Benazir Bhutto – on ‘sale’?

I know the title of this post is provocative. But it does convey what I feel currently. There is a political circus going on in Pakistan, and one exiled prime-minister after another, and one US diplomat after another, is making their rounds in encumbering a nation of 140 million with their insincere views. While the political situation is being readied for a show-down in October, political lackeys and power-hungry sycophants are lining up to be awarded a favor or two for their impassioned political speeches. From a distance, it all looks like a circus, with the same clowns and monkeys changing their appearances for the acts to make their audience clap in appreciation.

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (pictured here) are two former Prime-Ministers of Pakistan that are very familiar to Pakistanis of my generation. They, in many ways, represent the very reasons why my generation lost faith in Pakistani democracy. Each ruled for 2 or more terms in the office, each time they came into power a new band of idiots looters followed in tow, and they each left country disgraced and corrupted. And now, when the nation once again yearns for democracy, the very same people who ruined it previously are seen brokering with each other for power in a democratic setup.

But let me be clear, do not speak for a majority of Pakistan. When I speak to people back home, they appear confused. In a nation of 140 million, they are astounded that no other person(s) has been able to rise to the national level as a leader? Is that so because anybody aspiring to do so was either fired from the political parties, or sent to jail? That almost seems like the problem in Palestine.

Benazir Bhutto is indeed gearing up to return to Pakistan, with hope that she may just get her seat back – and yes – she may even get a popular vote if she went back today…. but as I said, I am not speaking for a majority of Pakistan. She does not represent me, and I do not want her back in the office to start the plunder that plagued Pakistan in the 90’s start all over again. I have also seen who stands beside her through thick and thin, esp when she is out of power, and I am not impressed at all.

During all of this drama – or a tragic comedy as I describe it to my wife – I find it sad that US government has also not learnt its lesson in how to engage in politics of sovereign nations, esp in the Muslim world. By ‘selling’ Benazir Bhutto through CNN, FOX and other US media networks, and by promoting a pseudo-call for democracy through its now-too-regular-for-comfort visitors to Pakistan, they are actually undermining the legitimacy of the national movement for democracy in the country. Any person(s) perceived to be promoted by the US will either lose their support within Pakistan before the elections or soon after coming in power. Would we want that to happen again, i.e. an elected government shown the door after a few years in power?

If the US political pundits are really so interested in Pakistani politics, they really should be talking to the average politicians – from current members of the national assemblies to reform-minded leaders like Imran Khan. They can help them better understand the real political mood of the country, for Benazir and Nawaz will only feed the US media what they want to hear. Pakistan is a nuclear power,haunted by extremists, Talibans are in resurgence, economy is in shambles, human rights are being violated, and I am the only political leader with a national mandate, blah blah blah…

Khaled Hassan is a reputed journalist – a man who has lived and reported through many governments, and someone who knows when to cry wolf. He has done so in a recent op-ed in the Daily Times. I post his article below.

POSTCARD USA: Selling Ms Bhutto —Khalid Hasan

Far be it for me to cast aspersions on the press, but things happen that make one ask how much of what appears in print or is seen on television is based on the merit of what is being reported.

One case in point is that of Ms Benazir Bhutto. She has made more visits to the United States than she can count or remember. As an incurable newspaper reader, I can stand in the court of My Lord the Chief Justice of Pakistan and with my right hand on my heart which is on the left in more ways than one, state in a loud and clear voice that never once since her exile did I see a word appear in any American newspaper about Ms Bhutto, nor was her face ever seen on any American TV network or cable channel.
What brought her to America were her speaking engagements. She spoke at college campuses; she spoke to church groups, to pensioners, to businessmen, to travel people and being a lady who is practical to her dainty fingernails, she pocketed the proceeds to the last cent. She spoke in small towns one had never heard of and she spoke in bigger cities to bigger gatherings for bigger fees. She came to this country three times a year, if not four or more.

I am listing all this to make the point that never once did any newspaper, including the local town-crier, consider what she said worthy of notice in print. If she was seen on any television screen, that must have been incidental. She came to Washington several times and as far as one knows, even stripling American officials did not make time to receive her. If she was indeed received, then it must have been a closely guarded secret because nobody ever heard about it. She always met the usual suspects, did the rounds of the standard think tanks, where good people, old Pakistan hands like Steve Cohen, Teresita Schaffer, Marvin Weinbaum et al sometimes facilitated her public appearances.

That was then. That is not how it is now. Everything has changed.

Since someone up there who likes her and likes General Musharraf and wants the two to team up to fight Big Bad Beards with Bazookas, suddenly Ms Bhutto has been discovered and her picture and the political wisdom she disgorges are splashed across US national dailies and flashed on TV screens.

On her recent visit to New York, where she stayed for three weeks, her day was taken up with interviews and appearances that never seemed to end. Not only that, but her signed articles began to appear in all major newspapers. When she had time to write them, will remain another unexplained Pakistani mystery. The great American television networks that had remained unaware of her existence all these years, were suddenly lining up to interview her in prime time.

CNN, which is unable to rid its hapless viewers of Christiane Amanpour, her Islam bashing and her fake British accent, had Ms Bhutto on its Sunday morning news show. CBS, NBC, Fox — you name it — had her on the screen while sweet questions were cooed into her ear. Nothing hostile or difficult or, God forbid, embarrassing.

The Council on Foreign Relations, which had paid no attention to her as she flew in and out of New York, pulling her own bags, had her address a glittering gathering of luminaries made up of academics, journalists, business executives, diplomats and ladies who lunch.

Two Pakistani journalists who toil out of New York for Pakistani news outlets were told by the organisers that they could not be let in because there was “not an inch” of space left. And they had not arrived late either. Had it not been for their persistence and their ability to raise their voices — though just enough — they would not have been let in at all. However, they were made to sit at the back of the auditorium.

We have to ask ourselves a simple question. Why? In the answer lies our tragedy.

The opening of every media door in this country to Ms Bhutto has to have a cause, a reason. There has to have been a signal from somewhere that she be accorded the maximum exposure, the optimum coverage. The press, the media are free indeed, but there can be no question that on occasions the advice or suggestion or request of those who guide the ship of state is invariably respected. Ms Bhutto had to be built up because it had been decided that in order to stabilise Gen Musharraf and his regime, a different civilian partnership was the need of the hour. And those who send satellites into the sky that peer into every nook and corner, every contour and crater, every hidden cave (except the one where Osama and Ayman spend the day playing chess), have the ability to get attention paid to what they desire.

It is fair to state that when it comes to domestic politics, the American media is fiercely independent, but when it involves things that lie beyond the continental United States and when “national interest” is juggled in front of media managers, the necessary is done without demur.

The Musharraf-Bhutto arrangement is viewed as one best equipped to deal with the “spectre of terrorism and extremism” — as the mantra has it. To that end, high-gloss exposure of Ms Bhutto, the acceptable face of the Musharraf regime, has been facilitated. There is the long arm of the government and then there is the well-financed and well-connected, high-powered public relations and lobbying network to which the United States is home. Selling, be it soap or politicians, local or foreign, has been perfected to an art form in this country. Ms Bhutto stands sold,

British historian William Dalrymple put it best, “Benazir Bhutto needs little packaging as she is an attractive product to sell…Bhutto has always seemed reassuringly familiar — one of us. She speaks English fluently as it is her first language. For the Americans, what Benazir Bhutto isn’t is possibly more attractive than what she is. She isn’t a religious fundamentalist, she doesn’t have a beard, she doesn’t organise mass rallies where everyone shouts ‘Death to America’, and she doesn’t issue fatwas against bestselling authors. However, the very reasons that make the West love Bhutto are the same that leave many Pakistanis with second thoughts. Her English may be fluent, but you can’t say the same about her Urdu, which she speaks like a well-groomed foreigner: fluently but ungrammatically. Her Sindhi is even worse.”

And her politics! Pass me that paper bag, Mickey old boy.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is khasan2@cox.net

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2 Responses to Benazir Bhutto – on ‘sale’?

  1. Wasiq says:

    The reason why no one else has emerged on the political scene is because educated idealists like you become doctors or engineers and do not get involved in politics.

    Politics is the art of compromise. It also requires involvement, effort and sacrifice. The saddest thing about Pakistan is that to many people comment on politics but are unwilling to engage in it.

    If those who do not like Bneazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were really political, they would have started a successful third party by now.

    Maybe it is time to defer to the fundamental principle of democracy: The collective wisdom of the people brings good results in the end. So, if the people are willing to forgive BB and Nawaz, let us accept the people’s wisodm. maybe that is what Pakistan needs to get rid of military dictatorship.

    By the way, Khalid Hasan’s article is about selling Benazir Bhutto as in marketing her to an American audience. I do not think it is fair to put it under the headline “Bhutto for Sale.”

    As we are all about to find out, like a good politician Benazir Bhutto has negotiated well and is returning to Pakistan. But she remains committed to demanding that Musharraf take off his uniform and revert Pakistan to civilian rule. She may be no angel, but then who said politics is about black and white?

  2. […] tragedy is a big blow to Pakistan’s stability and unity. I disagreed with her on many issues (link), but she was a politician nonetheless, and her biggest contribution to Pakistan was to keep the […]

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