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You can’t cook a narrative





By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, June 24, 2016


A new national narrative will only come out of intent and action against terrorism

Two incidents compelled me to write this column: the directive by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to two private TV channels to air apologies for promoting controversial and sectarian views during their Ramzan transmission, and a consultation at the national counter-terrorism authority to prepare some policy recommendations.

The PEMRA order followed a meeting of the council of complaints, three days after the watchdog snubbed and banned Hamza Ali Abbasi and Shabir Abu Talib from hosting their shows.

The directive exemplifies the crisis of intellectual poverty, conceptual confusion and bankruptcy of political vision in our governance structures. It also reflects how political expedience prompts even state institutions and their guardians to compromise on citizens’ constitutional rights.

The two channels have been asked to apologize only for asking questions related to Article 19 of the constitution (Freedom of speech) and the rights of citizens who are protected by Articles 14, 19, 20, particularly 22(3) and Article 25.

Article 22(3) says: “Subject to law: (a)  no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community (b)no citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution receiving aid from public revenues on the ground only of race, religion, caste or place of birth.”

Article 25 is about the equality of all citizens. Article 8 of the constitution specifically states that “any law, or any custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent with the rights conferred by the Chapter 2, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.”

Should the state be guided by law or by perceived fears?

A perceived fear of public disorder or blow-back by those flagrantly disregarding the constitutional rights of Pakistani citizens and those threatening to take life keeps the legislators and the guardians of public order on the defensive. Should the state be guided by law or by perceived fears?

Why do the state and its institutions gloss over the kind of illogical, at times misleading, fairy tales that are being sung by disguised merchants of religion and reckless corporate agents, the anchors?

Why don’t the authorities move against public rallies or open marches by leaders of banned groups in violation of the Point 7 of the NAP (ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organizations).

Isn’t the intimidating and obscene language used by some of the clerics during the show a brazen violation of two points of NAP – point 5 (countering hate speech) and point 18 (dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists)?

Weren’t the threats that motivated PEMRA into banning Abbasi and Shabir in contravention of the point 9 of NAP (taking effective steps against religious persecution)?

Similarly, point 10 (registration and regulation of madrassas) too is begging answers amid a galore of lies and half-truths by officials. Where is the madrassa curricula reform or the oversight mechanism needed to check a) hate speech and b) source of financing? Does the state really have the will and the capacity at all to do so in a corrupt society, where corruption infests governance structures as well as the judicial system?

Ironically, government inaction and disregard for commitments contained in NAP have made this set of 20 points a joke. This became obvious during the counterterrorism consultation as well. As pointed out only by a couple of the two dozen or so participants, the entire focus of this consultation seemed to draw either on borrowed western terminology such as “building community resilience” or a “counter-narrative anchored in Islam.”  Not a single of the six Terms of Reference (ToR) referred to the much-needed Rule of Law paradigm. Most of the talk sounded like a confused ramble, without any clarity on concepts such as counterterrorism, countering violent extremism, de-radicalization and the national narrative. Most officials continue talking about the need for a “national narrative,” realizing little that narratives reflect the intent and action by a state and the society on a particular issue. You don’t cook narratives. The intent against terrorists or extremists automatically translates into a narrative only when authorities take conclusive action against violators of NAP or the Anti-Terror Act of 1997.

Most officials appear unable to articulate and distinguish whether Pakistan faces religious militancy, religious extremism or a combination of both, or is the crisis of security a manifestation of externally driven terrorism?  No wonder most MPs and academics, even in conflict studies, miserably failed when asked in a recent survey whether they knew of NAP and could identify and comment on a couple of NAP points.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk