In Naya Pakistan, the sword is mightier than the pen…

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To the untrained eye, Prime Minister Khan has no enemies left to challenge him. For the very first time in the country, the powerful military and the civilian government are on one page. The joint opposition–with its plethora of ideologies and varying political ambitions–hardly poses a threat to the prime minister regardless of the fact that his government hinges on a simple majority obtained in the parliament by four seats. However, to the trained eye, Khan’s biggest enemy is not languishing in prison but is certainly out and about. His sworn enemy who wants to see him fall and be his own worst enemy–is in fact, himself. Khan is his own worst enemy.

If the government or the institutions that are at its beck-and-call (NAB, FIA, PEMRA etc) had any form of credibility before, they lost it the moment those handcuffs were slapped on Irfan Siddiqui’s wrists. Siddiqui happens to be a columnist, close aide and former advisor to ex-premier Nawaz Sharif. This, too, occurred on the heels of Khan’s visit to the United States where he said during a discussion that Pakistan’s press was ‘freer’ than the British press. Irony died a long, slow death.

Mr Siddiqui was slapped with handcuffs, his house was surrounded by police cars and he (along with his tenant) was locked up in prison and then sent to Adiala Jail for 14 days. His only crime being that he did not disclose to police about renting his house to a tenant. Imagine that–a simple violation of the tenancy law led him to be publicly humiliated and disgraced.

These are bad optics for the government and for the prime minister himself. The cricketer-turned-prime minister’s popularity has nosedived in less than a year since he took oath of office. The PTI-led government’s institutions are being accused of foul play. Abject censorship fo the press and intimidation of political opponents is already having an adverse effect on the government’s popularity. By harassing a journalist to no end, in public view and for the world to see, the government is simply filling out its own charge-sheet–that it has failed to uphold the values it proclaimed it would instill in a Naya Pakistan.

A Naya Pakistan where TV channels are being shut down. A Naya Pakistan where the media watchdog’s bark is not worse than its bite. A Naya Pakistan where NAB considers the suspect guilty until proven innocent. Siddiqui is not the first journalist to be harassed by the government–renowned Geo News anchor Hamid Mir, once a close friend of Prime Minister Khan, has withdrawn his support for the premier after his interview with former president Asif Zardari was taken off-air, in broad daylight. Abject censorship seems to be the order of the day but it seems as if the prime minister’s haughtiness cares for naught.

Prime Minister Khan must not forget that not long ago, when the tables had not turned, it was a free media and journalists like Hamid Mir and Mr Siddiqui who were fighting against media censorship. At a time when Khan had only one seat in the parliament, he was invited as a regular guest on Capital Talk–arguably the most popular current affairs program of the day hosted by none other than Mir. This was happening when Musharraf had proclaimed emergency and Khan was on the run and he found his only ally in the print and electronic media.

It is time for Khan to reflect on his own words–“Let better sense prevail”. It is time for the government to realise that a free and independent press is essential for a just and democratic society. The press was what made Khan and the press is certainly what can and what will break Khan if he tries to undo it. Harrassment of journalists will only push the media to give more space to the opposition and that is certainly not what Khan wants or what he can handle. Not with this much on his plate. It is time for Khan to stop with the political victimization, focus on governance and instill confidence in the country’s institutions.

That cannot be done till his own worst enemy remains unshackled. Till he keeps his anger in check, allows room for constructive criticism and allays our fears that the sword is mightier than the pen in Naya Pakistan.

This country cannot afford another bull in a China shop.

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