By B N KUMAR
Democracy has taken firm roots in Pakistan and media freedom reigns supreme
Media groups fought tooth and nail against then Prime Minister Imran Khan controlled Pakistan Government’s ordinance to amend Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 to check what the rulers called fake news menace.
Journalist and civil society groups moved the Islamabad High Court which struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional virtually vindicating the stance that the proposed law was aimed at suppressing dissent and control the media.
Shehbaz Sharif, who is slated to take over the new Prime Minister on Monday, tweeted congratulating all media bodies and civil society organizations on their “struggle to get draconian PECA Ordinance declared as 'unconstitutional'. It marks a great victory for our media & democratic forces. Last 4 years have witnessed unprecedented curbs on freedom of expression,” Sharif said.
This episode once again proves the fact that democracy has evolved in Pakistan with the courts stepping in on several occasions to uphold freedom of speech.
So, if cricketer-turned politician who assumed power amid much fanfare and high hopes three years ago thought that he could bulldoze himself, he was proved wrong.
When we were in Karachi and Hyderabad in November 2011, we gathered from our media friends there that Press freedom reigned supreme in Pakistan and that no power, including the Army, could shake it. The Courts were and are firmly in control upholding the constitution.
In fact, a business magazine editor showed us his cover stories most of which were against the army. ISI and the Army might try to meddle with freedom of speech, but they know their limitations,” he said with confidence when we asked if he was not scared of getting jailed.
Another pleasant surprise was that the Karachi Press Club is out of bounds for the security forces. In fact, during the thick of the opposition to Gen Parvez Musharaff, leaders would have media briefings at the Press Club while the police wait outside the gate to arrest them. On many occasions, the leaders would sneak out from the rear, small gate.
We had meetings with the civil society members across and there were mixed opinions visa-vis Pakistan’s strained relations with India. But almost all democratically heard our position as we agreed to disagree with no hatred or rancour – which we thought was rare.
It is in this backdrop and continuous free reporting of developments by the Pak media that we have to view the current developments in Islamabad. As a business chamber head told us “politicians and generals on either side of the border may have their compulsions, but business and people-to-people contacts must continue.”
Asked about hardliners, Pak friends would ask us “don’t you have hardliners in India?”
These are bound to influence the Indo-Pak relations even in the future, whichever party assumes power.
Though India will have an upper hand diplomatically and even militarily over Pakistan, it can take comfort in the fact that democracy has taken firm roots in the Islamic nation.
We can very well expect the new PM Shehbaz Sharif offering an olive branch to New Delhi and Narendra Modi hoping to have cordial relationship with the beleaguered neighbour.
For the time being at least, we need not apprehend any military misadventure by Pakistan with India as the Islamic nation has its plate full of crisis to handle.
War does not help anyone.