The past few weeks witnessed intense activity on the virtual battlefield of print and electronic media of Pakistan and India. This was in contrast to the real battlefield where no surgical strikes had taken place. The Indian media blitz after the initial war-mongering and euphoria subsided to infighting, whimpers and face-saving in the name of restraint. But the images Indian media broadcast in collusion with its allies portrayed Pakistan’s rogue army brandishing nukes backed by non-state actors and as Hilary Clinton said, ‘suicide bombers with nukes’. Rather than riposte the events, someone in the government decided to reinforce the blitz.

An international perception is being famed against Pakistan for the past decade. Destabilising Pakistan reached its saturation point and diluted due to military-led counter terrorism operations and CPEC. This stabilisation through the military rudder is not desirable for international actors. In order to keep the kettle boiling, new issues are being injected into the narrative, most importantly civil-military relations. This wedge first appeared during Memogate and has resurfaced repeatedly between the military and the Prime Minister. As I write, it seems sanity will not prevail.

Conversely, during the latest flare-up on the Line of Control, calibrated restraint was demonstrated by Pakistan’s ground forces; just enough to remind that Pakistan was no pushover. Knowing that it is under siege from multiple directions, the military has confined its role to security and in case of CPEC to national development. Pakistan’s elected government, despite many adverse events, stayed its course. The present government is into its fourth year. Despite massive corruption, shady deals, mounting internal/external debt, foreign policy mismanagement and gagging of regulatory authorities, no accountability is visible. In such bad governance, the military successfully fought Zarb-e-Azb, handled violence in Karachi and put barriers to Pakistan’s descent into chaos. The positive indices of the armed forces versus the government’s performance in governance and economics during this time are in inverse proportion.

But as the discourse on civil-military relations indicates, the civilians wish to control the armed forces like police. They wish to wrest total control. Seeing the state of politicised, ineffective and tamed national institutions, no battle-ready military in the world can undergo such relegation at the hand of incompetence. This internal battle within the establishment, if it persists, will be at great cost to national integrity.

The obstinate policies and blunders of the past must be repeated at whatever cost. It is no wonder then that a subset of ex-leftist individuals, now called pseudo liberals and trans-nationalist opinion makers join hands with the government to spare no opportunity at taking pot shots at the military. Some of them have been gratified with perks to do the job. They pick their arrows from selective feeds, poison them and shoot. Pakistan’s survival in the shaping environment is not their issue. Taming the jackboots is.

As events indicate, India, despite being rebutted on the claims of a surgical strikes, achieved the ends of its objectives against Pakistan Army when endorsements of Indian views by Pakistanis were fed to opinion-makers and the media in a calibrated manner. Such trial balloons by the government to test the weather have been released with alacrity through print, television and social media. Journalists joining such a campaign cannot recuse themselves with noble intentions. They are highly educated people, know the environment and understand the dynamics. Perhaps for some, the bait is too lucrative or the malice too strong to make judgements. In ordinary times it could have been just one of them. But the timing was meant to boomerang on the army. But like the surgical strikes, this one reversed right back into the government’s face. The idea of these trial balloons was not to enlist the military for counter terrorism in Punjab but to preempt it.

Let us take a glance at the most recent litany of events.

First, the media reports on the outburst of PML-N lawmaker Rana Muhammad Afzal. Inamullah Khattak of Dawn, quoting BBC reported that, “During a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs held Thursday, PML-N lawmaker Rana Muhammad Afzal asked, “Which eggs is Hafiz Saeed laying for us that we are nurturing him?”. He went on to say, “India has built such a case against us about the JuD chief that during the meeting on Kashmir, foreign delegates mention him as the bone of contention between Pakistan and India.” The same day Indian channels exploited this news and Mr Afzal also appeared to air his viewpoint. This report was used extensively by Indian TV Channels to launch a new round of propaganda against Pakistan Army and cover its tracks in IHK.

Secondly, it is interesting that the contents of this report are quite similar to what Dawn filed the same day as exclusive. The two reports appearing in tandem are confusing but reinforce the Indian narrative. Though Cyril Almeida wrote that, “the following account is based on conversations with DAWN of individuals present in the crucial meetings this week” he commented that, “all declined to speak on the record and none of the attributed statements were confirmed by the individuals mentioned.” He also emphasised that military officials declined to comment. This confusion was aggravated by the editor of Dawn who wrote that as gatekeeper of information “verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”, the editor of this paper bears sole responsibility for the story in question. So while the correspondent implants a doubt, the newspaper remains adamant of the veracity. This means that this story has many authors. So why only target one? Dawn takes a higher moral pedestal by writing about the decades of militarised security environment that undermined the importance of holding the state to account. Though this notion seems very noble, was this the time to open such a debate?

Thirdly, Salman Masood wrote in Nation on October 7, on the likely replacement of DG ISI. It was enough to stimulate speculations on why and when DG ISI was being replaced. The Indian media went hoarse over this report as if it was a victory and the government happy that its media plans were working to give an impression of civilian assertion.

Fourthly, as if the damage did not suffice, the government placed Cyril Almeida on the Exit Control List, giving the impression that he was running away because this trip to Dubai was pre-planned. The belated admission of Interior Minister had already done the damage. The news of Cyril’s name on ECL was widely reported in international media with fingers pointing directly at the army and ISI. No international news agency will retract this story.

Fifthly, on the anniversary of October 12, 1998, the government has come out with a new story about its sacking related to OBL. To their chagrin, that coup was endorsed by the Supreme Court, Benazir Bhutto and even the most erstwhile Najam Sethi.

To refresh memories and put records in the correct perspective following facts are well known:

Under pressure from KSA, it was the PMLN government that recognised the Afghan Taliban government in 1997.

Under the 18th Amendment it is the Punjab government that resisted counter terrorism operations, mainly because of its rightist vote bank and fraternisation with militant outfits. It is common knowledge that these plans were presented to Punjab over a year ago.

Punjab has a highly politicised police force lacking the capacity to take on militants without assistance of the army. Chotu gang is a case in point. It resulted in discovery of huge caches of arms and ammunition and capture of Baloch militant gangs. Punjab Police can only conduct Model Town operations.

Most amazingly, Sartaj Aziz candidly told the US Council on Foreign Relations that the Afghan Taliban’s leadership was allowed to live in Pakistan, and even offered medical care for useful leverage. According to a commentator, it left observers scratching their heads over just what this meant.

Time will tell whether this scoop met the ends of government’s wily politics which are likely to continue. As a friend put it, “these paper rattling pretentions of shrieking from the peaks of hypocritical righteousness are no different than the sabre-rattling equally pretentious hypocrites of the right wing.” Dangerous times lie ahead.