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Facts at the altar of opinion


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WOULD you agree that a sizable chunk of the country’s ‘opinion-makers’ believes that Pakistan’s top priority is its sovereignty?

Then you’d also agree that a disproportionate share of the fixation with sovereignty belongs to our media’s influential and affluent star, the talk-show host. Whether it was the Kerry-Lugar bill or the Raymond Davis saga, our talk-show hosts kept all discourse firmly anchored to narrowly, even conveniently, defined sovereignty.

But for Pakistan’s sovereignty to be meaningful, more than a mere slogan, it has to be able to translate into peace and stability, equal opportunity and surely a more equitable distribution of wealth for the bulk of its people. And its selective use as a political ploy, that abuse must stop.

Is sovereignty something to be embraced and discarded at will? You may not believe so. But consider this exchange between the US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner and the reporter of a channel, all of whose anchors are anchored to sovereignty.

Question: “Mark, are you monitoring the situation in Pakistan where Prime Minister Gilani is simply telling his nation that he doesn’t give a damn about the ‘decision’; he refused to step down after he got convicted by the higher court?

“Now he is taking the country — the entire country to a point where — leaving no choice for the military to take over. It looks like your diplomats in Islamabad are — is not telling you what’s really going on in Pakistan, what’s the constitution is all about.

“And as far as I know from this podium, everyone has been talking about the supremacy of judiciary rule of law, but why Washington is so quiet on this entire situation? You don’t have any concern?”

Mark Toner: “Well, again, I would dispute the premise of your question. And I think we’ve been very clear that we view this as an internal domestic issue but one that is falling on a clear democratic track, that it’s progressing within the Pakistani judicial system and that it’s being addressed in a legitimate and democratic fashion by the Pakistani judicial system.”

Q: “Excuse me. According to the constitution, he can no longer run his office any more. His cabinet has been suspended. But they’re trying to create anarchy, chaos and taking the situation to invite the army. And this is a situation that entire country is looking towards the Washington and West, and why the West is so quiet? Why Washington is so quiet? Constitution is very clear; once he got convicted, he no longer run(s) his office.”

MT: “Well, again, I’m not an expert on the Pakistani constitution. All that I can say is this case has moved forward through the Pakistani judicial system in a way that we view as consistent with Pakistan’s democratic values and in a transparent manner. And we don’t have any real comment on what is a domestic political issue.”

If this conversation doesn’t sound like an attempt to invite the State Department equivalent of the Pentagon-CIA’s drone attack on the government of Pakistan with all its allied implications for the country’s ‘sovereignty’, one wonders what would.

No surprise though as consistency has never been our forte. Consider the hullabaloo over the prime minister’s current foreign trip. Questions about the wisdom of having such a large entourage for a visit of such limited significance are completely legitimate to say the least.

Also, partisan politicians are expected to play politics with an ever-shifting stance on issues. So who’d sit up if informed that a leading opposition figure said the ‘shamed’ prime minister would be rebuffed on the visit abroad and that nobody would want to do business with a ‘convicted’ leader.

And who’d be shocked that the same politician said: “Who cares what Cameron says. His word isn’t gospel,” when told that the British prime minister, in fact, not only received Mr Gilani warmly but also reportedly made kind (and dare I say exceedingly generous) remarks about his services to democracy.

The only consistency expected of opposition politicians is about their perpetual desire to slam the government, score points, and win over the electorate for the next election.

But for leading lights in the media to first say ‘what will the world say about our shameless prime minister’ and when the ‘world’ doesn’t oblige, ‘we are sovereign. We don’t care about the world’ is a bit too much.

If this I-want-to-have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude was the only sin committed by my tribe, who knows one might have found forgiveness. They often, though I am sure unwittingly, misquote statements and misrepresent facts too.

Ever since the Supreme Court convicted the prime minister one such leader of public opinion has said on several occasions that ministers in other countries have resigned over a ‘Two hundred pound traffic fine’.

My humble research shows the nearest to this description is Chris Huhne, a minister in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, who resigned earlier this year when faced with a criminal prosecution not because of a traffic fine.

Mr Huhne and his estranged wife have been charged with ‘perverting the course of justice’ as they are alleged to have made statements to the police they knew to be false during a speeding conviction in 2003. A tad more than a traffic fine, my colleague would agree.

Aren’t there so many areas where the government can be legitimately taken to task? Think corruption charges, think gross mis-governance, think rampant crime. The list goes on. As for the world, its only interest in us is seeing us as a possible origin of terrorism. That’s the sad truth.

I am not learned enough to quote Khalil Gibran and very definitely don’t possess the nous to paraphrase him or would have ended my column with: Pity the nation that lets facts stand in the way of its opinions....

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (11) Closed

qamber ali khan May 13, 2012 02:57am
im no one to contend Mr. Ibrahim, i personally respect him for his truthful and straight talks.ok we will edu our children, with the same Zia era text books, which has brought the cty to present chaos, second, wt after edn do we hv some thing to offer them as jobs or the militants and army we be the two pillar to recruit them. has anyone thought how deep our state is in will we overcome the present situation and wt will be the end state of the present chaos.first solve the current impasse, its too dangerous and may effect us badly. im afraid the present talking heads on TV channels will be then talking wt went wrong?
ali May 12, 2012 03:56am
The problem is everyone in this world think they are right. So even when they are not right they find ways to do that and that is when problem start which leads to next problem and then next.
J.S.Hussain May 12, 2012 05:33am
I agree 100 percent with the writer and think that the vision of a sovereign Pakistan can only be translated into reality, if the federal and provincial governments sincerely strive to: - establish peace and stability; - provide equal opportunity to all citizens, without any discrimination; and - create conditions for equitable distribution of national wealth.
Z Ali May 12, 2012 12:54pm
What is this column about? the fact that people think Gillani is completely lacking in self respect or the fact thay they are sick of being kicled around by our so-called western friends? What is the point?
fakhruddin May 12, 2012 05:56pm
Since I am old and have not far to go --to me the three most important problems facing the country are education education and education and the first step to be taken are children of all holders of public and all beaurocrats of all hues and colours must send their children to public schools without exception. Not only a new revolution will come into effect but we will see a meaningful change in the country. A simple solution which will solve all our problems. Including superior judiciary must be sent to govt schools-- fakhruddin g ebrahim
Farhan May 13, 2012 01:43am
Writer's research is flawed. David Gibson, Police Minister of Queensland, Australia had to resign from his post due to an overspeeding fine. The problem in Pakistan is that everyone carries his own solution to the problem. IK's solution is anti-corruption, FG Ebrahim's is education, mine might be law and order. This writer's opinion is about something else. I would say that at least start from somewhere but favoring this government or Nawaz Sharif will mean that we will never get down on the path to recovery
Muhammad Ishaq May 12, 2012 07:23pm
abushinawar May 13, 2012 01:59am
I think the main problem of this land and its people : JHOOT,. in all our actions, gossips and conversations no one is ready to speak truth. so how we will develop. and second problem is corruption : every one wants to increase his / her wealth, no matter how it comes, we donot pay electricity bills but always cry for its failure, we do not obey traffic laws and instead of facing court we try to for muk muka with the Sargent. We always preach qomi ghairat but we do not remove the causes which damage it.....
Mustafa May 12, 2012 08:00pm
On the question of Prime Minister Gilani’s failure of sending letter to Switzerland it appears the Constitution of Pakistan clearly gives immunity to President of Pakistan from civil or criminal proceedings in any court of law. Even a lay person can read the constitution and see it very clearly the intention of law makers. 248. Protection to President, Governor, Minister, etc. (1) The President, a Governor, the Prime Minister, a Federal Minister, a Minister of State, the Chief Minister and a Provincial Minister shall not he answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions: Provided that nothing in this clause shall be construed as restricting the right of any person to bring appropriate proceedings against the Federation or a Province. (Continued)
Mustafa May 12, 2012 08:00pm
(to continue from last post) 2) No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or a Governor in any court during his term of office. (3) No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President or a Governor shall issue from any court during his term of office. (4) No civil proceedings in which relief is claimed against the President or a Governor shall be instituted during his term of office in respect of anything done by or not done by him in his personal capacity whether before or after he enters upon his office unless, at least sixty days before the proceedings are instituted, notice in writing has been delivered to him, or sent to him in the manner prescribed by law, stating the nature of the proceedings, the cause of action, the name, description and place of residence of the party by whom the proceedings are to be instituted and the relief which the party claims.
eeman May 19, 2012 06:14pm
great piece of writing! Pakistan 's top priority is off course sovereignty ,self respect . west is just using these beggars[leader] then will throw in dustbin after using. problems are so many, opinions are so many - need to work out .