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Old Wednesday, April 18, 2012
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A matter of PR

April 18th, 2012


At a time when the military is facing many challenges, not least of which is fighting various militant groups, it is hard to understand why it needs to venture into the propaganda business. As reported recently in this newspaper, under the auspices of the military-controlled 96 International Radio Network, the institution now wants to run a nationwide network of FM radio stations in an effort to promote “social harmonisation”. Exactly why this is needed to run parallel to the state-owned Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television (PTV) — which are tasked with the same goal — has not been explained. The worry is that the military is bypassing the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and will use this network of radio stations to promote its own agenda and objectives.

Initially the military got into the media business after carrying out operations in Swat and Fata. In those cases, its radio activities could be defended on the grounds of national security, since militants had successfully used FM radio to propagate their venomous ideology. A counter to that was needed immediately and the military was in the best position to offer that. However, to expand those efforts to the rest of the country is unnecessary given the presence of a ministry of information, Radio Pakistan, PTV and the military’s own public relations arm, ISPR. Even if the military-run FM stations are completely benign, they will simply lead to a duplication of effort parallel to state-owned radio. Furthermore, having a network of military-sponsored radio stations could give the impression that the institution is somehow independent of the government.

As always, the best way to have a positive public relations interaction with ordinary people is for a government institution — be it the military or any other — to do its job to the best of its capabilities, as defined/mandated by the Constitution of Pakistan. If an institution does a job well, its actions speak for themselves and there may be no need for any PR exercise at all. The obvious example that comes to mind is the missing persons issue, particularly with regard to the situation in Balochistan. Holding those accountable in the intelligence agencies responsible for involvement in this matter would be the best way of garnering some good PR rather than setting up a network of radio stations.


Justice without meaning

April 18th, 2012


It is clear that the criminal justice system in Pakistan has lost all meaning. There is, in fact, no sense of law and order left and with people taking matters into their own hands, only might prevails. We have seen such incidents before — we see them now again. An 80-year-old man, acquitted by a court late last year on blasphemy charges, and recently released, was shot dead in his hometown of Sheikhupura, apparently by the same man who had accused him in 2011.

According to the family of the victim, octogenarian Iqbal Butt, the accusation of blasphemy arose after a sharp verbal exchange between him and the cleric Maulvi Waqas, the khateeb of the local mosque; as has happened time and again before, protests by local clerics who were instigated by Waqas, led to charges being brought against the old man, which in turn led to his arrest. After hearing the case, he was found innocent by court, while a committee of ulema in Sheikhupura — who examined the matter — reached precisely the same verdict.

Despite all this, Iqbal Butt suffered the ultimate punishment — death. It came at the hands of fanatics who were unwilling to accept the court’s verdict or show mercy for an old man, who had already spent months in prison, despite the fact that he had committed no offence. We have seen such happenings occur repeatedly, with men accused of blasphemy having been killed in courts or in jail cells. Human rights groups have repeatedly established that most blasphemy cases in our country arise as a means to settle petty scores — over property, over business or over other matters. This trend continues. Trifling attempts to improve matters have failed, and it seems that swift change is unlikely. Certainly, too little is being done to bring this change about, which is why we continue to see tragedies of the kind most recently enacted in Sheikhupura, with Maulvi Waqas and his accomplice, who shot Iqbal, having so far escaped arrest — like so many others responsible for similar crimes in the past.


Giant loss

April 18th, 2012


The 2006 military operation that led to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti, which involved the bombing of the hills and hamlets across the Dera Bugti region may — apart from so many other things — also have cost us one of the most important paleontological findings of our time. According to a recent report in this newspaper, in 1999, a team of French scientists had uncovered, in the sandy hills of Dera Bugti, the fossilised remains of what they believed was the largest mammal to ever walk the earth. The hornless, rhinoceros-like creature, which lived some 30 million years ago, is called Baluchitherium, after it was named as such by the British scientist, who in 1910, found evidence of its existence. The French team, which nearly 90 years later, put together its bones, believed it weighed as much as four elephants, stood some 18 feet high and measured 21 feet in length.

It is now feared that this discovery — made after the late Nawab granted permission for the Dera Bugti hills to be excavated — may have been lost forever following the bombing of the region. It had been agreed at the time that the bones would not be removed from Balochistan, but after some hesitation, Nawab Bugti had allowed them to be shifted to Karachi so that they could be assembled in a more suitable setting. Funding for shifting the bones to Karachi was being sought, and meanwhile, they were stored at the Nawab’s mansion. The scientists also made discoveries, which indicate the barren Dera Bugti area was once a tropical forest.

The French team believes a key discovery has been destroyed forever. However, local paleontologists are more optimistic that some of the remains may have survived. The discovery of Baluchitherium also proves —they say — that Pakistan hosts a treasure trove of fossilised history of immense scientific value. What is lacking is the interest, the funds and the will to explore this heritage further, and by doing so, making a key contribution at the global level to what we know about the past of our country and the territory that it stands on today.
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