Misleading the public

Today I plan to continue with a further example of what I discussed last week. If you remember, my theme started with the assumption that the media moulds public opinion far more than reflects it. As such, and given the relationship between them should be considered a fiduciary one of sorts, the media has an unwritten duty to the public not to mislead it.

What is the reality? Sure, our media is now free, in the sense that it can say what it likes and is not subject to government censorship. That is the pleasing part. And of course everyone has a right to their views. But the worrying part is that, for many reasons — not the least being the existential need to make a living, whatever it takes — there appears to be many a relic left in the fraternity from our bad old days. And they can still be influenced in a variety of ways, if not actually bought. Then there are those who, for a number of reasons best known to themselves, present to the public conjectures and hypotheses as incontrovertible facts, and thereby mislead them deliberately or inadvertently.

Last week I quoted the example of Ms Maria Sultan’s views in support of that popular but tedious view (tedious because it is such obvious nonsense) that the US is the greatest threat to our security and the security of our prized ‘nuclear assets’. Today I wish to take issue with what Mr Hamid Mir regularly comes up with on these same twin subjects on his popular TV programme.For, in support of his view that this threat is real and serious, he monotonously cites as proof (first done, I think, in his programme of September 16, 2008, and repeated many times since, the last time being just a few weeks ago) a 1999 study under the auspices of the US Department of Defence called ‘ASIA 2025’. To underwrite his claim that we should take the scenarios of this study as real and serious, he never fails to heavily stress two facts that he considers clinchers of an argument: that the participants in the study were leading US experts on defence matters; and that the study was carried out at the prestigious American Naval War College, under the tutelage of the Defence Department. Is such direct high-level US government involvement not powerful evidence that the conclusions were intended to form the basis of future official US thinking and policy making?

He then goes on — but being disingenuously selective, arguing out of context, and by presuming a hypothetical response to a hypothetical situation to be actually planned policy — to quote from the report the part about “…In 2012 the US uses B-52s and deep-bunker busting bombs to destroy our nuclear weapons, while the Indian Army marches into Pakistan and the Pakistani State disintegrates…” Lo and behold! All our suspicions about an international conspiracy (by India and the US, to wipe both Pakistan and its nuclear assets off the map) are seen to be justified to anyone not prepared to dig any deeper (like most ordinary folk).Now let me tell you just a few things I find wrong with such a deliberately distorted picture, presented to fit in with what I can only assume to be Mr Hamid Mir’s pre-conceived war-against-Islam notions.

The most important thing to note is what the participants in the study had to say themselves of the scenarios they debated: “They are speculative, not predictive; rather, they are highly imaginative descriptions of things.”To put matters in perspective, let me first quote the equally highly speculative nature of the group’s discussions on China. After reading that, judge for yourself whether we (or the Chinese!!) should interpret the scenarios in the report as serious expressions of policy intent. The study postulates a de facto coup by the military in 2010 that launches an ‘unstable’ China on a new round of expansionism and adventurism. This results in China assuming de facto control of Taiwan, occupying most of the sea territory of the Philippines, intervening in riot-racked Indonesia, pressing inexorably for the permanent strategic subservience of Korea and Japan, and attempting to seize ‘energy assets’ in Siberia, the Russian Far East and Kazakhstan (which ends with China and Russia on the brink of nuclear war).

It is the job of theorists and academicians to explore all possibilities thoroughly, no matter how remote. But policies based on such speculations are entirely another matter. So, how many readers would say that the Chinese scenario, though barely possible (simply because just about anything is possible) is even remotely likely?The scenario considering Pakistan was possibly less remote than the above. Nevertheless the necessary pre-condition was the chain reaction that starts with the infiltration of Islamic militants into Kashmir, and the resulting conventional war between India and Pakistan spiralling out of control as India uses conventional weapons to attack our nuclear missiles, and Pakistan retaliates by using nuclear weapons. It is only then that the US intervenes.

What justification then has Mr Hamid Mir to treat such highly speculative scenarios as in fact US policy (‘secret’ or otherwise)? And, solely for the purposes of argument, should all the events in the chain actually happen and there is a nuclear exchange on the subcontinent, will it really matter to us much anymore if the US also does its little bit? Or is anyone suggesting that our use of nuclear weapons (in self-defence or otherwise) is purely our private matter in which the world has no business being involved?And, while we are at it, let us be thankful the US experts did not speculate on the following altogether far more likely scenario: what should the US do if Islamic zealots (with inside help) manage to smuggle some stolen fissionable material (or some biological or chemical WMD) on to an innocent regular PIA flight to New York, and blow up the plane there?

There are four other points I wish to make. First, that study was commissioned in 1999. The world was already a vastly different place by 2008 when Mr Mir first discovered the study, nine years later (why was he unaware of it before?). And, certainly, it has changed much again since (just think how out of place now those speculations on China seem, or, how real is the prospect now of militant infiltration into Kashmir and a consequent Indo-Pak nuclear exchange).To reinforce the point of how the world has moved on, may I recommend to Mr Mir (for whom I have a lot of time on many other issues) and his programme researchers, the following: instead of relying on that obsolete 1999 study: please read the more recent document prepared in 2009 by the Ruger Chair Workshop of the same Naval War College, and entitled ‘American Foreign Policy Regional Perspectives’. Pages 125-140 of the document will — and I can only earnestly hope for that — give them a better idea of current best US thinking on Pakistan.

Finally, I repeat what I wrote last week: will someone explain to me why a country that is the biggest threat to both our security and the security of our nuclear assets (having every intention to bomb them, etc, in due course), should help us financially and militarily, including giving us F-16s that can be used against their B-52s and helicopters? Is that what Enemy No 1s do normally? Why then has India overlooked this novel modern military strategy in relation to us? – Dailytimes – Munir Attaullah