Battle for hearts, minds and the state

Posted on April 3, 2016



Three developments in quick succession. Arrest of a RAW agent. A bomb blast in Lahore killing dozens. And the march of pro-Mumtaz Qadri protestors to an agitator’s dream picnic spot — the Constitution Avenue. A state that has the knack of processing a daily dose of extraordinary disasters was further overstretched.

The first development is a breakthrough. Pakistani state has for long complained that India is constantly trying to destabilise it despite the need for the country to single mindedly pursue the fight against terrorists. So here is the smoking gun, at last. An alive, walking, talking enemy spy with a video testimony recorded ostensibly under no duress. India’s official response was pathetic. It owned the man as its national and ex-serviceman but distanced itself from the charges of being a spy. In spyspeak that is the closest you get to owning an asset.

Domestic response? Bedlam. It was natural for the obscurantist apologists of terror to further obfuscate the already dim boundaries separating different shades of terror. If Indian hand is visible in one or two conflict zones it means it is involved in all. Then there is the constant campaign to get the government. People who have to take great pains to prove incumbent prime minister works for every other country except his own. Some emotionally displaced fans of Musharraf, a banned business group with a failed attempt to launch a media house, minions of disgruntled property tycoon, a party that failed to effect a 1977 like coup less than two years ago. All committed to strike where it hurts the government the most. Compared to this onslaught a ragtag band of liberal/moderate cousins whose first instinct is of disbelief and cynicism. So the result? An army of men pretending it is only India that can ever hurt Pakistan battling a small but loud minority of keyboard warriors exclaiming India can do no wrong. Truth lost somewhere in the pandemonium of conspiracy theories on both sides of the divide. The fact that with this smoking gun the Pakistani state has Indians by the short and curlies and can expose their role without undermining the fight against the TTP and affiliates long forgotten. Such is the state of our intelligentsia that the egos of men always have to come first. A great opportunity to bolster your state and win it over all but lost.

The terror attack in Lahore, an altogether different ball game. It was Easter. The cowards struck the softest target of all. The lower strata of the society and the country’s already marginalised Christians. Somehow what passes for media and intelligentsia did not miss this occasion to display immaturity. In indecent haste to break the story an ID card of a slain man was shown on live television as the most likely suicide bomber without censoring the particulars. After the family of the slain man was thoroughly harassed it eventually dawned on us that poor soul was just another victim. But battle lines had already been drawn. Somehow the RAW story and this one were of competing values. That a country can have multiple enemies was conveniently overlooked. Every story needs closure but evidently, we are incapable of doing justice to even one of them. Meanwhile, as these geniuses spar over minutiae, human lives are lost every single day. Forget about winning hearts and minds then. Keep massaging your egos and bullying people.

And amidst all this, the bizarre march of Mumtaz Qadri’s fans. That is where you realise that all we are good at is pulling faces, talk, talk and talk. No action. The crowd made it to the country’s seat of power and on its way managed to set ablaze public property and the spine of the liberals. We, the moderates, usually lose most of our voice on such occasions and keep stammering until the threat has settled down. And even after that, what came out of our television sets was more sectarian than moderate. The voices of kill, kill coming from all around. Those who sympathise with the marchers defied the state’s directives. Those who did not, wanted them all dead. But what about a bold counternarrative? Thanks but no thanks.

Now that the last ordeal is over one can only praise the Lord for the petty-mindedness of our right wing that thoroughly missed the bigger picture. And complain about the petty-mindedness of our liberals who missed it too. On such occasions I fish out my favourite Gulliver’s Travels and read it again. Jonathan Swift and our television; our intelligentsia, Blefuscu and Lilliput, what’s the difference?

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2016.