|Balochistan: the ISI and the media
Daily: Daily Times
Perhaps, the world would have been a better place to dwell in if military solutions to political
issues had been successful. In that case, there would have been no need of long-drawn
political dialogues and negotiations since they consume time. If the Pakistan army had
solved the Bangladesh problem, its standing on Balochistan would have been valued.
The Arab Spring put a point across effectively that no arm of the state can muffle the voice
of the people by coercion – even if the voice were of dissent. The fall of President Hosni
Mubarak of Egypt was big news for Pakistan, as his era kept on inspiring the military
commanders in Pakistan to take over the civil set-up and introduce a controlled parliament.
General Pervaiz Musharraf aped Hosni Mubarak in the political sphere by installing a
puppet parliament – though Musharraf also tried to replicate the Turkish model in the social
sphere. Anyway, having been ravaged by the Arab Spring, no Arab country is now ready to
support – whether politically or economically – a military takeover in Pakistan. Democracy
A question irks many Pakistanis: if a bicycle is stolen from the streets of Bhai Pheru, the
news of the theft is broadcast on the national electronic media as breaking news; TV talk
shows invite experts to speak on the cause and effect of the theft; judicial activism is called
for; national interests are felt threatened; rumours of the tumbling of the government
consequently may make the rounds; why is the media (both print and electronic) silent on
the situation in Balochistan?
The decade of Afghan war (1979-89) might have yielded numerous fruit to Pakistan but it
infused one major factor into the socio-political sphere of Pakistan: the overwhelming role
of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI. The post-1991 era witnessed the ISI poking its nose into
every socio-political affair. The role of the ISI during the Afghan war might have made
Pakistanis revere it but its role in the post-1991 era has instilled fear in the hearts of
Pakistanis. The legal option of ‘preventive detention’ has been successfully – and
disgracefully – exploited by the intelligence agencies including the ISI.
It was not only the socio-political domain that was swept by the ISI-wave but also the media.
Reporters of several dailies had to rely on the ISI for obtaining new information. The fear of
the ISI also helped intensify that reliance. Some, if not many, reporters and editors could
not afford infuriating the ISI by publishing news disapproved by it. Gradually, the
relationship between the media and the ISI turned symbiotic and some quarters of the
media took upon themselves the job of defending publicly every act of the ISI. Some critics
think that the flow of funds from the ISI bags to the pockets of certain media people also
played its due role. The term ‘lifafa’ (envelope) journalism was also coined. Perceivably, to
be on the pay-roll of an intelligence agency such as the ISI may be a big achievement as
the consequent status offers a guarantee of protection, career advancement, economic
prosperity and whatnot to the beneficiary. Then why die for a cause such as Balochistan:
avoid speaking and writing on such issues and live a long, happy and prosperous life.
Later on, the symbiotic relationship also infested the electronic media. Perceivably, the
popularity rating of several reporters, editors and anchorpersons now depend on the
information supplied by the intelligence agencies especially the ISI. The beneficiaries
reciprocate by defending all acts of the ISI. One can surmise that the carrot-and-stick policy
of the ISI is controlling the media. Against that background, do the Baloch now understand
why the issues related to them are not highlighted in (some sections of) the (print and
Another problem is that neither any national daily (Urdu or English) nor any national
electronic TV channel has its head office in Quetta. Consequently, the voice of the Baloch
cannot be heard across Pakistan. Otherwise, Pakistanis generally are not so callous as to
not pay any heed to the voice of the Baloch.
The word ‘controlled’ is the bane of Pakistan. Certainly, if someone is not ready to be
‘controlled’, he or she can be ‘silenced’. Nevertheless, if journalists and writers are fearful of
being ‘silenced’ in case they write and speak the truth, Pakistan cannot be changed. The
truth is that the media is compromised on the issue of Balochistan owing to the ISI factor. By
the way, what is the worth of this compromised media: just to sell biscuits and burgers? A
street hawker can do that and in a better way.
Criticizing the role of the ISI does not mean ISI-bashing as propagated by retired army
generals appear as defence analysts on various national TV talk shows. Instead, the point
is the job of an intelligence agency – and there are several around, including the ISI –
cannot be to construct a ‘controlled Pakistan’; if such is the case, that role should be
condemned and resisted by all. In a country where the general trend in the media is to be a
chamcha (bootlicker) of the security forces and intelligence agencies, what issue including
that of missing persons can be raised and decided. The sickness called chamchaism has
frustrated the dream of an independent media.
The obverse side of the argument is that exorcise the fear of the intelligence agencies from
the heart of the media people and see how the media makes its presence felt in every nook
and corner of Balochistan. The media, which is doctored by the intelligence agencies,
cannot be considered independent. A Pakistan where a Pakistani has to be scared of the
ISI or other intelligence agencies is not worth living in. The grievances piled up in
Balochistan have attained a size and importance higher than that of the ISI. Secondly, the
life and hounour of one Baloch is preferable to the life and honour of the whole of the ISI.
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