POSTCARD USA: Indiana Jones, where’re you? —Khalid Hasan

The advent of the Pakistani TV channels has been a disaster in many ways. You go to any Pakistani home and one or the other of these channels is on. The mullahdom of Pakistan, which has taken to TV as a duck takes to water, now enjoys a trans-Atlantic audience
Short of Indiana Jones materialising in Pakistan, removing the sitting judges of the present Supreme Court and replacing them with the ones General Musharraf sent home last November, there appears little chance of putting the clock back.

Aitzaz Ahsan’s flying visit to Washington and New York seems to have been in vain as Uncle Sam is neither willing to intervene nor actually keen on the old judges coming back. The only comeback kids known in this country are prizefighters and those comebacks happen more in movies than in real life. Remember Rocky.

Every time an American official has been asked about the restoration of the judges deposed by Gen Musharraf in one swift swoop, the answer has been the same. “The US believes in a free judiciary but this is a matter internal to Pakistan and can only be resolved in Pakistan itself.” Translated into simple English, it means: No comebacks.

As for the Pakistanis settled here, they are a spitting image of their countrymen back home. There is little tolerance for the other’s point of view and public display of temper is considered good form, being always in evidence. Arguments are not won by reason but by shouting louder than the opponent. Anyone found in disagreement is declared a traitor and sometimes even beyond the pale of Islam.

There is no dialogue, only declamatory denunciations. Conspiracy theories are not only rampant but fervently believed. It is widely believed that the 9/11 attacks were engineered by a grand international cabal, controlled by Tel Aviv, to give Muslims in general and Arabs in particular a bad name. Why did the twin towers fall on to themselves in a heap, you are asked. If told that engineering studies have established that they fell as they were supposed to fall in such a catastrophic event, you are told, “But of course, that’s what those studies will say. What else would you expect?” I have of course stopped contradicting those who swear that on that day, all the Jews working in the twin towers were told not to turn up. The frequency with which I have heard this may soon induce me to start believing it myself.

The advent of the Pakistani TV channels has been a disaster in many ways. You go to any Pakistani home and one or the other of these channels is on. The mullahdom of Pakistan, which has taken to TV as a duck takes to water, now enjoys a trans-Atlantic audience. On one such programme, I heard a lady in New York ask by phone from a bearded gent in circus-worthy headgear and gown if after taking a shower, it would still be necessary for her to perform ablution for offering namaz. “Most certainly, otherwise you will be in a “na-paak” state.”

All Pakistani TV drama serials, without exception, revolve around marriage and domestic bickering caused by marriages that have either taken place or marriages that have not taken place. I have yet to hear of a serial dedicated to any other theme. In a country as grossly, almost indecently, populated as Pakistan, marriage ought to be discouraged rather than promoted.

But to return to the visits of Aitzaz Ahsan, Ahsan Iqbal and Justice Wajihuddin and their public meetings, it was quite clear that the local PPP cadres were under instructions from party headquarters back home to cause disruption. The way these three were questioned and often interrupted with identically worded questions betrayed the origin of those questions. Local PPP jiyalas attacked the visitors frontally and, in some cases, through newspaper advertisements.

Right in front of me, I have a full-page ad inserted by eight New York PPP men headlined “Judges with dead consciences turned a dictator into a king-maker,” followed by a charge sheet. Highlights: The Supreme Court was guilty of high treason when a democratic government was overthrown in 1999. The dictator’s favourite judges gave him the right to rule at will. That bench included Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Why did Chaudhry take oath under a PCO? Let the nation choose between the major and the minor criminal. If Musharraf’s November 2007 judges are illegal, so are those who took oath in October 1999. Did Asif Zardari, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Javed Hashmi, who were in prison for 11, 5 and 4 years respectively receive justice from the courts of Iftikhar Chaudhry and Wajihuddin? We will not permit any conspiracy against our leaders to succeed.

New York is home to several weekly Urdu newspapers, which are distributed free and since they cost nothing, they are picked up from grocery stores and read. But what reading do some of them offer? Here is the second lead from one. The headline informs readers that for the last eight years, the Pakistan government has been in the hands of Qadianis, an ugly conspiracy that has now been unearthed. Shaukat Aziz, Tariq Aziz, former ambassador Gen Durrani and several civil and military officials were involved in that conspiracy. The operations in the tribal areas were launched to crush the Sunni movement and establish control over the ISI and MI. There has been no investment in Pakistan by Europe or America in the last 61 years. Under the patronage of Sehba Musharraf, Citibank senior vice president Junaid Rabbani and other influential figures made contact with the Jewish lobby and Saudi princes. Pakistan was made to borrow heavily from the IMF and the World Bank at exorbitant interest rates, which is why the country is bankrupt today.

What I have translated were just the headline and sub-headlines. What the story proper contains it better not be put in a family newspaper. The same newspapers that carry these weird reports are quite undiscriminating when it comes to advertising. But for them, faith healers and mumbo-jumbo men in the city of Gujranwala will go out of business. Here, for instance, is “spiritual scholar, presidential award winner Pirzada Amjad Shah of Bukhari Chowk, Pindi Bypass, GT Road, Gujranwala” addressing “grieving brothers and sisters living in foreign lands”.

Each and every wish they have will be fulfilled, he promises. In just one night, through the power of Istikhara, every difficulty they face will be resolved. As for black spells cast on them, it will take just a couple of days to dissipate them. “One phone call can save your life. Let those who doubt try me.”

I have come to the conclusion that there is no future in journalism. I am applying to Pirzada Amjad Shah Bukhari of GT Road, Gujranwala to appoint me his spiritual ambassador to Washington. Who knows I may be asked by the Pakistani embassy to find an antidote to the black magic spell some swear it has been under for years.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is

Source: Daily Times, 6/7/2008

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