Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fast Friends (Redacted)

I was actually going to put up a different post, on Pak-US relations, tonight but some last minute technical glitches mean that post will have to wait another day at least. Meanwhile, the next big political scandal is about to hit the headlines so I thought we could give you all a bit of a heads-up.

Some of you may have already heard about the Kim Barker - Nawaz Sharif hullabaloo (if you haven't, I can assure you you will be hearing a lot more of it in the coming days). I learnt about it only after a journo colleague mentioned it in vague terms. Then I came across a clip of Mubashar Lucman's show on Dunya TV from a couple of days ago discussing the same in his usual sensational manner (which @kamran9558 sent us). In case you don't have any idea of what I'm referring to, it basically involves what former South Asia correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and current ProPublica reporter Kim Barker has written in her book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan about her interactions with Sharif. Let's just say that it doesn't paint an entirely flattering picture of the former prime minister. The book came out in the US about a month ago and having sold out in bookstores across Pakistan (probably in small numbers), is being re-ordered in large quantities.

Kim Barker, author of 'The Taliban Shuffle'

We all know why Dunya would be interested in making the contents of this book into an issue (Dunya's owner, Mian Aamir Mahmood, is of course associated with Sharif's rival party the PMLQ). Now Sharif's other nemesis, General Musharraf has jumped into the fray calling on Sharif to apologize to the nation for, according to him, helping Barker find the whereabouts of Mumbai attacker Ajmal Qasab's hometown and for leaking "important intelligence reports of the country" to her. It should be pointed out that the book is about much more than Sharif (it is scathing, for example, about Afghan President Hamid Karzai who Barker calls "whiny and conflicted, a combination of Woody Allen, Chicken Little and Jimmy Carter"). But, as far as Pakistan is concerned, I am willing to bet that the Sharif-related episodes are what are going to sell this book.

I have to admit that I found the Nawaz Sharif-related writing hilarious. It confirmed much of what one already knows about Sharif, his ability to be easily distracted, his obsession with hi-tech gadgetry and his inherent shyness which manifests itself in an inability to communicate. But unfortunately for him, it also depicts a lonely, almost desperate man. I say unfortunately for him because it is this evidence of his humanity which is probably going to be used by his political opponents to attack him.

Since all sorts of people will come up with all sorts of spin on the contents of the book, I thought I would share with our readers some choice excerpts from the book related to the author's conversations with Nawaz Sharif. You really have to read through the excerpts to understand how Barker's relationship develops with Sharif. These excerpts are shared without comment and without authentification as to their veracity; you are free to make up your own mind about them.

Warning: This is a fairly lengthy post. But you will understand the reason for the length once you read through the excerpts. And I am fairly certain you will enjoy it.



Because of a request from author Kim Barker we are removing the lengthy excerpts originally posted below. A few shorter excerpts remain to provide a taste of the book.


From "The Taliban Shuffle" by Kim Barker (published by Doubleday):

"With Bhutto gone, I needed to meet the lion of Punjab, or maybe the tiger. No one seemed to know which feline Nawaz Sharif was nicknamed after. Some fans rode around with stuffed toy lions strapped to their cars. Others talked about the tiger of Punjab. By default, Sharif, a former prime minister like Bhutto, had become the most popular opposition leader in the country. He was already the most powerful politician in Punjab, which was the most powerful of Pakistan’s four provinces, home to most of the army leaders and past rulers. Some people described Sharif as the Homer Simpson of Pakistan. Others considered him a right-wing wing nut. Still others figured he could save the country. Sharif was once considered an invention of the establishment, a protégé of the former military dictator in Pakistan, General Zia, but like all politicians here, he had become a creature of himself. During his second term, Sharif built my favorite road in Pakistan, a hundred and seventy miles of paved, multilaned bliss.....
"One of Sharif’s friends tried to explain him to me: “He might be tilting a little to the right, but he’s not an extremist. Extremists don’t go do hair implants. He also loves singing.” 

"The inside of the house appeared to have been designed by Saudi Arabia—a hodge-podge of crystal chandeliers, silk curtains, gold accents, marble. A verse of the Holy Quran and a carpet with the ninety-nine names of God hung on the walls of Sharif’s receiving room, along with photographs of Sharif with King Abdullah and slain former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Finally I was summoned. “Kim,” Sharif’s media handler said, gesturing toward the ground. “Come.” I hopped up and walked toward the living room, past two raggedy stuffed lions with rose petals near their feet. So maybe Sharif was the lion of Punjab... His press aide tapped his watch, looked at me, and raised his eyebrows. I got the message and proceeded with my questions, as fast as I could. But it soon became clear that this would be unlike any interview I had ever done. 
“You’re the only senior opposition leader left in Pakistan. How are you going to stay safe while campaigning?” In Pakistan, campaigns were not run through TV, and pressing the flesh was a job requirement. Candidates won over voters by holding rallies of tens and hundreds of thousands of people. Even though Sharif was not personally running, his appearance would help win votes for anyone in his party. 
Sharif looked at me, sighed, and shook his head. “I don’t know. It’s a good question. What do you think, Kim?”
“I don’t know. I’m not the former prime minister of Pakistan. So what will you do?”
“Really, I don’t know. What do you think?”
This put me in an awkward position—giving security advice to Nawaz Sharif. “Well, it’s got to be really difficult. You have these elections coming up. You can’t just sit here at home.”
“What should I do?” he asked. “I can’t run a campaign sitting in my house, on the television.”

"I stood up. Sharif’s aide was already standing. “I should probably be going,” I said. “Thanks very much for your time.” “Yes, Mian Sahib’s schedule is very busy,” Sharif’s handler agreed.  
“It’s all right,” Sharif said. “She can ask a few more questions.” I sat down. I had whipped through most of my important questions, so I recycled them. I asked him whether he was a fundamentalist. Sharif dismissed the idea, largely by pointing to his friendship with the Clintons. I tried to leave again, fearing I was overstaying my welcome. But Sharif said I could ask more questions. “One more,” I said, wary of Sharif’s aide. Then I asked the question that was really on my mind.  
“Which are you—the lion or the tiger?”
Sharif didn’t even blink. “I am the tiger,” he said.
“But why do some people call you the lion?”
“I do not know. I am the tiger.”
“But why do you have two stuffed lions?”
“They were a gift. I like them. 

"We drove to the next rally. I looked at my BlackBerry and spotted one very interesting e-mail—a Human Rights Watch report, quoting a taped conversation from November between the country’s pro-Musharraf attorney general and an unnamed man. The attorney general had apparently been talking to a reporter, and while on that call, took another call, where he talked about vote rigging. The reporter had recorded the entire conversation. I scanned through the e-mail. 
“Nawaz,” I said. I had somehow slipped into calling the former prime minister by his first name. “have to hear this.” I then performed a dramatic reading of the message in full, culminating in the explosive direct quote from the attorney general, recorded the month before Bhutto was killed and just before Sharif flew home... It was unclear what the other man was saying, but Human Rights Watch said the attorney general appeared to be advising him to leave Sharif’s party and get a ticket from “these guys,” the pro-Musharraf party, the massive vote riggers. 
Sharif’s aide stared at me openmouthed. “Is that true? I can’t believe that.” “It’s from Human Rights Watch,” I said. “There’s apparently a tape recording. Pretty amazing.”  
Sharif just looked at me. “How can you get a text message that long on your telephone?”  
“It’s an e-mail,” I said, slightly shocked that Sharif was unconcerned about what I had just said. “This is a BlackBerry phone. You can get e-mail on it.” 
“Ah, e-mail,” he said. “I must look into this BlackBerry.” 
"After more than eight years of political irrelevance, Sharif was back. I sent him a text message and asked him to call. A few hours later, he did, thrilled with his victory.  
“I saw a car today, where a man had glued blankets to it and painted it like a tiger,” I told him at one point. “Really?” he asked. “Yeah. It was a tiger car.”
He paused. “What did you think of the tiger car, Kim? Did you like the tiger car?”  
Weird question. I gave an appropriate answer. “Who doesn’t like a tiger car?” 

"This time, in a large banquet hall filled with folding chairs and a long table, Sharif told his aides that he would talk to me alone. At the time, I barely noticed. We talked about Zardari, but he spoke carefully and said little of interest, constantly glancing at my tape recorder like it was radioactive. Eventually, he nodded toward it. “Can you turn that off?” he asked. 
“Sure,” I said, figuring he wanted to tell me something off the record. 
“So. Do you have a friend, Kim?” Sharif asked. I was unsure what he meant. 
“I have a lot of friends,” I replied. 
“No. Do you have a friend?” 
I figured it out. 
“You mean a boyfriend?” “Yes.” I looked at Sharif. I had two options—lie, or tell the truth. And because I wanted to see where this line of questioning was going, I told the truth. “I had a boyfriend. We recently broke up.” I nodded my head stupidly, as if to punctuate this thought. 
“Why?” Sharif asked. “Was he too boring for you? Not fun enough?” 
“Um. No. It just didn’t work out.” 
“Oh. I cannot believe you do not have a friend,” Sharif countered. 
“No. Nope. I don’t. I did.” 
“Do you want me to find one for you?” Sharif asked.

To recap: The militants were gaining strength along the border with Afghanistan and staging increasingly bold attacks in the country’s cities. The famed Khyber Pass, linking Pakistan and Afghanistan, was now too dangerous to drive. The country appeared as unmoored and directionless as a headless chicken. And here was Sharif, offering to find me a friend. Thank God the leaders of Pakistan had their priorities straight.

“Sure. Why not?” I said.

The thought of being fixed up on a date by the former prime minister of Pakistan, one of the most powerful men in the country and, at certain points, the world, proved irresistible. It had true train-wreck potential.

"In the sitting room, I immediately turned on my tape recorder and rattled off questions. Was Sharif at the negotiations? What was happening? He denied being at any meetings, despite press reports to the contrary. I pushed him. He denied everything. I wondered why he let me drive all this way, if he planned to tell me nothing. At least I’d get free food. 
He looked at my tape recorder and asked me to turn it off. Eventually I obliged. Then Sharif brought up his real reason for inviting me to lunch.
“Kim. I have come up with two possible friends for you.” 
At last. “Who?”
He waited a second, looked toward the ceiling, then seemingly picked the top name from his subconscious. “The first is Mr. Z.”
That was disappointing. Sharif definitely was not taking this project seriously. “Zardari? No way. That will never happen,” I said. 
“What’s wrong with Mr. Zardari?” Sharif asked. “Do you not find him attractive?” 
Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was slightly shorter than me and sported slicked-back hair and a mustache, which he was accused of dying black right after his wife was killed, right before his first press conference. On many levels, I did not find Zardari attractive. I would have preferred celibacy. But that wasn’t the point. Perhaps I could use this as a teaching moment. 
“He is the president of Pakistan. I am a journalist. That would never happen.” 
“He is single.” Very true—but I didn’t think that was a good enough reason. “I can call him for you,” Sharif insisted. I’m fairly certain he was joking. 
“I’m sure he has more important things to deal with,” I replied.  
“OK. No Mr. Z. The second option, I will discuss with you later,” he said. That did not sound promising. 

"I needed to get out of there. “I have to go.” 
“First, come for a walk with me outside, around the grounds. I want to show you Raiwind.” 
“No. I have to go. I have to go to Afghanistan tomorrow.” 
Sharif ignored that white lie and started to talk about where he wanted to take me. “I would like to take you for a ride in the country, and take you for lunch at a restaurant in Lahore, but because of my position, I cannot.” 
"Once the interview was finished, Sharif looked at me. “Can you ask your translator to leave?” he asked. “I need to talk to you.” My translator looked at me with a worried forehead wrinkle. “It’s OK,” I said. He left.
Sharif then looked at my tape recorder. “Can you turn that off?” I obliged.
“I have to go,” I said. “I have to write a story.” 
He ignored me. “I have bought you an iPhone,” he said. 
“I can’t take it.” 
“Why not? It is a gift.” 
“No. It’s completely unethical, you’re a source.” 
“But we are friends, right?” I had forgotten how Sharif twisted the word “friend.” 
“Sure, we’re friendly, but you’re still the former prime minister of Pakistan and I can’t take an iPhone from you,” I said. 
“But we are friends,” he countered. “I don’t accept that. I told you I was buying you an iPhone.” 
“I told you I couldn’t take it. And we’re not those kind of friends.” 
He tried a new tactic. “Oh, I see. Your translator is here, and you do not want him to see me give you an iPhone. That could be embarrassing for you.” 
Exasperated, I agreed. “That’s it.” 
He then offered to meet me the next day, at a friend’s apartment in Lahore, to give me the iPhone and have tea. No, I said. I was going to Faridkot. 
Sharif finally came to the point. “Kim. I am sorry I was not able to find you a friend. I tried, but I failed.” He shook his head, looked genuinely sad about the failure of the project. 
“That’s OK,” I said. “Really. I don’t really want a friend right now. I am perfectly happy without a friend. I want to be friendless.” 
He paused. And then, finally, the tiger of Punjab pounced. “I would like to be your friend.” 
I didn’t even let him get the words out. “No. Absolutely not. Not going to happen.” 
“Hear me out.” He held his hand toward me to silence my negations as he made his pitch. He could have said anything—that he was a purported billionaire who had built my favorite road in Pakistan, that he could buy me a power plant or build me a nuclear weapon. But he opted for honesty. 
“I know, I’m not as tall as you’d like,” Sharif explained. “I’m not as fit as you’d like. I’m fat, and I’m old. But I would still like to be your friend.”  
“No,” I said. “No way.
He then offered me a job running his hospital, a job I was eminently unqualified to perform. “It’s a huge hospital,” he said. “You’d be very good at it.” He said he would only become prime minister again if I were his secretary. I thought about it for a few seconds—after all, I would probably soon be out of a job. But no. The new position’s various positions would not be worth it. 
Eventually, I got out of the tiger’s grip, but only by promising that I would consider his offer. Otherwise, he wouldn’t let me leave. I jumped into the car, pulled out my tape recorder, and recited our conversation. Samad shook his head. My translator put his head in his hands. “I’m embarrassed for my country,” he said. 
After that, I knew I could never see Sharif again. I was not happy about this—I liked Sharif. In the back of my mind, maybe I had hoped he would come through with a possible friend, or that we could have kept up our banter, without an iPhone lurking in the closet. But now I saw him as just another sad case, a recycled has-been who squandered his country’s adulation and hope, who thought hitting on a foreign journalist was a smart move. Which it clearly wasn’t."



Sameel said...

I dont know what to say. Either to laugh or feel sorry for the state of our Ex-PM. There were funny bits which I couldn't resist laughing.

Nawaz Shareef has pulled out something extra ordinary. I know his romance with Tahira Syed and to the extent he went for her but here he kept it quite simple.

Overall a great shame for us. It tells a lot about the mindset of the politicians.

Gori Maim phir gori maim hi hoti hai !

Sameel said...

My man is a sweet boy !!

Magnum said...

There are also portions in the book in which the author keeps getting pinched in the ass during the glorious lawyers movement rallies in Lahore. Lol.

The book's a good, entertaining read indeed.

Anonymous said...

just wondering if its all true then what kind of work our journos perform?

usmankhaliq said...

Man, I wanna read this book.It's hilarious, but at the same time, its a sad reflection of how responsible our politicians really are.

Anonymous said...

this is all fine but the real question is "kulsoom aunty ne mian saab ko kitnay chittar maray hon ge"?

Sheikh Chillis said...

I don't see what the hullabaloo is all about. Nawaz Sharif, at best was trying to befriend her, in typical FOB way. At worst, he was flirting with her. At no time did it cross any line of impropriety, certainly not by western standards.

Actually, it was Barker. it can be fairly argued, who got the better of Sharif. Used her feminine viles to charm some juicy tidbit off of him. And then comes back to paint him... as the aggressor ("pounce"). I think that's rather typical of her kind. She continuously refers to being the object of desire and lust in the Af-Pak region. Egads! Her looks, if she every had them, have long since abandoned her. Maybe hitting too much of the pipe, during her stay.

Lastly, about the book, you can read a well-reasoned, thoughtful and articulate analysis of it from Joshua Foust. A real journalist.

Dost Mohammad said...

This reminds me of Emma Duncan's Breaking the Curfew and Christina Lambs Waiting for Allah. Western Female Journalist currying favor with Pakistani high ups and poking fun at them is nothing new but they do provide an insight. I suggest that younger readers read those books as well just for the fun of it.

SomeGuy said...

"At no time did it cross any line of impropriety, certainly not by western standards."

Oh please...elected officials hitting on reporters like this is considered bad manners and possibly ethically questionable in the US.

Flirting with women and trying to go after them is fine, but what kind of leader goes after a REPORTER from a different country? Just shows the mindset of the men in our country.

Also the worst part is how she kept getting sexually harassed in our country. Desperate Paki men can't keep their hands off of women if they think there can't be any consequences to it. Same thing in India, Egypt and other places. Our men should be ashamed!

Ahsan said...

Pyalas, pls tell me you didn't spend all that time typing all that up. I really hope you copied it from some e-version of her book.

Abdullah Syed said...


Pekhawaray said...

are we all assuming that her account is true? I am no fan of nawaz sharif but the way she has written this book, the choice of her words, the portrayal of characters... all this doesn't seem serious journalism.
her account strengthens all the stereotypes that we associate with orientalism.
I hope somewhere in her book she also talks about some good Pakistanis and Afghans.
she also seems so arrogant. she would prefer to be celibate than be 'friends' with zardari, it kinda of sounds cheap.

I won't be surprised if her book turns out to be another 'three cups of tea'

knowing how we behave, her account also has some truth to it.

but honestly, the way she writes seems like she wants to sell her book. after all it is the age of fast capitalism and the desire of profit has seeped into every field, including academics.

ozmon said...

I agree with you Pekhawaray. Her style of writing might draw a few questions to the authenticity of her account, but I'd like to read this book first-hand though.

XYZ said...

@Ahsan: Heh, Ahsan, we might be mad for running this blog but we're not that mad.

Hammad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wasif said...

Loved reading the excerpts. Thanks for sharing!

XYZ said...

@Hammad: Your comment has been removed. No place for such vile sexism on this blog.

Hammad said...

@XYZ screw yourself

TLW said...

@Hammad, go away.

@XYZ Kim Barker is on Twitter too.

I facepalmed at Nawazoo having dinner with the interviewer at a verrry long table and simultaneously eating. He always does that in *every* book thats written which features him.

that he could buy me a power plant or build me a nuclear weapon. But he opted for honesty

Good to see Ms Barker had her priorities straight :-)

It had true train-wreck potential.

Awww! That's sooo cute!

LoLz At Rehman Malik's purple hair.

I read the last few chapters of Taliban Shuffle, so I'll likely read the rest of the book in a week.

Good job XYZ. Seriously Pakistan's hard right should learn that people get crushes too.

I know this is a tall order, but they should let people be :-)

Oh and the harshest, but likely the most politically salient part:

Now I saw him as just another sad case, a recycled has-been who squandered his country’s adulation and hope, who thought hitting on a foreign journalist was a smart move

Anonymous said...

It seems sperms have traveled all the way to Nawaz Sharif's brain.

Begum Kalsoon Nawaz, get well soon.

Sajai said...

I really, really want to read this book!

If what Ms. Barker says is true and there isn't much reason to disbelieve, it is a sad reflection on the state of the country. After all, Mr. Nawaz Sharif is the senior most national politician left.

takhalus said...

CP: as has been said already nothing new regarding Western female journalists and Pak politicians a la breaking the curfew & Waiting for Allah (more the former)

I am loathe to go into politicians personal lives reminds me of the republicans "if Hilary can't trust him how can we " against Clinton and then how Laura Bush could trust her husband..but the rest of the world sure couldn't.

Still this was an interesting read..but the best bit was the brilliant description of Nawaz Sharif before the excerpts

"It confirmed much of what one already knows about Sharif, his ability to be easily distracted, his obsession with hi-tech gadgetry and his inherent shyness which manifests itself in an inability to communicate. But unfortunately for him, it also depicts a lonely, almost desperate man."

Anonymous said...

the woman is pretty good looking, though

Kashif Sarmad said...

I feel sad for this country and pity on frustrated politicians. These people has not only ruined the country's political affairs but also their already damaged image.

I feel bad and would like to apologizes to kim barker for this behavior of EX stupid PM.

Kashif Sarmad

Anonymous said...

A few women parliamentarians of PML-N also can write such books as they have been into such situations, believe me. Though they were not as smart as Kim was, the likelihood is they might have accepted cell phones, a party ticket for Senate of National Assembly or Provincial Assembly from either Nawaz Sharif or his younger version, Shahbaz Sharif. Shame!

beem said...

hahahaha bitch journalism :D

... and to "Nawaz"! wat on earth has gone wrong with ur choice :/

sadhanag said...

So a top politician made a pass - it was uncomfortable for her, and inappropriate of him, fine. But that's all there is to it - what is so earthshaking about it? He prob. had her pegged as somewhat flaky anyway, we can't say since we don't know what questions she asked, except the idiotic one about whether he was a tiger or lion(what if he thought she was hitting on him?). He was not going to share his deep political secrets and tactics with her from what she writes, why should he? This is much ado about nothing.

Also getting tired of this narrative about a not very perceptive or knowledgeable western visitor having access to powerful Asian guy and proceeding to trivialise everything down to drawing room dynamics. -Sadhana

sadhanag said...

PS: And here's a wild guess that since the days of Charlie Wilson's woman friend who charmed Zia Ul Haq, Pak politicians think of white wimmin as sort good luck charms to help them rise or remain in power.

If that is indeed so, whose fault is that, really? The uncertain Army-ridden politics of Pakistan in which even a powerful man like NS is unsure of his own fate or Umrika's propensity to play that uncertainity and Army-riddenness to their advantage, even utilising the services of aforementioned white wimmin?

PapaBare said...

The author of the book probably added all these juicy details to make her book chat pati and sell more. Don't you think it is bit immoral and unethical to make such details public whatever happened behind closed doors between our prime minister and this "journalist". Maybe some day Sarah Palin writes a book and claims Zardari secretly proposed her, will you believe that too? What if he really did, who cares! Get over it. It is their personal life.
Pyalas I hope you realize that our leaders are also after all humans and they have humanly desires.
Is it a crime to flirt with a lady? Or a white journalist? Or an american journalist. what if this lady was black or arab?

Everybody knows Ajmal Kasaab was a terrorist. How is it a crime if prime minister gave out info about his whereabouts?

To all who are using disgraceful remarks about Nawaz Sharrif and Kulsoom Nawaz I can only say shame on you.

I feel sorry for you pyalas because you aren't making much sense here.

Rafay Alam said...

Here's a picture of Nawaz from back in the day (thanks Roznama Jawani). He's quite the looker

Asghar said...

lol @ "Khaya piya kuch nahi, glass tora bara aane"

lol, get over it. The charms of our lady love got the old gag to spill his beans for nothing.

I wish one day we can get details of real action heroes; Zardari, and chota Shareef's Banga Banga :P

Anonymous said...

@papabare: no, it's not a crime to flirt with a lady journalist, but it is incredibly stupid when you're an aspiring prime minister and a married man. but then, for you even rape is "just" rape and not worthy of too much attention, so who's to say what counts as a crime in your book and what doesn't...


PapaBare said...

@anon at 2:25 am
dullards that pretend to give a shite about a girl that was supposedly raped should ask themselves is Mukhtaran Mai case the only problem we have in Pakistan? Considering the other bad things happening around us yes it was JUST A RAPE.
Dozens of people die each day in suicide attacks, roadside accidents, armed robberies. A few months earlier you guys and whole media were whining about Raymond Davis & now its Mukhtaran Mai. I don't see there is much differences in Mullahs and liberals like you. Both can't face the truth and live in your fairy worlds and resort to name calling and insults when truth is presented.

StunnedAtCavemanAttitude said...

@PapaBare I don't like to hurl abuse, but your comment should not be left unanswered. It seems that you possess a lack of compassion that only the most extreme misogynist could have. Your query about Mukhtaran Mai not being an important problem in Pakistan is astounding. Stop to think for a second (I still live in hope that you can do this) and ask if having such an attitude that is so uncaring and without pity to a poor woman in Pakistan (regardless of class, caste or faith)should not be important? It reflects how all woman are treated and regarded in your country, and this cannot be a good thing. I hope you can see the point.

PapaBare said...

buhaha... more criticism insults and allegations of being misogynist from anons. I am enjoying this now. lmao
OBL is dead now I hope we can focus on that now I heard he was also big champion of women's rights.

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