Check out these two video clips. The first is Talat Hussain interviewing Major General Tariq Khan, the IG of the Frontier Corps.
Hussain and Khan have had an ongoing disagreement regarding the necessity of capturing the senior leadership of the Taliban (Hussain mentions Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur and Fazlullah as the main examples). Hussain also has legitimate concerns regarding the security situation in Peshawar. With these disagreements in mind, it’s interesting to observe Hussain’s reactions to Khan’s statements.
Regarding the situation in Peshawar, Khan makes the truly appalling statement that the security situation in Peshawar is actually a positive reflection on the military action in Khyber Agency because there have not been any kidnappings or rocket attacks in Peshawar in the last week. When asked about the almost daily bombings, he replies that bombings are “very spectacular” so are more noticeable for that reason
When questioned about how Mangal Bagh has evaded capture to date he flippantly states “what can I say, Mangal Bagh is a very lucky man!”
When asked why the FC operations have not targetted the senior leadership in either Khyber or Bajaur (and the broader question of why the military has not targetted senior leadership in Swat) he says “From a military point of view, yeh Fazlullah waghera, hamaray liyay importance… they don’t have”
When asked about the recent spate of violence in Bajaur, he briefly touches on the surrender document in Mamoond which expired on October 25 and which the Taliban did not adhere to regarding disarmament. One would imagine that an aggressive anchor like Talat Hussain would question further, given this recent spate of violence in Bajaur, the declaration of victory in Bajaur in March, and the military’s record of failed peace deals and surrender agreements but Talat does not pursue it further.
The second clip featuring Mr. Hussain is today’s episode of Off the Record with Kashif Abbasi in which Abbasi and Hussain spend 40 minutes dissecting the contents of Asif Zardari’s address to the PPP. This interview is a very different one from the first one, when it comes to Talat Hussain’s demeanor towards the information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. At several points, he interrupts Kaira and starts shouting at him about how his party doesn’t understand politics, how Zardari is unneccessarily defensive, how other governments all over the world have handled crises in a better way than Zardari’s government has, how the PPP is reduced to dealing with anchors. Talat Hussain gets very angry at the fact that the Prime Minister granted an audience to the CIA chief, the same CIA chief who has authorized drones over Pakistan. After this point, he basically does not let Kaira finish his sentence and just sits back in his seat making rude gestures. After a certain point he says “this is a live program, so we should try to make factually correct statements”
Now at least some part of this differential attitude of Hussain’s is related to the differing personalities of Maj Gen Tariq Khan and Qamar Zaman Kaira. Kaira is, unfortunately, not a great speaker and just doesn’t have the wherewithal to handle the kind of unmitigated attack that Abbasi and Hussain unleash on him from the very beginning of the show. Fair enough, no one expects the press to go easy on a politician. But my question for Mr. Hussain is, why – despite his obvious disagreements – the softball questions for Tariq Khan? Why does Tariq Khan get away with ridiculous statements regarding the security situation in Peshawar that Rehman Malik would be drawn and quartered for? Why does Talat Hussain shout and scream at Qamar Zaman Kaira (which is totally fine in my book, I wish more US politicians were subjected to this kind of grilling on cable news) but speak in a quiet, submissive way to Tariq Khan and take even his most ridiculous assertions with the passivity of a sacrificial goat?
This is the fundamental hypocrisy about journalists like Talat Hussain that needs to be addressed. There are a few different reasons for it. The first and most obvious one is of course a basic lack of respect for the elected government and a complete lack of interest in its survival. The second one is a bit more complicated and is related to Hussain’s threat perceptions regarding India and the very different roles that Tariq Khan and Qamar Zaman Kaira play within his threat perception framework. If you have watched his unbelievable shows following the Mumbai attacks, you can understand what drives him at a very primal level. But the frustrating thing is that there is no one who is willing to ask these questions of our opinion makers, so snugly wrapped as they are in the warm cocoon of our nationalist rhetoric.
Update: somewhat related to this post: a great post by Mr. Tambourine Man on the PPP’s media face