I have been blogging for a while now. Perhaps the only reason I write these blogs is that I normally read several news articles every day and I wanted to see how good I am at writing them. There are several popular columnists out there in the world of Journalism. But most of their articles/columns turn out to be mere reproduction of facts and some yawning monologue on what the author thinks about that news item. There are very few columnists (like Tavleen Singh) who can make a news article a joy to read. I mean hilarious and interesting, one that even a casual news reader can read and appreciate. I'm sure Tamil language readers would appreciate the satirical columns of Cho Ramasamy in Tughlaq. Just for a sample, I am reproducing a column by Kamran Shafi that appeared in the Dailytimes newspaper in Pakistan today. Mind you this is the first time I am using this space for something I didn't write!
"A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada, or citizenship, and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.” So spake the Big General in an interview with the Washington Post as he arrived in New York for the UN summit. He was referring to the recent high-profile rape cases of Mukhtar Mai and Dr Shazia Khalid which were so written about in the world’s press and which contributed so much towards his government’s efforts to “soften” our country’s image.
Whew! The Big General does leave one speechless; does he not? He is maddening; is he not? What absolutely amazing audacity is his! What cheek! What effrontery! I mean, so absurd is his suggestion that the victims in the instant cases actually willed the rapes to happen so that they may “go abroad and get a visa and be(come) a millionaire(s)”!
While Chaudhry Shujaat’s trusted lieutenant, Mushahid “Mandela” Hussain is the all-time world champion for showing the most brass by comparing his three-month detention in an army mess with Nelson Mandela’s solitary confinement of 17 years in a cruel apartheid jail, the Big General is not far behind. I mean, for God’s sake, General; for God’s sake, sir!
It’s Dubya who is to blame; isn’t it, for the General’s verbal flights into the unknown; into the wild blue yonder? But of course he is to blame, for making it known that come hell or Katrina, General Musharraf will remain “tight” with him and he with General Musharraf. Making our man go overboard in no uncertain terms, without a care in the world. Not even for his own future health, when the United States government will, as surely as the sun rises in the East, dump him like it has dumped countless others before him heretofore; once he and our country have served their purposes; when, indeed, Dubya will no longer be president of the United States.
Neither did he limit his rather loud comments to the rape cases. In a further nail in the coffin of our nuclear programme, General Musharraf actually fingered the North Koreans by saying he was surprised that North Korea has denied having a uranium enrichment programme, because, according to himself, the Dr AQ Khan network run out of Pakistan sold North Korea designs and centrifuge parts needed for such a programme. Based on what he knew of Pakistani sales, the General said, “I think they do have an enrichment programme”. I ask you!
Why in heaven’s name did the General answer this question? Even if he is right about the exact number of “designs and centrifuge parts” the “Dr AQ Khan network” sold to North Korea unbeknown, in order of priority, to the government of the Islamic Republic; the myriad ‘agencies’; and the Pakistan Army which was/is the Chief Chowkidar of the nuclear programme, what was the whole point in acting as a US prosecutor who is trying to prove the US case against another country?
Now then, while on the one hand he will leave you stunned by tramping about where angels fear to tread (even very softly), on the other he will say just the right thing, hitting the nail on the head, so to say. According to the report: “Asked about Iran, Gen Musharraf said that it had a right to peaceful use of nuclear power. He was critical of the US invasion of Iraq, which had angered Muslims all over the world because of the televised images of towns being bombed and people dying, and cautioned against similar operations against Iran. Rather than report Iran to the UN Security Council, the international community should be looking for ways to help Iran, he said, adding that ‘Iran needs to show flexibility’ as well”.
This is the maddening aspect of the Big General: While even his best buddies would cringe at most of what he said in the interview, not even his worst enemies could find anything wrong with what he said on Iran and Iraq and the foolish American action that has already set the Middle East on fire. May one suggest, however, that he immediately withdraw his remarks on rape, and instruct his regime to immediately change its chauvinistic attitude towards women and crimes against women.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are moves afoot to retain yet more very-expensive Public Relations lobbyists to help get this country a “softer image”, whatever that means. And compared to who? I mean just getting a softer image than that which is Pakistan’s today is a daunting enough task; to get a softer image than, say, India’s, will be well nigh impossible.
Let’s leave the lobbyists out of it for a moment; let’s just have a short reality check. How many foreign airlines land at Pakistani airports please? Precisely seven: British Airways, GulfAir, Thai, Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, and another? Or is it just six? May be nine? Indian airports receive virtually every airline there is in the world, leave alone KLM and Swissair and Lufthansa and JAL and Qantas and United and American, even Austrian and USAir and Virgin Atlantic (which may well be banned from landing in the Land of the Pure anyway because of the word ‘Virgin’ attached to its name!!). Get the picture, everyone? You listening, ‘Prime Minister’ Shaukat Aziz?
Now then, there was never more wasteful expenditure than money spent on foreign PR lobbyists on retainers, take it from an old hand who has always been against hiring them, who has written reams of notes on the subject to government. It is almost as bad as paid supplements in the newspapers. (This government of the Personal Banker has surpassed them all in this too: for a fee that goes into the hundreds of thousands of yummy dollars, it had a supplement published on the Internet edition, I repeat, the internet edition, of the New York Times recently! I mean who would read a paid supplement on an Internet edition, for God’s sake, when no one reads a printed one?).
It is foolish in the extreme, precisely because it is useless in the extreme to hire PR lobbyists on retainers. For several reasons actually, the foremost that being foreign to the country they represent, lobbyists have no idea of what they are dealing with. More importantly, no matter how good they are, they cannot change the situation on the ground. I mean if women want to get raped to become millionaires and get visas to go to Canada what the devil can any lobbyist do?
Instead of wasting more of the nation’s meagre resources on idiotic pursuits, far better for the government to spend its time giving the country better governance; to then choose the country’s representatives abroad with care; and to then arm them with sufficient funds (and other wherewithal) to sell the country to the hosts, and therefore give it a “softer image”. They may also hire lobbyists on a need-to basis, for specific tasks. About which, more later.
Bushism of the Week: “So please give cash money to organisations that are directly involved in helping save lives — save the life who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina” — President George W Bush, Washington DC, September 6, 2005."
Kamran Shafi is a freelance columnist