To write or not by Anjum Niaz Saturday, April 16, 2011

When in USA, do as the Americans do. The writers, I mean. They don’t shy away from truth.

After disappearing from these pages, I am back doing what I’ve done for 25 years. My favourite writers at The New York Times continue to gun for the crooks, as they were doing when I left them back at Christmastime last year. Journalists don’t appear fatigued; nor have they thrown in the towel. Instead, they are, as ever, hard-hitting, rough and determined. They don’t walk on eggshells as some of my colleagues have taken to doing back home in Pakistan, especially in today’s age of fanaticism. Yours truly being one of the guilty.

So, it was not a writer’s block that got to me. Apart from self-censorship, something more sinister hit. It was a sense of disconnect. Watching the nightly “horse and pony” shows on primetime TV channels sealed my heartsickness. Our so-called leaders spat out vulgarities that were of the vilest order on their opponents while our anchors gleefully cheered them on. The end-result: garble, glossolalia--repetitive and non-meaningful.

Nobody ever talked about Pakistan. It was all about their leaders and how heroic they were--Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain, Asfandyar Wali and a troupe of lesser beings whose pygmy stature got cranked up to Olympian heights.

Cult worship was never so rife as today.

The few voices of reason in newspapers got drowned out. So, to write the same old story, to repeat the same old allegations, to name the same old crooks appeared to me a useless exercise. Who was listening? I’d tell myself. Who cared? I would say. My defeatism got worse as I looked at my columns written decades ago of the same leaders who today professed piety. The evil they committed was there in black and white, the proof against their corruption solid as a rock. Yet, it has been dead and buried. Forgotten and forgiven.

Speaking to a retired army general in Islamabad before flying to the US, I asked him why the top brass was silent. Pat came his reply: “We don’t want to be seen meddling. Our chief has succeeded in repairing the image that was damaged during Musharraf era. GHQ prefers to stay away because no one wants us back. Democracy is what the awam want.” Really I said, wondering whether the ex-fauji was for real! He then proceeded to quote me the chat shows on television channels. “All the participants, including the anchors, want democracy to work.”

The general was not impressed by my argument. “Unless the people demand action, we can’t do anything,” he continued. Nobody is talking of martial law, for heaven’s sake, I said. All I’m saying is, who is minding the store as the country is running on empty with a clueless driver at the wheel who has no roadmap to follow, except pious platitudes for his starving people. Who is accountable for all the litany of failures occurring every minute? And the most vexatious fact is that while the viewers and readers are informed of the unforgivable happenings around the country, no names get mentioned under whose watch the transgression takes place.

Now here’s how media can affect change: Did you know that a core group supported by American NGOs helped bring down Arab authoritarian governments by fomenting protests? Key leaders of the Middle Eastern revolts were “trained by the Americans in campaigning, organising through new media tools and monitoring elections,” according to The New York Times.

Write away then, perhaps your story may escape the slush pile to spark off a Facebook revolution!

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email:

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