by Nadeem F. Paracha
It does pain me to see a lot of ground-level PPP workers being pushed into a corner by their party leader’s nonchalant ways. They seem and sound helpless and exhausted in trying to defend their leader who has become the target of an obsessive-compulsive punching campaign of the media.
However, though the president does not seem to be bothered by the campaign, he must realize that there are many of his party workers who are being seriously affected. More than this, he should also realize that the media is targeting these very workers because it knows how vulnerable they are at the moment and also how defenceless they are feeling in the wake of both the media’s rather pathological hatred for Zaradri as well as Zardari’s own obvious and not very endearing eccentricities.
Let’s just forget what I think about Zardari’s tour of France and the UK in the wake of the devastating floods that have hit millions of unfortunate Pakistanis. All I’ll say is that my view on the issue is not compatible with those members of the PPP who are defending the President’s trip, but nor are my views in tune with those heaping scorn over him for being such a heartless president. Instead I will share with you an observation.
In 2005 when a horrifying earthquake hit Kashmir and many areas of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, we saw an immediate response from thousands of young men and women who just rolled up their sleeves and plunged into relief work, sometimes facing great dangers.
I am proud to note that this is one thing this generation is very good at. So I was expecting the same this time around as well. So, off I went with a friend to take a tour of some offices and colleges where we knew a few people.
I won’t go into details about this, but will share with you an episode I witnessed at an office full of young folks. This episode neatly covers the ground realities I experienced elsewhere as well.
At this office I saw three donation boxes put there to collect funds for the flood victims. Since they were one of those transparent plastic ones, one could see through and in them. They’d been lying there for three days and none of them were even half full.
A number of young people approached me and they just seemed to have Zaradri’s trip on their minds. Seeing me retreat, my friend intervened: “Zaradri was wrong to go. But what have YOU done to help the victims? Do you think all this obsessive whining about Zaradri would help you help the hungry, broken and shelterless victims?”
He was right. Because whereas one saw a number of young Pakistanis gathering to actually do something practical and tangible to help the earthquake victims, this time around however, the same young guns and, of course, the electronic media were spending more time spouting accusations and curses at Zaradri and navel-gazing about morality in this context than actually doing something a lot more noble.
There is no nobility I’m afraid in attacking an incompetent (democratically elected) government when every Junaid, Seema and John in the media is doing so – especially a wobbly government of a country ravaged by the demonic specter of religious extremism and violence, a dwindling economy, unchecked corruption and sudden natural calamities . Turning such loud whining into an obsession is even worse.
In a democracy people get the chance and the right to throw such a government out through the power of the vote. But, of course, those who make the most noise in this respect, hardly ever go out to vote.
What’s even shoddier is the way the many western media correspondents based in Pakistan report the happenings here. I have met some really good ones, who are open to learn about the complexities of the many social and political issues that this country faces. But unfortunately, since many of them have connections with the so-called intelligentsia and media of Pakistan, they too end up describing a lot of events through the paranoid shades of the somewhat despotic, self-righteous middle-class morality.
While reporting a political event involving, for example, Nawaz Sharif or Asif Zaradri, most western reporters (like the Pakistani middle-classes) are bound to digress towards commenting on the dynastical soap opera of the Sharif family and the Bhuttos with, of course, Fatima Bhutto, always making some kind of an entry, despite the fact that the talented writer that she is, the lady quite clearly has no clue what politics is.
And when it comes to Altaf Hussain, many western correspondents again take the minority, non-voting Pakistani middle-class view. They (like a bulk of the middle-class in the Punjab), are still measuring Hussain and his party as if this was not the 2000s, but 1992!
Nevertheless, after concluding our ‘fact finding’ mission in which we saw young, middle-class Pakistanis filling donation boxes with anti-Zaradri curses (instead of actual money), my friend and I drove down to a café in Karachi where I was invited to meet a large group of young high school and college students.
They wanted to talk to me about terrorism. I’m not much of a speaker, so I just asked them to start a conversation on the subject. They were a lively bunch. But such is the state of confusion, denial and mistrust in the country’s urban middle-classes, that I wasn’t surprised at all to be bombarded by one conspiracy theory after another that these young people had obviously picked up from the electronic media and a number of (the rather unintentionally) hilarious websites out there who deal in peddling the most outlandish claptrap this side of Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin!
I let the young group’s members do most of the talking, until I decided to ask a few questions: “How would you like to be part of a generation that may go down as the one during which Pakistan was finally turned into hellhole of religious extremism? How would you all feel when history describes your generation to be the one that in spite of having unprecedented access to some stunning technology, democracy and superior education, still allowed its country to become the breeding ground for audacious, obscene and insane mad men who use the good name of God to spread hatred?”
“That won’t happen!” A young man announced.
My friend intervened: “Oh, but it’s already happening. It happens almost every single day. Can’t you see it?”
“That’s what the West wants us to believe,” a young lady replied.
“Okay then,” I said. “Let’s say for a while most of you are right to suggest that that ubiquitous foreign Indian, Western, Israeli or Martian hand is involved, it’s still Pakistan’s survival on the line, isn’t it? What have you done about what your country’s going through, apart from, of course, forwarding Zaradri jokes and nice little religious couplets through SMS …”
I was interrupted by an enthusiastic young man announcing the ‘news’ about Zaradri facing a ‘barrage of shoes in Britain!’
I nodded my head: “Right, so you think the answer lies in throwing shoes at Zaradri?”
“Hell, yes!” came the reply from a couple of young guys sitting in the front row.
“So if you see Zaradri, you too will be willing to throw a shoe at him?” I asked.
“Yes, I definitely would!” A young man announced.
“Would you throw a shoe at a religious extremist? I asked.
“Are you crazy!” he shot back. “He’ll blow me up to bits!”
A ripple of laughter and high-fives ran across the gathered group.
“That, I’m afraid, makes you a coward.” I said.
The laughter faded away.
“Anything that scares you or retaliates, you deny its existence. As if it’ll just go away. But all that which does not hit back or retaliate is fair game for shoes and boos? That, lad, is the dilemma of your generation. Now, if you all don’t mind, this creaking 42-year-old cynic would like to have that coffee this café is famous for. Thank you.”