No more Special Envoys please
First there were roving ambassadors, who no doubt are roaming the world as I write, except Husain Haqqani who has landed safely in Washington and is up, about and around. The other two rovers — if my count is right — are keeping their movements classified, although I suspect that while one may be getting his plush Manhattan apartment redone, the other is on the French Riviera playing bridge with Omar Sharif.
Part two of this serial is built around the adventures in distant lands of special envoys. Why do we need special envoys when we have the Internet, when we have ambassadors and when we have telephones that work? Washington always tends to get hit first when it comes to such ventures and it has been no different this time either. Last week, we got hit by two tornados. The first one was tornado tornado, which came out of nowhere in the afternoon, knocked out power lines, brought down trees and doused Washington with a cloudburst that made our monsoons look like a light drizzle.
The other tornado materialised in the form of MB Abbasi, who, so went the buzz, had been dispatched here to lick Pakistan’s food crisis. Now who can quarrel with that, I ask you! The inspiration behind this great feed-the-hungry mission was said to be a gentleman who is a cardiac plumber by profession, since he flushes clogged arteries that all good Pakistani cholesterati carry as evidence of their life-long love of deep-fried sheep trotters. I might add that Dr Dreamhearts was always the proud host of and physician to the Man of Few Words in Dark Glasses from the fair city of Gujrat.
Times change and smart people change with them. Losers stay where they were. The other gentleman behind the visit hails from the city of Al Capone and has been heard saying that if so required, he can access the White House, Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom. These two miracle workers are said to have induced the Abbasi visit, promising to get him to meet Sen Tom Harkin from the wheat-growing state of Iowa. Sen Harkin is such a good friend of Pakistan as to have required no intermediaries, but then…
I missed Mr Abbasi’s appearance on the Hill — though it was seen on TV in Pakistan — but I did hear him at a Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) meeting arranged by a helpful former congressman, who is a good friend of another gentleman from Chicago, who is a friend of … (get the drift?).
The special envoy was introduced as Pakistan’s designated ambassador to Iran, which sent a shiver down the spines of those present. A flyer distributed to us said that the Pakistan prime minister’s special envoy MB Abbasi was here to “apprise key senators, congressmen of the political situation in Pakistan, particularly the food-grain shortage emerged from ill planning and mismanagement of outgoing military-backed government.” Mr Abbasi, according to the flyer, had done “post-graduation programme(s)” at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard and the Stanford Business School.
This is what Special Envoy Abbasi said to the twenty or so of us sitting around an oval table. He said the United States was leading the world, having brought it enlightenment, mobile phones, computers, technology and much science. The Muslim world has a lot of questions regarding the war on terror. India, he then said, “is our model — same culture, same people, same social system. India became a democracy, but Pakistan failed. Muslims and Hindus struggled for independence for 200 years but our leaders like Iqbal and Chaudhri Muhammad Ali died. Jinnah came out but he died too. Then came martial law and the crop of leaders was cut down by EBDO. The seed was sown but no roots came from bottom. In 1958 politicians struggled, some were hanged. Army ruled. Politicians have been polluted. But they made ‘big sacrification’ and they have to be compensated.”
The situation, Abbasi declared, is “not hopeful”. It is “polluted”. There are serious questions. “It is not (an) immediately hopeful position.” “Rule of Law will take time, say 10 years.”
At this point, someone interrupted him to ask if Asif Zardari would like to clear his name given the allegations made. Abbasi replied, “Everyone watching. He knows it, if not then God help us. PPP has the same creed. Zardari spoke to Harkin about wheat. There is deception and mistrust and a whispering campaign. Other partymen are damaged by his reputation.”
Asked if there was going to be an independent truth commission in Pakistan and if Mr Zardari would declare his assets, Abbasi answered, “Good idea. I will pressure them to set up commission.” Answering a question about the NRO, he pointed out that Mr Zardari had spent eight years in jail and was not found guilty.
Next came food, which is why we were told the Special Envoy was in Washington. He said most wheat from Pakistan is smuggled to Afghanistan, where the living standard has risen. He said if he were made finance minister, he would privatise everything. “That is the only answer, no government control.”
Asked about the restoration of judges, he replied, “I agree and will take the same message to Pakistan.” To another question about Mr Zardari, Abbasi said, “I am frank to him. I’ll tell him again. He always argues.” He next said, “I see his business friends in the corridor whispering. Some returned from exile. They want to be compensated.”
About Pakistan’s choices, Abbasi called a civilian government as the choice of the “lesser evil” since “both military and civil are corrupt”. Warming up to his point, he added, “I don’t think civilians can control corruption. The writ of the government is weakened. Murderers get away. Army is ruling. Corruption is irreversible. I see no hope of change. People have private guards outside their houses and mobile generators. The political worker thrives on the threshold of government. I am not hopeful. Police is controlled by MQM. I see very depressing situation. I wonder why I moved back to Pakistan (think of Iran, brother, despair not). Army decided after Ayub that Pakistan should never get united. Pakistan is going to have a semi-mafia regime. Military, mafia and politicians. PPP has soft line on army; Noon has hard line on army.”
And on that unhappy note the meeting ended. But it was not without its bright side. We were served fresh sandwiches and coffee.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent