When the president is away, the rumourmongers will play
So there we go again! Pakistan seems to be a particularly blessed country where there is seldom the proverbial “dull moment.” Political scandals and conspiracy theories are in abundance invariably with clamour of some foreign factor at play.
We are in a state of confusion once again and panic buttons are on. Uncertainty looms large with soothsayers proclaiming President Asif Ali Zardari’s endgame. Doing the rounds are speculations, rumours, and screaming headlines that the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial for the country, hinting that some major change is in the offing on the political landscape. That ‘the party is over’ and time for a change of guard or some new set-up of sorts has come.
While facts are being feverishly weaved with fiction from various ends, the reality continues to be blurred by wishful thinking. All lobbies seem to be at work overtime giving spins to the real story to suit their respective interests and biases. In Pakistan where there seems to be a particularly rich appetite for conspiracies, rumours and talk-shows, the angles get wider and more complex. Hysterical conclusions are drawn on the basis of mere hearsay and speculations. The electronic media’s compulsion of ‘Breaking News’ and improving channel ratings add more sensation, anxiety and uncertainty.
While there may be other political reasons for the sensational comments on President Asif Ali Zardari’s ostensibly sudden departure for medical treatment in Dubai, the Government of Pakistan and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party themselves have to take the primary blame for generating a plethora of speculations.
As has been the hallmark of this government, it is inconsistent in its statements and stance about the president’s departure. It has not spoken with one voice and each government representative has a different version that naturally raises questions and hence suspicions. The government itself seems to have politicised the whole matter and created confusion upon confusion. Perhaps by design to keep everyone guessing or its inability to handle complex situations or its knack to make a hash out of an issue. Press releases issued by official quarters are often an eye-wash to hoodwink the public – an attempt to camouflage reality with generalities and non-issues. At a time when the focus of the entire nation is on the question of the president’s unexpected departure to Dubai, the impression being given by the government is that it is business as usual. So we were told that at a meeting co-chaired by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Bilawal Bhutto on Wednesday at the PM house where Bilawal and many PPP stalwarts looked lost and visibly unnerved, the question of creation of a Seraiki Province was discussed!
While going abroad for a normal medical checkup has been a routine matter for Pakistani political leaders, it is the timing of President Zardari’s departure that has led to a tsunami of speculations and rumours. Naturally against the backdrop of the Supreme Court decision on the NRO, the apex court moved on the memo scandal, the impending Abbottabad Commission Report on the May 2 US commando action that killed Osama Bin Laden and stories of President Zardari being under tremendous stress and pressure make this inevitable. More so the initial ‘silence’ from the presidency which was followed by a string of contradictory statements emanating from the government and ruling party circles. Then with the likes of the ever-vociferous PPP leader Babar Awan giving veiled threats to those contemplating violation of Article 6 of the constitution indicate that not all is well in the power corridors. And when this happens and in absence of any clear-cut, credible statement on an important development the signal sent out is that there is something to hide. This has been a standard pattern whenever something important happens in the country.
The government’s handling of issues is clumsy and often marked by denial, ambiguity, conflicting statements and half-truths. It is about time the government and the PPP recognise that there is a cost attached to loose-talking, perhaps more than the cost attached to loose deliveries in a cricket match! Does the government suffer only from lack of coordination or from self-destructive and self-defeating incompetence?
The writer is a senior journalist and has been a diplomatic correspondent for leading dailies. She was an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow at The Chicago Tribune in the US and a Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK. She can be reached via email at [email protected]