The rules of the game are set and pretty well understood by all now. If you want to survive in this land of the pure, don’t ever dare to step on wrong side of ‘boys’. You can, of course, disparage the sacrifices of brave jawans by decreeing them not to be Shaheed (martyr) if they die in the line of duty.

But you can afford to do this only if you have extra facial hair and turbans or skullcaps enveloping your brain. You will get away with just anything for sure. Carry on with any kind of moral misdemeanor or corruption or just anything. Just be nice to them and you are sorted.

Just see how the Defence Minister transformed himself in just weeks rather days. From reminding the crimes committed under military dictatorships, embarrassing war drop scenes in 1965 and 1971, to non-stop assertions on media of his loyalty and love for the army. Wonder what argument he had to qualify the statement he gave on Saturday that his ministry was not satisfied with penalty awarded to Geo News by PEMRA. After repeated apologies verbally as well as in writing by the media house and without any transparent proceedings of inquiry, any penalty would too much rather than too little.

Media barons, who mistook their loud voice as their power to move and shake the politics, must learn their lessons. If you get into picking sides strategically while laying off objectivity, there is always a possibility that some day you would pick a wrong side. For years you obliged them and then at a fragile moment you thought you were under no one’s control. Poor judgment.

Power to bring third-liners of political parties to the front and lifting bottom line, one-man party to the rank of third largest in the country was just a window deliberately opened for you. The hand that opens the window can very well shut it too.

The other side, however, was equally generous in displaying their wounded ego. The loud and clear message was: it’s us who set the limits and no one dares to go off these limits.

However powerful amplifiers you are for selective voices, it doesn’t change the fact that you still are just a conduit for sending the voices across. It’s the daddy who selects the message. What information would pass and when, is not your domain. There can be only one narrative and it could be controlled by only one power. The daddy.

Coming to PEMRA, another conduit, when it couldn’t deliver promptly, the alternatives needed to be in place. They were in plenty in this case. There were pawns in the shape of ‘senior anchors’, there were opinion writers of all shades, there were Seths owning media houses, there were cable operators, there were surrogate politicians etc. And then there were old friends –the clergy.

Nationalism and its nasty avatar, patriotism, can be strong and effective implements for speedy delivery of results the establishments want. When you bring in clergy, there has to be some religious masaala. Concocted blasphemy charges, however bizarrely unimaginative and predictable they may be, they still provide a sure shot recipe to snub the renegade. Never mind if it triggers lethal fanaticism that rests on extremist religious orientation in the society. It’s the same fanaticism that feeds into terrorist corps, which destroys the society and de-capacitates the state. Sounds much like eating up your own limbs.

In this nerve wrecking battle of egos, the one with more power and ammunition was destined to win. The ammunition consisted of venom spitting media proxies and murderous mullah network always hungry for human blood. Blasphemy charges as usual, were used to meet worldly ends, i.e. cutting your opponent to size and settle personal scores. Newspaper carrying vans being burnt and Geo staff being harassed and manhandled could have been a scenic beauty for some on 7th Avenue, but wasn’t certainly the oft touted national interest.

The very purpose of proxies in most cases is to avoid direct involvement in the conflict. The strategy implied thus, has to have attrition and deception as its basic elements. When your proxies come out in open and start fighting your battle, they blast their guise. The proxies exhausted in this recent battle have been many and open. The proxy unveiled is a proxy unusable. One is sure that there would be at least few farsighted brains within the security establishment who would put their head to work. It’s never too late.

The ultimate casualty of the entire tamasha was democratic dissent. Not that we ever had an ‘azaad media’, yet the nature of news media and of the discourse would be changed for a long time if not forever. The usually fire brand TV talk show anchors and prominent opinion makers would continue to be in the race of proving their loyalty. Those who used to exercise dissent would be pushed to start every conversation with praises for state’s institutions and to continue endlessly trying to prove their patriotism. If you can’t, wait for the same chain of events that happened with Geo to be unleashed on you.

Little and controlled dissent may be a necessary condition for the ‘frontline’ turned ‘stakeholder’ state during the end game year. It may be necessary for any state to prolong and expand its influence especially, if a state chooses to do it at the expense of inner peace and its people’s lives. The national security apparatus gradually becomes the end rather than a means to ensure safety and security of the very people it is designed for.

When the security contrivance is an end, it becomes sacrosanct beyond any accountability, criticism and responsibility for its actions. When the use of proxies in and outside the country becomes a justified and acceptable course of action, the state starts losing not only its credibility but ultimately its writ too. With lost credibility, little writ and dead dissent, most states would ultimately suffer extinction. Let it not allow happening with our beloved motherland.

Tailpiece: In a statement Special Advisor to PM Mr. Irfan Siddiqui has informed that government is planning to clamp down the license-suspending powers of PEMRA. Wonder if this poor, already-debilitated body affords to further clamping of almost non-existent powers!

The writer is an Islamabad based defender of human rights and works on democratic governance.

marvi@marvisirmed.com

@marvisirmed