakistani probe in the aftermath of the Panama Papers — despite the assertions that Panama is what compels the PML-N to allegedly run this banners’ campaign.

The ruling party could at the most expect to wean the PPP away from the developing opposition camp. The question is, does the government really have to be so blatant in its engagement with the PPP? There are surely many other clandestine ways to coax the PPP, a party that appears to be fighting its habit of inflicting sufferings on itself.

Mr Ahsan’s argument is designed to show the weakness of the PML-N government in the face of the Panama leaks but, in the process, he does reassure the government that it does not need to worry too much about the takeover threat. If the government was too afraid of Gen Raheel Sharif moving towards a coup, why would it take the risk of playing up the army chief as the saviour now?

It may only be that Barrister Ahsan deemed it essential to remind the Pakistanis that the real issue at this moment was Panama. He has been so focused on the Panama Papers that he would have been upset about these banners appearing on the horizon, threatening to hog all the attention just when he would have liked the focus to return to Panama.

Bizarre as Mr Ahsan’s allegations may sound, it was always destined to win favour with someone from among the forever ready crowd of leaders that we are privileged to have. Dr Qadri agrees that the government is involved, even though the motive he assigns to the PML-N for the move is different than the one presented by Aitzaz Ahsan. Dr Qadri, who must reveal himself to the people of Pakistan at moments of his own convenience, says it is in fact a malign-army campaign. This is just the opposite of the meaning Mr Ahsan has — seemingly — been trying to give these posters.

For whatever reasons of occupation politician leaders and spiritual role models have been compelled to suspect the intention behind this invitation to Gen Sharif, it is rather odd that ISPR has chosen to come up with its own version regarding the banners. It is a little surprising that Pakistanis could by any stretch of the imagination have held the army responsible for propagating a wish that by all accounts is quite popular.

By disowning the banners, ISPR has exposed itself to the old questions about what it should be clarifying and on what it should remain silent. Not a day passes in the country without someone somewhere implicating the Pakistan Army in some deed or policy.

The point is that if ISPR has been moved to clarify the ownership of these banners which no one was seriously crediting it with, should it, can it be indifferent to the calls for explanation in matters where its name is directly mentioned? Indeed, there are moments when the armed forces or some of those in their service are squarely accused of committing an excess. Given that the army’s media wing has explained one development some of us would be keen that we were provided with ISPR’s versions of so many other affairs.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2016

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