WASHINGTON DIARY: Support-for-judges factor —Dr Manzur Ejaz

As an emissary, most of Haqqani’s arguments were in line with the logic of a country which is dependent on US largess. But Pakistanis at home and abroad conveniently ignore this bitter reality

Ambassador Hussain Haqqani and leader of the lawyers’ movement Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan were the topic of discussion everywhere during the annual convention of the American Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA).

While Haqqani had some uncomfortable moments confronting a hostile audience, Ahsan was surrounded by admirers. Unlike Haqqani’s detractors, Aitzaz’s critics were polite and subdued.

In Pakistani discussion forums, question-and-answer sessions are counter speeches for venting collective frustrations and serve as therapy for some. According to one of our friends, the key to speaking to a Pakistani audience is not reacting or getting impatient; Q&A sessions are simply meant for letting out grief in the form of question-speeches.

But Mr Haqqani seemed to have forgotten this golden rule when he ran into a rough audience at the Social Forum organised by the Dow Graduate Association of North America (DOGANA) with the help of the Allama Iqbal Medical College Alumni Association of North America (AIMCAANA). Later on he ran into worse at a seminar organised by the American-Pakistani Physicians for Justice and Democracy (APPJD).

When a questioner made a speech against US policy, laced with verses, Mr Haqqani rebuked the questioner by saying “we should learn to grow up”. Poetic expressions are enchanting when one is nineteen but poetry does not help when it comes to understanding realities of relations between two countries like the US and Pakistan, he replied.

Mr Haqqani is an orator who can recite hundreds of verses befitting any situation. So he may have felt like winning the argument.

He was right that Saddam Hussein’s recitation of long Arabic verses could not save Iraq from destruction and if we did not act pragmatically, Pakistan could face a similar situation. As an emissary, most of his arguments were in line with the logic of a country which is dependent on US largess. But Pakistanis at home and abroad conveniently ignore this bitter reality and unload their rage on the messengers i.e. diplomats.

Thus Mr Haqqani was a perfect target because he represents a foreign policy which most Pakistanis don’t like and a political party that is conceived as a hurdle in the restoration of the deposed judiciary. Of course, as a veteran physician told me, PPP representatives, even as ambassadors, are generally not well regarded and received well by the conservative community of physicians.

Some diplomats also tend to forget that they represent a people who are self-conflicted. For example, a person educated in the Pakistani system is fed mythological histories that induce chauvinism and instil a sense of Islamic superiority over people of other religions. So when they are told to be realistic and pragmatic vis-à-vis a “Christian” superpower, they are unable to fashion a non-contradictory response, compelling politicians and diplomats to walk a tight rope. Mr Haqqani’s error lay that day in choosing to confront the contradiction upfront.

A blasé columnist or analyst might have gotten away with such an attitude but not an ambassador of Pakistan from the “rowdy” People’s Party. Most likely the audience was looking for an excuse to put him on the mat and thereby send a message to his bosses back home.

Dr Farooq Sattar was treated even worse last year when he came to the same forum after the MQM’s anti-Iftikhar Chaudhry rally in which many people were killed. In addition, Mr Haqqani did not realise that he was facing a disaffected mob that had come to hear Aitzaz Ahsan and was in no mood to swallow the bitter pill of reality.

Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan was lucky because the audience ignored his PPP credentials. Indeed, when he was asked if the PPP was the biggest hurdle in restoring the judiciary, he replied with a mischievous smile “As a lawyer I would say PPP is not the biggest hurdle.”

Many wanted to have a picture taken with Aitzaz or get his autograph. It was evident that middle class Pak-American physicians were focused on a one-point agenda: restoration of the judges.

Mr Ahsan’s address at Amnesty International was much more comprehensive than at other forums. He repeated his arguments about the virtues of Iftithkar Chauhdry and explained that he was punished by the establishment because of his support to the cause of the poor and ‘wretched of the earth’.

According to his own account of meetings with US legislators, he has been arguing that Pakistan should not be equated with the Middle East: Pakistan is part of South Asia where protection of individual rights is incontrovertible. Such a concept is alien in most of the Middle East, ruled by sheikhs and kings.

He reiterated his claim that he had not come to the US to seek any help. His hosts at DOGANA told me that Mr Ahsan did not go to the State Department.

Wrongly or rightly, the expatriate community, like a large section of middle class urban people back home, is focused on the issue of restoration of the judges. Educated expatriates felt very proud of the lawyers’ movement and think that now they can claim to be citizens of a “civilized nation”.

Therefore, any individual or party that is perceived to hinder the restoration of deposed judiciary is not going to be treated gently at expatriate forums. Haqqani suffered and Aitzaz was loved precisely because of this feeling although both are supposedly PPP-ites.

The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com

Source: Daily times, 2/7/2008

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