Will the Pakistan Peoples Party ever change?

Anjum Niaz

All work and no play makes Gilani a dull PM. And so, Information Minister Sherry Rehman ensures that her boss gets ample entertainment to keep his grey cells buzzing and his heart ticking. She doesn’t have to work too hard at this because the PM already has a healthy proclivity for the arts, beauty and dazzle. In his interview with the lovely anchor, a doctor by profession, he shared his most private thoughts. The anchor has since been offered a lucrative job at the state-owned PTV.

Last week Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani sat through the whole screening of “Ramchand Pakistani” at the National Art Gallery in Islamabad. To be fair to him, the movie was so gripping and at times so moving that none of us would have wanted to leave it in the middle. Javed Jabbar as the producer and daughter Mehreen Jabbar as the director pulled off a blockbuster. It was midnight when the caged audience was finally released after hearing long speeches by the PM and Ms Rehman on what a wonderful job the PPP was doing. Frankly, after sitting straight through an almost two-hour-tearjerker, we didn’t have much of an appetite to appreciate how great the present government is.

And there was he again on Saturday night. This time Gilani beat the midnight hour by addressing the nation on television around 11 pm. The show hit many glitches making it resemble “Saturday Night Live,” a long-running late-night comedy show that airs in America. A stiff and wooden Gilani seated against a dirty blue backdrop with his head cranked up a notch or two began parroting PPP rhetoric rolled by the teleprompter in front. Some minutes down the road, the teleprompter conked out. The TV channels airing the address promptly re-routed the viewers back to whatever drivel they were watching before Gilani entere1 cd the airwaves. Back again after a few minutes, our prime minister took up from where he left off. But this time he had to read from the paper in front of him. So instead of popping his head up, now he had to pop his head down.

Whoever is responsible for turning the prime minister’s maiden address into a comedy show should be sacked pronto. (One hears that PTV DMD Shahid Nadeem has already been made a scapegoat for this and has been sacked).

Appointing the right people for the job is the first obligation of any self-respecting government. One had hoped that the PPP had learnt from its past mistakes and would be wary of appointing ‘charlies’ who don’t merit the positions. But in the first week of coming to power, Asif Zardari, drunk with people’s power and undeserved greatness thrust upon him, doled out positions of power to guys with a seedy past. No resumes were scanned; no background checks made; no interviews conducted; no questions asked.

With the spoil system up and running, with favourtism, nepotism and cronyism alive and kicking, the scramble for jobs continues. Asif Zardari’s frequent absences abroad appear ill-timed. The catfights have begun. Women who didn’t make it to the cabinet in the first round are pitched in the opposite camp against Sherry Rehman. As minister for information, Sherry is pulling all the strings that she humanely can. She’s smart, capable and intelligent. Still, she has the thankless task of reinventing her ministry stuffed with fossilized human material which deserves to be dumped and replaced by new blood. She has to tread carefully without making too many enemies. A whispering campaign against her is already in progress. Meanwhile the PTV with its newly inducted head has put in place its own roadmap. To begin with, big boss Dr Shahid Masood (come back, we miss you on Geo) has decided to clean the proverbial Augean stables by inviting a team of “gora” investigators to nail those who have stolen millions during the past government. Pious beginnings, indeed. But the good doctor is getting bogged down playing James Bond instead of fixing the malaise that is crying out for surgery. Other than hiring people and offering them princely salaries, PTV has failed to make any waves. Nobody watches it.

Another new inductee on the information scene has directed the folks in the ministry to take direct orders from him. The press secretary to the PM has crowned himself the boss. “I am your boss,” he told the Press Information Department guys recently. The hapless officers are in a quandary – who should they report to – Sherry Rehman or Zahid Bashir?

Zahid Bashir was in the past running M/s Budget Communications (Pvt) Ltd and was allegedly distributing Indian channels to cable operators without obtaining a licence from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA.) In 2006, PEMRA raided the Lahore-based outfit of Zahid Bashir and seized the “distribution equipment being sold for illegal distribution of channels”. Prior to this, it wrote his company a letter, dated July 26, 2006, in which it issued a warning that various sections of the PEMRA Ordinance of 2002 were being violated, especially those that related to the illegal relay of proscribed channels without a licence. ZB duly filed a petition in the Lahore High Court which ruled in his favour – on December 27, 2006, his company wrote to PEMRA’s regional GM in Lahore asking that all seized equipment be returned. Case closed. The truth, as they say, is never known.

He was a tireless worker and ran the election campaigns of sons of the powerful. While the son of Jehangir Badar could not win despite ZB’s best attempts, the PM’s son made it to a provincial seat. Naturally, PM Gilani thinks the world of ZB’s talents and guess what? Not only did he hire him, but he lets him sit in on all the sensitive meetings and top-secret briefings! Far better it would be for the press secretary to bolster his boss’s faltering standing in the media rather than listening in to all the state secrets, meant only for the eyes and ears of a select few.

And this brings me back to the “Saturday Night Live” that turned into a disaster because someone somewhere bungled up badly. Should the blame be shared between the minister of information, the press secretary and the PTV boss? If not, then probably the government is already scapegoating some lowly technician at PTV.

Recently, an able and honest head of OGDC was given the marching orders by the PM. What was Arshad Nasar’s crime? An OGDC insider was heard saying that a certain VVIP had asked Nasar to extend the deadline for opening of bids for a multi-million-dollar project. “There was some influential guy who wanted the project. Naser got a call from a high-up demanding that Nasar entertain the influential person’s bid. ‘I don’t take verbal orders, give it to me in writing,’ Nasar is meant to have told the high-up at the other end. ‘We always give verbal orders, never written,’ said the high up in a threatening tone. ‘You better do what you’re told otherwise you’ll be shown the door.’ Nasar stood his ground. Two hours later, a letter arrived from the PM House, ordering OGDC to extend the deadline for opening of bids and sacking Nasar!”

And by the way, while PM Gilani is distributing his largesse right, left and centre, he has by a stroke of his pen given a double promotion to his very own Principal Secretary Siraj Shamsuddin (SS) in a matter of two months! Dismissed from service when BB’s last government fell, Mr & Mrs Shamsuddin moved to London where both eked out a living as teachers. With the return of PPP-Z, that’s the new name given to Zardari-led PPP, Shamsuddin who had been out of service for full ten years became the principal secretary, a post always held by a grade 22 officer. The path for this dismissed grade 20 officer was cleared by Gilani himself (at boss Zardari’s behest) and readily okayed by time servers like General (retd) Shahid Hamid, chairman of the Public Service Commission and the Establishment secretary. The two gents put their jobs before principles. Obviously, they didn’t want to be booted out like Arshad Naser.

Will the PPP ever change?

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting.
Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu

Source: The News, 22/7/2008

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