DAWN - Features; July 13, 2007

Published July 13, 2007

Mian brothers’ naivete and BB’s blunders

By M. Ziauddin


DATELINE LONDON

IT was an unprecedented gathering. I am still not sure how many had travelled all the way from Pakistan to London to attend Nawaz Sharif’s MPC. But the number should surely be more than 100. And it must have cost the organizers (PML-N?) a fortune. The Orchard Suite at the five-star Millennium Gloucester Hotel does not come cheap. And then there was arrangement for lunch on the two days for all the participants and some more. And of course, a number of the visitors were provided free board and lodge.

So, if the organisers had wanted to come up with some earth-shaking action plan at this ‘defining’ moment (that is what most speakers claimed it was) one should not grudge them their wishes. And what came out of the two-day deliberations sounded more like a watered down version of the high expectations of many. Some who never were comfortable with Mian brothers’ growing bonds with the PPP were seen to be on the warpath. They saw the consensus declaration as a PPP victory of some sort.

Their disappointment was further compounded by the fact that the bloodbath at Lal Masjid had stolen the thunder out of the MPC. The people most disillusioned were Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Imran Khan and some Urdu and English language columnists who had been building up a big hype over several weeks about the conference. The Mian brothers perhaps felt not only were they losing a lot of money and efforts but were also about to be written off from the political scene once the MPC was over. They were, therefore, in the right frame of mind to the suggestions of ‘now or never’. So, the mini-MPC and the birth of APDM.

Could it be that the PPP-PML-N honeymoon is finally over? And the nation perhaps is about to witness another unlikely honeymoon. This time between PML-N and JUI-F.

It is another matter that Maulana Fazlur Rehman was not at all comfortable with the nomenclature of the grand alliance. He wanted to name it with something which would rhyme with the MMA. It was only when Nawaz Sharif put his foot down rather forcefully that the Maulana relented.

That the Maulana had come to the conference to play the role of the spoiler was missed by many, even though nobody liked what he had said about the Chief Justice on the very first day. He did not win the hearts and minds of the nationalists from Balochistan when he said the blowing up of pipelines and power poles in the province where Maulana’s JUI-F is part of the coalition government should also be condemned in the declaration. Even on the issue of resignations from the parliament, his position was not very much different from that of the PPP, but by playing with the language on which he has almost full control he made it sound as if while the PPP was not willing to resign under any circumstances, the JUI-F would use it as the last resort. And the Maulana recorded another victory at the cost of consensus when while announcing the results of the mini-summit, Mr Sharif made it clear that he wanted the restoration of the 1973 constitution as it stood on October 12, 1999, which in effect meant that the clauses which the PPP had wanted untouched like the voters’ age, joint electorate and women’s and minority seats and agreed to in the consensus declaration would also have to go. It was Chaudhry Nisar who had whispered to Mr Sharif to mention the decision to the effect. But why do you have to bend backward so much to appease the Maulana, Khan Saheb?

Interestingly, and perhaps advisedly, the participants of the MPC refused to be diverted by the bloody happenings at the Lal Masjid. Even on the day the APDM was formed, the participants kept their eyes focussed on the real issues. Of course, on both occasions, especially on Wednesday when mopping up operations were going on in Islamabad, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Maulana Fazlur Rehman did express their deep sympathies with the families of those whose members were killed in the operation and condemned the government for storming the Masjid and Madressah without ensuring that there would be minimum loss of life. The Maulana went out of his way to criticise Benazir Bhutto for supporting the action. In fact, he said he came to attend the mini-summit only when Nawaz Sharif had assured him that the PPP had been stopped from attending the conference. But later PML-N sources said that everyone in their camp was taken by surprise when the PPP delegation arrived and participated in the deliberations until the final decisions were taken. “We could not have asked them to leave once they had arrived, “confided the PML-N source.

Sources close to the PPP said that the party leadership was of the opinion that the unity of the APDM would not last for more than a few weeks. “They are also convinced that the Maulana would make it impossible for the alliance to hold the very first public meeting planned to be held in Quetta on August 9,” the sources added.

“There would finally be a mullah-military link-up once again serving their deep-rooted mutual political interests with the Mian brothers left holding the empty sack,” a PPP stalwart refusing to be identified added again perhaps trying to justify in his own mind the party’s decision not to go along with other opposition parties.

“With the Mian brothers out of the country, Raja Zafarul Haq the chairman of the action committee of the new alliance being hardly a politician of any substance, the APDM would be hijacked by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Imran Khan. They would not even allow Asfandyar who opposes the MMA in NWFP and Acheckzai who is on the other side of the fence in Balochistan anywhere near the alliance. And as far as the PONM is concerned, they would simply disappear in the thick cloud of confusion that the MMA would create to suffocate them,” came the lengthy retort from the gentleman when asked to explain how the PPP workers would feel when a movement is launched against the military dictator without their flags leading it.

But then, they must already be a highly disappointed lot listening to their leader announcing over the national and international channels and in press interviews that she has been negotiating for a deal to share power with the military dictator.

It was nothing less than hilarious to hear Benazir say to the CNN interviewer on Monday night that she wanted Musharraf, who according to her is known the world over, to bring money for Pakistan. Does she plan to give him the job of finance minister in her cabinet? Or perhaps knowing very well that foreign donors because of the (as yet unproven, though) allegations of corruption against her would not trust her with their aid, she would need Musharraf’s credibility to help her out. Rumours, however, have it that when after the interview one of her close confidantes pointed out the faux pas, she is said to have (wonder of wonders) admitted: “Yes, that was a blunder.”

Cablese versus modern journalism

By Hajrah Mumtaz


White Noise

BEING in journalism, particularly the print, is like being a hamster on a wheel — there’s a constant danger of being crushed by the weight of the machine if you don’t run fast enough, ie keep the monstrous printing press fed on an endless supply of material.

Journalism is a tide of words and a sea of information, a multitude of people in an intricate dance to gather the news, pin it down, sift it, polish it, process it, print it and deliver it to your doorstep in the small hours of the morning. Which is why it’s an addiction; every aspect contains the promise of a unique adrenaline rush, from the heady thrill of the scoop to the quiet pleasure of having come up with the perfect headline, from skewed working hours to endless cups of tea boiled until it’s orange.

Stay too long in journalism and you may become unfit for polite company — but in the murky underworld, fellow hacks will always pass the smokes and shift over.

One of the best essays on the sheer fun of journalism is written by Christopher Munnion, the UK-based Daily Telegraph’s Africa correspondent for 25 years during its post-colonial period. He writes about the time when foreign correspondents were veritable James Bonds creeping through enemy lines. ‘I was there . . .’ they’d write with justified pride. Munnion remembers ‘cablese,’ developed in the times before telex and now a lost language. “Correspondents and their editors had elevated it to an art form,” he writes, recalling the following cryptic instruction: “Assume you Lagoswards soonest procover situation onspotting warwise,” which meant that he was to get to Nigeria immediately and without debate, file graphic, front-line dispatches.

Competition was tough in those days, even though foreign correspondents were often close personal friends. Munnion relates the story of Zanzibar’s 1964 revolution, when the Mail’s Peter Younghusband and his friend and Express rival John Monks hired a dhow to get to the island. Alarmed by the gunfire from shore, the skipper weighed anchor a mile offshore. Younghusband stripped down and swam ashore, enabling the Mail to splash his account under a Zanzibar dateline: “Last night I swam the shark-infested waters of the Indian Ocean to the strife-torn spice island of Zanzibar. .” Monks, obliged to file his account from mainland Tanzania, promptly received a terse message from the Express: “Why you unswim shark-infested sea query.”

The world of journalism has changed now, and the effects of Murdoch-isation are being felt even in Pakistan where publications are increasingly becoming more advertisement-oriented and displaying a cater-to-the-customer approach. No longer do you hear stories such as that related by the grand Zafar Iqbal Mirza, or Zim, of editing the next day’s copy while standing under a street-lamp. The old Pakistani guard still exists, rustling the grasses in the city, pumping stoolies or swapping stories at the Press Club. But their generation is being replaced by youngsters who rely on Wikipedia for fact-checking and are increasingly unaware of what happens outside their own cubicle.

This change is most evident in the editorial departments of English-language magazines, where entry-level positions are increasingly being filled by young people with language proficiency but poor understanding of the country’s circumstances and history. Consider the emotions of one reporter, for example, who was asked by a well-educated young sub-editor: “What is an FIR? There’s no mention of trees in your article.” Or an editor who was asked “how did newspapers receive information before email?”

As British journalist Francis Wheen once put it, “In the joyless offices of today, journalists arrive at their workstations bright and early, without a hint of a hangover, log on to the computer and spend the next nine hours or so gazing at their screens in a kind of trance. They might as well be on an ice-floe in Antarctica.”



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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