One rarely gets the honour to host a meal for an ex-ambassador, therefore, when at a 23-hour notice I was handed the opportunity, I welcomed it with a genuine smile, top-speed and some style – a private brunch, an informal group of friends, candid conversation over a hot cup of tea and a plate of chicken salad.
Maleeha Lodhi is a dynamic woman with a ready wit. It’s easy to like her. Her ideas are democratic, her dialogue is candid, and her answers are entirely politically correct, on and off the record. She is a true politician, very smooth in evading the politically incorrect questions and sharp in elaborating on the right ones.
We talk about the urban wave which can bring change or at least a hope for change, but what about the rural masses – they seem to be fixated on the same old parties. Dr. Lodhi seems hopeful and feels that the difference this time can be the media explosion, and with a large network of TV cameras and TV channels capturing the moves of all and sundry, it will not be as easy to rig elections or fool a nation as it used to be. It is not the Pakistan that this Diaspora may have left 20 years ago, it’s a different Pakistan … the public is more desperate, the crises are much more and the conscious awareness that every vote counts is on everyone’s mind.
‘Another factor is the 120 million cell phone users who can make the change that all aspire so desperately.’ Sounds great as a sound-bite but is the public willing to put their money where their mouth is?
‘After everything is said and done Punjab determines elections.’ Yes, it may be the Kingmaker, the largest province population wise, having rural masses that have let us down each time, but will their cell phones be enough to make them vote for a prosperous tomorrow?
‘Punjab is not considered rural anymore – maybe just a portion of it bordering Sindh.’
Can the urbanization of Punjab make the change we are hoping for? Does that mean that Imran Khan is the answer? Aren’t many in his party more of the same; politicians who have made empty promises, commitments and then massacred the voters each time.
Maleeha Lodhi was very quick in clarifying that she has no party affiliations, but she can see why Imran is different – he is forthright, not a seasoned politician and brings with him a new kind of promise of a non-feudal nature that may inspire and motivate many who believe in a hopeful future for Pakistan.
That may be partially true but what about more of the same in his party?
When Imran enters a conversation a cricket mention almost always follows. Dr. Anwar, a prominent Pakistani American physician, was quick in referring to Imran’s optimism on the cricket field and how during an impending outcome of a cricket defeat, Imran would remain positive motivating all around him. That’s when Lodhi spoke of an anecdote that she referred to as the ‘Majid Moment’.
Imran Khan’s ‘Majid Moment’ came when during his first captaincy stint he refused to select Majid Khan in the team due to a sub-par performance resulting in a 20-year animosity between the cousins. Winning for Pakistan versus nepotism, Imran made a definite choice, ‘We are all waiting for Imran Khan’s ‘Majid Moment’ in politics.’ Was the ‘Majid Moment’ perhaps a reference to a future where the PTI founder demonstrating strong leadership will drop the old cronies or sideline them to be the twelfth man so that Pakistan may win? That remained unclear, but if one is to read between the lines there is an unwritten chapter to be read here. Nonetheless the choices are limited, the candidates are few, talk is cheap and the future is uncertain.
The burning issue that concerns the Pakistani Diaspora and the 200 million people living in Pakistan is security – or rather the lack of it and the growing intolerance for minorities and extremism? Lodhi absolutely condemned it and blamed it on the establishment’s tolerant stance towards this kind of violence.
‘Salman Taseers’s assassination could have been the turning point. It went almost unnoticed with no government official attending the funeral, let alone taking a hard stand against sectarian and secular massacre.’
What is now to become of the eleven-year-old Christian girl sitting under the Damocles sword of the blasphemy law? Will the arrest of the Mufti change anything? Sectarianism and secular violence is in harvest season and the divide between sunni and shia, and Muslim and Christian is more visual than ever. Tragically the establishment may be tolerating it but what does Imran Khan say about it? What about his manifesto – does it outline a policy to combat such violence? Furthermore does Imran have an outlined manifesto?
‘Obama also came without a specific manifesto, his slogan change we can believe in energised the Americans.’
Yes, that is entirely correct and the state of affairs in Pakistan also calls for a similar slogan – there is so much wrong with the nation that believable change should be the only realistic aspiration.
‘What should be our realistic hope……’ asked Dr. Qureshi but was interrupted mid-question by Dr. Lodhi’s quip, ‘Well, my hope is to have this steaming cup of tea that you seem to be enjoying so much,’ which was followed by an eruption of spontaneous laughter, a piping cup of tea for the ex-ambassador and the continuance of dialogue.
‘That’s one thing I admire about the Americans, their unflinching attitude that ‘I can do it.’ Nothing is impossible. Back home our attitude is, bus yeh tumharay bus ka nahin, but the Americans instill in their children the unflinching belief that you can do this. This stems hope. This builds the character of a nation; we need to start believing in ourselves.’
Easier said than done – it takes more than a generation, an idealistic cricketer turned politician, or inspiring speeches to make change. On the split side, if we keep viewing the glass as half-empty and focus on the flaws of the un-tested where will that lead us? The tested ones have failed us and the awami slogan of roti, kapra aur makaan that began in the 70s has left us as paupers.
People are intrinsically good, it’s their circumstances that divulge them to do unimaginable things and democratic elections are a promise that circumstances can change for the better. ‘My single vote will make a difference, my democratic right as a citizen of Pakistan can bring the change I want so much.’ Simple words with simple meaning, but very powerful consequences.
Hope and optimism are wonderful words, these words had once inspired a generation to believe in the making of a fledging Pakistan, and now with the winding of the Afghan war maybe they will start to mean something for Pakistan again. Lodhi was clear in her stance that change happens from within; blaming outsiders is never the answer, or the solution to any ill that is afflicting us as a nation or as a people. True, but Imran Khan seems to put blame on the West, on America? ‘Yes, but he blames the forces and people within also.’ Unarguably Pakistan has been prostituted on countless occasions by the West, but the Americans seem to have a somewhat positive view of Imran; he criticizes them unlike many before him. If nothing else, he is different.
As the lunch hour approached Lodhi glanced at her watch and got ready to leave. There was a short photo session and a few predictable jokes about the Las Vegas lifestyle. I assured the ambassador that the Vegas slogan what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas will apply to our exchange of ideas and free range of conversation, but alas in Vegas the unsaid slogan promises are made to be broken wins hands down.
Bisma Tirmizi is a writer based in Las Vegas.