The carpetbaggers- Anjum Niaz

Going, going, gone. Great jobs for grabs. As the auction house on the hill opens up for business as usual, lotas, lotis, ex-ambassadors, editors, journalists, anchormen, media analysts, bureaucrats – superannuated and serving, technocrats, intellectuals, bankers, businessmen, judges and respected members of civil society (still don’t know what that means) are polishing their resumes to send to the new president. Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari loved doling out state patronage to their favourites and the fraudulent. Kowtowing to the former first couple was a slew of darbaris, masters in duplicity. Listen, all this may have happened in the last century, still the memories of those halcyon days cast a shadow on the new president.

The best quote that I got immediately after Zardari’s election was from a chowkidar in E-11 in Islamabad. “I’m from Gujjar Khan. I am a PPP supporter and voted for Raja Pervez, the federal minister for water and power. But my constituents and I were not in favour of Zardari becoming the president. He is controversial; does not live here; his kids go to schools abroad and he keeps running off to Dubai, London and New York where he owns luxurious homes. He does not belong here nor does he have any stakes in this country’s survival.”

The term ‘carpetbagger’ got currency in the movie Gone with the Wind. During the Civil War, Northerners who arrived in the war-battered South to try their luck at winning contracts and government jobs for the reconstruction operation arrived according to folklore carrying only one carpetbag which symbolized their ‘lack of permanent interest in the place they pretended to serve.’ In today’s America, the term is still used for non-resident politicians who exploit their constituent status to become rich.

Going by the past, I know you’ll scream at me and say why do I pull up Zardari’s past, cronies, buddies and loyalists who disappeared from the scene when Benazir Bhutto’s second government fell in order to escape jail, will have returned in droves to seek lucrative employment. Fifty such ‘carpet baggers’ have already been accommodated according to the blogosphere.

How long before we learn that Zardari has not changed? The western media has been more viciously forthright than the Pakistani press. The latter has conveniently pushed the truth under the rug as though it never existed. Here’s how Fox News told its viewers in America and the rest of the world of Zardari’s victory: The widower of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who until last year was suffering from dementia, major depressive disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder has been elected as the new president. In their mischief, they added: He couldn’t remember his wife and children’s names.

Remember the Polaroid camera when it first came out? Shoot, wait and out popped the developed print within minutes. The bulky gadget provided an instant print bypassing the monotony of having to trudge to your local photo shop and waiting for a couple of days before you could see the thrilling results. This was before the age of digitalized cameras. This past week it seemed that our Polaroid cameras were back in use and there was every ordinary Pakistani (barring the fawners in the media) making instant prints of Asif Ali Zardari before he became our president.

As the film emerged from our cameras with a grayish green murkiness it gradually took shape of the man and his deeds. The images that we saw didn’t show our protagonist in a positive light. From Karachi to Khyber, the begum in her drawing room; the chowkidar at the gate; the cook in the kitchen; the young executive on the treadmill; the receptionist at the dentist and a million others held up their Polaroid prints of the presidential hopeful. Almost all saw lengthening shadows of Surrey Palace, Swiss accounts and Spanish villas swirl around the image of the person who soon would be our king.

The nation was depressed. With terrorism, inflation, load-shedding and poverty staring most in the face, hope for a better future dimmed.

At a farewell dinner for the wonderful Japanese Ambassador Seiji Kojima and Madame Tami by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, one gauged the falling fortunes of the PML-Q by the guest attendance and the depressing number of diplomats present. “So, is there any hope of your presidential candidate Mushahid Hussain making a dent in Zardari’s vox populi?” I asked Gohar Ayub and others who had not deserted the PML-Q camp. He gave me an honest reply saying that the political party born out of Musharraf and ISI wedlock some nine years ago was sundering. “We’re losing our party people to the PPP in the centre and the PML-N in Punjab.”

And that is exactly what happened on September 6.

Islamabad is a very cruel place. The residents are ‘barbarians’ who worship the rising sun and gravitate around the man or woman of the hour. They have no time for the sinking ships and their crew which frequently run aground and are consigned to the junk yard waiting to be resurrected back to power. The host, Captain Shujaat Hussain, held his chin high but Master Mariner Mushahid Hussain was unusually sober, so unlike him. Gone was that grin; gone was that smug swagger. The empty seats at the dinner table told a tale of betrayal, deceit and mass defection.

The American ambassador, Anne Patterson came and left within the half hour. I didn’t see her huddling with anyone of import as she normally does. Ambassadors of more important embassies were conspicuous by their absence, as the cliché goes. Senators Wasim Sajjad (twice the acting president) and Tariq Azim (former junior minister of information) looked prepared for the great fall. The new kid in the power block was Zardari. He was coming and sweeping the Q men off the powerful avenues of Islamabad leaving them lying on the curbside.

And that is exactly what he did on September 6. Adieu PML-Q.

Ah, the good folks of the mass media! In our instant news and hero-obsessed culture, what wondrous tricks they play with their viewers and readers. Chameleon-like, some editors, columnists and pinheads in TV talk shows change their colours and tunes with their projectile tongues giving us fresh portraits of the new president magically morphing into a powerful agent of change. They tender unsolicited advice to the president while amplifying naked admiration for his political adroitness and economic wizardry instead of investigative journalism. Anyone could have told them not to waste their breath because nobody in the Zardari camp is really interested in their dewy babbleothons.

Professor Ghazi Ahmad in his ‘Sayings of Muhammad (PBUH)’ cites our Holy Prophet as saying that there are three signs of a hypocrite: when he speaks he speaks lies, when he makes a promise he breaks it, and when he is trusted he betrays his trust.

Instead of singing President Zardari’s hosannas, far better it would be for our intellectuals to group-think and outline the strategies for our survival that some wiseacre at the presidency may pick up and after dwelling upon it pass it on to the man whose task to save Pakistan was never more daunting than today. God has given Asif Ali Zardari a real chance to cleanse the skeletons rattling ever so loudly in his cupboard. Let him begin. But before he runs the marathon to save the present and usher in the future of 170 million Pakistanis, he must not allow favouritism, nepotism and cronyism to trip him and make him fall flat on his face.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put Zardari together again!

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting



Source: The News, 9th September, 2008

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