by Mehr Tarar 

Earlier this week, I was invited, via Skype, on a panel discussion on an Indian channel that debated — the word debate is somewhat incongruous for a talk with four panellists and one anchor on one side, equipped with clearer sound and picture, and yours truly, a lone voice on the other side, from across the border. The topic was whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi should go to Imran Khan's swearing-in ceremony if all heads of states of SAARC were to be invited. Of course, other than me, it was a unanimous verdict how bad an idea that would be for myriad reasons, most of which I'm sure any reader of articles on Pakistan and India, or a viewer of talks shows in India on Pakistan would be familiar with. No point wasting precious digital space going into that, but more on something else in a bit.

The next thing that I spotted was Aamir Khan's name on my timeline, which at any given time is merrily, messily and loudly cluttered with tweets from official feeds of media houses, journalists of all types, and haughty people full of opinions on every topic under the sun on any heat-driven day in Lahore or Delhi, humidity-humdrum-ed Karachi or Mumbai, or the beautiful Islamabad with its very odd collection of those who think they matter, and those who really do. I saw a video clip from some Indian channel that Khan — the actor who is greatly loved and respected in Pakistan — would not be coming to Pakistan. More on that in a bit.

Moved, I watched a video of Navjot Singh Sidhu saying wonderful things about his old association and friendship with Imran Khan, and how wonderful Khan was as a cricketer and a person. I didn't watch the whole thing, but apparently, the former cricketer, a very popular TV personality, and presently a politician — Congress, if I'm not wrong — Sidhu said that he'd be going to Pakistan to attend the swearing-in ceremony. All hell broke loose. From those who hate Pakistan, and everything related to Pakistan, and all those who hate Congress in an equal measure, and sometimes even more. Hating your own takes a special kind of coldness and cold-bloodlessness; don't you think so?

The outpouring of congratulatory messages and best wishes for Imran Khan from Indian people and celebrities is one of those rare phenomena when genuine warmth replaces cynicism and bitterness that seem to define the ill-fated debacle of a thing called a bilateral relationship between Pakistan and India.

The reason why I thought I'd write on this To-Go-Or-Not-To-Go is because despite being on Twitter for six years, despite being a regular face on talk shows on both sides of the border, and despite being a sensational and a not-so-savoury headline in both Pakistan and India a few years ago, it all still bewilders me. Not the people in the news, silly, but how those people are inserted into things that are neither news nor scoops nor newsy nor scoop-y enough to be wildly hashtagg-ed or blindly viral-ed. It is just how media houses operate in an age where breaking news about presumably sensational stuff is more important than imparting news that matter. News channels and hourly-updated news portals with their clickbait headlines need a constant supply of information and news to cater to the viewer who despite his censure and condemnation of TV content is like that alcoholic who sneaks out to buy a bottle of cheap wine from the corner booze store when he thinks everyone in the house is asleep. Viewers blame media for presentation of content that is focused on a goal of higher ratings, but media simply gives people what they seem to be addicted to, unknowingly or consciously.

Here are the facts: The president of Pakistan has not announced the date for the first session of parliament where leaders of the house are going to be elected. It will be within 21 days after the elections. Imran Khan despite the numbers has still not been elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan via a parliamentary vote. There is no official date of a swearing-on of a prime minister whose official position doesn't exist at the moment. Since there is no confirmed date for an oath-taking ceremony, there could be no question of any formal invitation to any head of state, a VVIP celebrity like Aamir Khan, former A-list cricketers and close friends of Imran Khan like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev or Navjot Singh Sidhu. To go or not to go would be debated and decided once the formal invitations from the new government of Pakistan have been sent to India. Until then all it is: unverified pieces of information that is mostly harmless, and some of it carefully placed to deepen the air of mistrust and animosity that sadly are the keywords in what goes for a Pakistan-India relationship.

Since Imran Khan and his party do not have any plan to invite the SAARC heads of states at the moment, it is nothing more than mischief creating to debate whether it would be a good idea for PM Modi to accept or decline the invitation. Narratives of enmity are established and deepened through constant dissemination of rumours, innuendos, allegations and blame tossing. After the cordial talk Modi and Khan reportedly had when the former called to congratulate the latter on his party's victory, peace-seekers on both sides hope that lines of communication will or should never be broken, even when the relationship seems so strained the slightest misstep could snap it. Imaginary invitations and imaginary refusals cannot be construed as anything more than a concerted effort to keep the perception of enmity as strong as ever.

The same goes for the invitation to the Muslim Indian Aamir Khan to the future oath-taking ceremony of Imran Khan of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, "the enemy country". Although many Indian celebrities have been to Pakistan, and very warmly welcomed, and the same goes for Pakistani celebrities, many of whom have even worked in India, in the very acrimonious air of what is presently Pakistan-India relationship, it is nothing more than throwing a proverbial teeli. Aamir is much loved in Pakistan, but he has not been sent a formal invitation to attend the ceremony, and to ask him a question about that where his answer would understandably be "I am not going to Pakistan to attend Imran Khan's swearing-in ceremony" is a malicious throwing not just of a teeli but a burning log into kerosene oil intentionally thrown on a slippery marble floor.

While I'm one of those many Pakistanis who would welcome Prime Minister Modi as any other visiting honourable head of state, and who would love to have Indian cricketers and actors visit Pakistan, I find it outright outlandish and disrespectful to see all these anti-Pakistan debates with a brand new circus of imaginary invitations and declining of invitations. Debate issues that matter, but it is utterly tasteless for the media that is representative of almost 1.30 billion people to have made-up debates that demean and mock Pakistan's prime minister to-be, and people whom he is friends with or respects, and consequently, mock the very idea of bilateral diplomacy.

And I find it all not just bizarre, but sad as hell.