So by now the madness over Veena Malik (actress, reality show breakout starlet, crazy maulvi fighter extraordinaire), her published nude cover photo, and her subsequent row with India‘s FHM Magazine is old news. I mean, that was so last week. Over it. (Here is a link to the story in case you live in a cave or away from the wonderful world of Twitter & Facebook news feeds.)
But did you know that Veena’s fake ‘ISI‘ tattoo as well as another almost-nude photo of her in camouflage were code for a MILITARY COUP?! Yes, everyone. Veena was totally in the know, using her cover shoot as an underlying message to tell us all what was really going on. With an Indian magazine no less. Oh, the irony. OMGZ, how GENIUS!
See what I just did there? I started a little rumor. Ok, it was a little far-fetched, closer to being a conspiracy theory, but the line between rumor and conspiracy is often thin, especially in Pakistan. And with rumors flying on Twitter today about whispers of a potential military coup, it is fair to ask whether we are too trigger happy when it comes to the Pakistan rumor mill.
These rumors were compounded even further after Foreign Policy reported that President Zardari flew to Dubai to undergo medical tests Tuesday. In the FP piece entitled, “President Zardari suddenly leaves Pakistan — is he on the way out?“, Josh Rogin wrote,
A former U.S. government official told The Cable today that when President Barack Obama spoke with Zardari over the weekend regarding NATO’s killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers, Zardari was “incoherent.” The Pakistani president had been feeling increased pressure over the Memogate scandal. “The noose was getting tighter — it was only a matter of time,” the former official said, expressing the growing expectation inside the U.S. government that Zardari may be on the way out.
According to this same unnamed U.S. official, Zardari had a “minor heart attack” and may resign due to “ill health.”
Cue the speculation.
Rogin cited the Atlantic Council’s Shuja Nawaz, who noted, “This is the ‘in-house change option’ that has been talked about,” a plan in which Zardari would “step aside and be replaced by his own party, preserving the veneer of civilian rule but ultimately acceding to the military’s wishes to get rid of Zardari.” He added, “Now if [the military] stay at arm’s length and let the party take care of its business, then things may improve. If not, then this is a silent coup with [Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza] Gilani as the front man.”
While I think the FP and The Cable are credible outlets, the use of unnamed U.S. and Pakistani sources who are all speculating (for example: “the growing expectation inside the U.S. government” or “in what might be a precursor to Zardari stepping down”) show how we can be both trigger-happy in our news production and our news consumption. The title of the FP piece, “Zardari Suddenly Leaves…Is He on His Way Out?” is framed as leading question, further baiting the rumor mill. Dawn Newspaper, in its subsequent coverage of the FP piece, conveniently quoted the unnamed U.S. source as well as half of Shuja Nawaz’s hypothesizing (mentioning the ‘in-house’ change option but not the fact that the military could stay at arm’s length), exacerbating this even more. (The Express Tribune and GEO Television provided similar coverage.)
Meanwhile, as noted by Arif Rafiq over at the Pakistan Policy, Zardari’s aides have not done well in quelling the speculation. Rafiq noted, “Rather than being honest and forthcoming [about his heart condition], Zardari’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, did what most Pakistani government officials do to their people: obscure the truth. He said Zardari is in Dubai for a routine medical checkup,” which is obviously not true. The Khaleej Times also quoted Babar who said earlier,
…said that contrary to media reports the President did not visit any hospital today for tests or treatment. Instead the President held separate meetings today in Presidency with Prime Minister, Chairman Senate and Interior Minister to review overall situation, security arrangements for Ashura and legislative business in Senate before leaving for Dubai…
So essentially on one side we have the overactive rumor mill, and on the other the “let’s-pretend-everything-is-just-dandy-camp.” Great. Because nothing makes people more suspicious than obviously playing down a situation, even if it may be in response to potential sensationalism. (This is when I realize my Masters degree in Conflict Resolution could have come to great use! Sad Kalsoom.)
As for the potential military coup? Rafiq has the most rational dose of speculation I’ve seen so far:
It would be difficult to hide the fact that Zardari was being pushed (illegally) out of office by the army. The army would then be condemned by a wide set of actors… Zardari in exile would then play the role of political martyr, stirring up his currently disenchanted party base and possibly even do really well in the next elections. Kayani is not one to act brashly. He wouldn’t push Zardari out right now.
Here’s what I hope: For once, I want the military to not be the one holding the government in power accountable. Let the regime go out, but not like this.
Here’s what I think: Aside from a few unnamed sources and cloak-and-dagger like whispers, we really don’t know anything. So stop churning the rumor mill even more (and God knows, I’m guilty of it too. Damn you Retweet!). And for those of you ‘excited’ about Zardari’s illness, shame on you. You should be better than that.