Truth’ is one of the most subjective, elusive and abstract concepts in the known universe. It is different for every single human being, it is whatever you want it to be. Believe in God? His own divine word promises you salvation. Believe JFK was killed by a lone shooter named Lee Harvey Oswald? The totally plausible single-bullet theory, the Warren Commission report and Oliver Stone’s three-hour epic exist to support your viewpoint. Believe that the CIA/RAW/MOSSAD nexus is responsible for the unrest in Pakistan? National security analysts, newspaper columnists and Zaid Hamid are willing to verify everything you say. In this age of over-information, nearly everybody is convinced that they, and only they, know the truth. In their minds, an opinion or is as just good as cold, hard, empirically verifiable facts.
But were it not for our impressionable flock, opinion columnists and two-bit analysts (such as this lowly scribe) would never have a single article published. Unfortunately, the difference between newspaper editors and ordinary people is that editors can tell the difference between an opinion and a fact. Not only that, editors suffer from the delusion (mostly because they don’t get out much) that their audience has the ability, when presented with some nicely arranged and verified facts, to arrive at the obvious logical conclusion intended to be conveyed. However, it should be obvious to any remotely intelligent human being that we, as a species, are not rational beings. Short of chaos theory theorists, no one has been able to predict with any kind of success how large groups of human beings will react under certain circumstances.
In the real world, words, like actions, have consequences. It may be all very well for the reader to sit and home and pontificate about the perceived bravery (or lack thereof)of a certain reporter, columnist or staff writer; but that’s because they are not the ones out in the field. They are not the ones jostling for positions at crowded, sweaty press conferences called at the drop of a hat. They are not the ones holding priceless equipment going into gunbattles and other dangerous situations. When out there in the cold, these professionals journalists face situations and choices that you and I cannot imagine: ethical dilemmas, life-and-death situations, fear for one’s loved ones. A journalist then, is exactly the kind of tough, objective and insightful person you want negotiating with your enemies.
Enter Irfan Siddiqui. Columnist and TV pundit extraordinaire, Mr Siddiqui has made hay over the past decade or so, raking in more talk show appearances on Capital Talk than Hamid Mir himself! His bushy moustache does not do much to conceal the contempt with which he regards all those who cross his path. In fact, save for the belligerent baboon that is Haroon Rashed, Mr Siddiqui has been the go-to guy for every major talk show host since Jhanda Chichi. But don’t think that he is the man who came in from the cold. No, Siddiqui’s ‘special relationship’ with the Sharifs is an all-weather one. Remember Rafique Tarar? Tall, oldish guy. Long, white, Gandalfy beard. Used to sport a Jinnah cap and a signature slouch. No? Don’t worry, neither does most of the Pakistani TV viewing public. In any case, Tarar used to be president of Pakistan, right up until the point that army jawaans stormed the Bastille on Oct 12, 1999. Siddiqui, who was a rising star even then, used to be the public relations adviser to said president. He is also currently the acting Managing Director at Pakistan Television, the country’s 3rd most lucrative and the most prestigious position in all of Pakistani media. He was also recently appointed a Special Adviser to the PM in National Affairs, meaning he wanted a cabinet position but didn’t have the gumption to campaign for it. This unelected savior is now also leading the government’s fence-mending exercises with everyone’s favourite school-going scallywags, the Taliban.
Unfortunately for him, nearly everyone seems to think that almost everyone else, apart from Irfan Siddiqui is a better option for leading the negotiations. This would crush the ego of a lesser man, especially coming as it does from the Taliban themselves, but not our hero. In the face of ‘dream team’ jibs and comparisons with everyone from a born-again Veena Malik to Abid Sher Ali and Rahimullah Yusufzai, Siddiqui has kept a straight face and not once attacked anyone with his moustache. Obviously, the man is playing a much longer game. Unfortunately for you and me, the last time someone in our government did that, the Interior Minister ended up protesting the death of Public Enemy Number 1.
Don’t get me wrong. I, for one, am completely comfortable with handing over the fate our fair country and countrymen to the wisdom of a loud, Punjabi pundit with as much experience diffusing a terrorist threat as I have with brain surgery. It’s a Hail Mary if I ever saw one. Let’s just hope the good lord is listening.
And no, I don’t mean the NSA.
The writer is a former journalist currently working in the development sector.