Sunday, October 3, 2010

Brushing it under the national carpet

Dr Aafia Siddiqui is suddenly the ‘daughter of the nation’. With all the problems that plague Pakistan and all the injustices that have been suffered by the thousands of nameless and blameless, we have found energy and time for one woman and her imprisonment

Heads roll for the wrong reasons in Pakistan it seems. Forced by geographic location, economic collapse, terrorism, the floods and corruption at all levels, we have been transformed into a wilderness where the fittest survive and the only law that prevails is that of the jungle.

Travesties there are aplenty in Pakistan. We do a cosmetic lament and then niftily brush them under the carpet. Physicians have been murdered in Pakistan for being the wrong sect, read Shia; Ahmedis are murdered again and again, and the authorities turn a blind eye.

The nation was submerged in floods of biblical proportions due to the unconscionable lack of repairs in dykes but no one lost their portfolio. Time was that a single derailment or accident in the Pakistan Railways and the railway minister resigned. But our ethos has changed. Undoubtedly, the assaults on our nation have been many but who could have thought that national tragedies, time after time, would breed a culture of swagger and cutthroat competition, rather than the galvanising of a people devoted to state and principle.

Out of this same swagger comes Abdul Qayyum Jatoi, the former state minister for defence production who repeated his statement about equality in corruption when the press found it hilarious and shocking. “Why should just the establishment and the government do corruption?” he demanded rhetorically. “Whether they are Sindhi, Baloch, Saraiki or Punjabi, there should be equality in corruption.” He went on to say that the military should stay out of politics and be concentrated at the border doing what it is trained to do. He had also been critical of the chief justice. In a subsequent explanatory meeting with Prime Minister Gilani, Abdul Qayyum Jatoi resigned.

In my last article I wrote about the transmission of the culture of corruption in Pakistan and how memes or units of ideas or cultural symbols are transmitted essentially like genes. Jatoi, in his speech that cost him his job, underscores the corruption meme of Pakistan by recognising it and promoting it even more.

Jatoi was also livid with the army and its penchant for political and governmental interference. And rightfully so. In the meme theory of the transmission of ideas by imitation, the Pakistani mindset, in times of trouble, defaults to the army. And yet that is not how nations are built. Democracy, by its very nature, is cacophonous and seemingly disorganised. And in Pakistan it seems more so than it would elsewhere for we are disorganised to start with. Dictatorships undermine the development of a nation and inhibit institution building.

Admittedly, nepotism, which may be another Pakistani cultural meme, is present in civilian dispensations as well, but in army regimes to have every and all non-military governmental organisations headed by generals, or retired generals, goes against the lifetimes of hard work of civil service officers trained in that particular field. When nepotism has occurred in civilian governments, there appears to be recourse as proved recently in the Adnan Khwaja case. In rigid military regimes, that would not have happened.

Jatoi officially resigned for criticising the chief justice. In actuality, he exposed the corruption meme and told the army to stay in the barracks. And however unwitting that may have been, he is correct.

Being part of the jungle, another Pakistani staple has become the herd mentality. It is curious that physicians by the hundreds have been murdered in target killings, civilians decimated by drones, 20 million left homeless by the floods, minorities raped and killed, but the Pakistani nation could only be brought to throng in the thousands for one woman sentenced by the US for 86 years in prison. Dr Aafia Siddiqui is suddenly the ‘daughter of the nation’. Admittedly, there are holes in the story and her whereabouts for one to three years are unaccounted for and the sentence is over-the-top, but with all the problems that plague Pakistan and all the injustices that have been suffered by the thousands of nameless and blameless, we have found energy and time for one woman and her imprisonment.

Plagued by internal misgivings and the statement by Scotland Yard that “rows within his own party may have led to Dr Imran Farooq’s assassination”, the MQM is indulging in the politics of distraction. It is seriously heartrending to watch the thousands rally for Aafia Siddiqui and to have stayed home when travesty after travesty happened in Pakistan, to Pakistanis by Pakistanis.

And that has become another cultural meme: the hunood-yahood (Hindu-Jewish) conspiracy. With the belief that the yahood control all of the US, yahood and the US are synonymous. All that plagues Pakistan is apparently the result of the hunood-yahood workings.

Drones got an al Qaeda leader recently, but in most strikes tend to kill civilians and decimate their homes. Drone attacks have occurred even after the floods, with some strikes occurring in flood-affected areas. The US claims it has a wink-and-a-nod from the Pakistan government and the Pakistani government’s public displays of indignation are much like the noora kushti (fake wrestling) of World Wrestling Entertainment matches. Recently, NATO forces entered Pakistani airspace from Afghanistan in hot pursuit of militants and killed 60 ‘militants’, claiming that they have an agreement with Pakistan to enter its airspace when in pursuit of militants. Pakistan’s foreign office denies this agreement.

Drones have the precision of centimetres for their target. We have no problems with the civilian deaths that occur with the militants that the drones kill. That can be brushed under the rug, no problem. After all, militancy is out of control and since we give our homes and hearths to foreign extremists, we can only rely on the US to decimate them.

When we pillage our Pakistan because everyone else is doing it, let us brush that under the carpet too. Only two percent of a nation of 176 million pays taxes. And when we refuse to pay taxes and use every loophole to get out of it, let us brush that too under the rug. When women are sexually harassed and assaulted, we imprison them instead of the perpetrator. It is too much to fight for and come out to protest against; let us sweep that one under also. And the list goes on. And much like our core, this is no flat rug anymore. Our nation’s carpet is bulging now. And the stink is reminiscent of a zoo.

The writer is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at