“Neutral in favor of whom?”
It is no news that Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan named Ansar Abbasi as their representative since he has long been projecting their point of view and has never feigned otherwise. It is also no news that Nawaz Sharif too asked him to represent government in the so-called dialogue. The line between the government and the TTP has thinned away. Amir Mateen has put it aptly saying it is ‘good Taliban talking to better Taliban’. But the news is that Mr Abbasi wishes to assume the role of a ‘mediator’ faking an impression of neutrality stating that his committee, not yet formed, would point out wrongs of either side.
The situation is a throw-back to an expression legendry writer and peace activist Uri Anvery made when John Kerry-led team proposed yet another solution to Israel-Palestine issue claiming neutrality. Anvery questioned the Kerry-led team’s integrity asking: “Neutral in favor of whom?” What is neutral about being a representative of the government or the TTP when they sing the same thing? Mr. Abbasi seemed to have taken cover of journalism, which, our university students are taught, demands impartiality, objectivity and neutrality to strike balance. He might better be reminded that these ideas have turned obsolete; as now the world has accepted the reality that no one can be neutral. Everyone has an opinion that guides him/her in interpretation of what he/she is going to report. Having a bias is natural but hiding this bias is hypocrisy and unethical.
The moment when news about announcement of representatives of the TTP broke, some people thought that the sons of death and destruction have given in to the state because they looked short of men to speak on their behalf. But these people were mistaken or positivists. Only a few grasped at that time that terrorists win half the battle when and if they succeed in dominating media. Since creation of Pakistan, a handful of clerics have been on the outlook for a shortcut to the corridors of power. Their narrative was simplistic: the world needs a divine deliverance and they, and only they, know how to execute divine laws. (This is another story that when and where they execute these divine laws, human beings are amputated, have their privacy invaded, their rights forfeited, their faces covered up, their heads cut off and everything human violated).
It is not for nothing that the TTP found three of their representatives from media ‑ Rahimullah Yousafzai, Ansar Abbasi and Orya Maqbool Jan. Late investigative journalist Syed Salim Shahzad wrote in his book Beyond Al Qaida and Taliban that journalists of an Islamist party, which never got votes to match its representation in media, account for more than half of the key positions in media. A US scholar came to Pakistan in 2012 and told me that the society has changed a lot since she last visited the country in 1970s. She remembered that at that time, women used to ride bicycles on The Mall, Lahore but no one could even think of doing so now. The irony is that media has opened up and society closed since 1970s. So no wonder when late Salmaan Taseer was caught off guard by a female anchor, not wearing hijab, who provoked public sentiment against the former governor Punjab and was sacked for her action from Samaa TV.
Media has been fanning extremist trends in society but the puritanical narrative in its crudest form was never propagated so forcefully as now. The same female anchor, after being sacked from the second media house, joined on dubious grounds, put the mike to Lal Masjid cleric on Wednesday night (5 February 2014) and let him declare that the Taliban brand of divine law or Shariat is acceptable to society and those not adhering to it will have to live as second-grade citizens with subordinate laws for them. The one who gives in her liberties in part to enter a contract with the government through Parliament that her sacrifice of liberties means to ensure coexistence of other society members is nowhere in the game. The one who slits throats and never votes not only gets counted but also gets the state bogged down and readied to let sacrifice and trust of the voter go down the drain. It leads to only two options: to be killed or to kill and get heard.
The writer is media scholar and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org