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Commentaries

Pakistan Government’s Phone Tax Policy and its Implications for Travellers

Introduction

According to the most recent Phone Tax Policy of the PTI government in Pakistan, all those entering Pakistan, both citizens and foreigners, must register their phones and pay a phone tax to be able to use their phones while in Pakistan.
At first glance, this seems to be a just policy aimed at generating revenue from those who import expensive phones to Pakistan. But the phone policy enters the realm of the stupid when one finds out that it applies even to the single personal-use phone that one might have brought along.The experience gets Kafkaesque after you try to register your phone. I share here my own story with a brief overview of the implications of this stupid phone tax policy on average Pakistanis and on aspiring tourists to Pakistan.

The Process to Pay the Phone Tax

The website of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), provides you a convenient link to register your phone, a link that I followed.
You are then prompted to create an account, which I did.
After that you fill in your information including your passport number and the IEMI number of your phone.
After you have filled in all this information, you are prompted to add a contact number to which a confirmation number is sent.

This cannot be just any phone number: it has to be a phone number that still is using the SIM card of the company you had bought your original phone plan.

Let us assume you have a friend who has one such phone number and you receive the confirmation code and you enter it and hit submit.
You are now ready to pay your phone tax and register your phone.

But not so fast. In my case, after more than four attempts I kept getting the same message: “This phone does not qualify for tax exempt registration . . .”

Surprisingly, there was no other information provided or no course of action suggested by the PTA website.

A Visit to the PTA Office

In my case, since I am from the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area, I decided to go to the PTA office in Islamabad. After getting in line and waiting for about thirty minutes (I was lucky, as I could get in the “foreigners” line, the native Pakistanis had a much longer waiting time) I was ushered into a room where young men sat behind their laptops, helping many eager phone registrants.

The kind young man who assisted me entered the same information that I had entered and finally told me that my entry into the country was not yet processed and the “system” was not recognizing my credentials, which meant that I had to wait a couple of days before my phone could be registered.

I asked him about the charges for the use of my personal phone. He gave me the following breakdown for an IPhone Xr:

  • To register the phone for sixty day use during my visit, I had to pay Rs. 37, 000.
  • To register the same phone permanently, I was required to pay Rs. 67, 000.

This was a huge shock to me, especially since this WAS my personal use phone and I had already paid taxes on it when I bought the phone in the US. Furthermore, before this policy came into effect, I was able to use an unlocked GSM phone by replacing my US SIM with a registered Pakistani SIM, which meant that the moment I added a load to my phone, I started paying the usage tax to the phone company and thus to the government of Pakistan.

Now, I was told, I had to pay a huge tax, on an already taxed phone, simply to be able to use it with a Pakistani SIM!

The Problems with New Phone Tax Policy

To me this new phone tax policy is wrong at many levels. Legally, this is double taxation on an item of personal use and seems highly irregular and might even be illegal under international law. More importantly, it sends a wrong message to any aspiring tourists to Pakistan (It’s not like people are lining up to visit Pakistan anyway), for this is yet another hurdle they have to cross simply to be able to visit and travel in Pakistan.

Furthermore, this policy adds an added layer of bureaucracy to the process of visiting Pakistan. The PTA office that I visited was already filled with harried travellers, all trying to ensure that their phones would work in Pakistan. In an economic climate where it is absolutely essential for Pakistan to increase inflow of foreign exchange, tourism being one important sector for this, this additional trip to the PTA office is not likely to endear Pakistan to any future travellers.

The Classic Deflection Argument by PTI Supporters

When I mentioned this experience in a public talk, an ardent PTI supporter countered it through a classic deflection: “Same happens to us when we go to the US; We are not allowed to use our Pakistani Phones.” This assertion is wrong on at least at two levels:

First, the US phone system is not based in the pre-paid model. Most people purchase their phone from one of the large phone companies and then sign up for a two year contract. This way, while the companies can provide them phones at an affordable price, they can also lock in the customers for at least two years (I am not suggesting this is a better or just system). So, if the Pakistani phones do not work in the US, it is because the way people purchase phone services in America is different.

However, if you have an unlocked GSM phone with you, there are small local vendors that do sell you a local SIM and do also offer prepaid national and International calling plans.

But there is nothing in the US law that forces visitors to REGISTER your phone and pay a TAX to register it!

Please bear in mind that I am not suggesting that the US system is better than Pakistan; I am just challenging the deflection offered by many a learned PTI stalwarts. Furthermore, the US economy is not necessarily desperate for foreign exchange and does not depend upon the number of tourists who visit the United States. The Pakistani economy needs the tourism industry and changing this extoritionst phone policy could help make Pakistan more tourist/ Visitor-Friendly!

 

Please also read my other, more positive, blogs about Pakistan!

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Editorials

Imran Khan and the Politics of Hubris

Delusional Disorder:

Themes of delusions may fall into the following types: erotomanic type (patient believes that a person, usually of higher social standing, is in love with the individual); grandiose type (patient believes that he has some great but unrecognized talent or insight, a special identity, knowledge, power, self-worth, or special relationship with someone famous or with God); jealous type (patient believes his partner has been unfaithful); persecutory type (patient believes he is being cheated, spied on, drugged, followed, slandered, or somehow mistreated); somatic type (patient believes he is experiencing physical sensations or bodily dysfunctions—such as foul odors or insects crawling on or under the skin—or is suffering from a general medical condition or defect); mixed type (characteristics of more than one of the above types, but no one theme dominates); or unspecified type (patient’s delusions do not fall in described categories).{{1}}[[1]]http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/delusional-disorder[[1]]

 

Increasingly, as we watch Imran Khan make his daily pronouncements, we get an impression that his fight with Nawaz Sharif is not really about the issues but is deeply personal.

Imran Khan is now showing the perfect symptoms of a delusional disorder. In this state, he is the only one with the character and strength to save Pakistan and everyone else is either corrupt or insincere. Further signs of this conditions can be seen his increasing return to a moment in personal history–the cricket world cup–which he can define and mobilize as the ultimate moment of personal glory.

So, if the purpose of the march was to force the government to look into the alleged election irregularities, then the mission has been accomplished. But that would have been the goal if Imran Khan were to have focused on the demands of his party. But his personal demand that the Prime Minister should resign as a precondition to negotiations has nothing to do with democracy or the general plans of his party but all to do with his personal hubris.

Naturally, if you are deluded enough to think that only YOU can be the ultimate saviour of a whole nation, then eliminating the one obstacle in your way becomes the ultimate objective.

Needless to say, this personal vendetta coupled with a fanatical belief in his own purity and incorrigibility strongly underwrites Imran Khan’s current politics.

Note that not many have been spared in his daily rants: By now former Chief Justice, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, and quite a few others have either been declared corrupt or have been labelled as an outcome of corrupt elections.

I have deep respect for his followers, for they have shown us that the young and the upward mobile segments of Pakistani society can come together for their nation. Sadly though their leader, instead of harnessing their energies for public good has decided to instrumentalise them for a personal fight.

At this point, it does not seem likely that anyone or any concessions from the government will be able to change Imran Khan’s mind. The reason for this is not that the government is not willing to concede, but that they are dealing with someone whose world-view is no longer rational. How does one negotiate with someone whose delusions of grandeur have completely taken over his rational self?

Furthermore, by constantly insisting on resignation of the elected prime minister, Imran Khan has trapped himself in an impossible situation in which his “victory” is connected to an almost impossible demand. But the demand itself, the pronouncement of it, has now become the Raison d’ˆtre of Imran Khan ‘s fight: he is no longer fighting for democracy or for Pakistan. He is, rather, now trying to prove, at the cost of democracy itself, that he does not compromise!

Sadly, while Imran Khan might be able to prove his resolve and fortitude through this process, he would have ultimately weakened the democratic process in Pakistan and empowered, yet again, the very forces that have always governed our destinies in Pakistan.

(Also published by Pakistani Bloggers)

 

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Commentaries

This is not the Time for Cricket Metaphors

Pakistani politician Imran Khan stands on a vehicle in Mianwali, northern Pakistan

In the wake of the recent popular protests in Islamabad, quite a few cultural and political writers have opined upon the nature and potential of these protests. Some have even compared these events to the Tahrir Square.

In this excitement to valorize popular protest, we should be careful with our labels and with our assertions. By and large most commentaries assert that Imran Khan, the erstwhile cricket captain of Pakistan, has somehow tapped into the hopes and aspirations of Pakistani middle class and has singlehandidly inaugurated popular politics in Pakistan.

There is no doubt that Imran Khan, along with Maulana Tahirul Qadri, has been able to mobilize the people against the current government. But the question one needs to ask is simply this: Is the timing right for such a movement and is this what is in Pakistan’s best interest?

Imran Khan, in his public speeches, increasingly mobilizes the cricket metaphor: in this metaphoric engagement with the political realities of the Pakistan, he is the captain, the government the competing team, and, he somehow, hopes that his political bowling will “clean bowl” Nawaz Sharif. Occasionally he has also referred to the third umpire. The third umpire, it must be noted, is the on camera umpire who is refereed to if the players disagree with the decisions made by the ground umpires. One has to ask, what does he mean by it? If he is already against the government and cannot trust the judiciary—the two ground umpires—then the third umpire could be no other than the Pakistan army, and if that is what happens to be the force behind these protests then nothing good would come out of this whole experience.

Pakistan can do without these agitational politics, especially since what Pakistan needs is a continuous and uninterrupted political system. Imran Khan, sadly, has disrupted the progress of democracy and even if he declares that this fight is not against democracy, by weakening the current government and thus the political system, Imran has damaged the very thing—democracy—which he hopes to bolster.

Furthermore, even though he claims to clean the government and enhance Pakistan’s political potential, his stamens are increasingly isolationist and rely on a politics of personal and political assassination of all those who oppose his views. Such unbending attitude to issues of leadership and such crafting of a public self as unbending and uncompromising might work well with his followers but cannot be considered an asset for parliamentary politics. By its very structuring, the parliamentary democracy relies on tactical and strategic compromises and if one were to enter the arena with a fanatical certitude, then chances are one would not be able to accomplish much. Thus, while Imran Khan’s daily pronouncements might keep his followers spellbound, his brand of politics can have no long-term impact in a fractured and divided political landscape of Pakistan.

Furthermore, while Imran Khan sits in Islamabad and harangues his followers and exhorts the prime minister to resign, his own government in the KPK province has not much to show for their one year in office.

As a politician Imran Khan won the government of one of the most important provinces of Pakistan, and that is where he should have tried to deliver. What better way to prove the effectiveness of your political party than to do great works in the most riven and strategically important provinces of Pakistan.

Sadly, though, while Imran Khan continues to relive his glory days and constantly talks of this current political impasse as a game of cricket, the reality of Pakistani politics gets reduced to a game, a game in which Imran Khan sees himself as a captain and we all are reduced to the level of engaged, but voiceless, spectators. And while all of this is happening, the economy is at a standstill, most of the functions of the federal government are disrupted, and the lives of every day Pakistanis—the very people Imran Khan claims to represent—are becoming increasingly harder.

In the current circumstances, considering the security and economic interests of Pakistan, we could use more of silent diligent work and less of these cricket metaphors.

 

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Commentaries

Why it is Absurd to Compare Pakistan Army and Pakistan Police

Pakarmy_police

Lately, it seems, everyone is comparing the general conduct of the army and the police with reference to the two marches on Islamabad. Of course in this comparison, the army always comes out ahead. These comparisons are inherently absurd and are like comparing oranges with apples.

Both these institutions are still organized along colonial lines, which means that their organizational structures, training, and general conduct is based in our colonial legacy. The army, for example, has not only maintained the same rank structure as created by our erstwhile masters, it has also kept the informal symbolics of the civilian-military relationships also intact. The royal Indian army, of which the Pakistan army is one offshoot, was strictly professional, very well trained, and very well-funded: the Pakistan army has kept those traditions and, I would  say, further enhanced them. Furthermore, Pakistan army, when not deployed, is mostly stationed at self-contained and very well maintained cantonments, often separated from the cities, now more than ever, with either a security wall or a security barrier. Within the army itself, the battalions are fully self-contained units: this means that all the needs of a soldier are met, and the officers are trained to make sure that the needs of their soldiers are met. Thus, if there are two soldiers stationed on a check post, you can be sure that their three meals will be provided right on time and so would be their tea and other rations. If they fall ill, or are injured in the line of duty, they will have access to the best healthcare system that a nation can provide. It is no wonder, then, that the Pakistan army is more disciplined, organized, and better led. The officers are not only trained in the specifics of their professions, but also, formally and informally, trained as the leaders of men.

I remember that my first company commander–who later retired as a lieutenant general–taught me not only to check the weapons, and teach classes on tactics and small arms, but also the habits of thinking about my troops’ welfare. As an army officer, one either had to be completely callous or part of a terrible battalion to not learn the basic attributes of a good officer. It is this investment of resources, training, and organizational specificity that makes army such a professional and well honed instrument for the state. Furthermore, there is no direct political meddling in the general affairs of the army. I mean, if my battalion is deployed in aid of the civil power, chances are no one, other than my superior commanders, can tell me how to conduct my business. As a military commander one is protected from the pushes and pulls of political power or even the common vagaries of daily life. These organizational, material, and symbolic markers are crucial to training a professional army, and the Pakistan army, therefore, live sup to its impeccable reputation.

The Pakistan police also inherited its organizational and administrative structure from the British. Our police is still organized under the Thana/ Police Station system and relies quite heavily, and without government sanction, on the methods of policing and interrogation that were in vogue during the colonial times. None of the police organizations, however, is self sufficient and self-contained. Neither their officers, nor their men get the kind o intensive training that is provided for the army. Furthermore, the police interacts directly with the public and its leadership structures is deeply politicized. The police is also very ill-equipped and its soldiers neither get the kind of facilities that their army counterparts enjoy, nor do the police officers are trained to care for the welfare of their troops. (How many times have you driven through Islamabad and seen a policeman trying to get a lift to his job). Chances are, if four policemen are manning a post, they are expected to fend for themselves. There is likely to be no quartermaster’s truck bringing them their daily food and tea?. And before you blame their officers for not doing enough, take a look their budget!

Of course none of this excuses any violence committed by the police against PAKISTAN-MILITANCYevery day citizens, but when the government puts them on the front line in crowd control situations, then a lot of things can go wrong. In Islamabad, compared to police, who have faced the maximum brunt of the popular outrage, often under trying circumstances, the Pakistan army has been mostly behind the scenes. Thus, when they show up to resolve the issues–like they did at PTV station–they can afford to be magnanimous, for the dirty work has already been done by the police. Sadly, in this powerful game of political chess police has paid a heavy symbolic and material price: they have been beaten, abused, stoned, and generally criticized. I am not saying that all their actions were right, but despite their material and symbolic disadvantages, they have done their job: they have, by and large, protected the buildings and areas they were tasked to protect. Given the limitations placed on the amount of force they could use, this is not less than a spectacular performance. However, in order to really create an efficient and professional police force, the police will have to be reorganized and funded in the same way as the army.

The reason I am writing this is because a lot of my former army friends are right now gloating–digitally and otherwise–at the incompetence of our politicians and the army. I have read digital boasts about army being able to control the whole thing in one hour (My reply to that is “what are they waiting for?), and exhortations from others for the army to take over. Naturally, Pakistan army does not need any such comparative narratives: they can claim to be a good force without putting others down, but they do this because they have lately, like all other state institutions, faced criticism and some hostility from their own people. I have no problem with that. I think in a real democracy all institutions must be constantly under public scrutiny, for without that democracy cannot exist. But, on the other hand, try standing in the streets and try to control a bunch of protestors and then come back and boast about how much the army is loved and how effective it can be.

Police_IslamabadSo, overall I think all these comparisons between the performance of the army and police are flawed as they neither take into account the inherent structural and administrative inequalities, nor do they gauge the nature and extent of public involvement of both these institutions.

In the end both police and the army are instruments of the state with completely different missions and modes of functioning, and we should not be too hasty in privileging one over the other.

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Commentaries

Mission Accomplished: A Puppet Democratic Government

PTI-PATRallies

According to the latest news from Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper I love and trust, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally been humbled by the army, and for the rest of his term, he will be, as so many of us had feared, a “ceremonial prime minister.” {{1}} [[1]]http://www.dawn.com/news/1128364/nawaz-close-to-reaching-deal-with-army-wsj[[1]]

According to the latest reports, the new compromise in the offing has assured the following for the army:

  • The elected government will defer to the army for foreign policy, US relations, and on other strategic defense matters.
  • The elected government will eventually create a path for Pervez Musharraf to leave the country.

Besides the two obvious capitulations by the elected government, it seems that government is now so weak that we are back to the hackneyed and failed method of Pakistani politics: token governments run by the military.

So, in other words, democracy in Pakistan is back to where it used to be and powers that have held our destiny for all these years are back in charge.

I have been openly opposed to the two marches on Islamabad for precisely this reason: I, along with so many others, had feared that these marches would end up weakening the Pakistani political system and open the back doors to the uncocstitutional power brokers. That is what has come to pass.

It no longer matters what happens now: the fragile system is already damaged.  Even if Imran Khan, somehow, becomes the prime minister, he will be yet another puppet, for this is the new formula of power sharing that he has forced on the current government and he himself will have to acquiesce to it.

I understand that Imran Khan has been successful in mobilizing the privileged segment of Pakistani electorate for popular causes, but in the end this mobilization has weakened the very democracy that he and his followers claim to champion. I dare suggest that this is not an accidental outcome. I believe that both Imran and Tahirul Qadri entered this new phase of popular protest with certain understanding with the powers-that-be, and as a result the same powers now have won their way back to state power.

So, yes while it is salutary to see a different kind of political constituency and a different kind of politics, in the end if we cannot support the democratic norm, then it is only a cosmetic difference. Now, if we soon see Pakistan transitioning into the kind of political farce that we have so often seen, we will know who to blame!

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Commentaries Editorials

Why Do I Oppose the PTI and PAT Marches and Sit-Ins

PTI-PATRallies

For the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on my response to the two long marches led by the leaders of two separate parties. Mostly, I have found myself opposed to both these marches, and, being a socialist at heart, this negative response to two popular movements has forced me to attempt to tease out the genealogy of my own response.

Is it because I support the policies of Nawaz Sharif government? Obviously, this is the first question I asked of myself. Absolutely not. In fact, my opposition to all forms of neoliberalism, privatization, and free market policies is a matter of public record both in my academic and popular writings. I owe no allegiance or loyalties to the likes of Sharif and their other market fundamentalist friends.

Yet, at this historic moment when people are storming the so-called red zone, I have chosen to oppose both PAT and PTI. I must, therefore, delve deeper into my political consciousness and figure out what stops me from supporting these peaceful and committed groups.

I think I am at a stage in my own thought where I am more interested in seeing democracy established in Pakistan rather than the politics of agitation. One reason we do not fully understand democracy in Pakistan is because we have never really lived in an uninterrupted system of democratic norm. This is only the first government that saw a transition from one politically elected government to the other. In the long run, it is this peaceful and democratic transition that will ensure a more responsive, egalitarian, and inclusive democracy in Pakistan. This is how we will learn the habits of democracy.

So, for me the actions of Khan Sahib and maulana sahib, no matter how pure, are a threat to the construction of the democratic norm. It is this threat to developing a democratic norm that troubles me the most. Furthermore, even if both these groups are successful in ousting the current government, what alternatives do they have to offer:

  • One of them offers a total restructuring of our national framework according to his vision of Islam.
  • The other wants us to believe that he, somehow, can solve our problems quickly and more efficiently.

To me both these lines of argument are flawed. The state that Pakistan is in politically and economically, cannot be fixed by one party or one leader. And it can certainly not be fixed through one or two grand gestures. A change in the culture and politics of Pakistan would need time and would depend upon long-term educational and political reforms and even if these leaders come to power tomorrow, they will still have a long road ahead of them. So, why disrupt the current system to replace it with yet another that itself would need more time to mature and become functional. Why can’t Pakistan continue without the leadership of any of these two fellows? Are they simply too special?

Let us look at both these leaders.

The PAT leader is a Canadian citizens, who neither believes in Pakistani constitution nor in the Pakistani court system. His movement, therefore, aims to reconfigure Pakistan according to what he deems is right for Pakistan. This, of course, is an extreme form of political hubris: this means that one person can, somehow, envision the future of a whole nation. And since he cannot get elected democratically, his only way to power is through the politics of agitation and disruption.

On the other side of this national divide is Mr. Imran Khan. I have always had deep respect for him. I was one of those thousands who loved him when he represented us in the world as the team captain of our Cricket team. I was there with him when he and his team won the world cup. For us Pakistani men, Imran was a sort of masculinity that we all wanted: dazzling, charismatic, and confident. He could talk to the so-called goras in their own language and defeat them at their own game. Thus, when he became a politician, I was amongst the first silent few who were in his camp. For a few months I actually sent in my small donations to his party as well. I stopped supporting Imran when he became a rationalizer for the Taliban actions. I stopped being his supporter when he did not say a word when the Taliban eliminated, one by one, most of his ANP opponents in the last election. I had expected Imran to stand up and speak loudly against the  terrible things that the Taliban did in our country. Instead, I have found him moving constantly to the right and it is this betrayal of expectations that led me to give up on Imran Khan. I should, however, point out that pretty much my whole village voted for Imran in the last election, a mistake we are not to repeat ever again.

So out of both these leaders of two agitating groups, I have no sympathy for the maulana and I have stopped being the supporter of the cricketer.

Another thing that bothers me about both is the politics of personality: I am tired of these kinds of demagogues who keep trying to suggest to me that I, somehow, need their leadership. No, in true popular politics it is the people who lead and not the so-called leaders. Both of them speak with this hubris to their constituencies: For Imran, his followers need to govern their own actions “for their leader” and for Maulana sahib, it goes without saying, that his words are almost divine, for his followers call him “Qibal hazur.” In other words, in both these leaders we have two humans claiming to be more than us mere mortals. If this is not the politics of individual hubris, then I do not know what else is.

So, in the end, to answer my own question: the reason I am against both these movements is because I see their efforts pointless and untimely. Both these groups avowed to launch their agitations the very week when the Pakistan army launched its offensive against the Taliban. So, precisely at the time when we needed national unity, these two leaders placed their own political agenda ahead of the national interest. I am no army tout and my criticisms of the army elite are also in the public record, but I believe that the operation currently in progress is the one for the survival of Pakistan, and to divide the nation at such a juncture is stupid and dangerous for the future of Pakistan.

That both Maulana and Imran Khan failed to consider the bad timing of their movement and decided to launch their quixotic efforts at this time already proves that their own political self-interest is more important to them than the future of Pakistan. Instead, both thee groups could have mobilized their followers to bring aid to the IDPs and to build support for a united front against the Taliban, who, let us not forget, also do not believe in Pakistani constitution.

So, finally I think the following things have forced me to take this stance on these two movements:

  • I am more invested in the long-term development of democracy in Pakistan.
  • I believe the nation needs to be united during this war against the Taliban.
  • I believe we need to get rid of the politics of personality.

And let us also not forget, there is a chance that this democratically elected government will be sacked and a quasi military-civilian government would emerge. If that happens, then Imran and the maulana would have already sold the country and its democratic future for their personal political gains.

During a meeting with one of the regional leaders of PTI, a few months ago, I was told that the PTI did have the support of the intelligence agencies until a few months before the elections. This PAT official was saddened that the intelligence agencies withheld their support of PTI at the last moment. The sad things is that this friend of mine did not see the irony in his statement: instead of being enraged at the lost support of the intelligence agencies, he should have been incensed that his leader and his party had relied on the intelligence agency’s support, for that does not bode well for the future of their party.

Similarly, if the maulvi sahib is so intent on creating an Islamist system, why does not he do that in Canada, of which he is a citizen: isn’t there more of a need of Islam in that country than in Pakistan? I mean Pakistan is pretty much an islamic nation already.

Anyway, I feel comfortable in stating that I would stand for the continuous progress of democracy and democratic norm in Pakistan and am, therefore, opposed to this new wave of agitational politics. It may help oust the Sharifs, but it will also help in hurting the long-term democratic aspirations in Pakistan as well.

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Commentaries

Geo News: Descent into Tantrums, Taunts, and Tastelessness

Like so many Pakistanis, I was shocked to hear about the assassination attempt at Hamid Mir. As someone associated with many public writing projects and as one who believes in the absolute freedom of the press, to me an attack on Hamid Mir was nothing less than an attack on all of us who voice our opinions against the powerful and mighty.

So, while my prayers and sympathies are still with Hamid Mir and so many others in Pakistan who put their lives at risk to keep the public informed, I now have strong reservations about Geo news since they have embroiled themselves in a silly war with those who have either challenged them or called them to question.

I have been watching Geo’s response to the case against them under consideration with PEMRA and now also the tone and virulence of their attack on Imran Khan, and I find their response childish, irresponsible, and reprehensible.

When I close my eyes and hear their phony challenges to Imran Khan and others to come debate them, all that comes to my mind is the image of an overfed spoiled brat who constantly wants more and more attention. It seems as if, somehow, through some cosmic intervention this entire network has been hooked to a massive, infantile id-driven monster, and no matter how much attention you give it, it always wants more.

Yes, freedom of press is absolutely necessary, but no democracy will ver allow the press to air uncorroborated rumors as news without any consequences. It seems Geo wants to have its cake and eat it, too. There is another side to the question of freedom of press: responsibility.

There is a certain hoarse childishness to Geo’s response to PEMRA as well as the statements of Imran Khan. I have been watching their continuous taunts and challenges to Imran Khan for his recent statements, which is sensationalist and might make sense to a twelve-year-old, but repsonsible journalism it is not.

Why was the army so incensed with the coverage of ISI after the attack on Hamid Mir? This question the Geo stalwarts have not bothered to ask. Was it only about the sanctity of the army as an institution, or that of its generals? I do  not think it was the latter.

Pakistan army is engaged in a war with the Taliban. This means that for the last ten years, eighty percent of Army cantonments are empty as men and officers are deployed in several regions of conflict. Those of you who have read my work before know that I am not an uncritical apologist for the army. In fact, some of  my writings have really alarmed some of my old friends. But my past criticism of the army notwithstanding, in these times one needs to be careful of what one impugns to the army, and the reason is simple.

Pakistan army is not a machine: it is made up of human beings. In most of the cases those human beings do not just follow orders, but follow the orders because they find them to be just. When the war against the Taliban was launched, there was a general crisis of motivation amongst the ranks that needed to be resolved. The crisis was religious: How to justify fighting against fellow Muslims who are fighting against America and who are fighting to establish a Muslim system.

So, the Pakistan army leadership had to redefine their role. They had to fist convince their soldiers that they were not fighting a proxy war for the US interests, but rather a war for the integrity of their own nation. They then had to posit the conflict not in the language of religion but in terms of rule of law. It was drilled into the minds of the soldiers and young officers that this war was about establishing the rule of law and the writ of Pakistani constitution and Taliban, by opposing the accepted law of the state, were, therefore, the enemies of the state. By and large this narrative seems to have worked.

By attacking the armed forces on flimsy evidence, Geo did not only jettison all forms of journalistic ethics, it also attacked the Pakistan army where this rhetoric hurts the very mission that the army has been engaged in. The logic is simple: If even the great institutions of Pakistan army are not safe from conjectural accusations, then, how would the media treat those in the lower ranks who put their lives at risk every single day. Furthermore, this “public trial” of generals further erodes into the leadership legitimacy that, when it comes to war against Taliban, rests on very precariously balanced narratives.

Similarly, the public spat between Geo and Imran Khan is another example of the infantile journalistic ethics that seems to be the mainstay of Geo group. In their pronouncements, the various Geo voices have insisted that Imran Khan should either prove his allegations in the courts or should come and face them on their TV shows. So, in one case they want Imran Khan, a politician, to follow some kind of journalistic ethic that Geo itself did not follow in reporting the attack on Hamid Mir, and in the other scenario they want a political leader to come into their staged TV show and offer himself for questioning. This is trying to have it both ways.

Over all, in this quixotic fight, as I watch the live streaming on my phone, Geo increasingly comes across as a spoiled rich kid stomping his feet and grinding his teeth asking for things that his opponents have no reason to give.

So, while I am not for banning any media channels or for putting journalists in prisons, I am also not very impressed with how Geo administration and its minions have behaved in this entire scenario.

I live in America, which has one of the freest (but corporatized) media in the world. Even here, where most programming is driven by ratings, the journalists never ever go after the armed forces without a hundred percent proof. By and large the media, sometimes more than required, mostly are very respectful to the armed forces and the logic is simple: the men and women of US armed forces put their lives at risk for their country and thus deserve due respect.

I would say the same principles should apply to the coverage of armed forces in Pakistan. It takes more than a good salary and good weapons to ask a soldier to run across a minefield and assault a heavily defended position. It takes a lifetime of care, love, honor, and respect.

This means that our soldiers should feel respected in their streets, villages, cities, mosques, and markets. All these acts of honor and respect are an investment–in so many indirect ways–to earn the right–as a nation–upon the lives of these men and it cannot just be done with a fat bonus. While this subjectivity of a solider takes a lifetime to construct and mobilize in the name of a nation, it can be very easily destroyed by one or two irresponsible and careless acts.

So, the reason the army is so incensed at Geo is not because Geo has, somehow, hurt the fragile egos of its generals, but that Geo has, inadvertently, weakened a fragile and precariously built system of motivation and morale.

No one who claims to be working in the best interest of Pakistan should do such damage and then hide behind childish and sanctimonious tantrums disguised under the general rubric of freedom of press. There can be no freedom of expression without responsibility!