Why Memogate doesn’t matter

Published: January 3, 2012

The main headlines of every newspaper were about some silly memo allegedly written on behalf of our ambassador. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

If you held a gun to the head of any prominent Pakistani journalist and asked them to explain the energy crisis in the country, the overwhelming majority would be unable to tell you what actually caused it.

Yet ask any one of those same people to explain to you exactly what happened in the Memogate scandal and almost all of them will be able to give you a blow-by-blow account of what happened and their own views on what was most significant about the whole affair.

The problem with most of us in the media is our absolute obsession with the games of power. Everybody is keenly following even the most insignificant of details about every major power player, wondering who is doing what, saying what, to whom and why in order to get into the corridors of power. Hardly anybody seems to be concerned with what our rulers do with that power once they get it.

That is why – on the day that the government of Pakistan effectively defaulted on its sovereign obligations to energy companies – the main headlines of every newspaper were not about what that meant for the economy but about some silly memo allegedly written on behalf of an ambassador that was deemed so insignificant by its American recipients that they effectively chucked it in the trash.

The political analysts will argue that civil-military relations have an enormous impact on everything that happens in Pakistan and thus that issue deserved to be on the front page. I do not disagree with that.But I do want to ask my journalist colleagues, most of whom are ardent advocates of democracy, one question: how different would the national conversation about civil-military ties be if an elected civilian government was delivering 7% economic growth rates?

Every advocate of civilian rule seems obsessed with pushing the boundaries on criticising the military and discrediting their attempts to influence the government. This is a noble enough effort, but what will really push the military permanently back to their barracks will be competent civilian government. Instead of obsessing over such silly machinations of the military establishment, how about we just focus on holding the civilians accountable for policy?

Unfortunately, that would require a solid understanding of economics and other social sciences which, alas, even most of our most sophisticated of journalists lack. Hence more drivel about memos it shall be for the foreseeable future.


Farooq Tirmizi

The author is an investment analyst. He tweets as @FarooqTirmizi (twitter.com/FarooqTirmizi)

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