Dr Shabir Choudhry
Pakistan is facing one of the worst floods of its history and more than one thousand people have died and more than half million people are uprooted from their homes. Some towns and hundreds of villages have submerged in water, and people are in desperate need of help and support, yet Asif Zardai has packed his bags and left for Paris and London.
Ordinary people and opposition leaders are angry over this trip. Even ruling party’s allies are advising the President not to leave Pakistan during this critical period. They say rulers of other countries, in time of disasters, cut short their foreign visits and reach home to supervise help and support efforts, and show that they care for their people and are part of those people.
Apart from that people are angry because of what David Cameron, prime minister of United Kingdom said about Pakistan’s double role in war on terrorism and working relationship of ISI with Taliban who have made life very difficult for forces of occupation in Afghanistan. Exact words of David Cameron were: “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.”
In protest against David Cameron’s statement made in India, ISI Director General Lt Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, which is, of course, part of the Pakistan Army has cancelled their scheduled visit to Britain. But it is interesting that Supreme Head of the Pakistan Army, despite fierce opposition is determined to go ahead with his visit to London which is not even a state visit.
In response to opposition to Asif Zardari’s visit at this critical time, Law Minister and close associate of Asif Zardari, Babar Awan has said something which the Pakistani establishment normally says for those people who demand fundamental rights within Pakistan or for nationalist of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Learned and intellectual minded Babar Awan, whose PhD degree from America is subject of considerable controversy has stated: those who are opposing President’s visit are part of the Indian lobby.
A big thank-you to Law Minister for bringing hundreds of political leaders including Nawaz Sharif and other leaders of opposition, and millions of ordinary Pakistanis into the fold of the Indian lobby. In the past, I and many other nationalist Kashmiris were labelled with this unfounded allegation that we were part of the Indian lobby because we demanded united and independent Kashmir. We oppose Pakistan’s rule in Gilgit-Baltistan and in Pakistani-Administered Kashmir and demand that both countries should give us independence.
In response to Babar Awan’s statement, a senior leader of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) strongly opposing the Zardari visit strongly criticised the statement of Babar Awan. He said: the Indian lobby is sitting inside the President’s House.
In Britain, we find politicians strongly opposing each other, but no one call each other an agent or a traitor. Same is the case in most other civilised countries. Politicians differ on policies, oppose each other, even fight with each other, but they still respect each other’s integrity and loyalty to nation. But in Pakistan who ever oppose the government is declared as traitor and an agent. In Pakistan, presidents, army generals, politicians, religious leaders, scholars, journalists – in short every one with a opposing view is accused of being an agent of someone. This explains volumes about the political culture of Pakistan.
As usual Asif Zardari’s team has come out in his defence; and their arrogance is very visible. In defence of their political master, PPP stalwarts at time make absurd statements, which only expose their immaturity and blind following. One PPP senator in defence of his political master said: everything in the newspapers regarding president’s visit is fiction. Expenses of all those who have gone to Britain to make arrangements for the president’s visit will be paid by the president.
Whereas a spokesperson for Pakistani High Commission in Britain, when asked about huge expenses about the visit said: “This is an official visit and procedures for official visits are being followed”. Everyone knows when visit is declared official whether it is official or not bill is paid by government of Pakistan, in other words people of Pakistan.
For the interest of readers, while millions of people in Pakistan are homeless, and desperately in need of clean water, food, medicine and shelter, Asif Zardari and his entourage will enjoy their stay in Britain in a five star luxury hotel Hyatt Regency. According to a report, ‘nearly half of the ninth exclusive floor called Regency Club Level, which has 18 suites and 10 executive type luxury rooms, has been booked and blocked for any commoner to venture into on the grounds of security reasons’.
The suite in which Asif President Zardari will stay costs around £7,000 per night. The price does not include room service, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and drinks. I wonder why people were criticising his predecessor General Pervez Musharraf who was also fond of staying in luxury and expensive hotels, when a party which takes pride in its slogan of food, clothes and shelter to win votes of the poor could indulge in this kind of luxury at a time when millions are homeless and waiting for their next meal.
Apart from that, ten luxury cars have been hired at the cost of £400 per vehicle, which will take the lucky visitors to London from one place to another. This caravan of ten luxury cars will show how rich is Pakistan and will surely enhance the status of the country.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira has also come out fighting in defence of his leader. Why wouldn’t he, after all, he is also part of this entourage visiting England. Kaira said, ”The President of Pakistan will explain and have a dialogue and good discussion and he will explain the facts to the new hovernment over here … We hope that the new management – the new leadership – over here, when they get the exact picture, will agree with us.”
According to the available sources Zardari’s meeting will David Cameron will be only for minutes, one can call it a photo session; and in this short meeting what can Asif Zardari tell about Pakistan’s role in the war on terrorism? One wonders what they have been telling the British government and their officials in the previous meetings by him, and by other dignitaries. Why didn’t they tell Pakistan’s position to the British foreign minister who recently visited Islamabad? And above all what is the role of the Pakistani High Commission, is it not their duty to defend interest of Pakistan?
The real purpose of this visit is not to safeguard interest of Pakistan or talk to David Cameron about his remarks about Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. The real aim is to provide a new leader and a future President to Pakistan. Bilawal Bhutto has passed his graduation from Oxford and he has also become 21 years old, legally a mature man now. If non-graduate Asif Zardari, with name of PPP could elevate himself to the highest post in Pakistan, it will not be too difficult for Bilawal – a graduate from Oxford and with supervision and guidance of his father – to rule this country.
To launch Bilawal in the field of politics, a grand public meeting has been arranged in International Convention Centre in Birmingham, which will cost around £40,000. The High Commission and PPP leaders are working very hard to fill this hall which would cost thousands of pounds in transport and food.
But to some all that is justified and money well spent, after all they will have a new leader who will lead Pakistan. Shouldn’t people of Pakistan forget their miseries and suffering and celebrate arrival of their new leader?
The writer is Director Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org