In Pakistan, watching the media talk shows can be an enlightening and in fact entertaining experience. The “pearls” of wisdom uttered in these talk shows are a testimony to the intellectual orientation of the hosts, participants and unfortunately even the regular viewers who have become addicted to this Pakistani version of Indian soap operas. Like Indian soap operas, these talk shows aim to create melodrama, controversy and try their level best to capitalize on the fertile and highly imaginative mindset of the middleclass urbanities. This mindset has evolved and not surprisingly continues to evolve under the “conducive” environment fuelled by external events and Government of Pakistan’s response to them.
The guiding philosophy of this mindset is irrational patriotism chiefly emanating out of identity crisis, delusional self importance and paranoia about the security of nuclear arsenal (which is Pakistan’s only “achievement” at least in terms of nuisance value). The slogans for this irrational patriotism are: Qaumi ghairat per samjhota nayee ho sakta (National sovereignty cannot be compromised); Kashkol ko toor do (Break the begging bowl); Hukmuran America aur Israeli isharon per naach rahe hain (Rulers are dancing to the tunes of the USA and Israeli whims); and Nuclear program per soda na manzoor (We won’t compromise on Nuclear program).
Right now all the brains are seemingly working in one direction: how to link nuclear arsenal and so called strategic location with every act of terrorism occurring in the country. Even Malala incidence, despite open acknowledgement by Taliban is being interpreted as something conducted by CIA to build a case for drone attacks and military action in tribal areas. The fact that drones actually target militants (those who tried killing Malala) is completely lost on them. What in essence is being said is that CIA used Taliban to kill Malala so that a justification for attack on Taliban can be made!! And these people call themselves as “patriots” and any nonbeliever as a “sell out”.
I call this irrational patriotism because it is based on instinct and reflects our rather over inflated opinion about ourselves in terms of importance and achievements. Today whether we admit it or not, the fact is that Pakistan ranks low in important social indicators pertaining to transparency, literacy, economy and healthcare even when compared to developing economies of similar characteristics. According to Asian Development Bank, compared with Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, Pakistan’s school enrolment is lower, adult illiteracy is higher, and infant and child mortality rates are higher. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index developed by Transparency International, Pakistan ranks 134th out of 180 countries, “beating” even African poor countries like Zambia, Ethiopia and Uganda.
Since we do not have anything concrete to be proud of, therefore things like “strategic location” and “nuclear arsenal” become the only citable “evidences” of our importance. Consequently, these are repeated to death on media. Of course this brand of patriotism comes hand in hand with a strong religious fervor. Majority of the Pakistanis see their country spearheading the Islamic military resurgence.
Due to a combination of all these factors we simply assume that the entire world’s foreign policies are devised around Pakistan. This brand of patriotism is irrational also because it is proving to be counterproductive to not only Pakistan’s economic, social and political welfare but is also in a strange way undermining the wishes of these romantic nationalists of a strong nuclear Pakistan.
This irrational patriotism has developed a reciprocal relationship with the media- print as well as electronic- and both reinforce each other thus making sure that we spiral downwards into a state of complete intellectual bankruptcy. Obviously this downward spiral is not merely intellectual as it is also accompanied by lack of public interest and participation in other and far more important issues.
One has to understand the power of media and its target market to comprehend the importance and consequences of this apathetical behavior. In a country like Pakistan which has parliamentary form of democratic setup (that too in an infancy stage ) and is still in the process of transition from agriculture to industrial economy, the check and balance institutions are not highly developed. Moreover, the majority of the populace resides in the rural area and is more attuned to local political issues rather than national policy related matters. A quick look at the respective rural urban political profiles will attest it. Elections are not fought on ideology in rural areas or on policy related political issues but on the strength of candidates which explains as to w hy parties (both of “left” and right) field strong candidates. These individuals are often in a position of winning independently also. The basic criterion of a strong candidate is his wealth, political clout, influence on the local bureaucracy and his ability to successfully push through local demands such as jobs, sanitation, construction of small roads, arbitration of local disputes etc.
On the other hand in the urban areas, it is the political ideology, legislative and policy issues which matter more. Consequently issue oriented political movements in countries like Pakistan are primarily urban based. The recent successful lawyers’ movement was primarily an urban movement. Thus despite the fact that urban areas account for lower share of population, they become the major arena where the ideological battles are fought.
The urban mind-set becomes the chief driver and determinant of the national policies. The media since it reflects the urban opinion becomes the major vehicle through which Governments can be pressurized, consensus can be built for policy decisions and even a movement can be initiated( the lawyers movement was primarily a media generated movement). Having an extremely commercial orientation and in bid to capitalize the overly conservative mindset of the urbanites, the present day media is unfortunately perpetuating this senseless paranoia and is sensationalizing facts through knitting sophisticated conspiracy theories according to which the foreign powers have ganged up to destabilize Pakistan. Here the media lately has been reinforcing this irrational patriotism rather than playing any progressive role. Irrationality is reigning supreme amongst the class which can potentially play a meaningful and progressive role.
In the post 9/11 scenario and before the recent spree of daily bombings began, as Pakistan was slowing falling into a deep pit, the media instead of building a political will for military action at the right time was painting it as merely US war and some kind of a grand conspiracy by the western world to get hold of the nuclear arsenal. Consequently the terrorists were able to win the battle of the minds and the political will could not develop and is still not there despite a belated full scale military action. Assuming the weird logic that the entire conspiracy is to purge the nuclear arsenal, the media by successfully delaying a decisive action against militants allowed them to gain a complete foothold thus strengthening US concerns about the nuclear issue. Thus this brand of irrational patriotism has in reality proven counterproductive to the wishes of romantic nationalists.
This irrational patriotism is also seriously undermining the process of reorientation of the state towards other important areas such as education, law and order, poverty, healthcare and political reforms related to issues like provincial autonomy. Instead of debating on these issues and ensuring that the respective central and provincial governments are made accountable, the entire media thrust and the public attention is on nuclear issue and on already overhyped notions like national sovereignty. Consequently, the state is not feeling the heat on critical issues and nor is any seeking any intellectual discourse on them. By taking the focus away from these issues, this irrational patriotism is also contributing towards social instability and political fragility. An obvious sufferer is the resource rich and yet poor province of Baluchistan. At this moment instead of trying to focus on redressing their grievances our brilliant media is busy attributing everything to foreign involvement.
Theoretically a way out would be that liberal elements also come to the media to present their alternative viewpoint. But here is another problem. On the media, the liberal voices have mostly been relegated to entertainment programs. In a strange way, the liberal image has been widely accepted to be synonymous with some kind of elitist outlook emanating out of a partying lifestyle. This categorization of liberalism is also projected and reinforced by the media in such a way that liberalism in Pakistan is now accepted to have the following characteristics:
1) It is an unpatriotic philosophy and has the sole aim of westernization and thus weakening of Pakistan.
2) It is being adhered to by the segment which is ultra western, sexually active and morally pervert and wants the entire Pakistani society to become the same.
3) The philosophically important ideas which have somewhat liberal underpinning such as individual liberty, women liberation, religious tolerance, preference of self introspection over irrational patriotism, separation of state and religion, increased role of state for leveling of income inequalities, less ambitious external policy, a passive military with no aspirations built around romantic nationalism, too have no use for Pakistani society. A general consensus is that these ideas are a modus operandi cum intellectual vehicle to westernize Pakistan and to undermine the existing “rich” patriotic culture and values. Of course our insecurity over our national “pride” of nuclear arsenal also features in.
The worst thing which has happened over the decades is that the abovementioned liberal tenants have successfully been amalgamated with a sexually deviant anti culture lifestyle, by our mainstream media. In a strange way a mindset has developed where anyone talking about these issues (though degree of association would differ from issue to issue) will also be labeled as a pro western elitist having a fringe opinion. Mainstream opinion about liberal journalists like Fasi Zaka and Nadeem Farooq Paracha is that they are unpatriotic or at best English speaking misguided elitists with no clue about Pakistani problems. Even the partying lot, while accepting western lifestyle, nevertheless retains this nonsensical “patriotic” streak whereby ideologically liberal are considered as unpatriotic.
The rise of “leaders” like Imran Khan have further complicated the problem as they are now the main torch bearers of this ideology. I am personally seeing no hope until those who call themselves liberals take it mainstream Urdu print and electronic media. One of the worst problems is that there is no alternative discourse in Pakistan. All the channels are uttering variants of the same narrative.