Ahead of the 25 July election in Pakistan, campaigns have gained momentum across the country, with several political parties and independent leaders vowing to change the country’s image if elected. There is also a debate on the influence and role of the military in these elections. The election is seen as a two-way race between parties led by former cricket star Imran Khan and now-jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has accused the army of working behind the scenes to favour Khan, which it denies. About 371,000 troops will spread out across Pakistan to guard the election, about three times the number during the last election in 2013. In a notice this month, the Election Commission gave soldiers the authority of a ‘magistrate’, to hold on-the-spot trials of anyone breaking election laws and sentence them. In one scenario, those found guilty of the offence of corrupt practice could be imprisoned for up to six months.
Unfortunately, some elements in the country are busy to tarnish the image of army at national and international level. In this context, talking in the BBC Hardtalk programme, Hameed Haroon, who is also President of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), said that media houses were under tremendous pressure and in the past three months things have worsen, claiming the main target were the largest media houses, including Jang, Dawn and Nawa-i-Waqt groups. When asked who was behind all this, Hameed Haroon said that there was a strong perception that military was behind all this and Committee for Protection of Journalists (CJP), Reporters Without Frontiers and International Press Institute all shared this view. Hameed Haroon, Chief Executive Officer of Dawn Group of Publication, said that Pakistani media was facing the worst kind of intimidation at the hands of ‘deep state’ which would not good for the future of democratic institutions in the country.
Referring to Dawn leaks saga, Hameed Haroon said actually the information about the two security-related meetings were secured from an international source and they had just verified it from the local sources. He admitted that they faced pressure from the military establishment on the issue. To a question, Hameed Haroon spoke high of the military’s role in containing the growing menace of terrorism in the country but was critical of military’s meddling in the other affairs of the statecraft. To another question, he said there was a public perception and human rights bodies also considered that military was behind all this and the ways media people and bloggers were made disappear with impunity gave credence to it. He said that when all this was going on unnoticed they have asked international rights bodies, government, Chief of Army Staff, Caretaker Prime Minister to look into the matter and take action on these forced disappearances and threats to media persons.
It is astonishing that while reporting Dawn newspaper calls Kashmiri freedom fighters as separatists. Not only that, the newspaper is playing a very dangerous game by providing a platform to Baloch separatists like Mama Qadeer, Naila Baloch etc. It writes against an Islamic identity of Pakistan, running down the Two Nation Theory and questioning if Pakistan is indeed a Muslim country. Newspapers in Pakistan should safeguard national interests with sincerity and honesty instead maligning of national institutions. This is not freedom of speech; it is negative propaganda and a senseless bias. Unfortunately, Pakistan does not have the honest, sincere, patriotic media it deserves.
On the other hand, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court expressed his displeasure over the alleged interference of secret agencies in the state affairs, saying they should focus on the country’s defence. He claimed ‘Judges’ lives are in danger as their telephones are being tapped by the officials of the security agencies’. Addressing a representative of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who appeared in the court, Justice Siddiqui said: ‘Your personnel try to form a court bench of their own wish and the army chief should be aware of the misdeeds committed by them’. Ironically, the remarks made by Justice Siddiqui were being considered strong and unusual coming from a senior judge. While he alluded to the ISI’s interference in judicial matters, he did not provide evidence during his speech in support of his claims. Pakistan Army requested the country’s top court to initiate the appropriate process to ascertain the veracity of the allegations levelled by Justice Siddiqui. A statement issued by the military’s media wing said that a judge of the IHC had levelled serious allegations against state institutions including the judiciary and intelligence agency. In this regard, hearing cases at the Supreme Court’s Karachi Registry, Justice Nisar remarked that he was deeply saddened by the IHC judge’s comments. The top judge has called for the complete record of Justice Siddiqui’s speech from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). Asserting that the judiciary was under no pressure, the chief justice said the judges have complete faith in the supremacy of law and worked in accordance with the Constitution.
Non-state actors, foreign governments, intelligence agencies and think tanks tried to use Pakistan’s vivacious media to launch their own propaganda campaigns. There is a lot of disinformation concerning Pakistan’s armed forces and ISI coming from domestic and foreign media houses. A few politicians and liberals in Pakistan have also started embracing such ideas. Many want to garner international support by criticizing Pakistan’s armed forces. They have started accusing ISI of making and breaking political parties through coercion, and are indirectly responsible for the mis-governance of the country. There is no doubt that the Pakistan army fully understands the hidden motives and objectives of international defamation campaigns, but domestic bashing by mainstream political parties could derail the ongoing battle against radicals and extremists.