Indiscretions or misreporting?

DISCRETION, it is said, is the better part of valour. But key figures in the land of the pure have not heeded this wise counsel or at least act as if they have not.

And the result: a bizarre week filled with clarifications, denials and, even, remorse by some of the most important people, all men in this case, who preside over our destinies and dictate the future of the country and its nearly 200 million inhabitants.

As the main arbiters of our destiny play power games apparently aimed at securing a greater say for their institution in the affairs of the state, we, the people, feel as would passengers in a rudderless ship.

It was a bizarre week filled with clarifications, denials and even remorse by some of the most important people in the land.

Let’s start with the judicially deposed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who, some seven years on, has finally come round to the point of view expressed by the visionary Asma Jahangir when she said that the so-called Memogate case would come back to haunt civilian governments in the years to come.

Asma Jahangir’s words were spoken outside the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2011 when Mr Sharif had petitioned the apex judicial forum after the Memogate scandal had marred civil-military relations.

Nawaz Sharif’s move had been seen as an act that would tilt the balance in the military’s favour in its tussle with the then PPP government. The PPP-led administration and presidency seemed very precariously perched for several weeks, before surviving the crisis and going on to complete their term.

Earlier this week, some seven years after having undermined another civilian government, Mr Sharif told journalists in Islamabad after appearing before an accountability court where he is being tried that he was wrong to take the Memogate issue to the Supreme Court.

One wonders if Nawaz Sharif would have reached the same conclusion had he not faced his current predicament, where having been ousted from office, he is facing a barrage of charges and may end up in prison for what he believes was his quest for civilian supremacy.

Where it took Mr Sharif seven years to have second thoughts, army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa took a mere 16 days to ask his spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, DG ISPR, to clarify remarks at his supposed off-the-record briefing which was fairly widely reported.

The remarks, which the media said constituted the so-called Bajwa doctrine, had covered in a broad sweep national politics, the judicial action targeting the disqualified prime minister, the state of the economy and, yes, the 18th Constitutional Amendment among other issues.

Gen Bajwa’s off-the-record briefing which happened in the first 10 days of the month continued to be discussed in TV programmes, remained the subject of op-ed columns and also leaders in newspapers.

Some of the TV anchors appeared breathlessly excited at the prospect of the ‘Bajwa doctrine’ tightening its stranglehold over the country and state institutions but when a journalist, known for his commitment to civilian supremacy, did not sound too different many observers were left wondering if a possible tongue-in-cheek piece by him had been utterly misinterpreted.

Of course many op-ed articles and newspapers leaders sounded the opposite and raised the question of the chief’s constitutional authority to address some of the issues he seemed to have in his briefing to a select group of journalists.

Slowly but surely, the chief’s remarks started to come in for some stick. Therefore, it was not surprising that the DG ISPR chose to lay the blame for ‘misreporting ’and ‘out of context’ reporting squarely at the door of the journalists/anchors who, he said, shouldn’t have reported on an off-the-record briefing.

The Bajwa doctrine, the DG ISPR, told us has nothing to do with politics, the economy or even the 18th Amendment. In fact, it solely represented the military chief’s desire to see stability, peace, and law and order return to Pakistan, marking an end to terrorism that held sway for several years.

Anyway, when the chief explains his remarks in the Islamic Republic nobody raises questions like why it took him over two weeks to clarify matters after the reporting or misreporting had started to emerge.

Whatever the Pakistani media’s shortcomings, one must acknowledge that many sections of it (in sharp contrast to the ecstatic anchors, one of whom was subsequently banned for lying by the apex court for three months) questioned the chief and the wisdom of his remarks.

Whether the chief’s remarks were made to test the waters or there was gross misreporting one cannot say but full marks to him and his media team for realising that the reaction was negative as he appeared to be transgressing his constitutionally defined role.

Where past or present key players of two key institutions made headlines by airing their thoughts, clarifying them later, with one even expressing remorse, the office of the third issued a strongly worded denial about calling the prime minister a ‘faryadi’ (supplicant).

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s remarks were reported from his courtroom where he is supposed to have made them in response to a question raised about his meeting with the prime minister by lawyer Latif Khosa who was appearing before him in a case.

Later, at a public gathering, when a journalist asked him if it was appropriate for him to have used such a word (faryadi) to describe the elected chief executive of the country, he flatly denied having used it.

This was followed by a tersely worded Supreme Court statement saying the attribution of the word to the chief justice was completely wrong and malicious and that he held the prime minister in high esteem.

Given the quality of reporting these esteemed personages say they have cause to complain about, one hopes they will be more cautious what they say before anchors and journalists when they talk in their presence next.

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