The State of Affairs in Pakistan

Daily Times, June 23, 2005
VIEW: Kal lo jo kalnae —Kamran Shafi

A request to the Big General: Sir, please isolate those of your sycophants who misguided you and sack them out of hand. So that others are more careful in the future and not give our good country and, by default, us its hapless people, a worse name than we have already

Stop Press: Who does a black BMW SUV, registration No: IDS 555 belong to, can the Islamabad Capital Territory authorities please tell us? For, on Sunday, June 19, as I was driving home through Rawalpindi Cantonment (emphasis on the word ‘CANTONMENT’ please, sirs — you who rule Pakistan from Rawalpindi) after picking up a friend at the airport, my car was overtaken rudely by this vehicle which had its windows blacked out and had a bodyguard sitting in the front seat.

Fast in its wake came one of these Toyota Double-cabin jobs with a man sitting in the front seat, two in the back seat, and a further two in the open, truck part of the vehicle. They were all armed with Kalashnikovs except one who was cradling a semi-automatic weapon that I did not recognise. All of them were wearing the white-shalwar-kameez-and-black-waistcoat that is the hallmark of the government’s plainclothesmen who are seen hanging about the crossroads whenever some VVIP or other is travelling in Islamabad the Beautiful and surrounding country.

The guards were all in a state of near hysteria, gesticulating rudely and mouthing obscenities when I did not immediately find space on my left to get out of the way of the follow-vehicle, the chappie sitting in the front seat the most agitated of them all.

The most frightening part was that his Kalashnikov became more and more visible the angrier he got. I might add that whilst they wore regulation clothes so to say, they did not look like the government’s agents — these chaps were far more uncouth. And older, and more corpulent. They looked like retired government agents, actually.

So who was this VVVVVIP who travels in such regal, almost presidential style, and who were his loutish guards? And how does he have the nerve to display weapons SPECIALLY IN THE MOST IMPORTANT AND SENSITIVE CANTONMENT IN THE LAND OF THE PURE when this government of the Big General’s — that so believes in the rule of law and ‘good governance’ — prohibits the display of weapons anywhere in the country?

It is important for us to be told, for if he really is a high official we should henceforth look out for his passing and hurry out of his way. He should also be advised to display some form of identification so that everyone knows it is he.

If he is not a government official, he must be prosecuted most keenly and stopped from ever indulging in this sort of behaviour on public roads in the future so that his bodyguards do not threaten lay citizens minding their own business. Or does he have friends in such high places that he does what he does with impunity and disdainfully says, like the character in Farooq Qaiser’s brilliant puppet show Uncle Sargam: “Kal lo jo kalnae”?

Which, it seems to me (unless of course, he hadn’t been told of the mammoth backlash generated by that particular shot to the government’s head) is just what the Big General conveyed to the world when he said it was he who personally ordered the ban on Mukhtar Mai’s travel abroad to safeguard Pakistan’s ‘image’! (In his case, I suppose, because Dubya is so “tight” with him; therefore ‘Kal lo jo kalnae’?).

He ordered that ban, he said, because he did not want Mukhtar Mai to speak to the foreign press, and give Pakistan a bad “image” as a result, which might make tourists stay away from this country. Whilst the ham-fisted and stupid way in which the case was handled is one more very large nail in the coffin of our country’s “image”, it is pertinent to ask if a mere statement by a military ruler that all is right and dandy in a certain country will suddenly make it a great tourist destination?

Last week I had asked if Mukhtar Mai, a poor, wronged village woman was going to be a catalyst for change in the way the country is run. The more I see the various and seriously damaging convulsions of the regime as it thrashes about trying to understand the situation, and the rather vocal and tough reaction from the government’s backers, no less, in Washington DC, I am increasingly of the opinion that she will.

The first indicator is the U-turn on stopping her from going abroad: could anyone have imagined a mere peasant woman humbling a great big military regime? Especially of the Islamic Republic which also has the ‘bum’?

It is not only the Mukhtar Mai issue that should be giving grief to the regime. Just look at the problem-plagued visit to New Zealand (NZ), which started off with a needless confrontation between the New Zealand police and the General’s armed bodyguards and which gave us such bad press across the world, and ended with cancelled interviews with two New Zealand TV stations.

New Zealand is a country that does not allow private ownership of weapons, full stop, a fact that should have been well known to our “core-professional” diplomats. The top “core-professional”, Secretary Riaz himself, was accompanying the General please note. NZ is also a country that has great courage of conviction, once facing down the mighty United States of America when it banned nuclear-powered US Navy ships from entering its territorial waters. Was it then going to buckle under to the bodyguards of a Third World dictator? Of a poor and backward South Asian country awash with nutcases of every description?

Knowing what they should have been told, then, why did the bodyguards not give up their weapons quietly and with dignity upon arrival in NZ? Even leave them on board the aircraft? A quite simple matter surely, following the rules set by the hosts, what? Or is it simply the case that we HAVE to behave in a contrary manner just because we are Pakistani? And because we have to make a spectacle of ourselves at every given opportunity?

Or is it indeed the case that our FO was “not aware”, which it very usually is, of New Zealand’s laws? A little aside: Lt-Gen Asad Durrani, he of the Supreme Court affidavit fame, and I, were appointed Ambassador to Germany and Minister at the High Commission in London respectively, about the same time in 1994 and happened to go to the FO on the same day for our ‘briefing’.

Whilst my ‘briefing paper’ told me England had a Queen whose name was Elizabeth and a currency which was called the Pound Sterling and other such well-kept secrets, General Durrani’s told of how there were two Germanys: one West and one East, and so on. Fully three years after the two Germanys had reunified! So there you have it, a prime example of our “core-professionals” being blissfully “unaware”.

A request to the Big General: Sir, please isolate those of your sycophants who misguided you and sack them out of hand. So that others are more careful in the future and not give our good country and, by default, us its hapless people, a worse name than we have already.

Bushism of the Week: “I’m hopeful. I know there is a lot of ambition in Washington, obviously. But I hope the ambitious realise that they are more likely to succeed with success as opposed to failure” — President George W Bush; interview with the Associated Press; January 18, 2001.

PS: HELP, anyone in WAPDA House, Lahore: In this intense heat, the power supply is so weak (160-170 Volts at the best of times), in Hasan Abdal sub-division that even tube-lights don’t work sometimes. The electricity also dips and surges wildly, destroying electrical implements. Can any of you Sahibs even begin to understand our and our little children’s predicament, lounging in wall-to-wall, FREE air-conditioning as you are?

Kamran Shafi is a freelance columnist

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