One flew over the cuckoo’s nest? Anjum Niaz

Hype and fear have overtaken the nation. Are we on a collective suicide path or are we about to witness the emergence of a messiah who will replace the much-hated General (retd) Pervez Musharraf? Will it be a nightmare or a mid-summer’s gift were Asif Ali Zardari to be our new president? Hello! Can someone help? We need answers. Otherwise the nation will become a nutcase. We need reassurance by Asif Ali Zardari’s accountant and his personal shrink in helping us maintain our mental equilibrium and comfort level.

The truth shall set us free. Did Zardari really suffer from mental illness as respected newspapers like the Financial Times and the Telegraph will have us believe? Second, is he the real owner of $60 million which the Swiss authorities have been asked by Pakistan to unfreeze? The International Herald Tribune of August 28 quotes Judge Daniel Devaud, the man who found the former first couple “guilty in absentia in 2003 of laundering millions of Swiss francs.” Voicing his disappointment over the Swiss government’s decision to end the probe, Judge Devaud who had spent five long years investigating the case in Geneva said, “The money laundering probe in Switzerland could have been continued. Politely put, it is hard to say there was nothing in the files to indicate corruption.”

As Zardari prepares to move from the Prime Minister’s Annex (where he’s lodging currently with his two daughters and dad Hakim Ali for reasons of personal safety) to the presidential palace on the hill, the public has a right to know: what’s his current mental condition if indeed he was mentally handicapped only a year ago and was being treated by psychiatrists. Second, if the $60 million do indeed belong to him, then how did he earn this money while living in Pakistan?

The above two questions (perfectly legitimate) warrant sober reflection and immediate action. And yet, the press pundits presiding over television channels or holding forth in print have allowed the two most critical questions to be thrown out by the wayside as Asif Zardari’s chariot of fire gets ready for the presidential race and be the first at the finish line. All hell would have broken had such revelations dogged a candidate standing for office for White House or even a mayoral post of a small town in America. The press would have by now been knocking furiously at the doors of Zardari House seeking repeated clarifications and not resting until the media was convinced that Zardari was in the clear – mentally and financially.

But this is not America; this is Pakistan!

Shouldn’t someone by now have taken a stay in the Supreme Court? Shouldn’t someone by now not have approached the Election Commission (EC) and challenged Zardari’s eligibility? “Are you kidding!” an aide in Mushahid Hussain’s camp tells me when I put the question to him. “We don’t have an independent judiciary nor is the EC independent. What good will it do?” I rest my case.

Mental illness is a very serious business. Please don’t take it lightly. A person suffering from it can ruin the lives of his immediate family, not to mention his own. Imagine if a mentally deranged person was to be put in charge of a country? He or she would ruin the lives of millions by his/her crazy actions that none would have the power to stop. Granted that the arc of mental illness is wide ranging from schizophrenia to mild depression, but beware, once the sufferer is diagnosed with a certain disease like dementia or psychosis or acute fear (some of the symptoms allegedly experienced by Zardari as per the affidavits of his psychiatrists) it is a whole new ball game. The man cannot be called ‘normal.’

The road to recovery of mental illness is long and unending. And don’t forget, a mentally challenged person may succeed in leading a normal life but he/she is never disease free; never symptom free. The illness can return to strike again and again, without notice. The disease can be managed by caregivers who administer a cocktail of drugs that are meant to stabilise the patient’s mind and drive away the demons that trouble him/her. Counselling and therapy form a very important part of managing the disease. You can spend countless couch hours talking to your shrink spanning years if not decades. The psychiatrist or the psychologist you visit can only soothe your troubled thoughts by telling you that your mind is imagining things and that what you’re thinking is not true and therefore false.

The Americans who in the first place resurrected Zardari via the NRO are scared stiff. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee told Newsweek: “Typically, the US wouldn’t want that kind of person” involved in a nuclear chain of command. He wondered if Zardari was suicidal why his diagnosis was kept a secret.

While in Pakistan mental illness is pushed under the carpet because it’s a social stigma and not many have the guts to come out and say “yes, we are mentally challenged people,” in America it’s treated with sympathy and the seriousness that it deserves. Still, even in America, starting from applying for the Green Card that eventually makes an “alien” an American citizen, the form that you have to fill out asks very specifically: “Do you suffer from mental illness?” Should you answer “Yes” then forget your ‘American dream.’ No way is the US willing to accept a ‘loony’ in their country.

Apart from immigration and naturalisation’s zero-tolerance for mental illness, if you’re caught lying you can be deported and your visa for permanent residence cancelled for committing perjury by a stroke of the USCIS (US Citizenship & Immigration Services) officer. Worse still when you apply for a job anywhere in the US, you are often asked to testify to your not having or suffering from mental illness. Should you lie, God help you! Your social security number is the biggest giveaway – anything and everything about your credit history, criminal record, medical files and personal properties can easily be pulled up should your employer-to-be order a complete background check on you.

Different strokes for different folks. Even in Pakistan, should you be hired by the government, you have to undergo a full physical. One small defect if discovered in your body can disqualify you forever. But those enjoying influence and seeking a government job often are exempt from a physical or even if there is something wrong with them, the doctor is bribed into giving the candidate a clean bill of health.

I think it should be mandatory for our three presidential hopefuls – Asif Ali Zardari, Justice Saeeduzaman Siddiqui and Mushahid Hussain to undergo a full physical. Not only should their blood pressure and heart beat be counted; their lungs x-rayed; eyesight checked; bone-density measured; kidney and liver function tested; but all three gentlemen must be put on the couch and grilled by a team of nationally recognised psychiatrists. If ordinary Joe and Jane like ourselves can undergo such tests and are put through psychological tests and mind games before they are hired by multinationals and big firms, why can’t the candidates aspiring for the highest office be clinically and mentally examined? If anyone fails the test, he or she is out of the race.

One last thing: Messrs Zardari, Siddiqui and Mushahid should be wired up with the lie detector machine and asked questions whose answers thus far have not been forthcoming from the three gentlemen. For example, Zardari can be asked about his mental condition and money accounts; Siddiqui can be asked about his alleged ties with Nawaz Sharif when he was the chief justice of Pakistan and Mushahid can be asked about his alleged links with the establishment.

Finally, a person is judged by the videos he watches. A reliable source has told me that Zardari watched Godfather eleven times when he was incarcerated. This bit of information if true gives you a helicopter view on the psyche of our presidential hopeful. Maybe Judge Judy, a popular TV series in the US is Justice Siddiqui’s preferred video while Goebbels could be Mushahid’s secret weapon to power? Who knows?

But the truth shall set us free.

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting



Source: The News September 02, 2008

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