Balochistan: the ISI and the media

Daily Times

By:Dr Qaisar Rashid
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

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 voices 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 setup and introduce a controlled parliament. General Pervez 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 reigns supreme!

A question that irks many Pakistanis is: 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; so why is the media (both print and electronic) silent on the situation in Balochistan?

The decade of the 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 payroll 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 electronic) media?

Another problem is that neither any national daily (Urdu or English) nor any national electronic 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.

Criticising the role of the ISI does not mean ISI-bashing as propagated by retired army generals appearing 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 the 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 if you exorcise the fear of the intelligence agencies from the heart of the media people, 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 honour of one Baloch is preferable to the life and honour of the whole of the ISI.