Pakistan has banned two video games after reports emerged that they show the country's security forces aiding al Qaeda. Media experts say that such video games reflect a bigger political picture.
After complains from shop owners, Pakistani authorities removed two war-themed video games - "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" and "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" - from stores. The two games allegedly show the Pakistani spy organization, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), supporting al Qaeda and other militant outfits.
The All Pakistan Association of CD, DVD and Audio Cassettes Traders and Manufacturers recently released a statement announcing a countrywide ban on these games. “The Association has always boycotted these types of films and games … The games ("Medal of Honor: Warfighter" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops II") have been developed against Pakistan, and the association has completely banned their sale. Shopkeepers are warned and will face consequences if found purchasing or selling these games,” read the APCDACTM statement.
Saleem Memon, president of the APCDACTM in Karachi, told foreign media that his association had received a number of complains against the games. “... there are things that are against Pakistan and they have included criticism of our army. They show the country in a very poor light.”
The West has often accused the Pakistani military and the ISI of backing al Qaeda and the Taliban to use them as a bargaining chip while dealing with Kabul and Washington. Pakistan denies these allegations.
In May 2011, the US marines unilaterally raided a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad and killed bin Laden, who had been hiding in the garrison town for at least six years. Shortly after bin Laden's assassination, Leon Panetta, then CIA director, said in an interview that the Obama administration believed the Pakistanis might have "alerted the targets" had they been informed of the operation beforehand. Around the time of the killing, Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the US, said that he believed some people in Pakistan had known about bin Laden's whereabouts.
Reportedly, seven of the US Navy SEAL Team 6 members - who took part in bin Laden's assassination - helped in the development of "Medal of Honor: Warfighter."
In November last year, some of these soldiers were "reprimanded for divulging secret information for a video game," according to AFP news agency.
"They received a punitive letter of reprimand and forfeiture of a half month's pay for two months," a US Navy official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Relations between Americans and Pakistanis began to deteriorate in 2011. The first major sign of deteriorating ties between Washington and Islamabad emerged when in February 2011 undercover CIA agent Raymond Davis shot dead two Pakistani nationals in Lahore. According to Pakistani experts, David's arrest in Pakistan was the first public manifestation of serious tensions between the ISI and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Although David was later released by a Pakistani court after family members of the two dead men received "blood money" and pardoned Davis, the Pakistani government asked the CIA to reduce its personnel in Pakistan and to cut down its operations drastically.
Emrys Schoemaker, a communications analyst and researcher at the London School of Economics, told DW that that militaries had been known to support the development of cultural products to help shape the perception of the military in a particular way. He added, however, that these games were not a form of overt psychological warfare against Pakistan.
"These games reflect the ideology and the narrative of the people who write them. The information we have access to is largely controlled by Western media conglomerates. Those who do not have access or control over the media are at a disadvantage in terms of the ability to shape their own narratives," Schoemaker said.
Schoemaker said that it was understandable Pakistani authorities had banned the games. "It won't be very effective though. In the longer term, a far more effective way to protect and project Pakistan's national interests would be to invest in education and develop the capacity of Pakistan's cultural production sector, of its video game makers, movies, music, so that Pakistan's national narrative can compete with others."
He added that it was likely that banning the games would make people more interested in them.
"A lot of gaming clubs have opened up in Islamabad," Humayun Ghais, a video game aficionado in Islamabad, told DW. "Many people go to these clubs and play video games which include Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. They are quite popular."
Ghais said that though these games were "biased" he did not see a reason why the government should ban them. He was of the opinion that the impact of these games was minimal and that the government would do well to concentrate on other matters.