From religious militancy and sectarianism to poverty and corruption, common Pakistanis are confronted with serious challenges for their survival-uncertain about their present and seriously concerned about the future.
On the political scene it has become a norm with rightwing religious and political leaders to hold protest demonstrations and deliver fiery speeches on contentious issues in Palestine and Kashmir and inciting violence inside the country, but adopt meaningful silence when thousands of civilians are killed in terrorist incidents and military operations. A recent report reveals lethal attacks by Taliban militants hit 54 Pakistani places of worship of various faiths in the past 10 years, killing 1,165 worshippers and injuring about 2,900.
Ironically if some civil society groups or human rights activists dare to break the silence and hold gatherings to condemn the atrocities of state and non-state actors they are threatened with dire consequences. Some friends of Peace Movement in Peshawar confided, the security establishment doesn’t encourage them to raise voice when military offensives in the tribal region spare important militant commanders and destroy lives and properties of the local communities.
Most often Pakistan mainstream media follows the same line. Thanks to emergence of more than 30 news and current affairs TV channels, TV anchors can be seen ready to offer panacea for all the evils of the society according to their own religious and political affiliations. Their analysis most often culminates on anti-Americanism and threats to the country’s security from neighboring India while ignoring the fact the real threat posed to the country’s future is internal.
The furor about the arrest of Afia Saddiqui, an American educated Pakistani citizen convicted in a US court of assault with intent to murder her US interrogators in Afghanistan, to the religious frenzy on the issue of calls for reforms in Pakistan’s blasphemy law and the consequent murder of Governor Salman Taseer Pak Media failed to bring an objective and realistic picture of the evolving situation to its bewildered audience.
The alleged murder of two Pakistani citizens at the hands of Raymond Davis, a member of US consulate in Lahore blessed the TV anchors and self-proclaimed analysts with a new opportunity not to wait for the court decisions but to solve it on their TV screens. Soon protest demonstrations broke out and on January 31 when thousands of Egyptians protested against the excesses of Hosni Mubarak regime, thousands of Pakistanis gathered and chanted anti-American slogans in the eastern city of Lahore, demanding the hanging of the American diplomat. Both are Muslim countries but one can feel the differences of approaches towards resolving their respective national issues.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, but in the context of the emerging situation in Pakistan, one wonders if all the issues can be addressed on the streets what role the country’s judiciary and elected parliament is left with to uphold law of the land?
The media not only heightens religious and sectarian tensions it also plays a catalyst role in dividing Pakistani nation along ethnic and linguistic lines.
Last week members of the militancy hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly complained TV channels give live coverage to the activities of a Karachi based ethnic party but ignore the sufferings of the millions of people who are struggling at the face of ongoing war and violence in the region.