The curious encounters in 2008 between former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief read like the story of an ordinary girl who could have been Cinderella but chose not to.  —Illustration by Feica
The curious encounters in 2008 between former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief read like the story of an ordinary girl who could have been Cinderella but chose not to. —Illustration by Feica

If you can make a direct call at will to a country’s most sought-after opposition politician, you are a skilful reporter. If he happens to be a two-time former prime minister, expecting to get the job for the third time, you definitely have enviable access. But if he calls you Kim and you call him Nawaz, something is seriously amiss.

The curious encounters in 2008 between former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief read like the story of an ordinary girl who could have been Cinderella but chose not to. When Barker approached Nawaz Sharif’s handlers for an interview, she was allotted 15 minutes. Then came the Cinderella moment — he wanted her to ask more questions, and then some more, even when his handlers were frenetically tapping their wristwatches. Over the next few months he appeared to have courted her quite seriously, offering to find her a boyfriend, insisting on buying her a slick new iPhone and finally proffering himself as her “friend”.

But when she narrated the details of her text messages, phone calls and meetings with Sharif in her 2011 book, The Taliban Shuffle, he managed to avoid embarrassment. Anyone else could have attracted treason charges for revealing the identity of the 26/11 Mumbai attacker to an American reporter much before Pakistan officially acknowledged him as a Pakistani. That this did not happen is as much a comment on the effectiveness of his media management as it is a function of the busy politics of the country, which leaves little time to waste on the alleged dalliance of a former prime minister with a foreign correspondent. Or perhaps, as Sharif himself admitted to Barker, he is too pudgy and not tall enough to qualify as a real or imagined Prince Charming.

— Badar Alam is the editor of Herald

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