Of cigars and Mr Rashid

Ejaz Haider


A couple of weeks ago when the Times of India asked me to do a piece on the Indian elections, I went into a trepidation mode. How could I stick my Pakistani neck out and hold forth on something whose complexity had KO-ed even prime Indian political pundits?

Something else happened, too. I noticed that no one in Pakistan had analysed the ongoing elections: no leaders or op-ed articles, which was just as well because it made no sense to analyse an event about which Pakistanis knew so little. (Perhaps there is a subtext here for the pompous Indian analyses of Pakistan.)

So I focused on what might happen in case of a change of government. My take was, and I stick to that position, that any upset was unlikely to impact negatively the dialogue process between India and Pakistan. While Mr Vajpayee did invest a lot in it, the process is more structure- than personality-driven.

Now that the elections are over, there is suddenly a spate of analyses in the Pakistani press. Experts are crawling out of the woodwork to pronounce, oracle-like, on the BJP’s defeat. Since the BJP is trying to figure out how it got defeated and the Congress is raking its brains trying to find out how it won, maybe we should send some of our experts to Delhi to do the needful. As Steve Cohen once said, ‘you go to a place for a day and you are an expert; stay there for a week and you are a specialist; spend more than a month there and you are as confused as everyone else.’ It’s quite profound because it denotes how greater understanding prevents people from simplifying things.

I find it quite audacious for Pakistani ‘experts’ to talk about how ‘India Shining’ at the core was drowned in the darkness on the periphery, not least because it is wrong to ascribe the BJP’s defeat to any single cause. It is also simplistic to formulate a general theory since the various parts of India vote, and have voted, along different lines, sometimes more local than national.

Even so, for anyone to analyse the ‘India Shining’ factor, it would be good to realise that BJP was defeated not because ‘India Shining’ did not work but because it worked only too well. The protest vote on the periphery shows that large numbers of people saw a comparatively smaller part of India surge ahead. In the end, the BJP seems to have become a victim of its own success.

Meanwhile, I’ll be remiss if I did not thank Kaleem Omar for making the readers and me privy to the true extent of Lady Godiva’s ‘altruism’ (Letters section, ‘(Over)riding altruism’ Daily Times, May 14). Writing to DT, apropos of my long-forgotten column (‘Promising underpinning’), Mr Omar has reproduced verbatim what Lord Godiva said to Lady Godiva after she returned from her famous ride (no pun intended!): “Where the hell have you been? Your horse got home three hours ago!”

Mr Omar’s response has been a month late in coming but better late than never, which is exactly what Lady Godiva told her lord. Also, if Will Cuppy is to be believed, after the third round of the town, her horse, Aethelnoth, refused to go anywhere but home. But while Cuppy brought Lady Godiva home with the horse, I now know he was being squeamish. If he hadn’t passed away, I’d have forwarded the information to him. But since he is no more, it doesn’t matter to him (or me) whether Lady Godiva came with the horse or after. I know this last bit has come out entirely wrong but as Lear said, ‘the bow is bent and drawn’. So, dear reader, we can only ‘make from the shaft’.

Talking of which, the shaft that is, it is difficult to decide who is making from the shaft in the first act that unfolded before us on May 11 at Lahore Airport: General Musharraf & Co or Shahbaz Sharif. Our information minister, the redoubtable Sheikh Rashid of Lal Haveli Raja Bazar Rawalpindi, is not someone given to the nuances of anything including, it now seems, geography. According to his version, the younger Mr Sharif stopped over in Lahore en route to Jeddah. In other words, Mr Sharif boarded a flight from London, came to Abu Dhabi and then flew into Lahore in order to reach Jeddah!

Fascinating, as Mr Spock would say.

The Sheikh, as I just hinted, does not have much patience for the finer things of life. He is a back-slapping kinda bloke who has a remarkable ability to even fumble in his mother tongue. Even the Romeo y Julieta cigars he once smoked could hide his reality only until he kept quiet. Now of course he is the minister for talking which is why he gets things wrong constantly. As for the Havana cigars, I am told he left them after the Lewinsky affair. I am not surprised because Mr Clinton’s ingenuity with the cigar even gave a near-heart attack to the good, old Fidel Castro.

To be honest, it would have even me, if I had been at the end of the cigar for nearly six decades, like Fidel, only to find that the Yankee president had discovered other decadent, bourgeois uses for it. Why do you think Fidel has been fighting the Yanks for so long? At the end of the day it’s all about cigars.

If you don’t believe me, there is a crazy Yankee law that disallows bringing Havana cigars into the Republic. It’s good the cigar bit came in Mr Clinton’s second term or they would have changed the president rather than allowing the import of Havana cigars. Now you know why Iraq is in a mess and Afghanistan is going nowhere.

Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Foreign Editor of Daily Times

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