Party Time Again?…Memo From The US

Out with the old-three life-size portraits hanging centrepiece on the wall of the presidency with the president surrounded by his slain wife and late father-in-law; in with the new – a modest-size portrait of the Father of the Nation. Yes, this is change. Heavens forbid if we now have the incoming president Mamnoon Hussain’s doctored portrait smiling benignly above the head of his subjects coming to call at the Presidency.

 It’s party time again. Never mind if Pakistan is currently a country under water with 1.5 million people affected, injured, drowned and rotting in makeshift relief camps. The president and his henchmen, the prime minister and his grubby bunch, and every Tom, Dick and Harry power broker in between the two power horses, are on high ground, getting ready to make merry and sing ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow and so say all of us’, while hugging, kissing and bidding a fond farewell to President Asif Ali Zardari.

 There will be speeches galore. Encomiums, paeans and cheers will fill up the vaunted halls glittering under giant chandeliers and mirrored halls of power. The air will reverberate with all the wonderful work that the outgoing president has done towards making Pakistan a corrupt-free, merit-based society while taking his 180 million citizens towards prosperity, success and a good life.

 So, let’s get ready to celebrate. Bleach your teeth for the 1000-watt smile that our man in the Presidency is famous for; designer suits and, of course, that wrist watch worn on the VVIP wrist that cost its owner (or was it a gift?) $4.6 million because it’s a Louis Moinet ‘Meteoris!’ I bet you most of us would not have even noticed the watch leave alone a Moinet had it not been the eagle-eyed opposition MNA Shazia Marri who spotted it first on the person of the prime minister while he rose to address the House and make history as a third-time PM.

 Hopes were high. The nation welcomed him. It allowed him space and time to get his bearings. His first appointment won an all-round applause. He had selected a capable civil servant Nasir Khosa as his principal secretary, setting a good precedent. Merit was the criterion. But soon things went awry. It began with PIA. There was a big foul up. A furore followed. The Supreme Court stepped in. Today there’s an open season at PIA with top managers stealing whatever they can before their time is up.

 A retired Boeing 747 pilot writes to say that the top man at PIA’s Roosevelt Hotel in New York enjoys “deep political connections with all previous and current government leaders attending ‘happy hour’ parties where highly placed bureaucrats, high ranking military officers and senior airline captains gather to ‘wet their beaks’ at his home’s bar in Lahore, followed by the typical Punjabi style BBQ meaty dinner, where they all pledge to each other as ‘yaar’ and hence protect theircommon interests.”

 The prime minister’s maiden attempt at getting his own men to fix PIA having miserably failed, the talented bro stepped in and offered his ‘adviser’ to be a three-man ‘commission’ – vetting thousands of job applications for 100-plus heads of public sector entities operating without CEOs. Someone who knows how Shahbaz Sharif operates shares his observations with me. He says Shahbaz is “fond of interacting with economists for ornamental and feel-good reasons. But as far as real development or change is concerned, it has not happened in Punjab. Only gimmickry and media management.”

 Let’s return to the farewells for the outgoing president who boasts of bequeathing real democracy to his nation, a debt the 180 million Pakistanis can perhaps never pay back to Asif Zardari.

 The commoners are hereby duly informed that Nawaz Sharif will “host a farewell reception for President Asif Ali Zardari in the first week of next month before the end of his five-year term on Sept 8.” Or wait… “The reception may take place between Sept 5 and 7.”

 Who knows? All we can do in the meanwhile is to wait with bated breath when the prime minister will bid a tender farewell to his president! A helpful soul at the “Prime Minister’s Office’s media wing” has taken us out of our agony by second-guessing: “It will be a luncheon ceremony and is likely to be held on Sept 7.” Obviously at the PM’s media wing, the most important event happening is the date, time and who will attend the goodbye banquet. Why care if loadshedding, terrorism and a low-grade insurgence are currently the norm with majority of Pakistanis going to bed hungry, sick, jobless and now shelter-less as floods rage through the country.

 The revelry must go on.

 More critical today is whether ‘Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah’ will or will not attend the PM’s reception.

 And oh! by the way, we wonder if the PML-N government will present a guard of honour to the outgoing president, the official said: “Hosting of a farewell reception by the prime minister will be a goodwill gesture to the president who belongs to the opposition PPP.”

 Meanwhile, we are told “President Zardari has arranged a series of his own farewell receptions.” Want to hear about his busy social calendar? Well, he has already bid adieu to the ambassadors and top-ranking diplomats with Nawaz Sharif and leaders of the PPP participating.

 Wonder of wonders? How does the prime minister have so much time to pow-wow at parties when grave matters of the state await his attention? Or has he already delegated the decision-making powers to his brother and the cabinet? Zardari, we all know, has all the spare time to kill, but why has Nawaz fallen in his trap? By shaking hands with Zardari at each of his farewell parties and repeating “God Speed” ad nauseam, is he trying to get brownie points from Zardari or his jiyalas?

 Apart from entertaining media people in various categories like “journalists, anchor persons, owners of media houses, bureaucrats and politicians” Zardari according to press reports is planning a party for members of the “federal cabinet, including Prime Minister Sharif, in a couple of days.”

 And guess what? The report informs us that two former prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf will grace the event with their august presence. These are two men who have done a yeoman’s work to take Pakistan forward, ending corruption, nepotism and favouritism. They deserve to be honoured by their president who, after all, appointed such honest men at the helm.

 If you are dizzy reading about Zardari-turned a-party-planner, just bear with me for one last bit: the president “will also hold a reception in honour of his successor Mamnoon Hussain. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to attend it”, says the press report.

 You and I will pick up the parties’ tabs.

 Once we are done seeing off Zardari, farewells will begin for Nasir Khosa. Yes, the principal secretary who got picked up by Nawaz barely three months ago. He’s now being tipped to go to Washington as the executive director of the World Bank. Remember, I mentioned in the beginning of the column that the prime minister had made his very first appointment wisely and well? But once again, Nawaz Sharif has succumbed to his old habit called ‘favouritism’ and has nominated his chosen principal secretary Nasir Khosa to enjoy a five-year stint that will earn him $225,000 annually, not to mention the perks and privileges that go with this post. He has also broken his promise that all jobs will be advertised. This one was not!