The Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor’s revealing conference has established the army’s position on many key issues for the next year, with some positive developments and some very troubling ones.
The DG clarified that the army would not do anything to subvert the democratic process. While history has taught us to be sceptical of such promises, this reassurance was nevertheless a relief, considering the national debate on “alien” interference in elections. Amidst discussing developments in India and Afghanistan, the DG ISPR gave some very chilling warnings on intra-state affairs as well.
This marks the first time the army has directly addressed the PTM. The DG’s take of PTM follows the narrative of the movement being a conspiracy and exploited by anti-state factions, with Major Ghafoor providing an alternative version of facts surrounding the injuring of PTM activists.
There are many holes to be filled in the establishment’s narrative on PTM. It is a fact that the PTM were obstructed from carrying out its rallies in Lahore and Karachi. The DG ISPR informed us that the army had taken the PTM leaders demands in consideration and were holding talks with them before they broke talks to protest; however, we were not informed of any developments on those demands. Moreover, the air of secrecy with which the state has handled the PTM, by not allowing coverage of this, has made it harder to discern the truth in this situation.
Perhaps the most formidable bits of the Major’s speech were his warnings of anti-state content on social media. The DG stated that the authorities monitored social media and kept check of important political figures who shared “anti-state” content and tweets. The DG illustrated this point by showcasing charts with prominent outspoken activists and journalists who were being monitored.
While the DG has reassured that the army will only take action against anti-state and not anti-army content, the distinction is vague and this revelation is highly problematic for the notion of freedom of speech. The fact that the establishment has kept a black list of politicians and journalists to mark as anti-state does nothing to quell the public perception that the army is interfering in politics and goes against the army’s own stance. This concept of social media monitoring, whose ambits are not provided in the law, produces an air of insecurity among civil society, and it is hoped that the establishment will clarify its stance on it soon.