An Australian view of Pakistan


Simon Butler represented the Socialist Alliance at the Labour Party Pakistan's January 27-28 conference. He also addressed the 10,000 strong rally of workers and peasants on January 29 on behalf of the Alliance. The article below is abridged from the Pakistani News on Sunday.

There are two things most Australians associate with Pakistan: cricket and terrorism. The fault lies mostly with the one-sided reporting by Australia's mainstream media.

Most Australians heard of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009. In May, they saw reports of the Taliban's insurgency in the Swat Valley.

In October, they watched footage about the terror attack on the Pakistan army general headquarters.

At other times, the most they see is the occasional 15-second report on the evening news about yet another bomb blast in Lahore or Islamabad.

Or they might read a pro-war newspaper columnist argue why the US-led war on Afghanistan must be extended across the Pakistani border.

Because of this relentless coverage, many Australians view Pakistan as an uninviting and dangerous place — just another battleground in the West's so-called war on terror.

Visiting Pakistan, I gained a much fuller understanding about just how much of the real story is not told.

In Faisalabad, I was exposed to the powerful workers' organisation, the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), which held a huge rally in the city centre on January 29.

For years the LQM has waged a struggle for the rights of textile workers in Faisalabad. Amazingly, I learnt this movement has closed down the city four times in the past two years.

But there is no coverage of Pakistan's growing labour movement in Australia's mainstream media.

The rally was organised with the Anjuman Mazarin Punjab (AMP) — an organisation of peasant farmers who have struggled for the right to own their land for a decade.

AMP members have resisted attempts by their military landlords to sell their land to multinational corporations. Instead, they demand the government transfer ownership rights to the people who till the soil. Women have played a prominent role in this campaign.

Again, news of this struggle is absent from Australian media.

I met the leader of the Women Workers Helpline (WWH), Bushra Khaliq. The WWH is one of the most important Pakistani feminist groups organising for the rights of women.

Through its community development and awareness programs, it aims to empower women to build a just and gender-sensitised society.

Few Australians would know of these inspiring campaigns for women's equality in Pakistan.

My visit also gave me a deeper awareness of the importance of Pakistan's various ethnic groups — Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Balochis and others — in the country's political life.

Australian media reports usually rely solely on religious issues to explain Pakistan's internal problems. But the quest for full rights and equality between Pakistan's different national groups appears far more decisive.

Part of the reason for all the distortions is that Australia's media is highly monopolised and controlled by a very small group of media tycoons. Like so much of the "free" western media, what gets reported reflects the interests of Australia's elites.

The worst thing is that the mainstream media reports on Pakistan without reporting on its people and their aspirations. In consequence, Pakistanis are dehumanised.

This is typical of the West's media coverage of the entire Third World.

For instance, investigative journalist John Pilger wrote in the January 28 London New Statesman of a 10-year study by the University of the West of England of BBC reporting on Venezuela.

Pilger said: "Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of Hugo Chavez's government [such as free health and education], while most denigrated his extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler."

The western mainstream media works to warp the consciousness of citizens in the West, desensitising them to injustice, and seeking to garner public support for imperialist wars of aggression.

Countless times throughout my visit I was struck by the big gap between the Australian media coverage of Pakistan and the on-the-ground reality. Clearly, there are many differences between the two countries.

But in their aspirations for a better life, for peace and equality, I found that ordinary Australians and Pakistanis actually share much in common.