Dasti and the stardust


For Hina Khar, the lightness of being in Muzaffargarh

The world’s most glamorous politician — according to an India Today survey released recently — is finding it hard to shake off a potential election battle with apparently a nondescript rival in terms of the glamour quotient.

Hina Rabbani Khar, who became the world’s youngest and Pakistan’s first female foreign minister in 2011 shy of her 34th birthday then, has long been dissed by Jamshed Dasti, a lawmaker who finally ditched his Pakistan People’s Party for ignoring his rant.

The contrast between the two is also highlighted by the opposite streams each comes from. Khar is a prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences grad, who also boasts an MSc in Business Management from the University of Massachusetts.

Dasti, on the other hand, was disqualified by a Supreme Court bench headed by the incumbent chief justice three years ago for using a fake degree to get elected. At the time, aspiring parliamentarians were barred from contesting if they did not possess a Bachelor’s degree.

Interestingly, during the hearing, Dasti could not even give out correct names of Quranic verses that a judge asked or even the duration of his proclaimed seminary education.

However, the apex court, right as it was in disqualifying him, had an egg on its face because Dasti was re-elected in the bye-polls — thanks to the new legislation striking off the requirement of a Bachelor’s degree — by a whopping margin.

Dasti’s return was also a slap in the face of the media which hounded him in the wake of the degree scandal and his subsequent disqualification. It mattered little that the media, like the superior judiciary, could not have taken kindly to a cheater.

For the uninitiated, this may seem like an open-and-shut case of a farce. But the knuckle-down reality of Pakistani politics shows it is anything but.

Consider. While Hina did go beyond her glamour doll image to prove her mettle in international diplomacy amidst one of the most trying times to be a Pakistani foreign minister, she was conspicuously missing from her constituency while Dasti, who has little idea about the intricacies of diplomacy, was well grounded, working the circuit like there was no tomorrow.

Dasti’s success from his native Muzaffargarh NA-178 constituency has since led it to become a case study for political scientists trying to fathom how much really does the media impact a candidate’s prospects.

The parliamentarian from Muzaffargarh NA-178 became so confident that he even offered himself as a ruling party candidate for premiership last year when the Supreme Court disqualified the then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for disobeying the court in not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen withdrawn cases of corruption against his president.

Khar, on the other hand, even after doing much to rebuild Islamabad’s diplomatic range, finds herself out in the cold. The flip side, of course, is that she only has herself to blame for not keeping the seat warm.

In fact, the first time she won a seat from the adjoining Muzaffargarh-II NA-177 constituency was also down to the spadework done by her father Noor Rabbani Khar, a feudal lord with some reach but inability to himself contest after strongman Musharraf enforced the graduation clause in the 2002 polls.

Perhaps, Khar did owe much to her strong family background and her own glamorous pitch to start with, which is why she caught the eye of the then-banker prime minister Shaukat Aziz, who pitch-forked her as Minister of State for Economic Affairs in 2004, a position she held for three years.

However, when the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid — the so-called king’s party manufactured by Musharraf to give a civilian façade to his military rule — refused to give her a ticket in the 2008 general elections, Khar quickly switched sides to the Pakistan People’s Party, which has just completed a full five-year term last weekend.

In hindsight, ‘turncoat’ Khar had chosen wisely, for, the PPP was the meal ticket five years ago. After defending her constituency successfully, she was taken onboard as the Minister of State for Finance and Economic Affairs in the cabinet of Yousaf Raza Gilani, which was remarkable by any stretch of imagination because the two succeeding governments had no love lost, not in the least for the fact that PPP’s chairperson and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated under Musharraf’s watch!

But then politics isn’t called the art of the possible for nothing. The ‘strange bedfellows’ mantra assumed a larger-than-life proportion when Musharraf’s ‘king’s party’, which was accused by Asif Zardari of being Qatil League, later welcomed it in the ruling coalition as part of Ms Bhutto’s “reconciliation” policy.

Khar may have enjoyed a vindication of sorts there.

But Dasti has been relentless in his obsession to prove the dust of Muzaffargarh has more in it than the stardust of the gorgeous Khar.

Visualizing the ground situation, it will be a tough call for the PPP to stick with Khar and though Dasti has declared not to wage a fight against his parent party, the resolve will be tested if the party fails to reach a last minute understanding in dividing the constituency allocation to Dasti’s satisfaction.

As to where this will leave Khar if no resolution is forthcoming, would be interesting to watch. The former foreign minister, who won over the security establishment — an unwritten pre-requisite for the hot seat — and delivered would have a few takers, especially now that she is no longer just a glamour doll.

The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]