Ke zaban mili to kati hui / jo qalam mila to bika hua
— Iqbal Ashar
LIKE most Pakistanis, my understanding of Pakistan and the world around us is governed to a great extent by what the Pakistani print and electronic media tells me. However, apart from news we are offered no analysis of the Kashmir situation and its regional linkages or possible future directions. We read of targeted killings and bomb explosions in Balochistan in small print but no one discusses why they take place and what their long-term repercussions will be. People disappear never to be seen again.
We are not told why this happens and who is responsible for it. We are at the centre of conflicting regional interests of which CPEC is very much a part. Yet, this seldom becomes the centre of discussion. The Iran-Saudi conflict and America’s recent moves in the region do not figure in our news let alone in providing us with an understanding of the situation and the related conflict in Yemen and Syria. Major demographic changes have taken place in Pakistan over the last two decades. Yet, the socioeconomic and political repercussions of it are not debated and nor are we told why the census is not held every 10 years as in other countries or why its results are withheld.
Much of the ‘news’ on the electronic media consists of interviews of our rulers who accuse their opponents in un-parliamentary language of every crime under the sun. The opposition defends itself in a similar manner though with less intensity. The language in both cases is vindictive, megalomaniacal, repetitive, obsessive, and this is also reflected in the body language and facial expressions. Quranic verses and references are interlaced in the conversation and it is often mentioned that if what they are saying is proved incorrect, then, by Allah, they will resign from politics. But they never do.
Vindictiveness is a mental condition and so are megalomania and obsessiveness. All three deprive an individual and/or a group of rationality and create confusion and paranoia. Maybe this is the reason why there have been so many contradictions and frequent unexplained changes in government and opposition policies.
Pakistan requires an atmosphere where we can tell the truth.
In addition to the politicians, it is normal for news channels to bring in discussants on their shows who are often well-known intellectuals and reporters. Because of the design of the programmes and the manner in which they are conducted, the voices of these intellectuals and reporters are often muzzled, in spite of the best efforts of the anchors. Vindictiveness and the failure to answer questions honestly often dominate the discourse. What is the reason for this state of affairs? Do the policies of the state and media channels want the people of Pakistan to stop thinking? If so, then to what end?
In society there are other troubling trends as well. There is a strong element of nostalgia, of looking back to some golden age of liberalism in the history of Pakistan. No such golden age exists because political persecution, use of emergency powers, and dismissals of provincial governments have been part and parcel of state policy since 1948. Religion has also been continually used as a tool for political persecution and constitutional deviation even by so-called secular leaders such as Ayub Khan.
In addition, the virtue and practice of charity and the concept of public-private partnership is aggressively promoted thereby creating dependency and underscoring the need for government involvement in the social sectors.
There is also constant promotion of unfounded hope, often based on the glorification of Islamic history (often inaccurate) leading to a false image of one’s persona and of society as a whole. All these trends are opium for the people. They do not lead to an understanding of what is happening around us or a rational form of activism or a basis for reform. And then, there is a reliance on prayers, often forgetting that prayers by themselves do not yield results.
What Pakistan desperately requires is an atmosphere where we are able to tell the truth without fear and question the falsehoods that we have been subjected to. I am convinced that our culture of not caring, social and physical anarchism, maladministration, is to a great extent the result of the factors mentioned and of a media that is not permitted to fulfil or is incapable of fulfilling its sociopolitical responsibility.
An uninformed and delusionary public is the greatest threat to Pakistan and its establishment. Maybe in the search for the truth, we can begin with opening up the Bhutto murder case, which has held the politics of Pakistan, its establishment, and judiciary hostage for the last 40 years. This is also important since two judges of the court who tried Bhutto have questioned their own judgement.
The writer is an architect.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2020