By Tarik Jan
They say wise men weigh their words before they speak. Our politicians are exception — they think after they speak. Often they have to speak perforce and get burned. That is their occupational hazard. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is a handsome man and people expect from handsome men to handsome doing. To his nation’s misfortune the moment he speaks he puts his foot in his mouth. He loses his good looks becoming something else.
Whenever the violent ones strike, Gilani is inclined to link it with “his war on terrorism.” On one such occasion, speaking to the spread of microphones in front of him, he said “it was not other’s war it is our war of terrorism.” Then scrambling for a rationale he proffered one:
“Had it been an American war, Pakistan would not have been the victim of 99% of the blast.” Then grinding it into his listeners’ mind, he said “it is our war and not of [the] U. S.” Worst, he sounded as if he believed in what he said.
In our folklore we often come across such a ring. A rich woman’s son died. The maid servant wept copiously, beating her chest. Surprised someone who knew she was not a relative asked her why was she crying louder than the real mother. “What!” she said. Then raising her voice so that the lady of the house could hear her, said: “I am devastated. My son has died and you ask me why I cry.”
Gilani was at his eloquent best when he threw another gem of wisdom at his people saying we cannot fight with the U.S., forgetting what he had said earlier about defending our territorial integrity and honor. Never mind the obvious contradiction – you cannot defend your honor against someone if you cannot fight him. He could have said “we take U.S. as our friend and we would not like to fight with friends” and that would have made sense. As the wise would say, fear the unwise in power and frustrate the chicken-hearted come close to power. Both spell disaster.
But he is not the only one: there are other loose canons who stutter with heartbreaking rhythm. Foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi thinks the border between Pakistan and India is just another Berlin Wall waiting to be pulled down. Is he poor in history or geography, or inept in the use of analogy? Perhaps in all, for he never issued a correction or say he was misquoted as it happens with our politicians. Imagine our misfortune; Qureshi is our foreign minister who is supposed to further the nation’s geographical and security imperatives through the art of diplomacy. But in defending his nation’s geography, it is the demolition of the Berlin Wall that comes to his mind.
He reminds me of the great sufic teacher Maulana Rum’s parrot.
A grocer had a talking parrot saddled on a perch. One day the parrot got excited, and while flipping his wings incidentally spilled the oil that his master was measuring for a buyer. Enraged, he rapped the parrot’s head making him bald. As the story goes, the parrot regressed into a long period of silence. Then one day he saw a beggar approaching the grocer’s shop. He was bald. The parrot chirped up. “Ah! You must have spilled the oil then.” This is what a logician would call bringing disrepute to analogy. But then how can you argue with a foreign minister. Is he not a foreigner or trying to be one!
Pakistan-United States relations are said to be getting sour. Some high-up in the Zardari administration are optimistic that the differences are only peripheral and not substantive. The bone of contention seems to be that Obama says we will kill your people on the Pakistani side of the Pak-Afghan borders. Gilani and Zardari say no, we are a sovereign nation. We will kill our own people. Judging by the nature of the dispute characterized as peripheral, we think eventually the U. S. will give in, letting our duo claim they have succeeded in safeguarding our national sovereignty.
Our high commissioner to India, Shahid Malik, is also one of his kinds. To a question from a TV host of a popular program if Pakistan-India parleys are still on the right trajectory, he said our relations with India are getting better, making progress in several directions.
The newscaster should have asked him if drying up the Chinab River makes relations better! But as our newsmen are, he did not have a thesis to his interview or a follow up. This always happens when our newsmen are talking to government officials. There are no digs, no punch in the ribs. They let them speak any nonsense they want. And they listen with all the respect they do not deserve. There is no skepticism on what they say, nor disdain for denying intelligence to the people. When asked what the areas of progress were, Malik said liberalizing trade, visit visas, and terrorism in Kashmir. The newscaster should have told Malik that all these issues were of India’s concerns. What would Pakistan get out of such India-bonded talks? Or what makes Malik so optimistic when India has spread its blanket of darkness over the Pakistani horizon from fanning trouble in Baluchistan to FATA and hurting its agrarian economy.
As the story goes, the German philosopher Emanuel Kant once expressed his pessimism about humanity’s fate despite his stubborn belief in progress. Famous as he was, it caused concern to the believers of progress who reminded him of a physician who specialized in consoling his patients that they improved every day. Then fallen ill himself, a friend came to see him. “How is your illness?” he asked the optimistic doctor. “How should it be going? I am dying from sheer improvement,” the ill doctor responded.
Our president has been described by one of the U. S. officials as “street wise.” Maybe he takes it as a compliment, for what could be more satisfying for a man from a developing nation than the pat at the back for doing their dirty job. After all, most of our politicians, generals, and civil servants live in the American eyes of approval.
The U.S. officials cannot be wrong all the time. Asif Zardari is indeed a street smart guy. He has succeeded in opening the already cash strapped treasury dispensing last year 34 billion rupees ($ 425 million) in the name of his dead wife. Isn’t it nice! He has now 2.3 million potential voters to his polling booths. This fiscal year he intends to dish out 70 billion rupees (about $ 833 million) adding 5 million potential voters to his electoral list. This is what one may call charity begins at home. Whether it will help economy generate jobs and yield a higher gross national product, forget it my man! Smart is one who does smart.
Tarik Jan is a research scholar based at Islamabad. Also he is a visiting Professor at Fatima Jinnah Women University. He is an author of several books that got world recognition. He is Member Board of Advisros, Opinion Maker.