Tea with Mussolini is a movie that was released ten to twelve years ago. Its availability remains questionable but with a fair bit of sleuthing, one might just find a copy in a DVD store in Islamabad.

It is a historical film about British spinsters living in Italy before World War II, who by chance gain an audience with Mussolini – in the earlier part of his career – and have a cup of tea with him. And then forever after, remain his ardent supporters. Be it fascism, the World War, killing of innocents, the English women continue to defend him, till the end of the movie.

Their admiration for Mussolini, in the present context, can only be compared to the romanticism that a handful of columnists living in Islamabad have for dictators and men in uniform. Most of these columnists honed their skills in the Zia era and are quite old now.

Some, unfortunately, are even dead or on the verge of death. Like British nannies – who in the '50s were found in plenty in Rawalpindi –these columnists are a dying breed.

Anyways, one such living legend had tea with Mirza Aslam Beg in the ’90s, when he was chief of army staff.  This is how he describes the former general: “He appeared like a genius – a man of strategy.”

Although there is not much to say about General Beg's brilliance these days, whatever is left is on display on television talk shows and people can judge for themselves.

The same were the feelings of some columnists, when Musharraf seized power in 1999. One senior columnist, who is dead now, wrote a piece so full of praise that it even touched the heart of Musharraf. The prose was so titillating that Musharraf called him and expressed his desire to have a cup of tea with him. But the columnist refused, being a man of principles, whose romanticism at the time could have been only compared with Lord Byron's love for Greek and Spartan ideals, said that he had written the piece not for any ulterior motive, it was merely an expression of his "true feelings."

People's true feelings for Musharraf have gone through a 360 degree turn, since then, especially those people returning from Dubai, after having a cup of tea with the former dictator, in his fancy apartment. Some of the stories they bring back are so ridiculous that decency dictates that they go unmentioned.

As it happens, whatever is known of the present Chief is also known through a handful of columnists, who have had a cup of tea with him and openly written about it in their columns.

Through these columns, the average newspaper reader knows that General Kayani is a 'thinking general'; he has a library in his house and is fond of intellectual discussions. Of course these are all noble pursuits for a gentleman officer and are commendable.

However, recently, the aura left behind from the sentences of some of these columnists, have gotten political pundits in Islamabad divining that something is afoot. And it all seems connected with a petition that was filed in the Islamabad High Court, regarding General Kayani’s extension. Resultantly, the proverbial sentence 'the city is rife with all kinds of rumours', has gone into full gear.

People are talking about a possible clash of institutions minus the presidency-parliament. What such a clash could mean, one does not even want to imagine in a harmless city based column.

Nevertheless, it is a concern, especially for those people who are genuine admirers of General Kayani and the military. “The greatest legacy of General Kayani,” according to one admirer, “is his support for the judiciary and the parliament. Nothing should happen to taint this legacy.”

Another admirer said: “Ideally speaking, General Kayani's pro-democracy and pro-judiciary stance should be institutionalised and permeate the rank and file. That would be a lasting legacy."

But the best advice, perhaps, comes from the scion of a military family, who has seen it all: "If General Kayani cannot avoid the company of columnists, then at least, he should take their advice, less seriously" especially the ones whose notion of military interfering in civilian affairs, can only be compared to outdated British spinsters, last seen in the movie Tea with Mussolini.

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