POSTCARD USA: Aitzaz’ Washington merry-go-round —Khalid Hasan

While everyone in Pakistan keeps going on and on about American intervention in our affairs, those who protest the loudest are the very ones who seek it at the first opportunity. The lawyers’ campaign for the restoration of the judges is something that will succeed or fail in Pakistan, not in the US

Washington has been on code orange for the last few days as temperatures soar into the upper 90s, the kind of weather that used to be considered ideal for mad dogs and Englishmen. There are not many Englishmen in this town and all mad dogs have been long sent to doggie heaven.

However, despite the heat, quite a few things are going on. Thousands of Pakistani-American doctors are in town for their annual conference, a kind of “Mela Mowaishiyaan” of the well-heeled in white coats who form the upper crust of the Pakistani diaspora and keep on good terms with all governments back home, which may be a sensible thing to do since those governments neither come to power nor go out of power at the doctors’ advice.

The doctors meet in a different American city every year, so this time it is the capital which the Supreme Court has just declared free of handgun control, despite this being the murder capital of the United States.

Aitzaz Ahsan came to Washington, spoke to a fawning audience at Amnesty, made several calls on the Hill and sought without success a meeting with Richard Boucher, who is to be found at Foggy Bottom when he is not in Pakistan. Unfortunately for Aitzaz, Boucher is headed for Pakistan right now and if Aitzaz is lucky, he will be able to catch him in Islamabad.

Aitzaz also spoke to the Pakistani doctors’ annual jamboree. When his visit to Washington on a lobbying mission was first reported by this correspondent in Daily Times, Aitzaz issued a quick denial saying, “I am planning to fly to Washington on the invitation of the Allama Iqbal Medical College Alumni Association of North America. I am neither seeking any intervention of any congressman nor … going to solicit American support for the reinstatement of judges.” He reminded us that his friends in the US included congressmen and senators and he might meet them, adding the reprimand, “But such meetings cannot and must not be misconstrued.”

His companion Munir Malik could not make it because his passport was stuck at the British High Commission. Apparently, Malik had no problem in getting a US visa but also wanted to make the obligatory stop in London on his way to or from Washington, which caused him to miss the trip.

While Aitzaz may not be without his friends in the US, “including congressmen and senators,” he did not run in and out of more than one congressional office on a muggy Friday to discuss the Washington weather. The fact is that he did lobby for the judges with the US lawmakers. His argument ran as follows: The US-led war on terror can only be fought effectively with popular backing, something only possible if the judges are independent.

American legislators are lobbied 24/7 and are pretty blasé about such lofty assertions. As for the linkage between the war on terror and a free judiciary, they hear that sort of thing all the time and it is in through one ear and out the other. The fact is that it is the administration which is calling the shots and not Congress. Perhaps Aitzaz should have sought a meeting with one of Dick Cheney’s sidekicks since it is the Veep who runs the Pakistan show in liaison with the Pentagon. It seems that when it comes to choosing powerful friends, Aitzaz errs as much in picking them in Washington as he does in Islamabad.

Even his speeches (and there were several at the doctors’ conference) were all about the Pakistani community in the US helping the lawyers’ movement back home. Since the community can support only by giving money (which Aitzaz and his movement do not seem to need) or by lobbying American influentials, quite clearly, Aitzaz was engaged in lobbying.

While everyone in Pakistan keeps going on and on about American intervention in our affairs, those who protest the loudest are the very ones who seek it at the first opportunity. The lawyers’ campaign for the restoration of the judges is something that will succeed or fail in Pakistan, not in the US.

The fact is that appointments had been sought on Aitzaz’s behalf with several members of Congress before he came, among them: Sen. Russ Feingold, who serves on the Judiciary, Foreign Relations, Intelligence and Budget committees; Congresswoman Nita Lowey of the House Appropriations committee and chair of the subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and member, Homeland Security subcommittee; Congressman Steve Israel of the Appropriations committee and the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee; Gary Ackerman of the Foreign Affairs committee and chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia; and Congressman Keith Ellison of the Financial Services and Judiciary committees.

Meetings were also sought with Sen. Jo Biden and Sen. Richard Lugar, chair and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. How many of them actually took place, I do not know. What I do know is that if this is not lobbying, then the earth is flat.

At Amnesty International, Aitzaz arrived more than an hour late. If he said sorry, I did not hear it. He beamed as some in the hall cheered. He may also have hit upon the long-sought remedy for a jetlag, because he said he no longer had one, thanks to the applause. He did not cover himself with glory when soon after he told the audience — who did not really know what he was talking about — that he was going to suggest to Husain Haqqani, the ambassador, that in order to monitor his, namely Aitzaz’s, movements in Washington “24/7”, Haqqani should have him tailed. Then he said, “And he should nominate Khalid Hasan for the task.”

This line was not delivered with humour but undisguised ill will. After the meeting, I reminded Aitzaz that Daily Times had printed his “denial” of my report the next day, so why this. His reply came in Gujrati Punjabi, “Magar tussi chapair tay maar ditti na!” (But you had delivered the slap already). This tasteless behaviour not only showed that truth hurts, but also that all our public figures wish to hear is praise “24/7”.

Aitzaz spent over an hour going over events since March 2007, which was a waste of time since everyone in that room knew exactly what had happened. At one point, and with a straight face, he called Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry “a shining prince on a white charger”. What people expected to really know, he either skirted past or glossed over. He saw no contradiction between his being in the PPP, which has no wish to see Justice Chaudhry back or President Musharraf removed, and leading the lawyers’ movement. He called it an area of disagreement with his party. Some area that!

Moral of the story: it is possible to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. The question is, how long?

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is

Source: Daily Times, 30/6/2008

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