Divided We Stand

Spearhead Analysis – 23.04.2014

Divided We StandThe attack on a journalist in Karachi on Saturday 19th April kicked up a storm because of a TV channels’ instant orchestration of a response to blame and target the country’s premier intelligence agency and more specifically its head, who was not only mentioned by name but whose picture was repeatedly displayed alongside the blatant and direct accusations. No evidence was presented besides hearsay and dredging up past incidents. This onslaught played out over days and nights through discussions, debates, articles and even an interview to a foreign news channel. There were several outcomes. Other TV channels and their anchors came out strongly against the accusations and social media went into overdrive. There was no official response in defense of the targeted institutions in fact the word put out was that the institution had to defend itself on its own. No FIR (First Information Report) was registered to formally begin the investigative process even though an eye witness—the heroic driver — was available. The ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) did come out with a strongly worded statement but the media war continued and was predictably lapped up by the Indian and Western media and the TTP (Tehreek Taliban Pakistan) — all delighted to find their nemesis in the dock and that too by their own. The government condemned the attack and ordered a judicial commission to investigate it.

On 22nd April the COAS (Chief of Army Staff) visited the headquarters of the intelligence agency to stand with his men because it is his responsibility to make sure that subversive actions do not undermine morale and functional efficiency. More than anyone else he knows what kind of work the agency is doing for the country in an environment where internal and external threats have morphed into an existential threat with minimal governance to confront it. He also knows the sacrifices made because intelligence operatives die unsung and their heroism in the line of duty is never publicized. Almost in tandem with the visit of the COAS the tenor changed. The Interior Minister came out strongly against the segment of the media that had done the damage. The Ministry of Defense sent out a detailed note to PEMRA (the government’s watchdog body to regulate the media) and there were statements of support from many quarters. To the credit of the media it must be said that the majority showed restraint and responsibility and stood up to be counted. Prompt unambiguous action may have limited and contained the fall-out but the delay has led to exposure and a better public perception of the entire episode. There is also the consideration that the channel in question was rallying emotionally because its anchor had been targeted. Earlier another channel was attacked twice, two of its men killed and an anchor and well known writer shot at and his driver killed. Other journalists have lost their lives as have doctors, lawyers and people from all walks of life as lawlessness becomes overwhelmingly oppressive. Copy cat threats and actions against journalists and others are continuing even as terrorist activity resumes across the country.

Intelligence agencies are not angelic. They cannot be. They are, however, professional and under the governments budgetary and overall control. They need operational freedom to deliver the results desired but there can be and should be oversight. Right now with the uncertainties and multiple threats Pakistan has to rely on the resources that are available till additional resources like the NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority), the Joint Intelligence Directorate and the revamped IB Intelligence Bureau) become effective. Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency that serves the government is ranked among the best in the world and is a formidable part of the national security apparatus — it may be improved, made more effective but it should never be undermined. The fact that this entire episode follows a tirade against the military that led the government to acknowledge differences between it and the military creates much unease especially after steps had been taken to clear the air. More needs to be done and these incidents must be taken as a part of the learning curve that is being negotiated. Pakistan cannot and must not have an exploitable chink in its armor — it would be disastrous. The media can and should continue to play a positive role for democracy and national security.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)