Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
The Clinton visit

The Clinton visit

M. Ziauddin
Dawn, Karachi
March 27, 2000
Title: The Clinton visit
Author: M. Ziauddin
Publication: Dawn, Karachi
Date: March 27, 2000

THE chill was unbearable. From the moment the US President landed at the Chaklala airbase to the time his plane took off for the return journey, one felt as if the headmaster had got the class lined up for a real dressing down for breaking some highly revered school code. His face told it all. It was sombre. Even when he waved at the cameras just before entering the waiting limousine to be driven off to the Presidency, it appeared as if he was making an effort. There was no spontaneity, no warmth. Perhaps he was working himself up in the mood for the task ahead. And as if to go with the sombre scene an almost deserted Islamabad greeted his arrival. His stay of about five hours in the capital was tense and the departure equally cold. When he arrived at the Presidency, he had to wait for a couple of minutes at the entrance for President Tarar to come and receive him. A pathetic display of a lack of sense of timing and protocol on the part of those who were conducting our President or was he waiting at the wrong entrance, just to help out the Americans in another of their decoys? There were no photographs of TV footage of Chief Executive Gen Pervez Musharraf receiving the US President in his office or shaking hands with him. The only photograph or footage released showed the two at a distance of about 12 feet away from each other at the conference table in the company of each other's aides.

One did not know whether to feel insulted or apprehensive or both by all this. And when the US President delivered his speech over the TV making it clear that if Pakistan refused to heed his warnings, its fate would be sealed, one felt the chill biting one's very bones. Sandy Berger and Mike Hammer had already said the same thing in a cruder language a day earlier and that too when they were still in India. The US President, however, used very decorous language, in part polite and in part diplomatic he tried also to make what he said more palatable by quoting in proper context the Quaid and Iqbal, beginning his address with Assalamailakum and ending it with Pakistan Zindabad. Full marks to Bill Clinton for being so thoughtful of our sensibilities. And if circumstances under which the sermon was delivered, its timing and the place were ignored, one perhaps would find oneself in complete agreement with almost the entire text of his speech. But then why did we have to go to such lengths to listen to the obvious, in such humiliating circumstances? And the tragedy is, many in this country have been saying exactly the same for decades now, but without the ruling elite paying any heed.

And even after what the US President said in his address if our ruling elite continued to live in the age of Cold War and kept trying to look for reference points in the pre-1990 world to hang on their policies for today's Pakistan, then perhaps even God would finally find it difficult to help us. There are many in the country who were not in favour of a visit by the US President to Pakistan immediately before or after his tour of India. They had felt that the groundwork that was needed to be done before hosting such a visit had not been done and the enabling circumstances for achieving our objectives were not present. And looking at the mind-set of the present rulers in the country, they had concluded that if undertaken at this juncture and in such conditions, such an event would only end in a diplomatic disaster and even prove to be highly counter- productive to our national interests. Both the governments, for their own respective reasons would certainly put a positive spin to the visit. But the bottom line appears to be too perilous.

During the day's work on Saturday I also happened to attend a briefing by the White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. There were about 100 odd media persons at the briefing, mostly belonging to the US and international media. I was impressed by the orderly manner in which the briefing was conducted because only a couple of days back I had come back from a press conference addressed by the Chief Executive totally shaken. Those who attended this press conference would know what I mean. When asking questions at the White House briefing media persons would raise their hands, the spokesman would identify one of them and he or she would ask the question without any hassle. In contrast to this a pandemonium breaks out every time there is a press conference in Islamabad, especially those which are expected to be televised live or later (one held on Saturday by the CE and conducted by foreign minister Sattar was an exception).

Over the years, perhaps to oblige "influential" press reporters the PTV has developed a unique way of shooting important press conferences. The cameras would show close up of every questioner and also keep showing from time to time medium and close-up shots of smaller segments of the press corps attending the press conference. No news conference is presented in such a way by any other TV channel in the world. These other channels would keep the focus firmly on the person holding the press conference. And only rarely would they show a reporter asking a question and that too from side ways, very rarely a close-up. The practice adopted by the PTV attracts every member of the press community to important press conferences. You will even find cultural reporters covering press conferences held by the finance ministers just to have a chance to be shown nationwide on the TV asking questions to the high and the mighty. The PID, which is supposed to invite the press through the editors and thebureau chiefs, commits the original sin by issuing invitation to all, perhaps to avoid being bullying by the 'influential' or to oblige its favourites.

In the early 1980s, the late Gen Zia-ul-Haq had introduced a unique tradition at the press conferences he used to hold. He would invite one particular journalist from a powerful vernacular newspaper to ask the first question. With the passage of time this gentleman began to accept it as his right to ask the first question at every press conference. He would stand up even before the person addressing the press conference had ended his opening remarks and shout his question at the top of his voice. After a couple of years another gentleman who had equally strong vocal chords joined him in this shouting match. At times they would even entangle with each other physically to be heard first. And in the 1990s when a new crop of young journalists entered the profession, they thought that this was the only way to behave at press conferences - stand up, shout and get recognized - and the attraction of being shown on TV nationwide added fuel to the fire. At the March 23 press conference of the CE one of these young journalists even brought with him his four-year-old son to the press conference and occupied the front row and kept jumping on his seat throughout to be recognized (and succeeded twice) perhaps in the hope that his son's picture would also get telecast nationwide. Just to explain to what length this gentleman must have gone to bring in his son to the restricted venue let me state that even I was not allowed in until I had proven my identity at the gate and shown my press accreditation pass to a representative of the armed forces standing at the doors along with a couple of tough looking uniformed personnel!

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements