By Mati Ullah Khan
After spending over a decade as a journalist, I have realized that even in the civilian era, the definition of democracy or political values in Pakistan varies depending on who is in the power and who is in its pursuance. Not long ago, our fellow journalists*** were found boasting of standing for true democratic values, and lamenting the plight of elected governments in Pakistan especially with regard to the impediments barring them to enjoy the full-five year term in power.
Whether it was Yousaf Raza Gillani’s ouster from the Prime Minister’s Office as a result of a Supreme Court’s decree or Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, our fellow journalists mourned the decisions. Though, both Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) completed their respective full-term in power but ‘painful echoes’ of our fraternity in between on the matter were never silenced. It was a time when questioning the functioning of the PPP & PML-N governments and their bad governance, or even demanding the accountability of their leaders over alleged financial misconduct were deemed as tantamount to ‘derailing the democracy’ or ‘an insult to people’s representatives’. The 126-day sit-in staged by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against alleged election rigging and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) protest over the massacre of their 14 members at Lahore’s Model Town were also dubbed as orchestrated by ‘non-democratic forces’ to topple the ‘elected & democratic government’ of Nawaz Sharif. The term ‘fascism’ was also conspicuously aligned with PTI in a deliberate attempt to malign Imran Khan-led party, as backed by the ‘establishment’ it was meant to dislodge Nawaz Sharif’s ‘democratic government’.
For me, it was an era when most of the ‘conspiracy theories’ were hatched favoring PML-N’s regime against all ‘non-democratic forces’ i.e. PTI, PAT, establishment, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), and paratrooper media persons. Ironically, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and PML-Q, which are now being tagged as ‘Musharraf/Establishment’s parties’ didn’t make in the list of those ‘non-democratic forces’; rather, in fact Nawaz Sharif’s enjoyed their support in the Centre. In PML-N’s era, from holding jalsas (public gatherings) to sit-ins, each political adventure was viewed as ‘fascist tactics’ and slammed as they were part of a nefarious deign to topple the ‘elected & democratic’ regime. Thus, it was an era when our fellow journalists used to preach us democratic values and remind us of how ‘oppressed’ elected governments have been in Pakistan. They also used to spell out the benefits of a ‘stable government’, and term the failure of an elected government to complete its five-year tenure as a root cause of Pakistan’s instability and absence of democratic institutions.
However as the day dawned on July 26, 2018, our fellow journalists took a 180-degree U-turn and abruptly furnished a new set of political ideas, which were in contrast to their previous preaching. As all the opposition parties mainly PML-N, PPP and JUI-F declined to vindicate PTI’s triumph in 2018 polls, our fellow journalists stood by them, and since then, the latter seem to be little bothered about the ‘neutrality’ and ‘creditability’, two key pillars on which a journalist must base his professional life. The non-acceptance of opponent’s electoral victory has always been a dilemma in Pakistan’s political history; however, if journalists also become party to it and opt to take the role of ‘political workers’ or ‘political parties’ spokespersons’, it can’t be more unfortunate. Unlike the past, our fellow journalists began to glorify opposition’s every move to disrupt the PTI government. The long marches, sit-ins and seeking the prime minister’s resignation – which had once been undemocratic & unconstitutional – were now legitimized and termed as the ‘beauty of democracy’. The entire nation also saw when a few of our fellow journalists shared the stage set on a container with opposition leaders when the JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman held a 13-day sit-in at Peshawar Morr in Islamabad in October 2019 to topple the sitting government and endorsed his demand of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation.
If PTI and PAT were on roads in 2014 against the PML-N government, the agitational politics never ended when Imran Khan took over; however, the difference lied in its interpretations by journalists-turned political workers. In three and half year of the PTI government, the opposition parties attempted almost everything to dislodge the government i.e. held jalsas, sit-ins, long-marches, threatened to tender resignations from the Parliament, instigated the establishment against Imran Khan, and tabled the no-trust motion. So if PTI and PAT’s street politics aiming to send PML-N government home was undemocratic and fascism, according to a bunch of journalists, after August 2018 it had turned vice versa.
Inarguably, the no-trust motion is by now not only the most fearsome attack, the opposition has launched against Prime Minister Imran Khan since 2018 but it also holds intrigue, implying that where our contemporary politics and media stand today. Though undoubtedly, the no-trust motion is one of two Constitutional ways to oust a sitting prime minister other than he himself relinquishes his Office. However, even the opposition leaders themselves believe and openly state that in Pakistan, a prime minister can’t be removed from the Office through a no-confidence motion unless it has the backing of the ‘establishment’ or his parliamentary accomplices are ‘bribed’ to win their support. It remains no more secret now that why the opposition didn’t use the no-trust motion card against Imran Khan earlier and what has turned the tide now, persuading the opposition alliances to commit an act, they were reluctant to before. It will certainly take some time or even the ‘hidden hands’ behind it might never be revealed but the illegal tools used to trap Prime Minister Imran Khan are as evident as a universal truth. Some of ruling party’s MNAs were offered lucrative incentives and stationed at the Sindh House as a protective measure, ensuring that Prime Minister Imran Khan loses his majority in the National Assembly. Under what law or Constitutional clause, the allegiance of PTI’s MNAs was bought?, our ‘democratic politicians’ must answer to it…
But even more dismaying is the fact that a few members of our fraternity rushed to the Sindh House and interviewed the PTI’s dissidents with a set of queries, suggesting that as the latter had done a great service to ‘democracy’. The opposition leaders and our fellow journalists are of the view that the PTI’s dissidents – whom they present as ‘heroes of the nation’ – have revolted against Prime Minister Imran Khan according to their ‘conscience’ but they miserably fail to justify that why those lawmakers don’t resign if they really believe that the government’s policies are detrimental and why their revolt is meant to ultimately help the opposition? With each day passing, our fellow journalists seem to be getting more desperate even than the opposition parties, questioning the delaying tactics of the Speaker of the National Assembly and arguing that it’s a violation of the Constitution and a disservice to the Speaker’s Office. Surely, a Speaker National Assembly must act impartially and under the law as he is the Custodian of the House but why our fellow journalists are ‘intentionally’ not batting an eye on the despicable and illegal aspect which formed the basis of the no-trust motion – horse-trading and buying the loyalties of PTI lawmakers. They merely remain adamant to propagate and justify the tabling of the no-trust motion as it’s no doubt Constitutional but are brushing the ‘unconstitutional horse-trading’ under the carpet. Thus, an agenda-based journalism is in full swing to provide a legal cover to the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan under the guise of no-confidence motion, another appalling mistake which the Country would suffer for in decades to come.
So in the journalism field, unfortunately it hasn’t so far been an encouraging and cheerful experience for me. Falling to human nature, any journalist may succumb to personal biases but in his professional capacity, he must adhere to true journalistic norms as much as possible. But in Pakistan, even those tilted as ‘most credible’, ‘champions of democracy’ or ‘guardians of freedom of speech’ seem to have gone astray, and now it’s disheartening to bid adieu to ‘real journalism’.
*** The phrase ‘our fellow journalists’ refers to merely a section of media persons, not all journalists.
Note: The writer Mati Ullah Khan has been working as the News Editor for Dispatch News Desk (DND) news agency since 2012. He did his Masters in International Relations (IR) from International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI). He can be reached at email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.