April 30, 2017 |

Pakistan’s state institutions have yet to learn the art of strategic communication. Confessional video statement of the once-dreaded TTP spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan, that rang on the national media outlets for days and the GHQ reaction over the government notification with regard to the Dawn Leaks offer two glaring examples of the clumsy way the security establishment handles extremely sensitive matters.

The instant tweet Saturday by the GHQ spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor saying “the notification (by the government on Dawn Leaks) is rejected” only embarrassed all those who have been saying all along that the military has now adjusted to the new political realities and is taking the backseat as far as national security matters are concerned. Rejection of prime ministerial order is one thing. Making this “displeasure” public through the media is an altogether different ball game, a move that paints the GHQ negatively and reinforces the old perceptions that it dislikes, if not abhors, civilian government actions if they are not up to its satisfaction.

Even a layman can figure out that the story by Cyril Almeida was not a startling revelation at all. The treatment of the information strewn by the story was unusual though. And if it came through official sources, the sanction for such a plant must have come from the top. Its simply preposterous to believe that former information minister Pervez Rasheed, or Tariq Fatemi, the adviser or the PIO would have the guts to pass on such information on their own.

But coming back to communication modus operandi by the GHQ, particularly since General Raheel Sharif’s days, this raises many eyebrows as well as questions. Even replacing the Operation Zarb-e-Azb with Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad was an unnecessary and cheap ploy to create Gen Bajwa legacy.

Major General Ghafoor’s quick tweet of rejection also flows from the same strategy. It therefore drew quite a bit of flak from all and sundry for the simple reason that – even if the GHQ was unhappy or wanted to create a façade of rejection – it didn’t have to do so through a social media forum.

Nothing could be more embarrassing for Pakistan than an openly expressed disagreement between the GHQ and the Prime Minister’s Office. And it rang through the global social media as well.

It should have been avoided and kept only to confidential channels, even if there were primary differences.

Secondly, if the government believes that as the supreme executive authority it did the right thing, it should not have then spoken through Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan; he did disapprove of the notification from the PM House, but saying that “his ministry was supposed to issue that order” left a big hole in the civilian narrative.

Instead of “correcting “ themselves, the civilians should have called for the head of the ISPR for “rejecting the notification”. But they did not and, instead, changed the argument. Why, one would ask. Why should the chief executive shy away from action against a government functionary such as Gen Ghafoor?

As far as Ehsanullah Ehsan’s images that flashed through the media all day long on April 26, this certainly served a certain purpose, and from a strategic point of view his video statement was more than enough to let the media thrive off it for some time. Any further exposure would only reduce credibility of his claims and turn him into a propagandist against the terrorist outfit and mouthpiece for the military establishment. Such statements or controlled interviews usually become blatant propaganda than effective strategic messaging if churned over and over again. With over exposure, the message simply loses credibility and its strategic charm. Those under the influence of these terrorists don’t watch TV. In fact they are not allowed access to visual media.

Strategic communication demands to keep such exposures limited, let the print and electronic media post-mortem and dissect it with comments and analysis without allowing the person any more direct space on the media.

How can special interviews of a self-professed killer and organiser of heinous crimes sanctify him or deter others from doing so? This doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.

Sequencing the release of such information in a sustained way is much more valuable than going for the kill within a short span of time. The effectiveness of the offensive lies in subtlety and not overdoing.

Similarly, improvement of Pakistan’s image and progress in the civil-military relations require sincere, deft and quiet interaction between the prime institutions rather than fighting them out in the open – which only reduces the country into a laughing stock.

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