Pakistan News

In the prime minister’s shoes

In the prime minister’s shoes

HACKS like me who want to maintain their neutrality even in the middle of the fiercest battles would be happy. They would be happy and relieved to note that soon after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was caught in the act at Harrods, Imran Khan decided to have a little sojourn up in the hills at Nathiagali, where he was photographed relaxing with friends. 

Both gentlemen — the king and the pretender — are judged to have been guilty of neglect of the highest order. They have been found out acting as ordinary souls when a war is looming large over the country — the country that each one of them has been vowing to serve better than the other. The fact is that they are at their reassuring best when behaving ordinary.

Ordinary is quite often a synonym for the usual and normal here. Particularly so in this case. When these two gentlemen have been going about living life in a less exciting and ordinary manner they have been sending signals that the situation is not as grim as many of us would be estimating it to be. A prime ministerial stopover — almost exclusively it seems — to buy a pair of shoes at the famous London store should, in the ultimate analysis of habits and mannerism, have made breathing a little easier for all those scared by the ugly spectre of war raised on either side of the border. 

Those who see the prime minister and the top opposition leader in Pakistan as larger-than-life figures with no human temptations or simple needs would go on shouting nonsense at the top of their voices though. Let them have their opportunity. Let us, on the other hand, celebrate the occasional emergence of the human face of our leader and his chief challenger for the job of this country’s chief executive. Go a step further and you can actually — and proudly — announce another moral victory against who else but the Indians, our eventual and supreme rivals in everything connected to love, war and life.

Those who boast of Pakistani maturity and poise against Indian bias and extremist tendencies would remember a story in the media some time ago with its origins across Wagah. It talked with due reverence about the sense of duty displayed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after one of his foreign tours. The story said he was so busy in work that he skipped the funeral of a very close relative.

Really? This was supposed to cast Mr Modi as commitment personified. It ended up painting him as abnormal for those who most cherish balance in life. This balance requires more than a reference to the modest background of a powerful prime minster in an often too aggressive a country. It requires the leader to frequently act ordinary.

In June this year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was seen acting ‘normal’ while he underwent a recuperative period in London — as those who have just had heart surgery usually do. He did it against great odds and amidst loud, varied voices urgently summoning him to resume work in Islamabad. At one stage, indeed, as the prime minister went out for a walk with perhaps his most level-headed ally ever, his wife Kulsoom, the focus was on just how steady or not he was on his feet. No, in many cases the onlookers’ attention was fixed on the ‘fancy’ shoes he was wearing.

It was a dhai lakh ka pair, or something like that, and involved contribution from a crocodile some of us were now trying to catapult to celebrity status. Plenty of hurt was also on display about the extravagant lifestyle adopted by a rich, ‘stigmatised’ and ‘Panamaed’ leader of a poor country.

But that image somehow didn’t have the desired effect. There was other stuff to be invoked to prove extravagance. That the seasoned ruler of Pakistan was unable to find a hospital here fit for his treatment was a very useful tool to beat Mr Sharif with — whereas he was simply guilty of asserting his ordinary or normal choice to have the services of the medical facilities he could buy. The expensive shoes bit could wait for another day.

The day came a few months later, in late September. The hounds were back feeling the pinch of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s shoes. They were insistent on how the latest footage from Harrods helped discover an irresponsible and self-obsessed prime minister. Not surprisingly, this time their cause was adopted with a lot of apparent glee by the very hysterical Indian media — which their ‘much more restrained’ Pakistani counterparts have merrily condemned as worse than ours.

There is a context of course. The media here could actually have been on a shouting binge but for the very ordinary signs over the last few days.

It is not just Imran Khan who has escaped the heat generated by his own politics to spend a few relaxing days at the hill station. It is not only Mian Nawaz Sharif who appears sure enough of the future to invest in an expensive pair of shoes. The same period also produced one of the most pleasant images thus far of our army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif. The occasion was a visit to the school where he had been enrolled as a young child. The general stood there with a bunch of current students, wearing a rare, if not unprecedented, broad smile.

That was not just pleasing but reassuring. The leaders were acting ordinary — relaxing, shopping, smiling as if unperturbed by the bugles being sounded at the borders and beyond. They were going about life ‘normally’. All they need to do next is to wish the same for the people under their rule and command.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2016

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