An unrelenting flow of external and internal narratives/ counter narratives have confused the Pakistani public. The ability and knowledge of the public and intelligentsia who frame opinions is limited. People lack the intuitive grasp to perceive situations that affect their collective lives. Consequently, there exists a wide disparity in what people are made to perceive and what facts are. The country at large is in a blind.

Perceptions can be framed far away from reality. These are a mental exercise in how we are trained to look at a particular message reaching us through the clutter. The picture perceived depends how our emotional control and flow of adrenaline reacts to rationalise the element into our understanding. A laboratory technician may look at a venomous snake as an opportunity to collect venom, a snake charmer an opportunity to earn and an ordinary person scared with fear and fright. The technician and snake charmer have learnt to control their flow of adrenaline and therefore exercise more control while the clueless panic. There is a direct relationship with a situation we confront and the control we exercise. A trivial incident due to lack of cognitive control may result in a disproportionate reaction and vice versa. Statesmen, government functionaries, management experts and soldiers are all trained in handling such situations; to controlling fear and not permitting situational emotions to override judgements. For those who indulge in the politics of emotions, nothing goes unnoticed for exploitation.

Lack of a clear and concise intellectual discourse runs down from the top functionary of the state to an ordinary individual. Distortions and twisting of facts are endemic to daily talk shows on the media. Rather than be fed with sublime and effective lessons through the performing arts, most TV channels entertain audiences for hours each day on unregulated debates and mudslinging contests. The emotions and biases thus created drown real issues. These conflicting narratives act like a Pied Piper leading people invariably on the wrong course.

The heightened difference of such perceptions was overstated in a recent security seminar I attended. The ability of many participants to think and reason objectively was impaired by their own experiences, biases and emotions. Some opinion makers from government departments imposed limitations to state the obvious while freelancers were over critical. While one group understated facts and effects, the other expressed strong emotive feelings, experiences and independent disposition. In simple words, each gave a spin. Objective thinking and reasoning was far and beyond. When scholars and academicians drift away, a nation forsakes its best brains and conscience.

Let’s take the example of the Jangla Buses for mass transit. Critics contend that the same finances could have been used to produce power from indigenous resources and provide safe hygienic conditions to millions of people who lack basic civic amenities. The rationalists contend that construction of high cost super infrastructures could have been avoided by widening existing roads, earmarking lanes and extending the accessibility of networks with more outreach. Right or wrong is not the contention. The issue is priorities and balance in urban and civic development. Yet, the debate becomes irrelevant when seen in light of the perceptions being floated and how people assimilate them. Each political leaning has its own twist and truth becomes a casualty.

But there are issues more serious than the metro bus that haunts every sinew of our national life. Unfortunately our statesmen, politicians and a loyal team of their followers have divided the nation on most critical issues. Here are some of the headlines.

Liberalisation of trade with India will usher an era of economic prosperity making Pakistan a hub of regional trade. At the back of these arguments is the European Union model of functionalism where each country ceded a part of its nationalism to a higher objective of regional economic and social integration. Issues of Alsace-Lorraine and Danzing will in due course resolve through strong economic bondages. But advocates of this Functional Theory forget that the preposition of an overarching India in fact flows from a realist paradigm that aims to place India as a pivot against China with considerable control over Central Asia and Pakistan. Pakistan’s consumer economy lacks realised national power to balance India with clear cut economic preponderance. Pakistan is not passed a point whence functional economic gains will eclipse security considerations. Kashmir is not Alsace-Lorraine.

Coal fired power plants with imported fuel are another issue. The theme goes that Chinese funded plants with lucrative rate of returns will resolve Pakistan’s short term energy crises to kick start the economy. Critics are part of a conspiracy that does not wish Pakistan to become an Asian Tiger. But the counter narrative says that these plants are inefficient, high cost, environmentally hazardous and laced with built in kickbacks. The proponents arouse the romantic notion of Pak-China friendship. Critics maintain that the deal is with private parties of China. Rationalists suggest that Thar’s lignite coal is the cheapest and quickest alternative to hydro-power and with much lesser funds can turn around Pakistan in 18 months.

While the government presses on with the LNG import policy, critics contend that this is being done for kickbacks at the cost of exploring their own gas and hydrocarbon reserves. PSO and Bakri connections are cited for low quality and high cost of fuels resulting in misappropriations amounting to trillions.

The entire Tethyan belt in Pakistan laden with gold, copper and rare minerals appears up for grabs. Same is the case of lignite reserves in Thar. The 18th amendment has allowed vested interests to prevail impeding Pakistan’s exploitation of its mineral and energy deposits. Yet critics of this neglect are shown to be unpatriotic working on foreign agendas.

In this entire quest of a loot sale and selling household silver, the emotional and ill-informed citizenry of Pakistan is being led to believe in the black and white, us and them, patriots and traitors. The battle lines are drawn and no party is willing to blink. The truth lies somewhere in the grey.

Pakistan continues to undergo crises of cognition that eclipse ground realities and facts. The present coterie of rulers have vested interests and have made no policies and plans to realise the true power potential of the country in short, mid and long terms. Their notions of national interests are not built on the rationale of National Power but rather on short term self-aggrandisement. People need to recognise the cheats and usurpers.

    The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson. He can be contacted at samson.sharaf@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter