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Media Watch: He said, he said

A phone call has been the subject of feverish debate on the mainstream media.

The call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to newly-inaugurated PM Imran Khan, felicitating the latter upon taking office, has begun to be seen as the first faux pas by the new government – at least by certain quarters.

About the phone call, a readout issued by the US State Department had said: “Secretary Pompeo raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan and its vital role in promoting the Afghan peace process.”

That did not gel well with the new government, apparently.

The Foreign Office spokesperson ran a clarification. “Pakistan takes exception to the factually incorrect statement issued by US State Dept on today’s phone call btwn PM Khan & Sec Pompeo. There was no mention at all in the conversation about terrorists operating in Pakistan. This shd be immediately corrected,” he stated in a tweet.

When the ball went back to the US State Department’s Court, US State Department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert, during Thursday’s press briefing, stood by the department’s readout. During the press briefing, when asked about Pakistan’s call for immediate correction to the readout, Nauert answered that both sides had a “good call.”

There are several points to ponder over this disagreement. First of all, the PTI is all about optics and a “muscular nationalism” as some call it. So why does the PM even take the call of the Secretary of State? Pompeo’s equivalent is the Foreign Minister. Don’t get me wrong, Secretaries of State do call the heads of government of other countries, but this felicitation call is invariably made by the President.

Moving on, now let us talk about the disputed content of the call itself.

The Pakistani government says that the subject of terrorism was not discussed. Now the Tube wasn’t in on the conversation but I’ll venture forth say it probably was discussed. Maybe not at length and maybe the Pakistan government chose not to dwell on it too much. But it probably did happen.

Let us assume, for argument’s sake, that it didn’t happen, that terrorism wasn’t discussed. What does that imply, then?

The Foreign Office felt so strongly about this, that it disputed a statement made by the diplomatic apparatus of a friendly nation. Had there been some minor inaccuracy of the statement of another nation, like Djibouti, Bolivia or Moldova, the conventions of diplomacy might have been to let that slide.

But the Foreign Office troubled itself with a clarification. Why? Does it mean to imply that terrorism will not be discussed now? Because that impression can be completely bulldozed with Pompeo’s next call. And the man, having learnt from experience, won’t be subtle this time. He knows the man on the other end of the line is a bit slow on the uptake.

That’s the problem. Fake news, a well-oiled PR machine and PTI-voting middle-class-and-elite staffers of news organisations might create a mirage of tabdeeli in the health, education and police departments, despite what the internal reports of these two departments say themselves (we saw that in KP’s case.)

But there’s next to no wriggle room for the PTI when it comes to the Americans. They want something that the Pakistani establishment, quite frankly, is not prepared to give. The Americans can then get testy. Blocking aid at first and then moving on to more serious actions.

These serious steps can be taken with a man like Trump in charge, specially when there seems to be an emerging consensus in the rest of the world about Pakistan’s extra-curricular activities.

The new government, can’t take the fall for the establishment and has to, after a point, confront it. That, is when the magic will happen. The education of Imran Khan might be quicker than that of Nawaz Sharif. Sooner or later, all elected governments have to come to the same, inevitable conclusion.

The Tube

Media Watch column is meant to offer commentary on the affairs of the media.

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