Pakistan's Paranoid, Irresponsible Media Hampering Terror Fight

Public opinion in Pakistan is fashioned by the newly independent Pakistani media, which is often cross-owned. The media, made independent during General Musharraf’s era, has a pro-Islamist bias, which is reflected both in its vehement anti-Americanism and in its attacks on the social democratic Pakistan Peoples Party. Some analysts have recently referred to the Pakistani media as feeding national paranoia and xenophobia.

Soon after the Faisal Shahzad story broke out, leading Pakistani daily The News alleged that Shahzad met with a Western diplomat during his stay in Pakistan in February. The underlying theme? Shahzad is a Western plot against Pakistan. A well-known Pakistani television host and columnist, Kamran Khan, asserted in Urdu daily Roznama Ummat that the Shahzad incident was part of a massive “conspiracy against Pakistan.” Urdu daily Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt went one step further, alleging that the conspiracy had roots with N.Y.-based U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, a Hindu with a Jewish wife.

This assertion is in tune with what al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups assert: that the Muslim world faces conspiracies hatched by a “Crusader-Zionist-Hindu” alliance.

In the past year, the Pakistani army has launched military offensives against extremists in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas. However, the Pakistani state cannot take on the entire jihadi infrastructure, which took root over decades, without public opinion on their side. With a paranoid media planting reckless conspiracy theories and feeding anti-Americanism, it is not difficult to understand why the Pakistani government has had to make sure it has all players on board before it moves ahead.

It does not appear that there is a lack of will on the part of the Pakistani government. Instead, there is a lack of support from the other domestic players. Ironically, now is likely the only time in Pakistani history that the military and security establishment appear to be on board with the civilian government in this matter. Unfortunately, the fourth estate -- which should have championed the fight against extremism -- is marshaling public opinion in the opposite direction.