Politicising floods: The roasting of Zardari

Published: August 8, 2010
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A protester holds up a shoe among a crowd of PTI supporters protesting President Zardari's UK visit. PHOTO: REUTERS

Our nation’s penchant for politics has found a new punching bag for the ongoing flood crisis: President Asif Ali Zardari and his ill-fated UK trip.

The question that bothers me is whether this is really the appropriate response to a crisis of a magnitude which extends even beyond the Pakistan Army’s ongoing efforts, let alone that of a single man, who to his credit, has donated 2.5 million pounds and launched the UK end of aid collection with fair success.

I distinctly recall the 18th amendment reducing the Presidency to a figure head for the country (representing us in other countries being his domain), with the Prime Minister being assigned the role of principle caretaker and decision maker. Kudos to Prime Minister Gilani; he has been doing his part, visiting affected regions, encouraging people to help in relief efforts, and doling out cash to affectees (and if some of those affectees turn out to be frauds, it is not a reflection on Gilani’s shortcomings but that of the people involved).

So why is President Zardari taking such a hit in our media? There are a number of alternative points of view available in the ongoing discourse, most of which do not make their way to broadcast media.

One view is that the PML-N has once again cashed in on populist politics and used its influence in the media to project Zardari as evil-incarnate. Another is that the media has decided to attack Zardari in a no-brainer unification of two entirely independent pieces of news (Zardari UK trip, ongoing floods) to come up with a sensational segment which appeals to the lowest common denominator i.e. mud-slinging makes good TV. President Zardari visiting the UK following Prime Minister David Cameron’s cutting remarks against Pakistan scores eight on ten in terms of sensationalism, but the state spending millions to send the President on a trip while a crisis grips the country is just plain off the charts.

Another viewpoint which has gone relatively amiss in the Zardari-flood fiasco is the fact that the UK is the PML-N and PTI’s adda, with well-connected/loyal followers and previously displayed street power to their name. Suffice to say it doesn’t take much to arrange a Zardari hate-fest, especially as the UK press had also opted to lift its news peg from aforementioned off-the-charts sensationalism. From there on out, it’s not hard to see how easy it would be to arrange to have a bunch of shoe-throwers in the crowd, no?

So what to make of this unusual interest in our President at a time when we have floods affecting millions in the country? How does a UK trip by Zardari suddenly trump target killings in Karachi, military operations in Fata, drowning people in Dir, to become headline numero uno? Is it political agenda, media sensationalism? Is it a reflection of a bitter, angry, crisis-ridden society just aching to see a (metaphoric) public hanging of its rulers, regardless of the futility of such venting?

I’m going to tick the ‘all the above’ box.

Jahanzaib Haque

Jahanzaib Haque

News buff and Web Editor, The Express Tribune. Jahanzaib tweets @Jhaque_ twitter.com/jhaque_

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Farhan

    A very well written post!

    Most of the banners protesters were holding were same as when Musharraf visited. And that PTI lady in the middle of the protest she’s at all the protests with a GO Insert Leader Name Go !Recommend

  • Das

    Paid per hour laborers in UK held protest against Mr. President.Recommend

  • Mahreen

    OMG this article is shocking! Dear Jahnzaib as you say yourself the President is the symbolic head of state.So if in the state people were dying in floods,others were kling each other would it suit the President (the symbolic head, the state personified) to be luxuriating at his uber expensive chateua.Recommend

  • Das

    Mahreen, People who dream to go abroad can say like this.Recommend

  • Mahreen

    Also this might be a case of someone (the writer) masquerading as a ‘journalist’ in order to defend his political party of choice. Biased journalism should be discouraged by credible newspapers.Recommend

  • Mahreen

    Dear Das I have studied at one of the best universities in the UK. :) Recommend

  • Mahreen

    ET this blog will attract a lot of comment. But a lot of comments is not necessarily as good thing. This is because they can mean two things 1. the article is good. 2. the article is outrageously bad. In this case it will clearly be regarded as bad. Publishing articles which are outrageously bad but attract a lot of comments is not good for a newspaper. It would imply that the newspaper does not have credible journalists.Recommend

  • Lady X

    Mehreen, I’ve studied in the lap of luxury, too. What this blog is trying to highlight is the latent truth (truths?) about Zardari: Open Wallet. Dead conscience.Recommend

  • eraj khan

    DEAR JAHANZAIB….have you ever heard the proverb “Nero fiddled while Rome Burnt”. Ofcourse Nero wasn’t fiddling and even if he was, he couldn’t have put out the fire single handed. So what makes it unique is the fact that the head of a state should be upfront in a disaster,addressing the nation,starting a relief fund,ordering his party workers to go north and most importantly supervising the whole process personally. He should be coming back to his country,claiming that he prioritized people of Pakistan over meeting with Cameron.
    i am sure that the UK prime minister would have understood Mr. Zardari’s reservations. After all, he himself is also a leader and knows that people come first.Recommend

  • eraj khan

    what i understand from your point of view is that if ever there’s a national disaster in Pakistan, the PM should be visiting the affected areas and the president should go abroad to collect “chanda”. This would be a great partnership though :S i wonder if that’s what used to happen in early days when wife was to take care of her home and husband used to go out to gather food. :SRecommend

  • http://blog.sohaibmuneer.com SayB

    Good post. Despite the very good points you make that are actually factual it doesn’t still relieve Zardari or Gillani of the irresponsibility in public / media relations. You see this is where it all goes wrong. And if PML-N uses it’s influence over the media then surely PPP can do too. They are quite equal in strength, resources and influence.
    I suppose this is all due to the fact that amongst the large populace, Zardari is the least popular and controversial figure in Pakistan and anyone else from the PPP would have sufficed to be the president. Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/pracker S. Ali Raza

    I fail to understand, why doesn’t the government try to convert disasters into opportunities.

    Cameron’s comments and its effect has already dies down. There was one very important point the media ignored in the speech President Zardari had made in France, where he claimed that NATO is loosing the war, and in UK he said he would like to sit down with the Taliban, this needs to be evaluated for the future status of Pakistan. Lets hope we have not got another Karzai.

    IF this was not a State visit, (regardless of who paid for it) it could have been delayed by 10 days only. In those 10 days, Zardari Sahib could have focussed everybody’s attention on to the floods, and shown some performance from his office, by engaging the world into relief activities here, while the PM was looking after the internal relief operations. This allowed the Media play its card very well, because of which it has resulted in less donations for the affected.

    As the floods get worse, and more come on its way, this devastation will be synonym with Zardari and UK until all have been rehabilitated. Not to mention the shortage of agricultural produce, meats, milk in the comings days, with prices sky rocketing.

    The blame will come on the Government.. and for the common man, (Media opinionated) he will want to be throwing shoes at every walking Government representative to let out their frustration. Recommend

  • Faisal Naseem Chaudhry

    I’m ALSO going to tick the ‘all the above’ box. A very well-argued piece.Recommend

  • Khan

    Given the circumstances Zardari displayed a complete lack of empathy towards millions of his countrymen who are sitting as flood refugees under an open sky without food or drinking water.

    As the head of state of Pakistan it ill behoves him to be seen smiling and gladhanding people in the UK.

    As an irate Pakistani I say a pox upon him. And also a pox upon all those elite Pakistanis who simply enjoy venting their rage at Zardari without bothering to contribute a rupee to the flood refugees. Come on people get moving!Recommend

  • Ghausia

    Zardari never should’ve made the trip to the UK and snubbed Cameron. And this trip has no political agenda at all, its nothing but a vacation. If it was a political trip, he’d have stepped out of the plane suited up, not dressed in jeans and a shirt, which you’d do if you’re just vacationing. He may be just a figurehead but he’s spending state funds on this vacation of his, state funds that could and should be spent helping the flood victims. What has he even done on this trip of his, please explain to me. “This is a friendship that can’t break”? Seriously? That is far more important than hundreds of people dying? Sorry Mr. Haque, normally I love your pieces, but I completely disagree with you here.Recommend

  • Farrukh

    “Asif Zardari’s callous and indifferent attitude to his country’s woes has reached ”Neroic” proportions surpassing even the worst reputation of Yahya Khan during 1971. He appearance in a designer suit and pink tie with David Cameron served to reinforce the image of a hedonist completely unmindful of the misfortunes of a poor and debt-ridden country whose 51 percent people live in poverty and whose lives are nothing more than a daily struggle to survive often at the risk of their lives.”

    http://www.yousufnazar.com/?p=1014Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    Hes is head of the state and enjoys more facailties than us (normal poor citiens)….of course, he is to blamed for poor infrastructure and all these problems…..The problems have risen to an EXTENT over the last 3 years…after 2007….There were little jobs, and peace…NOW??????More harrassments and more social evils,,, more frauds in his times….Over a period of 30 years…THIS ERA is the worst,,, and most unpeaceful…..Recommend

  • owais

    another article on conspiracy theories. why am i not surprised?Recommend

  • http://tribune.com.pk Jahanzaib Haque

    @all it is definitely a public relations failure on the part of the Presidency, and while this post is focused on the places where he may not be to blame, that does not mean there aren’t obvious mistakes he has made in this trip; if I was his advisor, I would have told him not to go at all.

    However, given that the media has already given us many many hours of where President Zardari went wrong, I felt it important to highlight where our perceptions (media, politicans, society at large) may be distorted as well.

    Best regards and thank you all for commenting.

    Recommend

  • http://www.aobm.org Mohammed Abbasi

    Actually the PTI lady was probably the most annoying only next to the Hizbut Tahrir guys and Zardari… If this is what Imran Khan calls PTI then I am afraid he is no leader eitherRecommend

  • eraj khan
  • Syed Yousaf

    Mr. Jehanzeb why do you forget Mr. Zardari’s visit to his palaces in France. Dont you think when your country is drowning and some one who is also the president of that illfated country is seen going around his illgotten money palaces surely burns the inner soul of every one with a conscious except those who take such things for granted.
    May I say Pakistan is really facing AZAB E ELAHI in shape of Terrorism, Floods and ZARDARI. Recommend

  • Asfandyar

    Refreshing piece.

    We should remember that Zardari is being criticized not just because he is the President but mainly because he is the leader of the ruling party. He jumped at the opportunity to become the figurehead of our country and he is in the line of fire due to his own doing. The venom being spewed in his direction is simply a reflection of the simmering discontent of Pakistanis (at home and abroad) resulting from the gross mismanagement of the current government.

    On a separate note, it would not have been wise to cancel the trip to the UK due to Cameron’s comments, as the trip was planned well in advance and cancelling it altogether would have been an overreaction. The government did in fact lodge its protests in different ways and in any case, there is clearly some truth in what Cameron said so we should peek into our own ‘garrebans’ before we get too ‘jazbaati’. That being said, it would have been a good idea if Zardari had at the very least shortened his trip in response to the devastation back home. Recommend

  • Riaz Toori

    The fact of a media conspiracy against the President has been discussed for some time as onlookers scratch their heads in wonder at much of the seemingly outrageous anti-President rhetoric that is published and aired in a section of the media.

    This week has seen a number of slips by the self-righteous intellectual elites who have been waging a media war against the President since the day he was elected.

    From the very beginning, before he had any opportunity to make any mistakes at all, naysayers declared “the present Zardari-led set-up will not last long…”

    A section of the media has executed an unrelenting media campaign of slander and smears against a democratically elected President and any and all political allies sinceRecommend

  • IZ

    Well, I’m no fan of Zardari but its interesting to note that so far the country that has provided the most flood aid is the UK (over $7 million):

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/aug/09/pakistan-flood-aid#

    So maybe the visit did do some good?Recommend

  • Hamood

    What a useless article. Can you imagine George W Bush or Dick Cheney leaving the United States when it was under attack on 9/11 or Tony Blair leaving the country when London was being bombed in 2005. The fact is that zardari went there for a personal agenda which was to prop up crown prince Bilawal’s career and visit his personal palaces in France and UK. After a snub by Cameron, it was disgraceful to see the guy smiling shamelessly while shaking Cameron’s hand. I was willing to cut this government a lot of slack when it came into power but for almost 3 years now each passing day in the country is worst than the day before it.Recommend

  • Rafia

    only cat and dog game 4 next seat…..at dis critical time…biased jurnalism should be over…its funny onlyRecommend

  • Wajahat

    Head of state wore the Ajrak and represented a perticular province & culture in Birmingham..Recommend