We are not detached from what is happening today in Pakistan.
What is currently taking place in that country is tantamount to experimenting with the meaning of an explosion of accumulated crises. Suicide bombings had repainted the image of Pakistan as a laboratory for a series of crises and internal contradictions after all proposals to perpetuate a real democratic rule had failed despite western and American support for President Pervez Musharraf. Many fear that the deteriorating situation in Pakistan is a warning to the rest of the region implying that it could reach our region if the elements of the current crises are not contained. Let us focus upon what is happening in the media, which was one of the first victims of the current calamity following President Musharraf’s announcement of a state of emergency in the country. Dozens of journalists were summoned, assaulted and prevented from working; in addition, the broadcasting tools of some mass media institutions were confiscated. There is no doubt that the content of the new system for newspapers and visual and electronic media that the government had enacted at the beginning of the month is, as described by Reporters Without Borders, a “death announcement for a number of private television and radio stations” which have been established in recent years. These private media institutions have played a part in criticizing the regime and highlighting the violations and abuses that the system had perpetrated.
The Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had amended one of the laws governing the operation of the press within the framework of the state of emergency that he declared. According to these amendments, the media is now banned from broadcasting images or information on suicide bombings and the parties that declare themselves responsible for such acts. It is prohibited to talk about lawsuits that are under judicial consideration; besides it is forbidden to mock the head of state, the army or governmental institutions. Emergency laws also prohibit the broadcast of statements that offend the sovereignty, the ideology or the unity and security of Pakistan. As usual, these are broad headlines with vague interpretations which in turn facilitate the obstruction of media work, the arrest of journalists and their imprisonment under penalty of law. Such laws throw the country back decades and waste the efforts so far achieved by private media.
There are many dangers surrounding Pakistan. One of these grave dangers is losing the ability to broadcast independent information under the pressure of the army on one hand and extremist armed groups on the other hand. In a country where poverty and extremism is rife, the media’s audience diminishes. Owning a television set and the availability of electricity is a luxury that is not yet accessible to large sections of Pakistani society. The people who sit in cafes with television sets or radios are numerous; however, it is more likely that they would prefer to watch an Indian or local film for entertainment rather than monitor the crisis situations.
Regardless of how the Pakistani crisis would end, there is an urgent need to foresee what is happening in this country that is so similar in many of its complexities and internal composition to several Arab states. Thus the fear of an Arab scenario similar to what is going on in Pakistan today is totally justified.