POSTCARD USA: Gilani does Washington — Khalid Hasan
When asked why FATA was not being integrated with the rest of the country, Gilani replied that FATA was under the federal government and it had its senators and MNAs “who are supporting us”. “Well, good luck then,” Haass told him as the audience burst out laughing
Do Chinese leaders speak in Chinese at international gatherings because they do not know English? They do so because they take pride in their language and culture and by speaking in their own tongue, they want to make sure that they get the nuances right and say with precision what they need or intend to say.
Although every Pakistani quotes the famous hadith about going to China in search of knowledge, in truth we learn little from the Chinese, or from anyone else. This preamble I write because of our prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s inability to express himself in the language he used on his just-concluded official visit to Washington. Both he and his country would have been better off had he chosen to express himself in a language he could speak with comfort.
He could have spoken in Urdu or Seraiki and a competent interpreter would have done the rest. Perhaps I am being generous when I say that he should have chosen Urdu because when he did address a community dinner at a local hotel on July 29, he rambled and his thoughts were disjointed and haphazard, his choice of words poor and his grammar and syntax weak.
At the White House where he walked out from the Oval Office with President Bush to speak briefly — as did Bush — to a group of waiting journalists, he was awkward and unable to express himself either clearly or with precision. He also called Bush “Mr President Bush” at least twice.
The three days that he was in town, he said some most curious things. For instance, he kept saying that Pakistan does not have “sophisticated weapons” to deal with the insurgency in the tribal areas. The one example he repeatedly chose of Pakistan’s lack of “sophisticated weapons” was its inability to jam the broadcasts made by tribal insurgents on FM radio. The jamming “technology”, if it can be called that, was available in Pakistan as early as 50 years ago. I distinctly remember news bulletins of a radio station in Indian-occupied Kashmir being regularly jammed. At times, the jammers would come on the air and unload themselves of the choicest Punjabi abuse.
Today, when even Pakistani schoolboys are hi-tech savvy, the prime minister needs to check the “technology” scene with an eight-year old from Multan. The prime minister, who bragged that he was the civilian supremo of the Pakistan army, the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau, also declared that he was a journalist. Had he chosen the profession I doubt he would have done as well as he has done in the one he did pick up. He also said that his father had signed the Pakistan Resolution. As far as I know, nobody signed the 1940 Lahore Resolution. It was read out by Sher-e-Bangal AK Fazlul Haq and approved by acclamation.
While the prime minister and his attendant delegation continued to claim the conquest of Washington inside of 72 hours, the fact is that there was no mincing of words from the Americans when it came to Pakistan’s performance in fighting the FATA insurgency and its inability or unwillingness, or both, to liquidate terrorists and prevent their movement across the Afghan border. One source said that Bush had told Gilani that the US was reluctant to share actionable intelligence with Pakistan because of fears that it would be leaked to the very elements that were to be targeted.
With the uncertainty prevailing at home, the coalition, a partnership in name only, the judges issue still hanging in the air and with the NWFP and adjacent areas slipping out of state control, Gilani should have stayed home and only come when things had settled down. No one in Washington has any illusions about Pakistan, nor people here are unaware of where power lies. It is known that the prime minister exercises little authority and all decisions are taken by others.
There are far too many stakeholders in Pakistan today, all working at cross-purposes. The fiasco over the pathetic attempt to place the ISI “administratively, financially and operationally” under the control of the Interior Ministry hung like an albatross around the prime minister’s neck. Any commitment that Gilani made to the Americans was seen as no more than a string of empty words, since he is viewed as not having the power or the ability to deliver on anything.
However, let me conclude this with one of the most awkward and embarrassing performances I have ever witnessed in all my years of reporting. He made an appearance in an open dialogue with Richard Haass, one of this country’s leading foreign policy experts, at an event jointly organised by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Middle East Institute. The large invited audience contained the cream of Washington’s intellectual community. Gilani first read a prepared speech, which contained the unfortunate line — that he repeated elsewhere too — “This is not Charlie Wilson’s war. It is Benazir Bhutto’s war.”
This was followed by a question-answer session with Haass beginning to play with the prime minister as a cat plays with a mouse, since he found him dense, unable to answer questions and half the time even understand what he was being asked. Gilani seemed unable to speak coherently. Repeatedly, he failed to understand what he had been asked, gave answers that were unrelated to what the query had been. He obviously had a comprehension problem. I spoke to four foreign journalists, a few retired American diplomats and several Pakistani intellectuals and they were all agreed that Gilani’s performance was an “unmitigated disaster”.
Asked if Pakistan had the will or ability to fight terrorism, he replied that he had accepted the challenge and Pakistan would go for good governance. Asked if the Pakistani state was structurally weak, Gilani replied that “we have inherited this”, adding that the US is facing difficulties in Afghanistan and “this is a guerrilla war, not an ordinary war.”
Haass asked Gilani why democracy had failed in Pakistan and why the military had repeatedly intervened, only to be told that the US abandoned Afghanistan. India and Pakistan were similar but in Pakistan there had been army dictators and “we wanted support of US we didn’t get”. As the prime minister continued in this vein, people snickered off and on and the Pakistanis fidgeted in their seats with embarrassment.
Haass told Gilani that he exaggerated America’s influence but was told that President Musharraf was not like the American president and the chief executive of Pakistan is the prime minister not the president. In reply to another question, the prime minister said (he hadn’t been asked) that the Army chief was a “professional” and “fully supporting democracy”.
When asked why FATA was not being integrated with the rest of the country, Gilani replied that FATA was under the federal government and it had its senators and MNAs “who are supporting us”. “Well, good luck then,” Haass told him as the audience burst out laughing. When Haass pointed out that Gilani had made no mention of India in his prepared speech, the prime minister told him of a congratulatory call Manmohan Singh had made to him, and he to Manmohan Singh after the recent vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha.
Gilani also declared that 99 percent of Pakistanis are “patriots”. He also stated that the government is negotiating with those insurgents who have surrendered. Why was it any longer necessary to negotiate with those he had already surrendered, he did not explain. To another question, Gilani said, “The US knows more about Pakistan than I do”. To the question about rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan, Gilani replied that the last government had no political support and used force. He said the US had backed the military. Asked what the US could do to help resolve Kashmir, the prime minister declared, “The US can do what it wants”.
But let no more be said because “sufficient to the day...”
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org