- The scope and limitations of ISPR
Since its inception in 1949, the ISPR has been the principal public relations and information outfit of the armed forces. It has been the official source of information regarding the appointments and transfers of senior personnel and awards given to them. It has reported on exercises, actions and operations conducted by army, air force and navy individually as well as jointly. The ISPR has also highlighted the violations of the ceasefire line and exposed the false claims of the Indian Army. Over the years the ISPR has helped produce dramas and films to project the armed forces’ achievements in the battlefield and in countering foreign conspiracies. Some of the dramas and films were widely acclaimed while others met with a muted response as is the case with productions of the kind by mainstream film industry.
As long as a body works in line with the mandate given to it, it invites little critical focus. The issue arises when it is seen to transcend its defined limits and invade other bodies’ turf. Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor was known for being energetic. This led him sometime to comment on constitutional provisions like the 18th Amendment which did not go well with the views of the opposition. Similarly he declared that the July 25 polls, that many opposition parties had described as rigged, were the most transparent in Pakistan’s history. Later during the so called Azadi March a statement by the DG ISPR led JUI(F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to maintain that the army spokesman should not involve himself in politics. His preference to use his personal twitter handle rather than the official DGISPR handle often led to unnecessary controversy as well.
The outgoing DG ISPR wanted media to report according to his wishes. He not only expected this from Pakistani media and patriotic Pakistani reporters abroad, but also from foreign journalists whom he desired to “highlight improving peace and stability in Pakistan, which offers economic opportunities for foreign investors”. The desire sometime led to actions that elicited a strong response from the rights organisations, both at home and abroad, and the domestic journalist community at large. One expects the newly appointed DG ISPR to stay away from political controversies and avoid what is seen by many as a carrot-and-stick policy towards the media.