A Pakistani Abroad: Zardari’s ill-fated trip to England

August 9, 2010

pakchopperPresident Asif Ali Zardari’s trip to Britain was particularly ill-fated. When he first planned a visit which should have culminated in him bringing his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, out into the political arena, no one could have predicted such a bewildering series of crises. A row with Britain over remarks made in India by  British Prime Minister David Cameron that Pakistan must not “look both ways” in its approach to Islamist militants. Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 yearsA  plane crash, and then riots in Karachi.

So it was perhaps par for the course that his final event in Britain, a political rally in the city of Birmingham for British Pakistani supporters of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), should be dogged by controversy.  Zardari faced a firestorm of criticism for going ahead with the visit while his country faced so many problems, and the combination of protesters outside the rally and a shoe-thrower inside appeared to mark the culmination of a disastrously ill-judged overseas tour.

Having been to the Birmingham event, I have to say it was not quite as chaotic and ill-tempered as some media coverage suggested.  The protesters outside were a microcosm of Pakistan’s disunited politics, each separate group of demonstators  operating independently and shouting for their own competing agendas – from the restoration of the Caliphate to independence for Kashmir. They were vastly outnumbered by the PPP supporters who packed Birmingham’s International Convention Centre - many of them staid, respectable middle-aged Pakistani men and women who had emigrated to Britain decades ago, worked hard and kept close family links back home. 

And Zardari certainly was not “pelted with shoes”. The man who said he tried to throw his shoes in protest over Zardari’s response to the floods was standing well back in what was a very large conference hall and had little chance of getting anywhere near the president before he was hustled away by security guards.  Zardari did not interrupt his speech, most of the audience continued to listen to him politely, and it is conceivable that those sitting at the front did not even notice at the time what had  happened.  That in any case is how it looked from where I was sitting – it would be easier to judge the event if the video replay had not been edited out – but my impression was that it was not such a big incident to justify the reaction, or counter-reaction in Pakistan. 

That said, the event did not achieve its purpose. Bilawal Bhutto, son of the late Benazir Bhutto, on Thursday cancelled plans to attend the rally and said he would stay in London instead to collect donations for Pakistan’s flood victims.  That he had been expected was clear from the big photo of him given equal prominence to Zardari’s own photo on a poster at the back of the stage.  The event relied heavily on imagery of the Bhutto dynasty – videos of Benazir and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were played before the event; Zardari made frequent references to them in his speech, and wore a rosette with his late wife’s photo pinned to his chest.  (For an interesting take on dynastic politics, do read this column in the Daily Times by Shahzad Chaudhry, who argues that Zardari is primarily interested in shoring up the family’s control of the PPP.)  For all the appeal to the popularity of the two slain former prime ministers, the mood in the conference hall — at least from where I was sitting – seemed subdued, polite rather than enthusiastic; although again it would have looked different at the front where groups of youths had been organised as cheerleaders.

With the visit over, a few are beginning to ask questions about whether quite so much energy and attention should have been focused on attacking Zardari’s trip to Britain, when so many flood victims were in need of attention at home.

“Our electronic media’s reaction – really obsession – with this trip has itself been embarrassing, as indeed has been the reactions of too many of us,” writes Adil Najam on the blog All Things Pakistan.  “But even more than an embarrassment, Mr Zardari’s trip and our obsessive reactions to it has proved to be an all-too-costly distraction from the far more real disaster at home.” (To be fair, the British media got pretty caught up in the visit as well.)

Nadeem Paracha at Dawn makes a similar point, quoting a friend of his as telling a group of youth people: “Zardari was wrong to go. But what have YOU done to help the victims? Do you think all this obsessive whining about Zardari would help you help the hungry, broken and shelterless victims?”

“He was right,”  Paracha says. “Because whereas one saw a number of young Pakistanis gathering to actually do something practical and tangible to help the earthquake victims (in 2005), this time around however, the same young guns and, of course, the electronic media were spending more time spouting accusations and curses at Zardari and navel-gazing about morality in this context than actually doing something a lot more noble.

“There is no nobility I’m afraid in attacking an incompetent (democratically elected) government when every Junaid, Seema and John in the media is doing so – especially a wobbly government of a country ravaged by the demonic specter of religious extremism and violence, a dwindling economy, unchecked corruption and sudden natural calamities . Turning such loud whining into an obsession is even worse.”

Maybe people needed the simpler outlet of attacking the president. Tackling the floods and dealing with the threat to Pakistan posed by al Qaeda and its allies is going to be much, much harder.  (You can find more details on the floods, and aid agency responses, at ReutersAlertnet.)

(Reuters photo: Flood victims try to grab onto a helicopter/Adrees Latif)

Comments

Even thoght the current family vacation of Mr.100% was wrong, specially when the country needs more government attention, I like the Nadeem Paracha statement. I don’t want to be stereo type… comenting on Zardari’s wrong doings….Yes, It is true who is making efforts to bring the people of flood victim to their normal life.

Posted by Tanipak | Report as abusive
 

It is ironic, while the flood is a natural disaster, but most other problems are due to this corrupt and inefficient government. I have nothing against Zardari if he devotes all energies towards betterment of the people. The state has no business other than to improve lives of its people. What the heck was Zardari doing there? He has no justification, down the road just has Hurricane Katrina and its handling brought bad name to President Bush, this trip by Zardari will turn out to be his biggest political blunder.
Pakistan needs a sincere leader in these tough times.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive
 

The first rule of politics is that you never, ever isolate or aggravate your political base. The President has broken this cardinal rule and the PPP will end up suffering from the fallout. Bad move.

President Zardari is the ‘lightning rod’ of the PPP. He should have known that his actions would be under greater scrutiny than anyone else’s actions within the party. All he had to do was delay his visit to the UK by a few days and at least make a symbolic gesture of helping the victims on the ground in Pakistan. That alone would have pre-empted the flood of criticism that has come his way. Whereas the meeting with PM Cameron and the Birmingham event could have been rescheduled without any consequences, the rescue and recovery efforts CANNOT be rescheduled.

Bilawal has taken a very intelligent and diplomatic approach out of this fiasco. By withdrawing from the Birmingham event he has avoided being seen as a callous person and at the same time he has defended his father’s visit in very reasonable terms. So in a roundabout way, Bilawal actually HAS launched his career by making his first independent political decision. Good move.

Posted by Shuqaib.Bhutto | Report as abusive
 

> So in a roundabout way, Bilawal actually HAS launched his career by making his first independent political decision.

We live in interesting times indeed. A decade and a half ago, Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto stood on a stage together and Rajiv referred to the Shimla agreement by talking about “Your father and my mother”. Although full of sentiment, that peace initiative unfortunately went nowhere.

Given the evolution of dynastic politics in both countries, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, we will see Bilawal Zardari-Bhutto and Rahul Gandhi on stage together, talking about “Your mother and my father”…

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

I didn’t realise the extent of the flooding: bit.ly/902qtz

It’s very sad to see the scale of human suffering. I have made a humble contribution through Oxfam. This may be a good time for Indians to reach out and demonstrate that they are well-wishers of the Pakistani people.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

@”I didn’t realise the extent of the flooding. It’s very sad to see the scale of human suffering”
Posted by prasadgc

I don’t think anybody realized the extent of this disaster. Although, the official death toll is 1500, the toll in terms of human suffering is collosal. The Indian American Council & Indo-American Scoiety have set up collection centers in New York & other American cities and so far, the response is better than expected. I second Ganesh that all Indians should contribute whatever they can, for the flood victims in Pakistan. Don’t let the hate displayed by some commenters here, get in the way of your duty as a human being. Before anything else, Pakistanis are our fellow humans & they need our help at this time.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

On the above note, please also encourage your friends, relatives & acquaintances to donate for this cause. You can also help by simply speading the word.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

@ Ganesh. Salaam.

The devastation caused by the floods exceeds the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

http://www.thenews.com.pk/top_story_deta il.asp?Id=30627

Despite the politics surrounding the President’s visit, the Pakistani public have opened up their wallets and a decent amount of money is headed towards the affected people. I am certain that our domestic media will keep highlighting this tragedy throughout Ramadaan and the money will keep flowing (domestically). This should help in the rescue and relief operations.

However, the money required for the post-flood resettlement of the affected people is in the billions of dollars. Add to that, over 50% of the seasonal crop has been wiped out which essentially means a substantial reduction in agricultural revenue for atleast one year.

Posted by Shuqaib.Bhutto | Report as abusive
 

Thankyou for your contribution Ganesh.

Peace be with you.

Posted by Shuqaib.Bhutto | Report as abusive
 

Mortal, thanks to u, i donated some through unicef.

Posted by Black_Sabbath3 | Report as abusive
 

All said and done, this is a “simple” natural disaster. Can we imagine what things would be like for ordinary people in the event of nuclear war? It will be many, many times worse. At a personal level, let us make a commitment not to talk lightly about it and to work to prevent it if possible. It’s not a question of bravado or national pride. Human suffering is human suffering and must be kept to the minimum possible. Natural disasters are bad enough without us contributing to it.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

@Ganesh
“This may be a good time for Indians to reach out and demonstrate that they are well-wishers of the Pakistani people.”

I gave a tiny sum as well. Ask yourself this: why your country’s government has not announced anything yet?

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive
 

Thank you everyone who have felt for fellow human beings in distress, May Allah protect everyone from calamities. But I wish Pakistanis are able to pay back those who are helping us in this hour of need. As stated many times before, and I repeat Pakistanis in general and the people of affected areas in particular are resilient by nature. Like before, we will turnaround and rebuild what was damaged.
Also, the Pakistan Army has been fully mobilized with relief operations going on, medical teams deployed to care for the sick. Through flood control centres, the Army is collecting relief supplies and airlifting to the areas. Similarly the Air Froce through its transport C-130 squadrons based at Chaklala airbase is fully mobilized. Boats, helicopters, NLC trucks from Pak Army as well as US Army Chinooks and Black Hawk helicopters have also joined in from Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Army engineers are also working round the clock to repair damaged bridges. Army chief yesterday visited the affected areas and appreciated the efforts of field formations and Army Aviation.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive
 

Jawed Naqvi’s article. Nice read. What an angle? Only he can do it.

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn -content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/colu mnists/21-jawed-naqvi-why-wait-for-a-rev olution-when-charity-is-doing-a-good-job -980-sk-01

“Perhaps India and Pakistan need to learn from their respective fanatics on how to help their neighbours when the chips are down.”

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive
 

Seth said:

> Ask yourself this: why your country’s government has not announced anything yet?

I presume you’re talking about the Indian government. I don’t know. Maybe they’re still sulking after Mumbai 2008. I personally don’t think India should be churlish under these circumstances. This is a good opportunity to enable massive people-to-people contact and break some stereotypes on both sides of the border. My own position is explained here: bit.ly/9akSl8

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

During the Kashmir earthquake, India offered helicopter search & rescue. It was refused by Pakistan because Indan pilots were to fly the mission.
The basic problem for India with offering aid to Pakistan is that you can never guess what the reaction would be. Over the years, Indians have come to the conclusion that as far as Pakistani rulers are concerned, aid from India is the least welcome option during a crisis.

Posted by trickey | Report as abusive
 

Thanks trickey. That’s what I was hinting at. People-to-people relations are more cordial than government-to-government. However, India had provided materialistic support during that earthquake nonetheless.

This time, GOI seems to be wary of public reaction. Moreover, they are already overwhelmed with K situation, Naxals, and now CWG corruption. Political parties in India are equally mindful of their vote-banks over morality and ethics that they would have to display if they demand for any aid-package for Pakistan. And of course, everybody knows that keeping enmity with Pakistan helps then sweep many otherwise burning issues under the carpet.

I hope I’m wrong and may be PM is waiting for his independence day speech to score few extra points while India offers some much needed relief to Pakistan. Lets wait and find out.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive
 

Ganesh:

Your article ended with:
“It’s time to set petty quarrels aside and do the statesmanlike thing. Future generations will thank us.”

–I get what you are saying about aid to pakistan, and I am all for that. BUT asking pakistan to quit terrorism as a foreign policy tool is not a petty quarrel.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive
 

RajeevK said:

> asking pakistan to quit terrorism as a foreign policy tool is not a petty quarrel.

Rajeev,

I understand what you’re saying, and I’m not an apologist for terrorism. Far from it – Mumbai still makes me angry.

But certain ways of thinking keep us trapped in the same situation. More powerful ways of thinking lead us to a far better situation. Part of such “powerful” thinking involves rising above an “accounting” mentality (“They did this to us, therefore we are owed something”). I won’t use the term “forgiveness” because it has a religious or moralistic connotation, and that is not the angle I’m coming from. I’m always looking at potential, of South Asia as the most economically vibrant part of the world. Anything that stops that from becoming a reality is to me very petty.

Think of it like this. If you and another person jointly attempt a certain task, you will both become millionaires. You need each other to do this. But before you attempt this task, you start quarrelling about a small sum of money. This quarrel can go on indefinitely, preventing you from becoming millionaires. If one of the parties (even if he is in the right) gives in on the small amount, then he may secure the cooperation of the other in attempting the task that will make them both millionaires. Compared to the millions that you stand to gain, the amount of money you are quarrelling over is tiny. But it has the potential to block you from ever attaining those millions. Yes, the one in the wrong has managed to get away with his cheating. But in the larger scheme of things, it was really nothing, was it?

There is a lot of unwarranted suspicion, hatred and jealousy of India on the other side of the border. We see it as unwarranted because we are Indians. To the others, the negative feelings are entirely justified. It’s all subjective, after all. For our part, I think we tend to demonise all Pakistanis because of the institutionalised anti-India attitude over there. The negative feelings certainly exist. But as long as each side sees the other as evil and their own side as the victims, we can keep arguing and fighting and we will achieve nothing.

I think it’s better to *transcend* the quarrel. If we see the quarrel itself as the big thing, then we remain trapped where we are. Address the feelings, give in on a few points. It’s not a big loss compared to the big prize (the “South Asian Economic Miracle”).

Finally, the elephant in the room: I know that many Indians (Hindus) fear the insatiable hunger of Islamism, which dictates that there can be no real peace with Pakistan until India becomes completely Muslim. There are dark nights when I fear that myself :-). But during my less paranoid moments, I believe that most Pakistanis are given to normal human feelings and aspirations, and would gladly settle for peace and coexistence with India, and the economic improvements in their lives that would come from such peace.

The flood is an opportunity for Indians to reach over the heads of the Pakistani anti-India establishment and let ordinary Pakistanis know that Indians are not their enemy. The thaw has to begin somewhere, because stalemate is such a waste of opportunity.

The prize, always the prize.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Ganesh,

Your points are well taken. In fact, prior to Mumbai attacks, things were proceeding in a positive direction. Between 2007 and 2009 there was tremendous progress at a people level. Many Pakistanis participated in Indian TV talent shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. Pak cricketers played in IPL and ICL. In fact there was a 20/20 team named Lahore Badshahs in ICL.

There are vested elements inside Pakistan’s ISI and military who do not like such progress to happen. Mumbai attacks were planned and staged to derail any progress.

There have been goodwill building measures prior to that as well. When Vajpayee went to Lahore, Musharraf launched the Kargil offensive.

There are enough villains inside Pak military establishment who see peace between India and Pakistan as a threat to their grip on power. It is not just Pakistan that they are holding. They have Afghanistan as well. They have become intoxicated with the power that enables them to turn knobs on and off to control everything in the region at their will. It is very clear who was behind the Mumbai attacks.

So long as these villains remain, every attempt to bring understanding and friendship between the people of the two nations will be derailed.

If, after Mumbai attacks, Pakistanis (public and politicians) had not gone on a defensive and if they had worked with India to nail the culprits, it would have opened up a new chapter in the history of the two nations. They failed the test. It looks as though all reactions and responses have been prepared well in advance to the attacks. If Kasab was not caught alive, things would have been very different.

Now comes the question. Let us say India opens up and offers a billion or so dollars to help Pakistan come out of the flood situation. On top of that, it offers to help Pakistan rebuild its infrastructure. I am sure there are enough sane minds in Pakistan who will welcome that move. But there is no guarantee that the elements hiding in the core of the Pakistani power system will not derail it again.

Trust has been eroded by frequent derailment of attempts to bring peace between the two nations and people. Therefore Indians have lost any faith in starting all over. It takes years to repair all the damages and rebuild. Pakistani public are slowly being manipulated into looking at India as an evil monster. To achieve that goal, the “elements” have worked for years to project Kashmir, Indus river treaty, TTP, Indian consulates in Afghanistan, RAW support for Balochistan, Constipation etc as Indian machinations. Media have been used to sustain that projection. And there are vested groups inside India, who would like to gain mileage out of this as well.

If a cricket match between the two countries can invoke such a passion, imagine what an event like Mumbai or Kargil will evoke. The elements have used these methods to drive a deep wedge and widen the gap.

Now Kashmir is burning. It might be genuine, or it might be staged. It does not matter. The ridiculous way the Congress party at the center has been acting has contributed to the problem as well. They seem to like the idea of sitting out on all issues – nothing has been done to counter the Maoist threat. Nothing has been done in Kashmir. Everything is done in a reactive mode. The problem is this. Wrong people are in charge of different ministries. Chidambaram is a finance expert. He is running the home ministry. Pranab Mukherjee is an expert on foreign relations. He is running finance. These are two key departments that need the right kind of people.

In general, we all would like to live at peace with good relationships between neighbors. Unfortunately power has been taken away by evil elements that have learned to survive out of conflicts and mistrust. Unless they are driven away from power, there is not much hope for any reconciliation.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

Ganesh,

I’m kindda short on time here, to repsond to your good intentioned comments, so I’ll just sum it up with a simple saying “It takes two hands to clap”!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

‘India offers $5 million in aid to Pakistan in hour of need’

http://tribune.com.pk/story/39008/india- offers-5m-in-aid-to-pakistan/

If I’m not mistaken, that’s more than triple of what’s been given by Pakistan’s best buddy, China.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

On the same note, another glaring statistic:

Aid given to Pakistan by the US, a country considered as an enemy by most Pakistanis & despite being in the worst economic slump since the great depression & a huge deficit: $84 million (expected to surpass $100 million in the next few days)

Aid given to Pakistan by China, a country considered as Pakistan’s best best friend by most Pakistanis & despite having fastest growing economy in the world (10% +) & a huge surplus: App $1.5 million

Hopefully, this will make Pakistanis realize that the chinese aren’t really as close & “all-weather” a friend, after all. It’s one thing to veto in favor of a country in the UN but it’s a different thing to put your money where your mouth is & help a friend in need.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Mortal1 posted:

‘India offers $5 million in aid to Pakistan in hour of need’

http://tribune.com.pk/story/39008/india- offers-5m-in-aid-to-pakistan/

I found it very uplifting to read the first 7 readers’ comments. It is not just one hand clapping, because there is honest appreciation of the gesture and a desire for peace. For the first time in many days, I feel there is hope for normalised relations between our two countries.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

@”It is not just one hand clapping, because there is honest appreciation of the gesture and a desire for peace” Posted by prasadgc

The desire for peace can be seen in the people of India & Pakistan. It can also be seen (to a certain extent) in the democratically elected civilian Govts of the 2 countries but as far as the poeple who matter in Pakistan are concerned i.e the Generals in Rawalpindi, the desire for peace, still seems very elusive. And I say this based on their track record & actions alone. From planning & executing various acts of terrorism in India through it’s ‘non-state’ actors to their persistant attempts at ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’ & breaking it via proxy wars in Punjab, Kashmir & Eastern India, the actions of the Pakistani army clearly indicate that they have no intentions of making peace with India.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Mortal1 said:

> If I’m not mistaken, that [India's offer of aid] ‘s more than triple of what’s been given by Pakistan’s best buddy, China.

Pakistan is possibly following Machiavelli’s (or was it Sun Tzu’s) advice to keep your friends close and your enemies closer ;-).

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

(Failed post, retrying)

Mortal1 said:

> If I’m not mistaken, that’s more than triple of what’s been given by Pakistan’s best buddy, China.

Pakistan is possibly following Machiavelli’s (or was it Sun Tzu’s) advice to keep your friends close and your enemies closer ;-).

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

I guess, this is why the Indian Govt was reluctant to provide aid to Pakistan:

DAWN

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday seemed unsure about how to respond to a $5 million aid offer from India to help it meet its flood crisis.

The offer was made by Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in a telephonic conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Mr Krishna described the offer as a “gesture of solidarity with the people of Pakistan in their hour of need”, a statement issued by the Indian High Commission here said.

A statement by Foreign Office here on Mr Krishna’s call did not mention the Indian aid offer. However, sources in the foreign ministry indicated that it was being considered.

“We have not rejected the offer outright and a decision would be made soon,” a senior official told Dawn.

—Staff Reporter

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

(retrying)

What about allegations of spending aid money elsewhere?

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn -content-library/dawn/news/world/03-aid- for-2005-pakistan-quake-spent-elsewhere- report-ss-05

Combine this with the conditions in K-L bill and this looks real. If true, unfortunate. But, I must say, that this could have happened in India too. When CWG organizers can buy a TP roll for 100 dollars, anything is possible in India.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive
 

All weather “enemy” India offers 5 million, all weather “friend” China offers only 1.5 million.

More not be said.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive
 

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