Islamabad Diary: Of dodgy scoops and ‘cultural terrorism’
Islamabad may be a town where loose lips reign but there are those who can keep their counsel – up to a point.
An elected official of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who I am sure would prefer to remain anonymous since he would not want people to know how he wastes his time courting journalists, sent a text message last week offering his condolences for Roger Federer’s loss at Wimbledon.
This had followed an earlier conversation we had had where I explained that the tension over the government’s survival and political machinations in the country seemed so insignificant compared to the travails of the greatest tennis player in history.
After receiving the SMS, my instant reaction was to cut the man some slack in the future. It is very rare for politicians to exhibit signs of good taste and those who do, need to be kept in power.
Then, about half an hour later the same official sent another text message. Did I know, he asked me, that Senate chairman Farooq Naek was in contention to be the next chief minister of Sindh? I may have been a bit slow on the uptake but I finally realised I may have been played.
Still, a scoop, no matter how dodgy its origins, is a scoop so I shook off my post-Federer loss stupor and made some calls. It did not take long to determine that this was yet another instance of a politician trying to advance an ally’s interests.
Islamabad may be a town where loose lips reign but there are those who can keep their counsel – up to a point. Officials at the US Embassy are notoriously stingy with information – especially of the juicy variety – and will only give out information after having imbibed copious numbers of refreshing cocktails.
For the last week, everyone has wanted to know what the American embassy was thinking in hosting a gay pride event, and that too with locals present. What the Jamaat-e-Islami denounced as 'cultural terrorism' turned out to have a much more convoluted explanation, a combination of circumstance, good intentions and brain-dead public relations.
As an embassy official explained to me, Pakistan is hardly the most sought-after posting in the diplomatic world. Despite receiving a substantial bonus for deigning to work in this backwater, no one really wants to come to Pakistan because they aren’t allowed to bring their spouse and children with them. As a result, said the official, the US Embassy here is “very young and very gay.”
It was internal pressure, according to him, that resulted in the embassy observing gay pride for the first time. For a sign for just how insulated Islamabad - and especially the diplomatic corps - is from the rest of the country, they apparently didn’t think such an event would be the cause of any controversy.
And for a few days it wasn’t – at least until the embassy saw fit to issue a press release about the event. When I asked the embassy official why, if the event was held for staff members, did they feel the need to publicise it, he just smiled sheepishly.
That’s the American embassy for you. Even when their hearts are in the right place their brains certainly are not.