As the floodwaters surged through Pakistan, killing hundreds of people and displacing millions, the president was on his way to Europe. Properties had to be inspected; his son had to be crowned as the future leader of Pakistan at a rally in Birmingham. And to reinforce Zardari’s pose as the permanent widower of the ‘goddess of democracy’, the kids had to be introduced to both Sarko and Cameron.
Mercifully the coronation in Birmingham was postponed. It was too crass even for the loyalists. Instead Zardari delivered an appalling speech and a Kashmiri elder, angered by the nonsense being spouted, rose to his feet and hurled one of his shoes at the businessman-president. Zardari left the hall in anger. ‘Zardari joins the Shoe Club with Bush’ was the headline in the News. The report continued:
Some demonstrators held up shoes to pictures of Zardari, while others held placards reading, “1000s dying, president is holidaying”, “Thousands killed, millions homeless, what president is laughing for?” and “Are the Zardaris enjoying England while Pakistan drowns?”
As images of Pakistan coping with the crisis and of its destitute people were being shown on European television, a French air force helicopter was transporting the richest man in Pakistan to the Manoir de la Reine Blanche for a short stopover in the 16th-century château, with its five acres of parkland, lakes and forests. Originally built for the widow of King Philippe VI it is now the property of another widower. How can he afford it? Every Pakistani knows as do more than a few members of the European judiciary who were hurriedly made to drop charges when this joker was considered a vital ally in the ‘war on terror’.
Back at home the Jang group, the country’s largest media empire, was advised by the government to exercise restraint and not show images of the shoe-throwing incident on Geo TV. They rejected the suggestion and instead interviewed the shoe-thrower. Unable to curb YouTube, Zardari’s men switched Geo and another network, ARY, off the air in Karachi and parts of Sind. A few minutes ago a friend emailed me from Karachi:
And now hundreds of jiyalas [unthinking party loyalists] gathered outside Geo’s Karachi office, pelting the building with stones and shoes. All in reaction to Geo’s decision to report on the shoe-hurling incident. Jang groups newspapers torched all over Karachi. No sign of the police. In reaction, Geo replaying clips of Benazir Bhutto promoting press freedom…