The past week and weekend in particular have been important in the context of relation between media and politics in the Indo-Pak region as clerics in Bangladesh have all of a sudden jumped on a campaign against two prominent Pakistani political figures.
A week ago, the news of an alleged love affair between Pakistan’s ruling President’s only son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan’s Hina Rabbani Khar rocked the political grounds as well the general public in the region. Bilawal being notably younger and Khar being a married woman and mother of two daughters, the news was a shock emanating from a Bangladeshi paper Blitzweekly and immediately picked up by Indian media. The tabloid publishing the news claimed that Khar and Bilawal Bhutto plan to unite in marriage soon after Khar divorces her husband. Soon Pakistani papers too caught the buzz and everyone was onto the story about the ruling Pakistan People Party’s (PPP) leadership having an affair.
Adding to the sensation, clerics in Bangladesh have started issuing fatwas (religious decrees) about punishing Khar and Bhutto; and as expected from fundamentalist clerics, a few have suggested stoning them to death over adultery, adding “if the report is true”. One surely cannot miss reading the cleric adding also that Bilawal Bhutto can’t become the head of an Islamic republic like Pakistan if the allegations against him are true. As the general elections approach, expected in the first quarter of next year, this propaganda comes clearly as a political attack on the ruling secular party of Pakistan. The most notable point in this issue is the direct role of Bangladeshi media and clergy that are not supposed to interfere in a neighboring country’s affairs, and which have not been interfering as such in Pakistan’s affairs so far.
The sensational story of Bhutto-Khar alleged affair therefore seems to be meant to influence the coming general elections, the fundamentalist networks in the region fearing another 5 years of rule by the PPP and its mostly secular allies. But PPP leadership is suspicious of a powerful force within the country that may possibly be behind the propaganda – the country’s powerful intelligence agency ISI – as reported in The News. The paper refers to a news story published in a UK paper according to which ISI was unhappy with Khar over facilitating a UN investigation into cases of missing persons most of whom are allegedly picked by the country’s military/intelligence. The ISI has officially denied having anything to do with the scandal of Bhutto-Khar affair.
Whether a neighboring country’s clergy and/or media shall have a role, or can be used for having one, in a country’s affairs is a big question. For the safety of a proper, functional democratic system, this surely cannot be allowed and the government of Pakistan as well as the international community need to take the government of Bangladesh on board over this cross-border violation of fair conduct.