Who is Embarrasing Pakistan? Mr. Zardari. Pakistan Media. All of Us.

Posted on August 9, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Media Matters, People, Politics, Society
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Adil Najam

It has been hard not to notice the embarrassment that has been Mr. Asif Ali Zardari’s ill-fated, and decidedly ill-advised, trip to the United Kingdom. That embarrassment has risen as fast and as high as the waters of the floods ravaging Pakistan while the President is not there. But our electronic media’s reaction – really, obsession – with this trip has itself been embarrassing, as indeed, has been the reactions of too many of us.

But even more than an embarrassment, Mr. Zardari’s trip and our obsessive reactions to it has proved to be an all-too-costly distraction from the far more real disaster at home. A disaster than neither the President nor the media could have averted, but the response to which required political leadership from the President and civic enterprise from the media, and a sense of national purpose from all of us. Unfortunately, all have been been conspicuous by their absence this last week.

And now there is the fiasco about the shoe hurling. It is still not clear what really happened. But the fuss created around it is huge. As is the embarrassment: not just for Mr. Zardari, but for Pakistan itself. If ever there was need for proof that we are all purveyors of tamashbeen politics, this is it. Within hours of the news a clearly fake ‘picture’ was being touted by a supposed ‘journalist’ on a media email list. Indeed, the supposed photo of Mr. Zardari being hit by a shoe was so clearly and nauseatingly a fake that one had to wonder about the deprivation of the mind which would even offer it in this age of the magic of Photoshop.

Democracy is meant to be a messy thing. Nowhere is it messier than in Pakistan. But maybe those of us who worry about national embarrassment should, maybe, worry a little more.

Mr. Zardari’s trip was clearly a bad idea. It was a bad idea made worse by his insistence to go ahead with it even after it became clear to everyone that it was a bad idea. Mr. Zardari is not in the habit of choosing good advisers, but if ever he needed one, now was the time. His desire, as he explained in Birmingham, to have Benazir Bhutto’s fans say ‘dua’ for her may well have been real, and it is also probably true that his physical presence in Pakistan would have made no difference to the flood or how it was handled. But neither argument holds because his absence clearly did make a difference, whether his presence would have or not.

There could possibly not be a worse time to highlight this crisis of leadership. I have often wondered if Mr. Zardari realized just how the personal disaffection with him is amongst too many Pakistanis. If he does, he has never acted to change that perception. He should, for Pakistan’s sake. Being seen to be out of touch with his own country is embarrassing for him, but it is also embarrassing for his country. Indeed, it can also be dangerous for the future prospects of democracy in the country.

But at some point one also starts getting tired of the relentless badgering by some in the mainstream media. Government actions, such as the reported closure of GEO and ARY in certain areas, are to be condemned and condemned unequivocally. But those in the mainstream media need to realize that even as they create public opinion, the media is itself being judged by public opinion. The line between news and entertainment has long been erased as has been the line between fact and opinion. Now we find ourselves trespassing into the realm of slander.

As one of the institutional that many Pakistanis – including this Pakistani – has been proud of in recent years, this slide is disturbing to watch. Vigilance and transparency for those in power – as for example on the fake degrees issue – is the media’s duty. But ultimately the media will be judged – within Pakistan and abroad – for its sense of balance and fairplay. A sense of media integrity is a precious commodity for any society. A society as precarious as Pakistan’s can ill-afford the embarrassment of that integrity being questioned.

As for shoe-hurling as a means of political commentary, there are still too many things that we do not know about the incident (including the government insisting that it never even happened). But this we know: Pakistan’s name is being further ridiculed because of it, as if it was not ridiculed enough already. We should all be embarrassed and ashamed for having created a polity where someone would be compelled to throw a shoe at the President of the country while on foreign soil and where some (maybe even many) at home would celebrate this act! Those who might wish to give Pakistan a bad name could possibly not have designed a better demonstration (on foreign soil too) of just how dysfunctional a polity we have become.

I have long lamented the lack of civility in our political discourse. But the act of hurling a shoe at someone is not just badtameezi, it is an act of political violence. Protest is a political right. And when one has strong convictions, it can even become a political duty. But violence in the name of protest, no matter how ‘minor’, must never be justified. Maybe hurling a shoe is ‘minor’ violence, but it is only steps (no pun intended) removed from acts of more ‘major’ violence (maybe think of recent events in Karachi as a template). It only demonstrates on international soil what too many have long suspected: there is something terribly wrong with this polity.

You can choose whoever you wish to blame for this one. For me, there is no ambiguity whatsoever on this one. Mr. Zardari deserves blame for having created a politics where at least one person would contemplate such an act and many more would find it defensible. The individual who supposedly committed this act is an instrument of national embarrassment. He is certainly not the ‘hero’ that some are making him out to be. He is anything but. And those who find this act either funny or deserving, should maybe think again. If there is any laughter you hear in the background, it is at the expense of your country. And if it is deserving, then let us extend the logic to its obvious conclusion: we have all created the polity we lament and, therefore, we must all ‘deserve’ the same!

51 responses to “Who is Embarrasing Pakistan? Mr. Zardari. Pakistan Media. All of Us.”

  1. Meengla says:

    A couple of points lost in all this: Why the Pakistani population did not mobilize en mass the way they did post 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan?

    Sure, it must be Zardari’s fault. He probably demoralized the entire country by going abroad at this time.

    It must also be Zardari’s fault that, come the holy month of Ramadan, prices of food items go through the roof in the Land of the Pure. Contrast that with what happens around Christmas in Western countries and you will see that Zardari is no exception or exceptionally ‘corrupt’ in the Land of the Pure.

    The ‘whole’ media and blogspace may be unanimous against Zardari but what then is new?! The fact is in the recent by-elections the PPP got tens of thousands of votes from the poor of Pakistan even in Punjab. Surely, you can’t fool all the people all the time?

    Other than the visit to the Chateau I see no problem in Zardari going abroad especially considering that his presence in Pakistan would have hardly made a difference; in fact, to provide him the ‘security detail’ against Taliban would have very expensive and hindrance to relief effort.

    PS. Having followed the blogspace, I can tell you that since someone threw shoes at Bush there are plenty of Pakistanis wanting to do the same on Zardari. So what’s new?!

    PPS. Good question by @Neena: How come the expats are so hell bent on supporting dictators in Pakistan?

  2. amk says:

    i was a little lost in my own thesis of mind but coming out of it was not pleasant. i had the news of flood, the president’s tour and shoe throwing incident. i feel it very inclined to agree to Owais on this

    “We should all be embarrassed and ashamed for having created a polity where someone would be compelled to throw a shoe at the President of the country while on foreign soil and where some (maybe even many) at home would celebrate this act!”

    but, this is where all the things come to a dead end. you talk about the polity having reached its ‘death’ time due to elements like corruption, lack of understanding of the mission by both, media and politicians. i wonder, if this polity ever got a start?

    in a country like ours, where we have diverse cultures and variant demographic polities, a more academic approach is needed to understand the problems. do you believe that a nation can really be forced to act like a nation under our constitution which itself fails to define the concept of nation? the constitution which declares who muslims are and who aren’t? i wonder which way are we moving? have our constitutional experts failed to understand the fact that they need to come up with the originality keeping the demographic variance in mind?\

    i know my ideas are not well jolted at the moment but all i wanted to say was that i’ve loved pakistaniat.com over the years and i’d appreciate if you can address the core issue of constitutional failure in the future posts. this is huge and the readers need to understand what has caused this polity to fail.


  3. Bangash says:

    Western leaders still trust Pakistan Army more than PPP, which is why they include visits to GHQ in every tour, with appearances with Zardari and Co just for photo-op purposes.

    The only lessons Zardari has learned is to illegally collect wealth and hide in his palaces. He doesn’t care for Pakistani awam and his junkets abroad, while Pakistanis drown, proved it. Zardari’s callous and dismissive view of Pakistani suffering is among the reasons for the lack of aid from international community.

    PPP drones are blind to all of this, but nation and media rightfully condemned the non-performance of PPP in this crisis and sheer disrespect to national suffering shown by PPP feudal lords.

  4. Neena says:

    “Musharraf did not have lunch with Blair yet the British still helped. ”

    British and other Western powers trust Pakistan and its Army at that time, this is not the case anymore. There are no more blank checks.

    As for wealth you seemed quite informative care to share Nawaz Sharif, Gen Musharraf and Altaf Hussains property details too. ANd while we are at it can you tell why these leaders ran away when times were tough instead going to “comfy” jails?

    President Zardari doesn’t need any degrees to prove his credentials, life has taught him what no institute can teach. Admit it so called educated class isn’t ready to accept Pakistan’s majority is rural and illiterate and support PPP and its leaders.

    Why Expat Pakistanis support liberal democratic governments in foreign lands but prefer dictators back home, why this hypocrisy?

  5. Aamir Ali says:

    The comments by British PM were meant to curry favor in India, it meant nothing beyond that. I doubt the luxurious lunch with David Cameron is the reason British aid is flowing, Musharraf did not have lunch with Blair yet the British still helped.

    It is the British who deserve credit for helping Pakistan and not the thief Zardari, who with no education and no assets still owns palaces in UK, Pakistan and France. Democracy merely on paper is not appreciated.

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