The juggling around of confrontation between the high and mighty of our land continues, even in these hard times. With the PTI’s rally last Sunday, the focus has shifted from the excesses of the military to the chinks in the armor of our parliament. Questions regarding the free media’s responsibilities still hang in the balance. The puddles of confusion surrounding these issues are adding up to form one huge chaotic swamp. Obviously, this is no way to sort out the mess we’re in.
No serious effort for reforming institutions has come out of these confrontations and heated public debates that have ensued as a result. They are all about bashing the selected targets and browbeating them into submission. Mostly, they are driven by petty and personal agendas. Sensational political statements, curt press releases by the ISPR and marathons of misguided media analysis have reduced these matters of utmost national importance to elitist turf wars with no reference to the public that our politicians claim to represent, our military is tasked to defend and the media is supposed to watch out for.
Before the media could make us any wiser about the civil-military tension, the attack on Hamid Mir shifted our attention to the media-military relations. And again, before we could come to any useful conclusions on that count, the focus has now shifted to the government-PTI confrontation and the issue of rigging in last year’s general elections. If not a new constitution, what we need are meaningful reforms within all state institutions. But can we expect to move in that direction amidst the noise of such elitist confrontations, a noise made louder by a thoughtless media.
Take, for instance, the recent confrontation of PTI with the government. Jilted by the electoral process, the party is out to reform our democracy and it is not a bad idea. While the PTI and other parties out on the street might be harping on their selective tunes, it is a perfect opportunity for the media to broaden the scope of discussion on our democracy and to take a closer look at a system that not only allows for rampant rigging on polling day but is actually rigged from the word go. After all, the problems of our democracy go deeper than some stolen seats.
All over the world the concept of democracy has been put under the microscope and is being dissected. For instance, it has been established beyond a doubt that representative democracy within a capitalist system doesn’t amount to much. In the US, a vigorous debate around campaign financing has been going on for years. At home, on the heels of the 2013 general elections, the Supreme Court had passed a clear order to keep campaign expenses within the prescribed limit and ordered the Election Commission to take steps to ensure compliance. Like so many other responsibilities, it shirked this one as well.
But the debate on the media doesn’t touch upon issues that could actually strengthen democracy. Instead of including in the discussion developments that are relevant and documented, it thrives on loaded assumptions, hidden hands, unnamed sources and mysterious agendas. Instead of keeping a distance from elitist power players, it invariably aligns with one player’s agenda and pushes it like a campaign. Instead of viewing issues from the perspective of public interest, it approaches them through the prism of power, holding whichever end of the rainbow it deems beneficial to the advancement of its narrow interests.
Actually, even elitist confrontations have their uses. Though they are essentially turf wars and petty fights over pieces of the power-pie, they come clothed in rhetoric about larger principles. This idealistic sugar-coating could be used by the media to take the debate beyond the personal and the immediate towards larger issues that need resolution. But somehow, media celebrities insist on reducing the discourse to guessing games about intentions and outcomes, rumors and speculations that strengthen the pettiness of it all. They orchestrate free-for-all bashing of individuals and institutions and throw fuel over small fires to add to the drama. Nobody seems to be interested in the much-needed reforms which, if you really think about it, are the only way to go forward.
Of course, it is not only the media. The champions of our democracy pining for civilian supremacy are no different. They would make speeches in the parliament like villains out of Punjabi movies and dish out rhetoric about the primacy of the parliament but would not move their little finger to take any initiative that could actually reform the working of the military to curb its role in politics. In deciding the Asghar Khan case against the doling out of money by the ISI to the IJI in the 1990 elections, the Supreme Court had ordered the government to investigate the matter. Is it not a good place to start if the political leadership is seriously interested in streamlining the role of the military establishment?
Though the ruling elite sitting atop the pillars of the state have a shared responsibility to resolve these thorny issues, the prime responsibility for instituting reforms rests with the political leadership, the government as well as the opposition parties. The media’s responsibility is also crucial as it has a very important role to play in defining the issues and steering the debate towards their resolution. But instead of representing the public interest, the political leadership is busy playing petty power games. And most of the media seems more interested in becoming a part of the power structure by taking sides, instead of guarding its independence and holding the powerful to account.
These high and mighty members of the power elite are meant to be the loftiest pillars and the strongest building blocks of Pakistan. Instead of passing the parcel of blame from one to the other, and calling each other names, they should work towards creating a consensus around reforms that ensure that the military, the media and our so-called democracy stick to their constitutional roles.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.