Pakistan’s homegrown Arnab Goswamis

If you thought our very own ArGo was too much, imagine having to tune into to two of them! Well, Pakistanis do.

WrittenBy:Umer Farooq
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It was in the first week of January this year that the kidnapping of four social media activists from different parts of Pakistan took society by the storm. As usual, many suspected the Intelligence agencies. The media criticised the state’s Intelligence agencies and civil society organisations were holding peaceful demonstrations in front of the Parliament house to demand the return of activists. Some courageous political leaders even openly talked against the high-handedness of Intelligence services. In other word, there was an air of sympathy for activists in Islamabad.

But there was one voice going against the current (in a highly negative sense). This was a self-proclaimed religious-scholar-turned-anchor, Aamir Liaquat Hussain. He made several filthy allegations against the activists. Back then he was hosting a popular talk show on one of the leading news channels and incessantly claimed that the social media activists and bloggers were blasphemers of the highest order.

But one day he made an incredulous claim, “All these four bloggers have fled to India with the help of Indian Intelligence agency, RAW,” Liaquat declared on one of his shows. The claim was in fact laughable and indeed people laughed. But this made no difference to Liaquat who, from then on, continued to insist that the bloggers were in the custody of RAW.

Most of Liaquat’s time on screen is spent incessantly prattling on trivial but emotionally-charged issues primarily aimed at projecting himself as an ultra-nationalist. And in this he has achieved immense success: media experts in Pakistan rate him as one of the most popular talk show hosts with a large fan following.

The other day he told his audience that the main objective of the systematic killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar was to get them out of their homeland so that the US Marines could come and occupy the vacant spaces left behind.

Liaquat was hosting a popular religious programme on GEO TV before joining BOL ,where he started hosting a political talk show and rose to prominence for bashing India and those who he accused of being pro-India. Launched in mid-2015, BOL TV was taken off air for a year in May 2015 when its parent company AXACT was exposed in a fake degree scandal unearthed by The New York TimesBOL TV, which resumed telecast in December 2016, has demonstrated a clear pro-military tilt.

How Liaquat became an India-bashing, macho ultra-nationalist political talk show host (as previously his diatribes were restricted to minority heterodox religious communities) is a complicated story that runs through Pakistani power corridors and is indicative of the state’s attempt to control and manage the ultra-nationalist, Right-wing feelings among Pakistani masses.

The Pakistani military establishment has been under attack from both the liberal Left and Right-wingers in Pakistani society — the liberal Left criticises the military for its inclinations towards Right-wing religious sentiments, whereas Right-wingers criticise it for initiating military operations against Islamists. In this situation, only ultra-nationalists (also ideologically Right-wingers) with close association with state institutions tow the military’s line unconditionally.

The narrative Liaquat constructs on his shows caters to this narrowly-defined group, but this narrative attracts a larger audience owing to the fact that it is projected on one of the leading news channels with a viewership that runs into millions.

No matter how clownish he may appear, this matters little to Liaquat. Many in the Pakistani media community think that BOL, reeling under scandals, is providing a distraction in the form of Liaquat.

The quality of foreign policy debate on Pakistani new channels was already quite low. The jargon used to describe the tensions between Pakistan and India was akin to slang used in street fights. However, people like Liaquat have redefined low with their attempts to describe regional security situation in South Asia as a contest between two street hooligans, by using that same slang.

Take, for example, another India basher, Mubashir Lucman, a popular media personality and popular prime-time talk show host. His prime targets are always those political leaders who are not on good terms with the military establishment or Intelligence services. But he reserves a good part of his energies for diatribes against India.

On one of his shows last year, he presented a clipping from an Indian magazine and dubbed it as an official plan to take out JuD chief Hafeez Saeed near Lahore and the notorious Mumbai Don Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi in an India commando operation, “I warn Indians that the People around Hafeez Saeed are very dangerous….they will break your legs and hands and make you a cripple for rest of your life,” he told his audience in common Urdu slang.

However, none of these talk show hosts have taken their rhetoric to the level that is the peculiarity of their counterpart in India — Arnab Goswami of Republic. Goswami’s Pakistan bashing is distinctive and his style is unique and it may be true that Liaquat and Lucman are mere copycats, who have been asked by their  shows’ producers to imitate the original. Both Liaquat and Lucman are new entrants in the field and have only recently started India bashing, their initial focus was reserved for domestic politics. 

There is one striking similarity between the Pakistani Arnab Goswamis and that is the fact that both take their ideological food for thought from the military and its Intelligence services, as is evident from their rhetoric which they promote on their shows.

One fact that distinguishes these from the original is that they are more focused on domestic politics and India occurs only occasionally in their diatribes.

Sometimes one gets the impression that Liaquat is pretending to be the state itself. “This is Aamir Liaquat Hussain, I am Pakistan,” he declares before beginning his show.

I don’t know much about Goswami but his copies in Pakistan think that they are political players in the power game, they can influence the public opinion in a way that can create, make or break situations for the government and they can also influence the political outcomes. This makes them extremely arrogant on screen.


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