Pakistan: a nation in denial – by Khalid Hasan

A nation in denial —Khalid Hasan

Foreign Minister Qureshi says the “charitable” activities of Jama’at-ud Dawa will not be banned. In other words, Pakistan will disregard Security Council sanctions. And Qureshi was supposed to be among the enlightened ones of this regime

Some well-heeled woman in Lahore took to the streets this week, daintily holding candles, while bright-eyed young men made up the rear — all in honour of the Iraqi journalist Muntazir al-Zaidi, who lobbed his shoes at President Bush. The NWFP assembly passed a resolution and a nation, already in denial as to direct or indirect responsibility for Mumbai, found one more reason to rejoice. There is no doubt that the pulpit-thumping clerics that day were proclaiming yet another victory for Islam and predicting that it was only a matter of time before Muslims ruled the world.

Welcome to Pakistan, the self-declared Fortress of Islam where the mosques may be full on Fridays but where everyone cheats everyone and for justice one is advised to return to the times of Haroon-ur-Rashid or Jahangir.

Praising the Iraqi journalist for hurling shoes at President Bush, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which the government says is banned, promised that the Taliban would take all possible steps for the release of al-Zaidi: “The TTP will do all it can to secure the release of Muntazir al-Zaidi and to get hold of the historic shoes.” Maulvi Omar told reporters by telephone from an undisclosed location that al-Zaidi has become the hero of the entire Muslim world.

As a journalist, I have reservations about the Iraqi journalist’s action. A working journalist is permitted close physical proximity to presidents and prime ministers in order for him to perform his professional duties. He must not misuse that privilege or employ it to push his personal or political agenda. Therefore, regardless of what al-Zaidi or the rest of us think of President Bush and his policies, what the man did was wrong.

He abused and betrayed the trust that had been placed in him. Journalists should use their pens and their cameras, not their shoes, to express themselves. Thanks to al-Zaidi, in future, all journalists on assignment will be subjected to far greater scrutiny and background checks than they face today. In other words, al-Zaidi performed a great disservice to the profession, violating its ethics. I have read thousands of words written on the incident by Pakistani journalists, but none has questioned the ethics of al-Zaidi’s action.

Need I add that I have opposed the Iraq War openly from the start, and in a meeting with the then Secretary of State Colin Powell, I clearly expressed my views about the war that was then in the offing without mincing my words. Anyone who wants confirmation only needs to ask Richard Boucher next time he is in Pakistan, which, given his record, should be any day after Christmas. Boucher was present at the meeting, being the Department spokesman.

A bright young Pakistani who came here to attend university and who recently returned to Pakistan to live and work has sent me a message that deserves to be shared. BQ, which is how I will identify him, writes:

“I had no idea the country had regressed so much. Everywhere you look, people are depressed, angry, cynical, and they all complain non-stop about the government, even when it is not justified. I am just so disappointed that I don’t have words to explain it. It seems that even divine intervention is not going to save us now! It is not impossible elsewhere in the world to find fair, middle of the road news being presented objectively when it comes to major sources of information. Regretfully, this is not true of Pakistan. If one leaves the English press aside, it is too painful to even read anything in the Urdu press. It seems there is a race on to see who can win at not being objective. Is the Urdu press only staffed by people who are unable to separate their own nationalist or religious feelings from their obligation to be neutral? This is not journalism.”

BQ goes on, “It is both tragic and comical that the Urdu press, political pundits, social, military, and other so-called analysts constantly appearing on every private TV channel are stuck in the past. It seems everyone is one-dimensional. Nobody seems to get above the most superficial and weirdest possible analysis, namely that India, Israel and America are conspiring to harm Pakistan. Apparently, these countries have nothing else to do.

“Every society has its conspiracy theorists. Every society has people who write and say things that are not only wrong, but that make the average citizen nervous, but they don’t get to appear on major TV channels and they definitely don’t get to write daily columns in major newspapers, except in Pakistan, where it seems that almost everyone associated with the Urdu press lacks the ability to be objective, fair or balanced.

“For example, these so-called super-patriotic experts have discovered that Pakistan is the ‘Fortress of Islam’ and that everyone, including Pakistan’s neighbours, are scared of Pakistan’s nuclear technology and are conspiring against us, and by extension, against Islam. In other words, everyone is against Pakistan, because Pakistan has the atomic bomb. But worry not, they proclaim, these forces of evil will never be able to do harm us because of our ‘bum’. The layers of conspiracy get thicker and thicker and the irony is that most people buy into it, conveniently forgetting that the Soviet Union had the most sophisticated nuclear arsenal and yet, despite being a superpower, it broke up.”

BQ, writing amid power breakdowns, is not done yet. “There is no question that there are forces working to destabilise Pakistan, but these forces are not external. These are people inside Pakistan: they are the Taliban and the Islamists that Pakistan itself created and funded and now, the monsters have gone rogue. Ironically, after every suicide bombing in Pakistan, the media start suggesting that terrorist it was the work of the CIA, Mossad and, of course, RAW. Instead of tackling the country’s dire internal problems of water, sewerage, electricity, gas, petrol, pollution, unemployment, fundamentalism and the ethnic divide, we huff and puff about India, Israel and America. Instead of fixing our own country, we criticise others. Instead of taking responsibility for our failures, we look for scapegoats.”

I hope BQ is feeling better having got all this off his chest.

As for Mumbai, not only the nation but the government is now in almost total denial.

President Zardari said on Wednesday that there is still no firm proof that the gunmen came from Pakistan. There is still no conclusive evidence to substantiate the claim that the attacks were orchestrated from Pakistani soil, he added. Foreign Minister Qureshi says the “charitable” activities of Jama’at-ud Dawa will not be banned. In other words, Pakistan will disregard Security Council sanctions. And Qureshi was supposed to be among the enlightened ones of this regime.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is
(Daily Times, 20 Dec 2008)