Indo-Pak monitoring: the General’s visit—Part II

IN Media Monitoring | 16/09/2005
The incisive news package drove one message home: there was a disconnect between the military junta and the political opinion in Pakistan.


In 2005 the Hoot has done a fresh round of Indo-Pak media monitoring. This the second part of the analysis of the TV coverage of General Musharraf’s April 16-18 2005 visit. A Panos project on the Hoot.


Ramesh Ramachandran

In what can only be described, ironically, as the mother of all ironies, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s April 2005 visit to India coincided with a crackdown on the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The police rounded up slogan-shouting political activists, bundled the men and women into waiting trucks and took them away for detention. There was resentment among political parties against the military ruler. Reconciliation within Pakistan was proving difficult. But, as the intrepid NDTV reporter Munizae Jehangir reported from Pakistan, for reconciling decades-old bitter past between their respective countries the Indians found in Pervez Musharraf a person they could do business with because one, the army controlled the reins of power in Pakistan and two, Musharraf headed that army!

The irony was brought out by NDTV using a clever combination of visuals of protestors clashing with the police, sprinkled liberally with sound bytes of politicians hostile to the military junta. So we heard Liaqat Baloch, vice president of Jamat-e-Islami, say that "Prime ministers represent a popular, elected government and only a prime minister can represent Pakistan … the dialogue will then have the backing of Parliament of both countries … because of this weak position of Musharraf, chances of problems arising for Pakistan are there."

A former president of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Mr Zulfiqar Ali Khosa, in turn, was seen and heard saying that "when Mian Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee were discussing, whatever took place then was on equal level as prime minister to prime minister and both were concerned and both wanted peace between these two nations. We have since heard a lot of bombastic talk … a lot of showing of fists, etc, etc. This is not diplomacy." To be fair to the television channel, it gave equal coverage to certain staunch supporters of Mr Musharraf. Mr Imtiaz Alam of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) was of the opinion that "Pervez Musharraf has taken 180 degree from Kargil to this place … you imagine Musharraf of Kargil fame and Musharraf of peace fame … and Musharraf has taken a lot of measures which were not perhaps popular and acceptable to the establishment and he seems to be, I think, under pressure and he wants to seize the occasion." But perhaps the most telling comment came from Mr Mubashar Hassan, a peace activist, who did not mince words in saying that "Indians like that they speak to General Musharraf … and the world believes that the power is with General Musharraf and not with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz."

The story conveyed, effectively at that, an impression that political parties in Pakistan were supportive of the peace process but they were skeptical of General Musharraf’s own abilities to deliver peace. It was almost as if the Musharraf-Manmohan handshake at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi provoked an instant, strong reaction from political parties in Islamabad. The incisive but self-explanatory news package drove one message home: That there was a disconnect between the military junta and the political opinion in Pakistan. Sadly, such reportage was conspicuously absent on Aaj Tak, which was clearly handicapped by the fact that one, it did not have a reporter or send a reporter to Pakistan and two, it lacked the imagination but not necessarily in that order.

Fortuitously for NDTV, Mr Musharraf came calling on a Sunday and so it could do a post-mortem on the success or otherwise of the visit the same evening. The weekly current affairs programme, "We The People", saw a panel comprising two Pakistanis and two Indians talk between themselves and with the audience in the studio. Barkha Dutt anchored the show with her usual aplomb. The panelists spoke their mind or so it appeared with Omar Abdullah and Manoj Joshi pitted against Haroon Hamid and Ayaz Amir. "For General Musharraf to suddenly become a great favourite of India and for India to be finding virtue in him," observed Hamid Haroon, publisher and chief executive of Dawn published from Pakistan, "I think there is something wrong and [it is] a problem for Pakistanis as well." Suspicion morphed into cynicism when columnist Ayaz Amir said "where history takes us neither Manmohan Singh nor Pervez Musharraf will be able to get us there." He was responding to a member of the audience who wondered how reconciliation was possible when both sides stuck to extreme positions, with one asserting that boundaries will not be redrawn and the other insisting that the Line of Control will not be acceptable as permanent border.

It was refreshing to hear Mr Omar Abdullah hold forth on the nuances and intricacies of the Indo-Pak peace process amid the somewhat cynical views of Ayaz Amir and the emotional comments from Hamid Haroon (the audience clapped for him on more than one occasion). Such are the wonders of 24-hour television news channels (and possibly the climate of peace in the subcontinent) that Mr Omar could get away by saying something that would have been unimaginable on Doordarshan in the era of pre-satellite television channel and even now. One of the more articulate members of parliament that India has today, Mr Omar observed that if the New Delhi summit between Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr Pervez Musharraf were any indicator, India seems to have finally come around to accepting that Kashmir is a dispute. India is finally sitting up and taking note of the centrality of the Kashmir dispute (a position which is diametrically opposite to that held by India for decades now) instead of burying her head in the sand like an ostrich and hoping that problems would go away. He said the New Delhi talks were a great step forward although positive outcomes of the summit were coming in dribs and drabs.

The obsession of NDTV and other 24-hour television news channels with the body language of the heads of state and government came for ridicule from a section of the audience, which wondered why would anybody be interested to know what the leaders ate and how many times they shook hands. A lady from the audience had an even more interesting observation to make. "What has the Pakistani media done about Kashmiri Hindus?  NDTV and Barkha Dutt champion the cause of the Kashmiri Muslim only. Is there a Pakistani Barkha Dutt?, I want to know that," she asked from the Pakistani panelists. Barkha Dutt could not hide her giggle while Hamid Haroon defending his ilk saying the Indian authorities did not welcome Pakistani journalists into the Kashmir Valley. Mr Haroon, however, had the last word towards the close of the discussion. He said, "[The peace talks are] a small step for India and Pakistan [but] possibly the beginning of a giant leap for Kashmir."
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