Thursday, April 24, 2014
Falling one at a time -- By Saroop Ijaz
We have for some time lost the ability to prevent murderous attacks, particularly on the courageous. However, now we are fast losing the capacity to even adequately condemn them. It is no longer apathy. It is vile bile directed at the victim. To survive is an offense, unpatriotic. Hamid Mir was shot multiple times and battles for his life. Yet, the grievance of “defense and other analysts” seemed, why he was not shot in the head, if it was a real attack. Who can argue with this cruel, foolish insensitivity? It was not only sadism; it was very acute masochism coming from quite a cross-section of the Media. Issue based differences aside, the courage and candor of Hamid Mir is beyond any doubt, and one sincerely prays for his wellbeing. The line of reasoning goes somewhat like this, the often frothing in the mouth defense analyst begins with: the ISI did not do it and so stop the lying, treasonous, RAW centered propaganda. Following it up with, had ISI done it, Mr. Mir would not have been alive, since the boys don’t miss. Then somewhat defensively implying, even, on the off chance that the ISI did it, do not hurt “National Interest” by saying it publicly. Finally making a comeback by implying Mr. Mir had it coming. We have heard this pattern of thought in different permutations before. We do not know who did it, and yes, it can be one of any number of actors and a conclusive determination can only be made after investigation. The problem with responding to tragedy in Pakistan has become that we oscillate between incredible understatement and incredible overstatement. Now, that the Judicial Commission is being formed, mud-slinging should cease. However, the attack on Hamid Mir brought to light the fundamental confusion that plagues us, and indeed the platitudes that come with it. For example, “National interest” should be paramount. “National Institutions” should not be attacked or maligned. Banal and stressing the obvious a bit too much. The problem lies in definition. It seems the only things “National” and “Institutional” are those related to the Army. Those who are dealing in these clichés had no qualms in recently branding the Presidency to be conspiring against the country or even now implying that the Prime Minister might not be complete sincere (Presidency and the Parliament not “National” enough or not sufficiently “Institutional”?). While, judgment needs to be deferred till investigation is complete. Yet, it is time for introspection for the Army and the ISI. The allegation against the premium institution did not seem as ridiculous, as it ideally should have. Journalists have been picked up in the past, and this is not conjecture. Saleem Shahzad has died in “mysterious” circumstances. Elections have been fixed in the past and people go “missing” in Baluchistan. These are facts on record. This does not mean that we reach any conclusion, and take the Taliban’s word on denying the attack. It does mean that the ISI has image building to do (not hollow marketing spins, Zaid Hamids and Mubasher Luqmans), serious confidence building. In these times, the wish to be immune from criticism will not only invite more, it will also be counterproductive. Open yourself to free and fair investigation and regain the trust that “We” the people so sincerely want to repose in you. Hamid Mir attack’s aftermath also saw a simmering schism reach the boiling point and become extremely public, pronounced among the Pakistani power elite; Big Media versus Patriotic “National” Institutions (lest we forget how the ISPR’s version was the only version in the Kerry-Luger Bill and Memo days); the pro-Jihad nationalist versus the pro-Army nationalist (both hating democratic process and actors though). Most dispiritingly: Big Media versus Big Media (insensitive and masochistic at the same time, since journalists from most of the Media houses have been attacked by different actors at one point of time or the other). All of these competing actors have previously been aligned. One could almost see signs of implosion in the Pakistan establishment. Maybe, however the powerful have magical ways of making between themselves. And this makes the case of the ordinary journalist being more loyal to the crown all the sadder. The Media tycoon, the General and the Maulana are for the moment all competing for monopoly over defining “National Interest” and it is a mess. Yet they can effortlessly make up at any time, leaving the apologist look bad, and worse on his/her own. The need for unity arises for the professional journalists and indeed all conscientious citizens. Hamid Mir is nearly as big as it gets and if you downplay the gravity of the attack, you sirs are making all of yours and ours houses unsafe. The tycoons and generals thrive on chaos as it is good for business; the courageous journalist in the trenches does not. The mighty perpetrators of violence and their apologists come in different brands. However, their inarticulateness owing largely to being bereft of facts is a common thread. That makes them despise the vocal and the eloquent. Watching the apologia and idiocy on television after the attack on the eloquent and vocal Mir, one is reminded of the words of W.H. Auden from “August 1968”, “The Ogre does what ogres can, Deeds quite impossible for Man, But one prize is beyond his reach, The Ogre cannot master Speech. About a subjugated plain, Among its desperate and slain, The Ogre stalks with hands on hips, While drivel gushes from his lips.” The speculations and allegations need to end. The demand should be singular and made in unison; the investigation needs to be done comprehensively, fairly, swiftly and the findings made public. Another report similar to Saleem Shahzad commission stopping short of saying really anything should be unacceptable. The futility of asking for “investigation” is not lost on one; however we have to ask for it, if for nothing else then to display that while we may have lost the hope of getting justice, we have not lost the desire for it.