Social media is abuzz with quotes, anecdotes, feel-good stories and words of wisdom, the likes of which were never seen before. One such formulation that stayed with me goes like this: “Tough times create strong men, strong men create easy times, easy times create weak men and weak men create tough times.” By this construction, Pakistan must have, at least, prepared a tough citizenry.
Under eternal optimism about Pakistan — the greatest gifts to Muslims of the Subcontinent — one has brushed aside the doom and gloom scenario, fed constantly from the TV screens by a sold-out media. The reality of Pakistan is in stark contrast to this manipulated version, to which even our own citizenry sometimes — wittingly and mostly unwittingly — subscribes.
Most of the Pakistani news channels, in their rating wars (read money and greed), go to any extent to malign national leaders and institutions — past and present — and government of the day. The level of reporting has gone abysmally low; where road accident (between a vehicle and a donkey cart), and events (like a cow falling in a well) in the remotest parts of the country, for example, are considered news-worthy; where statements and counter-statements on mundane, irrelevant and mostly frivolous issues by this or that leader (government and opposition alike) make headlines; and where prime time is devoted to senseless talk shows that transcend into shouting matches, with the measure of success being aggressive posturing and rhetorical triumphs, rather than serious discussions and productive formulations for the nation to move forward.
The level of debate on national television is absurdly pathetic. It has come down to accusations, aggressive counter-accusations, rebuttals, denials and spin on the stories. As a harmful side effect, a large part of the government machinery devotes considerable time to defend their policies and actions rather than concentrating on governance, delivery and development. It is sad to watch even saner people getting carried away by this vicious media blitz.
Print and social media are not far behind. The line between facts and opinions has become blurred; planted stories are considered gospel truth and fake news carry the day. Consequently, onlookers especially foreigners find no positives, no inspiration and no incentives about Pakistan. A consistent diet of falsehoods leads our working-age generation, especially the youth, towards a complex psychosis and sense of feeling worthless and, therefore, behaving worthlessly. Succumbing to anti-Pakistan sentiment, they tend to perform much below their true potential. Engagement in worthless debates takes precious time that can otherwise be invested (especially by government functionaries) in other productive nation-building/service-delivery pursuits.
And those watching such absurd programmes in their drawing rooms become cynical, excessively critical and fault finders, turning mostly into dispirited couch-potatoes. Cumulatively, we have created a class of mostly urbane elite, the neo-ashhrafiyya (mainstream Pakistan, thankfully is not affected), that just talks endlessly in loops, with no action. These are Iqbal’s guftar ke ghazi or soldiers of rhetoric. They ambivalently shrug, if asked to reform.
Thus, in the name of freedom of expression, a madar-pidar azad media drives a narrative about Pakistan that is not real. This narrative targets our friends and nemesis alike, becoming part of 5th Generation Hybrid Warfare. In this era of perception management, realties take a backseat and Pakistan remains a target, cast in bad light. However, thankfully this perception of fake reality is restricted to fashionable urban locales and not the downtown and/or older parts of our cities and towns. It lies only in the minds of this miniscule neo-ashhrafiyya, beholden mostly to foreign interests and out of sync with their own people.
Fortunately, the reality of this beautiful country is far-removed from the driven impression of this sold-out neo-ashhrafiyya. And that reality is deeper, weighty, pervasive, spread far and wide and relatively insulated from the projected perceptions of fake reality. That reality exists outside our TV screens and media in the dhoks, chaks, goths and kalees (villages) of Pakistan; making itself known through the vast majority of hard working rural Pakistan, in the freezing temperatures and under the scorching heat in our mountains, plains, deserts and along our coasts.
Detractors forget that this beautiful country is the world’s 26th largest economy. That Pakistanis are the fifth smartest people worldwide and have the top national anthem tune. That Pakistan has given two noble laureates to the world including the youngest female, Malala Yousafzai. That we have the world’s largest ambulance network; that our hospitality and charitable spirit is highest in the world; our cuisine unique, food aplenty and music has fabulous shades.
Pakistanis can win nerve-wrecking sports competitions through apparent chaos. The Pakistan Super League (PSL), squash, hockey, winter sports and snooker are some success stories. International cricket is never complete without Pakistan. As a pleasant surprise to urbane naysayers, Pakistan ranks 67/156 on the “World Happiness Report (2019)”, top in South Asia; and is 36/140 in the “Happy Planet Index”.
Pakistan is a stunningly complete country, home to 108 peaks above 7,000 meters, including K2; with beautiful valleys, pretty beaches and a down-under waiting to be discovered. It has breath-taking splendour (seeing is believing), is home to the world’s second largest salt mines at Khewra and has the largest gravity-based canal irrigation system.
Pakistan ranks second in buffalo milk, fourth in goat and drinking milk production worldwide. We are the fifth largest producer of cotton seed, mangoes, guavas, and sugarcane. Pakistan ranks sixth internationally in onion and dates output and seventh in apricot production (all statistics are for 2017-18).
We rank first in the hand-sewn footballs and surgical instrument manufacturing; and rank 31/220 in electricity production (22/215 in nuclear-fueled electricity) and 21/217 in natural gas production.
And we have the world’s seventh largest battle-hardened standing force. We are the only nuclear power among 50 Muslim (and ultra-rich) countries. Without repeating the negative argument of strategic location, we successfully dealt with US/NATO/ISAF combine in Afghanistan for 20 years and overpowered deadly terrorism at home and near abroad. The list can go on.
So this is a brief glimpse of the actual Pakistan. The media storms are only in the teacups of an urbane neo-ashhrafiyya while the real Pakistan hums past this cynic cabal, not considering it even worthy of a notice. And the real Pakistan will live and prevail in the long run.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2021.
— to tribune.com.pk