Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ardeshir Cowasjee Articles: Delusions Of Grandeur

WHILST watching the screeching anchors on our television screens one can say with certainty that the advent of mass communication in Pakistan merely adds to the general state of ignorance of its populace.
If the ghairat champions dominating the airwaves are to be believed, Pakistan is the centre of the universe, with the entire world, led by the United States, conspiring to somehow steal the pride and honour of this impoverished nation and state. Facts, however, indicate that the ever-increasing bellows about our national pride notwithstanding there is less and less for us to be proud of.
Pakistan`s politicos do not read books, let alone write them (nor do they have any concept of history). But in the civilised democratic world there is a strong tradition of leaders writing political memoirs.
The latest is George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, not known for his intellectual prowess, who has managed to produce a 490-page memoir with the help of co-authors and editors. The book, Decision Points , should help put things in perspective for Pakistanis by its lack of mention of Pakistan.
After eight years as US president, during which Pakistanis probably burnt him in effigy virtually every day, Bush`s book mentions our country only 47 times on eight pages — an average of one page per year.
Gen Pervez Musharraf, perceived as Bush`s key ally and denigrated by our ghairat wallahs as `Busharraf` merits 33 mentions on those same eight pages while `democratically elected` President Asif Zardari who came into office towards the tail-end of Bush`s era is mentioned only once.
Such is the `centrality` of Pakistan for the US that is constantly touted in our media and by our self-absorbed leaders. The truth, if it is ever told in Pakistan, is that Pakistan must struggle to gain America`s attention and aid, and has done so since its inception. Our endless rhetoric of ghairat only generously feeds the prevalent lack of realism and delusions of grandeur.
The legendary Life magazine reporter/photographer Margaret Bourke-White covered partition and the birth of Pakistan and published photo-essays from newly independent India and Pakistan in her magazine practically every week during 1947-48. In 1949, the essays were published as a book by Simon and Schuster titled Halfway to Freedom: A report on the new India in the words and photographs of Margaret Bourke-White .
On pages 91-93, Bourke-White describes her discussion with the country`s Founder-Maker Mohammad Ali Jinnah when “Pakistan was one month old”.
“What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?” she asked Jinnah.
“`America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,` was Jinnah`s reply. `Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed` … `the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.` … `Russia,` confided Mr Jinnah, `is not so very far away.`”
“In the weeks to come,” Bourke-White wrote, “I was to hear the Quaid-i-Azam`s thesis echoed by government officials throughout Pakistan. `Surely America will build our army,` they would say to me. `Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in.` But when I asked whether there were any signs of Russian infiltration, they would reply almost sadly, as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument. `No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan.`”
“This hope of tapping the US treasury was voiced so persistently that one wondered whether the purpose was to bolster the world against Bolshevism or to bolster Pakistan`s own uncertain position as a new political entity. Actually, I think, it was more nearly related to the even more significant bankruptcy of ideas in the new Muslim state — a nation drawing its spurious warmth from the embers of an antique religious fanaticism, fanned into a new blaze.”
In 63 years, little has changed. The menace now cited for tapping the US treasury is no longer communist Russia, it is terrorism. But simultaneous to seeking US assistance is our penchant for abusing the US and those we send to Washington as supplicants.
Last month the Internet was bombarded with clips of a television performance by a ghairat champion quoting from Obama`s Wars by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter who changed US history by exposing the Watergate scandal.
Woodward speaks of Pakistan`s man in Washington trying to persuade the Americans to woo Pakistan as you would “woo a woman”, with gifts, respect and admiration. That our man in Washington has the access he has and can make a case for tapping the American treasury in Pakistan`s interest would not have disturbed Pakistan`s founding father. The faux religiosity of our TV anchors, dangerously and sometimes killingly fanning ancient hatreds into a new blaze, is far more disturbing than favourable references to Pakistan`s envoy to the US in Woodward`s latest bestseller.

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