Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, second right, is seen with Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, center, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, top right, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Zubair Mahmood Hayat, second left, at the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2018. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

Politics is probably the most discussed topic among the urban elite and middle class of Pakistan. Everywhere from offices and restaurant lounges to social media, you will find everyone engaged in discussing the need for real democracy so Pakistan can progress.

In fact, Pakistan is a country where politics is discussed more than the arts, literature or any other issue, and the political talk shows and news programs are watched more than the entertainment channels. Visit a main town in Pakistan and you will find evidence of a nation obsessed with democracy and politics.

The electronic media have played an instrumental role in creating minds that are obsessed with the games of powers that actually have nothing to do with them and where they have no active role to play. The urban middle class affiliated with their own political ideologies are busy worshipping their leaders and parties, and in the process, they are kept hostage by those who control the power chessboard, the media, and the actual resources of the country.

In a bid to undermine one another’s political affiliations and ideologies, the urban elite and middle class rely heavily on electronic and social media. This dependence has given the establishment the power to exploit them through propaganda.

The mainstream media, other than the Dawn media group, are almost entirely under establishment control, and around-the-clock propaganda undermining political parties works in the favor of the establishment. It also helps the establishment to induce blind beliefs about religion and patriotism in the minds of millions. Such is the power of this propaganda that even the urban class is not able to connect the dots and use critical thinking skills.

Retired generals are sitting as experts in TV talk shows and writing regular columns in the publications, telling people that it is a sin even to think about the actual problems that are stopping the country from progressing. The masses have been told that it is the political elite that has ruined the country and that the military elite and religious clerics have nothing to do with it. And since the political elites are busy grabbing power at any cost, it is easy for the establishment to portray them as the villains.

The masses have been told that it is the political elite that has ruined the country and that the military elite and religious clerics have nothing to do with it. And since the political elites are busy grabbing power at any cost, it is easy for the establishment to portray them as the villains

If somehow it feels that bashing the political elite is still not enough to divert the attention of the masses, the establishment plays the religious and patriotism cards. The religious card has always been used through the clerics, while the patriotism card is cleverly played through the media and school textbooks.

By the time a child grows into his teens, he is obsessed with religion and patriotism and thinks that to differ from the set pattern of beliefs or to question them is an unforgivable crime and a sin. This is the reason that we in Pakistan have not produced a Stephen Hawking or Steve Jobs. So poor is our education system that right from the beginning years our schools mold young minds into never using critical and rational thinking, and as a result even the adult minds tend to think irrationally and use the optics of religious beliefs and other rotten narratives to judge the world and choose whom to like or dislike.

This gives birth to mediocre and prejudiced minds who in their respective professions preach the same rotten ideologies, and the vicious circle of being hostage to propaganda and beliefs is transferred to the next generation. From university lecturers to bureaucrats, scientists to entrepreneurs, and from the political elite to the middle class, all are intentionally or unintentionally part of the game staged by the military and business elites.

The remaining population – the lower middle class and the poor – does not matter at all, as they are told they will be given compensation after death in the heavens for their sufferings. This feeds this population the opium of religion, which keeps them hallucinated that their miseries are not the result of the wrong policies of the political and military elite and that after death, God will compensate them with wine and virgins in heaven.

For the middle and upper middle classes this religious doctrine and patriotism narrative are also like a drug, but still, it is seen as clever to exploit the weak, and they silently mint money by all means in their respective professions. After taking commissions, bribes, or other financial gains in their professions, they go to the mosques every Friday to ask God for forgiveness of their sins, and also donate some of the money they earned through corrupt practices to the mosques and other welfare organizations. This gives them the feeling of being enlightened, and it is enough for them to think that giving some of their black money to charity is enough to keep them in God’s good books.

They also are made to think that a true patriot is the one who hates India and the United States, though no one among them realizes that it is the US that has been giving aid for long so as to use Pakistan as its ally in the region. These billions of dollars have been taken by the military establishment to fight America’s wars, yet still the establishment preaches hatred toward the US through their puppet politicians and religious clerics.

For the political and military elites, it is all about winning power, and nothing else matters. Both of these players have high stakes in the game, as the net worth of the military’s business empire is estimated to be around US$32 billion, while members of the political elite have to protect their financial interests and launch their kids in politics to secure the future of the family.

The bid by these elites to defeat each other on the power chessboard is their obsession, and in the process, they have held the entire country hostage to a belief system that belongs in the Stone Age. Instead of focusing on how to make the quality of life better or how to reform education in the fields of technology and research, the focus of the intelligentsia and elite is on how to liberate Kashmir, how to insert control in Afghanistan, how to undermine Israel, or how to challenge US supremacy, while the rest of the population is busy making sure religion is protected by making blasphemy laws more strict, by executing Ahmadis and by trying to ban anything that actually is a glimpse of a healthy life, be it dance, music, alcohol, literature or any form of the arts.

Though alcohol is being consumed inside private houses, this is condemned publicly. This double standard can be termed as a collective delusional mindset of a nation that according to British writer Christina Lamb is still “waiting for Allah” to come and help them to overcome the superpowers of the world and eventually make Pakistan the No 1 state of the world.

As long as the religious doctrines and patriotism narratives remain the weapons to brainwash the masses, it is almost impossible for Pakistan to move forward. It needs to get rid of this delusional mindset as soon as possible to understand the realities of the world and to see the true colors of life, peace and happiness.

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Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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