Perspectives on Pakistan
Guest contribution-Pakistan’s conspiracy theories
(The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK)
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
The world is awash with conspiracy theories. A whole lot of them — some plausible and some implausible — have been listed by Jamie King in the book “Conspiracy Theories”. The book covers the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and a plot to bring down President Bill Clinton. Others refer to the murder of martyred Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, the doubts about 9-11 as to who did it, and many more.
It makes for interesting reading. The author says, “belief in conspiracy theories is more than just the belief in the occasional underhand plot. It is a belief system that asserts that world events are governed in secret by a group of extra-powerful puppeteers behind the scenes”. It also proves the Goebbelsian methodology of repeating lies until they are believed.
Pakistan is no exception to this, especially in the light of what is happening in the country in these days. If we go by what we see in a section of the media it seems that the country is unfit for rule, is a failing or failed state.
A deliberate attempt is being made to transform the media into playing god while TV is becoming the new temple and anchorpersons are playing the role of deities. Even angels would fail because we have ‘experts’ who would find fault with the pious and honest with their white lies as gospel truths. Media demi-gods are becoming experts in creating optical illusions whenever they want to build or demolish someone. There is no guarantee that one would not fall from grace; the spin doctors remain ever ready to offer “virtual conspiracies” to the extent that even innocents would be trapped into committing suicide and public opinion would take no time in turning against you. This is what is happening in today’s Pakistan in the name of freedom of expression.
Questionable stories of corruption are being churned out without offering any evidence. It is the rerun of the fabricated cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who had to suffer years of incarceration without proven guilty.
Just see the “optical illusion” theory after the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto. President Zardari’s “Pakistan Khappey” slogan became the clarion call for unity within the country. He was projected as a saviour of Pakistan, especially when passions were running high after the gruesome murder of Bhutto and Pakistan was on the verge of being pushed across the edge of a precipice into a bloody civil war.
President Zardari followed a policy of reconciliation propounded by Saheed Mohtarma which he and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani are adhering to with religious commitment even to this day. Despite all round provocations neither President Zardari nor the Prime Minister have adopted a confrontationist course in domestic or international politics for their belief is in building the country’s economy, political stability and strengthening of institutions which cannot be achieved by going on a war path.
Why has the PPP government become a vicious target of a section of media? Certainly, it has taken upon itself to malign the PPP government in whatever charges it can trump up. This is being done either by media pundits to assume the role of a kingmaker or they offer their medium to the behind-the-scenes puppeteers who have always undermined democracy.
However, much to the chagrin of doomsayers, this time a qualitative difference is discernable in politics. The two major political parties in the country are resolute about resisting any efforts aimed at derailing democracy. The PPP was always a stumbling block against the forces of Bonapartism since it never gave legitimacy to dictators. It is a good omen for democracy in the country that, for the first time, the Muslim League (N) led by Mian Nawaz Sharif is refusing to dance to the tunes played by the undemocratic forces. Had this been the nineties era, the country would have plunged into direct or indirect extra-constitutional intervention by now. Naturally, this must have caused utter disappointment amongst the establishment which always thrived on divisions between the political forces.
It is also amazing that the media has always been used as a tool to discredit a democratic order in the country, mostly on the pretext of corruption. In 1997 Bhutto’s government was upheld by the Supreme Court not on credible evidence judicially admissible but on the basis of the fabricated allegations in newspapers. In the early days of Pakistan, journalists resisting undemocratic practices were dubbed as “surkhas” (red or communists) while during Zia’s dictatorship journalists were divided on permanent lines between those who resisted dictatorship and those who considered Zia as Amir-ul Momineen. Of course, the latter category were pampered with attractive largesse.
Now about corruption which some spin doctors amongst the media are projecting so vociferously round the clock. One is amazed to see the temerity with which they dub the government as totally corrupt. If one accepts this allegation even for a moment, these spin doctors have the cheek to trick the people by not showing the financial and accountability rules in vogue in the country. They portray a picture as if the President, Prime Minister and cabinet ministers roam around with bags of money. Some corruption is in every society but that does not mean that it is a free for all; the country is run according to the rules and regulations laid down in the constitution.
Secondly, what about the establishment which remains well entrenched whether it is a democratic or dictatorial order? No one has ever asked questions to civil, judicial and Praetorian bureaucrats to present their accounts and prove their innocence. Not even our courts have ever taken a suo moto notice. The nation is still waiting to hear the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Mehrangate scandal whose skeleton has been rotting for years in the judicial morgue.
Thirdly, the previous governments of Bhutto and Sharif were dismissed on charges of corruption too. But these charges were never proved. However, the turncoats within PPP and PML(N) found sanctuary under the wings of a dictator who anointed them as newborn babes. No one ever questioned the corruption of these turncoats, not even those “media deities” who are out to bring down the present democratic order.
Ironically, the talk of bringing down the democratic order is made at a time when the country is faced with multiple crises. Already the government was grappling with challenges posed by extremists. The devastation caused by the unprecedented floods was the last thing any government would ever think about. However, these challenges are not new to the PPP government or its leadership. It has always excelled in popularity at the time of a crisis because the party is deeply rooted amongst the masses. It has never looked toward the backdoor for support or power because it is the proud inheritor of Bhutto legacy that powers flows from the people and not barrel of the gun.
It was a bolt from the blue for the doomsayers who had bee trying their best to create differences between the government and the army to see the Prime Minister and the Army chief calling on the President. Having built their Don Quixotic case that “a take over” was imminent and that they were hearing the sounds of marching boots, the official spokesman’s press release said that while reviewing the security and flood situation, the meeting also resolved to strengthen democracy at all costs. Media spinmasters well known for “doctoring” any scenario to their advantage have ended up with their foot in their mouths.
* The author is the High Commissioner of Pakistan in London