Friday, August 27, 2010


* I sent this to Dawn in November last year. No prizes for guessing it's level of success. I have also since realised he isn't the only raving fanatic they indulge. Oh yes, and I didn't hear from them other than the automated message.

I have recently become an avid reader of Dawn news. It was the first newspaper i started to read. The newspaper itself had a look of respectability and sophistication enhanced, of course, with the emblem on the front page proclaiming it to be founded by the Quaid-e-Azam. I started following the TV channel when it started, because of the absolute three-ring circus that all the other channels had become. It was good to see that Dawn maintained its dignity and remained somewhat objective.

So, logically, when I moved abroad for work, I relied heavily on the Dawn website for news from home. This is when I came across articles by a certain Mr. Nadeem F. Paracha. I fail to understand why Dawn would provide a forum for the rantings of a pompous, semi-literate, "liberal fanatic" such as Mr. Paracha.

I have yet to read an article in which he was able to present a sound logical argument and augment it with any sort of facts at all. His writing is sloppy, his claims childish, and his narcissism unbearable. He takes great pleasure in dreaming up weak arguments and defeating them. He is neither insightful nor amusing, and I suspect a lot of his rants are thrown together after briefly rushing through wikipedia articles. To be completely honest, I feel a man possessing his level of analytical and argumentative skills would be annihilated if he was ever to come up against any school team on the Pakistan debating circuit.

His frequent attacks on conspiracy theorists such as Zaid Hamid, with whom he has decided to start a personal vendetta, have never been backed up with the slightest of fact or logical argument. I am no fan of Zaid Hamid, I suspect the veracity of a lot of his claims, but I dont need Mr. Paracha to sit and make fun of his hat or his followers. In the three or four articles that Mr. Paracha has devoted to condemning the man, I have yet to see any point at which he was able to refute the claims of Zaid Hamid. All NFP is capable of is childish name-calling.

Considering the fact that the Mr. Paracha has only one subject to write about, I have serious reservations about his ability and qualification to do that. His claims that all sorts of conspiracy theories are childish and ridiculous are stated with no backing evidence. So, his audience is then expected to take his word for it. If this is the case, what are his qualifications and what are his sources, why does Dawn cater to providing him with a platform for his beliefs?

The idea that there are imperialist designs in the policies of the United States is not entirely unique to the bourgeoisie, conservative classes of Pakistan, as he likes to refer to them (a term that no doubt makes him feel educated), it has a history associated with it, and is a view held in a large part of the world. I will not get into the details in the hope that you are aware of what I am referring to, but the point is, if someone is going to stand up and refute these claims, I would like to see some evidence.

Just saying the same thing every week, and calling anybody who disagrees an idiot does not make it so. These are the antics of what Mr. Paracha claims to "expose". It is the practice of demagogues. I am not a mullah, I have no sympathies with the more conservative or religious sections of society, but I appreciate their existence and the diversity in our society. NFP, unfortunately, is a divisive force, and not a very eloquent or sophisticated one. He is a pseudo-intellectual who preys on the minds of the young and impressionable with his 'oh-so-cool' display picture and his 'no-nonsense hard-hitting' language. Unfortunately without the required facts and argumentative skills, the result is just drivel from an attention-starved quasi-social commentator who is trying to make a niche for himself in the Pakistani media by serving as a Western apologist (I'm sure NFP would have been in contortions with joy at the structure of the last sentence).

I have long been hoping to write this, but only now have I gotten around to it. I implore you to remove the ridiculous segment from Mr. Nadeem F. Paracha, to maintain the intellectual journalistic integrity of Dawn. If this cannot be done, and I am completely wrong about Mr. Paracha, I am hoping someone will write to me to explain the wisdom of his words (Or at least to acknowledge that my feedback has been read!)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Backlog of rants

I, for one, am sick and tired of all the blame that is being heaped upon me every day by overzealous bloggers and writers, supposedly leading the charge from the intellectual youth of Pakistan. Every day, I am subjected to articles left, right, and centre telling me how xenophobic we are, how barbaric we are, how corrupt we are, essentially, how everything that is wrong in this country, from the most major to the most insignificant shortcoming is due to me.

All I have to do is see the headline on any of the numerous ‘liberal’ blogs and I automatically know what’s in it. Of course, I still read it just to get my blood-pressure up (I’m getting very little exercise these days, so I guess this is a good cardio substitute). Its always some ridiculously childish ‘insight’ about what is wrong with Pakistani society, followed by a routine condescending sermon on how its all essentially our own fault, and if everyone just cleaned up their act, everything would be fine and dandy. Each time someone shares one of these articles on Facebook with their own additions of ‘this is who we are’ etc. I find myself thinking ‘speak for yourself!’

I have been analyzing my existence in this country this past 26 years. In all honesty, I fail to see how my actions have, in the least contributed to the sad state of affairs we face today. I did not institute corruption, I have not advocated violence against minorities, I did not lead to the crumbling of state institutions. Why am I consistently being told that this is who I am?

Of course, I realize that when these writers say ‘we’ they don’t mean every single person in Pakistan. In fact, I’ll go one step further, they don’t even mean themselves, or their friends, or the relatives they get along with. No, their use of the term is purely preacher-esque. In quite the same way as priests and maulvis say ‘we’ or ‘hum’, it is a feeble attempt at avoiding condescension. Basically, ‘we’ means that uncle who is irritatingly consistently following up on your prayer routine, or the local maulvi who occasionally preaches to you when they get hold of you. It’s all those other intolerant people they just can’t tolerate!

One blogger wrote yesterday about an old, bearded man who pointed to his shorts and pointed out that they were un-Islamic. This story was presented as an example of narrow-mindedness and a lack of tolerance. Of course, it didn’t occur to him to just smile at the old man and let it pass. If it was someone closer to his age, he could have told him to **** off (fill in your favourite four-letter word). In both situations, the incident would have gotten the amount of attention it deserved. But no, our young intellectual decided to share this story of the harassment and mental anguish he had just been subjected to with the rest of the world. Has he spent all his life on some other planet, where no one comments on anybody else’s appearance or actions?

More interesting are the articles pertaining to corruption. Apparently, we are all corrupt as well, so most educated writers out there are unable to fathom why Zardari is given such a ‘hard time’ about it (an exceptional query considering that if the accusations against him are proved true, that phrase should have a whole new meaning!). While part of me believes that there are ulterior political motives to the simplification of this question, for those genuinely failing to understand, let me break it down. Corruption in Pakistan has become a sort of chicken and egg conundrum. Is it the corruption in society that throws up corrupt leadership, or do corrupt leaders lead to a corruption of society? While the enlightened will generally back the former, I believe it is the latter. In either case, our dear president has for long been the poster-boy for corruption. The label of ‘Mr. 10 percent’ has been his to wear proudly for about two decades now. Although there have been some attempts to try and attribute this reputation to nefarious ‘agencies’ and propaganda, the fact of the matter is, most Pakistanis, and now most of the international community, are fairly certain of his corruption. His continuous attempts at avoiding the courtroom have also sort of affirmed this belief.

Many have now shifted track to a somewhat dismissive stance; ‘Corruption is a natural part of politics the world over, so we should not worry about it’. In brief, corruption has no major impact on a nation, or a people’s well-being. I watched as Mr. Najam Sethi presented this idea on television a short while ago. I have since seen a lot of other people follow suit. These people fail to notice that in most civilized societies (and I’m sorry the US does not really make that list), corruption is not condoned. No television anchor in his right mind would go on television and say that corruption is tolerable. What is perhaps more damaging than corruption itself is the perception of corruption. A perception that our current government is tackling not by avoiding controversial appointments or even pretending to cut back on their standard snatch and grab, but by simply telling people not to bring it up.

With only slight regret, I would have to say it doesn’t even matter now whether Mr. Zardari is in fact corrupt or not. The fact is that his election and amnesty have sent a crucial and dangerous message to our society, and internationally.

Domestically the message is simple; those who fail to exercise fully their ability to abuse their positions are chumps! This is the message that is being sent to our youth and our society in general. The moral of the Zardari story is simply that one must snatch and grab as much as possible to succeed. The results of this message are clear to be seen. Daily, the position of the government weakens as institutions deteriorate and people begin to take matters into their own hands. The monetary loss is only another facet of this problem. The bigger problem at hand is the devastating effect on the concepts of justice, law and order in society.

Internationally, the image being given of Pakistan is also the very same. That it is a nation of crooks being headed by a crook. So they have every excuse not to come rushing with their wallets when we need help. Of course, this does not stop them giving us loans fairly regularly, but that’s a separate issue.

Traditionally, our average intellectual will about now begin to ridicule conspiracy theorists. Granted, that many a theorists occasionally go overboard with their claims (a certain red beret comes to mind), the intellectuals, however, are now bending over backwards in the opposite direction. Supposedly, any claims that foreign powers such as the US or India may be acting covertly against Pakistani interests are attempts at self-appreciation. Apparently, we say these things to try and make ourselves feel important. The world is a garden of roses, and the white man can do no wrong. If the US has been supporting a fascist regime in Israel, it is for the good of everyone. If NATO illegally attack Afghanistan, it is purely to cleanse it of ‘extremist elements’ that seem to grow out of the soil there for no particular reason. If they invade Iraq, it’s to bring democracy and justice to the Iraqis. How dare any one suggest that they may actually be serving selfish national (and imperialistic) designs, just like any other empire in history!

The Indians are our other new found best friends. They constantly tell us, and the international community, that our stability and security is their top priority, and we believe them. After all, why would they lie, it’s not as if we have some sort of border dispute with them or something? That they have been pulling troops out of Kashmir ever since Pakistan has been fighting insurgencies is just a fortunate byproduct of an unfortunate situation. And why would they support insurgencies or separatist movements in Pakistan anyway, it’s not like we ever did this stuff to them in Punjab, or that they’ve done it before as well, and besides, the purpose of their covert agencies is just to be helpful boyscouts to the world, sharing information and spreading peace and love wherever they go.

The real super-villains in the whole security situation are our military. Last week a certain Mr. George Fulton suggested that the world is not anxious about giving us aid because we ‘cried wolf’ too long, and now the world has ‘eventually twigged’. While I could potentially agree with the overall idea that the world fears siphoning of the funds to military expenditure or Swiss bank accounts, the examples he gave were unbelievable. According to him, Zia played off the Americans against the Soviets in Afghanistan. So there they were, those poor gullible Americans, with no intentions of picking a fight with the Soviets (they were shy in Afghanistan presumably, since Vietnam, Cuba and Korea had already happened), and along came the wily Zia with cohorts, twirling their moustaches and rubbing their hands together, slyly offering to fight the war in Afghanistan for obscene amounts of money ($600 million in aid per year). And then, those sly dogs, eventually went on to win the Americans the Cold War. O the betrayal!

Then of course, the Americans had barely gotten over the shock of being taken for such a ride by the shrewd Pakistanis that they were forced into waging an illegal war in Afghanistan. The poor souls had to threaten to bomb Pakistan into the Stone Age to get them on board for such an obviously grand and noble cause. And yet again, that smarmy Pervez Musharraf had the audacity to ask for money to support their crusade? My blood boils at the thought of his treachery.

If anything, these two generals should be questioned about the legitimacy of dragging their people into the war in the first place. The US emerged as a sole superpower after the first adventure, and have pretty much pushed their war into Pakistan as a result of the second. It is the state and people of Pakistan that have suffered. And yet, our media is the one justifying their audacity is expecting the rest of the world to tiptoe around them, as they go gallivanting around the world ‘spreading freedom and democracy’ to their hearts’ content.

Ah, of course, I forgot, criticizing the west and harping on about corruption in politics is old and out of fashion now. Apparently, it’s just so last season. We need to all realize that issues have statutes of limitations on them. After a certain period of time, it becomes okay for everyone to exploit us on these fronts. I find it amazing that this actually presented as argument in a lot of recent articles.

After much rambling, let me return to the simple problem at hand. In my childhood, my plan after becoming a billionaire was to set-up an effective Pakistani news channel. I was sick and tired of hearing only one side of the story from CNN and BBC. Although the billionaire part didn’t exactly pan out, there are now numerous independent news channels that seem to have money to burn. But all I get from them is sermons about how shit we all really are.

The fact of the matter is, the people writing these columns, much like myself, have little contact with the majority of Pakistan. There is little interaction with the people in the streets, we don’t know their problems, their issues, the rationales behind their choices etc. Instead, these people are trying to judge Pakistanis in the same way, and using the measures and frames of reference as the Western media. The result, of course is that they don’t match up. The basic factor of the conditioning of most Pakistani citizens is completely ignored. Taking the Sialkot incident as an example, it was no doubt a most heinous and shocking incident. However, it demonstrated something deeper than human barbarity or even just the negligence of the police at that particular instance. Details of the incident are not clear, but on the whole it seems to have come about due to a lack of trust in the local law enforcement agencies.

As a result people have increasingly started taking the law into their own hands. This incident was not as isolated as one might imagine. It happens somewhat frequently when thieves are caught in ‘mohallas’ and people decide to teach them a lesson. The reason is simply people’s desperation to protect themselves from such incidents and the various state institutions failure to do so.

In all such cases, it is the government, and solely the government that is responsible for such actions. One cannot keep a person ignorant and then condemn him for it. One may argue that the people are responsible for electing the government, but then again, the veracity of the democratic process in Pakistan is also extremely dubious. Without proper institutions people protecting their basic rights, people cannot be expected to vote independently. This, of course, would be a massive problem in the feudally dominated rural areas of Pakistan.

Although I understand the need for people to act as social commentators, and I understand the allure of being a deep misanthropic cynic, most of the issues being raised on English newspapers as either too trivial for a country that has people starving, or are too out of touch with ground realities. The supposed house cleaning exercise has turned into a whinging party for privileged young people who are too disconnected with the social norms of a vast majority of the country, or simply don’t like them.

If the idea is to change things, a little positivism may go a long way in achieving that goal. People who inspire don’t go around telling their audience how ignorant and uncultured they all are. My message to all these writer: Please try to keep the gloom and doom to an absolutely necessary minimum and also, don’t start generalizing our own population based on individual incidents. Even in those incidents, the focus should be on fixing the system rather than condemning the entire nation’s population. Perhaps, and here’s a thought, only write when you actually have something to say, don’t go looking for issues to whine about.