YouTube is full of epic “Kiki Challenge fails” clips. Most who attempt the challenge only embarrass themselves. None quite as much, however, as our learned chairman of NAB and Supreme Court’s former judge — retired Justice Javed Iqbal.

As most Pakistanis have now learnt through the good offices of the National Accountability Bureau — the Kiki challenge is a viral social media phenomenon. It involves sharing a video of yourself dancing along a moving vehicle to the hit song “Kiki”. People from every corner of the world have posted their unique versions (and failed attempts) of the dance online.

Apparently, some young spark in PIA’s marketing department thought it a wonderful way to promote PIA and Pakistani tourism. So on 14th August, a video was circulated on social media showing a Polish tourist, Eva Zubeck, in a green and white kurta pyjama holding a Pakistani flag and dancing to “Kiki” inside and beside a PIA plane.

Editorial: Kiki Challenge furore

I suppose the aim of the campaign was three-fold. Firstly, to show foreign tourists (even women) can visit Pakistan safely. Secondly, to show we are not all head-chopping mullahs and there is still a place for humour, dance and music in Pakistan. Thirdly, to rebrand PIA as a young and trendy airline rather than the musty, crusty, bureaucratic nightmare that it actually is.

Eva’s video went viral and attracted millions of views online. Great advertising for PIA and Pakistan — at no cost! The bright young thing

who thought this up was probably expecting a promotion. Enter our chairman NAB who promptly ordered an inquiry against PIA for “disgracing the Pakistani flag” and allowing Eva to enter “the highly secured runway of the airport”.

At this point, one can only conjecture as to what went on inside Javed Iqbal’s mind. Perhaps — having never witnessed the patriotic fervour of the thousands of bikers who throng Seaview Beach every Independence Day — he felt wrapping the Pakistani flag around your body is a sign of disrespect? Or maybe, he felt wrapping the flag around a woman was disrespectful because they are, you know, impure? Or maybe — having never seen any music concerts in Pakistan, or any PTI jalsas or any Pakistani cricket matches — he felt dancing and waving the national flag to music was unpatriotic? God only knows.

But I would fervently defend the NAB chairman’s right to hold such views — absurd and archaic as they may seem. What is indefensible, however, is how a former Supreme Court judge was able to read the exhaustive definition of “corruption and corrupt practices” under section 9 of the NAB Ordinance and invent within it the offence of “disgracing the Pakistan flag”. And while taking cognisance of the “wrongful entry to a secured runway” — did he temporarily fancy himself as the director general, Airport Security Force?

Needless to say, this illegal and farcical assumption of jurisdiction attracted censure and ridicule in equal measure. Eventually, NAB beat a shame-faced retreat and dropped the inquiry.

In the meanwhile, however, Eva — the Pakistan-loving tourist — felt compelled to issue a public apology and delete the “offensive” video. This woman had a photo of Hunza up on her Instagram page captioned “Everything I was told about Pakistan was wrong... I love Pakistan”. Maybe she should have listened to all those naysayers, huh? Or maybe since she loved Pakistan so much — our worthy chairman NAB was only trying to help her get on the exit control list?

At any rate, you can bet no foreigner who followed her saga online is lining up for a PIA ticket to visit Pakistan any time soon. Especially, not after the western media — which welcomes any opportunity to portray Pakistan as an unhinged, irrational and extremist state — had a field day at our expense.

Simultaneously, PIA went into a meltdown. Instead of standing up for their employees or trying to explain the concepts of “social media marketing” or “viral videos” to the pompous ignoramuses at NAB — they denied any knowledge or involvement altogether! There’s a bloody plane of yours in the video — didn’t you notice? So instead of marketing awards and promotions, there were disciplinary inquiries and suspensions. And the creative marketing genius who was — for some unknown reasons — working for the national airline is probably already flogging his or her CV to Pepsi or Red Bull. Good luck trying to turn your national carrier around.

Which brings me to the actual point of this article. Javed Iqbal’s troubles with Kiki actually stem from two misplaced beliefs that are endemic in the wider class he represents. One, I know everything. Two, I can fix everything.

The wider class, of course, is consisted of messianic generals and judges (serving and retired). They start humbly, and with the noblest of intentions. But decades of servile sycophancy (from junior officers/civilians in one case and lawyers/litigants in the other) leads some into grossly overestimating the range of their wisdom and the extent of their abilities. So they meddle in matters they know naught of; make flimsy paternalistic excuses for their interference; mess things up and then walk into the sunset leaving others to pick up the pieces.

A thought for the gentlemen (they are all gentlemen) in Javed Iqbal’s ilk: if you’re in the seventh decade of your life and have been in the upper echelons of power for a while now — maybe you don’t have a magic bullet for all the problems that plague Pakistan. Consider — maybe, you are part of the problem? A little self-doubt can be a healthy thing.

One can shrug off NAB’s inquiry into Kiki with a laugh. It’s harder to laugh at the billions we’ve lost (or face to lose) due to ill-advised judicial interventions in the Steel Mills, Reko Diq, Rental Power cases or at the mess that masquerades as our foreign and national security policy due to adventurist military interventions in statecraft and diplomacy.

Just stick to your jobs, gentlemen — and stick to the law. We’d all be better off.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2018

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