Pakistan

Pakistan’s legs in two boats – Shiraz Paracha

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The author is a British Academic leader, administrator, professional communicator, PR expert, Journalism and PR professor. He has previously served as Media Advisor to the PTI-led KP government, and currently heads the Journalism department at the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan


 

China and Pakistan are developing a deeper and long-term strategic partnership. Pakistan and Russia are also coming closer. Pakistan has also become a member of the Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO), and global economic conditions are dictating new policy shifts. As the architect of country’s foreign and security policies, the Pakistani military appears to be backing these important and much needed changes, however; perhaps we are not learning the right lessons from our Russian and Chinese counterparts.

Western media as well as Western politicians and NGOs accuse China and Russia for human rights violations and imposing press censorships. However, Western elites have an agenda. They follow double standards and support those dictatorships which serve Western interests but target countries that challenge Western hegemony or stand to Western imperial policies.

In this 21st century, Russia and China are capable of challenging the Western global domination. Mass media were war weapons of the Cold War. This time around, the New Media, too, are used for undermining the Russian and Chinese credibility. The West views China and Russia as non-democratic countries and questions the legitimacy of their political systems. Using the promotion of democracy as a pretext, the United States has been sponsoring groups and organizations that resist the Russian and the Chinese governments’ policies. The U.S says it has an obligation to support pro-democracy forces around the world. Under President George W. Bush, the U.S was openly engaged in “exporting democracy” and sponsoring revolutions abroad.

A major reason for limited press freedom in China and Russia is the fear of Western interference. The use of social media is restricted and in some cases banned in China because social media platforms could be used for creating confusion and unrest in the country. This situation could well be understood as western governments are often accused of encouraging opposition groups in other countries.

Western hostility towards Russia is very old and China has emerged as a major player on the global political stage. The West is at odds with Russia and China not only due to political and economic rivalry, but also because of fundamental differences between Western political philosophy and the governance systems in Russia and China.

Pakistan, on the other hand, was a former British colony. It has opted for the British parliamentary form of democracy and its British inherited military has ruled the country for 33 years directly; and for the rest of the period from the backseat. Despite the military role and power in Pakistan, politically, Pakistan is closer to Western system, as political and press freedoms are most prominent features of Western democracy.

The people of India earned independence after a long political struggle. India and Pakistan came into being as a result of political process. After the independence, the people of Pakistan fought for democracy for several decades and achieved some rights by peaceful political means. The Pakistani press has also won its freedom after a long and hard struggle during which many journalists were jailed and tortured.

But now a new era of settled censorship is unfolding in Pakistan. Space for freedom of expression and critical thinking is shrinking. There are dozens of private TV channels in Pakistan but all have the same agenda. Print media owners have been supporting the status quo. The Pakistani mass media are manufacturing consent around certain themes like a narrow definition of patriotism and religious identity, selective campaign against corruption, demonization of democracy and the Parliament. They are showing most politicians in negative light.

In this new age of self-censorship social media platforms have emerged as forums for presenting alternate point of views in Pakistan. It is a fact that credibility and responsibility are issues on social media as fake news and propaganda are disseminated through social media; nevertheless, it is also true that due to their very nature the social or alternate media pose serious challenges to the purposefully built political discourses and the status quo.

The Pakistani government is planning restrictions on social media saying that social media platforms are being used for provoking religious sentiments. Banning social media platforms in Pakistan wouldn’t be a wise policy. It will be bad for the health of our evolving democracy and political system. Instead of following Russia and China in restricting press freedom without understanding the context in which China and Russia have acted, we should share our rich experience of political and press freedoms with China and Russia. Unlike the West, we don’t have an agenda: We don’t want to dominate Russia or China.

Also, as we are coming closer to Russia and China; both of which are strictly secular states. It will be a good opportunity for Pakistan to observe if secularism has played a role in transforming Russia and China into superpowers economically, technologically and militarily.

The concern, however, is that despite establishing closer relations with China and Russia, we are also following the policies of the Saudi Arabian camp. A recently retired army chief of Pakistan will now head the Saudi led controversial military alliance. That means we will have our legs in two boats sailing in opposite directions.

Pakistan is building unprecedented strategic alliances with secular and communist states and at the same time accused of using religion as a political tool and religious groups as assets. Such contradictions could create new problems for Pakistan in its relations with its new partners.

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