Side-effect - Harris Khalique - Friday, May 06, 2011

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The denial, the half-truths, the conspiracy theories, the illusory high moral ground and the act of presenting themselves as embodiments of definite knowledge on the subject under discussion have become the hallmarks of some women and men who ride the primetime television airwaves in Pakistan as anchors and permanent analysts. They have encroached upon the living rooms of a large number of homes across the country, invaded shared public spaces in low income neighbourhoods and occupied the roadside restaurants along the highways in cities, towns and villages alike. As Michael Ignatieff has said and I have quoted before that television has become the church of modern authority. In an oral culture like ours where literacy level is low to further exacerbate the precarious situation surrounding our reading habits and the derivative skills to absorb and analyse the information that we receive through written word, the responsibility of those informing and educating people through electronic media increases manifold.

They are journalists first and foremost. Neither they are thespians, performers or filmstars who are there to entertain and sensationalise nor should they have an unprofessional slant. Particularly, it gets even worse when the slant is in favour of something that is totally untrue, completely concocted and serves a specific agenda.

Pakistan’s foreign policy failures rooted in a defective national security paradigm pursued for many decades have hugely impacted our economy, polity and societal norms on the one hand and tarnished our image as a state and people in the comity of nations on the other. The champions of this narrative got egg on their face once again. This time around this was not the egg of a turtle or a hen but that of an ostrich. A big round egg cracked open on their heads and smeared their faces. They are in a fix. If they own up to being collaborators or claim to be in the know of things about an impending operation that could eliminate Osama bin Laden at the hands of American SEAL commandoes, they would take the wrath of the religious extremists, irrespective of their estimate that extremist outfits could still be controlled and used as a military asset in future.

If they say they had no idea where Osama was, apparently after he had lived in a garrison town near the military academy for years, this is a reflection on their capacity to safeguard the interests of Pakistan. For, Pakistan is a part of a war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban and Osama had declared war on Pakistan for siding with the Americans and Nato-ISAF. How could he then survive in the heart of the country?

It is about time that in the supreme national interest, we whole-heartedly participate in the effort to root out terrorism, take stock of what went wrong in our policy and practice and set it right. It will take some time and both our strategic allies and our neighbours will have to demonstrate some patience. Surrounded and besieged, a wounded cat can cause harm to all. But the civil and military establishment of Pakistan have to finally decide at this juncture in our history that the 180 million poor souls they either represent or claim to be custodians of need a stable, peaceful and prosperous country to live in. They have little choice but to clear out the mess themselves so that outsiders are not able to intervene. People are confused. Our anchors have to stop whipping up emotions and let the powers that be change their course.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy adviser. Email: harris.

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