The Pakistan report card: Omissions of high commissions

Fasi Zaka

In his last week’s column in The News by Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the high commissioner of Pakistan to the UK, raises a lot of contentious issues whose interpretation he gives as a state functionary is subject to doubt. Wajid Shamsul Hasan, a former journalist, wrote to clarify the position of the PPP which he saw under threat from “conspiracies”. His opening volley described himself as a “detached observer” sitting three thousand miles away, which is technically not true since he is a political appointee as a high commissioner to the UK from the PPP (not that this necessarily means he is not suited for the position, which he may very well be).

The high commissioner’s article had the gist of accusation, that people like Naheed Khan and Makhdom Amin Fahim were out to destroy the party’s legacy, which with the current Zardari-led PPP is not a new narrative, but the reasons that the high commissioner outlines are new. The high commissioner to the UK believes the above mentioned two are in the purse of “invisible hands”, not just now, but since always, because Wajid Shamsul Hasan believes they are “planted” sleeper agents. The only one he almost cleverly alludes as an outright intelligence agency operative is Farooq Leghari, stating that it’s possible they waited 20 years to use Leghari to bring down the PPP. That’s fanciful stuff, it’s a long shot that there is some remote kernel of truth to it, it makes any kind of dissension equal to subversive treason.

Moreover, he writes about the extraordinary career Benazir Bhutto had as a leader, which is quite universally acknowledged because she was a woman of uncommon gifts whose life was tragically cut short. But it was one anecdote that Wajid Shamsul Hasan narrates that probably evokes more repulsion than doing good for her legacy. He writes that Benazir was afraid that her party would be hijacked when she was virtually in exile for fear of prosecution and persecution in Pakistan, and so she created the PPPP, or the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians so that the elections could be run under a banner in 2002 that did not allow anyone to usurp her position from the real legacy party, the PPP. The Pakistani high commissioner then added that he was astounded at Benazir’s intellectual dexterity in writing a constitution for the new PPPP in an hour on her computer. While Wajid Shamsul Hasan waxes lyrical about the beauty of the PPPP constitution, he mentions it was accepted when Benazir gave an ultimatum to all those who had reservations about it by saying, “Take it or leave it.” That doesn’t say much about the persuasive power of the document, but does say a lot about the contradiction that Benazir Bhutto could be, and often was, charismatic, intellectually gifted, yet paradoxically feudal in mindset.

Now, to the real issue. Had Wajid Shamsul Hasan written this piece as a political appointee as the high commissioner to the UK, one would have understood the bias in the piece. But twice in the article, he evokes authority as a former journalist to the views he presents. As it stands, the article is more of a thank you note than a first draft of history. There is a general problem in countries such as Pakistan which have un-established democracies, that is the inability to accept our heroes with chinks in their armour, as great but flawed human beings, which is probably most evident in the white washing of our history curriculum in schools. This brief tract by Wajid Shamsul Hasan has the same problems. The first thing it does is assign blame to unproven conspiracy to the current problem of governance from the PPP, insisting the disaffected must all be in the pockets of vested interests, which is ironic since the article in question can be logically argued in the same way but with different paymasters (although, to be fair, legitimate paymasters, the diplomatic corps).

Again, had this article only come from the high commissioner within the ambit of his status as the public face of the state in the UK it could have been palatable, but by evoking the credentials of a former journalist the same problem befalls the high commissioner as it does Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Mushahid Hussain, Hussain Haqqani or even Dr Shahid Masood have as journalists, if they were to continue to call themselves that, is that they are compromised because of political affiliation and because they become part of state machinery.

But, state patronage for journalists is an issue of the past, one that does not have the same resonance as the new politics of patronage starts taking place. This problem, so to speak, has become more insidious. The great danger to journalism is not the state, but quite possibly capitalism. Already this danger has been made evident through the appointment of Salman Taseer as governor Punjab. Mr Taseer has significant media holdings, and with the newspaper and channels he owns he can manage discourse to benefit his political affiliations. Currently this is one major case, but imagine if owners of other media units were to follow course, then it would make the article of the high commissioner’s article look like a minor infraction on the issue of bias. While today we fear the state machinery appropriating journalists, tomorrow the issue may be journalists welded into the capitalism behind the fourth estate foraying into national politics through participation of the media owners. Just ask the Italians with Berlusconi.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka

Source: The Nation, 24/7/2008


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