In search of an author By Ghazi Salahuddin


When Prime Minister Imran Khan had an interaction with a number of leading writers of television plays on Friday last week, through a video link, he could well have asked them to write a script for his cabinet, giving appropriate lines for his ministers to speak.

Come to think of it, a script for the leading players of this administration would be an innovative and more creative extension of the role of the traditional speech writers. Ah, but the prime minister himself does not seem to have any use for a speech writer. Or a fact checker. That is how Osama bin Laden is remembered as a ‘shaheed’ in an impromptu aside during the long innings he played in the National Assembly on Thursday.

There are, of course, other players who have their own scripts that are not a part of any central theme or strategy for action. One performance that has stirred up the national audience was that of Fawad Chaudhry. In an interview with Sohail Warraich for a foreign Urdu channel, he introduced some lively twists in the tale. We do not know if the author of the play had anything to do with the lines.

In any case, the statements he made readily became all grist to the mill of our television talk shows and newspaper columns. To some extent, the pandemic was left in the wings. Could this be the beginning of the end of the Imran Khan project, considering that the party is rife with dissent and has not been able to put its act together, in terms of its governance?

What, however, is obvious is that Imran Khan and his administration now require a new script or, in respect of Imran Khan’s preferred idiom, a new game plan. Perhaps his (guest?) appearance in the National Assembly on Thursday and his long speech, delivered in a rather unprecedented environment of parliamentary discipline, heralded this new script. At one level, it was a damage control exercise. But the damage is becoming so hard to control.

The latest example is that of the incendiary increase in the price of the petroleum products, announced on Friday night. In fact, this brazen act of betrayal of all promises that Imran Khan had made can serve as a metaphor of what is happening. No doubt, the people are baffled and cannot cope with the logic of all this.

It is easy to say that things are falling apart and “the centre cannot hold”. I am tempted to continue with Yeats: “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity”.

Can this petrol bomb be a catalyst? We will have to wait and see what happens today, tomorrow and in the days to come. During this week, we were wondering if things could really get worse. The entire country had to bear the shame of how the story of dubious licences of our commercial pilots was reported in the international media.

That clip from CNN in which Richard Quest said that it “beggars belief” that a country would admit that many of its commercial pilots had fake licences. This at a time when PTI supporters see their leader as the global emblem of Pakistan’s glory. Another blow of the same kind was the sudden suspension of flights from Pakistan by foreign airlines after many Pakistanis arriving in Hong Kong were tested positive for the virus.

More than any other story, it is Imran Khan’s appellation for OBL that has attracted the attention of the foreign media. It has genuine relevance to Pakistan’s foreign policy that remains enigmatic when it comes to dealing with terrorism. It is pointless to argue that it was a ‘slip of tongue’.

Let me return to my whimsical thought that Imran Khan could ask a writer to give him a detailed script to run his administration, with proper directions and dialogue for the leading players. The idea belongs in the realm of magical realism. If not federal ministers the spokespersons, who defend Imran Khan as a courtier would defend a king, have the need for some directorial assistance.

There is that classic Pirandello play titled: ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ and I feel that the spokespersons of this government can be brought together to stage a new version of this play. As for Pirandello’s plot, a rehearsal is interrupted by six strange people. They claim that they are unfinished characters in search of an author who could finish their story and make their existence meaningful.

I am not sure if Imran Khan has any interest in Western drama. What I know about is his passion for the Turkish serial Dirilis: Ertugrul, which tells the story of Ertughral Ghazi, father of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Imran Khan thinks that our youth must watch this serial and not be tempted by low-quality entertainment provided by Hollywood and Bollywood.

Apparently, it was his admiration for the Turkish television drama that encouraged him to meet the Pakistani writers and urge them to write similar plays. It is reported that the prime minister lamented the fact that Pakistani society was afflicted with moral degradation.

But isn’t there something noxious or dystopian in a ruler telling writers what they should be writing? Not in Pakistan, though. We have already to live with stringent restrictions on freedom of expression – in the media and, more detrimental to our survival, even in the classroom, from primary school to the universities.

Yes, it would be a heavenly sight to see a prime minister in the company of the country’s leading writers, scholars and intellectuals. There is hardly a leader in the world who would not benefit from the wisdom and advice of genuine and open-minded writers and thinkers. This need for enlightenment becomes more acute in times of crises.

The writer is a senior journalist.