Media Strategy Failure

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If one can orchestrate a barrage of lies to the media long enough, it will eventually be broadcast to the world as the truth. Take for example, the theory that India will do a limited strike in Kashmir as punitive action and hard-pressed Pakistan will be forced to react across the international border in an all-out war. The surmise is that since India has greater numbers in conventional forces and Pakistan has no strategic/tactical depth, Pakistan will eventually be forced into first use of nuclear weapons at the tactical level and such an exchange may well escalate very quickly into all-out nuclear war. This makes out Pakistan to be an irresponsible “rogue” State whose nuclear weapons are a menace to the world at large. This is far from the truth. In 1965 Operation Gibraltar was a brilliant plan but it had one major flaw, the conditions within Occupied Kashmir were not conducive to guerilla warfare. Today, that situation is totally reversed, a full fledged guerilla war mostly indigenously nurtured has been a fact of life for a dozen years even though they are badly outnumbered and outgunned by better trained and equipped Indian forces, the Kashmiris are hardened guerillas and can tie up the operations and logistics of Indian forces on the frontline. What will happen if a few thousand well armed totally motivated commandos infiltrate a number of locations across the “Line of Control” (LOC) to bolster their strength? This time motivation is at its height, and the Indians have created the right conditions by their inhuman behaviour, surrounded by a hostile population up in arms anything can happen. Remember what happened to the Indians when the Chinese got behind them in 1962 in NEFA. Who will then be ready to resort to nuclear weapons? This very likely scenario is ignored by the media.

Our media strategy failures started with the Kargil crisis when a brilliantly executed tactical military plan having strategic dimensions became a diplomatic disaster because of lack of strategic media harmony duly orchestrated by the government of the day. Despite the fact that on the ground a terrible toll was taken from the Indians sent to dislodge those occupying the mountain-tops, our credibility took a sustained pounding in the international media and the Indians had a field day. While taking at least 4 to 5 times the number of casualties we had, the Indians went on a media blitz to claim victory on the one hand, while successfully tarring and feathering whatever official line we dished out. The domestic reward for the BJP government was electoral success, enough for them to head a credible coalition.

Some observers had warned after Agra that the first major media victory that Pakistan won over India was wholly and solely due to an astonishing solo performance by the President General Pervez Musharraf. The official media had done next to nothing. Then came Sep 11 and again Pervez Musharraf scored and scored big. For some time he remained center-stage as one the most important member of the Coalition. Islamabad became the focal point of all Anti-Talibaan/Anti-Qaeda activity. Everyone and his uncle came calling. With the world media attention rivetted on the military operations in Afghanistan, all the top media personalities, anyone who was anyone, came to Islamabad and sought an interview with the President. In fact he was (and remains) our only successful media salesman. He cannot carry the ball by himself forever. In the meantime, India has been chaffing at the bit at all the media attention Pakistan was getting and their anti-Pakistan rhetoric went into high drive. With the as yet unexplained attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec 13, the media environment for Pakistan started to change internationally and one event after the other occurred that drove Pakistan’s media credibility on the defensive. Danny Pearl’s brutal murder, the Church bombing, the suicide attack on the French submarine workers, the Jammu incident, all seem to have been fine-tuned to destroy Pakistan’s credibility internationally. All these (and others) could very well be Indian RAW-created happenings but in the face of relentless Indian media campaign overseas, it is we who are blamed for terrorist incidents on both sides of the border. It is galling to realize that even while you are telling the truth it is taken as false and the lies that the Indians are dishing out is taken to be the truth!

The Indians have been very successful in keeping strategic harmony in their media campaign against us. Through the years their policy has been one of “conversionary” i.e. attacking the foundations of our ideology, so that we ourselves began to question the two-nation theory and “divisive” i.e. creating misunderstanding between the federating units on one issue or the other e.g. the sharing of water problem. India has some very good and seasoned journalists but in any conflict with Pakistan they follow the government brief without exception. At the same time, there is apparent decentralization of propaganda at the tactical (opportunity) level and one finds that because of the recurring and constant cacophony, the foreign news media picks up Indian-fed stories and the world perception labels Pakistan as a “terrorist-exporting” nation.

Reaction to President Musharraf’s address of May 28 Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in his very own deep sonorous baritone proceeded to call Pakistan the epi-center of terrorism of the entire world, and lo and behold, our very own former PM twice over Ms Benazir Bhutto appeared on “Fox TV” to confirm that Pakistan had indeed been exporting terrorism and India was right to lose its patience. With PMs like those, why does Pakistan need enemies? When Ms Benazir took over as PM in November 1998, she quickly brought in Lt Gen (Retd) SR Kallue as DG ISI and he remained DG ISI for the 20 months she was in power till early August 1990 when her government was dismissed. In 1993 she inherited Javed Ashraf Qazi, as DG ISI. Are we to believe that the men who were handpicked by her (Qazi was even stated to become COAS) did not brief her once what ISI was doing in Kashmir i.e. if it was doing anything.

Somewhere between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information we have dropped the ball as far as not only countering the Indian propaganda but carrying the fight to them by exposing the truth as it was. No doubt after Sep 11 and the world coalition against terrorism the task has become much harder, that the US failed to get the top Al-Qaeda and Talibaan leadership has not helped. So the focus is on our western borders and the Indians, who by the way never mentioned Al-Qaeda once pre Sep 11. Now they categorically put the blame on us for every act of international terrorism, real and/or perceived.

The failure of our media strategy is because our governmental media leadership has failed to come up with a cohesive media strategy, to defend the ideological and psychological frontiers of Pakistan. This may yet have grave national repercussions for us but this is not the time to ascertain and/or apportion blame. We are in the middle of the most severe crisis in our entire history, one that threatens our whole existence as a free nation. We must therefore, get down to re-structuring, re-organizing and rejuvenating our media, concentrating on coalescing the talent and potential of the private sector. We must come up with a comprehensive media strategy incorporating the new ground realities. Part of the blame for the failure should be taken by our diplomatic mandarins who have to discard their “stuffed shirt” attitude, but one has to recognize that the media strategy failure was a failure at the planning and operational level both. The President needs to move fast to re-structure the entire national media apparatus.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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