Think Like An Indian

The verdict is out: Pakistan’s latest ‘peace talks’ with India were anything but peaceful. Furthermore, insiders say that nobody really ‘talked’ either – rather, everyone ‘talked over’ each other. The ending was a bout between two immaculately dressed foreign ministers – one a verbose South Punjabi and the other an insipid South Indian – and a very cold departure from a very hot Islamabad by some very frigid Hindustanis.

But while Pakistan’s news cycle has quickly adjusted back to fake degrees and the charge of the Hillary brigade, Indian journos have refused to let go of their ‘Agra 2’ – the new version of a similar breakdown in 2001 when then president Musharraf visited the Taj and buried Vajpayee’s charms right next to Shahjahan’s beloved Mumtaz Mahal. Thus, an insight into what our friends on the other side are thinking is key…

Questioning peace, The Himalayan mulls: “While the Indian government is keen to mend fences with Pakistan, it will not compromise on its ‘core concern’, which is the repeated use of terror…India had grown at over 8 per cent after Mumbai and it will continue to grow…‘despite Pakistan’, the clear implication being that Pakistan needs the dialogue process more than India does.”

Blaming Qureshi, the Indian Express recalls: “Qureshi was not happy with an open-ended language like [talks would resume] “at an appropriate time” and wanted India to specify a timeline. India, on its part, said it was in no position to provide a timeframe as the progress and pace…are linked to…the Mumbai attacks investigation….There is also a sense of concern here at the way Qureshi conducted himself…and his ‘petulance’ that left the Indian side…surprised.”

Analysing Pakistan’s establishment, the Hindustan Times alleges: “When the prime ministers…met in Thimpu…Gilani indicated he had the full support of his military…When the foreign ministers of the two countries met in mid-July, the men in khaki were opposed…developments, say sources in both countries, led them to change their minds. The first development was the political resurgence of President Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistan military has sought to marginalise him…The military’s view about the dialogue with India had shifted from support to strong doubt. One reason, say sources in Pakistan, was the establishment’s view was that a successful dialogue with India would only add another feather to Zardari’s cap.”

But, batting for Pakistan, the Bangalore Mirror cautions: “It’s so easy to blame Pakistan…But if the trust deficit between India and Pakistan has to be seriously addressed…then India should be willing…to accept that ‘composite dialogue’ is not a rhetorical ploy… but a reflection of how all conflicts in South Asia are basically interlinked…Like India in Kashmir, Pakistan has bled profusely in Afghanistan. It has a right to be concerned about the future of that country…Subsequently, India has invested heavily in Kabul…We remain the venal Karzai regime’s main backer. We have four consulates in Afghanistan and have given its government $1.2 billion in aid, a whopping sum for a country that is 99 per cent Muslim and with which we have no common border. We have also put up their new parliament building and chancery, and have helped train the Afghan army. In terms of one nation’s special interests that subvert another nation’s special interests, how is our involvement in Kabul different from that of Pakistan in Kashmir?”

Finally, sounding the doomsday alarm, the Hindustan Times declares: “‘In an unstable Pakistan…government and the army will become even more dependent upon China,’ the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses has warned…[The 156-page report] said: ‘…agencies in Pakistan will continue…using terror as a tool of pressure against India…an increasing unstable Pakistan may manifest in several ways – Lebanonisation (being divided into several small pockets) or…even face disintegration…The army will get more aggressive as it finds itself fighting to save Pakistan: and its own identity. This could result in more sabrerattling and brandishing of the nuclear threat…Within Pakistan, the society will get fragmented. The ethnic, linguistic and provincial fault lines may get accentuated. Insurgency in Balochistan might get worse. Sindh and NWFP will not remain unaffected. They will challenge Punjab’s dominance…’”

Thanks for playing ‘Think Like An Indian!’. Your prize: a different perspective. Come back soon.

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Journalists, Judges, Jenerals and Jerks

The Punjab is imploding and exploding at the same time.

The explosions have been at the revered Data Darbar, the ‘spiritual heart’ of Old Lahore. But a week later, more fireworks have been discharged – this time only inwards – and the implosion stems from the British-era quarters of Pakistan’s cultural capital not far from Data’s Nagri – the address where the leaders of the Land of Five Rivers have reasoned, debated and legislated since 1935: the Provincial Assembly.

They, i.e. Punjab’s ruling family that has been damage-controlling this little act of sabotage, say a ‘Lota’ (a South Asian sanitary device that is a cross between a beer mug and a teapot, often shared communally for mutual comfort), with the fitting name of Masti Khel, is the primary troublemaker (the nomenclature translates directly as ‘Mischievous Tribal’).

The evidence they present is clear: that MPA Sanaullah Masti Khel, Musharraf-bred in the PML-Q and now a Sharif inspired N-Leaguer, was the sole vanguard of an attempted anti-press revolution in Lahore; the lone spearhead of a brazen yet legalized attack on the media; Spartacus, Stalin and Zia camouflaged as one overweight politico, out to demolish Pakistan’s fifth column (that “disguises” itself as this country’s fourth estate).

For those living under a shell (which is not recommended in a place like Pakistan as shells are not shrapnel proof, but on the other hand, they don’t rely on electricity either), these are the facts.

The Punjab Assembly met last Friday to debate – according to the agenda, colleges for women among several bla bla issues (bla bla because these items were not deemed important enough to legislate that day). Instead, the debate shifted to a non-agenda item: the ‘Fake Degree Scandal’ – Pakistani Parliamentarians of all hues, but predominantly hailing from the Sharif brigades, using unrecognized and even counterfeit degrees to qualify for office. After a fiery show of force by MPAs including Peoply Jiyalas and Q-Leaguers – the N-League’s Masti Khel climaxed with a command performance.

As he tabled what eventually passed as a unanimous resolution for curbing the media, the Honourable Representative from Bhakkar shouted that “Pakistan is being held hostage by the Three Js’: Journalists, Judges and Jenerals”.

Now, if you’re snickering about Masti Khel’s slip, don’t. Stop being a spelling bee and give the man some breathing space. In fact, get to know him a little.

According to the Punjab Assembly’s official website, M. Sanaullah Khan Masti Khel (who is happily married, despite his name’s implied freedoms) is the proud recipient of two undergraduate degrees: an L.L.B. and a B.A. The site lists his phone number (0333-5614444, which shows that he fancies expensive ‘golden’ numbers) and also updates us about his previous portfolio: that he has served as the Parliamentary Secretary of the National Assembly from 2004 to 2007.

Given Mr. Masti Khel’s dual degrees, his post-paid cellular connection and his very important former posting, one can feign surprise about why he would spell ‘Generals’ with a J. But debating his spelling techniques (exactly what the media is doing since last Friday) is like arguing about the safety of air travel in the middle of a crash landing: redundant.

As he is the face of what is arguably the shortest-lived anti-press coup that has ever been legislated out of the Punjab P.A., the question arises: did Mr. Masti Khel act alone, or is he a mere scapegoat?

Not according to one Babar Awan, the PPP’s “PhD qualifed” legal hit man. In response to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s emergency press conference from London (where the Man of Steel announced that Masti Khel types would be fired from his party, while implying that the burly MPA’s questionable past – Masti Khel is a Q-League turncoat – could make this an act of sabotage against his beloved Muslim League), the caustic Law Minister Awan demanded that the “real Masti [mischief] makers should be fired”.

Awan may have a point. The fact that Nawaz’s efficient number two, Punjab Boss and omnipresent Chief Minister Shahbaz, was present and passive during the crusading session, only to make a hasty backdoor exit when things really heated up, helps Mr. Awan’s argument: that this was not a one-man coup – instead, the N-League’s back benchers, with the tacit approval of their provincial chief, only did what they were always meant to do: bash the free press.

But it doesn’t matter. Though many Parliamentarians ‘vented’ against the media over what was an otherwise lackluster beginning to the weekend – after all, only 105 people were reported killed in twin blasts in the Mohmand Agency at almost exactly the same time Punjab’s finest were ripping apart the media for “irresponsible propaganda” – the fact remains that several Parliamentarian degree records up for verification at the esteemed Punjab University have disappeared over the weekend. Yet, this has yet not inspired most mainstream media to stop gloating over their PR victory (almost getting Masti Khel fired) and move on to the real story: that everything in this country is organized, including corruption.

Frankly, I’m beginning to agree with the big guy from Bhakkar. I just hope he adds another ‘J’ to that list – one that can provide a single word summary of his larger, badly spelt point.

India Talks Back

The Interior Minister of Pakistan is a famous man. He’s famous for his flashy ties and his new-age afro hairdo. He’s famous for being more ‘connected’ than the next minister and for having enjoyed a marvelous career at the FIA. He’s also famous for not being allowed to enter the grounds of the GHQ after the unfortunate attack on that building (after all, Rehman Malik only showed up at the holiest of cantonments in Pindi to offer his condolences – but fearing an autograph riot, his popularity overwhelmed the Army sentries and they turned him away).

However, in another country, in another time zone, Rehman Malik is even more famous. This is an objective claim, as India’s television viewing and newspaper reading audience is more than four times Pakistan’s entire population. Undoubtedly, Mr. Malik is India’s favorite Pakistani politician for several reasons, first among them being that he has served as Pakistan’s unofficial ambassador-at-large to the Indian media since the nihilistic attacks in Mumbai on 26/11/08, second being that they love his ties.

Thus, it was no surprise when I got a call (though a monitored number, no less) last week from a New Delhi based outfit – India’s largest media group – to cover Mr. Malik as he played host to his counterpart – the tough-talking, smooth-sniping southern lawyer: P. Chidambaram.

Needless to say, I was ambivalent. There were several issues at stake that emerged as existential questions. Firstly, did I want to cover Pakistan for an Indian network? Secondly, was it safe for me to cover Pakistan for an Indian network? Thirdly, was it good for my reputation – in quarters that matter – to cover Pakistan for an Indian network? Fourthly, was it beneficial for my family and friends for me to cover Pakistan for an Indian network?

There was a resounding ‘no’ for all these questions that I heard from deep within the part of my brain that is tasked with logic. But there was a whimpering ‘why not’ that was being generated by the part that is in charge of all things inappropriate and unreasonable. Being a true Pakistani of the Pashtun sort, I decided to go with the latter.

My reasons (or un-reasons) were simple. In the four days of Indo-Pak hoopla, also known as ‘Dialogue’, ‘Peace Process’, ‘Negotiations’ and ‘Bilateral Talks’, I would not only bump into enterprising Indians, fearsome intelligence agents, powerful politicians and brilliant bureaucrats, but would also get to write about it! Moreover, covering the talks would provide me a unique chance to give a Pakistani perspective to millions of Indians and show them what we ‘really’ think. From their missiles to their masalas, from Katrina to Kolkatta, my plan was to unleash the Pakistani within and dominate India every night for four days through live prime-time television.

And so it began. The days were spent doing old-school ambush-style guerilla journalism: camped out, staked out and kicked out of various high-security buildings. But the nights were spent with India’s finest talking heads, making a stand via satellite which made me feel like it was the Battle of Chawinda or Tiger Hill all over again. But one question, in one way or the other, was pitched every night (which has made me reconsider what ‘attack’ really means in India)…

Q) Wajahat, Hafiz Saeed and the role he played in 26/11 is a major sticking point for India, but he is seen openly with mainstream leaders like Fazl-ul-Rahman. How are Pakistanis taking to his increasing popularity and his release by the courts?

A) Well, I think your definition of ‘mainstream’ is questionable. Fazl-ur-Rahman is about as mainstream in Pakistan as Kim Jong-Il is in China: tolerated but irritating. Secondly, while 26/11 was unfortunate, evil and also the main cause of de-railing the Indo-Pak peace process, do understand that Pakistan has lost more soldiers in the last five years of fighting the same guys than it lost to Indian guns in both ’65 and ’71 combined. Thirdly, whether you like it or not, Pakistan’s courts have an opinion, and it should be respected.

Q) But Wajahat, Pakistanis can’t hide behind that argument alone. Isn’t it true you are suffering from the same Frankenstein’s monsters you created for us?

A) Well, uh, you see, while that may be a valid point… (Internal Monologue: Oh, shit…)