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A performance as slick as a spillage from an oil tanker

A performance as slick as a spillage from an oil tanker

Author: Ann Treneman
Publication: Time Online
Date: December 08, 2004
URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-2-1392983,00.html

The President of Pakistan came to Westminster yesterday to tell us why we should love him. General Pervez Musharraf may have been feeling a little insecure for he is, technically, a dictator. I feel rather bad pointing this out, because no one else did so yesterday. After all, dictator can be construed to be a rather unpleasant word. And, as Thumper said in Bambi: "If you can't say something nice, then don't say nothin' at all."

The Thumper School of Politics was flourishing yesterday in Committee Room 14. The setting was grand, with four deep windows overlooking the Thames. The seating is that of a mini-parliament with dark-green flocked wallpaper and burnished panelling. About 50 MPs and peers were on hand, many with tubs of margarine for what may have been the oleaginous event of the year.

It had been billed as an informal session and it is true that the trumpet fanfare had been scrapped. Nor was the general in uniform. His suit was well cut, though, and he looked a bit like Poirot, as played by David Suchet. The moustache was more substantial but no less authoritative for it.

The general sat at the top table, his seat flanked by miniature flags that someone may have found in a box of cereal. Next to him was Donald Anderson, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Mr Anderson, a legendary creep, looked not so much happy as ecstatic. "Welcome to Parliament!" he cried, his voice cracking wildly. "We greet you as a man of courage!"

The general was on a "journey round the world in nine days". He had met President Bush and Tony Blair. But surely his visit to Parliament was going to be the "high spot" of the trip. At this, everyone in the room clapped and started thumping their tables.

The general oozed right back and embarked on an extraordinary mini- history of Pakistan. It could have been entitled "Why I Had to Stage That Coup". In 1999, Pakistan was on the verge of being a failed state. The economy was collapsing and the Government was corrupt. "Democracy was dysfunctional," he announced, as if that is anything new to MPs in Westminster.

Something had to give and so the general appointed himself chief executive. He was not so much a coup leader as the man who finally wrested the keys of the executive washroom away from those who did not use it properly anyway. And it has worked. "I have managed to give a direction to a ship that was rudderless."

Pakistan is leading the fight against terrorism and what is needed now is a period of calm. This is why he has been asked to stay on as President and head of the army until 2007. This was a fig-leaf and the general flourished it with care.

I do not know why he bothered, because MPs seemed to love him regardless. The Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons asked about Kashmir. She is quite unforgettable these days. Her hair sticks out like an electrified rat's nest and she was wearing a scarf that looked as if she were being strangled by a dead squirrel. (By the way, the general knows how to save Kashmir too.)

The final appreciation was delivered by a Labour MP called Tom Cox. This was a rare sighting of Mr Cox, whom I have never heard speak before. It was quite a treat for he has the voice of a fairground barker. His speech was a series of stentorian love-bombs. "In my view one thing you have done is that you have brought respect back to Pakistan!" he cried. This has taken a great deal of courage. "But you are that man with that courage!"

The oozing was out of control. The room was slick with slime and I am only surprised that no one slipped on the way out.

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