“Politics,” Ronald Reagan famously said, “may be the second oldest profession in the world, but it bears striking similarities to the first.” Quite. He could have added that journalism bears striking similarities to the second. Each is an extension of the other: without journalism, politicians would lose their prime constituency; without politics, journalism would lose its raw material. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship.
Thus it came to pass that in the same week, General Musharraf launched his party and Arif Nizami his paper. But that is just a coincidence. There is no confluence between the two, except one: October has been one of the seminal months in which many watershed events have shaped Pakistan’s history.
Good for both. Both were forced out of what they were doing. Neither wanted to ride off into the sunset, except on their terms and in their time. Both had to make a statement: “We can’t be written off so easily.” Both have made it very effectively. Launching a political party is no mean feat nor is launching a daily newspaper. In fact, it’s moot which is the more difficult. Arif Nizami has given his detractors their comeuppance. If Musharraf wins the next elections, or even has a powerful showing, his detractors will be hoist on their own petard.
Timing is everything in politics and journalism. Fed up with the same old choices, Pakistanis have been hankering after a new political option. Musharraf’s ‘All Pakistan Muslim League’, harking back to the All India Muslim League that led us to independence, may be just such an option. Fed up of biased journalism, Pakistan is in dire need of a professional, ethical and genuinely independent newspaper unaffiliated to any political party, intelligence agency or foreign interest. Arif Nizami’s Pakistan Today should fill that gap. With Pakistan fast approaching a dead end, the situation is ripe for new initiatives.
Both have to reflect the frustrations of the people – the man on the street and the man in the fields, on the factory floor and in our kitchens. If they get swayed by the irrelevant concerns of their alienated chattering classes whose drawing rooms are increasingly sounding like Towers of Babel, then they too will be swept away by events. They have to realise that the paradigm has shifted and the old politics, politicians and political parties, the media and indeed the system with its distorted and warped institutions have been overtaken by events. The economy is on the verge of collapse. The Treasury is bankrupt. The three branches of government, that we mistakenly call ‘pillars of the state’, are at each other’s throats. Parliament is paralysed. The executive, a gaggle of four unlikely bedfellows, is being paralysed by the judiciary. The judiciary is in fratricide, the bar being paralysed by the very bench that it helped ‘restore’. The list is endless. Inflation is rampant; incomes are getting squeezed. Basic necessities are getting precious by the day. Soon, if they are available at all, they will be beyond the reach of even the upper middle class. Insecurity is everywhere, with bombs going off everyday. Worst of all, the minds of the elite are bankrupt, bereft of ideas, unable to comprehend the situation, leave alone find solutions. Not surprising, for in the solution lies their destruction and the destruction of this anti-people system.
Pakistan has moved on. I once said that this land is thirsting for the blood of its ruling class; only when that thirst is quenched will the land and its people prosper. People told me not to be so dramatic. Well, the drama has started to unfold. The Banjara, the gypsy is on the move. In his wake will follow the Grim Reaper. A new paradigm will be forged and with it a new status quo, hopefully but not necessarily a more equitable one.
It is in this grim environment that we have a new political party and a new newspaper. Not to put too fine a point on it, it won’t be easy to make it, with the country in chaos and the economy shrinking. Both have to find credible answers to the chaos if they are to grab the imagination of people. And both have to do it in a diminishing economy: when people from the upper middle class downwards are worried about how they will survive tomorrow, they will have time neither for politics nor newspapers, unless they have a sense of ownership with a party and a paper that they think have the solutions.
APML should not be yet another party that purveys old wine in new bottles. Neither, hopefully, will Pakistan Today. One expects both not to be like others that mindlessly purvey the same old western social and political constructs and concepts. Both should realise that they have not worked in Pakistan precisely because they are alien, not because of regular derailment by the military. In fact, military derailment finds justification in the failure of these very concepts. It hasn’t worked in India either, where there has been no derailment. The fact that 76 percent of the population of India lives in poverty proves my case. How is that any different from Pakistan’s 74 percent poor with all its interventions? For the human condition is all that matters, isn’t it? Else why do we make states, give them constitutions and have governments – to enrich the few at the expense of the many? A decolonisation of the mind is needed. To decolonise minds, we need to launch yet another freedom movement against our demons and ourselves. The revolution that we so glibly talk of has first to be a revolution of the mind. Otherwise, we will always remain in anarchy leading to more poverty, more iniquity, and more dependence.
To put it starkly, we have some 180 million people with no opportunities. That in itself is lethal. Pakistan has to become a genuine people’s republic if it is to survive. General Musharraf and Arif Nizami have to be able to hear the din of a people on the march and move in step with them.