Posted by: Titus Presler | September 11, 2011

Soul-searching and critical despair prominent in Pakistan’s free press around 9/11 anniversary

Public commentary on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is voluminous around the world, much of it helpful and illuminating.  The same is true in Pakistan, which has emerged over the past years as a crucible of the West’s encounter with Islam and of the so-called Coalition Forces’ war in Afghanistan.  During the same period Pakistan has moved further into crises of poverty, militarization, corruption and Talibanization, all of which preceded 9/11 and all of which have been exacerbated by dynamics catalyzed by 9/11.

There are several press qualities I highlight:

• Pakistan has a free press.  Whether in the newspapers or on TV talk shows, commentators appear to be free to take out after any and all – vociferously and often raucously – whether they be government leaders, particular provincial or federal agencies, the USA and other Western countries, political parties, or religious leaders in Pakistan.  I am told that access to free commentary is limited by the fact that independent newspapers and cable channels do not reach poorer areas of the country, where the populace has access only to government organs.  Nevertheless, Pakistan has a burgeoning urban population which has access to any and all views.

• Commentary is balanced.  The samples cited below from 10 and 11 September 2011 are balanced in the sense that commentary featured in major newspapers faults both external state actors and internal political players, both the secularism of the West and the religious extremism internal to Pakistan.  It is indeed true that the internal political, economic and religious forces stressing Pakistan today could not be so influential without support in high places, but the press – or at least major portions of the press – is naming both the external and internal issues for what they are.

• Discouragement is endemic.  The past 10 years have not only aggravated longstanding problems within the country, but they have, in the minds of many, fundamentally damaged the psyche and character of the nation.  As the samples below illustrate, discouragement is pervasive and often mutates into despair.  “You look at Pakistan today –” said one person to me, “We were not like this before, we were not this kind of a country.”

Here are samples, with the online links:

“Decade Destroyed,” by Anjum Niaz, a woman Pakistani freelance journalist writing from the USA, in The News, Sept. 10 – Despairing commentary about the USA’s role, but Niaz helpfully notes the religious intrusion of Saudi Arabia and Iran and the accelerating brain drain from Pakistan.

“Al-Quaeda – A Decade after 9/11,” by S. Iftikhar Murshed, publisher of Criterion, a quarterly, in The News, Sept. 10 – Sophisticated commentary that opposes violent bigotry.

“We’re All to Blame,” by Robert Hathaway, who direct the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars in Washington, in The News, Sept. 10 – By a Westerner, presumably a USAmerican, who insists that Pakistan’s major challenges preceded 9/11, but it is striking that it receives major play in a Pakistani newspaper.

“The Price We Pay,” editorial in The News, Sept. 11 – Balanced in condemning the 9/11 attacks and mourning the continuing toll of terrorist violence in Pakistan – the figure cited is 33,213 since 2003 – and at the same time noting that the factors include both 9/11 and dynamics beyond 9/11

“From September 11 to 9/11,” by Talat Farooq, a Ph.D. student in the U.K., in The News, Sept. 11 – The writer takes her departure from the ideals of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who died on 11 September 1948, and sketches how the country’s ideological course since then has been inadequate to cope with emerging realities.

“I Stand by My Decision,” by Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, in The News, Sept. 11 – However one assesses Musharraf’s rationale and record, it is helpful that The News published his column.

“The Silly English Roundabouts,” by Masood Hasan, a Lahore-based columnist, in The News, Sept. 11 – Hasan takes the remarkable law-abiding quality of the British as they approach roundabouts as an opportunity to lash out at what he views as the widespread contempt for law routinely lived out by the privileged sectors of Pakistani society.

“Debate Rages on Who Planned 9/11,” by Mohammad Jamil, in The Frontier Post, Sept. 11 – Frontier Post is a good deal scruffier than The News, and it is circulated in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, where its head office appears to be in Peshawar.  The content of the piece is more balanced than the title would suggest.

“The Partnerships We Need,” by Barack Hussein Obama, president of the USA, in The Frontier Post, Sept. 11 – A striking inclusion!  Some of Obama’s piece is boilerplate articulation of USAmerican values that can seem to others either innocuous or purely rhetorical.  My guess is that his acknowledgment of the toll experienced by other nationalities is appreciated here, but it’s too bad that Pakistan’s especially intense suffering is not mentioned.  This is a context, obviously, where Obama’s middle name has considerable resonance and may enhance credibility.

Many more pieces could be cited, but this sampling may whet your appetite for the quality of discourse in this anguished country.


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