I RECENTLY saw a TV programme on BBC World that examined the circumstances leading to the declaration of a `no-fly zone` over Libya.
Such a zone was declared after the adoption of a UN resolution that abridged Libyan sovereignty but supported the aspirations of the Libyans who were protesting and demanding greater freedoms, including an end to Muammar Qadhafi`s four-decade rule.
What was significant in the programme was the lack of direction in many European capitals and in the US preceding this decision. Although there was paralysis at the state level, within a few days the key European countries and the US agreed that action should be initiated under the UN charter.
It was not at all clear what changed the situation from a lack of unanimity to the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, permitting the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya and warning the Libyan government to stop the use of force against Libyans. In the previous international system such an occurrence was unheard of. So what has changed?
It is now obvious that the international media has become very influential in guiding the policies of western nations, because its reporting creates a demand amongst voters to bring relevant changes. The recent protest movements in the Middle East — one of the most oppressive regions in the world — are clearly the result of two factors: globalisation of values like freedom, human rights and abhorrence of violence; and the availability and popularity of social networking websites.In other words, we are witnessing the birth of international values that are centred on humanism and not on belief-driven ideologies that use force as a weapon.
Secondly, it was surprising for many to see that religion and its votaries did not figure in this new configuration that is taking place in the Middle East, which is mostly Muslim. Will this transform the stereotypes of identities that caused conflict in the past? Or will the future belong to people who follow universal values of human rights while subscribing to local customs as part of their identity?
If it is the latter, then we are likely to see the last of persons like Osama bin Laden and his followers who have caused so much pain and misery everywhere. Life is about peace, love and brotherhood and not winning imaginary ideological or belief-driven battles for a `salubrious` hereafter.
If the media is the new mechanism that shifts voters` perceptions and forces politicians to act in international affairs then what is the message for Pakistan? Evidently, it has to act in such a way that its state policies are acceptable to the global village where humanity dwells and not to act solely for Pakistan`s narrow or selfish ends.
Secondly, it must be ensured that our policies enhance international security while at the same time improve the lives of our people and others around the world. This can only happen if we bring about basic changes in how we manage our internal and foreign policies. At present, the international media narrative portrays Pakistan as part of the problem concerning international security. The criticism against us fills many hours of media time and is dangerous for our long-term survival. So what should Pakistan do?
Winston Churchill provides an answer. He said that if a nation wants to be considered as part of the civilised world, its society must be based on the opinion of civilians. “It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained. That is civilisation — and in its soil grows continually freedom, comfort and culture.”
We can judge where we stand by comparing our situation today with what Churchill stated. Pakistan today painfully resembles a citadel of violence and abridged lives, a state that survives on the goodwill of others. Such an enterprise cannot be called civilised under the above definition.
Pakistan`s media is robust and can play a constructive role if there is a wish to do so. However, on issues of freedom and repression the media becomes faint-hearted and selective in its approach. Some recent examples of its reticence are its stance on the repressiveness under the blasphemy laws and the connected tragic deaths of governor Salman Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
The media acts fearfully because the rightist retribution is instant. For it to remain healthy, it needs to be protected and groomed by the state to become a progressive transformative agent. Its power to do good and take Pakistan out of the grip of terrorists in Swat and Fata was evident when it transformed the mindset of Pakistanis by airing the video that showed the whipping of a girl in Swat by the Taliban in April 2009.
It changed the mindset of the people, which in turn transformed national policy and created a demand for immediate retributive action against the Swat militants — something that the political leadership and the security services were unable to achieve earlier.
This indicates that the Pakistani media can play a major constructive role as a strategic communicator for changing negative attitudes. However, to achieve beneficial results, a sound national strategy is a prerequisite.
It is apparent that in this new media-driven world, Pakistan`s security and future well-being depend on understanding the new emerging information paradigm and aligning security and information strategies accordingly. However, such a strategy cannot be based on denials.
The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.
There are problems with some of the basic assumptions in the article.
The credibility of the media, western and our own, is not always what it is made out to be. In a memorable speech at the New York Press Club John Swinton, former Chief of Staff at the New York Times said: ‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, as an independent press. —- We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.’
Their hypocrisy in the present situation becomes manifest when they call for Qaddafi’s removal but not the equally undemocratic West-friendly regimes in other countries. There were no calls for regime changes in Tunis and Egypt either until it became clear the despots there would not survive the revolutions.
What could be more hypocritical than the media silence over the blatant crimes against humanity and human rights violations being committed by the US in the indiscriminate killing of thousands of innocent civilian men, women and children with missiles fired from drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen?
Contrary to the perception that has been created, Pakistan does not ‘painfully resemble a citadel of violence and abridged lives.’ Yes, there has been an increase in violence but it has to be put in perspective. Despite the state of war that has been imposed on the country the rate of violent deaths in Pakistan has varied between 5.8 and 6.8 per 100,000 over the past ten years, as against 71 in El Salvador, 60 in Jamaica, 37 in South Africa, 15 each in Mexico and Russia and 5.6 in USA.
The UN is hardly an independent body, as implied, acting in the best interests of humanity. No less a person than the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is on record having described it as ‘an instrument of US foreign policy’. The ‘no-fly’ zone and sanctions it has imposed over Libya will have catastrophic inhuman effects on the people, going by what a similar action did to the people of Iraq. In 1997, UNICEF reported that some 4,500 Iraqi children under the age of five were dying each month from hunger and disease as a direct result of the US-led economic sanctions; one in four children in the same age group was chronically malnourished and one in eight died before his fifth birthday. Madam Albright nonetheless told Leslie Stahl on CBS’ 60 Minutes, ‘We think the price is worth it’.
Perceptions are not everything. We may be reading in the Libya situation more than there is. The notion that ‘we are witnessing the birth of international values that are centred on humanism and not on belief-driven ideologies that use force as a weapon’ may need to be revisited.