It’s all in the mind

The gentleman who occupies the presidential mansion in Islamabad has so far played his cards admirably.

Amina Jilani October 15, 2010
It’s all in the mind

To give credit where credit is due, it must be admitted that the gentleman who through a tragic quirk of fate occupies the presidential mansion in Islamabad has so far played his cards admirably — to his advantage that is, not to the general well-being of his country. Superbly street-smart and street-wise he has so far utilised his survival kit in masterly manner.

He has schemed and juggled, internally he has bamboozled both supporters and opponents, and has acquiesced and bent where he should bend when it comes to the western powers and the ‘deal’ that propelled him to where he is. He has also gracefully accepted the fact that his army chief, who participated in the ‘deal’, is a man to be reckoned with and heeded.

But what irks and puzzles are his public pronouncements which often verge on the paranoiac.  His utterances in Nawabshah on October 11 are a case in point. At times, he both looked and sounded somewhat unhinged — and definitely non-presidential. A remark made earlier this year about him either completing his term, or being carted off in an ambulance may shed some light, as the presidential health, prior to his elevation, was somewhat of a concern.

Up to the end of 1990 and the dismissal of his wife’s first government, he was in fine fettle, but sporadically thereafter, due to what is known as ‘political victimisation’, which entails arrest and so forth, he developed a string of ailments necessitating frequent admission to hospitals and incarceration in a VIP sector. He recovered for his wife’s second round as prime minister but once again, when disaster struck in a second dismissal, it was further incarceration and downhill health-wise with his being treated for all sorts of sicknesses. (He is not alone in his mysterious sporadic illness — it is an affliction from which all in the VIP category suffer when hauled up on corruption and other charges and taken into custody.)

When he finally emerged in the new century, freed by a benign military dictator, he was fine and dandy, other than when called to attend court cases when he obtained uncountable adjournments — mostly on the grounds of ill health, and obtained by his lawyer, the affable Farooq Naek, who was later rewarded for his skills (or travails) with the Senate chairmanship.

We have no problem with a head of state who suffers the odd backache or blocked artery, but it is worrisome when the problem is more serious, as was revealed to us in 2008. On August 25, London’s Financial Times told the tale of the medical reports compiled by two New York-based psychiatrists (Philip Saltiel and Stephen Reich), which had been filed in a London court to support an application to delay corruption cases brought against Asif Zardari by the Pakistan government. The diagnoses were delivered in March 2007 and successfully served their purpose.  He was diagnosed as suffering from severe mental problems including emotional instability, memory loss, concentration problems, and major depressive disorder.  The London court accepted and acted upon the reports. The presidential election was held on September 6 2008, so the Election Commission, and any concerned loyal citizens, had time to consult the constitution, to read Article 42(2) which requires the president to be “qualified to be elected as a member of the National Assembly,” and Article 63(a) which disqualifies a person from being a parliamentarian if “he is of unsound mind and has been so declared by a competent court.”

Of course, the diagnoses could always be dismissed on the grounds that the London court was incompetent and that the psychiatrists indulged in a bit of encouraged falsification. But the fact remains that they are on record.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2010.


Dr. Babur Hussain | 13 years ago | Reply This is a disgusting article that propagates negative stereotypes about mental health and illness. The writer exhibits next to no understanding of or sympathy towards the many tens of millions in Pakistan (and billions the world over) who live with mental health issues, whether diagnosed or not. Depressive and emotional disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. A number of prominent world leaders have lived with depression among other mental illnesses. They include Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. Mental illness does not mean segregating people from broader society any more than we should ostracize people with physical ailments or non-communicable diseases such as cancer. Being of "unsound mind" does not mean being 100% free from any mental illness. There is no one that fits this description. Experiencing some mental health issues over the course of one's life is as likely as experiencing the common cold. That is, nearly everyone goes through it and it is nothing to be ashamed of. "Unsound mind" is a legal term that implies a lack of capacity to understand one's actions or their consequences. It is an extremely high threshold, similar to the legal defense of insanity leading to an accused not being criminally responsible. Granted the President has many faults. But lets not turn to bigotry to find new (or rehash old) avenues of criticism.
User | 13 years ago | Reply We have come to such a pass that people of Pakistan, the most neglected but the principal stakeholders of Pakistan, have lost their faith in democracy. They are in fact tired of this democracy being demonstrated in Pakistan. Read more at:link text
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