The curse of perception


How perception trumps facts at any given time


Sometimes perception is almost more important than the reality. This is exactly the case in Pakistan’s political minefield. Righteousness is tearing apart our country and it does not seem to matter what the facts are. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not facts. Perception is created and twisted so effectively that if the facts do not coincide with perception, conspiracy theories are produced to correspond to it.

It is the function of all-powerful media to renew or reverse our perception. The media pundits shake up the familiar situation, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.Once the perception is built, nothing can undo it. Take for example Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, the man in charge of the transition of power in Pakistan. He has stainless decades of service to the nation, shining with honesty and integrity. That is the general perception but let us take account of what the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has actually achieved under his auspicious leadership.

According to news reports, ECP has simply failed to prevent 55 candidates from Punjab, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, from contesting the general elections despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the ECP. After a 14-day period during which the eligibility of nearly 25,000 candidates were examined under the criteria laid down in articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, no one has been disqualified for tax evasion, non-filing of tax returns, defaulting on payment of bank loans or for false declaration of assets and liabilities. At least 35 former members of national and provincial assemblies who failed to get their degrees verified from Higher Education Commission (HEC) are running for May 11 elections.

The TTP is targeting the liberal parties like PPP, ANP and MQM in election campaign. On the other hand, there are no threats to other parties including PTI and PML-N. How can Fakhrudin G Ebrahim term these elections as free and fair, since level playing field is being negated to the three important political players?The only response from ECP on this alarming situation is nothing but deafening silence.

Recently, I had a chance to interact with and observe the operations of ECP officials. I was utterly surprised to see that, Farkhru Bhai, as he is called among his close circles, is treated as merely a symbol of integrity and his subordinates don’t even trust him to talk to the media. “He sometimes doesn’t know what he is saying. We don’t want him to make any factual errors while talking to the media,” said an ECP official while denying us the interview Fakhru Bhai had earlier cordially committed to give. After that, he was not even allowed to speak to us. It left me consternated if the octogenarian election commissioner was even allowed to take his own decisions or he was being manipulated and is too weary to stand up for himself. I personally feel he just wants the elections to be held on time, by any means, so that he can go home triumphant.

The perception about him, however, is that of an upright man, struggling to fix all ills for ‘free and fair’ elections.

Talking about perception, one cannot ignore the myth of Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s incorruptible omnipotence. An epitome of justice and integrity, as goes the perception, but a quick glance at the facts without going into the details of the decisions taken in our national interest, reveals uncomfortable truths.

Iftikhar Chaudhry is an institution in himself, literally. There has been no dissent in any major constitutional case in the past years. During the days of Lawyers’ Movement, courts have somehow assumed themselves to be the representative of the people. Judicial activism has gone to an extent of populism. Judges, along with media, have formed a parallel establishment, sending elected prime minister home while ordering the arrest of another, as was done in the past by the military dictators. The double standards, exhibited during the Memogate case and the way Arasalan Iftikhar case was dealt with, is no secret. At one point, it was even difficult for the media to defend the courts. According to a report by the US State Dept, ‘every three out four terrorists are acquitted by the courts’. Judges have issued contempt notices to the politicians for not obeying their orders while keeping hush when the agencies did the same in missing persons’ case.

As for the perception, he is the messiah, the righteous one, the saviour.

The real test case of this curse of perception is President Asif Ali Zardari. Nothing has benefited media more than his notorious image, which was sold to the nation round the clock, for five years. The stamp of Mr 10 percent is still wet on him and obviously, according to some, he had Benazir Bhutto murdered so that he could become the president of Pakistan.

Contrary to the perception, his achievements are historic and unprecedented. From the passing of 18th amendment bill and giving away of his powers to the parliament to the first ever completion of the democratic government’s tenure, Zardari has made history while others have merely made headlines.

His smart handling of party and state affairs during the ongoing judicial activism, smear campaign by the media, pressure from the military and other political opponents, natural calamities and the pugnacious wave of terrorism in the country have visibly unnerved and frustrated the harbingers of his doom.

There is a lot of hullabaloo about corruption but even a journalist like Ansar Abbasi or Kamran Khan cannot point out one corruption scandal that involves presidency. Credit must also be given to his nerves for listening to such callous criticism against him and remaining neutral and dignified.

Other than that, his sharp focus on foreign policy has set Pakistan’s position right on the international front. Our relations with UK and US are excellent, so are our ties with China. We have achieved much access into EU and its markets. We are back in the Commonwealth and playing a positive role. We have no disputes with the Muslim world. Gwadar port agreement and Pak-Iran gas pipeline projects will go down in the history as a turning point for our economy and regional stability. Let us also not forget the immense pressure from the US government to halt this deal. Zardari’s most laudable achievement is a gradual shift in the relationship between India and Pakistan and a policy shift in the strategic depth doctrine in Afghanistan.

Although, the above-mentioned and several other steps are not popular among masses and media, the fact remains that Zardari has proven himself to be a successful and visionary statesman. But then again, as Gustave Flaubert once said, “There’s no truth in the world. There is only perception”.


The author is a senior producer in a news channel and can be reached on twitter @zeekhan_


  1. Very well written…. the arguments the flow the connectivity and relevance of all events… laudable i must say… u have the rare talent for writing and expressing yourself beautifully which not many possess… well done!

  2. What about the perception of Taliban Khan and Nawaz Sharif being the most pouplar leader and Gilani being the most corrupt? perception or fact?

  3. very well written zee khan…. the issue well discussed in a very short and precise way… i must say…job well done.. on the contrary the arguments regarding zardari being saint were bit too exaggerated…. otherwise a very beautiful piece of writing..i must say that reading all those books of your library did paid you well end of the day..

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