The floods soaked the Zardari’s image


ROVER’S DIARY: The floods soaked the president’s image —Babar Ayaz

The only way to stop the world from labelling us as a citadel of terrorism is to improve our behaviour. We have to distance ourselves from all such jihadi organisations that are considered as an asset by our national security managers. These groups are actually a great diplomatic liability

It seems that Mr Asif Zardari is not a friend of President Zardari and he is not even the president’s good adviser. At least the recent untimely visit to France and Britain confirm my above observation. His already controversial image has been further soaked — a collateral damage of the flood.

Much before the visit started and the floods swamped Khyber Pakhtunkhwa there was strong opposition to his visit to Britain. The reason given by our chest-thumping patriots was that David Cameron has blamed Pakistan for ‘exporting terrorism’. Cameron made this statement in India, the country that is considered by many as an archenemy. Then came the floods and the argument was that the president should not go out of the country when his countrymen are suffering.

To me the first reason for cancelling the visit was ridiculous. Cameron’s predecessor Gordon Brown had time and again alleged that 75 percent of terrorist activities can be trailed back to Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, Admiral Mullen, Holbrooke, Karzai and of course Manmohan Singh and many others around the world have made similar charges against Pakistan. So, do we break relations with everybody and childishly tell them “we are not talking to you”?

First, the only way to stop the world from labelling us as a citadel of terrorism is to improve our behaviour. We have to distance ourselves from all such jihadi organisations that are considered as an asset by our national security managers. These groups are actually a great diplomatic liability. The reliance on such non-state actors is because our establishment feels insecure against India. Some of their apprehensions may be real but the answer is positive and better international diplomacy rather than relying on the support of the militants who are international pariahs and consider them our first line of defence in the east and future partners in the northwest.

Secondly, the only wise approach is to improve our communication with the world powers so that they understand Pakistan’s threat perception better. The more we communicate the more they would be able to provide us civilised solutions and support that may wean our establishment away from using the jihadist option.

However, the fact that there was no invitation from the British government made the president’s public relations (PR) manager’s job difficult. At the same time, pictures of his visit to the Château in France were damaging. He was criticised by the local and foreign media equally for such flamboyancy.

The second argument given against his visit by the media and his critics is that he should not have left the country when the people were faced with the worst floods in 80 years. Here I tend to agree with his critics. In the first place the floods had hit Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the time he left Pakistan. He should have postponed the visit. His defenders, who have a poor case to defend, say that the chief executive is the prime minister who was in the country. Right. But as the head of state, Mr Zardari should take himself seriously and should be with the people of his country when they suffer instead of going on a junket.

His visit was also damaging for his political party. If the prime minister was supposed to supervise the relief and rescue work as the chief executive of the country, he was required to mobilise his party members to go out and help the people when they needed even a straw to swim through the deluge. Even in Sindh, a PPP stronghold, he was marked as missing. Many people in the affected areas complained that the PPP elected members have not been active in relief work according to their expectations. Rather some of the Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) were found obstructing the flood damage control efforts because they wanted to save their agriculture land.

Then there was the shoe throwing drama in the tradition of Bush junior. First the party denied any such incident. Now belatedly his party leaders have accepted that the incident did happen but the man who threw the shoe has a criminal record. It is quite possible that his opponents staged the drama. But the reaction of the party to gag a section of the media was again bad PR. Though it is a fact that a section of the media is campaigning against him and the electronic media in Pakistan is overblowing some stories a la Fox News, an effort to gag such channels is futile.

Learning his lesson, the good thing is that the president is now planning to cut short his visit to Moscow to attend a quadrilateral meeting on the invitation of Russia. Though this visit would also be criticised, there is a better rationale to support the contention that since the heads of states of other regional countries are coming there, Pakistan’s presence is necessary.

The overall impression that emerges from this episode is that President Zardari thinks he may in any case not get a second term so public opinion does not count. And as far as his party is concerned, it would be trounced by the burden of incumbency and inefficient governance. The PPP’s major success in leading the war against terrorism, the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award will not be of much help in the next polls.

The president’s visit to Europe remained as the second hottest topic in the media. And in private meetings people always ask a foolish question about who advised him to go ahead with the visit. This is a standard question I have heard when a head of state or a prime minister makes a reckless decision, no matter who is ruling. My usual answer is that at that level one should not look for a scapegoat advisor, but rather the buck stops at the ‘Mr Know It All’ master.

The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com

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