Let’s be clear, there’s no such thing as a free lunch or even dinner. According to a brochure obtained by the Washington-based ‘Center for Public Integrity,’ America’s oldest and largest investigative news organisation, Donald Trump sold meal tickets, including his swearing-in ceremony, to ‘donors’ who paid him one million dollars. As per Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) press release, Asif Zardari was quoted saying that he was “honoured to be the guest and participant of these [inaugural] moments.” We are further told that Rehman Malik along with Sherry Rehman were “invited.” It’s hard to swallow the “invited” claim from Zardari & co when Donald Trump himself was heard saying that accommodating everyone at his inaugural was proving to be a challenge.
Readers can access the Center for Public Integrity website that carries the full details under the headline: “Buying the President, Donald Trump offering huge perks for inauguration donors… offering access, luxury in exchange for big money.” Trump is a hardened businessman who is not known to give freebies to anyone.
So, it’s beyond belief that he would give gratis “eight premier access tickets to a black-tie inaugural ball attended by President Trump, Vice President Pence and their wives” to Zardari and his delegation. My guess, unless proven wrong, is that Zardari became a ‘donor’ and coughed up the one million dollars to Trump. Make no mistake, Zardari too knows the art of the deal. He was confident the gambit would pay in two ways. First, to show off to everyone that he alone was “invited” by President Trump, so listen up people, including the Establishment, not to mess with him. Second, to make Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif eat his heart out that Trump had ignored him, despite President-Elect Trump calling Nawaz Sharif “terrific,” and his countrymen “fantastic.” So impressed was Trump with Pakistan and its prime minister, that he offered to be “ready and willing to play any role that you [Nawaz Sharif] wants me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.”
After Nawaz Sharif got off the effusive phone call with Trump, he dispatched his Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi to Washington to bring back a special invitation from Trump to his inaugural celebrations. Reportedly, Fatemi was given the short shrift by the Trump transition team in New York and sent home empty-handed. Like a chess player, Asif Zardari made his move to checkmate ‘king’ Nawaz and go for the kill himself by getting the prized one-million-dollar invitation offered to anyone willing to pay the money. The word ‘checkmate’ has an interesting etymology recorded by Wikipedia. It’s a Farsi phrase shah mat literally meaning “the King is helpless”. As chess reached Europe via the Islamic world, the checkmate was taken as “the King is dead.” However, “in the Pashto language, the word mat still exists, meaning “destroyed, broken,” says Wikipedia.
Asif Zardari has a proclivity to flatter Republican leaders. That’s why he’s always the first Pakistani to make a pilgrimage to America to be in their face. In September 2008, the newly-minted President Zardari went calling on the Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in her hotel room in New York. But for our then gorgeous information minister, our president may not have admired Sarah Palin the way he did. Sherry Rehman’s Palin-praise-fest became the prelude for the sound bite that launched a thousand tongues wagging, actually more than a thousand! “And how does one keep looking that good when one is that busy?” Sherry asked Palin, drawing laughs from the room. Enter President Zardari: “You are gorgeous,” he said to Palin. “Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you.” Continuing to hold her hand, he embarrassed Palin saying “I might hug [her].”
Fast forward to January 2017. Accompanied by Sherry Rehman once again, the PPP leader was present at Donald Trump’s black-tie, candle-lit pre-inaugural dinner in Washington, DC. Did Sherry, as Zardari’s alpha-spokesperson, compliment the ‘dashing’ Donald about his hair puff or orange tan or his charming smile in a bid to open channels for her leader? Did Zardari in his usual gratuitously gushing way, as he did with Sarah Palin, stick out his hand and say “Hello Handsome?”
In America, where I live, the new kid around the White House block is called ‘Alternative Facts.’ The inventor of this phrase is the unflappable Kellyanne Conway, a mistress of spin who tricked most rural Americans into voting for Trump. Elevated to Counsellor Conway, she coined this instant catchphrase last Sunday when she called her president’s claims about a ‘massive’ inaugural crowd size “alternative facts.” In a flash, she rubbished the traditional media that reported a smaller crowd size compared to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. With her coronation of ‘Alternative Facts,’ today, they sit on the throne in the lap of King Donald whose 140 character Tweets are now the Proclamation of Truth. Period.
A frenzied America is rushing to buy George Orwell’s bestseller 1984 first published in 1949. It is a classic tale of dystopian society where truth is compromised with false facts in a fog of ‘newspeak.’ The book reportedly has topped the best-seller list of Amazon.
Let me then offer an ‘alternate fact’ to the “invitation” story trumpeted by the PPP. Asif Zardari, during his swashbuckling days, chose to live in ‘self-exile’ at the swanky Trump Tower in Manhattan. His wife Benazir Bhutto and their young children lived in Dubai. Perhaps, Donald Trump and Zardari hit it off during that time, who knows? Perhaps, they became fast friends, who knows? Perhaps, their eternal friendship was the result of Zardari receiving a special invitation to his inauguration and the accompanying hoopla, who knows? But one thing everyone knows for sure is that The Donald will never give anything for free — selling is his blood sport.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2017.