111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

The fog of national security

We know that the media is too much with us. It is overwhelming. But it is difficult for us to make sense of what it is doing to us and how its power can be invested in a campaign to protect and strengthen our national security. For that matter, how do we define our national security?

There has been a particular focus this week on media freedom and also on the limits that are imposed by the exigencies of national security. May 3 is observed every year as the World Press Freedom Day and so we did in a ritualistic sense on Wednesday. Journalists staged rallies to affirm their struggle for the freedom of the media.

Coincidentally, there have been other reminders of how the media functions in Pakistan. There was this movement on the issue of what we know as ‘Dawn Leaks’, with its implications for forever problematic relations between the civilian and the military authorities.

There was yet another example of how national security is invoked to deny the media any access to information about an important event. May 2, Tuesday, was the sixth anniversary of the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, in an attack on a compound in Abbottabad by the US Special Forces. An Abbottabad Commission was formed to investigate the circumstances of this incredible episode.

Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb has said that the Abbottabad Commission report cannot be made public because of its sensitive nature. This means that it is deemed to be in the national interest that a number of obvious questions about Osama’s undetected presence for years in a strategic location are not answered. The people of Pakistan do not apparently deserve any explanations about the serious breach in our national security when the US military was able to operate deep within our territory.

As for the Dawn Leaks affair, Saturday last week was a day of high drama. It all began, of course, when Dawn published a report on October 6 last year about a national security meeting held in the PM’s Office. You can have an idea about why it created such a commotion by reading the headline of the report: “Exclusive: Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”.

Anyhow, last Saturday, the PM’s Office issued a notification removing Tariq Fatemi, special assistant to the PM on foreign affairs and Rao Tehseen, the principal information officer of the Ministry of Information. This action was taken on the basis of the report submitted earlier by a committee formed under Justice Aamer Raza Khan to probe into the publication of the controversial report by the paper. The All Pakistan Newspapers Society was assigned to decide any action to be taken against the newspaper and its reporter.

The turbulence that was created by this notification on our news channels was transformed into a crisis with a bombshell that was dropped in the realm of social media by the spokesperson of the military. Gen Asif Ghafoor, DG ISPR, posted this tweet: “Notification on Dawn Leak[s] is incomplete and not in line with recommendation by the inquiry Board. Notification is rejected”.

If you reflect on the reverberations that the last three words would cause, unlike the famous three words that are spoken in a romantic relationship, you would know that all is not well between the civilian and military leaderships. Forget about what the constitution or a democratic dispensation would entail, we have learnt that the military establishment is the final arbiter of what is perceived as our national interest.

I will not go into how the Nawaz Sharif government has sought to deal with this discord, though the prime minister, after a high-level consultation with his aides, said that there shouldn’t be any tension among institutions and there were indications that the matter has been sorted out because the military is committed to safeguarding the democratic system.

But I would like to stay with the Dawn Leaks issue for a while because my focus is on the media with a reference to not just its freedom and its limitations but also its professionally subversive derelictions. On World Press Freedom Day, Pervaiz Rasheed, who had to leave his post as the information minister on October 29 because he did not press the Dawn reporter to not publish his story, broke his silence.

He said that it is not the responsibility of an information minister to stop the publication of a report. Pervaiz Rasheed stands out among our politicians for his integrity and sense of honour. In a tongue-in-cheek remark, he said that media schools should now be teaching their students to not publish hard news.

That the prime minister was constrained to remove such a person from his cabinet says a lot about the tensions the report may have provoked. International and national bodies of journalists expressed their solidarity with Dawn on World Press Freedom Day.

In a wider context, our media, with news channels dominating the scene, is visibly in a bad state. Already, it is under pressure from extremist and intolerant elements in our society. But there are some within the media who indulge in hate speech and project intolerance. This they do, mostly, in the name of national security.

Unfortunately, not enough attention is paid to grave social issues that have pushed us to the edge. How Mashal Khan was lynched by his fellow students on the campus of a university is just one indication of what is happening to our society. Rampant cheating in our public examinations is reported daily and is another sign of our collective degradation. There is an evident sense of things falling apart. The sight of party workers literally scavenging for food in political gatherings is so horrible. And it happens again and again.

All this, if you think about it, is the real threat to our national security.

Ghazi Salahuddin, "The fog of national security," The News. 2017-05-07.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , National security , Media freedom , Dawn leaks , Social aspects , Foreign affairs , Newspapers Society , Project intolerance , Social needs , Social media , National issues , Journalists , Mashal Khan , Pakistan