It has been two weeks of stupendous importance. The centre of national attention’s gravity has been what has transpired in the Joint Investigation Team’s much-awaited report submitted before the honourable judges.
The split argument that has ensued in its wake goes something like this. The JIT has broken new ground in establishing the ruling family’s guilt in serious offences like money laundering, tax evasion and living beyond means – the main charge. The counter-argument is that the sweat of the JIT’s brow – which was mostly shed not in the field but in a controlled interview room at the Judicial Academy’s premises – has yielded nothing by way of definitive facts and verifiable documentary evidence that the Sharifs had their hands thickly soiled in financial fraud and that the whole exercise is immersed in the old conspiracy to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Millions of viewers and readers now expect to get a simple yes or no answer to the complex question of whether the government will stay or go, even though the huge legal complexities of the case can only be overcome by using the legal hammer, smashing a dozen laws to pieces. Besides, there is an incredible build-up through the media and deliberate political campaigns – both for and against the JIT’s scintillating affairs. It looks as if the whole world revolves around what the three-member bench will distil from the JIT’s report. Viewers and readers are now virtual hostages to the endless bombardment of news and views about what will or will not happen to Nawaz Sharif.
But slightly above, though connected with the fate of Nawaz Sharif, hangs an even bigger issue of concern. The issue can be called the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Abuse and Weaponisation of Lies and Untruths.
While fiction and propaganda has always been part and parcel of our political, judicial and military narratives (because this is how it is in other countries as well), the breadth of this reality has never encompassed such a large vast landscape of national debate as it does at present. And this is partly because the number of platforms for misleading and misdirecting national debate have increased manifold.
Social media’s various tools are veritable camouflage for character-assassins who operate round the clock stoking fake narratives and popularising damaging absurdities about their cherry-picked targets. But these tools could not have been weaponised if there were no users of these tools. In today’s Pakistan, agenda-driven interests – be they political or military or even judicial – have become so desperate and powerful that these tools of mass abuse now shape and define national debate and thinking.
But what exactly do these tools do? They craft filthy fiction and are drafted for the sole purpose of attacking people’s reputations. One tried his dirty hand at me a few days ago when he sat in front of the camera on a national TV channel and spun a total lie about how I was offered ambassadorship by Maryam Nawaz – someone I have met only three times in my life and that too for journalistic assignments and in the presence of note-takers. The nasty suggestion of my journalistic work being driven by some underhand deal with the present government was an ugly invention but it was meant to show me in partisan light. The shameless person appears along with others whose job it is to keep on creating nonsense in the hope that all sense is knocked dead.
A week later, a dubious link was launched to detail my sexual exploits! Perhaps the social media team that originated the link – I have good information as to where the link was created – mistook me for their leader. Nonetheless, all these demonic lies are being spoken with impunity and without any fear of accountability. The idea is to create pools of absurd arguments and expand them to such a point that the people lose sight of what is right and what is wrong. Individuals who challenge dirty political games played in the name of national security and the law are the bull’s eye for these purveyors of trash. There are countless examples of gutter attacks being made on the person and families of those who are seen to question the new normal in Pakistan.
And what is the new normal? The new normal is that Imran Khan is Allah’s gift to humanity and made of pure gold (pun not intended); the JIT and the three-member bench (and yes the two dissenting judges are also part of it) are god-sends and have brought with them commandments from the heavens to save a sorry people from meeting a horrible end; that the present army chief, like the previous army chief or the one before him (not that one, but the one before him whose name was Musharraf) are the finest men who deserve to be saluted at least five times a day.
The media part of the new normal is to say without any tinge of doubt that with the fall of this government and its leaders, Pakistan would be liberated.
The new normal also necessitates – nay dictates – that you abuse and slander and use the ugliest possible epithets for anyone even raising potent points about judicial engineering being done in this country in the name of accountability. (Imran Khan often uses the expression of ‘bones being thrown at’ those he defines as Nawaz supporters. This pet (again pun not intended) figure of speech alludes to the potential receiver of the bone, a dog. For someone who has many dogs at his residence, this reference might be a polite abuse but it is a rather stark strike for those who consider the animal impure. It is totally demeaning.) And dare you go against this new normal, you are a liar, a sold-out soul, a jerk and basically anti-Pakistan. Your opinion is just dirt, your life is hell and your after-life is also no better.
In a society that has one of the lowest national averages in reading reading-worthy text (meaning quality text), and where gossip carries more weight than reality, the impact of packaged abuse moving from one individual to another and then at mass scale through social media cannot be emphasised enough. The speed at which a gullible average person picks up lies and starts to pass them on the assumption that ‘there must be some truth in them’ is mind-boggling. This crafts national debate and gives the public poisonous food for absurd thoughts. There is a reason why people like Double Shah (the smart criminal who defrauded thousands of hundreds of millions telling them that they could double their money through his good offices) are so successful in Pakistan because their canards and shenanigans are sold like hot cakes among people who are culturally trained to think there are quick fixes to life and that the road to salvation is half a kilometre long.
This culture, combined with the use of new media, has made lies and untruths the new standard of honesty in the country. You can be a fraud, a thug, a tax evader, a drug user, a womaniser or a looter of national wealth but as long as you can abuse your target effectively, you can always build a halo over your head. People will call you pretty because you have painted the opponent as ugly.
The result of this tragic new normal in our country is that little or no thought is going into the debate about the national future, about fundamental factors that shape national destinies, about procedures and laws that are required to carry out long-lasting reforms, about long-term investment in honesty, uprightness and the spine to say it as it is without fear or favour. What we have at present is a neo-Orwellian phase. In this phase, all wrongs are right and no one has the right to point out that it is not just one emperor (read Nawaz Sharif) who is without clothes but there are many others who are stark naked but pretending to be wrapped up in holy, seamless robes of the gods!
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.