There are two things fundamentally wrong about the meeting between Ms Sarah Palin and the gushing Pakistani squad comprising the president and Ms Sherry Rehman. The first of course being, why the president had to call her ‘gorgeous.’ It’s a word that causes most Paki-tongues to get twisted and the millions who have recounted this episode to one another or on the infernal trillion TV channels, have spawned a whole colony of variations upon the word, each more bizarre than the other.
The second fallout is more sinister than most of us can fathom at this stage. The president’s generous description of the formidable Alaskan bear woman has touched an apparently sympathetic chord that lay dormant in the breast of none other than Mushahid Hussain Syed, the man whom Nelson Mandela dreads. It was the good Syed who coaxed Mian Nawaz Sharif to put his foot forward and whack the PPP for a six. He was the ‘prisoner’ of conscience who chose to be interred pacing in his library with nothing better to do than watch TV, read books, catch up on correspondence and peep from the upper balcony at the Margalla landscape. He was patience itself till his value was recognised by yet another military dictator and he emerged from his hibernation to lead the country. It does not matter in the least that he led it no where but lead he did and the Gujrat Boyz were beholden to him and rewarded him well for his intellectual somersaults.
His eloquent and passionate defence about the unfortunate presidential remark on the grounds that the president was feeling good, enjoying his visit and was merely flirting harmlessly has sent shivers down my back. What can this mean? The Syed is a clever man and never says anything that has no strings tied to it. His defence of the president may very well mean another return of the native to more perks and privileges and to yet once more guide this troubled nation out of trouble. The Syed may not be exactly riding in on a white charger – though he could if there was a percentage in it, but he does not say any thing without purpose. If this defence endears him to the presidency, we may all rue that one word uttered in admiration when Ms Palin glided into the room just as effortlessly as she does when whacking the opposition in ice hockey – what else can she do? Dune buggy in Alaska? It is the prayer of many of us sinners that the Syed’s generous and warm hearted defence of the president has gone by unnoticed but that would be asking for the moon. The Syed would have ensured that his loyal defence of his president reaches the right ears. Not for nothing is he a man for all seasons.
A great deal has already been written and spoken about that meeting. Most Pakistanis who have an opinion on such things have seen nothing shocking or shameful in this incident but have felt a trifle embarrassed because it is not that a generous compliment should become a national debate, but the fact that it did not behove the new president to gush. Not for the president to say when dozens of mikes are on and the room has many more people just two or three. Of course we all have not had the pleasure of meeting Ms Palin in the flesh as it were, so perhaps as she breezed in, her mane of hardly controllable hair all about her, that sparkling skin that undoubtedly comes from spending time in the great outdoors and that stride garnered over many treks hunting down moose and polar bears and that clear look and broad flashing ‘Miss Congenility’smile. It certainly made moose meat of our information minister who gushed as girl friends do at hen parties admiring the latest bauble or that fetching lip gloss and breathlessly whispered the ‘how does one manage’ line that embarrassed the Alaskan Gov. who is probably more at home with, ‘nice shot Sarah’ or ‘you got the bear Sarah. Straight through his heart.’ While she was still recovering from that one – there apparently is no known verbal response from the lady governor, the president delivered the punch line, 1-2 and she is down for the count. Embarrassed and not knowing quite what to make of this strange encounter with some strange people from a country she has never heard of, she can only turn red which she did being the good redneck that she undoubtedly is.
But why should any of this trivial exchange matter in the least to us who are in deep trouble and in an economic crunch the likes of which we have never known? What is all the fuss about? The president’s handlers, who should have been taken to task for this foolish and unnecessary detour in a tight and brief maiden visit of Pakistan’s president, have escaped unscathed because they are mostly nameless. The Americans (for once) are blameless. They know that they have a running mate for their presidential hopeful who hasn’t been more than a rifle shot away from her beloved Alaska and therefore the General Assembly session is a godsend that will give Ms Palin a quick-fix crash course in international jousting. They might have subtly or not so subtly insisted that our president meet the lady but why could our ambassador and that man from Sindh Club whose name I cannot recall, not taken a diplomatic and firm stand citing an extraordinary hectic schedule which would deprive the president from meeting the lady in person?
The reason is and it’s sadly true, that though the British fled these shores long ago, we are impressed beyond rational belief the minute we are in the company of western-nations. Somehow all Pakistanis turn to jelly the minute they spot them. For years – no decades we have played fawning hosts to brigades of secretaries of various low cadres by ensuring that the highest of our reigning officials would be promptly at the country’s airports bowing and scraping as the bewildered foreign officials arrived. Not at all used to being treated like visiting royalty, they must have laughed their heads off later while recounting the submissive and pathetic brownies who literally worshipped the ground their Excellencies trod on. Can we ever forget the insulting trip Bill Clinton paid to Pakistan – it was short enough to be in ‘Star Trek?’ Can one forget that pantomime we enacted at the airport when our president was running about like a headless (but bearded) chicken ending up opening the wrong doors of the limo? It was the keystone cops all over – he opens one door then in fast motion runs round and opens another – whoa where did the president go? Of that gent who apparently was a great joke-teller, the less said the better. I always thought that the most endearing quality about President Tarar was that you could turn him upside down and he would still look the same.
So let us swallow one more embarrassment and hope that some lesson (well fat hope that one) might have been learnt from this rather unfortunate incident which is no big deal as things are but just shows how far we still have to go to gain some respect in the world and how important it is for our leaders to act with dignity and grace.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The News, 5/10/2008