No spin zone: The blood and the fuel - Anjum Niaz - Sunday 3rd April 2011

Information is “the blood and the fuel, the vital principle” of the world, says James Gleick. “Human consciousness, society, life on earth, the cosmos — it’s bits all the way down.” In his book The Information, the author talks of how people today are overwhelmed by the “cacophony and incoherence” making people “soak into the network, into the cloud.”
So, let’s then head towards the “cloud” that hangs over us today. It’s ready to burst with diverse views that cut through the mumbo jumbo of political jargon. Their finger is on the pulse of the world.
A self-declared “news junky” living in America is Harold Goldstein. He reads this newspaper daily, commenting on topics he feels passionate about. On Raymond Davis release he wonders why his government paid two million dollars as blood money to save an American with a “dubious passport and with a dubious purpose”, adding, “No one really knows what the American was doing there, and the more our government gets involved, the higher the level goes. We dumb citizens of the USA don’t know anything–do we? When did the US government offer to give a victim’s family in the USA a million dollars for a wrongful death?”
Harold Goldstein visited Pakistan 20 years ago. His love affair with our country continues as does his bluntness about certain things and people in Pakistan. “Let’s face it there are no poor generals in Third World countries. Your Gen Musharraf did very well for himself with foreign bank accounts. Both Mubarak and Gadaffi, from the armed forces, treated the national treasury like some sort of a piggy bank. Unrestricted foreign aid is like a gift from heaven. The recipient can do whatever he wants, as long as he pledges undivided loyalty to the granter.”
He calls it a ‘dog and pony’ show. However, “it is growing old with western leaders as well as the masses of poor Muslims. No longer will a tyrant be able to hoodwink his people. That game is over!”
Sitting at a dentist clinic in Islamabad, the man in the next chair is texting his wife with a one-liner, “Arrive here in one piece.” The missus is driving down from Peshawar where they live. “We love Pakistan and don’t want to go back to Dubai despite our roaring business there,” he answers when I ask if he’s planning to return. “No. But we are concerned about security issues. Our neighbourhood in Peshawar is almost empty. People have moved out to other cities.”
Before Dr Shahid Mahmood dons his surgical mask and reaches for the syringe to numb my gums, I try to delay the procedure involving the removal of an infected tooth, and replacing it with an implant. “How’s work?” I ask the Texas trained dental surgeon whose clinic and expertise rival the best in America. “Like the rest of the country,” he answers. “Will business pick up?” I ask him. He thinks it will take a couple of years to get back to where we were two/three years ago. “Do many Pakistanis get implants?” I ask. “No. People will spend thousands on their wardrobes but are unwilling to get their teeth fixed.”
Dr Mahmood can earn millions were he to return to his practice in America. But he too loves Pakistan like our friend who texts his wife as if she’s embarking on a voyage fraught with danger. Darn, it’s just a trip from Peshawar to Islamabad! “Pakistani-Americans can get their teeth fixed at one fourth the price they pay in the US if they come to Pakistan. Today, Americans travel to India, Singapore and Thailand for treatment that is much cheaper than in their home country.”
There’s a lot to chew on here. A dental package tour is so do-able. You just hop on your national carrier and in 16 hours you can have your teeth fixed. But sadly we lack initiative. Our business community is busy taking their dollars abroad and setting up businesses overseas instead of investing in Pakistan.
A Pakistani-American living in New Jersey explains why money is leaving Pakistani shores. According to him society here has been “radicalised beyond any hope of redemption.” The biggest tragedy he says is an “absolute dearth of leadership – no one is working for the good of the country and the so-called ‘educated elite have become fellow travellers of the radical right. Pakistan could be heading towards an oppressive state like Saudi Arabia or Iran in less than five years.” A couple who have changed careers midway worry about Karachi’s spiraling violence. The wife, now a corporate researcher blames the TV channels which along with cell phones are “significantly contributing in ruining the social fabric.” On the subject of government regulation, here’s what she writes: “The worst part of this era is lack of embarrassment and sheer imprudence — the prime regulators of the corporate and financial sector are operating under formidable constraints and unable to pursue their charters. In the absence of efficient regulators, by the time the market forces play their role, limited precious resources have already gone a waste.”
She knows because, “having faced enough irregular practices (would like to use a more graceful and dressed up word for corruption) which permeated the system, I decided to quit my government job. I motivated my husband to get a law degree so he’s a practising lawyer now instead of a banker. Law is a very different discipline and requires multi-disciplinary exposure. So basically we have re-organised ourselves.”
Peter Chamberlin, an American analyst and a Pakistan-watcher echoes the sentiments: “You guys should probably be more concerned about making preparations to defend yourselves in your own streets, instead of worrying about your courts… The problem facing you isn’t something confined to a few corrupt individuals–your entire professional and landed class is fully prepared to surrender the nation in exchange for maintained or increased profits.”
Everybody already knows what “America’s intentions are, simply look to North Africa or to Bahrain,” warns Chamberlin. “If you are on America’s side you can have a free pass to do anything, if you are against us, prepare to be bombed.”

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