Oct 31, 2010

Over the top

Masood Hasan
So Sherry Rehman is the PPP's bad girl. Not surprising at all. There are at least four things wrong with her. One, she reads. Two, she writes. Both habits can land you in a great deal of trouble in Pakistan, where no one reads, and certainly no one writes. Three, she calls a spade a spade, which in the land of the impure run by the very impure, may lead you to use one and dig a hole for yourself. And, four, she smokes. Not good at all. Such bad habits are not encouraged in the party of the toiling masses: that, in case you did not know, means the party where the masses toil and the rest have a party.
Now, some of the PPP's heavyweight intellectuals – and I use the term loosely – like Jehangir Badar, studiously avoid books, the same way they would avoid drones. It's a great quality. Look where it has taken general secretary Mr Badar? In any event, reading books and smoking at the same time is not good for your health. Sherry does both. When the PPP's inner core appears on TV talk shows – though Sherry is now outer core – it causes grievous pain to the party faithful who these days are not on speaking terms with some bad channels. Talking to enemy channels is a serious violation of all democratic rules and forms the bedrock on which the party rests – we have the bed but the rock's missing.
It is another matter that the party has never had an election, the mantle of leadership passing from hand to hand and, in some cases, from hand to foot. Whoever said that what's good for the goose is good for the gander must have his head examined. There is no such thing. Pakistan's leading political party that believes in the power of the people has ensured that real power stays with a few at all times. Sherry is not among those. Neither is that quiet man Safdar Abbasi, who many believe knows a thing or two about what happened on Dec 27, 2007, but, then, he and his wife are sidelined so far that it is not possible to spot them without the Hubble telescope.
If you have an opinion which, heaven forbid, is not at a given time in utter sync with the party diktat, you could be in serious trouble. It is, of course, another matter that half-a-dozen other PPP stalwarts who also appeared on various TV channels – you have to pass the time in sleepy Islamabad – have had no trouble at all and are singing ditties even as we try to make sense of the Rehman-Abbasi sacking. Among these luminaries are such searchlights as Raja Riaz, Ayatullah Khan, Azeem Daultana (take away the "daulat" and you are left with an "anna"), Abdul Qadir Patail, Aitzaz Ahsan, my favourite Chaudhry from the Q-Chaudhrys hideout, Sen Enver Beg, and undoubtedly others. Perhaps they all don't read books, ask questions and smoke at the same time.
I always thought that one day Sherry would run into trouble with a name like hers. All it would require is for one fanatic to rise and, in a thunderous roar, ask how could we allow a woman named after a drink to be among us? It didn't happen. Perhaps I overestimated the PPP's barroom skills, although they should know that statecraft and snake juice are interlinked. What else can explain the astronomical rise in consumption when Assembly and Senate sessions are underway in the citadel of Islam? The faithful buy up all the booze so that the nation is not misled with this devious drink. And, to ensure that their subjects are not exposed to its deadly after-effects, drink it all up and, with this supreme sacrifice, make sure that generations to follow are safe from the Devil's latest cunning plan.
Sherry made bad mistakes. She tried to work, which is not in the national interest, and she spoke candidly, which is worse. It was only a matter of time. When she was insulted openly, she did the honourable thing and quit. But, then, how can you condone that? So she was put under a large question mark. Having aired her opinion – apparently you can't have one without an insurance policy – on an enemy channel she was then faced with the charge of the lightweight brigade. Led by party stalwarts and other law-abiding party faithful, a mob descended on her home in Karachi, violently demonstrated, burnt her effigy, called her polite names and let their intentions be known. The police, God bless their black hearts, always ready to carry out action against their own people, stood by as the crowds got more and more violent. Officials, as is the hallowed tradition, professed ignorance and looked as innocent as a one-year-old babe.
The real question is: who passes such loony orders? Obviously it comes from the top, but does anyone stop and think for a second what the fallout can be, or what message this will send out? One understands that the operative word here is "think," a product in short supply here, but surely there are enough people in the PPP to say, "Hey, guys hold it. This is not going to fly." Apparently, all the dissidents have migrated to Canada. Ok, it will frighten Sherry and her family for her crime of speaking out, but will no one notice this and will no one recall that not too long ago the party was singing her praises? Or is it that once the emperor says "Can no one rid me of this meddlesome woman?" a thousand loyalists are ready to lay down their lives?
And, pray, what message do such goon-squad actions send out to the rest of the country (not all are members of the party) and, worse, to the world outside? Haven't we enough boot polish on our mugs that we want to plaster some more? Is this the kind of action that will have the international media eating out of your hand? Obviously, official thinking in Islamabad supports this. This is bad thinking, and instead of training its guns on Sherry, the PPP would do well to execute those who suggested that a bit of muscle-flexing will fix things. But, then, this is all cuckoo thinking. Islamabad does not run like this. For one voice of sanity there are a million deranged loonies hanging from the trees. Reality is not the suite that Islamabad likes to play.
The prime minister has astounded the world, saying in answer to the well-placed charge that corruption in the last year has broken new records, that he sees no sign of any corruption at all. This is brilliant, and, again, those who advise him to utter such nonsense should be hauled up by the scruffs of their shameless necks and flung across the wall like a dead cat. However, these are just futile thoughts. We all know perfectly well that this latest bombshell by the PM will further many careers. Flattery pays, and it pays very well. Remember that and you have a great future in front of you, rather unlike the heavyweight actress from the Paki cinema about whom it was said that she has a great future behind her!

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