Quantum Leaps of the Mind

How is it that the Pakistani perception can jump from the resignation (or non-reappointment, rather) of the Foreign Minister, to a case of diplomatic immunity, to an American killing two Pakistanis in broad daylight, and make sense of all of it?

The Pakistani mindset has indeed been ‘warped’ after too much “breaking news” and on-the-edge-of-the-seats news reporting that borders on the sensational, and sometimes, clearly outrageous.

There is no doubt that mercenary contractors are fighting the War on Terror, and doing so even in Pakistan. Obviously, this cannot be proven, and this is one of the reasons why Raymond Davis’ case is being dragged in the spotlight so much. But clandestine operatives (and their proxies) exist and continue to function in different fields of operation, in Pakistan and elsewhere.

But conspiracy and hearsay take news to the level of one country defiling another country’s sovereignty by blocking the appointment of the other country’s cabinet minister. Definitely, news reports of the nature were given by The News, Daily Times, and even opinions and blog articles on Express Tribune. These were rebuked by the Foreign Office, the Presidential Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar, and other stalwarts of the PM Secretariat.

Pakistan’s news media is indeed nascent (still) and has to acquire a degree of responsibility in both its nature and its function, in order to be truly considered a pillar of the state. The media enjoys a lot of power which it uses in providing information as well as forming public opinion; they may do so by highlighting the plight of Pakistanis who suffer because of one reason or the other, and they may also reveal inefficiencies in public offices and state services, even in hospitals. There is no regulation that the media seems willing to subject itself to, and no streamlining or coordination with any organization – other than the Armed Forces – that would help the media understand circumstantial national interest and contextual public interest when reporting on a news item.

The Pakistani media (both news/information media and entertainment media) have detractors as well as supporters and fans. It is an industry that can achieve far more than it has even now. But they need support, and whether they like it or not, they need guidance too. Simple things like naming a rape victim or revealing the name of an informant exemplify lack of professionalism that must be disciplined and corrected.

The media informs the Pakistani public, insofar as it brings news and reports from around the world, and from different countries’ media outlets, but it also forms the opinions of its viewers, especially talk-show hosts, interviewers and pundits. It still has a long way to go before it can be considered a media industry with world-class performance and professionalism, but this aspect is still better than the rough logic and impertinent techniques used by TV pundits on mainstream Pakistani news channels to motivate, arouse, and in some cases, incite the Pakistani public.

The Pakistani media must fulfill its role in not only informing the Pakistani public what the world really sees them as, but it must also promote an environment of tolerance and encourage positivity for the general social environment. This means that the media, in making news reports where societal and structural incapacities are highlighted, ought to be geared towards bringing such problems to the notice of the public and the authorities – even in this day Pakistan suffers from glaring information asymmetries – rather than adding to the hue and cry, painting pictures of despondency and gloom, becoming participants of the aura of gloom and despair, and appearing sympathetic to one angle or the other in the due course of their reporting.

The original point is that Pakistan needs the United States and the United States needs Pakistan too. Not just for the War on Terror, but for regional stability in South Asia and in the Muslim world at large. It is preposterous to pinpoint Davis as the loci of all US-Pakistani interaction, because of whom all bilateral ties would come to a standstill, or worse, suffer and be downgraded. It has been said that the Pakistan government as well as the US government – with due deference to their stance(s) – have ‘mishandled’ the Raymond Davis affair. It extension, it can be said that the Pakistani media has also mishandled its coverage of the affair (in the assumption that the media did/does not have any direct role in the case) in divulging classified documentation, and especially, in interviewing Shumaila, a victims’ wife who commited suicide and later died. Continuing coverage of the case, breaking news priority, and utilization of all leads and sources, points to how the media here continues to add to the hype; in the US, the media have referred to Davis as a diplomat, listened to what President Obama has said, and moved on to other issues. In most cases, it is the media that is violating the sanctity of a sub judice matter in the Raymond Davis case, not the different parties to the case or those people whose opinion the media counts on to complete the minutes before the excruciatingly long break for repetitive commercials and (mostly telecom) advertisements.

Raymond Davis may even be a Mossad or R&AW agent, according to some. Shahid Qureshi of the London Post has already made this argument, along with a host of other news websites. This builds on the David Headley precedent, that a country may ‘turn’ another country’s agent to do its bidding. Supposedly, Israel or India were using Davis to make the most of a ‘blanket authority’ enjoyed by the US in Pakistan, and gather information about sensitive Pakistani installations. He might also be in contact with their assets in Pakistan, and might be a lynchpin between the militants who plot to destroy the Pakistani state, and the erstwhile ‘enemies’ of the Pakistani state. To the media, that also makes sense.

Finally, as has been reported by The Nation, Davis may also have been the acting CIA chief for Pakistan. Again, to the media and those who feed off it, that too is plausible.

The Pakistani media really needs to improve its research capabilities and understand how the global media, especially international media organizations who the local media covets and accepts as prima facie fact-regurgitators, functions and develops.

This assessment of Pakistan’s media must also be used to analyze the ‘transfer’ of Qamar Zaman Kaira from the Federal Information Ministry to, surprisingly, the PPP Information Secretary position, after the inglorious ouster of Fauzia Wahab, who has caused more than a few eardrums to shatter during her raucous appearances on Pakistani TV shows. This just goes to show the amount of trust that the Zardari-led PPP puts in Qamar Zaman Kaira to manage the party’s media image – or the party’s media relations, rather. It was all too obvious that despite being Information Minister, Kaira could only manage a few things at most, and managing the Pakistan media as a whole – something that would be his basic job description – was something he never did. Despite this incompetence, Kaira defended his bosses and patrons well, and since Firdous Ashiq Awan’s appointment in his place comes as a profound shock, Kaira seems to have been placated with a party office after being removed from a Federal Ministry.

No matter what happens to Raymond Davis, no matter what happens to Afghanistan, no matter what happens to US-Pakistan relations or to Indo-Pak relations after what they did to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The point is that the Pakistani media needs to cut the Pakistani people a break.