One aspect of our national predicament

The 21st of May was predicted to be Judgement Day, according to the American preacher, Harold Camping, who runs his own radio station. The Lord was supposed to destroy the world with a series of devastating earthquakes while the true believers would ascend to Heaven and be saved.The day came and went (but has it really? Prove to me we are not really dreaming that today is June 1st?) but, apart from some earthquakes that registered 000.000 on the Richter scale, nothing much happened. Incidentally, the guy had made similar predictions some 15 years ago. Have his followers stopped believing in him?Do not be silly. Excuses were found, explanations were forthcoming and life went on, including the new date of 15th October given by Camping for the apocalypse. But do you think he will be prepared to back his claim of that happening by taking a bet with me? I am told the man is worth some $ 80 million for his pains. Religion is big business.

Many years ago I was in Bombay when all the talk at a party was how Sai Baba had predicted that on a stated day in May (as best as I can remember) that year Mumbai would be devastated by a tsunami. I remember suggesting to a very rich Sindhi lady (who was a devout follower) that in that case my offering to lease her magnificent house for $ 3,000 a year for the next three years was a proposition she should welcome. How bad can something for nothing be? Alas! She was having none of it. Does that prove anything?Of course, this business of ‘Repent, the End is nigh!’ has been around as long as we have had organised religion. Nor do I need to remind Pakistanis of that monumental creative effort on this Qayamat theme — the sort that leaves most of the world shaking their heads if not actually laughing at our mighty intellectual capabilities — of one of our leading media lights, Dr Shahid Masood. I refer to that pseudo-documentary called ‘The End of Time’, on ARY TV special. But the DVD probably raked in a fortune from our true believers. The more canny in this age-old line of business prudently do not make the astonishing mistake of Camping and Sai Baba. The rule is never ever be specific enough to be shown up to be wrong.

What is this preamble getting at? The sad human reality is that those who believe, believe; and continue believing; and seldom can you get them to change their mind by fact or argument. For rational people, this reality presents — and has always done — a difficult, tricky, and often sensitive problem of communication. We must accept that there is no real or simple solution, either in theory or in practice.Does that mean we should give up? No. Social life has to go on, so we find partial solutions and makeshift rules by trial and error. Thus, for example, sensible people and societies no longer discuss, or argue over, religious beliefs. For, it is largely a pointless exercise that leads nowhere. And that, incidentally, is also the best argument for keeping religion out of politics.The same sort of reasoning is behind why democracy, for all its imperfections and shortcomings, is the least bad political system. Sure, a democratic government is meant to measure up to the expectations of the people. But there are certain rules to the game — an important one of which is that the policies of the government, good or bad, must be accepted till the next election. Certainly, if the policies are unpopular, pressure (but by democratic means) can be applied to get it to change its own mind. But it is not incumbent upon the government to bow to the ‘will (even overwhelming) of the awam’ as reflected in the polls or media opinion. Government would be impossible otherwise.

I find this need to pontificate about matters so basic and obvious a trifle embarrassing. But what should one do if, when it comes to stubbornly continuing to believe whatever we believe — or have been manipulated and led to believe through the media (and dare I mention in this same breath a particularly powerful state institution?) — we Pakistanis are in a class by ourselves? Facts, reasons, or common sense seem meaningless to most Pakistanis (even many ostensibly educated ones). What I have read and seen in our media over the last month is overwhelmingly depressing.Was OBL really living in that compound or was it just an elaborate American drama? Ask the world that question and you will get one emphatic answer; ask the Pakistani awam and probably the majority will give you another answer. Now who is right, the world or us? Are the drone attacks a vitally important aspect of our war against terrorists, and the civilian casualties minimal? Ask our army and they will say ‘yes’ (a view also shared by most of the people of the area, according to many reputable commentators); ask our media and awam and they want them to end immediately (though, conveniently, they seldom discuss the army view, preferring to finesse that awkward fact by focusing on the sovereignty issue).

Should we tell the Americans to get lost and do without their aid? The overwhelming view of the media and the awam is that we should. The argument given is that $ 1.5 billion a year of the Kerry-Lugar aid is well within our own resources to cover; all we have to do is a few simple things like plug the black holes in our state-owned enterprises, eliminate corruption, cut government spending, and tax the fat cats. Now is that not easy? Sure it is. But is there not an even simpler and easier solution? Let us all make the even simpler and easier decision to become true Muslims. Will everything (including ending corruption and paying taxes, etc) not automatically fall into place? So what is wrong with my solution?And never mentioned in the argument are the billions given as aid to the army (ask them if they can do without that), or the $ 11 billion loan under the IMF programme, or how the Americans can so easily further throttle our economy because of their financial influence and muscle. Will we be able to get the billions of the Paris Club (and other) loans rescheduled? I know; we should simply default (as once proposed by Imran) on them. No big deal.

And the analysis of the attack on the Mehran facility was as follows: the basic question to ask is, ‘who benefits from the attack?’ As the targets were the Navy’s surveillance aircraft used to patrol the Arabian Sea, clearly the beneficiary is India; ergo RAW was behind the atrocity. Very logical, is it not?Well, equally logical is that the real beneficiaries were the American multinational that manufactures the aircraft (they will profit from a fresh sale) and the Chinese (because we will now have to give them Gwadar Port to help with our naval security in the Arabian Sea). And is this conspiracy not self-evident from the presence of American and Chinese technicians at the base? – Dailytimes – Munir Attaullah