Sunday, August 24, 2008

First Impressions

Apparently, Yousaf Raza Gillani didn't make the best of them on his trip to Washington last month:

Mr. Gilani, a novice front man plucked out of obscurity by Mr. Zardari to be prime minister, made a poor public impression on his first visit to Washington last month, and was not much better behind the scenes, officials said.

At a gathering of the Council on Foreign Relations, he stumbled through basic questions about the Pakistan-United States relationship from a knowledgeable crowd of experts.

In private meetings with the Bush administration, according to an official who attended, Mr. Gilani could offer only a simple mantra for defeating the Taliban: “Let’s work together.”

Yes, let's.

By the way, the "stumbling" at CFR bit is a bit of an understatement in my view (transcript here). First of all, he said the words "ladies and gentlemen" a full ten times in a 2000-word speech - trust me, I counted - which works out to roughly once a paragraph.

Secondly, it is clear that answering very predictable questions is not his forte (unlike, say, backhand-fondling Sherry Rehman at a rally, which he appears to be an expert in). By way of example, check out Richard Haass' first question, Gillani's answer to it, and Haass' bewildered response.

But I'd be less than honest, and I hope it doesn't make me a bad host here today, if I also didn't add that there's not as much optimism as you suggested in your talk, and a lot of people who look at Pakistan question either its will or its ability, its capacity to tackle those challenges.

So the question I would put to you is one of both willingness and capacity on the part of your government to meet what has to be as daunting and as difficult a range of problems, quite honestly, as any government I know faces.

GILANI: Thank you very much. You have asked me a specific question regarding what I have said, that you think this is not the case which I mentioned. But I want to tell you that as an elected prime minister of Pakistan who has got the unanimously vote of confidence in the history of Pakistan, I have accepted that challenge. And I have decided to go for a good governance and to make policies which are friendly policies for the investors from the world to come and invest in Pakistan and be able to provide them (all ?) facilities, and soon you will see a lot of investors coming to Pakistan, especially in the power sector.

HAASS: Let me then come back to the question somewhat differently.

Then there's this, perhaps my favorite exchange from the entire session, where Gillani shows how not to not answer a question [no, that's not a typo, read it again]. I actually cringed while reading this bit.

HAASS: One of our senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, Dan Markey, has recently produced a study called Securing Pakistan's Tribal Belt, and it's a study about the FATA and what needs to be done there. And one of the questions I would have is whether it's possible to imagine a different relationship between the central government and the FATA, and essentially to end the unique status of the FATA and to integrate it more into Pakistan like other parts of the country.

GILANI: Exactly you really don't know the exact position of FATA. FATA is already under the federal government. And there are two governments. There's a provincial government and the federal government. And the FATA is under the federal government. Therefore it is controlled by the governor, who is the nominee of the federal government. Therefore it is under the federal government.

HAASS: I understand that it's under the federal government. But it also enjoys, shall we say, a slightly different status or reality than other parts of the country.

GILANI: They have -- (inaudible) -- and they have senators. And interestingly all -- (inaudible) -- and the senators are supporting me.

HAASS: Okay.

Well, we wish you well with that. (Laughter.)

GILANI: And one of the -- (inaudible) -- from FATA, who happens to be the minister for environment, highly educated, and in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, he met President Bush along with me.

HAASS: Good.

I'm sorry for highlighting so much from that exchange, but can you honestly blame me? It's like trying to put together a highlights package from that Australia-South Africa one-day in 2006 when the Aussies scored 430 odd and lost: what part of it can you leave out? It's a veritable comedic goldmine.

It's also quite cute that when he tries to crack a one-liner, he fails miserably mainly because what he says makes no sense.

HAASS: I think I know the answer to this question from Dennis Lamb, who used to be an ambassador, but I'm going to ask it anyhow: Do you think that Americans understand Pakistan? (Laughter.)

GILANI: They understand Pakistan more than what I know.

The transcript does record him receiving laughter on that one, but I'm most assured that it was only a gesture of politeness. I think he's trying to intimate that Americans understand Pakistan better than he himself does, but that statement is neither funny nor true.

Anyway, whatever. I have to say that my ribbing aside, I find Gillani an utterly harmless figure. He didn't really ask for any of this; the poor sod was pushed into the role to a greater extent than any other recent Prime Minister I can think of off the top of my head. At the end of the day, he doesn't make any important decisions, so it's not really fair that he has to answer fairly hard-hitting questions in a language which he clearly struggles with (sort of like George Bush, I guess).

Enjoy the rest of the weekend.


NB said...

Wow. Thats pretty cringeworthy stuff. It could be worse though. We could have Deve Gowda, who was narcoleptic and mad. Or Yeltsin. Who would frolic with trashy dancers on stage, whilst being trashed himself. Or we could have Nawaz. Who is a fat balding hypocritical paratha eating idiot.

Ahsan said...


How dare you? Take it back.