What do you call a war in which both sides claim they won, but none have anything to show for the ‘victory’? History is replete with examples of conflicts of this sort, in which the only victory was the one of rhetoric over reality, made easy by an atmosphere that has reduced people to the level of geese, merrily honking and marching their way to the abattoir.
The litany of absurdities that regularly pour forth from any country in the subcontinent make spoofs like fake news broadcast believable. But the absurdities make the task of ruling that much easier. For a populace raised on nothing but state-sponsored propaganda, you need produce no results worthy of the name. All you have to do is declare that you won the war, or that the enemy has been served a “befitting reply”, when in reality it was you who was suing for peace. Remember how Saddam Hussein declared at the end of the first Gulf War that the Iraqi people had won a glorious victory? His reasoning was simple: the Americans failed to get him, and that meant he won.
There is a growing tendency, not just in Pakistan but around the world, to concoct reality and fool oneself into thinking that something happened when in fact it didn’t.
Too much consumption of such manufactured reality has a bad effect on the mind: it makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. But who cares? If you have a captive audience that is allowed to hear nothing but the manufactured version of events, with nobody around to do even basic fact-checking, what difference does it make if fact and fiction become indistinguishable?
Wars that are lost on the battlefield can be won on the TV screen. Credentials that are acquired after years of serious investment can be purchased for a pittance with no investment of time or mind. Track records that take sustained policy work to build can be had with a single fake survey that says the majority supports your view.
Pakistan and India are awash with propaganda these days. The airwaves are full of anchors screeching on about the nefarious designs of the enemy and the stupendous achievements of our brave patriots. Those calling out the propaganda are targeted as enemy agents.
There is no need to label all those who dare to hold a different point of view as ‘traitors’ and agents of the enemy. Sometimes different points of view should be engaged with rather than simply silenced or suffocated. Not all those who agree with everything you say are your friends. Nor are true friends obligated to applaud your every utterance. Sycophants too can sound like patriots when fact blends with fiction and life imitates satire.
A country without dissent takes you to North Korea, where leaders score 11 holes in one the first time they ever hold a golf club, and where it is hard to distinguish satire from reality. Ruling a population of sheep is easy, but it’s hard to take a shepherd seriously as a head of state.