Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in 2004. His rule is over, but the dictatorial mindset remains. Photo: AFP / Jewel Samad

The late American journalist and broadcaster Dorothy Thompson once said, “There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth.” Any journalist or intellectual dies the day he or she stops finding the truth and hidden agendas of the powerful quarters ruling the world.

In fact, a genuine journalist or a real intellectual will never settle for becoming a tool of propaganda of the ruling elite. In Pakistan, though, it is the opposite, as most of the journalists here are not only happy to serve as the mouthpieces of the narrative of the rulers but in reality, they just join this profession to gain financial and other benefits in return for spreading the propaganda that suits the need of the elite.

An important story by Pakistani journalist Ahmad Noorani vanished from the mainstream media and most so-called journalists and television anchors behaved as if nothing had happened. The kidnapping of journalists and the harassment of genuine intellectuals get little space in the media.

The recent tragic story of a woman who was raped on a highway near Lahore in front of her kids ideally should have initiated a serious debate had the journalists and intellectuals been true to their professions, but instead this brutal incident has become an event for point-scoring.

On TV it is about political parties throwing blame at each other, whereas pseudo-analysts and journalists are trying to stress that such incidents happen around the globe and we can only stop them by hanging the rapists publicly or by burning them alive in front of the masses.

This mindset reflects the violence that journalists, intellectuals and the political leadership possess and spread among their followers. No one wants to address the root causes of the problem of a growing number of rape cases in the country – the patriarchal system, and our rotten traditions.

The religious outfits are declaring one another non-Muslims while civil liberties and freedom of speech are being snatched away by the invisible forces in a very organized way.

Using the Cybercrime Bill to silence dissident journalists, kidnapping them in broad daylight or abducting them from the road for interrogation along with informal investigations of treason against the dissenting voices are the tools used by the powers that be. This is making life impossible for almost every dissident journalist or intellectual to perform his duty with honesty.

The mental torture of facing visible and invisible investigations and the thoughts of getting disappeared at any moment are more than enough for any journalist to think twice before writing or reporting. 

This was expected as a few whistleblowers a few weeks ago indicated that after the failure of the “Naya Pakistan” project its architects were feeling the heat, and it takes no rocket science to find that from Ayub Khan to Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf every single dictator, when he felt insecure, used the same tactics.

So the vicious circle of crushing dissent and imposing the self-created doctrine of patriotism and religion is still keeping Pakistan hostage to the dictatorial mindset. This is a mindset that is responsible for the destruction of the social and political fabrics of society, and yet it holds the power to declare anyone a traitor or accuse him of blasphemy.

A society where the majority of the population has never read a book outside the educational syllabus and relies on television news reports and the narratives of the mullahs and invisible forces is easy prey. The question is, how long can the architects of the political discourse in the country afford to promote ignorance and rotten narratives in society?

And one wonders who is advising this government or the invisible forces to curb the freedom of speech and dissent and to pollute their own society with the help of pseudo-journalists and quasi-intellectuals.

So what actually is happening is that in a bid to suppress the dissenting journalists and intellectuals, the military establishment and the government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are only creating more resentment against themselves. With every passing day, there is growing distaste for the establishment’s role in political engineering and in shaping the rotten narratives, whereas the PTI government in the eyes of many is inept and inefficient.

It seems that those who actually run the show from behind the curtains do not want to correct the course of history, nor are they interested in rectifying their mistakes. This means the country is bound to travel on the same directionless path, relying on loans and aid from foreign countries, and not a single reform will be brought forward to reshape the political, social, and religious narratives.

I have always hoped that one day the invisible forces and the political parties will realize the importance of preserving the future of our coming generations and that at least they will try to open up the society by giving more space and freedom to logical voices and granting basic human rights to the public. However, the events I experienced over the last few weeks, as have my colleagues involved in this profession, have not only faded that hope but have raised a question in my mind.

I am lucky to have Asia Times standing behind me, along with a few senior journalists here in Pakistan, but what about those who are ditched by their own organizations and who have no access or connections within the own fraternity? How can they cope with inquiries and investigations at their own expense and without any backing?

This has made one thing clear, and that is that it will not matter even if this current government is replaced by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or Pakistan Peoples Party or any other party, as the political elite is more interested in grabbing power than making this country the progressive one that was the dream of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Meanwhile the undemocratic forces are happy to stay in charge of proceedings even if the country is headed in the wrong direction. On the other hand, the majority of the masses is happy to live in a cage where every dissenting thought is either treasonous or blasphemous and where violence in all forms is still appreciated, sometimes openly and sometimes in an organized way, through the propagandists working in the guise of journalists and intellectuals.

It has created a mindset that accepts enforced disappearances, does not bother about the shrinking space for freedom of the press and expression or even for basic human rights. Then there are shields of treason and blasphemy hanging around the dissenting journalists or intellectuals all the time.

It is difficult to find any civilized and free country anywhere on the globe where its own citizens need a certificate of patriotism or being pious from the power elite. Unfortunately, it only happens in those societies where ignorance prevails and who are bound in the invisible chains of mental slavery.

As the famous English novelist George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Contrary to the claim of Prime Minister Imran Khan that the press in Pakistan is free, most of the genuine journalists and intellectuals have imposed self-censorship on themselves. In a bid to silence dissident voices and only allowing the submissive journalists to work freely, the backers of this regime have spoiled the minds of another generation, and perhaps it will take ages to restore sanity in Pakistani society.

A country where journalism and literature both are hijacked and minds are molded according to the vested interests of the power elite can only come out of the delusional mindset with great difficulty. 

The path to resist oppression is never easy, and perhaps it will take decades for Pakistan to come out of the self-created delusional mindset. Until then it is a long journey ahead for those who want the supremacy of democracy and the constitution in the country.

However, there is no doubt that even the longest journey has an end, and even the darkest of nights finally ends with the ray of the rising dawn.  

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.