Do we measure everyone with the same stick? Usually not. One recalls the hue and cry made when the country was inundated with floods in 2010 and President Zardari made a trip abroad. The media reported that Zardari’s trip to the UK and France “created an image of an indifferent and arrogant leadership.” These comments were reported by UK-based “The Guardian” newspaper, a paper known for its responsible reporting.
Not to be outdone, our local media also called for the president’s head. One of the country’s leading English-language columnists, Ayaz Amir, wrote “even when governments can’t cope, they can at least show empathy. That was missing.” Amir berated the fact that the first person on the scene of the floods was the army chief. “This has really cost Zardari heavily,” he concluded in his widely-read comments.
This time round, there is silence. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif makes a private visit to Saudi Arabia as floods rage through the country and the death toll rises with each passing day. The worst, say experts, is yet to come. This silence possibly makes us conclude that democracy has strengthened in Pakistan and that an elected official travelling abroad at a time of national crises does not put the country in danger as institutions are in place. Or that our media holds different persons to different standards.
But the real issue is something else. We have had to pay heavily for this Umrah, which we are told is a private visit but in which state machinery and officials are being used. We have had to pay in other ways too - the fact that our presidential elections were possibly fast-forwarded so that enough days were made available for the PM and his entourage to perform Umrah. One can appreciate how seriously our PM takes his religious obligations.
In the process, we have seen one of the most respected persons in the country throw in the towel. Justice (retd) Fakhruddin Ebrahim, who was appointed as chief election commissioner after a consensus and was supposed to stay in place till 2017, resigned. This is because he wanted to write a note to protest what he described as an attack on the ECP’s independence, but his own Commission’s members did not support him in this. It is not surprising that Justice Ebrahim was not backed by his own officials. What is surprising was that he lasted in his position this long. We owe him a debt of gratitude for conducting elections that were seen as reasonably free and fair at a time when the whole process was under question from militants and extremists.
The priorities of our government are different. On June 5, Mian sahab was sworn in as Pakistan’s 18th prime minister. His first visit to Karachi, the country’s commercial capital, took place on August 1, almost two months later. And that too, only for a day. In contrast, the visit to Saudi, where he met beaming members of the Saudi Royalty, streches over many days.
The Saudis would be pleased. After all, they hosted our PM in style for several years when he was in exile. Their views on President Zardari are well known, if one recalls the Wikileaks documents that recorded their candid observations. It is now pay-back time for our PM. One can only speculate what he has promised the Saudis this time round.
In direct contrast, our president visited Iran this week to attend the inauguration of Hassan Rouhani. President Rouhani has stated that he plans to work towards ending his country’s international isolation. This is good news but hopefully Pakistan’s role in this will be limited given our near-submissive relationship with the US. Even the decision to attend the inauguration came after some positive signals from the US during the visit of Secretary John Kerry.
We need to stay clear of the regional conflict between the Saudis and Iran. In the past we have paid heavily for it and we continue to do so in the form of sectarian terrorism perpetrated by outfits that have support from one quarter or another. The games being played in Syria, and those played earlier in Bahrain and other Arab countries, show that the regional rivalries continue to blossom. We should focus on our problems instead.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2013.
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