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Sunday, 12 October 2008

It is time to root out the anti-State, pro-Taliban media in Pakistan

Terrorism’s psy-war is bad news

The terrorists have killed at least 40 people and wounded 90 in the Orakzai Tribal Agency from among a jirga gathered on Friday to form a lashkar against the Taliban. The jirga had already burnt the houses of some local Taliban and imposed heavy fines on two others. The gathering was hit by a suicide-bomber driving a double-cabin vehicle. This is not the first time a jirga has been decimated; an earlier gathering was attacked in Darra Adam Khel too. The elders of the Tribal Areas who commanded respect and took collective decisions have been largely eliminated.

This is terror and it is driven by a policy of intimidation in order to affect the decision-making processes of the state. Other coordinated acts meant to mould the thinking of the people in general and certain enclaves of influence in the country in particular also took place on Friday. In Lahore, the heart of Punjab which influences policy-making in Islamabad through the province’s dominant representation in the National Assembly, small bombs aimed at alleged “immorality” are meant to soften the people’s resolve to fight back. Similarly, four bomb hoaxes hit Lahore in one day, with psychological consequences anticipated by the terrorists.

In Bajaur, more elders were beheaded the same day to psychologically dent the courage of the tribes who have taken up arms against the Taliban and their “foreigners” in parallel with the Pakistan Army’s operations. In Swat, even as the Tehreek-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM) leader Sufi Muhammad apostasised the terrorists, the Taliban blasted the house of an ANP leader. All the elected members of the ruling party in the NWFP have had to leave Swat for security reasons, their leader Mr Asfandyar Wali Khan having narrowly escapade a suicide-bomber’s attack in Charsadda.

The “selection” of targets is also meant to affect the mind of the attacked and the “not-attacked”. The parliament that heard the in-camera briefing from the Army this week is also not free of the effect of this psychological war. The opposition, composed mostly of the “not-attacked”, questions the war on terrorism and demands investigation into how the last government got Pakistan involved in the war that confronts Pakistan with Al Qaeda and “our own people”. Spiritual leaders say Muslims cannot be involved in killing Muslims, leaving the question of whether that qualifies Al Qaeda and Taliban as non-Muslims unanswered. Those who join the Taliban drive against “obscenity” — read music CD shops — thus indirectly support the terrorists.

The media reflects all this. Unfortunately the tilt is against the government and indirectly against the military operations against the Taliban. The burden of the message is anti-American, reinforced by reports of how the Americans have maltreated their Muslim prisoners, including summaries of the memoir of Mulla Zaeef, ex-Afghan ambassador to Pakistan who spent three years in Guantanamo Bay. One columnist wrote that he told the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, that “terrorists of the Tribal Areas were making their new hideouts in Multan, Bahawalpur and Muzaffargarh” and “if you attack them there they will go to Karachi; therefore the best thing would be to negotiate with the Taliban!”

Even the Senate standing committee asked ex-ISI chief General (Retd) Hamid Gul for “advice” on the war against terrorism while knowing fully well that he is opposed to the Army’s effort to resist the Taliban. Anti-Americanism and anti-Indianism, recklessly lumped together, are being purveyed from the free media. The latest nugget is politician Sheikh Rashid Ahmad’s boast that he would be proud to have his martyred body brought back from a battlefield inside India. Al Qaeda is winning the media war, first by getting its intimidatory killings publicised in the free media and then by getting politicians and analysts to come on TV and castigate the policy of fighting terrorism.

One recent not-so-popular seminar in Lahore arrived at the conclusion that “the way Pakistani media has glorified the radicals and militants has not only emboldened the radical groups and organisations but has also caused an increase in the trend and level of radicalisation in Pakistani society. The media must not lose sight of the fact that if the radical forces win in the country, their first target can be the media itself”. (Daily Times)

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