Bajwa’s Iftar Dinner became PR Exercise to Influence Media
Iftar dinner was just a PR stunt by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa. He invited aroung 35 journalists, all among them were editor level.
That is how it is done by top officials when they want to test the waters about some crucial paradigm shift in policy matters that they are proposing to adopt. They know that the media has many tricks up their sleeve to turn the off-the-record briefings into reasonably credible reports while keeping the actual source camouflaged in too transparent a wrap which offers the source the protection of what is called the hedge of plausible deniability.
Such exchanges between the COAS and the media persons in the past on occasions have turned out to be a prelude to regime change. I recall the one I attended when General Musharraf was the COAS and he had invited a select number of journalists for an Iftar-dinner in, if my memory serves me right, February 1999. This exchange was also off-the record. I clearly recall that he was accompanied by the then ISI Chief Lt. General Aziz and the then MI Chief Lt. General Ehsanul Haq. Musharraf was clearly trying to win friends and influence the senior media persons. He said everything that we wanted to hear. Some pearls which I can recall off hand: He volunteered “If tomorrow the Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif) commands me I will throw my troops into the sea to shoulder the wobbling ship off the country and bring it back out of the troubled waters.” On a question: “Altaf is a traitor, period”. When told those who go across the LoC to fight the Kashmir Jihad on return indulge in sectarian killings, especially, Shias Aziz quipped: “No, no, they are all very pious people they don’t indulge in such crimes.” Come to think of it, the threesome was planning Kargil misadventure around this time. And then it took Musharraf only about only 8 months to stage his bloodless coup.
The stories that have so far leaked out of the Bajwa Iftar-Dinner also indicate that it was if anything a grand PR exercise—trying to win and influence the influential section of the media. Not only that. The PR effort was seemingly extended to the PML-N as well, and in an effort perhaps to mend fences with the party, the ‘officially certified truth’ said establishment does not consider Nawaz Sharif to be ‘anti-state’ and praised Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Miftah Ismail, Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastgir ‘for being competent and armed with solid educational credentials from abroad’.
Meanwhile, Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza are out on bail; Jehangir Tareen has formed a so-called forward bloc within the PTI to challenge Prime Minister Imran Khan; Justice Qazi Faiz Isa’s case has ended in his victory causing a lot of embarrassment to the Khan government; former FIA Chief Basheer Memon’s accusations have robbed PTI of a great deal of its political capital and; out of the blue the PPP has succeeded in bagging a Karachi NA seat.
It is difficult to believe that Tareen would do anything not approved by the powers that be; Review petitions no matter how legally sound don’t normally get accepted; retired government servants do not come out of the retirement without a signal from you- know- who; the losses of PTI in the recently held by-elections indicate that the selectors may have stopped taking interests in the political well-being of the government. The two, no more on the same page? And the PPP victory in the Karachi by-election could also be seen as a PR job by the powers-that-be to bring the party back into Pakistan’s mainstream political reckoning now that the PTI is seemingly losing the steam.
But why? Why is this sudden change, if at all, in the GHQ’s approach to the domestic politics? What is it up to? Why does it want to win friends and influence as many as possible including the ‘discarded’ PML-N and PPP? Could it be that it is trying to create conditions conducive for Bajwa to implement his doctrine based on “Let us bury the past and move ahead…Let us first put our own house in order…Let us focus on geo-economics rather than geopolitics”?