Among the believers-Anjum Niaz

We are a splinter species that feed on each other’s flesh. We hold a thousand and one different beliefs. Some of them are mediaeval; others ultra-modern. Some cheer savage slaughter of fellow beings; others are predators of national wealth. You will rarely find ten nodding heads sitting together and agreeing on the same issue without coming to blows. We stand divided on just about everything – from the war against terror to whether our neighbour is a thief or an angel, whether Rahman Malik should have allowed a Lal Masjid congregation or not, whether Aitzaz Ahsan did the right thing to call off the “dharna” just when the long march was in sight of victory, whether Asif Zardari’s love for Pakistan is genuine or phoney, whether Nawaz Sharif really cares about Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry or not, whether scientist A Q Khan is a traitor or a patriot.

Thus, life glowered on until March 12, 2007, struck. One was free from a thousand and one views aired by our television pundits. The TV guys and gals were a pretty sedate bunch. But for the occasional news from foreign shores about Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, all was quiet on the western front. Of course, Musharraf had started small fires in the tribal areas of Pakistan. As the battle for Wana waged, we in Islamabad were not that pushed. There were other, sexier things to keep us preoccupied. What actually got our goat was the ugly ouster of Chief Jusitce Iftikhar Chaudhry and the way his hair got pulled by security men. All hell was let loose.

Thank you, Mr President, for robbing the people of Pakistan of their peace of mind. The brouhaha you began 16 months ago doesn’t seem to have bothered you, nor hurt a single hair of yours. Your black bouffant remains intact.

Meanwhile, smarmy Shaukat Aziz’s seat has been filled up by the wide-eyed, aw shucks Syed from Multan. “I went to Dubai to meet Bilawal Sahib,” said Prime Minister Gilani when asked why he deemed fit to divert his planeload from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai instead of Islamabad. An angry anchor thundered on TV why the prime minister was calling a 19-year-old lad “Sahib.” And, more importantly, why was he ordered by Asif Zardari to appear before him and his three children? Was it to discuss the Bara operation or exchange party gossip?

We all have our take on why Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif conduct the business of state outside Pakistan and inside their palaces abroad. It’s to keep the bugs out, stupid! They fear that the agencies have their homes in Pakistan bugged and listen in to all that goes on in Zardari House and Raiwind Estate. But wouldn’t it be cheaper to get the premises debugged instead of flying out each time the two gents need to join their heads and strategise? Import some “gora” sleuths from abroad. After all, if the newly inducted PTV chairman, Dr Shahid Masood, aka “Mere Mutabiq,” can hire a foreign team of forensic experts to investigate corruption in state-owned television empire, why can’t our two political leaders hire a full-time team to keep their homes debugged? Money shouldn’t be a worry; we the taxpayers are there to pick up their bills.

Does family come first before nation-building? Well, we can have a mini debate on this point as well. But since both our illustrious leaders have family living abroad, it is only fair to expect them to fly out and be with them. Kulsoom, wife of Nawaz Sharif, has had knee surgery and is recuperating in London. Naturally she needs Mian around; while Asif Zardari’s hunkering down in Dubai is to address issues related to his children. They were serious enough to warrant him taking his two sisters along. Plus, Begum Nusrat Bhutto is said to be critically sick. And Asif Zardari by default is her guardian. But families relocate wherever the head of the family is based. And since the expenses involved in relocation of these two families is our responsibility because both the gents enjoy all the perks and privileges reserved for the prime minister of Pakistan, what then is the problem? In case you forget, this poor crumbling nation has not one but three prime ministers receiving full benefits and protocol.

All expenses of PM de jure Gilani and PMs de facto Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are paid by the people of Pakistan. Let this be contradicted, if incorrect.

Another school of thought says that Asif Zardari is afraid of the terrorists getting to him like they did with his wife. Therefore he prefers to stay out of the country more often. And finally, some say that Zardari is not sincere. He came here only to get his assets unfrozen via the NRO. Now that he has all his ill-gotten bounty safely back in his bank vaults abroad, he’s lost interest in Pakistan and is ready to leave for greener pastures.

As we eyeball Zardari ad nauseam with our various viewpoints, I think he sits, flashing his newly capped teeth and laughing at us. Why? Well, read last Sunday’s headlines and you’ll find out. Was it not Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani who sat gratuitously before King Abdullah to seek his mercy on oil payments by Pakistan? It was only last month. Well, the Saudis have agreed to defer payments till June 2009 and provide us free-of-cost crude oil worth $5.9 billion for the next one year!

So if Zardari and his crew performed umrah at our expense, never mind. Its peanuts compared to the 110,000 barrels of oil the Saudis will deliver daily to us free of cost for one year. This is a brilliant scoop performed by Asif Zardari and his prime minister. Who knows, when the time to pay the Saudis comes around next year, Zardari may flash his million-dollar smile and twirl his moustache to make the Saudis relent and write off the $5.9 billion that we owe them. But there’s no such thing as free lunch. The Saudis may love us but they love America too. So have they taken a guarantee from Zardari not to dislodge Pervez Musharraf because America wants him to stay put in the Presidency?

Asif Zardari, with PM Gilani in tow, has made forays into the UAE power centres last week. Don’t be at all surprised if you read one day in the newspapers that the UAE has gifted us huge sums of money that Pakistan needs for its economic survival. The credit, of course, will go to Asif Zardari for swinging such a deal. So who, then, will have the last laugh–Asif Zardari or all those prophets of doom who can’t look beyond their noses and keep cribbing 24/7 why Zardari goes abroad?

Meanwhile, a very dangerous game is being played by India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in our tribal areas. India and Afghanistan blame Pakistan for supporting the Taliban and the ISI’s role in the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. The big boss in the ministry of interior says: “The Indian intelligence agency RAW is fighting against Pakistan on the western front. The Americans must realise this point.” Rehman Malik says that the Afghans have infiltrated our villages. “We have nabbed an Afghan commander conducting terrorist activities in a village in our tribal area, while we have arrested nine suicide bombers trained in Afghanistan.”

Conversely, Rehman’s Indian counterpart, M K Narayan, and Afghan president Hamid Karzai are screaming blue murder and blaming Pakistan for perpetrating terror. They are vowing retaliation to “acts of terror by Pakistan.” Narayan said, “I think we need to pay back in the same coin.”

The Americans may strike anytime. Their soldiers have been killed by the Taliban in an attack on a US military camp in Afghanistan bordering Pakistan. President Bush believes it’s not Iraq but Pakistan that needs to be tamed. Taliban Godfather Qazi Hussain Ahmed believes the infidels (Americans) must be taught a lesson.

What do you believe?

Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu
The News, 15/7/2008

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