One man’s terrorist

…is another man’s hero. Pakistan’s favourite catch-phrase comes back to haunt it.

Big Brother was always at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was always an ally. Suggesting otherwise is a thoughtcrime.

Stung by reports glorifying ‘terrorists’ as ‘heroes’, Pakistan’s voluble information minister threatened to ‘do something’ if the media were not to toe the government’s line. The Daily Times has an excellent riposte.

Mr Rashid’s black and white talk: The definitional problem of terrorism is of course well known even if it is safe to assume that Mr Rashid is not aware of it. Right here in Pakistan, there are parties and groups that at one time were considered ‘terrorists’ but now enjoy the fruits of governance by being a part of the government. Conversely, there are groups, once ruling, who are now out of favour. When General Pervez Musharraf made his first speech justifying his turnaround, he declared the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists but declared that the groups fighting in Kashmir were freedom fighters. Come January 12, 2002, that distinction was gone. Similarly, Nek Mohammad, the tribesman who supported the Al Qaeda elements, was declared the biggest patriot when the government signed the Shakai agreement with him but became a terrorist when he was taken out weeks later by a missile attack. Mr Rashid himself said that declaring Nek a patriot was a mistake. So the government does make mistakes. That fact itself should make Mr Rashid less sure of his footing on this score.

Let no one think that we are merely being tedious. The point is that given the problem of definition and the state’s own past policies, the country has got itself in a bind. Most analysts are prepared to understand the compulsions of Islamabad and agree to look at the problem in pragmatic rather than purely conceptual terms. Even so, to expect from the media to either lap up what Mr Rashid and his ministry has to offer without any independent assessment or to be thwarted from performing its duties is unacceptable.

General Musharraf and his ministers boast about keeping the media free. This is not an issue of being charitable. The media has earned whatever freedom it enjoys today. So let this not be a case of noblesse oblige. Further, there is increasing evidence that the government is focusing too much on what can and cannot be aired on TV channels. The information ministry and the ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) have even taken it upon themselves to decide when the TV channels can air a particular story. If this trend is not fought off, its consequences could be dangerous and corrosive.[Daily Times]

But not all newspaper editors are thought-criminals, as this one demonstrates.