PENSIEVE: A national death wish —Farrukh Khan Pitafi\09\16\story_16-9-2010_pg3_4

We still want to be the conquerors of Kabul, Delhi and Srinagar. Slaves do not have the luxury of playing the gods. We are slaves of our bad habits and hence we should do away with our imperial hubris

This column could have been called ‘the disaster porn’. But then I imagined your expressions while reading a piece full of rants on the stupidity of the mainstream media and desisted. But it does not mean I would not discuss it at all. So what is this disaster porn? Of course you will remember how film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was dubbed as poverty porn by some Indian critics. When, in order to obtain an orgasmic visual or sound bite, a journalist allows the subject of his coverage to suffer or be destroyed during a disaster, I call it the disaster porn. You need examples? Well, during the earthquake coverage, one of our leading journalists indeed continued to film an old woman trapped under the rubble as she gave up her life, instead of actually trying to help her. Likewise, the way we have covered the current disaster reminds us of Damien Day from ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’. The most disgusting bit, however, happened over Eid when the children from the relief camps were made to dance and sing on the stage and then we were told that they were really happy when the got the gifts. I do not have anything against spending Eid with the flood victims but during such ceremonies we could have stopped filming. When the quality of visuals becomes a priority over the value of human life, you can understand where society is headed. This reminds me of the good old days when elaborate dinners were allowed at the wedding ceremonies and cameramen used to film us while eating.

But clearly, as indicated earlier, this column is not entirely about the disaster’s disastrous coverage. But it has a lot to do with the disaster as today’s Pakistan has a lot to do with disasters. Last week, if you remember, I had mentioned Ahmed Rashid’s proposal on Pakistan Reconstruction Fund. Unfortunately, instead of studying it any further, the only response I could see was the state’s further descent into the state of denial. For instance, instead of mulling over the direct role of donors in the reconstruction efforts, or establishing a transparent relief and reconstruction agency, the government is bent on insisting that it has a solid relief plan. If there is anything solid about this prime minister’s plans, it is hubris or arrogance. Yes, of course, it is very easy to annoy the prime minister. All you need to do is to show him a mirror.

But, perhaps, it is not even about the state of arrogance either. It is most likely about our collective opportunism and refusal to see what is at stake. Pakistan’s finance minister informs us that in two month’s time the state may not be able to pay salaries to its employees and instead of paying any heed to his words we are busy in our stupid power struggles and at times imperial pipedreams. In fact, in this country everyone wants to be the next prime minister. That is why we will never let any government function for too long. Of course this does not include the military regimes because we are so mortally afraid of the batons and bayonets. But the responsibility of the government in creating this mess cannot be ignored either. Why is it that the democratically elected president of this country has made his death wish plain? Why is it that the survival of democracy means only personal political survival to the prime minister? Why is it that our army chief got an unprecedented (albeit a bit dented) extension and yet the GHQ-sponsored intellectuals keep talking about an imminent military takeover? And why is it that at a time when we should have been literally begging the entire world to help us rebuild our sweet nation, we either talk about the government’s waning credibility and the lack of foreign aid, or else we discuss Afghanistan and Kashmir?

If truth be told, this government’s historical baggage has nothing to do with the absence of foreign aid. Nor does any donor fatigue. The real reason is that the world is wary of our state’s perverted outlook and our army’s habit of dominating all national agendas. The west has often blamed that the money or arms or ammunition sent to us for fighting terror is usually spent in upping the ante against that we call our traditional enemy. Likewise, it has quite a few bones to pick with the state’s habit of squandering the borrowed money on unnecessarily non-developmental sectors. And then our pipedreams are great. We still want to be the conquerors of Kabul, Delhi and Srinagar. Slaves do not have the luxury of playing the gods. We are slaves of our bad habits and hence we should do away with our imperial hubris. Granted that today’s Kashmir intifada, as it is being called, has no Pakistani hand in it, and that is why it has a good chance of succeeding. But someone somewhere is not being honest about the Taliban. We will have to stop worshipping the Afghan Taliban and see them for what they are. They are no different from the Pakistani Taliban and are the usual enemies of the civilisation. We cannot call them friends at a time when they sponsor terror in our country.

Above everything else, we need honesty today in this country. The government or the state’s being dishonest has become an old conjecture now. Today our intellectuals, civil society, media and almost all other segments of society are given to intellectual dishonesty. Not until we shun our personal agendas and view our situation objectively, can we progress. But somehow I am getting convinced that far more dear to us as a nation is our collective death wish and no progress.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at

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