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May 9, 2015

The culture of taunting


May 9, 2015


Hardly a week passes when one or the other politician in Pakistan has not resorted to taunting and shaming his/her adversary. In Pakistan’s rural areas the art of taunting has been cultivated through observation and improvisation over centuries.
Taunting matches usually begin with negative aspersions on the victim’s appearance, intelligence, background or anything which can be insulted and usually draws spectators since they are heavily loaded with sexual slurs of all kinds. In short it is a competition to gain advantage over the other in social hierarchy and advance one’s own position in relation to others.
This is fair game in rural Pakistan but to see it happen in the corridors of power and at such dizzy heights is a painful spectacle. Earlier Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, otherwise known to be very careful with what he says, couldn’t for some reason resist taunting PTI Chairman Imran Khan in an introduction ceremony with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Islamabad and asked him to tell Jinping that it was his sit-ins last August which were the cause of the cancellation of the presidential visit.
Never to be left out of any controversy, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif gave a professional touch to this art by shaming PTI parliamentarians for returning to parliament after they had submitted their resignations nearly seven months back. It just didn’t occur to him that his party had also been deliberately procrastinating on the issue as acceptance of resignations could well have plunged the country into a deeper political crisis.
As it is, the resignations were all along with the speaker of the National Assembly and if he really wanted, he could surely have overcome the minor technicality of confirming from the individuals if they had actually resigned. So, Khawaja Asif should actually have been asking the speaker why he hadn’t accepted the resignations rather than indulging in something best left for entertainment purposes in our villages.

Just as in taunting matches in villages where yielding ground in not the norm, the PTI gave a response in kind in describing Khawaja Asif’s remarks as ‘mochi gate’ language. Imran Khan suddenly remembered that there was such a thing as parliamentarian language – forgetting the language he had been using for weeks from atop a container in Islamabad.
Aitzaz Ahsan and Chaudhry Nisar work the system to their advantage. Their tactics are very similar to those of a daughter around the dining table who does all the smart talk but skilfully avoids washing the dishes after the meal.
They did all the’ smart’, talking in an earlier debate when they artistically calibrated their barbs around the ‘pappu patwari’ and ‘politics for gas’ episodes. These issues had no relevance to the debate underway but the impulse to taunt was perhaps too overwhelming. When the time came to wash the dirty dishes, it was Nawaz Sharif who obliged his political tribe by apologising to Aitzaz Ahsan.
Many in Pakistan might see this as some kind of entertainment but the larger issue is the increasingly unhealthy tendency amongst politicians and ruler to use taunts instead of strongly articulated arguments inside and outside parliament.
There was a time when one would look forward to a parliamentary debate or out of parliament observations by politicians for their fine nuances, logical and well-articulated arguments and the sheer pleasure of listening to well educated Pakistanis. Can we take a turn in that direction or is that asking for too much in these turbulent times?
The writer is a retired viceadmiral.
Email: [email protected]




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