Real issues pushed aside

Published October 2, 2022
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

WITH the ‘hacked’ (or leaked) audio clips of conversations in the Prime Minister’s Office having caused a sensation in a heavily polarised Pakistan, the reaction has been predictably and largely along partisan lines, if statements and social media posts are any indicator.

The handful of impartial observers left in the country have viewed these conversations involving the incumbent prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, and the former prime minister, Imran Khan, and their top aides, as a reinforcement of their long-formed opinion about the key political players.

However, what is very disappointing is that over the hundreds of hours of TV transmissions/Vlogs and dozens of column centimetres of newspaper space devoted to this issue, one fundamental question has rarely been raised.

Editorial: There is something decidedly sinister about the way the audio leaks affair is playing out

Everyone is in agreement that an expert hacker may have hacked a database, where hours and hours of such recordings were digitally stored, and downloaded as many gigabytes of these as wanted. An online claim by the ‘hacker’ says the same.

Few discussions have focused on who had the constitutional and legal authority to bug the office of the country’s chief executive.

But none or very few of the discussions have centered on who had the constitutional and legal authority to bug the office of the country’s chief executive and store the recorded data. This basic point has not been addressed. There could be two or more reasons for that.

Either the hacked content is so interesting that it has dominated the discourse and once the excitement triggered by it has subsided, other related issues could be taken up over a longer time frame, or the entity bugging the PM’s Office has actively ‘discouraged’ any further media inquiry into the matter.

In any case, the media has let itself down, and equally the user/consumer, as this was an opportune moment to start that vital conversation. Who knows with the ‘neutrals’ so far determined to stay neutral, despite exhortations by the former prime minister, something positive may have emerged.

Something positive, such as the system’s reform based on, say, an updated version of Air Chief Marshal Zulfikar Ali Khan’s report recommendations. The report, which was commissioned by Benazir Bhutto as prime minister to look into the role of the intelligence agencies in our politics, has been gathering dust on a shelf somewhere after being presented to her. She was sacked soon after.

Reverting to various reactions to the audio leaks that have received such an airing, that anyone interested may have listened to them over and over again, the obviously missing element was the issue we have touched on already — ie who may have recorded the conversations?

If the purpose was to damage the popularity of a politician featuring in these and jeopardising their prospects in next year’s general elections, it failed miserably. In a deeply polarised environment, such leaks have rarely worked; the main target audience remains unmoved.

Carefully nurtured by official fifth-generation warfare (5GW) experts, the second-tier leaders and social media warriors/trolls of such a politician are so quick to evolve and advance near-perfect spin that the supporter under their influence is mesmerised by their Goebbels-like propaganda.

It is those teeming partisan millions who matter to the politician and not the handful of impartial observers upon whom troll armies are unleashed when they dare express their independent opinion in public. Such opinion is unable to untangle itself from the web of spin.

‘Alternative facts’ are what matters and those having an expertise, who ‘play’ well, in that department win any 5GW battle or skirmish. Those often economical with the truth are hailed as heroes, and all else is rendered useless.

There is no other way to describe how the converts have flocked in their hundreds of thousands to hear and believe what the impartial observer has known from day one was merely a ruse — that there was no foreign conspiracy for regime change.

Even as the hacked clips confirm that was indeed the case, the supporter seems unmoved. Believe me, it would take a lot more to erode the solid support base. A number of leaders around the world have ridden on a populist tide generated by ‘alternative facts’ in a ‘post-truth’ environment.

The best and the toughest of their political opponents, when or if given the opportunity to come to the helm, need to perform wonders in office in today’s resource-starved world in order to make a dent in the alternative facts-created armoured edifice.

But the best political opponents in our case, as the audios suggest, seem more interested in using their clout to push personal agendas when in office, and the only thing staying their hands isn’t the principle but the ‘optics’ and the fear of getting caught.

The country’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, and despite the most optimistic of outlooks, it is far from being out of the woods. So, we bring in a new finance minister to steady the rocking boat. The man tasked with saving the country from default is eased out, despite succeeding.

Even as the new finance czar is having a dozen meetings a day to plan and navigate a safe path out of this crisis which is manifesting itself in the sharply eroded rupee, high inflation and an abysmal current account deficit, he has reportedly found time to prioritise having a ‘large’ official residence as a must-have, I am told.

But don’t be depressed by all this. The only thing that depresses me today is that some 33 million displaced people seem a million miles away from starting to rebuild their lives after devastating floods hit the country in July and August this year.

We are a Third World country. Even with the generosity of our own people, foreign help and the best government effort, we cannot reach every single one of our compatriots whose life has been shattered by the climate calamity. All else appears no more than petty shenanigans.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2022

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