Islamabad Diary: Of dodgy scoops and ‘cultural terrorism’

Published: July 16, 2011
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Releasing press report of ‘gay pride’ created a furore which portrays a dearth of public relations in the American Embassy. PHOTO: AFP

An elected official of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who I am sure would prefer to remain anonymous since he would not want people to know how he wastes his time courting journalists, sent a text message last week offering his condolences for Roger Federer’s loss at Wimbledon.

This had followed an earlier conversation we had had where I explained that the tension over the government’s survival and political machinations in the country seemed so insignificant compared to the travails of the greatest tennis player in history.

After receiving the SMS, my instant reaction was to cut the man some slack in the future. It is very rare for politicians to exhibit signs of good taste and those who do, need to be kept in power.

Then, about half an hour later the same official sent another text message. Did I know, he asked me, that Senate chairman Farooq Naek was in contention to be the next chief minister of Sindh? I may have been a bit slow on the uptake but I finally realised I may have been played.

Still, a scoop, no matter how dodgy its origins, is a scoop so I shook off my post-Federer loss stupor and made some calls. It did not take long to determine that this was yet another instance of a politician trying to advance an ally’s interests.

Islamabad may be a town where loose lips reign but there are those who can keep their counsel – up to a point. Officials at the US Embassy are notoriously stingy with information – especially of the juicy variety – and will only give out information after having imbibed copious numbers of refreshing cocktails.

For the last week, everyone has wanted to know what the American embassy was thinking in hosting a gay pride event, and that too with locals present. What the Jamaat-e-Islami denounced as ‘cultural terrorism’ turned out to have a much more convoluted explanation, a combination of circumstance, good intentions and brain-dead public relations.

As an embassy official explained to me, Pakistan is hardly the most sought-after posting in the diplomatic world. Despite receiving a substantial bonus for deigning to work in this backwater, no one really wants to come to Pakistan because they aren’t allowed to bring their spouse and children with them. As a result, said the official, the US Embassy here is “very young and very gay.”

It was internal pressure, according to him, that resulted in the embassy observing gay pride for the first time. For a sign for just how insulated Islamabad – and especially the diplomatic corps – is from the rest of the country, they apparently didn’t think such an event would be the cause of any controversy.

And for a few days it wasn’t – at least until the embassy saw fit to issue a press release about the event. When I asked the embassy official why, if the event was held for staff members, did they feel the need to publicise it, he just smiled sheepishly.

That’s the American embassy for you. Even when their hearts are in the right place their brains certainly are not.


 

nadir.hassan

Nadir Hassan

An Islamabad based journalist who tweets at @Nadir_Hassan.

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

  • Naved

    Anyone else find this homphobic?Recommend

  • cheree

    “‘the US embassy is very young and very gay’ said an official”–sounds gossipy to me and unsubstantiated. Not sure why the US embassy chose this time to host this event and yeah, it seems unwise. But the official platform, I’m sure, is that security and dignity for GLBT folks is a human rights issue that is largely overlooked in Pakistan, which is true on both accounts.Recommend

  • http://aimanamjad.wordpress.com aiman

    Just another propaganda. What was the need to publish it openly if it was organised for staff members only? Western cultural fallacies have a projected mission of deteriorating every society with some elements of religion. Irrespective of “what” religion, the main point is to promote the anti-thesis argument. A public display of notoriety removes the sense of drawing a demarcating line between “sin” and “virtue”. If something wrong is displayed openly, it becomes psychologically accepted.Recommend

  • http://aimanamjad.wordpress.com aiman

    @Naved:
    It’s not homophobic. I guess the next thing you’d want to say is “gay-rights” should be propagated in all Islamic states?Recommend

  • Adnan

    Disappointing! Normally ur work is actually pretty good! this one not so much! Recommend

  • MAD

    @Naved:

    no actually i find it pretty entertaining. Why does homphobia concern you? ;-)Recommend