Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Bhutto rises

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the new chairman of Pakistan People’s Party. He is 19. Bilawal is studying political science at Christ Church College in Oxford and was named the head of Pakistan’s largest political party after the shocking assasination of his mom, Benazir Bhutto three days ago.

Although Bilawal is still tender and has a long way to go before earning political stripes, he appeared dignified in his first interaction with media today. For starters he already holds the record of being the youngest head of a major political entity anywhere in the world. In reality, it is the magic of dynasty that works in the subcontinent. Like the surname Gandhi in India, Bhutto is a phenomenon in Pakistan. PPP always needed the Bhutto glue to hold the party together.

Bilawal said today in a press-con that he intends to complete his studies in the west, where both his mom and grandad were ferociously tutored, before he comes back to carry on the prestigious legacy that has been bequeathed to him. While democracy remains an underlying desire, it is the family, the surname, the Bhutto cognomen that matters, Bilawal knows.

While technically Bilawal, a shy teenager, is Zardari but his dad Asif Zardari made it clear today in the same press-con that Bilawal is now officially Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Call it exigency or irony. Immediately people present -- in the press conference -- started shouting, Bilawal Bhutto Zindabad [Long live Bilawal Bhutto]. Zardari was forgotten in a second. I think that was the plan.

However the king’s crown is not always easy to wear. Bhutto’s may have been charismatic but they are jinxed also. They have all died young. Every tragic end has made the Bhutto name more heroic and the Bhutto sacrifice folklore continues. It is daunting for Bilawal, who I am sure, does not even know Urdu, the language of people he may rule some day. The young Turk has a great legacy to carry forward. I hope he makes none of the mistakes of his illustrious ancestors.

Politics in Pakistan is messy. I wish he makes it safe.


Her father's daughter

Miss Bhutto was still a giant in a land of political pygmies and military stooges.
~Daily Telegraph, One of the world’s most respected and highest selling British newspapers

Yeh Baazi khoon ki baazi he
Yeh baazi tum hi haaro ge
Hur ghar se bhutto nikle ga,
Tum kitne bhutto maaro ge.

This is a game of gore
You’ll loose this game
Every home’ll beget a Bhutto
How many Bhutto’s will you slay?

~Slogan at Benazir’s funeral

Benazir Bhutto's last moments were spent, like much of her life, as a lone woman among men. A sea of male hands bore her from her country home in Naudero inside a simple wooden coffin decked with green, as millions of flower petals rained on it like fragrant confetti. At Miss Bhutto’s funeral, grief-stricken supporters thronged the ambulance carrying her remains as it crawled through a haze of dust from her family home in Garhi Khuda Bux, in southern Sindh, to an imposing white marble mausoleum three miles away. I think it was the deep reverence of the people she loved the most – and who loved her back -- that everyone jostled to touch the coffin.

Born into wealth, splendor and perhaps the most important political dynasty of the subcontinent, educated at the Ivy League and daughter to the iconic Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir was immediately catapulted to limelight. Her election as president of the Oxford Union, the first Asian woman and first non-British to hold the post, attracted worldwide media attention. She reportedly held some of the best parties in the university and drove a yellow MG sports car. Prior to that she had joined anti-Vietnam demos at Harvard. That is when the spotlight began. Destined for bigger things in life, the lionizing was already in the making. Many would contend that she always remained in the public eye and was one of the most adored stateswoman in the world.

However, her journey from Oxford to Pakistan was fraught with her father’s fight with the all-powerful Pakistan military. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was renowned for his quick temper and mercurial brilliance. As Pakistan's foreign minister, Bhutto Sr met President John F. Kennedy for the first time at the White House in October 1963, Kennedy was so impressed with Bhutto Sr that he said to Zulfikar, "Too bad you are not American, because if you were, I would have appointed you to my cabinet." Zulfikar Bhutto responded with his humorous wit: "President Kennedy, that is very kind of you, but if I was American, I would not be in your cabinet but would be president of the United States". Benazir was to carry forward the legacy of her great dad.

On a much personal level, she managed to create this aura about her that was almost unreal. Always elegantly attired, her dresses came from Saks Fifth Avenue. The prestigious People’s magazine put her on the ‘50 most beautiful people on earth’ list. With or without her designer glasses, Benazir always contrived to look fabulous. She had a great love for English chocolates. Bendicks Bittermints were a favorite, as her Oxford friends reminisce. Everyone who met her would vouchsafe that she carried herself with immense grace and laughed easily.

Adulations apart, Benazir was imprisoned on her return to Pakistan and she spent almost five years in prison. Like her father, Benazir was to live short. Miss Bhutto died just two miles from where her father, the former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by Gen Zia in 1979. Infact days after he announced that elections would be held in a couple of months in 1977, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was asked by western journalists about how many terms he expected to win. That was a time when there was no political threat on the horizon, and Bhutto Sr reigned supreme. “I am not looking beyond the next term,” he replied. “The Bhutto’s do not live very long.”

On Friday Dec 28, 2007, Bilawal, a tall, solemn-faced man who followed in his mom’s footsteps this year by starting his studies at Oxford, kneeled and threw fistfuls of sandy soil into the cavity of Benazir’s freshly dug grave. Only a day after Eid [December 21], she had confided in her confidants her irrepressible urge to visit the family graveyard in Garhi. She arrived there on December 22, and sat next to her father's grave for two hours, reciting verses from the Quran and later strewing red rose petals on the graves of her father and two slain brothers. She had buried all three. Six days later, she joined them, leaving behind a bed-ridden mother – Nusrat Bhutto -- in Dubai, too sick of Alzheimer's to even have a last glimpse of her daughter's face.

Guardian sums it up: She was insistent that Islam awarded equal rights to men and women, despite evidence [cultural if not theological] to the contrary. At the end of one of her interviews – way back in late 80’s -- she was asked if the popular supposition was correct: that if and when she supplanted General Zia-ul-Haq, she would become the first woman to rule a Muslim country. "Quite true," she said and then remembered that a Queen Raziyya [Raziyya Sultan] had ruled the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century.

I checked the reference. According to history, the queen had been "wise, just and generous" and endowed with all the qualities befitting a king. "But she was not born of the right sex, and so, in the estimation of men, all these virtues were worthless."

Eventually men had murdered her.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Mingled in Dust

Sab kahan kuch laala-o-gul mein numaaya ho gayii
khaak mein, kya suratein hongi jo pinhaa ho gayii
~Assadulla Khan Ghalib

Not everything recurs as colorful buds and flowers
Many beautiful faces lie mingled in dust

Benazir Bhutto has been interred. She was buried right next to [right hand side of her dad] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s grave. News anchors commenting live on TV -- as her coffin, draped in green, was being led to the Bhutto tomb -- say it is the exact spot where Benazir used to recite from the Holy Qu’ran, whenever she visited her father’s eternal space. In an ironical twist of fate, she now rests there, forever.

No words can express the extent of outrage this despicable political murder has spawn. Hours after she was buried and the cameras turned off, reports say, thousands of ordinary people [who had come from far-flung villages on foot] stood still and somber. They say death ends a life, not a relationship.

People, seen wailing, lined the roads to Ghadi Khuda Bux, Bhutto’s ancestral graveyard since the wee hours of morning. BBC says there was a sea of humanity, all eyes moist, mourning their favorite leader. An outrage marked the occasion. Tempers ran high, as Benazir’s funeral began.

The high priestess of fashion, always clad in Guy Laroche petty coats and designer attire, lay wrapped in a simple rag of white cloth, as per Islamic traditions. Voice of America says that the Imam [priest] leading the Jinaza [funeral prayers] choked with emotion as he read aloud that supreme rallying cry: Allah-u-Akbar [God is Great]. Those in the first row were slowly sobbing and then row after row of people let out a deep, collective sigh. Everyone broke down. It was an adieu none wanted to say.

As I blog, it is around evening time in Pakistan. Al-Jazeera’s coverage, as usual has been outstanding. TV images show an eerie quiet has descended over major Pakistan cities. People, it appears, are coming out in droves on the huge boulevards of Islamabad to offer ‘Gaaiebana Jinaza’ [funeral prayers in absentia]. It is said that the real character of a nation is often tested in times of adversity. Leaders cutting across party lines are paying homage. Political adversaries like Nawaz Sharif offered rich tributes while Qazi Hussain has called for a nation-wide strike as a mark of respect. Yet something seems amiss. There is an odd sense of dejection, like that of losing something precious.

Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated. Pakistan soul is badly bruised. Her most darling daughter has been slaughtered at the cross-roads of history.

Grief is palpable in such an unspeakable tragedy. Everyone I spoke with in Delhi, including my well-to-do dentist early this morning, expressed anguish and shock. Inherently people are good at heart and Miss Bhutto was immensely popular.

Much has been said on Benazir’s style of politics and her personality. Every newspaper, magazine and news channel is inundated with obituaries. Even in death the exegesis is perhaps going to continue. However Mohtarma has left behind a huge void, which I reckon, will be difficult to fill. The subcontinent may have to wait for a very long time to have another charismatic, controversial and captivating leader like Benazir.

Ghalib, the old man, perhaps got it right. The beautiful face lies mingled in dust.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto is assassinated

It broke my heart. My first reaction was Holy Shit, I hope it is not true.

By the time I reached home, CNN was confirming that Benazir Bhutto, that charming lady, affectionately called ‘Daughter of the East’ by the world at large, was no more. The raspy, domineering voice had been silenced forever. Like her iconic dad, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and her two brothers, Benazir’s life was cut short. Cut young. Cut too mercilessly. Immediately people began to draw parallels between the Gandhi family in India and Kennedy’s in US. The jinxed Bhutto surname. One of the most elegant stateswoman in the world has been assassinated by some nutcase anarchist.

The shock is not surprising. There was a pizzazz about Benazir that can best be described as extra-ordinary. The first Muslim female head of a state, she had an amazing connect with both the grassroots and the powers that be. Benazir would amble across the corridors of White House and fields of Larkana with equal poise. She hobnobbed with the rich and reached out to the poor. The liberal lobby cheered for her, so did the Western capitals. The media considered the Oxford-Harvard educated Benazir honeybunch. She could outdo any informed journalist with her repartees and savvy. I especially read her interviews.

Wedded into criticism, Bhutto had a very polarizing persona. Her critics harangued her for being incompetent and on the pad. I used harsh language in some of my posts about alleged embezzlement charges against her. In hindsight, nothing was ever proved against her in any court. The charges may keep flying but that doesn’t make them true, always. A woman of grand aspirations with a taste for complex political maneuvering, Benazir was indeed ambitious and sought power. She died doing what she enjoyed the most, as my buddy Salah puts it: politics. Many have already started called her a martyr.

Criticized, cut-up and censured for her high profile image, modern outlook and bold policies, Benazir held firm. Flustered, her foes – and she had lots of them – attacked her first in Karachi on Oct 18, 2007 upon her arrival from exile. Remarkably it didn’t deter her. Benazir showed immense character and courage. On December 27, 2007 as evening prayers culminated in Pakistan, the blood-thirsty ultraists finally got to her. Ironically the last thing she said at the Rawalpindi rally -- held in Liyaqat Park -- moments before her death, is now going to make it to history books:

I am ready for any sacrifice.
[Less than 12 minutes before an assassin's bullet pierced her neck]

Less than twelve days later, on January 8, she could have been Pakistan’s prime minister for the third time. Instead she will be laid to rest, wrapped in Pakistani national flag, by her father’s grave tomorrow [Friday] in the mango orchards of Larkana.

Confrontational, flamboyant, moderniser, winsome, stylish and extremely likeable. With that famous head-scarf on her head, always. That is how Mohtarma would be remembered. I hope she rests in eternal peace amidst the mango fragrance of the beautiful Pakistan countryside.

The brave, they say, die never, though they sleep in dust. Their courage nerves a thousand living men.

Ms Bhutto will be dearly missed!

Benazir Bhutto
Daughter of the East
[1953-2007] RIP

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Has winter cometh?

O, wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

It is winters again. Small nuggets of early December chill have started to tease people randomly. These days one often sees the hoi polloi compressing their necks on the roadside, involuntarily, many times during the day. That perhaps keeps the cold out. Many people wear very unfashionable but supremely warm – so I am told – monkey caps. It is a cap that covers everything from neck upwards, a la mask. Thankfully there is a slit for eyes. You only need a lantern-in-hand to look like one of those 70s movie-style chowkidars, guarding some abandoned circuit house, where a lovelorn damsel walks barefoot on moonless nights. There are many amusing ways to fend the cold off and I find Delhiites pretty ingenuous in this respect.

I reckon the chill factor strictly obeys the law of relative income levels. Everyone well-to-do I bump into [and I bump into lots of them these days] is exfoliated. They wear not too many clothes. A fashionista whispered to me, as I broached the clothing topic, "Sam, these days minimal is in! A shirt or a tee, a multi-color muffler [to be worn more like a tie, you see] and you can compliment it with a feather-light jacket. No undershirts, no heavy-duty attire. Period." I don’t know the winter code for chicks but I assume it must be a tad more minimal than guys.

Meantime those who form longish queues for busses continue to don hand-knitted sweaters, mufflers and warm clothes. Bus cleaners and some employees in the government sector are often found in good old woolens, mostly in a garish colors. The common janta for sure has a penchant for numerous layers of the winter ensemble to keep themselves cosy which makes sense also. I don't understand why I must wear fewer clothes, just to look the party type.

So winter mornings in Delhi appear dreary as death and evenings start exactly as the clock strikes six. Peanuts and popcorn sell like hot cakes at roadside vendors. I have peanut allergy so I can't really help myself but I love the way people consume peanuts in the capital. There are little hills of peanut pods around folks who consume the seed but rarely trash the pods.

I really can’t say that I love the chill [I do have a thing for rains] but I prefer it over the horrid Indian summers. Winter, they say, is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat.

Delhi, Winter 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

To Tee or not to Tee

NIE comes out with a fresh report:
Iran does not have a WMD program

Bush and his war gang are in a moral dilemma. Their immediate war plans are scuttled. 'Damn those spies - John Bolton, the mustachioed neo-con seethes in Washington post'. The war scads are frantically looking for newer excuses.

It is a screwy world we inhabit. Some bizarre rules apply. Nations are classrooms. America is the headmaster. A beautiful, windswept nation [Everyone is aware]. And the only country in the world to be condemned by the International Court of Justice for perpetuating terrorism [Nicaragua 1984; No one cares]. And it is quick to label other countries terror-sponsors but mum is the word on its own diabolical archives. You can’t be sagely matter-of-the-fact in a skewed world. You can’t put things right but you can try and put the record straight. Here is a little tale which might surprise you a tad. You may read the contents, think about it a bit. And then smirk a second – at the grotesquely absurd arithmetic’s of the modern civilized world.

A treaty called the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons or NPT was introduced by the headmaster in 1968. It was put forth for a very kind and peaceful purpose. All those who would sign up were supposed to abide by three main parameters:

1) No more nukes
2) Eventually reduce whatever nukes exist
3) Right to peacefully use nuclear technology

That’s not all. A nuclear weapon state (NWS), who is signatory to the NPT, was not expected to transfer "nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices" and not in any way to share, assist, encourage or induce other country [Article One, NPT].

Very noble. The world should have been a happy place but why is it glum. The sad part is that is the treaty didn’t take off as expected. Here is the reason why:

Most countries lined up to sign. Like Schoolchildren [After all the headmaster told them] 189 countries are signatories to the NPT, five of which are nuclear weapon countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China. Explained it means if you are not the B-5 [Big 5] you can’t have a nuke. So far, so good.

But there is a leeway: You can decide not to sign the NPT or sign up and then walk out of NPT and go bang-bang. So India, Pakistan and Israel are not part of NPT and have developed nuclear weapons. North Korea walked out and detonated a nuke.

Since Iran has signed up, it can’t have a nuke as per the NPT statutes. Iran has however decided to have a civilian nuclear program [under the NPT, a country has the right to enrich its own fuel for civil nuclear power, under inspection from the International Atomic Energy Agency]. But since US doesn’t like Iran [that’s another bully story of the headmaster], it allows sanction after sanction against the country.

Now the funny part. [Article One, mockery]

The U.S. had nuclear warheads targeted at North Korea, a non-NWS state, from 1959 until 1991 in contravention of NPT. Ex UK Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, explicitly invoked the possibility of the use of the country's nuclear weapons in response to a non-conventional attack [Against the treaty rules]. In January 2006, President Chirac of France indicated that an incident of state-sponsored terrorism on France could trigger a small-scale nuclear retaliation aimed at destroying the power centers [Violating the NPT]. Critics argue that the US and UK have broken the treaty by transferring nuclear technology from one to another.

The funnier it gets [NIE report]

Dec 2007 first week, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) [A group of 16 top U.S. intelligence agencies, NIE prepares classified documents for US policymakers] comes out with a report stating that Iran -- probably -- did once have a plan to develop a nuclear weapon but has stopped all its bomb programs since 2003. The country presently has no nuke plan.

According to the BBC world, the assessment is genuine, based on a wide range of intelligence sources. These include interceptions of high value communications, technical information from the International Atomic Energy Agency [the UN body inspecting Iran's declared nuclear facilities] and even detailed analysis of TV footage from Iran's enrichment plant.

US now says that the mere knowledge of how to make a bomb makes Iran a threat. This is like saying, as Monk puts it, "Well, we know that the Chinese have a very sizable military. Even though they haven't mobilized it in any way, they could one day spontaneously decide to do it, and furthermore, against us. Therefore, they are dangerous heartless people bent on killing our women and children, and we should start a war with them."

Bush may have to temporarily put his World War III plans on hold until he finds the next excuse to get Iran's oil fields. By the way -- on Oct 17, 2007 -- President George Bush warned the world that a nuclear-armed Iran "would be intolerable and could very well plunge humanity into a third world war." [How embarrassing is that?]

The funniest part [Bush remarks]

You know the NIE report, just proves how bad Iran has been?

School headmaster: “You once had plans to fill your bags with rocks huh! My spies tell me’.

Student: But Sir, “I dropped the idea long back.” Am now carrying only schoolbooks in my bag’. And, Sir, how about your kind selectively abusing the NPT and your pals Israel-India-Pakistan already having those dreaded bombs?

Headmaster: Enough, you naughty lad, you were, you are and you will be dangerous.
[Iran was, is and will be dangerous: Bush, Post-NIE report] Source: Radio Holland

Matter dismissed.