Saturday, August 1, 2009

Is Something Brewing?

Something surely is brewing in Islamabad. Forget for a moment the "historic" judgement against Musharraf's November 3 actions handed down yesterday and its implications for the government, President Zardari in particular. Yes, I do know that most of the judges sent packing by the Supreme Court are close to the party in power. Yes, I know that by putting the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) back in the parliament's court, the Supreme Court must be giving Zardari and all those who benefited from that repugnant law, sleepless nights.

But my reasons for conjecture have simply to do with certain developments in the media. Or to be more precise, certain sections of the media known as bellwethers for things brewing behind the scenes.

First it was Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announcing his independence through the trusted mouthpieces of Rauf Klasra of The News and Hamid Mir of Geo. That of course set tongues wagging around the land about what exactly YRG meant. Then it was YRG's daughter, waxing eloquent and nonsensical in The News, about "the epitome of perfection" that is Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Today, we had the return to "investigative" print journalism of the redoubtable Kamran Khan, regaling us in (where else) The News and Jang, about the monstrous alleged corruption plaguing state-run enterprises such as Pakistan Steel, Pakistan International Airlines, the Trading Corporation of Pakistan, the National Bank etc.

The windbag himself

But one bit of the puzzle that most people probably missed was the July 29 article in Jang (you might be getting the picture now) by Dr. S&M (Shahid Masood to you newbies). I normally steer well clear of this windbag's programme on Geo, aptly named Meray Mutabiq [According to Me], as well as his columns in Jang of the same name. But was forced to go back and read his latest on someone's recommendation. And what a shock was in store for me!

I have attempted to translate the important bits of the Urdu piece here for you, dear readers, keeping the breathless, convoluted overall style of its author. But before I share it with you, you should know certain things as background information, in case you don't already.

Dr. S&M is of course the same longtime Peoples Party activist who at one point used to man the phones at 70 Clifton but whose world view is probably closer in philosophy to the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami (and its obsessions with conspiracy theories) than the liberal PPP. He rose to media fame on the ARY channel in the early 2000s first doing a series of programmes detailing how the signs of the Day of Judgement were nigh, but then was encouraged to carry his windbag nature into political analysis particularly during the 2002 elections. He incurred the wrath of General Musharraf's army regime when he openly sided with the hardline militants of the Taliban and FATA. Staying true to it's policy of picking the most sensationalist idiots ever, the Jang Group then lured him away at a fabulous salary to run his own programme of sensationalist nonsense. When Musharraf imposed his "mini martial law" his programme was also shut down and he seemed to be out in the wilderness. Not for long though, since he was soon plucked out of nowhere to be made the Managing Director of Pakistan Television. Suddenly, he was pals with General Musharraf, who even dropped in on a reception in honour of the windbag.

It turns out, he wasn't just pals with General Musharraf (he was of course heading the state-run television under him!). Apparently he was also very close to Asif Zardari and, according to himself, Benazir Bhutto. He now claims he was in on the negotiations going on in Dubai between Musharraf and Bhutto which led to the NRO. Some journalists vouch for the fact that he was often with Zardari when they called him in Dubai.

When the PPP won the elections in 2008, not only did he continue in his position at PTV, he was also concurrently made the Chairman of the organization - a post that by law is an ex-officio post for the Information Secretary. Clashes with the then Information Minister Sherry Rehman eventually led to him resigning and, as with all such people, landing up back at the Jang Group, which not only restored his programme, but also gave him his own column in its flagship paper, Jang. Nevertheless, despite his humiliation, he continued to express his support for the PPP government.

Now. Take a gander at how his latest column titled "Jiye Bhutto" begins:

“What are you on about the Party? When I was in jail, where were all of them? It was only my friends who stood by me at that time! What your party did with me, I will do the same to it.” (Recent historic words from the most powerful personality usurping the corridors of power).

If the largest and most popular political party could not be finished off after the hanging of its founder leader by General Ziaul Haq, who put in place an Establishment that continues to rule for decades after him; if the traitors who stabbed the party in the back and betrayed the Bhutto family at the most critical times could not destroy it; if jails, batons, lashes, torture chambers and hangings could not subdue the beat of Dhamadam Mast Qalandar that its diehard party workers danced to; and if a senseless Pervez Musharraf, attempting to split up the Party by creating cracks through enticements and threats, himself perished after the martyrdom of the Party’s leader… then what chance does a small, crafty and criminal gang imposed on the heads of hundreds of thousands of the Party’s workers and more interested in preserving its international interests, have to demolish the Party, even with the blessings of the Establishment?

WTF?!? Exactly. Usurper? Criminal Gang? You understand why I think this is important enough to translate? Dr. S&M first goes on to delineate the amazing qualities of compassion and idealism that Benazir Bhutto embodied, pointing out:

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s circle of friends was incredibly wide, comprising innumerable friends, childhood girlfriends and old family acquaintances. But she always kept the matters of the Peoples Party separate. When did she ever give precedence to her school friends over Party loyalists like Naheed Khan, Safdar Abbasi or Munawwar Suhrwardy Shaheed?

Then, he gets down to business. After claiming that he had personally, always been opposed to the NRO while it was being negotiated, and had made his discomfort with it known to Benazir herself, he says:

The majority of those who gained advantage from the NRO and who, along with Zardari sahib, have been imposed on the most important positions in the country, would never even have dared approach the corridors of power were Mohtarma still alive. She had given Zardari sahib only the [insignificant] responsibility to organize students within the Peoples Party and, in her last days, had in fact bid him to stay in Dubai to look after the kids. So, after the NRO was agreed to, Zardari sahib suddenly managed to rid himself of his heart disease and came to Dubai from New York… Before Mohtarma’s return to Pakistan, there was an attempt to involve him in an extremely limited way in security matters, and that too only so that he would not be seen sitting uselessly and without purpose among the crowd of workers.

In the Dubai house, there were two separate areas set aside for guests, and the small room in which Zardari sahib used to sit and shoot the breeze with his friends was only accessible from the back entrance of the house. All the important leaders of the Peoples Party used to enter the house from the front entrance and hold the party meetings along with the Mohtarma in the big drawing room, where Zardari sahib and his friends – now appointed on important posts – were not allowed to set foot.

Are you following my train of thought? Here is a man who has never had the cajones to take anyone on. When pressured, he not only gave up his pro-Taliban, pro-Hameed Gul line but became a mouthpiece for General Musharraf. Later on, he gave up Musharraf and became a chamcha of Asif Zardari. When he was forced to resign from PTV, he accepted the position of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister rather than cutting all ties. And yet he finds it within himself to directly, and brutally, belittle the sitting President? With words that could land him in mortal danger if not under the threat of a lawsuit? I don't think so. But wait, it doesn't just end there. He then goes directly for Zardari's jugular, by attacking all his cronies. First off, Rehman Malik:

After her return to the country, she was also set to finish off some seemingly very important characters – those about whom she was convinced that they were more loyal to those opposed to her than to her, and who were pretending to be close to her by mediating in negotiations. She was very clear in her mind about the person who, as a security adviser, is the most dubious character in her martyrdom. Had he been the future interior minister in Mohtarma’s mind, he would at least have been successful in procuring a ticket for the National Assembly!!!

Next in the firing line, the head of Ziauddin Hospital in Karachi (where Zardari often ended up while in jail) Dr. Asim Hussain (now also minister of petroleum and natural resources) and Landhi jail doctor Dr. Qayyum Soomro:

The one who, as minister of the most important petroleum ministry, has sent billions of rupees abroad during the negotiations with Iran over gas, and who, while selling gas permits, receives the fruits of his services in a 75/25 sharing scheme after sundown at a local hospital – would he have been able to even conduct a five minute conversation with Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto? Zardaris sahib has appointed to this most important ministry of the current era, a person who openly proclaimed that “I have neither ever had any association with any party named the Peoples Party, nor, Inshallah, will I ever.”

Doctor Abdul Qayyum Soomro, till this day associated with the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, was inducted many years ago as a medical officer on the recommendation of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. After he had himself transferred to Landhi jail, he began to serve Zardari sahib. Today, he is considered one of the strongest personalities in the Presidency and whose power to get the most important decisions implemented through a single phone call and whose growing personal assets over the last one year, are the talk of everyone in Islamabad!

Dr. S&M then twists his literary knife deeper into the back of the PPP's discontented rank and file:

The world knows Khurshid Shah as a serious and thoughtful Peoples Party leader. But who is this Islamuddin Sheikh? Rashid Rabbani has been making sacrifices for the Peoples Party for years. But where did Faisal Raza Abidi come from? Shehla Raza has struggled since her student days. But what is background to Sharmila Farooqui? Where has Taj Haider gone and where did Zulfiqar Mirza come from? Khalil Qureshi, Comrade Ishaq, Mirza Maqbool and Sohail Ansari – where did they disappear to? And what is the background to Mustafa Memon and Obaid Jatoi – who are now negotiating deals as the front-men of the country’s most powerful personality.

Kareem Khwaja, who for years and years, had been celebrating Bhutto’s birthday by setting up medical camps, who knows where he is now? And all the while, Shaukat Tareen, who has been associated with money-laundering and is preparing, at this stage of his life, to throw the nation into the clutches of the IMF and World Bank, is being made minister, adviser, then Senator, and then joining the Peoples Party.

The windbag that the good doctor is, he ends with the following regurgitation of his opening lines:

“What your Party did to me, I will do the same to it.” (To be Continued)

Meaning, that there was more that Dr. S&M wanted to write (or has written) but Jang ran out of space. Now here comes the more interesting bit. It's been 3 days so far and there has been no second installment of the piece. Sources within Jang tell me that the piece has caused an explosion within the organization, with some questioning how something like this even went out in the first place. Given how tightly the owner Mir Shakilur Rahman monitors the paper, I find it extremely hard to believe it would not have been sent to him first for vetting. Even if somehow, inconceivably, the piece slipped in without anyone realizing its impact and implications (in which case, the entire editorial staff should be fired), it still does not answer the question of what exactly Dr. S&M is up to in Dubai (where he is currently ensconsed) and what his (new) agenda is. This is not the simple peeve of a man out of a job.

Put all of the media pieces together, coalescing in time at the same point, and you would have to come up with the conclusion, especially given the chequered history of the Jang group, that something is afoot. Mark my words.

1 comment:

Serial Kicker said...

I was listening to FM 107 this morning as I drove to work. The host, who was also my classmate, had invited two journalists; Agha Masood and mohammed Zubair. Both of the them categorically agreed that journalists are not as unbiased as they should be and some of them have gone as far as becoming mouthpieces for various political parties.
On a separate note, I wouldn't have any issues with Dr. SM as long as he is making an effort to expose the incompetence of Mr. 10%. Seriously dude, people rejoicing the killing of Rehman Dakait and Baitullah Mehsud is rather inconsequential. The real bandit is there at the top.