JAIPUR (India): Celebrated Pakistani women writers — historian Ayesha Jalal and social activist Fatima Bhutto — were mobbed, applauded and loved at the Jaipur Literary Festival here on Sunday where they canvassed support for friendlier ties with India and pooh-poohed the prospects of a military coup in their country.
Clearly upstaging the top-billed American media star Oprah Winfrey who made a widely televised appearance at the festival at the same time, though at a separate platform, Miss Bhutto and Ms Jalal were roundly cheered for an incisive analysis of the evolving political situation in Pakistan and its impact on the world.
Ms Jalal evoked peels of laughter when she claimed that India had moved to the third spot and America had replaced it to become the enemy number one in common perception across Pakistan. Asked who was deemed the enemy number two, she smiled: “Israel.”
Pakistan’s High Commissioner Shahid Malik intervening in the discussion endorsed Ms Jalal’s claim that recent talk of a coup had flowed from media hype. “I don’t see a coup taking place as all the state institutions are working according to the constitution,” Mr Malik said.
He invited Indians to seize the moment for an unprecedented rapprochement with Pakistan, saying that it was for the first time ever that all stakeholders in Pakistan — the civil society, media, the opposition and the army — “are on the same page” for friendly ties with New Delhi.
The Bhutto scion thought it was demeaning for her country to be gripped by political arithmetic in parliament and the parties jostling for power outside as real issues faced by a vast majority of Pakistanis were being sidelined.
She listed Pakistan’s dismal investment in health care and the fact that millions were starving in the agriculture-rich country as scandalous.
Miss Bhutto was particularly severe on PTI leader Imran Khan for what she considered to be his support for obscurantist causes and his alleged anti-women stand on a landmark bill in parliament.
When she woke up to the call of Azaan in Jaipur, she was disoriented for a while because she had not anticipated the sound in India. That revelation tugged at the emotional chords of the audience and drew a long applause. A few thousand milling fans had crammed into an otherwise large enclosure.
Miss Bhutto slammed the “American occupation of Afghanistan” and cited what she said was a credible analysis to claim that US drone attacks were mostly killing innocent people — 30 possibly genuine militants in every thousand innocent people annihilated, she said.
Indian TV anchor Karan Thapar, who hosted the discussion, observed that the two women from Pakistan had drawn more serious people to listen to them than the American TV star next door.