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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

Pak media gagged

He has often told his critics in the country and his patrons in Washington that no other military ruler in Pakistan has ever given so much freedom to the people as he has. Despite some faint disagreeable noises from domestic critics, the Americans were happy to buy this piece of fiction since they cannot see a Pakistan without Gen Pervez Musharraf. But luck may be running out this time around for the ‘enlightened’ General as he goes about systematically stifling the voice of dissent even as the demand for his ouster, sparked by his dismissal of the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikar Mohammed Chaudhary, gets louder and louder everyday.

Clearly upset over the ballooning movement against him, Gen Musharraf has clamped gag orders on the media. Live coverage of all rallies in support of Justice Iftikar Chaudhary has been banned. Television channels will defy the order at the cost of their broadcasting licence. And since the entire opposition movement these days revolves round Justice Chaudhary it is apparent that Musharraf wants to deal with his critics with a whip in his hand--the way any other dictator would.

The justification given for the gag orders is that the opposition movement is likely to endanger the security and integrity of the country and that it aims at denigrating Pakistan’s all-mighty institution, the military. The head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q), once chosen by Musharraf to sit briefly in the prime minister’s chair before ejecting him out unceremoniously, has been more explicit.

Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain has openly accused India of supporting and encouraging the opposition movement in Pakistan because it will weaken the otherwise ‘invincible’ army that, the Pakistanis are frequently told, has always succeeded in ‘crushing’ India in the past. It is important to add here that Pakistanis think they had trounced India in all the military wars, advancing deep into Indian territories, but international pressures and ‘Hindu machinations’ forced them to surrender their physical gains!

The live coverage of the opposition movement seems to scare the rulers in Islamabad so much that they have unofficially allowed the private channels to air popular Indian soaps, which were taken off the air because of their allegedly ‘corrupting’ influence. It has since amended the Pakistan electronic media regulation act and conferred sweeping powers on the ‘watchdog’ on the TV media.

While the government in Islamabad denies that it has issued any gag order, it has gone to the ridiculous length of averring that the cable operators had taken the opposition rallies off the air because of some unsettled ‘disputes’ with the channels.

The Pakistani government comes out with such fictitious reasons whenever it cracks the whip on the media. Under no circumstances will it hear any criticism of the General’s rule. Very recently, a private channel had its premises raided and ransacked for committing the sin of highlighting the pro-chief justice movement and the accompanying crescendo of protest against Gen Musharraf.

The military in Pakistan is a sacred cow and critics invariably find themselves in deep trouble. In December 2003 the leader of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi was detained for ‘defaming’ the military. His ‘crime’ was that he had started to criticise the military rule before the honeymoon of the country’s ‘awam’ (people) and the elite with the army rule had ended. He was branded a ‘traitor’ and virtually imprisoned for life, or at least as long as the General stays in power.

That the sacrosanct ‘state institution’ of military cannot be subjected to any probe or criticism again became clear recently. On June 1 a book, ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Empire’, written by defence analyst, Ayesha Siddiqa, was scheduled to be released at a government-run club in Islamabad. It was the first time in the 60-year history of Pakistan that details of the military’s commercial empire had been compiled in a book. And the military empire, says the author, is worth at least $3.3 billion.

The publishers learnt at the last minute that the permission for the function was suddenly withdrawn. All hotels in Pak capital closed their doors for the book launch function! The book was finally released in the office of an NGO. It is quite likely that the defiant NGO may now have to pack its bags.

The media crackdown in Pakistan has coincided with attempts by Gen Musharraf to manoeuvre his re-election as President for another five-year term without giving up his uniform.

An important question now is how long Washington, the biggest champion of freedom and democracy, will maintain its silence over the repression of media in Pakistan, a country that is also sliding towards Talibanisation. The US cannot continue to wink for long at the gross acts against democracy and freedom in Pakistan committed by their ‘frontline’ ally. If it does the people of Pakistan will become more hostile towards the US, further exposing its hypocrisy in championing the values of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’.

How Washington deals with Pakistan may not ordinarily be an appropriate matter for comment in another country. But a third country that is most directly affected by certain internal developments in Pakistan such as widespread civil unrest and its government’s continuous encouragement to separatist and militant movements in this country cannot watch these developments idly.

The military rulers in Pakistan have a tendency to raise the pitch of anti-India rhetoric or even go to war with India when they fail to handle the opposition to their rule. As a preface to the war against India, the rulers in Pakistan open up their propaganda machine and increase the volume of attacks on India, particularly the allegations of India being behind the internal unrest.

The present military ruler in Pakistan has initiated the ‘India hand’ talk through his puppets in the government and elsewhere who had branded the nationalist movement in Balochistan as entirely an Indian creation! But the way the anti-Musharraf movement led by lawyers is shaping up, it appears that for once the India bogey will provide little relief to the General.

- Syndicate Features -

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