The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
Growing up, one learnt if you needed something real bad, you had to sweat for it. If you fancied yourself as Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, by golly you had to become a nerd and pass the CSS competitive exam. Not only that, but you had to score high to qualify for the Foreign Service. And if you were born under a lucky star, from a lowly third secretary you could one day wind your way to Washington. Phew!
Today, it’s a whole different route to Washington. Husain Haqqani, master of political acrobatics and acerbic of tongue, is our new ambassador to DC. I don’t want to bore you with his resume; it’s pretty well-circulated. The smartest thing he did was to put all his stocks in Benazir Bhutto’s venture while living, lecturing and writing in America for the last few years. He was a fierce and outspoken critic of Musharraf. Last summer when Benazir was in DC working out a “deal” with Musharraf courtesy the State Department, Haqqani was her Man Friday.
Haqqani and his wife, PPP MNA Farahnaz Isphani, worked to cultivate Asif Zardari as well, unlike many other unwise piplyas (Amin Fahim, Naheed Khan, Senator Abbasi and some lesser beings) who today have been frozen out all because their universe was Benazir Bhutto. They looked upon Zardari as a satellite. Didn’t we all? But fate had other plans for the former “first gentleman.”
The American press has begun printing biographical stories in praise of ambassador-designate Haqqani and his wife. Wrote one impressed columnist that Ms Isphani would certainly be thrilled to live in the same house where her grandfather, the late M A H Isphani, lived when he served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington. With all the goodwill and family credentials in place, the diplomat couple will be a success story and the credit for that will go to Asif Zardari for picking up such smart people. Eat your heart out, you regular foreign office guys! Yes, you may have swotted for the CSS and gone through the grind, learnt the art of gobbledygook and kept a stiff neck dressed in three-piece designer suits, but in the end exotic Western capitals like London, Washington and whatever else always go to non-diplomats.
And then there is Dr Maleeha Lodhi! Like Haqqani, the lady came from the world of communications. Twice she served in sensitive times as our envoy to Washington. She was on top of things. And a big hit with Clinton and later the Bush administration. But she was a bigger hit with BB and later with General Musharraf and his junta. After serving in London as our High Commissioner, Maleeha Lodhi was eyeing the ambassadorship at the UN in New York. And she would have got this job but for one small problem. We already have Zardari’s new friend cooling his heels at the Pakistani Mission on Fifth Avenue. Muneer Akram is one of those rare Foreign Office species who knows his work and, more importantly, knows how to keep his bosses happy. After the Feb 18 elections, Muneer Akram caught the first flight out from Manhattan to cosy up with Asif Zardari and seek his blessings in Sindhi for an extension. He got it on the spot.
The co-chairman of the PPP is currently a very busy man accommodating his loyalists. I am sure he must be inundated with reminders from all those bounty hunters claiming to have been his foot soldiers during his “dark” days in exile. So far the pattern has been predictable. Without any waste of time, Husain Haqqani, Rahman Malik, Siraj Shamsuddin and Salman Farooqi were appointed as soon as the Dogar court made the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) a permanent fixture. Malik, Haqqani and Farooqi, who had cases of wrongdoing filed with the NAB (National Accountability Bureau), not only earned reprieve but got appointed to high positions. (Even Farooqi’s brother Usman Farooqi has received a fiduciary clean bill of character.)
With this zingy start, Asif Zardari has since appointed a retired bureaucrat, Javed Talat, living in Canada. When the NRO became law, Javed Talat too was exonerated. Now he has landed himself the prestigious post of executive directorship in the World Bank. At age 70, the former finance secretary will be drawing $20,000 a month as salary. Good luck to him too. Zia Ispahani is another beneficiary of the present cycle of state patronage. He has once more been appointed “ambassador-at-large.” I am sure he must possess extraordinary diplomatic prowess for the PPP leader to pick him yet again.
Meanwhile, foreign junkets have also begun in earnest. Less-than-a-week-old Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza took off for South Africa to attend some conference or other while the judges’ issue was raging through the parliament. I am sure she must have made waves abroad and won a lot of kudos from foreign leaders for Asif Zardari, the man who made this appointment happen. Rhetoric, platitudes and flattery aside, did the lady Speaker win something concrete for her countrymen? By presenting a soft image of Pakistan, did the Benazir look-alike impress potential foreign investors to come and do business with us in Pakistan?
Recently, three other PPP lady stalwarts were touring abroad. Information and health Minister Sherry Rehman was snapped in Geneva (we don’t know what took her to Switzerland), meeting the Chinese health minister. Then we heard Hina Rabbani Khar formerly of the Shaukat Aziz cabinet and currently Prime Minister Gilani’s “Special Assistant on Finance,” lecture the accompanying Pakistani press party to Sharm el-Sheikh that President Bush had pledged another package to Pakistan to “fight poverty.” Give me a break! Another PPP former education minister, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, now made member of “Economic Advisory Council” too, was in PM Gilani’s entourage at the World Economic Forum held at Sharm el-Sheikh, a tourist paradise in Egypt.
How much of the taxpayers’ money has gone into paying for these high-flying foreign tours in the past decades attended by smarmy Shaukat Aziz, Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif? And what has been the end result? The end result has been dismal, as you and I can tell without having to scratch our heads and try recalling what great benefits these leaders’ foreign tours wrought for the ordinary people of Pakistan. All we know is that they and their favourites sponged on the taxpayers by staying at swanky hotels and driving in extended limousines.
It is simply unconscionable to be focused on junkets and giving friends high-paying jobs yet once more. Here’s my suggestion: By all means spend foreign exchange and send out delegations abroad; by all means appoint your loyalists to plum posts, but in return give them a target. Each and every man or woman venturing abroad must produce results that can be measured in economic terms. Not just sweet words. Pakistan’s trade deficit has reached $11.586 billion. Our imports exceed our exports by an unsustainably huge margin.
From now on Asif Zardari (he’s a great businessman) should make it mandatory on everyone touring abroad at state expense to become an aggressive salesperson. Make a sales pitch for Pakistani products abroad – from hand-embroidered kurtis to hand- carved artefacts and whatever else Pakistan can offer.
All you foreign-flying birds, stop wasting your energies in “image building”; instead, go and wake up the sleepy economic and commerce officials in Pakistani missions abroad, and don’t return unless and until you bring back purchase orders from foreign buyers. If our colonial masters, the British, didn’t wince being called “a nation of shopkeepers,” why should you? Isaac Asimov, the Russian-born American science fiction writer who thought the saddest aspect of life was that science gathered knowledge faster than society gathering wisdom, defined serendipity as: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…'”
Monetary serendipity should be Zardari’s battle cry; not political serendipity. Once his government begins building up foreign reserves through foreign visits, he’ll be the first man to declare with astonishment, “That’s funny…”
Courtesy: The News, 27/5/2008