Tag Archives: media

Public Oversight Protects Institutional Reputations

Pakistan parliament

Since being freed from its shackles in 2002, the growth of Pakistan’s private media industry has been lauded as an important (if imperfect) check on political power. By exposing official corruption, Pakistan’s media is acting on the famous maxim of US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” While Pakistan’s politicians increasingly find themselves under the media microscope, the same principle does not apply equally to all of Pakistan’s institutions.

Earlier this month, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for audit reports related to the allotment of residential plots to three existing and twelve retired judges of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to provide any information to the PAC, referring to Article 68 of the Constitution which says that “No discussion shall take place in [Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)] with respect to the conduct of any Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court in the discharge of his duties.”

It is hard to conceive how the discharge of the duties of a Supreme Court or High Court judge would involve receiving expensive residential plots. Nevertheless, the judiciary appears to be uninterested in exposing its own members to the same type of oversight considered essential for elected officials.

In one way, though the PAC got off easy. When real estate tycoon Malik Riaz accused Pakistan’s Chief Justice of corruption, he found himself facing jail time for contempt of court. Contempt charges have also been leveled against the former Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, former Law Minister, Babar Awan, Mian the owner of a private TV channel and two TV talk show hosts.

None of the defendants may not have much recourse. Article 204 of Pakistan’s Constitution allows the Supreme Court to punish any person who “scandalizes the Court or otherwise does anything which tends to bring the Court or a Judge of the Court into hatred, ridicule or contempt.” Regardless of whether or not a judge is involved in any crime or malfeasance, it may be illegal to say so.

Pakistan’s judiciary is not the only institution that would prefer to remain off limits to criticism. A defense committee in Pakistan’s Senate on Monday recommended that media criticism of Pakistan’s military should be stopped. The meeting, chaired by Mushahid Hussain Syed (PML-Q), concluded that criticism of Pakistan’s armed forces is “irresponsible behavior” that is harming the military’s reputation abroad.

Tahir Hussain Mashhadi (MQM) reportedly said that “no country criticizes its own armed forces and sensitive institutions but in Pakistan, the so-called analysts do so arguing unnecessarily about the excess of national defence budget,” a statement that must have amused Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and others in the US military establishment.

Like Pakistan’s judiciary, the military too enjoys extraordinary protection from criticism. Article 63(1)(g) of Pakistan’s constitution – the article recently used to remove a democratically elected Prime Minister – disqualifies from membership in parliament anyone who,

“has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.”

If Justice Brandeis’s maxim about sunlight being the best disinfectant is true, it should apply to all institutions equally. Only by opening national institutions to public oversight can governments limit abuse and scandal. By placing the judiciary and the military outside the realm of criticism, Pakistan is facilitating the very outcomes that it hopes to prevent – scandals and suspicions that threaten the reputation of critical national institutions.

Pakistan Political Report – Reopening the GLOCs

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DCC Approves Reopening of NATO Supply RouteThe agreement to reopen the ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Afghanistan will result in short-term gains for both the US and Pakistan, but does not represent a fundamental change in bilateral relations. Richard Hoagland, Deputy Chief of Mission for the US Embassy in Islamabad, described the status of relations after the apology as resumption from the point where they have been left prior to the Salala incident last November.[1]

While Sec. Clinton’s apology did not result in a radical transformation, it did open a way forward. Vali Nasr, dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, characterized the agreement as validating the path of diplomacy over confrontation, and Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, acknowledged that there is “a long road ahead,” but expressed hope that “both sides can use this opportunity to build a path to durable ties.” [2],[3] Unfortunately, building that path will not come without resistance.

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USS Enterprise Never Entered Pakistani Waters

USS Enterprise

Reports that the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, had entered Pakistan’s territorial waters began proliferating online a few days ago, seeping into mainstream Pakistani media. These reports are not true.

Responding to a request for a statement regarding the positioning of the USS Enterprise relative to Pakistan, CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor emailed the following statement:

“I can confirm for you that those reports in Pakistani media are indeed false. The Enterprise got no closer than about 150 miles from the coast of Pakistan.”

For future reference, the Department of Defense News office is surprisingly accessible and helpful. News media representatives with questions for the Department of Defense may reach the DOD Press Office by calling +1 (703) 697-5131 or by sending e-mail to media@defenselink.mil. A duty press officer is available by phone 24 hours a day, and I received a statement in less than a day.

What the contempt conviction means, and what it doesn’t

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani leaving court

I have refrained from writing about the recent conviction of Pakistan’s Prime Minister on contempt of court charges because the case, from my perspective – as well as many whom I’ve talked with – is a bit confusing. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped much of the mainstream media from publishing alarming reports that could easily misguide people into thinking that the case means more than it does.

The day the Court announced its decision, CBS News declared that, Pakistan’s government “was thrown in turmoil…after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was convicted on a contempt-of-court charge by the country’s Supreme Court,” and went on to quote anonymous western diplomats in Islamabad predicting that, “early elections are a very real possibility because of this turmoil.”

A few days later, however, both houses of Pakistan’s parliament passed resolutions voicing “complete confidence” in the embattled Prime Minister. Opposition politicians continue to try to make hay of the Prime Minister’s conviction, but the election of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidate Usman Bhatti to a seat deep in the constituency of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) suggests that Pakistani voters do not see the case as particularly damning.

Other news reports exaggerate not the fallout from, but the nature of the conviction. Foreign Policy magazine published an otherwise informative analysis by AEI’s Reza Nasim Jan with the glaringly misleading headline, “Pakistan’s Federal Felon”.

While the Supreme Court’s case has created confusion even among Pakistani legal experts, there is significant reason to believe that the case is not as severe as opposition politicians may be trying to make it out to be.

In its order, the Supreme Court did not invoke Section 6 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 which specifically defines the requirements for criminal contempt. In fact, reading Section 6, it’s pretty clear why – it doesn’t appear to apply to the Prime Minister’s case.

The Prime Minister was charged with a violation of Article 204(2) of the Constitution read with Section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003. Together, these broadly-worded laws basically define ‘Contempt of Court’ as anything that a Judge deems contemptuous – political cartoonists beware. The Prime Minister was punished under Section 5 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003, which provides for a fine and jail time. His actual sentence was about 30-seconds.

Additionally, prior to the Supreme Court announcing its decision, Pakistani media reported that the Prime Minister had been charged with civil contempt:

The bench of the Supreme Court had charged the prime minister with civil contempt, instead of judicial or criminal contempt. The absence of the latter two, according to legal experts, meant that the provisions of Article 63(1 g or h) of the Constitution may not apply and hence the prime minister would not be disqualified from being a parliamentarian if convicted.

It is also noteworthy that, in the Supreme Court’s order, the justices wrote that “the findings and the conviction for contempt of court recorded above are likely to1 entail some serious consequences in terms of Article 63(1)(g) of the Constitution…” As legal analyst Waris Husain noted in Dawn,

The Court used the language “likely to entail” because the right to terminate parliamentarians’ tenure is constitutionally vested in the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Election Commission. Under Article 63 (2), once the Speaker has received notice of a parliamentarian’s conviction, he/she may forward the issue to the Election Board within 30 days which must make a decision within 90 days. This process is the exclusive duty of the legislative department, rather than the Court. Therefore, the process to disqualify the prime minister has only just begun.

Without doubt, the conviction was a blow to the Prime Minister and an unwanted distraction for the governing coalition – especially as negotiations with the US continue. But, as pointed out by the State Department, “this as an internal domestic issue…and is being addressed in a legitimate and democratic fashion by the Pakistani judicial system.”

Sensational and misleading media reports not only add to confusion about the issue in the US, they can add to confusion in Pakistan as well, unnecessarily calling into doubt the independence of Pakistani institutions and indirectly interfering with the democratic process.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court rendered its decision in the Prime Minister’s case, and it chose not to remove him from office. The Prime Minister has the right to appeal, and the decision of whether he will remain Prime Minister rests with the democratically elected representatives of the people of Pakistan. The process may seem noisy and confusing to us in the US, but – so far – it appears to be working.

1 Emphasis added

Roots of Anti-Americanism in Pakistan

U.S.-Pakistan ties deteriorated significantly in the past year, and the anti-American rhetoric in Pakistani media (NYT), especially television, reached a crescendo. Najam Sethi, an award-winning Pakistani journalist and editor-in-chief of Geo News and the English political weekly Friday Times, says U.S. counterterrorism policies in Pakistan have caused this acrimony. The two countries, he says, have failed to develop a strategic relationship because of each side’s refusal to consider the other’s national security interests in Afghanistan.

Calling the development of Pakistan’s media “a work in progress;” Sethi says the anti-American and anti-Indian narrative runs more fiercely in the Urdu-language press. “English media is more liberal, rational, and oriented towards pragmatism” but do not reach as wide an audience as the other regional media, he says.

At the same time, Sethi points to attempts by the army to manipulate the media. The media’s main threats come from ethnic, jihadi, and sectarian groups, “some of which are patronized by the national security establishment,” he says.

Media Giving Jamaat-i-Islami Outsized Attention

Pakistan hijraThe headline of a recent AP article declares that “Pakistani Muslims condemn US gay rights meeting“. But according to AFP, the protest was attended by “around 100 demonstrators”. If only 100 people show up to protest in a nation of 180 million, can this really be said to represent the views of “Pakistani Muslims”?

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) may be, as the AP notes, “Pakistan’s largest Islamic party,” but they could only muster up 100 demonstrators in Karachi – a city of over 14 million. In fact, JI’s electoral success has only been noteworthy when subsidized by military regimes as a means of establishing a facade of democratic elections. Following the free and open elections in 2008, the current makeup of the National Assembly includes no JI representation*. In the Senate, JI was only able to secure 3 seats – fewer than independents. Simply put, JI represents a tiny minority of Pakistani’s views.

In 2009, Pakistan’s supreme court ruled that ‘hijras’ (transgendered people) should be further integrated into society following a petition by an Islamic jurist who wanted to “save them from a life of shame.” As with many countries in the world – including the US – Pakistani attitudes about sexuality are complex and changing.

Jamaat-i-Islami is no more representative of Pakistan and Pakistani Muslims than Pastor Terry Jones or Westboro Baptist Church are to America or American Christians. To equate a small rally of JI demonstrators with the attitudes of Pakistanis or Pakistani Muslims more generally is to create an inference where none exists.

Stories about street demonstrations by radical religious groups may provide sensational headlines for a struggling news industry, but they only confuse Americans about what’s really going on in Pakistan. Jamaat-i-Islami’s power comes from its ability to organize loud and colorful street demonstrations, and to have these protests covered widely in the domestic and international media. By falling for this ploy and giving outsized attention to these made-for-TV events, American media is undermining the hard work of civil society groups in Pakistan that are promoting greater freedom and tolerance.


* JI boycotted the 2008 general elections. The only religious party to participate, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), won only 2.2 percent of the vote and secured only 6 seats.

Speculation, Not Facts, Are Driving Discussion of Pakistani Support

The day after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote that, “One of the mysteries is whether the Pakistani government knew all along who was hiding in Abbottabad.” Since President Obama addresses the nation about the success of the mission, this question has been a constant in media discussions – Was Pakistan providing support to Osama bin Laden? The question’s persistence, however, is supported by speculation, not facts.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon was clear last Sunday that there is no evidence of Pakistani support for Osama bin Laden.

“I’ve not seen any evidence – at least to date – that the political, military or intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Donilon said in an interview aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

An assertion David Ignatius brushes aside as “not quite the same as saying for certain that the Pakistanis didn’t know.” Without any evidence of Pakistani complicity, the Washington Post columnist rhetorically asks the NSA Donilon to prove a negative.

A week later, there is still no evidence of official Pakistani support for bin Laden, but David Ignatius is once again suggesting as much.

And what happens next, as the U.S. begins to exploit the “treasure trove” of information found in bin Laden’s compound? Among other things, that cache may reveal what, if anything, Pakistani officials knew, and when they knew it.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Mr. Ignatius’s latest column bears that titillating headline, “The Plot Thickens In Pakistan.” Georgetown University Professor and South Asia Expert Christine Fair says reporting on Pakistan’s role has descended to the muck of tabloid journalism.

First and foremost, all accounts and statements attesting to Pakistan’s official facilitation of bin Laden’s tenure are irresponsibly speculative. The United States had been monitoring the compound since August 2010 and had even erected a CIA house to do so. If there is credible evidence of such facilitation, the U.S. government should say so. In the absence of evidence, conjecture is reckless. I spent last week in Islamabad interviewing journalists working on their stories—several of them outright confessed that they had nothing of substance and were running with sheer conjecture. Some relied upon dubious and tentative accounts from children playing near the house, milkmen and paperboys as well as night watchmen. As one journalist conceded, “the standards go down” in situations like this. Unfortunately, these sloppy articles will form the contemporary and historical understanding of this momentous event. But let’s be clear: this is not reportage; rather, it is the substance of tabloid.

As lawmakers consider US-Pakistan cooperation going forward, it is important that their decisions be informed by facts, not speculation. Suggestions of official Pakistani support for Osama bin Laden threaten to unnecessarily deepen distrust between the US and Pakistan. And that will serve no one’s interests.

Is the WSJ being used as a proxy in internal Afghan debates?

Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, and Asif Zardari

Matthew Rosenberg’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal claims that Pakistan is secretly urging the Karzai government in Afghanistan to sever ties with the US and change to a Chinese-Pakistani led alliance to secure the country. But reading the article, it quickly becomes apparent that the article more likely reflects a divide among Afghan officials who are using Pakistan as a foil and the US media as a proxy in internal debates.

According to Rosenberg, the source for this revelation is “Afghan officials.” If you read further, however, you’ll learn that Afghan officials have split into “pro- and anti-American factions at the presidential palace trying to sway” President Karzai. In fact, despite the claims of anonymous “Afghan officials,” Matthew Rosenberg quotes presidential spokesman Waheed Omar saying, “Pakistan would not make such demands.”

So what was said at the April 16th meeting between Pakistan and Afghan leaders? According to US officials, it was likely a discussion about how to proceed should the US pull out of the region – a legitimate security concern with target drawdown dates looming.

Some U.S. officials said they had heard details of the Kabul meeting, and presumed they were informed about Mr. Gilani’s entreaties in part, as one official put it, to “raise Afghanistan’s asking price” in the partnership talks. That asking price could include high levels of U.S. aid after 2014. The U.S. officials sought to play down the significance of the Pakistani proposal. Such overtures were to be expected at the start of any negotiations, they said; the idea of China taking a leading role in Afghanistan was fanciful at best, they noted.

Evaluated in the context of existing cooperation in the region, this read by US officials makes more sense than any suggestion that Pakistan is attempting to freeze the US out of Afghanistan. Reason notwithstanding, Wall Street Journal readers are likely to walk away with an unnecessarily sour feeling about the intentions of the Pakistani government. But is this fair?

Mr. Rosenberg’s sources – unnamed “Afghan officials” – are not even described as having been present for the conversations but simply “familiar with the meeting.” A spokesman for the president denies that Pakistan is pressuring Karzai to “to dump [the] U.S.” as the Wall Street Journal headline screams. And despite the Journal reporter’s rather hyperbolic claim that “no other party has been as direct, and as actively hostile to the planned U.S.-Afghan pact, as the Pakistanis,” such a characterization is belied by ongoing security cooperation between the two countries.

This is not to say that the US and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on everything. Each country has its own priorities for the region, and cooperation comes where those priorities overlap. Relations between Pakistan and the US have been described as tense over the past few months due to negotiations over the use of armed drones and interagency coordination on counterinsurgency operations. But negotiations over such operational details are standard in coalition forces, and Pakistan and the US continue to work together to protect shared security interests.

As an experienced South Asian correspondent, Matthew Rosenberg should recognize efforts to use his work as a proxy in internal government debates. Speaker John Boehner recently recognized Pakistan’s great sacrifice in the fight against militant extremists, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen praised cooperation between US and Pakistani troops working jointly against terrorist groups. The Wall Street Journal should not distort Pakistan’s record.

Capacity Building in Pakistan’s Media

Pakistan mediaMonday’s presentation by Dawn reporter and Woodrow Wilson Institute Scholar Huma Yusuf examined the state of Pakistan’s media and offered excellent insights into the at-times-controversial institution and provided suggestions for addressing issues confronting Pakistani journalists and media consumers.

Beginning the event, “Who Watches the Watchdog? The Pakistani Media’s Impact on Politics and Society,” Huma recounted a story from July 2007. It was during this month that a standoff between religious militants and government security forces occured at the Lal Masjid in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

As militants were holed up in the mosque, Pakistani journalist Kamran Khan called and urged the militants to surrender. The cleric leading the group agreed to a surrender if they were assured free passage. Kamran Khan then called the government and, for all intents and purposes, began acting as a negotiator between the two sides. This was a pivotal moment, recounts Ms. Yusuf, when Pakistani media transcended its role as an informational institution and began to leverage its considerable power to shape public opinion to become a political actor.

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Quality of US Reporting on Pakistan is Lacking

The quality of US reporting on Pakistan is lacking. This is increasingly evident from the number of reports filed by respected, award-winning journalists at mainstream media outlets that end up proven inaccurate. While some of the confusion may be due to the generally complex nature of US-Pakistan relations,  producers and journalists need to re-examine their processes for vetting sources and confirming information before it is released. With the stakes as they are, we simply cannot afford to keep making mistakes.

TV CameraIn the most recent example, ABC News reporters Matthew Cole and Nick Schifrin reported yesterday that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon threatened to send Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani back to Islamabad if Raymond Davis is not released. This report was immediately denied by the Pakistani Ambassador via Twitter, “Read my tweet: No US official has conveyed any personal threats 2 me or spoken of escalating tensions.”

When ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper responded, “That’s not a denial,” the Pakistani Ambassador reiterated his denial: “This is: Read my tweets: No US official, incl the NSA, has conveyed any personal threats 2 me or spoken of extreme measures.”

What is curious about the report by Cole and Schifrin is that they didn’t seem to ask the Pakistani Ambassador who, as demonstrated by his Twitter feed, is quite accessible to journalists. Instead, they cited “two Pakistani officials involved in negotiations about Davis” and “a senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.”

Ambassador Haqqani noted that the Pakistani officials Cole and Schifrin spoke to could not have known what was said in the meeting with NSA Donilon as he was the only Pakistani present. As for the senior U.S. official who confirmed the report, we would be wise to remember that senior government officials have been known to feed high profile journalists statements designed not to inform, but to influence public opinion. Examples of this behavior were well documented in Bob Woodward’s most recent book, Obama’s Wars1.

Following the ABC News report, Pakistani English-language daily Dawn spoke with the US Embassy in Islamabad which described the ABC News report as “not true”, a position confirmed by an official press release from the Embassy early this morning which describes the story as “simply inaccurate.”

But ABC News is not the only major media outlet that’s come under fire for its reporting on Pakistan recently. We have observed in the past that The New York Times has occasionally published problematic coverage of Pakistan, and Pakistani blogger Syed Yahya Hussainy earlier this week criticized The New York Times for relying on the same individuals for comment on issues despite evidence that they may not be neutral observers.

Additionally, as we noted on Wednesday, news reports have suggested that tensions over the fate of Raymond Davis threatened trilateral meetings scheduled for later this month, but this assertion too has been denied by the US government.

Beale also said that there was no change of plan in President Asif Ali Zardari’s trip to the US, and nor was President Obama planning to cancel his trip to Pakistan. The spokesperson said that the US embassy and consulates will continue work as per usual in Pakistan.

We wrote on Wednesday that “Both nations’ needs deserve respect and attention, and the only path to a solution that satisfies both nations is open and constructive dialogue.” In order to facilitate such a dialogue, we need the press to cut through the rumor and speculation that clouds public perception about international relations.

1 See: Woodward, Bob. Obama’s Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 157-159.