August 16, 2012. 8:45 am. I walk into the office and turn on the TV. A hyperactive news anchor tells me that the Kamra airbase, a paltry hour-and-a-half drive away from Islamabad, was attacked by nine terrorists, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons, and wearing those explosive vests which, if all else fails, will send them straight to heaven.
The now out of breath, but still hyperactive, anchor proceeds to tell me that our brave officers at the base have managed to kill all the attackers; that an aircraft has been damaged, and the base commander was injured. A colleague walks up and says: “This is all a drama, I’m sure nothing happened, it’s just a ploy to draw our attention away.” And having cloaked himself in this comfortable blanket of escape, he walks back.
This escapism, if you will, is nothing new, and can be found across the length and breadth of Pakistan’s population. It gets worse when one talks of Osama bin Laden and the raid in Abbottabad. Many educated and otherwise enlightened people question whether the world’s most wanted man was indeed holed up there; they question what exactly happened on that fateful night of May 2, 2011.
They ask what was the need for such security, why Pakistan was not in on the mission, and why no evidence was provided, they ask why we have to take the word of the US president, after all, the US hates Pakistan and Pakistanis. The delusions on Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and terrorism at large can sometimes be of epic proportions.
I once received a letter from someone who was particularly incensed upon a question I had asked: does Pakistan want to play a vital role in finally defeating Al-Qaeda and its numerous spawns, or does Pakistan want to soon become the last surviving bastion of global religious terrorism?
The answer I got was: The question is where is Al-Qaeda? Who is Al-Qaeda? How do we recognise a member of Al-Qaeda from amongst different kind of people fighting Americans and NATO?
Is it not true that Americans planted mercenaries as Al-Qaeda so that they can start and perpetuate a war in Muslim countries? Under this notion now they can start a war anywhere in the world by just saying Al-Qaeda are getting stronger in this area and will acquire a base to attack us and other peace-loving countries and destroy world peace.”
And it’s not just terrorism where a collective delusion has set in. Many believe that the current electricity crisis is engineered and manufactured, that electricity (the lack of it) is being used as a political tool. This sentiment is echoed particularly loudly in the Punjab, where people blame the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of giving Punjab/Punjabis a lesson.
Balochistan has not been spared from these grand delusions either. How many times have we heard, from politicians and intellectuals alike, of a “foreign hand in the unrest”? That Raw, Mossad, Khad are all up to their dirty tricks there.
The question to ask really is why do people turn to such theories? The answer, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, is neither pure nor simple. It’s easier to collect a few instances and string together a theory, rather than to embark on the often difficult journey to: a) search for the truth, b) to understand the truth, and c) to accept the truth. This becomes especially difficult when in the search for the truth, we might find ourselves at fault, or at least partially to blame.
There is no burden of insight without understanding, and understanding only comes through the exposure to information of all kinds, from all sides. They say that history is written by those who win wars, but to understand the complete picture, one must read the other side of the story as well. And finally, the acceptance of the truth can only be attained if there is the allowance for the self to be at fault.
In all the instances mentioned earlier, terrorism, the existence of Al-Qaeda, the electricity crisis, and the situation in Balochistan, proof exists. Proof of religion being used as a political tool, proof of years of mismanagement of resources, proof of years of neglect. Who’s to blame for all this? Somewhere down the blame chain, we ourselves become the guilty. And that’s not a good realisation to go to sleep with.
Over the decades, this wall of delusion has become higher and stronger. The rise of religion has also played its part. As has a recurring delusion of grandeurs past. Today, a majority of Pakistan just does not have the will to search for the truth. Apathy has set in, built on decades of lies and unfulfilled promises. The cloak of escape has become too comfortable to do away with.
One day it will finally wither away, and we’ll be left naked, our imperfections and faults bare for all to see, including ourselves.
Let’s wake up before it comes to this. In the words of Roger Waters, with a bit of paraphrasing: Accept the burden of insight and embark on the often painful journey to figure out what’s going on.
The writer is chief operating officer of a private FM network and tweets at @aasimzkhan