The London caper —Zafar Hilaly

The sight of Mr Zardari, for example, clutching a rescued child to his chest while being pulled up into a helicopter, would have done more for his personal image than a whole year spent with Cameron at the latter’s retreat at Chequers.

If the most devastating flood in Pakistan’s history, the dislocation of nearly three million people and the destruction of nearly a fifth of the nation’s food production could not persuade Mr Zardari to stay at home and add his weight to the relief effort, why should the frequent and tedious allegation of exporting terrorists levelled against Pakistan persuade Mr Zardari to put off his jaunt to Britain? Especially when Mr Zardari believes that sticks and stones may break his bones but words can never hurt him.

Mr Zardari’s capacity to act wisely is limited. In the past too, in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) matter and the restoration of the chief justice (CJ), he has demonstrated a limited capacity to function. His mind has to be made up for him, and while on the two earlier occasions, the establishment stepped in to do just that, on this occasion they did not insist. Instead, they cancelled the far more consequential visit of the ISI chief to London while letting Mr Zardari proceed with his own.

Cameron’s remarks against Pakistan were an opportunity for Mr Zardari to make political capital and demonstrate that he, like Erdogan, had the spunk to tell his mentors that ‘enough is enough’ and that such criticism would exact a cost. Even Karzai did so on occasion. Instead, all that we heard from the Presidency was Mr Zardari’s ‘disappointment’ at the remarks which must surely qualify as the understatement of the year, when describing the outrage felt by some Pakistanis.

Inestimably, more important was the golden opportunity the unprecedented floods presented Mr Zardari to cancel the visits and thereby deflect criticism that he remained immersed in foreign jaunts, which prevented him from caring about the suffering that the flood affectees were undergoing. The sight of Mr Zardari, for example, clutching a rescued child to his chest while being pulled up into a helicopter would have done more for his personal image than a whole year spent with Cameron at the latter’s retreat at Chequers or whatever is finally contained in the vacuous communiqué that will issue from their meeting.

Had Mr Zardari been a genuine politician, he would have seized such an opportunity and known instinctively what to do. Alas, he is not. Actually, one is not quite sure what Mr Zardari’s profession is. He has never had a job, much less a vocation, until he became president. A businessman is probably what he could most plausibly claim to be and in a sense he has acted like one. Only a businessman, for example, would keep silent and largely ignore the crass and undiplomatic nature of a client’s unguarded remarks directed against him in view of the businessman’s need to safeguard his business interests. Besides, who better than a salesman to appreciate that a fellow salesman’s sales pitch needed to be couched in a manner to please a prickly client. However, Mr Zardari’s problem is not that at heart he remains a businessman, or his lack of experience in running the affairs of government, or that he is a novice in such matters as diplomacy and the management of the economy. His problem is his reputation. “My reputation, Iago, my reputation,” lamented the tormented Othello, grieving for what he called “the immortal part of my self”. Sadly, Mr Zardari lost his reputation, undeservedly or not, a long time ago and once reputation is lost, it is almost impossible to regain. But perhaps Mr Zardari, like the actress Mae West, feels that his critics exaggerate the effect of the damage done. Asked how she felt about losing her reputation, Mae West had replied, “I never missed it.” Or perhaps he agrees with Alan Clarke, the British politician, who, when asked whether he had any skeletons in the cupboard responded insouciantly, “Dear boy, I can hardly close the door.”

It was typically banal of Mr Zardari’s opponents to quibble at the cost incurred on the board and lodging of his entourage. The reason not to go had nothing to do with the expense and everything to do with national solidarity and the feeling that the nation’s leaders, headed by the president, were united in their condemnation of Cameron but also, and more importantly, that all of them were manning their posts and doing their utmost to alleviate suffering during an extreme national emergency. The announcement by a PPP spokesperson that the expenses of the trip would be met from PPP funds showed that the point of the public clamour for calling off the visit had also escaped the speaker.

After the farce that attended the CJ’s restoration, one felt that at the rate the PPP government seemed to be unravelling, it was time to consider composing, if not Mr Zardari’s political epitaph, then at least his political obituary. One was wrong. Mr Zardari recovered and by the time he returns from his forays to Paris and London, his decision not to cancel the visits might also seem inconsequential. But, while the memory and the circumstances in which the visits were undertaken may be forgotten, what will not cease is continued questioning of his judgement, which he can ill afford. Neither being liked nor respected by more than a fraction of the public, according to polls, is a lethal disadvantage for a leader at the hustings. Of course, public memory is short and by the time the next elections are due, Mr Zardari’s unpopularity may diminish. But that is wishful thinking. Nine tenths of wisdom consists of being wise at the right time, something Mr Zardari by undertaking the visit manifestly proved otherwise.

(The writer is a former Ambassador)

NOTE:This is a cross post from Daily Times

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  • M Z Iqbal  On August 6, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Zardari is a sick, third rate politician. He has no respect for the nation. He is a prime example of enlightened self-interest. While Pakistan burns he fiddles in Paris, Normandy , London and Chequers. Shame on the PPP not to say something for fear of a dictator. Where is Ahsan? Where is Babar Awan? Are they seving the nation? This President is TEFLON PRESIDENT. Nothing sticks on him.

  • jehanzeb raja  On August 6, 2010 at 11:32 am

    There is something foul smelling in the PPP. Whether it comes from Corruption, Incompetence or crass “Begaraiti” they lead from the front. Their so called ministers or Pimps, parrot the nauseating and outdated slogans which have long ago left the hearts of their despondent voters , who have lost all hopes and aspirations from this discredited government. Zardari, is only a stooge in the long chain of trajic events which befell the previous PPP leaders, much to do with their own suicidal approach towards other power centres of this unfortunate country.He will also meet the same fate very soon, the only danger being that he may take Pakistan with him this time.

  • Tanvir Ahmed Siddiqui  On August 6, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Back home his PM Mr.Gillani either in defence or in offence (who knows?) of his Boss, floats an interesting but quite meaningful and realistic statement that can be really enjoyed if read between the line..”The personality of President is such that no matter what he does he must always remian under criticism because some people have special love for him”. Well U R absolutly right Mr. PM, some faces and charrectors are really taken as laughingstocks and for amusement of people.
    I remember my student days when we bunch of friends always used to look for excuses and scheming to pinch or punch only that one of our fellows because he was the one and only who always appeared to us very irritatingly chummy, dumm and over smart at the same time. Most irritating thing for us were his set of teeth and silly smiles. But despite all our efforts in our love and hate to get rid of him we all could’nt do nothing but to bear with him for full four years.

  • Syed Ataur Rahman  On August 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Well written Sir. You too realize the folly of supporting a party made up of political pygmies who have destryed the name of your party. What a shame we have a President who continues to redicule us again and again and then again.
    Sir, please use your pen to dismiss and remove this wrath we face.

  • shaheen  On August 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    We are all ashamed to have such leadership, whan 40 million our homeless, our silence is the puishment by nature….

  • Mushtaq Piracha  On August 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Zardari is no fool when it comes to his personal interests, even though he appears to be mentally deficient. His son is studying in England, his Surrey Palace and his bank accounts stuffed with ill-gotten megabucks are also there. How can he jeopardise all that for an insult to the nation and a few hundred thousand of his countrymen being drowned by or displaced by the floods? Let’s face it, he could not care less for Pakistan! He has a home in Dubai, France and England where he can enjoy life to the full. The only attraction for him in Pakistan is money and that too limitless which he can transfer to his accounts abroad. Let us consider him as “azaab-e-ilahi” and suffer it as such as long as it lasts.
    Mushtaq Piracha, Dublin

  • Inam Khan  On August 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Mr.Zardari is a mafia boss.He thinks in terms of money and his assets only.He is not meant to be a public leader.In fact he bears disdain for public.Whenever he speaks to public,only rancour is coming out of him.Such acts will booster his downfall,not the success.Look at PPP Leaders ,all are singing in his praise.I have sympathy for Jiyalaas and Jiyalees,they are goons.

  • Arif Khan  On August 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Zardari was NOT elected by the People it was Benzir…He just happened to take advantage of the situation..PPP is responsible for his appointment…What you shall sow,is what you will reap… You cant expect to pump a Cat with Air and expect it to become a Tiger???

  • Saeed Qureshi  On August 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    God almighty seems to be very kind to Asif Zardari, currently the president of Pakistan. That is why no harm comes to him despite his lunatic behavior. Moreover, he is thick skinned. Can the president of a sovereign country made to sit like a subject on an old erect chair by an imperialist looking David Cameron, currently the prime minister of United Kingdom. Self-respect is a rare commodity but his Excellency Zardari perhaps does not know what this virtue is. Ironically, On top of that, he has countless supporters and admirers who mind if he is rebuked or loathed

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