Tsunami must Recede

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When PTI’s chairman Imran Khan chose the word ‘Tsunami’ as an analogy for his party or movement, many were surprised at his choice. A little over a year after his party came into the limelight with a successful show at Minar e Pakistan, I find his analogy quite apt.

A tsunami strikes and plays havoc with land but then retreats, becoming part of the silent sea again. Land is never the same after the tsunami has left; it destroys frail buildings leaving rubble calling out for reconstruction. It reminds us to build stronger buildings with better foundations.

Objects that once formed part of the land are swept away with the wave and become unseen inhabitants of the sea. They are unfortunate victims who acquire the status of ‘lost at sea’ without ever actually treading on it. The extent to which the tsunami infiltrates land depends on how tall it stood before striking. But no matter how tall, there is always a limit to its infiltration, to its life.

The PTI tsunami of hope and change, electrified with the energy and desperation of youth struck Pakistan’s political shores. It created a panic in political circles. Many ditched their parties deeming PTI to be the strongest boat with more chances of survival amid a violent sea of change and revolution. Some realized their mistake; deeming tsunami a new kind of boat, and jumped back in to their respective boats. Others were stuck since their boats would no longer accommodate them.

This tsunami did raise awareness regarding our frail electoral system and loop holes therein and if appointment of a non-controversial and apt election commission is a result of this tsunami, I would say it did enough. The new vibrant election commission is doing its job and the fruits of these efforts would be borne in a not so distant future.

PTI tsunami also swept away millions of fake votes that were previously used to tamper the elections. Even if not directly responsible for the fake degree and dual nationality scandals, part of the said awareness and rectification thereof may be credited to it.

But I am afraid this was the limit, this is how tall it stood before it struck. A tsunami can never hope to become one with land. Yes it will leave behind puddles and ponds that may have a slightly longer life span but the tsunami must recede. The process of reconstruction has already begun. What was frail is now stronger than ever, striving to ensure a free and fair election among candidates who are qualified in all senses of the word. Democracy is finding ground, becoming more and more sustainable. There will be elections bringing a better government, better parliamentarians. Institutions will learn to co-exist. Pakistan will have a more popular government that will make more popular policies but the tsunami, am afraid will recede.

Politician; the easiest target

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No sir, i do not have any evidence“….

These were the shocking words of the applicant; one Mr. Asif Ezdi who had filed a reference against 35 Members of the Punjab Assembly, including myself, seeking disqualification on grounds of dual nationality. The insightful statement was made in response to the Commission’s (The Election Commission of Pakistan, headed by CEC Fakhr ud Din G. Ibrahim hearing the reference) question;

Mr. Ezdi, do you have any evidence to support these allegations?

His response not only shocked the Commission but also us; the respondents.

A person filed a reference against me seeking my disqualification alleging that I have a dual nationality which by implication alleges that I am a fraud, gave a false affidavit and lied on oath. And what were the grounds of such serious allegations? A divine dream? A reliable piece of documentary evidence? No! It was a story published in one of the local newspapers.

The applicant read the story and thought hey! why don’t I file a reference against these individuals, why bother trying to ascertain the facts or even do a basic back ground check like for instance if this member ever applied for any nationality, or has he even ever stayed in any country long enough to acquire nationality or does his wife or any of his parents have dual or foreign nationality.

What motivated the applicant to make such serious allegations and take such a drastic step so casually? For the purposes of this particular piece I choose to ignore the conspiracy theory of a well planned campaign to malign politicians, I may write in length about that some other day.

Today I would focus on one other reason that made the applicant file a reference without giving it a second thought – it is the fact that this particular reference was against politicians and the allegations therein were targeted at people who are the easiest targets of accusations for any and all crimes under the sun.

We do not need courts to inquire into our guilt or pass a verdict regarding our innocence, no Sir! for us the rule is reversed; we are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Once our name appears in a ticker on your TV screens, it is already too late for us; for even if a court of law acquits us of all charges there will still be a majority who believe that it was our political clout that helped us twist the law and courts in our favor. The generalization of all politicians as inept, evil and corrupt seems unfair.

Admittedly politicians have been involved in colossal scandals that were not far from truth. There have been politicians who broke laws, violated the constitution and desecrated their oaths but why are they alone deemed to represent this institution?

In the fake degrees scandal initially 10 percent of the total Members of Senate, National and Provincial Assemblies were suspects whereas proven offenders turned out to be even less. Similar are the stats for dual nationality scandal. Last year Election Commission suspended membership of 154 members for not submitting their assets declaration forms in time which means there were more than 900 members who did it in time and do it every year in accordance with law. If counted, the number of politicians that were involved or alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices in the past five years, would fall short of even 1/4th of the total members.

Why is it then that a minority is taken as representative of an entire body? It seems as absurd as calling Islam a religion of terrorism because of a small extremist minority.

I have been a Member of the Punjab Assembly for past five years, have met and interacted with almost all fellow members and I can confidently assert that a majority of these honorable Members are patriots, persons of integrity and people who want and wish the best for Pakistan. The perception regarding politicians may seem just if you consider what this country has suffered at the hands of some ‘bad’ politicians, but then should that be a reason to create an environment that prevents any and all ‘good’ politicians from ever entering the field?

It is sad how most of the times when I was introduced in educated crowds as an MPA, I could feel the negative impressions being formed before I even said something, and the ‘oh..he’s one of those’ looks.

I do not believe that politicians are bad, instead there are bad people in politics and in my opinion they are fewer than the good ones. We must learn to identify them and focus our disappointment and contempt on them instead of going for across the board criticism and ridicule.

A far from perfect Media

Edited version published in the Express Tribune Blogs on the 8th of February, 2013

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There was a time when televisions in Pakistan transmitted just one, state run channel. The only news that got through to the masses was one deemed ‘fit’ for public by the state/government. The term ‘newsworthy’ had a completely different meaning-basically events that were thought beneficial to the repute of a sitting government and daylong activities of the President and Prime Minister were NEWS. Any and all events that could prove detrimental to the government’s popularity were not allowed on TV. This was a time when democracy was suffocated; ‘free and independent’ media did not exist.

Ironically, it was in a dictator’s rule that media was ‘liberated’ and channel after channel emerged on our television screens. The fact that our electronic media comprises mostly of news channels is a consequence of decades old dearth of free and independent news reporting. Many became anchors, reporters and even more became analysts. This made room for several qualified journalists and experts to come on TV and play their role in the evolution of democracy, simultaneously it also brought some inept anchors and unqualified ‘experts’ to our homes through the window called TV. Television became a certificate of analytical ability, for anyone who is called on a talk show in the capacity of an analytical expert is deemed to be one. News channels run 24 hours 7 days a week. From a time when news was censored, altered and moderated before being conveyed to public and when there was more news and less time/opportunity to report it, we now have come to a time when there is more time/opportunity to report than there is news.

Understandably our news media is only in the early steps of its long journey to becoming responsible and mature, however there are certain aspects that ought to be done away with early in the journey.

  • The callous race between channels to be ‘the first’ at a happening — Even if the event is as vile as a bomb blast that has resulted in the loss of lives of our country men, news channels seem to care most about the fact that it was them who first got to the site of this monstrosity.
  • Talk shows that become court rooms — Ideally the role of a talk show host is that of a moderator but we usually find hosts wearing an invisible judge’s robe and more often than not they enter the session with a pre established opinion and instead of trying to ascertain a fact or theory they end up trying to enforce their own pre-conceived notions.
  • The unwritten obligation of having some news from our neighbor’s film industry — Regardless of how insignificant or non-newsworthy an event is, news channels deem it necessary to include something, anything from bollywood and the opportunity to add a minute long clip of a sexy indian actress dancing, to their headlines. Headlines like -this many died from a bomb blast-, -ABC party decided to challenge elections-, -Pakistan decides to go ahead with such and such foreign policy- are usually followed by another headline like Kareena Kapoor now knows how to cook ‘masoor ki daal’ accompanied with a short video of Kareena wiggling her belly on TV. The words absurd and obnoxious just cannot do justice to this idiocy.
  • Sensationalism — The use of thrilling music while breaking a news that by no definition is ‘breaking’ is nerve wrecking. A country already bordering on paranoia is in no way benefiting from this irresponsible use of ‘breaking news’ and ‘news alerts’. I recently saw a breaking news on one of the private news channels that ‘broke’ this news to me that someone had stolen an instrument from their recording equipment and sold it. This pettiest of news did not lack the trademark thrilling music and zoom in zoom out.
  • Sheer irresponsibility regarding what is being conveyed to the public Ignorance as to the accuracy or inaccuracy of a fact/assertion seems to become a growing trend. For instance for some time now I have been observing several anchors on several channels referring to MFN; most favored nation status (a term in international economic law implying certain privileges and preferences in terms of trade) as most ‘favorite’ nation. This apparently minor mistake majorly distorts the meaning and implications of granting MFN status to India. As a consequence something that may otherwise prove beneficial to both India and Pakistan is largely deemed as a foolish policy decision by Pakistan.

News media, especially the actually able and qualified people therein need to establish a code of ethics and conduct for themselves and their fraternity. The apparent influence of media on the masses puts it in the driving seat; media is in a position to determine the speed with which we cover our journey to true democracy. The benefits of correcting itself will also be reaped by Pakistan. The power of media puts huge responsibility on its shoulders, a responsibility that needs to be realized and done justice to.  Media owes this to us for we, the people are what media thrives on.