There are times once in a while when one is at a loss for words to describe the chaos that has engulfed all sections of our society. Not a day goes by when we are not confronted with some kind of controversy – a few significant, most trumped up, some even fabricated. All are casually put down to freedom of speech, advent of democracy and a vibrant media. No one seems to care how badly the nation is being damaged in the process.

The television news media that is the primary and quickest source of knowledge for most (entertainment for some) is divided along political or business interests. Only gory incidents of devastation, misery and the like capture the news space. The handpicked anchor persons preside over a few spokespersons fielded by various political parties and interest groups in their talk shows in which adversaries share the same platform.  The discussion commences with expressions of mutual admiration and brotherhood at the outset that does not take long to transform into hostile and fierce slanders, reminding one of the ancient days of the gladiators. To qualify, the combatants must excel in the art of debating with no-holds-barred and the ingenuity to carve (and to counter) conspiracy theories supported by arguments that must carry an air of credibility. A few familiar faces return day in and day out on all channels, sometimes on more than one at the same time. Their assignment is to over-shout each other to defend their party bosses and their policies, while the moderator feeds them ammunition for verbal assaults.

Then there are the other species styled as ‘experts’, who claim to have access to their own reliable and ‘exclusive’ sources of information that qualifies them to speak from a high pedestal with contempt for everyone. They usually speak with a missionary zeal to educate and create awareness among the masses they consider ignorant and gullible. The sole objective of these ‘informative’ well scripted programmes is to achieve better ratings. The lines of argument, petty squabbles and the extent of intolerance are carefully choreographed for the audience to wait eagerly for the next episode. The more exciting the duels, the more advertising revenue flows towards the channel’s coffers.

The real people in the know of things that can educate the public with real knowledge, facts and figures about the future and ongoing plans, tales of successes and achievements and with positive outlook are rarely invited, as they will hardly be crowd pullers with their mundane chattering. Watching these programmes, one begins to wonder if there is anything good at all going on in our country where our opinions may concur and credit be given. Countless opportunities are available for the hardworking and the talented in our country, which has basic infrastructure in place that still functions, grows plenty of food and is, by and large, a good place to live and raise your children - but we rarely hear of it!

The flight of imagination and exaggeration peaked as the Chief Justice addressed the 97th National Management Course and the Army Chief spoke to a group of officers at the General Headquarters on the same day earlier last month. There was nothing extraordinary or conflicting in the contents of the two statements - had they been made by the same people in normal times and had these not followed each other by an interval of a few hours. Both had pleaded for strong institutions, rule of law, importance of public participation and mutual trust. Both gatherings had been pre-arranged and the speeches were read from pre-drafted texts. Neither of the speakers can be accused of being a brilliant orator with a talent to improvise or deliver extempore policy statements of significance.

Nevertheless, the hard nose of the media smelled an opportunity. The two speeches were picked up by the media and instantly presented to the public, as crossfire of confrontation between the heads and the institutions they lead. More excitement for the entertainment-starved public. Points to consider - did the media work against national interest by exaggerated and irresponsible reporting that caused disrepute and damage to the two heads and their most revered and important institutions? Did the Army Chief overstep by issuing a press release to an interdepartmental address? Is it appropriate for a Chief Judge to deliver political observations publicly? Most of all, did the media not jump the gun without cautious consideration?

Our latest bout with democracy has taught the political parties to form alliances by setting aside past recriminations. In the process, ideologies were compromised to form coalition governments. Only elections are not the recipe for democracy that warrants a certain mindset. The ruling parties could not shed their desire to exercise absolute powers, reap similar benefits and not be accountable like the dictators before them. The army high command, already up to its neck fighting an unpopular, unwanted and inconsequential war against its own people in which its jawans and officers were being martyred,  needed to wash its previous sins and regain the love and sympathy of its fellow citizens by letting the fresh democracy work. Yet, it continued to independently define and exist by its own rules and influence the major policies and decisions of the civilian government. The judiciary, buoyed with its hard fought new found independence and popularity with the masses took it upon itself to singlehandedly monitor matters of normal governance and to extend its jurisdiction into administrative matters. As the ruling party misgoverned and dabbled in dubious deals, the army and the judiciary assisted by the media were provided with an opportunity to enhance their roles as self-appointed arbitrators.

The nation has no dearth of talent. It has just been misdirected towards ‘singularism’, be it an individual or an institution. That translates into everyone looking after solely oneself over and above all others. Winner takes all and must kill or subdue any competition or accountability to retain this position. This race has given rise to suspicion, deceit, arrogance, shortcuts and lack of scruples in our national character. To quote my friend Senator Aitzaz Ahsan - the nation needs to be remoulded into the mindset of a responsible ‘pluralistic’ society if it were to have any chance of making progress in a democratic society. That requires each section of the society and administration at all levels to work together and allow space and respect to others, while staying interconnected and interdependent.

Likewise, all religions, ethnicities, languages, cultures and schools of thoughts need to co-exist and accommodate each other with patience. Most of all, the 50 percent of our population that is female must be brought into the mainstream with equal opportunities. The political parties never tire of giving their proposals for economic reforms, constitutional amendments and grand projects. Is there any one to tackle the basics and take the herculean task of changing the mindset of the nation, without which we are destined to plod along in darkness?

The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.