Anchorless Rambling

By Raza Rumi

p9b We did it again. A hallmark of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan was her meeting with the stars of the Pakistani media – the all-knowing anchors who have taken it upon themselves to be the “representatives” of Pakistan. Forget the President elected by all the legislatures, the Prime Minister who enjoys the confidence of the National Assembly, and even the Foreign Minister, who at the end of the day was elected from a constituency with a huge majority and nominated by the ruling party.

Such constitutional niceties are of little value. What we witnessed with a motley group of top anchors was a repeat of their daily performance on the idiot box, and the discourse with America’s second most powerful politician was familiar and disappointing. A senior journalist based in Lahore remarked that even the young students at the Government College University came up with better questions than the exchanges aired on television.Of course, credit should be given where it is due. The moderator was smooth and balanced in keeping the interaction semi-decent. But there was nothing new or enlightening in the questions which were hurled at Clinton. That familiar old rant on anti-Americanism was regurgitated in a slightly more palatable manner. There was no question that Hillary Clinton was adept at handling the sharp and the banal with equal ease.

Of course the summation of the US-Pakistan relationship and six decades of a rocky relationship was illustrated by the Kerry-Lugar bill, as if this was the greatest insult to Pakistani nationhood, even more than General Niazi’s abject surrender at Ramna Park, Dhaka in 1971, or General Musharraf’s ignominious climb down from Kargil in 1999. Indeed, the Kerry-Lugar bill seems to have caused more offence than even the way Pakistan’s ruling elites have balanced their books and remain in perpetual debt, with only 2.2 million paying taxes, while the rest bask in the tax free zone known as Pakistan.

What’s all the fuss about, asked Mrs Clinton, who added to the discussion with a terse statement that don’t take the money if you are so affronted by what the US Congress has decided as parameters of assistance to Pakistan. The simple conclusion from the hullabaloo of the past few weeks, eloquently articulated by America’s brightest politician was that the US was keen to support and strengthen democracy in Pakistan, because the experience with dictators has not been fruitful for US interests nor the welfare of the Pakistani people.

There is a new convergence in the making. It is weak, preliminary and raw but it is there. The people of Pakistan should be partners with the US, for they have a common enemy – the growing tide of militancy and extremism that has now turned Pakistan into a cesspool of insecurity. The Americans share the blame as much as their partners in crime – Pakistan’s ruling elites, civil and military. But Mrs Clinton has acknowledged that in public, and her statements before legislative committees are on record. If there is a change in this power-matrix, then who loses here? The answer is not difficult to guess.

During the anchors’ meeting with Clinton, it was asked whether the US wanted a civilian chief for the ISI instead of a military nominee. This was hardly a question to be put to her, as the decision on this is not taken by America, notwithstanding the conspiracy theories that are spun ad nauseam around the issue. Why ask such a question when the larger issues of Afghanistan, the FATA strategy and bailing out the Pakistani economy are looming large over the polity?

The reason for such non-debate is linked to the fact that in Pakistan we have literally no discourse on any of these issues. We have partisan views, emotions, abuse and palace intrigues. The latter is a hangover of a thousand year old imperial culture in this region, and our neighbour India suffers from a similar syndrome. Here, all debate is subservient to what happens in palaces or electoral arrangements. India has made a concerted effort to break out of this mould mainly due to the vibrancy of its huge middle class. In Pakistan, an increase in the size of the middle class means that the appetite for right-wing Islamism has also increased. By fanning emotions against the US and reinforcing the siege mentality of the Muslim world, our electronic media in the main caters to this segment of the market. Hence the creeping Talibanisation of the polity; and the hysteria on the imagined war between Islam and the West.

But this preoccupation is limited to Punjab’s urban middle-classes. The majority of Pakistanis are not a part of this game. They are disempowered, impoverished and increasingly insecure. If they can get schools, clinics and clean drinking water from expanded financial assistance, the largest in our recent history, why this tamasha? The reason is simple – it upsets the state’s monopoly and hegemony, which is now in a comfortable alliance with the media. This is why all that excessive patriotism was dished out to Mrs Clinton. The discussion even ventured into the question of armed Americans patrolling the streets of Islamabad. Would Pakistanis be allowed to do the same in Washington? Asking the Secretary of the State such a question without enough investigation is simply not kosher. Such questions should be addressed to the diplomatic Mission, and not to a high-level visitor who is taking pains to connect with non-state sections of Pakistani society.

Another maverick anchor erred on the figures he cited. To our embarrassment, Mrs Clinton had to correct his gross exaggeration. Towards the end, the light-hearted banter concluded on a hint of them all meeting in Washington. This is the classic schizophrenia that ails Pakistan. The hordes of suicide bombers ready to annihilate the evil US are hugely outnumbered by the queues at the US embassy and consulates for a visa. What is wrong, and where? For a start, our fractured identity or lack thereof is a problem. Who are we? Muslim, South Asian, Arab? No clear answer, because we are ten different things at the same time, and while the rest of the world is comfortable with multiple identities, Punjab’s urban middle classes crave a singular Islamic identity but want it with all the world’s frills. This is why we cheer the blowing up of the World Trade Centre and at the same want to live in New York. This is why the Islamo-fascist hate-America crowd is at ease with their progeny studying in the United States.

Sadly, the media is playing up to these dichotomies and fissures within us. One thing is certain: this duplicitous approach to life and living is neither healthy nor sustainable. The media mujahideen need to review their position. If their diatribe is going to result in an isolated, bankrupt Pakistan, who will pay for the advertising that sustains their rhetoric?

First published in The Friday Times, Lahore

33 Comments

Filed under Democracy, Islamism, journalism, Kerry Lugar Bill, Media, Pakistan

33 responses to “Anchorless Rambling

  1. Anwar

    Excellent writeup…

  2. Milind Kher

    No matter what anybody says about the US, the reality is that many clamor to go there. That being the case, there should be no heartburn if US calls the shots.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too!

  3. PM

    Pakistanis working overseas provide close to a billion dollars a month that is about one third of resources for imports. If GOP bends one degree for US aid then it should ten degrees for NRI. All they want is law and order, no corruption and Justice. They also have the skills to help in many areas.
    By the way US is not keen in accepting any immigrants from Pakistan.

  4. Farooq Khan

    Mullah Ka Tasawar Pakistan
    (Mullah’s Concept of Pakistan)
    By Athar Nadeem

    Article from Pakistani daily ‘AajKal’ dated November 12, 2009.

    http://www.aajkal.com.pk/index.aspx?dt=11-12-2009&pg=6517

    Large print:
    http://www.aajkal.com.pk/news.aspx?img=http://www.aajkal.com.pk/news/2009/11/12/editorial_n4.jpg&w=800&h=1502

    Translation:
    For the reason that in the eye of respected scholars only a Muslim is entitled to full civil rights (in Islamic state), therefore honorable judges individually asked the opinion of prominent scholars regarding the definition of ‘Muslim’. The scholars who were asked this question included:
    Syed Abu-al-aala Moudoodi Amir Jamaat Islami,
    Syed Abul-Hasnat Muhammad Ahmed Qadri, President Jamiat Ulma-e-Pakistan (Brelvi),
    Maulana Ahmed Ali, President Jamiat Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam West Pakistan (Deobandi),
    Ghazi Siraj-uddin Munir (Ahl-e-Hadeeth),
    Mufti Muhammad Idris, Jamia Ashrafia (Deobandi),
    Hafiz Kafayat Hussain, organization for the the protection of Shia rights (Shia),
    Maulana Abdul Hamid Badauni, President Jamiat Ulma-e-Pakistan (Brelvi),
    Maulana Muhammad Ali Kandhalvi, Dar Al Shahabia Sialkot (Tableeghi Jamaaat?),
    Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (Founder of Jamaat Islami with Moudoodi but left him later)
    Honorable judges wrote about the answers:

    “if we deliberate on various definitions (of Muslim) provided by scholars then there is no need of any comment from our side except that no two scholars agree on this fundamental issue. If we make a definition of “Muslim’ by ourselves, just like every scholar has done, then they will all jointly declare us out of the circle of Islam. And if we adopt a definition of any single scholar then we will stay Muslim in the eye of that scholar but as per the definition of other scholars we will become Kafir.”

  5. Majumdar

    Rumi sb,

    Well-written.

    Regards

  6. vajra

    Thank you for an incisive analysis.

  7. Milind Kher

    @PM,

    My take is that GOP is bending before the US because it has no choice. It is between a rock and a hard place

  8. bushra naqi

    Its always refreshing to read an article which is objective, dispassionate and based on rationalitity.
    We need more of these till we are able to channel our thinking in the right direction instead of leaning on scapegoats all the time. This anti-americanism is getting us nowhere, only making us more and more angry.

  9. DCMediagirl

    Using a position of power and influence (a television show, a newspaper column) to “unite” a nation by exploiting base instincts, fear and paranoia and spreading mis- and disinformation is a surefire recipe for disaster. Exhibit A: America during the Cheney-Bush years.

  10. Milind Kher

    The anti American sentiment is only making the terrorists stronger.

    Now that the Pakistan army is out to get the Taliban, it would need big time support from the citizens.

  11. Bloody Civilian

    DCMediagirl

    that is why the politicians need to go directly to the people. something that politicians have forgotten how to do… they’re so busy following the 24-hr media. they can either be dictated to by the media, or do what demoratic leaders do, build consensus. what kind of a politician leaves it to the media to form public opinion, or even interpret it for her?

  12. Ali Abbas

    Raza, an excellent article and a much needed whiff of honest introspection. My only complaint stems when you limit your analysis to the Punjabi urban bourgeoisise; hey, we, the Urdu and Gujrati urban bourgeoisise of Karachi are equally regressive and apologetic of the Taliban. Our elite chattering class engages in the same conspiracy theory mongering and slavishness to the propaganda spewed by the “anchors” and planted by the establishment.

  13. PM

    Milind Kher, I’m not anti-American, but I’m a realist.
    You didn’t respond to the point I raised.
    You have an ambassador in DC, raised as a mullah turned Neocon who has no concept of bargaining except his hatred of army. You can see the results. America would make deals which are good for them and why not. I don’t blame them. Given the current situation America, is completely dependent on Pakistan for their project in Afghanistan and their future interest in central Asia. What I’m saying is that Haqqani has damaged these relations where both parties would pay a price.

  14. Mustafa Shaban

    Ali Abbas: i can tell that you are a shia, are you also khoja?? I am a shia khoja as well so i was just wondering if you dont mind. Nothin personal, and i am not trying to be sectarian. Just asking. I also speak gujrati.

  15. wajid

    The unlettered tv cronies were overwhelmed that they are sitting with a prestigious personality of such high stature. The drivel to me was very much expected. These opportunists have underserved luck. Just an observation! 
    I’ll bet they showed off to each other, at her expense, after the meeting. Unembarrassed by their wrong facts and statements they must have applauded each other saying: “Did you hear my question? Did you see her reaction? We nailed her. She was trapped and had no place to hide her face.”
    This concept of “mey ney ley li uski” – “I screwed them over” very much prevails in their dumb heads.  

  16. gv

    must we be so slavishly fulsome in our praise of the great white chief……..

  17. wajid

    Huh? Correct me if I am wrong but the original post and most of the comments are critical of the foolishness of Pakistani media “giants” instead of speaking highly of any “white chief”. And if her performance was better that’s just because the newsmen were not prepared to deal with the situation.

  18. BILAL QURESHI

    I have never been more embarrassed in my life. I was sitting with couple of friends who work in American media in DC and couple of clips of this ‘so called’ interview were shared with each other during this dinner gathering. They all laughed, and laughed like hell and I felt sick in stomach.
    I don’t mind tough interviews. In fact, I am used to watching very tough give and take on American television, especially on Sunday morning shows here. But what I saw with Hillary was comically tragic.

    I wish we as a nation would wake up for the betterment of our next generation.
    Terribly sad,

    Bilal Qureshi

    Washington, DC

  19. Milind Kher

    @PM,

    I appreciate what you are saying. However, choice of the right people for such assignments is a function of the maturity of the polity.

    The longer democracy holds out, the more the polity matures.

  20. Hossp

    I don’t know why Raza is upset. Hillary wanted a tete-a-tete with the Pakistani anchors and she got one. Anchors were going to ask her questions about what they discuss in their shows. There was no surprise in their questions. As for as the quality is concerned, how could Hillary complain? Isn’t she used to talking and listening to Bill O’Reilly, Glenbeck, Shawn Hannity and many others like them day in and day out on the US TV channels?

    Are Pakistani anchors any worst than the named above? In terms of substance, Pakistani anchors in most cases, would beat most Anchors on the US cable and TV channels.

    I think the non-TV chattering class in Pakistan still needs to work on its complexes with regards to the European and White folks. So what if the Pakistan TV anchors cornered Miss l’tle White on Pak tv. She asked for it and fully deserved it.

    I hope there was even a single anchor person who had confronted the lady when she told the US audiences that she would annihilate Iran, if it responded to any aggression from Israel. Wasn’t she the one with the nuke solution of the Iranian problem?

    People of Pakistan have every right to put the US diplomats through the school of hard knocks. The one sided relationship has hurt people of Pakistan more than the Pakistani elite and if some anchors gave a little back, there is nothing shameful about that. She gets the worst in the US.

    I have been reading the “right” media (not the rightist media) in the US and I know many Americans appreciated the questions hurled at her with enormous force of conviction.

    Look, many Pakistanis are ill informed and give in to misinformation easily but are they any worst than the 80% Americans who bought the WMD in Iraq hoax hook, line and sinker?

    I am sorry I find this article a typical representation of the mindset in Pakistan that believes that the whites must be respected because they are from Mars!

  21. Hossp

    @Ali Abbas,
    I am not sure about the article but I do agree when you say, “we, the Urdu and Gujrati urban bourgeoisies of Karachi are equally regressive and apologetic of the Taliban”
    We not only have a regressive punjabi urban midleclass but our friends in Karachi are not far behind.
    I blame two newspapers Nawaiwaqt in Lahore and Jang karachi for their enormous contribution in creating nincompoops out of Punjabi-Karachi middle class. They are also together in supporting the army and you can always count of them when it comes down to opposing any civilian government.

    God Bless Mir Khalil UrRehman. That poor soul was more Jamaatia than Mudoodi.

  22. Milind Kher

    @Hossp,

    Iran, unfortunately does not have too many supporters in the Muslim world.

    Russia and India are more friendly to Iran than most of the Muslim countries.

    That is why nobody cornered her on the issue of wanting to nuke Iran.

    As far as Hillary Clinton is concerned, she overreacted during her Pakistan visit. Obama has a much more mature demeanor and point of view.

  23. Bloody Civilian

    Hossp

    As for as the quality is concerned, how could Hillary complain?

    we don’t care whether clinton or the american people notice or complain about the apalling quality of american journalism. this is about pakistanis taking pakistani journalists to task.

    MK

    That is why nobody cornered her on the issue of wanting to nuke Iran

    didn’t hossp mean the American media failing to cornering her about nuclear chest-beating?

  24. DCMediagirl

    Hossp: If you’re going to use the “well, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity do it too” argument then it’s over. None of the people you cite as journalists are, in fact, journalists. They’re performers. The facts mean nothing to them. Glenn Beck, although clearly mentally ill, at least has the decency to refer to himself as a rodeo clown and NOT a journalist. All that aside, when an individual who calls him- or herself a journalist interviews someone, whether a Secretary of State or a ragpicker, they should have a grasp on the facts of the story — like, for example, not stating that the US pays $700 million for a base in Kyrgyzstan when the actual figure is closer to $50 million. If you find that sort of embarrassing clownery entertaining and informative then good luck to you. But what you’re watching is the equivalent of bear baiting or dogfighting. It’s just not journalism.

  25. DCMediagirl

    “I think the non-TV chattering class in Pakistan still needs to work on its complexes with regards to the European and White folks. So what if the Pakistan TV anchors cornered Miss l’tle White on Pak tv. She asked for it and fully deserved it. ”

    Cornered? Wishful thinking on your part. That session with the anchors was an international embarrassment and a failure. And with all due respect it sounds like YOU’RE the one with some anger management issues with regards to skin color.

  26. Milind Kher

    @BC,

    Muslims are the largest minority in the US. And they come from very many countries.

    Do you believe that a US audience would not have a substantial number of these?

    I have mentioned Hillary’s reactions during her Pakistan visit separately

  27. Hossp

    DCMediagirl
    “you cite as journalists are, in fact, journalists. They’re performers.”

    They are performers? tell that to Bill O’Reilly he would give you a mouthful. You are actually promoting double standards. Oh, the poor Bill O’Reilly is just a performer and the Pakistani talk show anchors are journalists. I think the Pakistani anchors are performers too.

    Honestly, there aren’t very many
    who have any standards in the Media. Like the Pakistani journalist, the US journalists too look for the handouts and most of them are willing partners in the con jobs establishments pull all over the world.

    “That session with the anchors was an international embarrassment and a failure.”

    International disaster? you are the queen of hyperbole. How many in the international audience watched the interview? Yeah.. I got a letter from a peasant in a desolate part of Ethiopia that he was embarrassed after watching Hillary’s
    performance.
    Let us be real. there was nothing “international” in it.
    Personally, I just watched a few clips of the show and it looked like some comedy show where the comedy queen aka Hillary was trying to find some way to say yeah…we will annihilate Iran…I am glad she did not get that chance…Kudos to Pakistani journalist for stopping her from chest thumping!

  28. Milind Kher

    Talking of Iran, I will digress from the thread here.

    Iran is at the forefront of embryonic stem cell research in the world. Harvard and MIT also acknowledges this. Also, it does not rely too much on any western nation for technology.

    Given the intellectual capital of its people and its strong will, many nations are wary of it. It is probably the most progressive nation in the Muslim world. The developed nations need to realize this and reach out.

  29. ali anser

    the last few paragraphs sum up the pakistani phenomenon , why we are unable to rise above a certain level home when pakistanis do brilliantly else where is because of this cognitive dissonance which we bring upon our selves due to our hypocrisy , it dissipates our energies , we shud decide to not be apologetic for what we are and it can all be turned around in a matter of years (which is a second in history of nations)

  30. vajra

    @ali anser (hi there!)

    Oh, that’s clear enough, and that’s a reasonable enough analysis, it’s unlikely anyone will cavil and carp at it (always wanted to use that phrase somewhere!!). But could you spell out what you mean?

    Are you saying that instead of concentrating on essential things that every nation needs to do, Pakistan is busy trying to fit a role that doesn’t really fit? What role? It’s important that the intelligent Pakistani, who either rules the country or can think about what’s being done by those who do rule the country, should figure this out. Otherwise the ceaseless bickering over sectarian and religious issues which has held back Pakistan through the previous sixty + years will continue.

  31. stumblingmystic

    Raza bhai,

    Excellent article. I watched that debacle, and after about half an hour of it, I simply had to turn the television off, the whole thing was so cringeworthy. Thank you for writing this.

    It is true that Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and so on are no better than our news anchors. But the stakes in our case are higher, given our myriad internal problems, and the likes of Hamid Mir, Ansar Abbassi, Talat, etc. etc., with their misguided nationalism, are only damaging to us. Also, unlike the US, there is no credible progressive movement or media source in Pakistan. Hannity, Beck and O’Reilly are routinely shredded to pieces on MSNBC, not to mention on The Daily Show.

  32. Dear All: Many thanks for the comments and appreciating the piece.

    Ali: I think we need to do a separate piece on Karachi – we should do it together

    Hossp: I respect your comment but I do not agree with the cliche that you thrust upon me. I do not have a gora complex – far from it. This article was about Pakistanis questioning their banal, unaccountable media.

  33. SS

    Mr Rumi, you write so well. Its a pity that you have chosen to remain in a secluded section of the media: English language press. This is akin to ‘drawing room politics’ and nothing more. You need to be in the Urdu press which is read widely and where people like you are missing.