Meher Bokhari appears to have a formula for getting attention – say something so outrageous and sensational that people will have to pay attention. I regret that we will draw attention to her program again, but the episode of Crossfire of Wednesday night cannot go without response. The topic of the programme was allegedly Pak-India relations after 65 years. What viewers were subjected to, however, was an hour of hate and misinformation.
Claiming to speak for 187 million Pakistanis, Bokhari says that every individual wants to be at peace with India – but not at the expense of forgetting the atrocities of the past. First of all, unelected TV performers do not speak for the people. Second, if Bokhari stepped outside her elite media bubble for five minutes, she would know that while no one wants to forget about the past, neither are the people interested in wallowing in it. The reality is that all of the clips she played simply talk about keeping and maintaining good relations with the neighbors – something that 70 per cent of Pakistanis say they want. The 30 per cent who don’t, perhaps, are laal topi walas who make their money by projecting anti-India hysteria.
Speaking of which, Bokhari invites as her guest none other than Zaid Hamid whose failed TV show ‘Brasstacks‘ was built on the same anti-India hysteria. Zaid Hamid plays his role perfectly saying he was in a state of “shock” when he heard Nawaz Sharif’s speech calling for closer relations between Pakistan and India. When Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan (PML-N) tried to explain that the self-appointed defenders of the realm were making a mountain out of a molehill, he too found himself victim of Bokhari’s wrath.
Suggesting that Nawaz Sharif is soft on India is outside the boundaries of sanity. It was Sharif was ordered the first nuclear tests in 1998 in response to India’s testing their bomb, and it was Sharif who was PM during the Kargil War the following year. Whether you support Nawaz Sharif or you do not support Nawaz Sharif, saying he is soft on India is ridiculous.
Meher Bokhari says Pakistan wants parity with India, but forgets that parity is not enmity. Pakistan is and should be India’s equal, but that does not require it to be hostile or hateful. Just as Nawaz Sharif ordered the first nuclear tests to remove any doubts about Pakistan’s nuclear capability, he also signed the Lahore Declaration committing both nations to resolve differences with peaceful dialogue and cooperation.
Bokhari also repeatedly refers to India as a Hindu nation as opposed to Pakistani Muslims, creating a sense of religious conflict where none need exist. Once again, Meher Bokhari is wrong on the facts, and wrong on history. Actually, India is home to some 160 million Muslims. At the time of independence, there were more Muslims in India than Pakistan. And just as there are millions of Muslims living in India, there are 7 million Hindu Pakistanis also.
Meher Bokhari asks whether Nawaz Sharif has forgotten the blood spilt of millions of Muslims, seemingly forgetting that this is not a natural state of affairs. Hindus and Muslims have lived in peace and harmony in the subcontinent for hundreds of years, and in spite of attempts by some to continue animosity between Pakistan and India, most people are not interested in continuing tensions.
Through out the program Meher Bukhari continues to bash Nawaz Sharif saying that he forgot the contributions of our founding fathers when all Nawaz Sharif said was that Pakistan and India have several similarities, including cuisines. She consistently plays on the religious sentiments of people by inviting guests like Zaid Hamid and Jamat-e-Islami representatives.
Not content with merely bashing the PML-N chief, Bokhari then drags out an anti-American conspiracy theory, telling viewers that the Americans want us to think that the terrorists’ inside of Pakistan who are “a part” of Pakistan are the real enemy. Once again, Meher Bokhari gets her facts very, very wrong.
Many of the militants responsible for killing innocent Pakistanis are indeed foreign, but they are not American or Indian. Many are Uzbek, and just this week it was militants crossing the border from Afghanistan who killed an anti-Taliban tribal elder and his son in the Bajaur tribal region. Or perhaps it was the TTP and LeJ militants who were recently arrested armed to the teeth that Meher Bokhari terms “a part of Pakistan”?
Towards the end of the program she again shows an excerpt from Jinnah’s speech in which he mentioned talks about the two-nation theory. She forgets to mention that Quaid-e-Azam never said do not keep good relations with your neighbors. Jinnah also famously said that “in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” It was always the goal of Pakistan’s founders that Pakistan and India would co-exist as good neighbors, not eternal enemies.
There is a difference between losing sovereignty and keeping good relationships with neighbors. Meher Bukhari wrongly projects that the current leadership along with PML (N), MQM and ANP are wanting to get back together with India when reality is, all of these parties want good bilateral relationship with India. Meanwhile, she conveniently ignores the ongoing violations of Pakistan’s sovereignity by foreign terrorists like Osama bin Laden.
This is not the first time that Meher Bokhari has stooped to jingoism. The timing of Tuesday’s programme must be noted as well as it aired just one day before a 20-member parliamentary delegation left for India. Certainly Bokhari’s programme will be dismissed in some corners as mere entertainment. But as we have shown before, there is a line between entertainment and incitement, and how can our parliamentarians expect to be received by their Indian hosts after such an introduction?
The 18th Century English poet Samuel Johnson famously said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels’. Certainly there is nothing wrong with loving one’s country, and relations between Pakistan and India are a valid topic for analysts and commentators to reflect on. But what Dunya TV aired on Tuesday night was neither news nor analysis, it was an ugly reflection of a poisonous mindset desperate for attention. It’s time to change the channel.