The Enemy and the Role of Media in Pakistan

383

Context

The deadly terrorist attacks against the Ahmedi religious centres in Lahore have been followed up by explosion on the shrine of the widely-respected Muslim saint Hazrat Ali Hajveri, bombing in Mohmand Agency, and the target killing of moderate Baloch leader Habib Jalib Baloch on July 14th in Quetta. The incidents continue unabated and so does the discussion about them. The centrifugal forces acting upon Pakistan’s historical, political, ethnic and sectarian fault lines are gradually escalating, as if almost by design, and cutting through the very fabric of the country’s statehood.

There are two dominant perceptions related to the Data Darbar incident that have come to the forefront. Ironically, these perceptions are similar to the ones that have surrounded other attacks taking place routinely across the country.

These are: firstly, who is responsible for these attacks, and secondly is the source internal or external? So overwhelming and convoluted any discussion on this topic becomes that it hardly ever reaches the pivotal question, how to counter and prevent these incidences from occurring in the first place.

For example, the prevalent perception in Pakistan regarding the Data Darbar attack has been that it was carried out by ‘Pakistani Taliban’ and their, yet to be specifically ascertained, foreign masters. The attack has, nonetheless, exposed another dangerous fault line, the fissure between the adherents of Barelvi and Wahabi sects. This perspective premises that the foreign enemies of Pakistan, states like US, India and Israel, want to pit Muslims against Muslims, similar to Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the Pakistani Taliban are nothing but Indian and US agents, acting to create large-scale chaos in the country, which will inadvertently lead to foreign intervention to secure Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

To counter this, spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Azam Tariq, has denied involvement in the Data Darbar attack. The press release sent to offices of media in Peshawar quoted spokesman for Punjabi Taliban Mohammad Omar as saying, “In the broader context we must assure the Pakistani people and think tanks that we are not against them. We are against the Pakistani establishment, both civil and military, which are working on the US agenda or better call it Jewish agenda, to break this country before 2012.”

Logically, the identification of the enemy is the first critical step for developing effective counter measures. Thus every terrorist event leads to more of the above debate whether the enemy is internal or external. This reflects in lack of conformity on not only the identity of the enemy, but also what causes extremism and how to approach it. The threat perceptions of the major stakeholders often diverge, which is well read and exploited. Here again, there is over-emphasis on the debate of identification of the enemy and minimal emphasis on what is to be done to prevent future disarray. When the cancer occurs, a clinician looks for the source of the cancer, alleviates the immediate distress and suffering of the patient and strives for curative measures simultaneously. In essence, the approach is to not only to nail down the internal and external causes of the cancer but also to comfort and save the patient.

Analysis

PoliTact has taken upon a longitudinal study to study the perspectives of a whole array of Pakistanis on the causes of present predicament¬†of Pakistan. As part of this examination, we teamed up with APPJD (American Pakistani Physicians for Justice and Democracy). APPJD uses ‘discussion forums’ to build a basic framework around which political thought process and consensus building can be developed. In July 2009, PoliTact analyzed the views of the major political parties of Pakistan. The following four factors were stressed by the different parties as the root cause of the situation in Pakistan at the time (the parties favoring each explanation are listed in parentheses):

  1. Tussles among the global powers, principally the US, Russia and China, including geopolitical issues and struggles for access to oil and gas, and historic conflicts regarding the Durand Line, the war in Afghanistan and the Kashmir issue (PML-N, ANP, JI, PTI);
  2. Tussles among the regional powers, principally Iran, India and Saudi Arabia (PPP, ANP);
  3. Religious influences emanating from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey (PPP, ANP);
  4. Socio-economic factors such as poverty and poor governance (MQM, PTI).

The representatives of the political parties did not cover the following internal factors, which are critical to understanding the subject under discussion:

  1. The persistence of feudal and tribal norms and practices within the modern nation state;
  2. Population explosion;
  3. Illiteracy and poor educational system;
  4. Climate change and environmental challenges like water shortage and pollution;
  5. Energy crisis and its impact on economic development;
  6. Lack of emphasis on indigenous research and development.

This year another panel discussion was organized by APPJD on July 4, 2010, to discuss the role of media in-fighting extremism. The charges leveled against the media ranged from failing to ask the right questions when it comes to extremism, to following the line of the Pakistan Army. Anchorman Kashif Abbasi of ARY TV ended up playing the role of the media’s spokesman, and stated the media’s role as presenting the views of all side. Kashif further added that it’s not up to the media to glorify one side or the other. This greatly underestimates the part media plays in shaping the public perception and giving it a direction. The media’s responsibility does not stop at just informing and presenting facts; it also has a role to help its audiences make sense out of the unpredictability and chaos that exists in the environment.

Clearly, up to now what has been observed in PoliTact’s study is the inability on the part of the country’s civil, political, and military intelligentsia to develop a consensus on not only who the enemy is, but also what are the roles of different institutions of Pakistan to fight this menace. As elaborated above, most of the media focus revolve around: 1) the basic causes of extremism in Pakistan; 2) ethnic tensions; 3) the role of the Pakistani Army; 4) rampant corruption of the politicians; and 5) military or political solution.

Pakistan’s different institutions pay more emphasis on the present geopolitical and religious factors as opposed to understanding the current crises in the context of economic, social, cultural and historical underpinnings. They approach the problem as being linear and fail to take in to account the interconnection of the above listed variables, which requires taking a multidimensional view of the reality being confronted.

According to a well known organizational transformational doctrine called the Blue Ocean strategy, there are four impediments to bring about a change; resources, cognitive, political and motivational. The authors of the Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, claim the hardest challenge for a leader to bring about transformation is cognitive i.e., “…. to make people aware of the need for a strategic shift and to agree on its causes.”

These have also been called the ‘cognitive traps’ by Professor Max Bazerman, which ” prevent a person from seeing, seeking, using, or sharing highly relevant, easily accessible, and readily perceivable information during the decision making process.”

As the nations finds itself in a predicament described above, the media will have to play a facilitating role in helping the nation overcome its mental hurdles. Media has increasingly become an indispensable tool using which informational and psychological warfare is waged every day around the world. Like the masses, the extremists and the governments also rely on the media to sense public perceptions, as they are instrumental in developing an opinion. Media plays a critical part in shaping the public perception, giving it a direction and setting the national agenda. The responsibility of the media does not stop at just informing and presenting views of all sides; it also has to help its audiences make sense out of the unpredictability and chaos that exists. Ultimately, it’s the perception of the masses that matters the most and the media anchors play a key part in initially formulating the public perception, which later develops in to a perspective.

The enemy is most often within and without. There is a need to overcome the cognitive traps in developing a shared threat perception and an effective counter-terrorism strategy. Its foremost the homeowners liability to anticipate and proactively implement all protective measures to safeguard the precious belongings, irrespective of the religion or nationality of the intruder. In the battle to influence global perceptions and perspectives according to their respective interests, each international actor relies on the information media. The Pakistan’s Media has yet to fully realize its role and potential in building a national consensus, and to deliberate not only about the identity of the enemy but also contemplate how to save the patient.

Note: A summary of this report was published earlier in Daily Times, Pakistan.

Tell Us What You Think

Feedback@politact.com