Attended a talk by Benazir Bhutto last evening. Well not all of it, but most of whatever was left after I managed to slip out of the cleanroom. Her security was light and brisk, the sort that really helps when you are running fifteen minutes late. But just as I entered the auditorium, I couldn’t help but notice the terrible terrible lighting that some genius had rigged. Apparently someones idea of great lighting is to put the speaker in a bright spotlight while keeping rest of the hall pitch dark. Awesome job done. I only had my cellphone, plus I was asked to turn off the flash, so the photography is well…not up to the mark. First things first. I understand she is getting kind of old and all but she is still undeniably haat. Yes, even with that terrible lighting and the fact that I was about a good twenty metres away from where she was standing. But otherwise she wasn’t exactly the brilliant orator I had imagined her to be. Here is a synopsis of what went on, or rather what I can remember of what went on.

She did the usual Eastern jig of how she didn’t choose her life but instead her life chose her and all the routine about destiny and the sorts. In jarring juxtaposition she followed it up with some power-of-the-individual to shape the future talk. After this customary crap throwing, she went on to give a brief history of her life, her father, her education yadda yadda. She then talked at some length about the history of Pakistan, Afghanistan and about a series of events that were to shape Islamic fundamentalism in the time to come and Washington’s role in all this. Along the way she mentioned something about Lahore turning into a center of drug abuse, and how this was fueling the crime rate (Illustrated with a cell phone snatching incident. Bah! And of course I don’t agree, but that’s besides the point. Or at least right now it is). She couldn’t resist indulging in political braggadocio by claiming to have ushered in a golden era of peace and prosperity during her tenure and how it was all ruined by governments that followed. But somewhere within all that noise, she made a very valid point, not a new one, albeit one that is fundamental. She stressed repeatedly that peace is not in the interest of the military regime, to quite the contrary, it actually does them harm. But it is in their interest to pretend to be fighting terror, to feign an effort at peace, to pull the occasional terror kingpin from under their hat to fool the world. Elegantly simple point. Undoubtedly true. She mentioned in brief about the recent arrest of the Pakistani chief justice, arm twisting of a leading newspaper and state vandalism at a large private TV station. Despite the obvious heaviness in the air, she tried her best to keep the mood light, to drop a few funnies every now and then. Slipping it in with the punchlines, she declared she was returning to Pakistan this year and contesting in the national elections. Deliberately placed? I do not know but it kind of fits there. She called upon the international community (a.k.a unkle Sam) to ensure that the elections are free and fair. Or whatever that might be.

Good luck, my brave haat woman. May you win over the improbable odds of beating a dictator at the ballots. If and when you do, may you give your country back to whom it belongs. Amen to that!


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