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Friday, 12 September 2008

A non-defence of Zardari - by Dr Meekal Aziz Ahmed


Thursday, September 11, 2008
by Dr Meekal Aziz Ahmed (The News)

I write in regards to the unrelenting, but not entirely unexpected, stream of criticism and abuse being hurled at Mr Zardari in Pakistani newspapers and elsewhere, including the Internet, on his becoming president. Of course, it is plain to see that this is only the beginning. There is more to come, all part of a strategy, with stories planted at the appropriate places at home and abroad, aimed at reaching the right audience and having the most impact. Everyone is getting into the act, having a field day and enjoying themselves immensely and being paid very handsomely for their troubles. There is no newspaper or Internet site remotely connected with Pakistan that does not have a theory and analysis of Mr Zadari and timelines of his life since he was born. And everyone claims to have the "real," "inside" scoop, so that you are foolishly lured into reading on.

I am not an apologist for Mr Zardari, his crony or the beneficiary of his well-known generosity with his friends which has earned him so much opprobrium. I have met him thrice, once when he asked me to dinner for no purpose but to meet me and talk, and on two occasions subsequently, also for no specific purpose. I found him charming, easygoing, unpretentious and fun to be with. At the dinner I was struck by the simplicity of his taste in food. I asked him no favours. He offered me none.

The main criticism of Mr Zardari is that he is corrupt. For a country that ranks high on the corruption index, I find the agonising over Mr Zardari's corruption rather amusing. I also find it hypocritical, which, it is worth reminding, is the most-condemned and loathed sin in Islam. Unless, of course, Mr Zardari is to be held to a different standard because he was married to a star-crossed Bhutto and is now the president of Pakistan. Evidently, different standards of corruption and morality should apply to different people. Or so the argument goes.

Let me see if I have this right. Mr Nawaz Sharif, our closet fundamentalist, whose thugs were not long ago scaling the gates of the Supreme Court while their Lordships ran for their lives, but who has now taken a "principled" stand on the judges' issue, is not as corrupt as Mr Zardari and should be treated differently. After all, he does not have a mansion in Surrey. He only has a flat in London which happens to be located in the most expensive and exclusive area of the city, only because nothing else was available. Rather than being reviled like Mr Zardari and cast in the same light, Mr Sharif should be admired and praised for displaying such modesty in choosing his abode. Unless I am naive and mentally challenged, or simply "don't get it," there is something very strange and unsatisfactory with this line of reasoning.

There are not many persons among Pakistan's obnoxious, selfish and self-serving elite, civil and military, who I have the great misfortune of associating with, who can stand up and claim that they are honest, have always done well by Pakistan and served it selflessly. There are not many who have not plundered our hapless country and enriched themselves beyond measure, without shame or mercy, at the first opportunity.

There are not many persons in Pakistan among the elite who can say they don't have secret foreign currency accounts abroad, under false names, undeclared and untaxed, brimming with ill-gotten wealth and laundered money, and who don't own property in some "leafy suburb" in Spain or Houston, Texas or whichever place is now in vogue. This, of course, is in addition to the long list of properties and other assets they own in Pakistan, all obtained illegally through shady, underhand deals with fake documentation. These are properties whose values are a multiple of all their known sources of income, yet no one bats an eyelid. It is considered passé and bad manners to do so.

There are even fewer people that can say they are not long-time under-filers and tax evaders, the scourge of Pakistan's tax system, who have got away with it for sixty one years and have no intention of changing their tax-free status. And I have always found it perplexing how government officials, civil and military, send their children to university in the US despite their meagre salary, the soaring costs of tution, and an exchange rate disadvantage which currently stands at Rs74 to the dollar.

I don't wish to make light of corruption, to brush it aside and imply that since it is so widespread and all-encompassing that we might as well stop talking about it. Not at all. Corruption is an evil and a blot on us as Muslims who claim we fear God and will be called to account by Him. It saddens and embarrasses me to talk of corruption. But the focus on Mr Zardari is patently unfair, hypocritical, obviously political and in bad taste. It is well-planned and orchestrated by shadowy agencies that we know are masters at the business of bringing people down, especially civilians.

Instead, these agencies should be doing the job they are supposed to do. For a start, the agenda might comprise of intelligence to make sure that the Lal Masjid under their nose is not being restocked with weapons, help in locating and destroying the FM radio stations that spew an endless stream of venom and hatred in the name of God and Islam, and eliminating people like Baitullah Mehsud before he gets to Islamabad.

In short, all this Zardari-bashing is getting rather tiresome and boring. We "need to move on" as the American's are fond of saying. We need to stop wasting our time reading yellow journalism, where the same thing is said over and over again with the same storyline and sound-bites.

The writer has a doctorate from Oxford University and has worked at the Planning Commission and the IMF. Email: meekalahmed2@aol.com

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