Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on Dawn.com.

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience

.

Email


Special report: Going nuclear 1990-1993/1997-1999

Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions offered Sharif a mixed bag of joy and disappointment.
Updated Nov 18, 2017 10:26am

A young Nawaz Sharif – with a considerably lighter mop of hair on is head – came to power for the first – but certainly not the last – time in November 1990 after a massive showing in rallies leading up to the elections. He waved and waved to the crowds across the land and apparently owed his elevation to popular public sentiment in his favour. Regardless of the fact that the victory of the right-wing Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) remains politically tainted to date, it was the time when Nawaz Sharif – and his family – entered big time politics.

Living out the legacy of his mentor

By I.A. Rehman

MIAN Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of the country twice within two decades of the death of General Ziaul Haq, his principal benefactor, and his two terms were like a sequel of the general’s regime. His priorities were theocratisation of the polity, promotion of free enterprise, fulfilment of nuclear ambitions, and assertion of civilian authorities’ rights through centralisation of power in himself. While doing the last part, he clashed with the establishment and lost power in the first term, and both authority and freedom in the second one.

For obvious reasons the business community’s interest came first with Nawaz Sharif. Several steps were taken under the label of economic reform, including a tax holiday for some, abolition of restrictions on bringing foreign exchange into the country or taking it out and on maintaining foreign currency accounts, and no questions asked. Privatisation of not only nationalised units but also other enterprises, such as PIA and WAPDA, was undertaken with extraordinary zeal. Despite allegations of irregularities these steps increased the prime minister’s popularity in the circles that mattered.

Soon after assuming power in both terms, Nawaz Sharif displayed his love for special courts. In the first term, Article 212 B was added to the Constitution through the 12th Amendment. The provision was not much different from Article 212A that Zia had crafted in 1979 for setting up military courts and which was dropped in 1985. These special courts were not subject to high courts and the Supreme Court and were assailed for being a parallel judicial system.

In the second term the special courts were rejected by the Supreme Court 10 months after their formation and this became one of the issues in the skirmishes between the prime minister and the chief justice. However, an already brutalised public was happy. Nawaz Sharif also gained in popularity with the masses by using force rather indiscriminately to curb lawlessness in Karachi, and more goodwill when he decided to punish the MQM after Hakim Saeed’s murder by dropping it from the coalition and ordering a crackdown in Karachi.

Contrary to what the photograph might depict, Nawaz Sharif has hardly ever been a silent, contemplative spectator on the national political scene. SHORTLY before being elected prime minister in November 1990, Nawaz entered into coalition, among others, with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement in urban Sindh. He is seen here at a rally in Karachi with MQM leader Altaf Hussain (left). Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who was heading the Combined Opposition Party (COP) in the National Assembly and was soon to become the caretaker prime minister, is on the extreme right next to Syeda Abida Hussain. | Photo: Hasan Bozai.
Contrary to what the photograph might depict, Nawaz Sharif has hardly ever been a silent, contemplative spectator on the national political scene. SHORTLY before being elected prime minister in November 1990, Nawaz entered into coalition, among others, with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement in urban Sindh. He is seen here at a rally in Karachi with MQM leader Altaf Hussain (left). Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who was heading the Combined Opposition Party (COP) in the National Assembly and was soon to become the caretaker prime minister, is on the extreme right next to Syeda Abida Hussain. | Photo: Hasan Bozai.

He also persisted in his campaign against Benazir Bhutto in the first term in the form of president’s references, and against her husband Asif Ali Zardari in the second term through the Ehtesab Cell that he had created to the chagrin of the chief ehtesab commissioner by amending the Ehtesab Act.

Soon after becoming prime minister in 1990, Nawaz Sharif revived Ziaul Haq’s so-called Islamisation drive with a Shariat Enforcement Act, but a major effort in this direction was made in his second term in the shape of the 15th Amendment that had two objectives. First, it sought to add Article 2B to the Constitution declaring Quran and Sunnah to be the supreme law, and, secondly, it proposed that the Constitution could be amended by a simple majority of members present in either house or at a joint session of parliament.

Countrywide protests forced the government to abandon the second part of the bill and the National Assembly only adopted the proposal to add Article 2B to the basic law. It read: “The federal government shall be under an obligation to take all steps to enforce the Shariah, to enforce Salat, to administer Zakat, to promote amr bil ma’aroof and nahi unil munkar (to prescribe what is right and to forbid what is wrong), to eradicate corruption at all levels, and to provide substantial socioeconomic justice in accordance with the principles of Islam as laid down in the Quran and Sunnah.”

The bill resembled the Zia sponsored 9th Amendment that was adopted by the National Assembly in 1986, but it was not sent to the Senate and lapsed. Similarly, the 15th Amendment was withheld from the Senate as the government was not sure of its majority there and it too lapsed. The text of the 9th and the 15th Amendments is not found in our statute books. Thus ended Nawaz Sharif’s bid to push Zia’s Islamisation further and to change the Constitution through a single enactment.

During his second term, several issues – Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, policy towards India, and the army chief’s desire to steal a military victory over India – got intertwined and offered Nawaz Sharif a mixed bag of joy and disappointment.

He met Indian premier Inder Kumar Gujral during the SAARC summit and they agreed to be friends. Shortly thereafter, Attal Bihari Vajpayee became the prime minister of India. Among the first things the BJP government did was to carry out five nuclear tests in May 1998 that brought Nawaz Sharif under intense pressure from the people and the military to achieve parity with India in terms of nuclear capability.

Ignoring the strong advice of the country’s main economic patrons and partners, he allowed five nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, and a sixth, two days later. This made the prime minister highly popular with the military and the people, but the steps accompanying the blasts, especially freezing of foreign currency accounts that the judiciary eventually overruled, did not.

Vajpayee met Nawaz Sharif in New York and proposed the start of a friendship bus service between India and Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, with his characteristic impulsiveness, promptly agreed. Vajpayee duly arrived in Lahore by bus in February 1999 and the event did cause a thaw in India Pakistan relations, but it did not yield Nawaz Sharif the political dividend he had expected because the people had not been prepared for the policy shift and the army had not been taken on board.

Then almost from nowhere Kargil happened. The prime minister feigned ignorance of the operation to capture a few Kargil peaks while the army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, maintained that everything had been cleared by his civilian boss.

As was expected, India threw its air force and heavy guns into the battle and Islamabad got worried. Nawaz Sharif literally forced US president Bill Clinton to see him on July 4, 1999, the American National Day, and agreed to pull back his troops. The people, fed on stories that Pakistan always defeated India in armed encounters, were unhappy. Worse, the army top brass put down Nawaz Sharif as a person they could never trust, a perception that was going to cause Nawaz Sharif’s downfall more than once.

Nawaz Sharif’s desire to completely control the government brought him into conflict early in his first term with president Ghulam Ishaq who also considered himself a true inheritor of Ziaul Haq’s mantle.

Among other things, he denied the premier any say in the selection of judges and appointed General Abdul Waheed Kakar as the army chief, following the sudden death of Gen. Asif Nawaz, without informing the prime minister. In April 1993, Nawaz Sharif denounced the president in a TV address and the next day the president dissolved the National Assembly and sent him packing.

The Supreme Court restored Nawaz Sharif in the saddle only 37 days later. His failure to oust the then Punjab chief minister, Manzoor Wattooo, who was openly supported by the president, re-ignited the feud with Ghulam Ishaq. Eventually, the army chief intervened and both vacated their offices in July 1993.

General Kakar, the gentleman general who coveted neither power nor glory for himself, demonstrated that even if the army had to intervene in a political crisis, imposition of military rule was not the only solution, a precedent yet to be emulated.

Between his first and second tenures at the helm during the politically troubled 1990s, Nawaz Sharif kept himself busy with public appearances across the land. He is seen here alongside Khan Abdul Wali Khan of the Awami National Party at a Rawalpindi rally in December 1994.
Between his first and second tenures at the helm during the politically troubled 1990s, Nawaz Sharif kept himself busy with public appearances across the land. He is seen here alongside Khan Abdul Wali Khan of the Awami National Party at a Rawalpindi rally in December 1994.

When Nawaz Sharif regained power in February 1997, the circumstances were wholly in his favour. He had two-thirds majority in the National and Punjab assemblies and his party was able to form coalition governments in Sindh and the NWFP (since renamed KP). Armed with a heavy mandate, he resumed his drive to eliminate the rival centres of power.

No trouble was expected from president Farooq Leghari with whom Nawaz Sharif was reported to have struck a deal before the PPP government was sacked and who had allegedly facilitated the Sharif brothers’ election in the 1997 elections by amending the ineligibility laws related to loan defaulters. The president was paid off with a Senate ticket for a relative, appointment of a friend as Punjab governor, and obliging Zulfikar Khosa to make up with Leghari.

Having done all that, Nawaz Sharif calmly told a befuddled Leghari of his decision to remove Article 58-2(B) from the Constitution that was to deprive him of the power to sack a government. The formality was completed the next day with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, a step hailed by all democrats.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s relations with chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah deteriorated. While sparring over the selection of five judges for the Supreme Court, both resorted to bizarre tactics; the PM reduced the Supreme Court strength from 17 judges to 12, hoping to remove the need for new appointments, and the chief justice suspended a constitutional amendment. Eventually, the premier gave in. But the suspension of the 14th Amendment on legislators’ defection, which gave the party bosses the last word, annoyed the prime minister and he declared that while he had ended ‘lotacracy’ the Supreme Court had restored it.

Deposed for the second time, Nawaz Sharif, with his brother Shahbaz Sharif, is seen at the entrance of Anti-terrorism Court No 1 in Karachi in December 1999 when he was tried for ‘kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking and terrorism’. It was the trial that led first to his conviction and a life sentence, and subsequently to the infamous agreement under which the Sharif family remained exiled in Saudi Arabia for about a decade.
Deposed for the second time, Nawaz Sharif, with his brother Shahbaz Sharif, is seen at the entrance of Anti-terrorism Court No 1 in Karachi in December 1999 when he was tried for ‘kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking and terrorism’. It was the trial that led first to his conviction and a life sentence, and subsequently to the infamous agreement under which the Sharif family remained exiled in Saudi Arabia for about a decade.

Soon enough, the chief justice hauled up the prime minister for contempt. What followed was incredible. The Supreme Court was stormed by an N-League mob that included several parliamentarians. The chief justice’s appeal for succour was heeded neither by the president nor by the army chief. Eventually, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was dethroned by his brother judges through a process that is still mentioned in whispers, and, ironically enough, he fell a victim to his own judgment in the Al-Jihad Trust case. Before the year 1997 ended, president Leghari resigned to hand Nawaz Sharif his second victory in quick time.

In October 1998, army chief General Jahangir Karamat suggested the formation of a National Security Council. This, too, was first proposed by Gen. Zia and he had inserted an article to this effect in the Constitution, but it was deleted at the time of the bargain over the 8th Amendment on the terms and conditions for lifting the martial law in 1985.

Nawaz Sharif asked the army chief to resign and the latter complied with the order (though he had the last laugh when after some time a National Security Council indeed started functioning.)

By the end of 1998, Nawaz Sharif had freed himself of all possible threats from the presidency, the judiciary and the GHQ, and had become the most powerful ruler of Pakistan ever. But he had built a castle on sand. On October 12, 1999, he ordered Gen. Musharraf’s replacement as the army chief by the then ISI chief who had failed to warn him of the officer corps’ decision not to tolerate the ‘humiliation’ of another chief. The Musharraf plane affair was bungled and the army took over. His arrest, conviction for plane hijack and exile to Saudi Arabia for nearly eight years is another story in political wilderness


The writer is a senior political analyst and human rights activist.


This story is the twelfth part of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn’. Visit the archive to read the previous reports.


HBL has been an indelible part of the nation’s fabric since independence, enabling the dreams of millions of Pakistanis. At HBL, we salute the dreamers and dedicate the nation’s 70th anniversary to you. Jahan Khwab, Wahan HBL.


Click on the buttons below to read more from this special feature

Tenure I: 1990-93

***

NAWAZ ELECTED PRIME MINISTER

DAWN November 8, 1990 (Editorial)

The task before the new government

IN this autumn of transition there is no dearth of prophets of doom telling the new government what a hard task it faces. But for once such people will not be too far off the mark, for the problems before the country are of a pressing nature and call for the urgent attention of the new Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif. To take them one by one, the law and order situation, especially in the explosive province of Sindh, needs to be tackled on a war footing. If it does not improve fairly soon, the IJI government at the Centre or the provincial government in Sindh will have few excuses to explain their failure. They are in pretty strong position in both places. The economic front also presents a gloomy aspect. As a result of the Gulf crisis Pakistan’s balance of payments position has worsened. The new government will be faced with the difficult decision of raising the price of oil. While this may be an unavoidable step to take, it will have an across-the-board effect on the price of everything. How will the common man be cushioned against this development? The new government will have to give some consideration to this question as well.

Nawaz Sharif addressing a public meeting in the good old days when he shared the legacy of his mentor with two others. Ejazul Haq (right), the son of General Ziaul Haq, and Humayun Akhtar (left),the son of General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, remained loyal for a while to the man their respective fathers supported. They subsequently moved out of his shadow and went their own independent ways.
Nawaz Sharif addressing a public meeting in the good old days when he shared the legacy of his mentor with two others. Ejazul Haq (right), the son of General Ziaul Haq, and Humayun Akhtar (left),the son of General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, remained loyal for a while to the man their respective fathers supported. They subsequently moved out of his shadow and went their own independent ways.

Pakistan faces a host of problems on the foreign-policy front as well. If war breaks out in the Gulf, what is Pakistan’s response likely to be? There is also the unsettled problem of Afghanistan which calls for some fresh thinking. And there is the perennial problem of relations with India. Lastly, there is the question of the suspension of US aid because of American suspicions about our nuclear programme.

But while these are specific problems on the new government’s plate, it also faces the general problem of improving the political atmosphere in the country. The bitterness and polarisation of the past must give way to a new spirit of reconciliation and amity. The new government must make a conscious effort to inject some stability into the volatile state of politics. It would be a good thing if Pakistan were to turn its back once and for all on the spectre of swift and arbitrary changes of government. For if the Holy Grail of stability continues to elude it, as it has throughout its chequered history, nothing else will fall easily in place. 

***


BIDS INVITED FROM THE PRIVATE SECTOR

DAWN December 22, 1990 (Editorial)

Privatisation: how to go about it

WITH the invitation of bids from the private sector for the purchase of 26pc shares of the MCB, together with a guarantee to sell 25pc to the general public, the IJI government has taken the first vital step towards the abandonment of public ownership and management of enterprises. Privatisation and denationalisation have so far been discussed in the context of the budgetary crisis as an instrument to reduce or cover the deficit. The government at the moment finds itself in a deep financial crisis and one easy way of tiding it over is to sell lucrative assets and meet the current expenditure. But this policy is extremely shortsighted as it would not only reduce the revenues in the future; it would, even in the short run, divert private and bank’s investible funds from new ventures to public sector consumption. However, this situation can be avoided if the sale proceeds are pooled in a special fund and used exclusively for creation of infrastructure in areas earmarked for accelerated development.

The assumptions on which the official policy makers have been working are that public sector is inherently bad, inefficient and a drag on the economy and the private sector is inherently good and efficient and provides a fillip to growth. Neither assumption is correct — at least in the conditions that obtain in Pakistan. Given the absence of competition, both sectors are generally inefficient and the people pay for their inefficiency through increased indirect taxes.

Instead of disinvesting profitable enterprises, it should auction the losing or closed concerns at liquidation prices. Such a move would make idle investment productive and expand employment opportunities, thereby improving the overall economic situation. The sick units in the private sector should also receive the same shock treatment. Banks should be asked to auction all indebted defaulting units instead of keeping them in their portfolios, but without a chance of recovery. As regards healthy public sector units, they should be placed in the hands of professional management with full powers so that they are not used for favours and patronage. 

***


LIFE AND SECURITY AT STAKE

DAWN March 22, 1991 (News Reports)

Dawn suspends Karachi edition

THE management of Pakistan Herald Publications (Private) Ltd., the publishers of Dawn and its sister publications, announce with regret the suspension of Dawn’s edition meant for Karachi and interior Sindh. The publishers have had to take this “unprecedented step” of suspending the publication of Dawn and its sister publication, Dawn Gujrati, in their home territory because they were convinced that it had now “become impossible to guarantee the life and security of our journalists, employees, distributors and hawkers.”

This suspension follows one of the worst nights of violence against hawkers and distributors of Dawn by detachments of armed militants in metropolitan Karachi. In incidents that followed in the early hours of the morning, the Dawn headquarters and its distribution centre were surrounded by armed militants and six of Dawn distributors were kidnapped. Earlier on Thursday [March 21] the Dawn management suspended publication of Star and Vatan, Karachi’s widely circulated English and Gujrati language evening dailies for precisely the same reason.

“We cannot be expected to sell our newspaper when the lives of our people are at risk,” the management concluded.

March 23, 1991
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MQM AND PRESS RESOLVED:

A joint meeting of All-Pakistan Newspapers Society and the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors with the Central Committee of Mohajir Qaumi Movement has amicably resolved the misunderstanding between MQM and some newspapers. A statement here on Friday morning [March 22] said: “The Joint committee of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors held a meeting here on Thursday [March 21] evening with the Central Committee of Mohajir Qaumi Movement in the presence of its chief Mr. Altaf Hussain at his residence.”

It was mutually agreed that all related matters would be thoroughly investigated by the member publications of the APNS-CPNE, including the Herald, and that all possible attempts would be made to ensure that only stories conforming to facts would be considered for publication. 

***


METEORIC RISE LEADS TO ABRUPT FALL

DAWN July 12, 1991 (Editorial)

BCCI: did it deserve to die?

A S the excitement occasioned by the Bank of England’s dramatic crackdown on the BCCI dies down, facts are coming to light which have profound and far-reaching implications. Upto now the amount involved is not known and the Bank of England has declined to comment on the wild guesses ranging from five to fifteen billion dollars. The allegations could well turn out to be exaggerated after the investigation is completed.

What is certain is that the meteoric rise of the BCCI under the stewardship of Agha Hasan Abedi made it the target of envy on the part of the Western banking institutions, accustomed as they were to exercising unchallenged power in the world of finance. By virtue of its efficiency and personalised service, the BCCI rose to become the seventh largest private banking group in the world by the late eighties. What is more, its charitable and philanthropic thrust had won it many friends.

What cannot be denied, however, is that the BCCI’s banking methods were not always conventional. Perhaps the greatest self-indictment of the BCCI was the drug laundering case in Florida in which it pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of 15 million dollars. It is unfortunate that at a time when the hounds in the West were on the lookout for a pretext to penalise the BCCI for its success and its sympathies for the Third World, the bank did not choose to curb its freewheeling instincts.

The rights and wrongs of the BCCI’s policies apart, what is certain is that financial reverberations of the Bank of England’s move will be felt far and wide. We do not know how many clients will lose their life savings. Then there is the misery of the thousands of employees of the BCCI who now find themselves out of job. Even if fraud is proved, the honesty — and efficiency — of the preponderant majority of the bank workers is not in question. Why should they be penalised? Only time will tell whether the Bank of England’s Draconian measure was right and proper or whether corrective measures could have been applied specifically to fit the bill, thus punishing the group involved in wrongdoing while allowing a reformed bank to continue its operations. 

***


PAKISTAN WINS THE WORLD CUP

DAWN March 27, 1992 (Editorial)

Our finest hour

OH, to be crowned the kings of one-day cricket before a mammoth crowd at Melbourne! Undoubtedly, it was Pakistan’s finest hour — a moment of matchless glory shared by millions at home and in those parts of the world where the game is played and enjoyed. There is a striking parallel between this epoch-making event and the memorable victory at Oval (England) in 1954, when the country first made its presence felt on the map of international cricket by beating battle-hardened England, who were again at the receiving end in Australia. Then, too, this fledgling new nation, which was regarded almost as a non-starter, turned the tables on the super team, just as now it rose to dizzy heights, after being down in the dumps, to humble the high and mighty in a stunning sequence. Both were superb collective efforts in which a measured mixture of will, skill and spirit wrought the miracle.

The man and the Cup. Imran Khan speaking as the winning captain in Australia at the end of the 1992 World Cup.
The man and the Cup. Imran Khan speaking as the winning captain in Australia at the end of the 1992 World Cup.

Working its way up through layers and layers of odds, our team entered the ultimate battle with brimming confidence and faith in itself. For once the proverbial uncertainties of cricket gave way to the sure-fire determination of an inspired outfit. “The Cup is ours” at last and no trophy was more deservedly won. 

***


MQM TORTURE CELLS FOUND

DAWN June 26, 1992 (Editorial)

Who bears responsibility for these horrors?

THE horrifying tales pouring out of Karachi of what the MQM was up to, of the torture chambers it ran and how it dealt with dissidents make spine-chilling reading. What is the proper reaction to them? One of anger, horror or plain, dumb silence? And is this enough to make up the loss of those who suffered at the MQM’s hands or whose near and dear ones were scarred or consumed in the flames of its various houses of torture? The reaction to these stories must also be one of shame. Was it not known far and wide that the MQM leaders had almost made a godhead of terror, using it to sustain their political hegemony in Karachi and, more darkly, to destroy their opponents, especially from amongst the Mohajir community, who were reckless enough to oppose their practices. The worst sufferers, of course, were those who were guilty of intraparty dissent. All this and more was known about the MQM but a conspiracy of silence surrounded its activities because those who should have spoken out were either afraid of the consequences or they were vying for the MQM leaders’ support and thus conniving at whatever they did.

Since charity should begin at home, it must be said that in the first category falls the Karachi based Press which was afraid to write a word about the MQM’s widely-suspected atrocities. Yet a far greater rank was made up of those who for political considerations humoured the MQM and its volatile chief. Successive dispensations — some visible, some not so visible — backed the MQM because its support was crucial or because its street power was considered vital in neutralising other political forces.

There are a few additional things that need to be said about the current army operation in Karachi. This operation must be taken to its logical, political conclusion. Obviously this is not something that the army can or should do. It is a question that the country’s civilian leadership, not entirely blameless for what has been happening in Karachi, must address. Otherwise, it will mean attacking the symptoms of the problem without getting to its roots. Scarcely a wise thing to do after all that has happened. 

***


RELIGION COLUMN TO BE INCLUDED

DAWN October 16, 1992 (Editorial)

Identity Card: an unnecessary move

THE point that readily comes to mind about the government’s decision henceforth to require a citizen’s religion to be mentioned in his/her National Identity Card is that it is both unnecessary and unjust. It is unwarranted because an ID card’s basic function is merely to establish the bearer’s personal identity — and no more. Indeed, the decision opens the possibilities of discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion, particularly in an environment of heightened polarisation on ethnic, regional and sectarian lines. If that were to happen, it would be making a mockery of the categorical declaration of the founder of the nation that in Pakistan there would be “no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste and another” because “that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” A feeling of disquiet on this score arises because a section of the religious lobby is already demanding the removal of one particular sect from state service and there is no knowing which other community or sect is targeted next.

There is time yet for the authorities to reconsider the matter objectively and reverse the ill-advised decision. 

***


SUPREME COURT RESTORES NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

DAWN May 27, 1993 (News Reports)

Nawaz reinstated

IN a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday [May 26] restored the National Assembly and reinstated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif along with his cabinet, holding that the action of April 18, 1993, was not within the ambit of powers conferred on the President by the Constitution. “... The National Assembly, prime minister and the cabinet shall stand restored and entitled to function as immediately before the impugned order was passed,” the Court said in a massive 10-1 majority decision.

The 11-member Full Court, headed by Chief Justice Dr Nasim Hasan Shah, announced the judgment at about 3.15pm after a 100-minute break. However, the short order validated all acts and measures taken by the caretaker government since April 18, 1993, to the passing of the court order.

DAWN May 27, 1993
PRESIDENT ISHAQ NOT TO QUIT: President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on Wednesday [May 26] announced he had no intention to quit following the Supreme Court judgment which quashed his April 18 order as illegal and unconstitutional. An official spokesman of the presidency said: “President Ghulam Ishaq Khan has always tried to the best of his wisdom and belief to act in accordance with the Constitution and the law which were in fact an article of faith with him. He would continue to do so in future both as a constitutional obligation and the religious duty and in the best interest of country’s integrity, the good of the nation and the future of democracy.”

***


TROIKA WORKS OUT THE EXIT PLAN

DAWN July 18, 1993 (News Report)

Ishaq, Nawaz agree to step down

PRESIDENT Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to step down from their offices after a series of meetings with top generals of Pakistan Army on Saturday [July 17], paving the way for fresh general election in the country within three months. Two sessions of the Big Three, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Abdul Waheed, were held in which all details of the smooth changeover from the present setup to a neutral caretaker setup in the Centre and the provinces were discussed threadbare.

Another round of the Big Three is scheduled for Sunday morning in which the last details about the caretaker setups in the Centre and the provinces would be decided. Official sources said the Prime Minister had decided to address the nation on Sunday at 8pm in which he would announce the decisions of the meetings and declare that he was stepping down in the larger national interest. 

***


FRESH ELECTIONS IN THREE MONTHS

DAWN July 20, 1993 (Editorial)

A new beginning

AFTER days of nerve-racking suspense, the curtain has finally been drawn on what will probably be remembered as one of the most bizarre political dramas in the country’s history. It took long and hectic efforts, principally by the army chief, and a lot of hard bargaining by the two main protagonists — the President and the Prime Minister — to arrive at a formula to resolve the dreadful impasse. The arrangement that has finally emerged could have been worked out earlier had the two principal figures shown some political flexibility and realism. Had the two tried hard enough to hit it off together, the nation could have been spared the trauma of having to go through one of the worst political crises in its history, and the army the compulsion to intercede. However, all that is past now and the important thing is that the nation and democracy have come out of the crisis without grave damage. Of course, the heat and bitterness generated during the past few months will continue to be felt for quite some time, but the people can heave a sigh of relief that the worst is over.

A neutral set-up is now in place at the Centre as well as in the provinces to hold elections in October. The army has undertaken to ensure that the process is free and fair, so that its outcome is accepted by all and the new assemblies have the legitimacy they need to be effective.

What the crisis has done is to highlight the fragility and immaturity of our democratic setup. The crisis manifested itself not only in the stand-off between the President and the Prime Minister, but also in the rank opportunism of some top political personalities and in the ease with which large numbers of legislators switched their loyalties or promised to do so.

The caretakers have a crucial responsibility in this regard. It is expected of them that they would stay clear of any controversy and make sure that the administration at all levels remains strictly neutral. This means, above all else, allowing full opportunities of participation to all contestants in the coming polls. 

Tenure II: 1997-99

***


PML-N SWEEPS GENERAL ELECTIONS

DAWN February 18, 1997 (Editorial)

A daunting task

MR Mohammad Nawaz Sharif begins his second term as Prime Minister with a tremendous advantage which is matched only by the awesome responsibility that stems from his party’s overwhelming majority. The advantage lies in two things — first in his being put in a position where he can do what good he is capable of doing unhindered by a recalcitrant opposition in Parliament and secondly in the enormous good will with which he is starting owing to the sense of crisis the country had been left with at the end of Ms Benazir Bhutto’s rule. In fairness, though, it must be acknowledged that he had made a no insignificant contribution of his own to the mess we found ourselves in on November 5, 1996. Now for the burden of responsibility. The burden is so heavy because his performance will be measured against the copious and almost extravagant promises he held out in the course of the election campaign and because it will not be easy for him to find an excuse for his failure to deliver.

Nawaz Sharif (right) taking oath at the beginning of his second term in the prime minister’s office from president Farooq Leghari. Less than a year later, the president was shown the door by the prime minister who wanted to have the wings cleared.
Nawaz Sharif (right) taking oath at the beginning of his second term in the prime minister’s office from president Farooq Leghari. Less than a year later, the president was shown the door by the prime minister who wanted to have the wings cleared.

Before public life can regain its poise and grace and economic activity can begin to flourish, law enforcers have to prove their capacity to safeguard the life, honour and property of the common man. This is indeed the most elementary requirement of civilized living — a basic condition for civil society to live in freedom and achieve fulfillment.

The ease with which elected governments manage to work towards a breakdown and are overturned brings out the tenuous nature of Pakistan’s experiment in democracy. 

***


TWO CHURCHES SET ABLAZE

DAWN February 12, 1997 (Editorial)

Khanewal violence

VIOLENCE in Khanewal against the Christian community came more than a fortnight after an earlier incident in which a copy of the Bible was allegedly desecrated by a police party that had gone to Shantinagar to arrest someone involved in a kidnapping case. This time lapse between the two incidents can only strengthen suspicions that the public reaction has not been as spontaneous as is being depicted. What is unfortunate is that the authorities failed to pre-empt mischief by some unscrupulous elements to play with the people’s religious sentiments. In view of the uneasy peace in Khanewal, it is necessary that expeditious steps are taken to restore the confidence of all sections of people in the administration’s ability to maintain peace and protect the citizens’ lives and honour. Religious and political leaders at the local level, too, can play an important role in ensuring that sanity prevails. A thorough and detailed investigation is called for, and in view of the sensitivity of the incident, the demand made by some Christian leaders for an investigation by a High Court judge should be sympathetically considered. 

***


NOTIFICATION ISSUED ON WEEKLY OFF

DAWN February 25, 1997 (Editorial)

Back to Sunday

‘NEVER on a Sunday’ ran the old song. But why not? Says the new prime minister in a no nonsense approach to the question of the country’s weekly holiday. In his broadcast to the nation, also on Sunday [Feb 23], he announced his government’s decision of replacing Friday with Sunday as the weekly holiday. The decision is based purely on business considerations. The country’s various chambers of commerce and industry had long pointed out that Pakistan was cut off from the international business world for three days a week because of the Friday holiday.

Some chambers and stock exchanges had unilaterally decided a couple of months ago to observe Sunday as their holiday, but then panicked under pressure and cancelled their decision. There will be adverse criticism again from some quarters, and Mr Nawaz Sharif has adroitly tried to find a religious justification for the change he has made. But he will be better served by explaining to critics the loss in business which was being borne by the country.

The entire question of national holidays should also be examined afresh by the new government. It has sometimes happened that Pakistan has been shut for almost a week. We even observe a Kashmir Day strike every year when we inflict an economic loss on ourselves and when many people play cricket. We have developed too many unnecessary hang-ups about such simple matters as holidays. These ought to be sorted out on the basis of common sense. 

***


PAKISTAN RECOGNISES TALIBAN GOVT

DAWN May 27, 1997 (Editorial)

Recognising a reality

PAKISTAN’S recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan is a development of considerable bilateral and regional significance. As noted by Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan, the Taliban are now in virtual control of 27 out of the country’s 32 provinces and may soon take effective control of the entire country. Mr Khan sounded unusually confident about the future course of events in that country although some keen observers in recent years have their reservations on that score.

Given the deep divisions in Afghan society, an early return of peace and stability cannot be taken for granted. As a close neighbour and well-wisher, Pakistan has a vital interest in the restoration of stable conditions in Afghanistan. Pakistan looks forward to the establishment of a government in Kabul which will be acceptable to the broad spectrum of the population.

The neighbouring countries must realise that prolonged hostilities in Afghanistan will not benefit anyone. For their part, the Taliban leaders should be expected to show vision and realism in handling the regional dimension of change in their country. 

***


SC BENCH REMOVES CJ SAJJAD ALI SHAH

Dawn December 25, 1997 (Editorial)

The troubling finale

IN trying to dispel the hovering shadow of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, the Supreme Court has had to go into contortions which on the face of it require not a little explaining. On the one hand, his appointment has been declared invalid and unconstitutional by ten of his brother judges (some brothers, Justice Shah, no doubt, will be tempted to say). On the other, all his decisions prior to November 26, 1997, have been upheld as being valid. Whatever sharp judicial minds may have to say, ordinary mortals are likely to be nonplussed by it. Furthermore, questions are bound to be asked about the time it has taken Justice Shah’s brothers to take note of his invalid appointment. He was appointed Chief Justice not yesterday but back in 1994.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, escorting Rafiq Tarar (left), to the latter’s oath-taking ceremony as the country’s president a month after getting rid of Farooq Leghari.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, escorting Rafiq Tarar (left), to the latter’s oath-taking ceremony as the country’s president a month after getting rid of Farooq Leghari.

This is of course the first time in this country that a Chief Justice has been removed from his perch by his fellow judges. The question that is bound to be asked is whether Justice Shah could not have been allowed to complete his term which, after all, is set to expire in less than two months time? Not that Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was not his own worst enemy. What remains is to pray that the apex court finds it possible to leave its recent traumatic troubles behind it so that public confidence can be restored and the impression that judicial verdicts can be dictated by expediency and other factors is forever erased. 

***


PAKISTAN OPTS TO GO NUCLEAR

DAWN May 30, 1998 (Editorial)

The challenge and the response

EXERCISING the nuclear option has not been an easy decision for Pakistan to make but then India by carrying out its nuclear explosions in the teeth of international disapproval had left Pakistan with no other choice. The security threat that Pakistan faces from India is no figment of any heated imagination. The Indian nuclear explosions earlier this month had destroyed the strategic balance in South Asia, thus compelling Pakistan to take steps to redress the imbalance.

Islamabad did engage in patient and intensive discussions with the US, Japan, Britain, China and others to find out how the world community would punish India for its brazen violation of the unspoken and informal non-proliferation regime in South Asia and what the world community was willing to do to bring a sense of security to this country. Much to its chagrin, Pakistan found that, apart from the US and Japan having announced measures to cut off loans and credits in the short and medium-term, much of the rest of the world community was either indecisive or did not think India’s conduct called for anything more than a few polite words of disapproval. On the other hand, there was some tentative and non-committal talk of a suggested annulment of the Pressler Amendment and the possibility of either the long withheld 28 F-16s being made available to Pakistan in stages or the money Pakistan had paid for these being refunded.

There was not even as much as a serious hint of credible security guarantees being contemplated to dissuade Pakistan from taking the road of nuclear testing. In the meanwhile, fuelled by the rising crescendo of belligerent noises from New Delhi, the public perception of grave insecurity turned into a mighty popular movement demanding action to correct the strategic imbalance. The government’s response to this popular sentiment is easy to understand.

But this crucial threshold having been crossed, serious thought should now be given to the inevitable consequences. Sanctions will be imposed and, given Pakistan’s dependence on foreign aid, in due course these will even bite. The burden of hard times ahead the nation will have to carry but this burden will be considered light if it is shared equitably. A word should also be in order regarding the imposition of a state of emergency. This may have been considered essential to give legal protection to certain measures such as the freezing of foreign currency accounts. To that extent there will be no cavilling at it but the government must make sure that it does not misuse these powers for political purposes. 

***


VAJPAYEE IN LAHORE HOPES FOR PEACE

DAWN February 23, 1999 (Editorial)

Breaking the ice

MR ATAL Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore, the welcome he received in this country and his talks with Mr Nawaz Sharif leading to the signing of what has been dubbed as the Lahore Declaration should be seen as the first, albeit vital, step in a journey which lies ahead and remains to be made. Although the first step, it has been taken in the right spirit and has set just the right tone. The atmospherics of this visit certainly could not have been better with both prime ministers going out of their way to stress the need for breaking free from the shackles of the past and opening a new chapter of friendship in their fraught relationship. By adopting this course, Mr Nawaz Sharif took a political risk as was underscored by the Jamaat-i-Islami’s protest in Lahore aimed at disrupting Mr Vajpayee’s visit. But it was a venture which paid off. The prime minister must be commended for his courageous move. The important thing is not to let this spirit flag and not to allow cynicism to dominate and vitiate the atmosphere which has been created.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif (left) and his visiting Indian counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the Wagah border in May 1999. It was called a ‘defining moment in history’ at the time, but turned out to be one of the many false starts the two countries have had over the years.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif (left) and his visiting Indian counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the Wagah border in May 1999. It was called a ‘defining moment in history’ at the time, but turned out to be one of the many false starts the two countries have had over the years.

For this, what is necessary is not more symbolism but serious talks aimed at imparting a concrete content to the broad principles agreed to by the two prime ministers. The Lahore Declaration after all is a statement of intent. Whether it becomes the basis of something more depends upon the wisdom that both countries are able to bring to this effort to create a new relationship.

Now that both countries have tested their nuclear devices, it would greatly be to their credit if they could devise a doctrine of nuclear stability between themselves without having to be lectured on the subject by outside powers.

In any case, the wisdom of both countries is now on test. A long journey lies ahead and it is up to the two countries and their leadership to show that they have it in them to arrive at the destination which beckons from afar. 

***


NAWAZ, CLINTON AGREE ON MUJAHIDEEN PULLOUT

DAWN July 8, 1999 (Editorial)

Beyond the heights of Kargil

PRIME MINISTER Nawaz Sharif could not have been unaware of the political risk he was taking in going to Washington or the flak he would face, from entirely predictable quarters, on his return to Pakistan. The casualness which he managed to impart to some of his post-Blair House activities will ensure that the political debate on the issue will now also have an element of personalised attacks on his immature style of conducting himself even in the most serious moments. It is important that his spin doctors should be prepared for the worst, even though the general public, groaning under the weight of innumerable day-to-day problems, seemed in no mood for a widening of the Kargil conflict.

That perhaps is the key to seeing the Sharif-Clinton meeting in perspective. If the danger of a wider conflagration has been avoided, the exercise has been worth the effort. Nothing can be more sacred or precious than the security of the country, and if it was under threat, then every diplomatic effort that sought to cool down the situation needed to be undertaken and supported. It is clear that the Kargil-Dras venture was tactically brilliant, but strategically untenable: the occupation of some peaks on the Indian side of the Line of Control could be meaningful only if it were to serve as a prelude to the establishment and subsequent expansion of a liberated area. The small Mujahideen force committed to the operation could only hold the peaks for a certain period of time, particularly because India, for the first time after a long period of bluster, was so obviously dealt a humiliating blow.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in September 1999 with chief of army staff General Pervez Musharraf was in Skardu visiting the families of the soldiers who had lost their lives during the Kargil conflict. Barely a month later, the government was sent packing, bringing the curtain down on the second Sharif term.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in September 1999 with chief of army staff General Pervez Musharraf was in Skardu visiting the families of the soldiers who had lost their lives during the Kargil conflict. Barely a month later, the government was sent packing, bringing the curtain down on the second Sharif term.

But there are crucial questions to be considered. First and foremost, the Nawaz Sharif government has to tell the nation in unambiguous terms as to whether or not the Mujahideen operation was cleared by it before it was carried out. This is not a matter so much of conducting a post-mortem of Kargil in a spirit of fault-finding, but of making sure that in future no mission of such a vital nature, impinging on the very existence of the country, is launched without specific permission granted by competent political and legislative authorities.

Pakistan and the people of Kashmir [however] will continue to occupy the high moral ground irrespective of the fate of a peak or two in Kargil. 

***


INCIDENTS IN KARACHI, GUJRANWALA, D.I. KHAN

DAWN October 2, 1999 (Editorial)

A new wave of sectarian militancy

IF the feeling had taken hold that the menace of sectarian violence had been contained, this perception has been rudely shattered by the latest bout of killings to shake the country. It started with the gunning down of a Shia leader in Dera Ismail Khan the other day. This was followed by the assassination of a leading Shia figure in Gujranwala. To top it all, however, is the attack on an Imambargah in Karachi which has left eight people dead and many more injured. Clearly, sectarian fanatics, after lying low for some time, have risen again to destroy the country’s peace. The level of intolerance in our society is growing, and far from anyone having an answer to this scourge, more and more adherents are flocking to the banner of organisations which specialise in the propagation of very narrow-minded creeds. However, if narrow mindedness was the only problem, it could still be dealt with. The problem in Pakistan is that religious bigotry and fanaticism have acquired militant overtones. Virulent hatred towards members of different sects is not only preached but glorified. Not surprisingly, those who distinguish themselves in acts of sectarian violence are revered as holy warriors and extolled as examples to be emulated.

If this is a fearsome challenge, the response of the authorities falls far short of what should have been expected. True, the hard core of terrorist outfits is not large but this fact alone is of little comfort as long as these hitmen, for they are no better than that, remain free to strike where they will.

What the last few years have shown is that sectarian violence comes in waves and cycles. Gruesome incidents take place which capture and frighten the popular imagination and send the authorities into a frantic whirl of activity with solemn vows being uttered to bring the culprits to book. But soon it is back to business as usual.

While this is a testing time for all Pakistanis, it is more so for the Shiite community which has been the target of all three of the latest attacks. It is all too easy, and natural, for this community to be overcome and swept along by feelings of anger and revenge. But to give way to these feelings would be to play into the hands of the very evil forces which are behind these outrages. The leaders of this community must come forward and lay a restraining hand on their followers.

But counselling patience and restraint to one or the other side of the sectarian divide is not enough. A heavier responsibility lies on the shoulders of the government which must shake off its slumber and galvanize itself into action against the terrorist outfits. If there is not much that the government can show for itself, more and more young people will be encouraged to think that attack is the best form of defence. These are dangerous tendencies and bode ill for the future. 

***


ARMY MOVES IN ON A DAY OF HIGH DRAMA

October 13, 1999 (News Report)

Nawaz govt dismissed

CHAIRMAN of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Army General Pervez Musharraf dismissed the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif here on Tuesday [Oct. 12] and put him under house arrest. Addressing the nation over radio and television at 3am, he said the situation in the country was perfectly calm, stable and under control. “And no outside forces can take an advantage of this situation,” he warned. “I wish to inform you that the armed forces have moved in as a last resort, to prevent any further destabilisation. I have done so with all sincerity, loyalty and selfless devotion to the country with the armed forces firmly behind me,” Gen Musharraf said.

He said everyone was aware of the kind of turmoil and uncertainty that the country had gone through in recent times.

“We are also aware of the self-serving policies being followed, which have rocked the very foundation of the federation of Pakistan.”

He said the armed forces had been facing incessant public clamour to remedy the fast declining situation from all sides of the political divide. These concerns were always conveyed to the prime minister in all sincerity, keeping the interest of the country foremost. It was apparent that they were never taken in the correct spirit.

The army chief said that all his efforts and counsel to the government, it seemed, were of no avail. “Instead, they now turned their attention on the army itself. Despite all my advice they tried to interfere with the armed forces, the last remaining viable institution in which all of you take so much pride and look up to, at all times, for the stability, unity and integrity of our beloved country. Out concerns again were conveyed in no uncertain terms but the government of Mr Nawaz Sharif chose to ignore all these and tried to politicise the army, destabilise it and tried to create dissension within its ranks.”

He said he had been in Sri Lanka on an official visit. “On my way back the PIA commercial flight was not allowed to land at Karachi but was ordered to be diverted to anywhere outside Pakistan, despite acute shortage of fuel, imperiling the life of all the passengers. Thanks be to Allah, this evil design was thwarted through speedy army action.”

The COAS’s address did not speak about any martial law or announced any interim arrangement. It is said that military authorities would firm up their mind within the next two days about the new setup. While the army chief remained busy in Karachi to discuss various scenarios and recorded his speech for the PTV, corps commanders continued their deliberations in Rawalpindi and executed their plan according to the orders of their boss.

The prime minister’s house has been surrounded by the troops, and the deposed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is reportedly under house arrest, along with ISI chief Lt-Gen Ziauddin, who was named chief of the army staff earlier in the day.


Click on the buttons below to read more from this special feature

Survival at stake? Not quite!

By Abbas Nasir

WHEN I started off as editor of Dawn in May 2006, the economy was booming and there was enough advertising revenue for newspapers and the few news TV channels that existed then to share. However, the following year, president Pervez Musharraf´s standoff with chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the political turmoil it unleashed, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto put the brakes on the economy and it started to slow down perceptibly.

While domestic political troubles may have slowed economic growth, the global economic meltdown triggered by the banking crisis in September 2008, and the sharp spike in crude oil prices before that, nearly killed it. This had a huge impact on the advertising spend of the private sector and, as a result, newspaper revenues started to nosedive in sharp contrast to the five preceding years which had seen phenomenal year-on-year growth.

Whereas newspapers in more developed or bigger markets can have circulation figures where the cover price may be enough to bring in sufficient revenue to break even, and, in some instances, be profitable too, the readership in Pakistan is relatively so small that the cover price does not even allow newspapers, particularly the English-language ones, to cover their costs. This gives an indication of how critical advertising revenue is to them.

When the overall advertisement spend shrank in Pakistan, the advertisers, perhaps seeking to maximise the perceived bang for their buck, diverted most of their budgets to the mass audience TV channels which were claiming millions of eyeballs. Marketing departments of newspapers were forced to work over and above the call of duty to even come close to their budgeted targets as these were mostly based on the historical growth stats of the previous five years.

Obviously, we on the editorial floors of newspapers had other challenges too as we were now beginning to operate in an entirely different context and environment compared to our predecessors who had successfully run editorial teams/content when there was very little or, frankly, no competition apart from other newspapers. With state-owned-and-controlled radio and TV allowing little liberty to broadcast news, people waited to turn to the morning newspapers to find out the previous 24 hours’ news.

Here we were mostly with yesterday’s news adorning today’s newspapers like in the past. But the past was gone with the advent of 24x7 news channels and even some news websites were now emerging even if these were rudimentary to begin with.

There was a realisation that if the newspapers continued to do ‘he-said-she-said’ journalism based on press conferences and statements of newsmakers whether in politics or sports or other fields, and merely reported on events, the readers would soon get tired of repetition as they would be reading ‘today’ what they had watched ‘yesterday’.

This was a sure way to a quick and sudden death for the medium. Merely relying on the readers’ habits formed over the decades was not going to be enough to retain them and, in a country where a staggering percentage of the population was below 25, there was absolutely no way the newspapers were going to gain new readers.

So, if ‘today’ was a challenge, ‘tomorrow’ was beginning to appear seriously bleak. Gratefully, there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Other ‘markets’, mostly in the West, had confronted similar challenges and had also evolved or were evolving ways and means to survive.

In the United Kingdom, for example, it was observed that while TV/radio news mostly covered the ‘here and now’ type stories, including the ‘breaking’ variety, it was predominantly left to the newspapers to dedicate resources to do investigative journalism and in-depth stories.

Also, given that the newspapers had more time, given their once-in-24-hour appearance, they were able to provide much more context as well as background via research to stories than the immediacy of radio/TV/website would allow.

Newspapers also started to rely more on informed commentaries on topics of current interest and to provide different perspectives. This, of course, is true of what are called general-interest broadsheet newspapers. It is not a surprise then that on any given day in the UK, morning TV and radio bulletins follow up on investigative or in-depth stories in that morning’s serious newspapers.

Financial newspapers – perhaps I should use the singular for the UK with the Financial Times being head and shoulders above any other newspaper that focuses on business/economy – occupy a similar position, with several TV and radio financial news slots referring to the stories or analyses in the FT. Its ‘Lex’ column used to figure prominently, for example, in the BBC World (Service) Business Report.

Although traditionally broadcast and print journalists operated in parallel worlds, the newspapers’ success in leading the way with the coverage of key topics and events has seen a crossover of journalists from print to broadcasting in key positions.

The head of BBC News, as we speak, was a newspaper editor before being head-hunted by the broadcaster and, many others, including the current editor of BBC TV’s flagship news and current affairs programme, ‘Newsnight’, was also a lateral entrant from print. The philosophy being, you can teach a great journalist broadcasting but not necessarily the other way round.

Broadcasting may be thriving in the West and even in Pakistan, but what is happening to print? Well, let’s look at what is happening to the lifeline of newspapers; advertising. The global advertisement spend on newspapers is falling and by 2021 will shrink to just over 90 per cent of what it is today.

Rupert Murdoch is a market-savvy media magnet whose net worth in 2016 was in excess of $13 billion. The advertisement revenue of his US News Corp fell by 20 per cent last year; his News UK, which publishes well-known titles such as The Times and the Sunday Times, saw its advertisement revenue falling by 29 per cent in the same year. Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal has had to cut staff by hundreds to curtail costs and also put up a paywall, like The Times in the UK, to charge those accessing content online.

In the last quarter of 2016 the print sales of New York Times and McClatchy Papers (operator of 29 US newspapers) fell by 20 per cent each. Media analysts believe the circulation being lost currently is not likely to be regained in either the US or the UK, given that very few new ‘readers’ of the hard copy are being created.

The newsrooms of NYT and many other major newspapers have had several rounds of cuts in staff numbers totalling several hundreds. This has been necessitated by falling advertisement revenues as well as print sales. So, is it all doom and gloom for the newspapers or the rumours of their death (or imminent death at best) are grossly exaggerated?

The answer isn’t straightforward and simple. One can’t say for sure about the longevity of the newspapers as we know them in their current physical form. It will be impossible to say whether these would be around till the middle of this century or will they be history by as soon as then. The respected UK title, Independent, is no more in print form and only available online, mind you.

However, the reservoir of expertise, talent and experience in the business of news the publishing houses represent is not likely to breathe its last anytime soon. The mere prospect of a no-newspaper life may be hellish for someone of my generation but the news business isn’t going anywhere and will be around for a long time to come.

The newspapers, as we know them, are said to be a thing of the past or at least soon going to be so. There are concrete examples from the West to bolster such a perception, but, then, there are also equally strong developments in countries like, say, China and India, which suggest otherwise. Which way Pakistan is going to go is not clear yet.

Let’s look at two major newspaper titles in the US and UK. The print sales of the NYT may be falling but its digital offer now accounts for 42 per cent of its total revenue. By 2020 the revenue is projected to climb to $800 million a year. The NYT’s multimedia news website is a success story and subscribers are prepared to access its content by paying for it besides the advertisement revenue it generates. The most recent recorded figure of FT subscribers is 850,000. Of this, about 76 per cent, or 650,000, are digital subscribers. The FT has the most paid takers for its specialised content and its major source of revenue is now its digital services.

On the other hand, UK’s Guardian newspaper that has seen falling readership and advertisement revenue still refuses to put up a paywall for the users. For the moment, it seems content with trying to bridge its resource gap by just appealing for monthly donations much smaller than what is being charged by other newspapers. This gap resulted in a 69 million pounds ($91 million) loss in the last financial year. Perhaps, the Guardian, still buoyed by the nearly 750 million pound ($993 million) Scott Trust Fund that supports it, can afford to be lax for a while. Eventually it too will be forced to make tough choices.

The challenge today is not just coming from other, established media houses but a number of New Media news sources such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. I bet by the time you are done reading this list, an equal number of hitherto unknown online sources will have emerged. This will force the established media houses to continue to innovate and produce content that the new generation of news consumers finds attractive and nibble at.

Does this suggest that the newspapers as we know them are a thing of the past or soon to be so anyway? Well, not really. Where there are examples from the West quoted above, there are equally compelling ones from China and India which are the world’s top two countries in terms of people hooked up to the internet and all that the web offers.

Chinese newspapers, with rising circulation figures, are thriving as the hard copy in hand seems to be a symbol of rising wealth and perceived prestige. So, despite a very well-developed web offer, the impact on print sales is anything but negative.

India is no different where, with 42 per cent of total advertisement revenue, newspapers are the leaders, with TV coming a respectable second with 37 per cent share. If you are about to argue that most Indian newspapers have well-established, singing and dancing websites, don’t. A recent study showed that while the younger user may prefer the digital offer, a majority i.e. 90 per cent of online users, also read, the newspaper in print form.

Whether Pakistan will go the way of the West, diversify on the web and boost digital revenue or follow India and China and grow print sales as well as the online user base isn’t really the most important question. To me, the real question is whether, given Pakistan’s relatively small market, it will give the big advertiser the power one day soon to dictate editorial content too?

If you see the favourable coverage given to one real estate tycoon by the majority of the media, this may already be happening.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Click on the buttons below to read more from this special feature


Nawaz Sharif becomes Prime Minister of Pakistan (October 1990)

*******


Nawaz Sharif's second tenure as Prime Minister of Pakistan (February 1997)

*******


Farooq Leghari resigns as President of Pakistan (December 1997)

*******


The Lahore Declaration (February 1999)

*******


Click on the buttons below to read more from this special feature