This is a story of four Pakistani friends. Three of them are collateral damage in the service of one. The end.
That’s how things are done by Pakistan’s ISPR.
These four men represent the four pillars of the Pakistani state, in this latest production of the Pakistan military’s PR wing, the Inter Services Public Relations’ much-hyped television drama Ehd-e-Wafa (Promise of the Faithful). One is a politician, second is a journalist, third is a bureaucrat and the fourth (drumrolls) is an army captain. Though the army is not a pillar of the Pakistani state in letter, but who cares about those fine-print details.
Envisaged by the ISPR and executed by the privately owned Hum TV, Ehd-e-Wafa was lapped up as a patriotic story, as is the case with most propaganda productions. The only difference being that the Pakistani civilians are always wrong, while the men in uniform never get anything wrong. Now that shouldn’t come as a shock.
Unlike older serials such as Sunehray Din or Alpha Bravo Charlie — made on the life of aspiring young cadets and officers — Ehd-e-Wafa is not about a tough career in the army. Rather, it takes you inside the head of the uniformed men, and how they see the roles of other institutions — media, politics, bureaucracy — in Pakistan. In any other country, the legislature, executive, judiciary and media would be the four states. But in Pakistan, the military has inserted itself into this list.
Thanks to arch-enemy and neighbour India, all four institutions are on the same page. There is no institutional bickering.
Arnab to Abhinandan, everyone makes an entry
The insidious politician becomes chairman of the National Assembly’s Kashmir committee, whose job is to internationalise the Kashmir issue. Sounds familiar. Shahzain appears on Arnab Goswami’s TV show (Ameesh Goswami) and is really going at the host. Although, the script writers should have known better that no one but Arnab Goswami gets to talk (shout) on his show. There is a reenactment of Abhinandan Varthaman’s interrogation and shows him saying those famous lines — “I’m not supposed to tell you this” or that the “Tea is fantastic”.
As if we’ve forgotten that random desi uncle who asked Abhinandan, “Aapki shadi ho gayi hai (are you married)?” We are suddenly seen reliving 2019 all over again. There is a reference to “Pulwama ka drama” and “Balakot ka flop show”. In this rather bizarre interrogation, Abhinandan is asked if he intended to launch a surgical strike against Pakistan. How does one launch airstrike in a parachute is an idea lost on me. Abhi (as his badge reads) is taunted on how Kulbhushan Jadhav was sent to Pakistan by his government and now he is here.
Unrelated, but very jingoistic.
Had Abhinandan stayed a little longer he would have been interrogated over the outbreak of coronavirus in Pakistan as well.
No surprises that the winner in this LoC skirmish is the army captain who miraculously crosses over, finds the Pakistani soldier, brings him back, gives some strong words to Bharatiya faujis and yes, gets shot at on his way back. Oops. But no issues, he survives, so he is still a hero.
Saad, the leader of the SSG (Special ‘S’ Gang, as the friends call themselves) is the army captain, and it goes without saying that he’s the best thing to have ever happened to Pakistan. He has all the honours, he is a topper, his daddy is a serving major general. He’s the kind of man you’ll take home to meet your parents. Nothing can ever go wrong with him. He is a born leader, he’d break rules only to motivate his troops and, of course, for the good of his country. Now where have we seen this film before? Remind us of the actual coups in Pakistan by the disciplinarians.
Saad would end up living in the room of the captain, Karnal Sher Khan, who is depicted as a national hero. But don’t expect to see any mention about the fact that Kargil war hero Karnal Sher Khan’s body was initially refused by Pakistan, as it said that its soldiers weren’t part of the operation. But later the body was accepted and he was awarded Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest gallantry award.
Even in Ehd-e-Wafa, Pakistan didn’t lose the Kargil War. Thanks for small mercies.
Good for nothing politician, no merit in civil services
Who becomes a politician in this TV show? Shahzain Malik — arrogant, manipulative, feudal and a cheat. As a student, he was least interested in studies, wore an attitude like ‘Mere baap ki seat hai, main toh elect ho he jaunga’. Like it or not, those who don’t want to be anything in this world become politicians. Well, yes that’s one takeaway.
Malik won’t mind shooting down a horse because it didn’t win a race for him. Yes, that’s how inhuman he is. He also first gets his journalist friend kicked out of a TV channel, and then helps him get hired again. Only this time, he wants him to know he was behind it. Now who does that? Malik marries to gain political favours and breaks promise with his in-laws.
Also, in the world of Ehd-e-Wafa, there is no merit in passing a civil services exam. It is the easiest thing ever. Ask Shehryar, the man who clears CSS exam in two months and knows which position he will get even before his interview. Implied sifarish (nepotism) is what would get him anywhere. So, if people in the real world spend years preparing for civil services exam, that doesn’t really stand for anything in Ehd-e-Wafa. Shehryar is poor and he is an assistant commissioner serving the people as an honest officer — that is all the respite the civilians can expect.
Shariq is the journalist who will go on to accidentally record a murder scene. When he goes to the owner of his organisation, the latter gives him a long speech about the role of media and later calls up the murderer to get paid for the video. Now we understand what they think of the Pakistani media. Channel owners are all in cahoots with criminals and the only way you can shine as a journalist in Ehd-e-Wafa is by being on your own and pursuing the truth. Just make sure that the truth doesn’t involve the brave pillar of the military and you’d be fine. Media has terror links. But has any military personnel ever had links with a terrorist? Don’t ask.
It is not the first time that politicians or journalists have been shown in such villainous manner on Pakistani dramas. But the ISPR run with taxpayers’ money is making a self-promotional show to tell civilians that they are the real villains. How is that promoting unity?
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.