When I heard the News of the World story, alleging involvement of members of the Pakistan team in a spot-fixing scam, the first person I thought of was Tommy Sheridan. Sheridan, a Scottish socialist politician, who was accused by the same tabloid of being a serial adulterer who used drugs. But a defiant Sheridan, representing himself, took on the publishers and in a dramatic legal case won the defamation suit and was awarded £200,000. The fact that Sheridan and his wife have since been re-dragged into court on alleged perjury has not commanded the same media attention and has been attributed by Sheridan to the “powerful reach” of the Murdoch press.
Not that I expect Yawar Saeed or Salman Butt to display the same level of charisma, but a flat-out denial of the allegations and a threat to take the tabloid to court would have been reassuring. Instead, all we got was “Allegations are allegations until they are proven.” What’s that supposed to mean?
Contrast that with Younis Khan’s reaction who sent a legal notice to News of the World, which had alleged that he had also signed the notorious Majeed brothers as agents. Younis has taken this statement (which does not incidentally implicate him in the betting scandal) seriously enough to ask for a denial and damages in the amount of £10,000 to be paid towards flood relief in Pakistan. That is the type of reaction I would have liked to see from Yawar Saeed and all those who were marked as “Named”. The wishy-washy responses in the press conference did nothing but foster doubts. For those who follow cricket more than I do, illogical team selection, the result of the Sydney Test in January and other clues are all tying in.
It is unfortunate that this incident comes at a time when Pakistan needs desperate international aid, which has already been lacking due to an image deficit. It also comes at a time when the brutal Sialkot killings have prompted a controversy on the morality of our social fabric. In these very pages, there has been a vociferous display of self-loathing. The harshest critics have agreed that barbarity and amorality are not unique to Pakistan. The more relevant question therefore is: why are there no consequences in Pakistan?
The “allegations-are-allegations-until-they-are-proven” line is fairly reflective of how we have dealt with incidences of police brutality, fake degrees of parliamentarians, unconstitutional martial laws, non-payment of loans, taxes and/or salaries due, extra-judicial killings and so on. Although the media brings these issues up, it rarely follows them to conclusion, choosing instead to sensationalise grave matters by running the song “Fraudiaye” in the background while flashing pictures of our cricketers in the middle of a news bulletin. On the other hand, those disputing the stories have yet to take the respective media outlets to court. So there is a culture of ‘sab chalta hai’, while nothing is taken seriously. Political explanations of motive are offered on either side instead of coming together across political and institutional divides to stand up for accountability.
This has nothing to do with innate barbarism or dishonesty, for there are countless people in the same country who are principled and dedicated to the honourable causes they espouse. Perhaps the media needs to focus on them too so that role models can be cultivated and the motivation to do good increased. Working on flood relief efforts, I have met Pakistanis in Britain who are doing amazing work for their homeland and also collaborated with those within Pakistan who are exceptionally honest. Yet if we don’t break away from the tendency of no consequences, distinctions between good and bad will be blurred, and the several instances of humane and scrupulous actions taken by many Pakistanis on a daily basis will be overshadowed by the equally numerous stories of corruption and cruelty.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2010.