Soap Opera Outrates Politics In Pakistan


As Pakistan’s interior Minister Rehman Malik calls for the arrest of ex-president and dictator Pervez Musharraf in the musical chairs that is Pakistan’s leadership dramas, regular Pakistanis are switching off — preferring the drama of the screen.

"Humsafar", a soap opera that translates roughly to "soulmate", is the latest rage that has captured the Pakistani imagination. Thousands of diaspora Pakistani women crash YouTube every week to get their latest fix of the love triangle between hunky Asher, Khirad and Sarah.

Being a Pakistani drama, the main characters fall in love after marriage and their biggest obstacles to true love come in the form of an interfering mother-in-law.

But the show’s catchy promo song and romantic dialogues have given Pakistanis something other than bombs and political uncertainty to look forward to.

As the series finale is aired this week, news that Pakistan’s government — headed by the shady Asif Ali Zardari — has called on Interpol to arrest Musharraf because he allegedly failed to provide adequate security for Zardari’s wife and assassinated former leader Benazir Bhutto, has been treated with indifference.

Bhutto was killed in a 2007 gun and bomb attack while campaigning for her political comeback.

Musharraf, who has been living in London and Dubai since his 2008 resignation, seems like an unpopular Humsafar cast member. His potential return has failed to rate, as the public expectation of leaders plummets to new lows.

In all the blustering media coverage of Pakistan’s tenuous political situation, the reports of violence and extremism and its status as a US ally, somewhere the ordinary stories of people caught within the mesh of politics is ignored.

My Pakistani born parents are in the process of applying for a visa to travel to India to visit family. After navigating a bureaucratic minefield of paperwork they patiently struggle through interviews in the hope of being cleared as potential security threats.

Much has been made of the relationship between the US and Pakistan.

The US is accused of being domineering and self-involved, using Pakistani territory with impunity in careless drone attacks that have claimed hundreds of civilian lives in the decade plus "war on terrorism". Pakistan is distrusted as a duplicitous ally, with a diabolical Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and a military in collusion with militant movements, struggling to retain credibility after failing to alert the US of Osama bin Laden’s hideout. The Al-Qaeda leader killed in a unilateral US raid in Abbottabad, north of Islamabad, last year was found living openly in walking distance of Pakistan’s top military academy.

The historical relationship between the two countries is Humsafar-worthy — a true dance of dysfunctional lovers. The US plays the role of the macho male, swooping in when necessity arises, taking what is needed and leaving abruptly. The incursions are sweetened with bribes of billions in aid and promises of undying devotion.

Pakistan, the classic spurned woman, tired of being used and discarded, resorts to manipulation and passive aggressive tactics to secretly sabotage the relationship in subtle revenge at being forced into submission by an increasing financial dependence.

The dominant relationship ignores the even more soap operatic one Pakistan shares with its brother nemesis India. Torn asunder in the 1947 partition, with Pakistan carved out as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims, the countries have since fought three wars.

The disputed territory of Kashmir is the chief toy in the bedroom war between brothers, who have never resolved the trauma of their separation.

Pakistan, the misfit younger brother, looks on jealously as a successful India exports yoga and Bollywood to the world, flaunting democracy and inviting tourism.

The ignored younger child spirals depressingly — getting caught up in the wrong crowd and mixing with unsavoury "rogue" characters as concerned family members stage interventions and hope for rehabilitation and a comeback.

This has played out on a micro level with families on both sides of the border, separated by continuously changing travel restrictions that see-saw wildly with the ever-changing relationship between the countries. All that is required is a slight provocation for the situation to boil over into threats of nuclear warfare.

Further damaged by suspected Pakistani involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, diaspora and native Pakistanis are treated with increasing suspicion by Indian authorities.

This paranoia saw Pakistani-born Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja tweet angrily after being denied a visa to a Twenty20 tournament in India last year. The Indian embassy, sensing a media storm, reversed the decision and said the visa had been rejected because of an incomplete application.

My Australian Pakistani-born parents are not famous but are also hoping their western passports may forge a path to the land of their parent’s birth.

But back home in Pakistan, relatives dreaming of escaping a cloistered Karachi to join family on the other side under the vast skies of their pre-partition homeland are denied entry. They are separated by territorial feuds and the indifference of Pakistan’s fatuous leaders in the real soap opera that is Pakistani governance.

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