Weavers of lies

Published June 29, 1999

THE profession of weavers of facts into fiction, and fiction into facts, gained prominence in this country in the good old days of Ayub Khan, back in the '60s.

To emphasize their super-loyalty to their masters they adopted stereotype measures such as the nationalization of newspapers, promulgation of oppressive ordinances, imposition of black laws, planting of informers in press offices, retaining columnists and letters-to-the-editor-writers (the count today is 80), purchasing journalists (commonly known as 'lifafas'), purchasing editors and thus control of a publication. The unpurchasable are harassed and persecuted in various ways, one favourite being the filing of false cases against them. In Punjab the current saying is 'Kharido nahi to kaso' (if you cannot buy, beat). Recommended reading for those interested is Zamir Niazi's trilogy : 'The Press in Chains,' 'The Press Under Siege,' 'The Web of Censorship.' What he has recorded has never been contradicted.

The maximum harm done by our weavers of lies is the bolstering of our leaders' euphoria by convincing them that they are the be-all and end-all, the state embodied. They encourage these megalomaniacs to destroy, to rob, even to maim and murder.

Our roll of honour of notable weavers includes, but is not limited to, Altaf Gauhar (Ayub), Maulana Kausar Niazi and Nasim Ahmed (Bhutto) Lieutenant-General Mujibur Rahman (Zia), Husain Haqqani (Nawaz I and Benazir II), and now Mushahid Hussain.

Altaf, a civil servant, in the service of Ayub Khan, dealt with his master's challenger, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, so nastily that one of the first things that Bhutto did when he managed to grab power was to arrest Altaf on the charge of possessing an old copy of 'Playboy,' a forged passport, and half a bottle of whisky. He was unduly harassed for months on end.

The Maulana was used by Bhutto to appease and pacify his brethren, the maulanas and maulvis. He bought and sold. He was most useful when the Arab Sheikhs visited. He made their stays comfortable, provided them with the recreation they sought, and conversed with them in their own language. Maulana Sahib was a relatively poor man when he joined Zulfikar, but when he left office he had managed to amass a small fortune.

Nasim Ahmed was a proficient flatterer, good at buttering up those that needed verbal buttering. He also constantly sought approbation. On one of my Islamabad visits, he invited me to a party he hosted in honour of local, foreign, and visiting journalists. Taking me aside, he asked how I thought he was doing, how I rated his performance. Keeping a straight face, I told him he was doing brilliantly. Happy to hear it, he beckoned some of those around us to join us. Come and listen to this, he told them. This man is no flatterer, hear what he has to say about me. And he handed the floor to me.

Brilliant, yes, I said to Nasim. You have welded the nation into one No one, just no one, believes one word uttered on PTV or on Radio Pakistan, or printed in one of the government newspapers, or uttered in public by Bhutto. Infuriated, he addressed me in Urdu. I had no business to say what I had said in the presence of foreign journalists. It was traitorous. I had ridiculed the state. Soon after this incident I was arrested without any charge, sent to jail for 72 days, and released still not knowing why I had been arrested. There was some speculation by men who had been at Nasim's party that I had to be taught a lesson for my 'traitorous' utterances.

Mujibur Rahman was a good harasser of publications that displeased his master Zia. 'Musawat,' the PPP mouthpiece, was his particular target. He had 140 newspaper men arrested and jailed, including Nisar Osmani and Mazhar Ali Khan. He also encouraged Zia to change the penal code, making the writing of truth an offence.

After Zia's heavenly flight, democracy was reborn in Pakistan and we had Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif alternating at the top, both adding to our woes. During Nawaz I and Benazir II the most prominent weaver and damage-doer was Husain Haqqani. From 1988 to 1990, Husain was Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif's special assistant, becoming his press assistant when Nawaz became prime minister in 1990, until in 1992 he was sent off to Sri Lanka as high commissioner. As soon as Nawaz was forced to step down, Husain joined Benazir's camp and from 1993 to 1994 was Secretary to the ministry of information and broadcasting, until Benazir also shunted him out to head the House Building Finance Corporation.

Husain was born and schooled in Karachi, went to Karachi University where he was a Jamaat student leader. He then became a professional journalist and for some years was with the 'Far Eastern Economic Review,' both in Hong Kong and here in Pakistan, until he was picked up by Nawaz. After his experiences with both 'leaders' he claims he is a chastened man, who has learnt a lot and who now recognizes both as being marginally as bad as each other. He writes columns for various newspapers, both in English and in Urdu and all largely critical of this government. He has formed his own political party, the Urban Democratic Front. He considers himself capable, with the necessary help, of climbing up the greasy pole and leading the 140 millions to glory.

Brittle and paranoiac as it is, this government for some mad reason considers Haqqani to be a threat, possibly because it thinks he has armed himself with copies of compromising documents picked up during his days of officialdom. He is now tied to the rack. The government has not denied that its dirty-tricks brigade kidnapped him in the middle of the night, had him beaten up, kept in solitary confinement, initially incommunicado, but now under judicial custody in a safe house near the Rawal Lake. His cuts and bruises have been brought on record, his bail applications have been rejected. Ostensibly he has been charged with corruption, embezzlement, and the squandering of government wealth. Could he even remotely have squandered one-hundreth of what has been squandered by Benazir or Nawaz?

Governments in our country are known to be vicious and Husain can expect little help from our 'independent judiciary,' many members of which are ignorant of the value and importance of liberty, of the fact that a writ of habeas corpus cannot be rejected, and that every man is due his rights. If there is an understanding judge around, who has suo motu powers, he should help, give him bail and get him out.

Mushahid Hussain claims to be a profoundly educated man, but his association with Nawaz Sharif seems to have washed away all his qualifications. He is responsible for Haqqani's predicament and for all the troubles faced by Najam Sethi. The government has also not denied that Sethi was abducted in the middle of the night by its dirty-tricks men, beaten up and kept in solitary confinement. He at least has been released, without any charges having been made against him as none could be proved. Now free, he has been banned from leaving the country and is facing 28 income tax cases. The systematic income-tax-cases harassment is a hangover from the Bhutto days. Sethi would do well to refer to the White Papers compiled by Burney, 'Misuse of the Instruments of State Power' and 'Misuse of the Media.' With this vicious government, Najam may suffer. All we can do is to stand by him and help as much as we can.

One of the worst mistakes cocky Mushahid has made is to have sought to stand trial in the BBC televized court of 'Hard Talk'. He cut a sorry figure in front of his griller, Tim Sebastian, and managed to successfully disgrace our nation. We have him on tape, and this is one tape he will never be able to claim is doctored.

In the service of his master, he makes a pretence of believing what the world does not believe about the present Kashmir situation. His performance may have made us lose whatever residual sympathy we had from a few quarters in the world.Mushahid further disgraced our judiciary with the lies he told about the storming of the Supreme Court. He told the world that the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali Shah, was not sacked by his government but by his fellow judges. He omitted to say what the government's role was in this affair.

Having done such a tremendous job on 'Hard Talk,' we can only hope and expect that in appreciation of his service to the nation, his tool, the valiant PTV, will show to the people how well its wielder performed.

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