The Hari Putar Dialogues - 25
(Khaleej Times; 1 October; ISLAMABAD: A spokesman for the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) prayer leader has denied reports that it has issued a 'fatwa' (edict) against President Asif Zardari over his encounter in New York with Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The incident in which Zardari praised Sarah Palin as 'gorgeous' and said he could even 'hug' her when asked by an aide to again shake hands, has generated a heated controversy in Pakistan. Critics in Pakistan have described the remarks as improper and Zardari's conduct below the dignity required of a head of state.)
Putar:: According to a report in the Khaleej Times today, a spokesman for the Lal Masjid has denied reports that it has issued a fatwa against President Asif Zardari, over his encounter with Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Hari: It appears that Zardari greeted Ms Palin somewhat over enthusiastically.
Putar:: Zardari said that Sarah Palin looked 'gorgeous' and he could understand why the whole of America was crazy about her.
Hari: And what was her response to that statement?
Putar:: Well, she said he was very nice, and thanked him very much. What else could she say? But he didn't stop there. When he was asked by an aide to continue shaking hands with Palin, he said he was even willing to hug her.
Hari: Why did the aide ask him to continue shaking hands with her?
Putar:: I think the prolonged shaking of hands by world leaders is media driven. Whenever world leaders meet on a public platform they are expected to continue shaking hands for quite a while to give the photographers and television people enough of a photo opportunity. So it is a bit of a false and extra long handshake.
Hari: Obviously Zardari just made a normal handshake and withdrew his hand.
Putar:: Exactly. He is new to this business.
Hari: Well, he does seem to be a bit gauche and inexperienced in his statements too, don't you think? Americans can be very informal but a certain propriety is expected between leaders who are in the public gaze.
Putar:: There are also certain expectations from the leader of a more traditional society such as Pakistan, even though Fauzia Habib, a female parliamentarian from the Pakistan Peoples Party has defended Zardari's behavior by saying that such small talk is not unusual even in Pakistani society.
Hari: This is natural coming from someone from the PPP but how have other Pakistani women reacted?
Putar:: The report quotes internationally renowned human rights activist Asma Jehangir as telling Geo TV. 'It was sexist and amounts to flirting with a lady.'
Hari: So his behavior hasn't gone down very well with women working on human rights?
Putar:: No, it hasn't. Another campaigner for women's rights, Tahira Abdullah said Zardari behaved like a feudal lord, and for him women are only play things. 'He was looking down upon Sarah as a beautiful female than a political leader of the United States,' she said.
Hari: Why did Sarah Palin wish to meet Zardari at all?
Putar:: She is trying to make up for her lack of international experience, by meeting world leaders. She joined Senator John McCain in meetings with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko and then traveled downtown to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Hari: The meeting may have disappointed her. She may have wished the press to have reported differently on her meeting with Zardari. How they spoke on important world issues, etc.
Putar:: I guess so. Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar:: Do you think Zardari would have offered to hug Obama the way he suggested hugging Ms Palin?
Hari: I don't think so, Putar: Don't forget that Obama threatened to send troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists ' even without permission from that country's government. Obama and Zardari didn't even meet, what to talk of hugging each other.
Putar:: What about hugging McCain?
Hari: Why would Zardari want to hug McCain?
Putar:: Well, they were both in jail for a fairly long period, weren't they?
Hari: That's true. They were incarcerated on very different kinds of charges though. For the Republicans McCain was in jail as an American soldier and hero, whereas Zardari was behind bars on charges of corruption.
Putar:: On the other hands there are many people who believe that Zardari's alleged offences pale in comparison to American crimes against the people of Vietnam, and when McCain was put behind bars it was in his capacity as a soldier in a much larger and wider crime.
Hari: It's true that there are many people who have such a viewpoint.
Putar:: Would you agree that Zardari might have hugged McCain as a fellow ex jail bird?
Hari: Unlikely, but possible.
Putar:: But Zardari viewed Sarah Palin as a different kind of 'bird' when he proposed hugging her.
Hari: I don't know, Putar.