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…)