This is a new chapter in US meddling in Pakistani politics.
By AHMED QURAISHI | Thursday, 21 October 2010.
WASHINGTON, DC—If you want evidence the US media has been mounting a quiet campaign over the past year in support of embattled Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari and against his critics in the media and Pakistan’s Supreme Court, read this report: Pakistan’s Media Piles On President, published by Washington Post and focused on Pakistan’s largest newspaper and television network, The News and Geo.
The above report is an indirect but strong criticism of Geo and of anyone in Pakistan critical of Mr. Zardari. The fact that such one-sided and biased reporting can appear in Washington Post shows there are power centers in Washington that take any attack against the incumbent Pakistani government very personally. And, as shown later here, this report is part of a pattern.
I broke the story at PakNationalists.com in Dec. 2009 about a secret meeting between then-US ambassador Anne Patterson and two senior politicians from an opposition party in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital, the exact time of the meeting and the middle(wo)men who arranged it. Apparently the ambassador left the embassy in an unmarked car, no security cars trailing her, and met the two senior politicians for one purpose: to request them to avoid destabilizing the government of President Zardari. In return she offered US support for the two politicians and their party. [The two politicians politely asked for time to think about it and didn’t commit to anything]. This was one of several similar meetings Ms. Patterson had with a limited number of opposition politicians at the time for the same purpose. None of them were reported or publicly acknowledged.
The point is, regardless of how many times US officials say they are sickened by Pakistani government’s corruption, they are firmly behind this government. Certainly there is a debate inside Washington on the utility of Mr. Zardari and whether he’s an asset or a burden for the US. But it’s quite obvious which viewpoint is dominating. The generous US flood aid after initial reluctance to send helicopters, and financial support in other areas, are all meant to shore up Mr. Zardari’s government. Washington came to Mr. Zardari’s rescue when it became clear his government was teetering before an emboldened military and an agitated public opinion.
Interestingly, the WashPost reporter omitted a significant piece of information: the siege of the headquarters of The News and Geo in Karachi in August. When Mr. Richard Holbrooke paid a visit to Jang offices, the parent company of The News and Geo, on Sept. 15, his gesture was largely symbolic. There never was a strong and equivocal condemnation of the government-sponsored harassment that Jang received after covering president’s UK visit. Even the article written by former US ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin, defending Geo, made indirect references to US grievances over ‘conspiracy theories’ in Pakistani media, a euphemism now for anything critical of US policy in Pakistan.
The best part of the WashPost report is that it gives itself the right to decide the good protagonists and bad protagonists in Pakistani politics.
For example, in the same report, the reporter paints Mr. Zardari’s government as a helpless victim of unnecessary media criticism. A portion of the report is dedicated to proving the young age of most Pakistani journalists, implying they are immature. The American reporter summarily dismisses several Pakistani media accounts of government-linked feudal politicians playing a role in worsening flood impact in Sindh. At one point, the WashPost reporter creates the illusion that Mr. Zardari is responsible for the growth in independent media in Pakistan.
On Geo’s role in criticizing Mr. Zardari, the reporter sarcastically observes that “Geo is not a political opposition group, but rather Pakistan’s most popular television network.”
The WashPost reporter then goes on to make this skewed remark, “Whether this is a healthy free press at work or a destabilizing force in a tense and turbulent democracy is the subject of much debate.”
It’s amazing that the mainstream US media is now deciding how the Pakistani media should conduct itself. I guess it’s a natural follow-up to US politicians and think-tank types deciding who should rule Pakistan and who shouldn’t, and who should be the designated enemy of Pakistan and who isn’t. In blaming the Americans, we also blame ourselves, our political and military rulers who emboldened foreigners to meddle in our affairs.
This WashPost report is not one-off but underscores a trend in the US media over the past one year when it comes to Pakistan and the government of President Asif Zardari.
Just a week earlier, the same theme was discernible in the story, Pakistan’s Emboldened Judiciary Threatens Government Stability, also published by the Washington Post on 13 Oct. 2010. Two different reports in Washington DC’s newspaper of record, harping on the same theme: that Pakistan’s media and judiciary are destabilizing the government and democracy.
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