National Interest – by Shiraz Paracha

 

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I have publicly shared my reservation on Cyril Almedia’s story. In my professional opinion, the story was a piece of clumsy journalism. Till date, the Dawn newspaper has not shared any evidence of the claims made in its story about the meeting on the national security. The newspaper also failed to include the government’s point of view in their exclusive report.

In other countries, armed forces are part of the government but in Pakistan subtly an impression has been created that the military is an independent institution. Within this context and the fact that senior military officials were subject of the controversial story, the Dawn newspaper should have asked for the official version of the ISPR for its Story. Apparently, it didn’t.

However, having said that, I am disgusted to see that the state is harassing Cyril. The interior minister and former military officers are lecturing the media and the nation on the sacredness of the “national interest”.

Journalists challenge and confront state authorities and public representatives by presenting solid and verified facts. It is journalists’ job to dig out what governments or authorities try to hide. Journalists unearth scandals, secretive policies and decisions in the public interest.

Journalism is the opposite of public relations. Journalists are not spin doctors or propagandists. Reporting story of a secret government meeting is not a crime, indeed it is a service if it is done in the public interest. The public has the right to know what their government, security services are doing in people’s name.

Often governments lie to the public; security forces hide facts from the public in the name of national interest. Governments always want positive news. They engage in propaganda and put spin on everything they share with the public. It is the responsibility of journalists to unmask reality and bring forward facts hidden under layers of twists and spin. Journalists must report facts without any spin or propaganda. In fact, defending the public interest is in the national interest. The people are owners of a state. A state is for its people, not the other way round.

In Pakistan only a few very powerful people consider it their right to define the national interest, which is wrong. All military dictators used national interest as pretext to take away liberties and freedoms. Dictators hide behind national interest. They commit crimes against their own people on these grounds. Pakistan’s history is full of prolong periods of suppression all in the name of “national interest”.

Not all Pakistanis agree on one single identity, there are strong disagreements on what kind of state Pakistan should be or which direction it should take. Pakistan is a multi-cultural society with diverse identities and different point of views. Here a narrow definition of “national interest” can’t be imposed and that too from the above or by force. This mindset has caused divisions in the Pakistani society.

There should be a wide and open debate on Pakistan’s identity, direction, foreign policy. In the light of inclusive and participatory discussions, the Pakistani Parliament should determine parameters of national interest, patriotism and treason.

Few non-representative institutions or people can’t decide at their own, who is loyal to the country or what is in the national interest. These are too important matters and require well thought thorough policy. Only an elected government and the Parliament can make laws in this regard. Even so such laws or government decisions should be subject to judicial as well as public scrutiny. Every few years these laws should be reviewed and amended. This is how democracies work, this how civilized and free societies should be.

The state’s response in Cyril’s case is undemocratic and remnant of dictatorial mindset. Pakistan can no longer be a secretive, repressive and unaccountable state.

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