Truth about `unfriendly media`
18 June, 2007
By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu
Functional logic or rationality is the basic tool of statecraft. Whether it is in use or not can be judged from the condition of the people. If the people are happy — they have, enough to eat, a rented or owned accommodation to live in, a job or an opportunity in hand, an environment free from threats and dangers, an interesting topic to talk about and a bright future to think of — that means the state is functioning rationally. If the people are simply living on due to compulsions of existence, there is something terribly wrong with the working of the state. It is not functioning rationally. Despair of the people with such state is not artificial; it is natural.
President Musharraf`s recent remarks that the media should avoid creating despair reflect that he is not in touch with the media. Most probably he does not read the newspapers. Perhaps, he does not watch the TV programmes either. That is why he is not aware of the fact that his government has been working in an ideal environment. There has been no political opposition to it, except the ones that it created due to its own doings. Moreover, media remained friendly to it and is still supporting it.
The only political opposition that the government had faced before March 9, 2007, came from the Baloch nationalists. Balochistan was calm. All that the government needed was to take Senator Mushahid Hussain`s report seriously. Or it should have extended the negotiations with the Baloch leaders till both sides reached a pacifying conclusion. Instead the government used military might. If the people in Islamabad and Rawalpindi had thought that the effects of the killing of the Baloch and their leader Akbar khan Bugti would vanish soon, time proved them wrong. Hitting and hanging of the political workers and leaders have long-term effects. Generations become carriers of the acquired hatred. Given our situation where at times ethnicity and not the rationality dominates the working of the state, the hatred may never end. An Indian columnist wrote that Musharraf`s fall had begun with the killing of Nawab Bugti. It is partly true in the sense that the tragedy accelerated his fall. Factually he had lost the moral ground to rule on the very day he had failed to win the referendum. He looked to be in control because there was no opposition and media was friendly to him.
The opposition Musharraf is facing after March 9, 2007 is again due to his misjudgements. Had there been no reference against the Chief Justice, there would have been no immediate countrywide movement against the government. The activities of all the opposition political parties were limited to press releases only. Rather every one was seeking a deal with Musharraf or the army. Even after the reference the top leadership of the two major parties the PPP and the PML (N) remained calm. It was the activists of these parties and the common people that came forward and joined the lawyers` movement. What president Pervez Musharraf and prime minister Shuakat Aziz did not know and do not know is that the people had never seen such bad times as the last eight years. During this awful period, which has not ended as yet, there was virtually no government. The rich and the administration were free to do whatever they liked. What to talk of rule of law, there was no law at all. It was a perfect environment for the rich and the bureaucrats to become richer at the expense of the wretched poor. Every thing, be it corruption, dearness, lawlessness, joblessness and exploitation, that could hit the common people increased. It has happened for the first time in the history of Pakistan that 80% of its population is living below poverty line as per two dollars a day income criterion. In spite of so poor performance, the government was functioning smoothly till March 9, 2007. It was because of absence of opposition and more than that due to the presence of a friendly media.
President Musharraf a few weeks after his arrival on political platform had collaborated with the politicians from the same lot whom he had declared corrupt earlier. The media did not raise any questions on so brazen a duplicity, though it should have. It did not because the rule of the politicians had frustrated it to the core. Two years after October 12, 1999 were absolute waste. No one in the government was doing any thing. There was no economic activity. The common people and the businessmen were facing the brunt of so-called monetary reforms— the control on money supply, documentation and reduction of interest on savings. The country was not coming out of chronic recession. On social side the religious extremism was growing. The Taliban of Afghanistan were causing sectarian strife in Pakistan. The government was helpless and had virtually surrendered before the writ of the Taliban and their friends in Pakistan. Despite so obvious failures, the media continued with its support to the government.
After September 9, 2001, Pakistan changed. A U-turn on Afghan policy brought billions of dollars in aid and grants. The loans too were either readjusted or waived off. Remittances rose from millions to many billions. Reading the Pakistani market correctly, the foreigner jumped in, though only in those sectors where they could recover the basic capital within days or weeks, as in property business; or in a year or two. The banks, and the telecom companies arrived along side the individuals interested in portfolio, privatisation and property investments. Money started moving and growing — freely. Whatever happened, happened in the upper strata of the population. `Trickle down` economy had hit us again. Earlier it had hit us during General Ayub`s period.
Media particularly electronic media remained silent on the terrible effects brought by this free for all capitalism. With the growth or availability of money, the control of the government on monetary matters loosened beyond all limits, so corruption grew and became limitless. Media did not discuss privatisation scams, sugar scams and dubious working of stock exchanges and property mafias in a manner as its counterpart in the west do. While all these terrible things were happening, our TV channels were busy with the discussion on renaissance of Islam, clash of civilisation, and defeat of Israel in Lebanon and of US in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine Pakistan received 60 billion dollars under various heads after 9/11. Imagine how we used it. Given our trade deficit of 13 billion dollars, fiscal deficit of four billion dollars and current account deficit of seven billion dollars and compare it with our ever-decreasing manufacturing capacity, we are heading towards another era of recession, which has perhaps no solution.
The very idea of a terrible future, and not the media, is the cause behind the people`s despair. President Musharraf should be thankful to media, which is still not discussing in detail and in the real context state`s irrationality — its unlimited colossal misdeeds including the government rallies of May 12, 2007. On that sad day, the media did the needful and saved many hundred lives. If there had been no live media coverage, hundreds of other people with guns would have come out on the streets. Fear of being watched by the millions, kept them away.