A trial of Benazir’s grave
In his interview with Hamid Mir, Mr Zardari, although extremely relaxed and otherwise rational, was definitely working to build further evidence of mental incapacity should need for such evidence ever arise again. He was more than a little schizoid, a state characterised by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements. What with his attempt at being both Zardari the Co-Chairperson as well as the neutral and unaligned (and much maligned) President of Pakistan all at the same time, this was very clearly the man who gave birth to the slogan ‘Pakistan Khappay’. For those who do not know, this means ‘Long Live Pakistan’ in Sindhi but the very opposite in Urdu and Punjabi.
Mr Zardari was also asked whether his government meant to write to the Swiss government with reference to the cases against him there. He replied that his party had decided against it. He then likened the Swiss case to ‘a trial of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s grave’.
PPP supporters around the country are probably nodding their heads sagely and agreeing that this would be a sacrilege.
It is a lesson taught in Chapter 1 of ‘Demagoguery for Dummies’ that human beings invented speech in order to disguise their thoughts. It is beyond doubt that Asif Zardari is past master at using speech to press the right buttons on a public that has actually been trained into manipulation.
It is a mystery how Benazir came to be ‘shaheed’ in the first place, and I am not speaking of the criminal facts surrounding her death. Also, what on earth does ‘a trial of her grave’ mean? Quite aside from these is the question of how pertinent either of these is to the issue of the Swiss cases.
The Pakistani public, firmly in possession of a sheep-like mentality and quite unstable due to the strong vein of sentiment and irrational religiosity that runs through it, has thus been seeded with appropriate phrases. It means that Benazir Shaheed, firmly established in sainthood for a while now, accompanied by her husband co-suffused in her aura, has now been further saddled with the onus of placing him above any proceedings against him because this will be considered disrespectful to her grave.
This is a great illustration of rhetoric unleashed by a politician/demagogue, aimed at the median mentality of his electorate. It is in every demagogue’s interests to keep public mentality at the level of his speech.
A well educated, reasoning public is only possible in countries where those in public office are elected on the basis of their performance. In places like Pakistan, such a public would be a gross inconvenience.
The tendency to grasp at short term personal benefit in this country means that many schools paid for by international donations exist on paper alone, since the money allocated for them has found its way into unauthorised pockets.
Those that do exist teach a curriculum composed of irrelevant, soppy details. This curriculum stresses the rote learning of historical events and names. It does not encourage students to think or engage in debate on any issue arising from these events. As a result we churn out an electorate of unreasoning, ill-informed persons easily led by means of slogans and misinformation which works well into the hands of politicians seeking to lead by such means, rather than by good governance.
At its basic level, all education provides students with the ability to read and write, which is the ability to speak and scribe alphabets strung together to form words and sentences. Only a good education encourages students to look beyond the alphabet forming the phrases they read, to critically assess and understand the concepts behind the words.
The sad fact is that we send our children to schools (whether government or private) only for the sake of ‘keeping them away from trouble’. In other words, to prevent them from thinking too independently, a habit that is considered a threat to morality.
On the contrary, the protection afforded by means of an education that stresses imagination, self-discovery, debate and analysis is the best safeguard for a nation, much more so than a weapon toting army with or without nuclear capability, or a judgemental social police.
Unless we train ourselves to think freely and critically, statements such as Mr Zardari’s which seek to connect two quite separate matters by links forged of cultural and emotional millstones will always be present, and will always have the power to drown us.