Among other more important things, the Dawn story has brought painful questions about our metropolitan information elite and its high-powered sources to the forefront. It’s not about this particular story or the newspaper that printed it. On the larger canvas, it is not even about the public officials who fed it for propaganda. What we are talking about here is much bigger than one story and goes much deeper than the civil-military tension it has created.

In the short term, this tension is obviously the most important thing to address and we all know what could resolve it: uncovering the names of the unnamed sources who fed and confirmed the story, and taking them to task for maligning the military at a time when it is in the middle of fighting the war for our survival as a functioning nation-state. But the investigation into the controversial story by the Interior Minister has become yet another controversy.

It’s difficult to say how the issue will evolve over the next week, and there is little we can do other than wait to find out who in our government was actually behind this sordid info-war against the military leadership at a testing time like this. So, while we wait for the fall-out, let’s ask ourselves those painful questions. Let’s dig deeper to understand what ails almost the entire spectrum of our opinion leaders in politics and the oh-so-metropolitan media.

Is it okay for our media celebrities to be so cosy with power, rubbing informal private shoulders with those in charge of public affairs? When we were learning the ropes of journalism, we were constantly reminded of our duty as a fierce watchdog for the public, entrusted to hold those in power to account rather than cosying up to them. It was the intellectual and moral integrity of journalists and their independence that was respected not the number of high-powered sources they socialised with. Journalists, big and small, are these days in a single-minded rush to gain access to powerful individuals as if that’s what their job is all about. They’d like to join the power club that they are duty-bound to question and hold to account.

Journalists today might have ‘moved up’ in society, hobnobbing with power-players for their breaking-news feeds and favours reserved for the privileged, but they no longer enjoy the trust and respect of the public. They are viewed more as mouthpieces of vested interests rather than the watchdog for the public, and for good reason. After all, the company we keep not only determines what we know but also what we think. The powerful friendly sources pass on not only information but also the perspective on issues.

There are other painful questions we must ask ourselves. How much do the corporate and other vested interests influence the editorial policy of media groups and outlets, and how deep is the ingress of the imperial narrative in our national media? Why does our media juggernaut have to be so metropolitan and insulated from our land and its people? How independent can we expect our privately-owned brave new media to be? In my opinion, given all these limitations, the independence we keep hearing about is largely a myth.

That’s not such a good thing. As we transition from being a vassal of the empire to an independent sovereign state, the importance of articulating a Pakistani narrative has become crucial. Unfortunately, our leaders of public opinion, whether in politics or the media, have failed to live up to the task. Are they blind to how our country and the world is changing on the ground or do they choose not to see it? What is it that stops them from breaking free of the imperial discourse and thinking for themselves?

Take the Dawn story, for instance. It is hard to believe that the officials who fed it, the writer who wrote it and the editor who carried it, were all ignorant about the context within which it was launched and the message it conveyed. Did they seriously think that by breaking the story they were promoting our oh-so-perfect democracy by blaming and shaming the military? Can we talk about the civil-military equation in such simplistic zero-sum binaries?

Look closely at the debate around civilian supremacy and how our democracy is being undermined by a rogue military establishment, fanned consistently by various political leaders and metropolitan commentators, and you find it steeped in the divide-and-rule framework of the imperial narrative. This is not to suggest that there are no disagreements between the political and military leadership on a number of issues. But surely, there are better ways to discuss them.

Laden with loads of politically correct theory and a selective reading of history, the civil-military debate ignores important realities on the ground today; that our political leadership has to travel a long way before it can claim the tag of democracy and all that comes with it and that the military under its current leadership has successfully neutralised and downgraded the terrorist infrastructure in the country besides filling in the vacuums of governance caused by the incompetence of civilian authorities.

Clearly, the military has proven to be the most formidable bulwark against imperial machinations designed to turn us into another Syria. At long last, it is acting in our national interest instead of filling in the role of a Pentagon franchise. Obviously, that is the reason why it is being targeted so diligently by the US-led empire and its allies and vassals like India and Afghanistan. Does it make sense to join the chorus raised by those out to get us?

The current military leadership is clearer on counter-terrorism because it has distanced itself from the US, making our war against terrorists independent of the two-faced imperial game-plan. A similar distancing on the civilian side from the imperialist worldview within which neoliberal capitalism and its compulsions define the debates and the meaning of words would help us tremendously in surmounting the challenges we face today.