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Elections, Media & The Army

The concerned authorities in Pakistan have began a massive crackdown on the media ahead of the General Elections to be held on July 25. Intellectuals are of the opinion that the attack on the media is ‘unprecedented’ this time. Ibn Abdur Rehman – a senior member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) – has said that General Zia-ul-Haq’s tenure (1978-1988) was usually considered as the ‘Dark Age’ for the Pak media. However, the current situation is more dangerous, believes Rehman. In 1980s, the government used to threaten journalists and to censor news. Now, the intelligence agencies have started controlling the media.
Hameed Haroon – the CEO of Daily Dawn – issued a statement in June, saying that the authorities decided not to allow people, living in cantonment areas, to read the broadsheet. He also said that a “massive interruption in the distribution of newspapers” was taking place and Dawncannot now be read in large parts of the country”. “In Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, we haven’t seen Dawn for two and a half months,” he added. According to Haroon, the authorities are well aware of the fact that Dawn is indispensable for businessmen, diplomats and military officers and known for its influential editorials (which affect the country’s image worldwide).


Hameed Haroon

The senior journalist clarified that the prime minister and his Pakistani government were not involved in the attack on the media, stressing that the military was destroying the freedom of the press. According to Haroon, the Armed Forces are mainly targeting three media groups – Dawn, Nawa-i-Waqt and the Geo-Jang. Dawn is the country’s oldest and most famous paper established by ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. It’s unfortunate that the ‘freedom’ of the daily – which had played an important role in the Freedom Movement – is under serious threat, insisted Haroon.
The Dawn CEO informed the press that the Public Relation Department of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI – the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan) censors any news, if the media criticise the Army or certain political parties. He claimed that Major General Asif Gafoor – the Director General of ISI Public Relations – recently threatened the editor in chief of The Herald – the monthly magazine of politics and current affairs owned by Karachi-based Pakistan Herald Publications Limited that also publishes the Dawn Group of Newspapers – after he published an article on the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. The movement has raised serious questions over the Army’s activities in the tribal regions.


Major General Asif Gafoor

In the past, DG Gafoor had said that he would teach a lesson to those who criticised the Army on the social media. He also identified some bloggers who had slammed the Army for torturing ‘innocent’ tribal people. The Army recently arrested one of the bloggers and conducted a search operation at the residence of a female journalist. Even the youths have been attacked in tribal areas. Soon after a 22-year-old lady tweeted that “the Pakistani military backs terror outfits”, she received threats and decided to leave the country.
According to Karachi-based journalist Ali Haider, it seems that the Army has decided the ‘future’ of Pakistan and the media’s role is to follow the script. Initially, Jang – Pakistan’s largest media house – decided to ignore the directive. However, the Army forced the group to follow its diktat. Senior Editor of Jang Talat Aslam told the press that they had no other option, but to accept 22 conditions after a number of journalists were detained and interrogated, hawkers were forced to stop selling newspapers and advertisers were asked to avoid the group. The Jang Group agreed not to criticise the Army, the Chief Justice and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Haider said that other media houses, too, made some compromises to survive.

Ahead of the General Elections, almost all the big houses stopped covering news on Balochistan, although the region experienced a nationalist movement in recent times. Also, there is no news about the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement that is taking place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region and about major political parties which have lost support in different places. On the social media, many say that the ISI has forced them to join Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
Meanwhile, political analyst Hasan Zaidi said that the outcome of this election race could be a hung parliament and the Army would play an important role in the formation of the next government in Islamabad.

Last week, the Army ordered the media houses to prepare a list of journalists who would cover the election, as they would require prior approval from the Armed Forces. The Army – which doesn’t want any ‘anti-national’ journalist to cover the General Elections – has also decided to deploy Pak Rangers – a paramilitary law enforcement organisation – in and around newsrooms of all the media houses during the election in order to monitor the activities of journalists. However, the Pakistani people consider the move as an assault on the media ahead of the election.
For the fifth largest democracy in the world, nothing can be more shameful than this…..

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