I owe Uncle Munir an apology. You may not know him but every family has their own version of my Uncle Munir. He is the deeply embarrassing elder relative who considers every social gathering an opportunity for him to expound on his theories on international relations — theories that involve deep-seated conspiracies being concocted by the rest of the world to destabilise and conquer Pakistan. As far as he is concerned, there isn’t a single meeting in the White House in which controlling Pakistan is not discussed. All of the CIA is dedicated to this single task. Mossad, RAW, MI6 — their every agent is given this single focused goal. Pakistan is the centre of their conspiratorial universes. He once declared a homeless man, frequently seen begging for loose change, to be a CIA agent. His theory was based on the fact that he had seen that man carrying an English newspaper. As each theory he detailed became increasingly fanciful, we all began worrying about the onset of dementia.
And then something weird started happening. That theory of Uncle Munir’s about America creating a map showing Pakistan broken up into several smaller countries? It came true. World leaders talking exclusively about Pakistan every chance they got? Documented evidence started appearing everywhere. The ISI being in talks with Mossad? It happened. Either Uncle Munir is the world’s luckiest paranoid or he has an inside line on the great Global Conspiracy.
The problem is that these days, knowing what we know, we can’t help but all be a little like Uncle Munir. Pakistan has become the centre of world attention and, even if everyone isn’t out to get us, they are certainly talking about us. Pakistan comes up as a point of concern in more leaked diplomatic cables than any other country. The leaders of most western nations cannot seem to let a single week go by without mentioning us in some way.
What worries me though, is that we might actually be getting a bit of a thrill out of that. See that’s what narcissism is; it’s the belief that the whole world is thinking about you. The problem is, when you couple it with deep-seated insecurity like ours, you end up with paranoia. The whole world is talking about us and no one is saying anything nice. You would think though, if we were worried about the whole world hating us, we would try to tone down our attention-getting behaviour. But that’s the narcissism at work. It’s sitting there thinking the whole world hates me, but at least it is thinking about me. It’s like being addicted to someone coming over to your house everyday and kicking you in the groin. Yes, it hurts but at least for a while you have some company.
This behaviour explains some of our actions. It wasn’t enough, for example, to be the subject of discussion of every American diplomat writing home. We had to add to the chatter by fabricating our own leaks and planting them in all major local newspapers. I don’t believe the ISI did it to simply further some secretive agenda of manipulating the media into creating greater support for the armed forces, out of fear that WikiLeaks would expose the military leadership as damaging to our democratic progress. No, it was just because they missed the limelight.
How frustrating it must be to the egocentric tendencies inherent in the ISI to crave attention while working in a job that demands secrecy. Like an advertising executive who fantasises about being a stand-up comedian and so, every now and then, lets his self-control slip and starts testing punchlines on unwitting co-workers, they too indulge the narcissism by attracting attention when it’s their job description to not do just that.
Or at least that’s what Uncle Munir tells me. I need to start listening to him.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2010.