MY very dear old friend, Haji Ebrahim, a merchant born in Dhoraji (then in Kathiawar), and I converse in our mother tongue, Gujerati, a language which can encapsulate a chapter-long `situation` in one single sentence.
His remark to me, after reading that President Asif Zardari had hot-footed it to Saudi Arabia to meet King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, “Ee pojishun em cheh, keh Badshah bee janey cheh keh jeh mulak no rajah vaipari te mulak ni prajah bhikharee,” is translated thus the position is such that the Badshah also knows that if a country is ruled by a merchant the people of that country will be beggars.
Reporting on the meeting, this newspaper, under the headline `Saudi response `positive` to Pakistan`s request Tarin`, told us that Saudi Arabia had “assured” Pakistan that it would provide the assistance sought but Tarin was unable to give any “specific details”. The Saudi response had been “positive” but the matter “would be finalised” at a later date.
A second English language newspaper also headlined the `positive` factor but again was unable to give any details. The headline in a third announced that `Zardari wins oil facility, financial help`, but admitted that “officially no word had been given about the outcome” of the visit. “Credible sources” were optimistic. The fourth was highly `positive` and rashly headlined `S. Arabia to give $4bn to Pakistan` over a report that the news also emanated from “reliable sources” but that “a formal announcement was to be made at a later date”.
We will have to hold our breath until the much trumpeted meeting of the Friends of Pakistan later this month — whilst remembering the hard fact that in international relations as in politics there are no `friends`, there are allies and there are enemies, and that`s that.
The progeny of the sons of Ibn Saud are able men, habituated to reigning and ruling, and remain well informed about the world around them. What thoughts would have flashed through King Abdullah`s shrewd mind when told that President Asif Zardari, apart from bringing with him a begging bowl, brought 240 people, mostly presidential cronies and friends, involving three chartered flights? How would he have reacted to the sparing of no pains by the prime minister of Pakistan to assure everyone that Zardari had footed the bill for the 240 and their spin to SA out of his own depthless pockets? Would the expenses incurred not have been better used to bolster up the national kitty? If he has so much lucre to spread around, why the rush from counter to counter pleading for funds?
And, also, perhaps the King wondered (along with many others) why a bankrupt country needs 61 ministers to run it into the ground when China, that great friend and greater nation, can manage with 25 and Germany can get along with 18. Puzzling as well is the invitation to investors from abroad when local Pakistanis, particularly those in politics, are reluctant to invest one rupee in their own country.
The matter of the 61 ministers is a sore point with many of Zardari`s countrymen as he has followed time-honoured traditions and made the appointments not on merit or ability to do the job but purely as a pay-off or a reward or even a future investment. And it will not end at 61 — the other coalition partners have to be accommodated so it is likely that Zardari will end up beating Shaukat Aziz`s record.
What must be censured even more than the number of ministers is the quality and choice made by Zardari, particularly in the case of two appointments. The man from Balochistan, Mir Israrullah Zehri, has had a special ministry fashioned for him — the new portfolio of postal services.
The man Zehri`s fame precedes his ministership. As an honourable senator, on Aug 29 in the upper house, when the issue of the burial alive of five (the figure is disputed) women in Balochistan, in the name of `honour`, was raised by Senator Bibi Yasmin Shah, Zehri cautioned the good Senator Shah, suggesting that she not refer to matters which are part of “our tribal custom”, which “are centuries-old traditions”, and which he “will continue to defend”. “Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid,” was his warning.
As is the custom in the Senate, such matters as honour killing are always strictly avoided and under the party of the people this custom was continued by the leader of the Senate Raza Rabbani, now of devious thinking, who finished off by condemning it and stating that a report on the incident would be submitted. Where is it?
Then, in the vital position of education minister, the education portfolio normally shunned by the ambitious and greedy but is taken as being better than nothing, we have Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani who was reportedly involved in a vani case in 2007 (he says he was acquitted by a lower court). He was one of the 11 members of a jirga which ordered that five minor girls be handed over to the family of a murdered man as compensation. As in many similar cases, a Supreme Court bench headed by the then CJP, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, ordered the arrest of the members of the jirga and froze the illegal decision to hand over the girls. But, now that CJP Chaudhry is no more, the fate of the young girls is unknown to us — but not to Bijarani.
Now, how do the women who sit in the cabinet with these two men, Zehri and Bijarani, react? They are silent. How can they bring themselves, in all good conscience, to even sit in the same room as these men who think in the manner in which they do, let alone agree to be their companions in cabinet?
When Sherry Rahman, daughter of that able man of law and letters, Hasan Ali Abdur Rahman and the niece of a former good Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court, Tufail Ali Abdur Rahman, both upright men, became minder-in-chief to President Asif Ali Zardari, her friends and supporters heaved a sigh of relief. After having read at Smith and Sussex, should she now not resign and persuade her fellow women ministers to do the same? Should they not be worried about what will be written in the footnotes of history?