View from US: Hotel Fantasia
Round and round they go looking officiously busy. A delicatessen of delegates scrambling from one carpeted plenary hall to another while their presidents/prime ministers mount carousels encircling colorful wooden horses, ear plugged to the circus chatter (read highflying gobbledygook flowing from the podium where they take turns to stand and sermonise) seriously lulling everyone to sleep. Hotel Fantasia has since its birth, 67 years ago, opened with a bash every September, when rulers from impoverished nations descend in New York for a photo-op with the world’s most powerful man, the president of the United States.
For the first time in 20 years, the ‘most powerful man’ came, spoke and left. President Obama did not have a one-on-one with any leader.
The most disappointed among them was Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel. The second most was Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi. For those familiar with racing terms, Zardari ‘placed’.
The man who got the most media coverage and abuse was, you guessed it! Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president has addressed this forum ten times much to the chagrin of American people. Each time, his criticism of US ,has grown louder and louder. This time (it will be his last) the Iranian leader beat up the US for its “hegemony of arrogance.” The US delegation, as always, boycotted his address and walked out.
Never mind their high-swelling gestures and scrambled diction at the UN General Assembly. The speeches by Pakistani leaders over decades are just a piece of paper overloaded with laboured trumpery by foreign office hobbits who have clichéd words like Kashmiri plebiscite, human rights, poverty alleviation, sustainable development and sovereignty. Two new words since Zardari’s time that have been added are: ‘terrorism’ and ‘martyrdom of my wife and mother of my children’ along with a visual of his late wife’s portrait.
Pakistan hardly got noticed at the UN hippodrome this year.
Asif Zardari hit the headlines when he came here four years ago immediately after being sworn in as our president. “You are even more gorgeous,” he told Sarah Palin when he met her along with his then information minister Sherry Rehman who added to her president’s flippancy by commenting on Palin’s personal appearance as if she was her pal.
I remember when Nawaz Sharif went wild hiring stretch limos for his ministers and buddies accompanying him to the UN sessions. All these sherwani clad oddballs parading Manhattan looking more like penguins than humans, stayed at the most expensive hotels in New York. We footed the bill. The blood sucking by these heartless leaders is regenerated each year when Hotel Fantasia opens up for business that has fun and games on top of its agenda.
Would it not be wise to compute costs entailed by our leaders and their hangers-on since the time they have come to the UN each year? We would like to know how much each leader cost the public exchequer. More importantly, what did they achieve; what trophy did they carry back with them? Musharraf, I know for sure, would flaunt a signed photo of President Bush who patted him and said: “We are tight buddies?” and that America will always stand by Pakistan. That was 2001.
Whither Musharraf today? The man who passed the NRO but told the UN forum at its 45th General Assembly session as president of Pakistan: “The bigger tragedy of the third world is that their rulers, together with their minions, plunder their countries’ wealth and are afforded easy access to safe havens to stash away the loot in the first world. I appeal, through this forum, to all of the developed countries to legislate against deposits of ill-gotten money, to assist in investigating the looters and to ensure the early return of the plundered wealth to its countries of origin.”
Benazir Bhutto, despite her swollen delegation of useless carpetbaggers had a presence few can ever match. When she walked in the UN corridors, the lady was a show-stopper! The US media admired her and never tired reminding the public that she was the first Muslim woman to head a government in an Islamic country. She even grabbed the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s notice in 1994, when as prime minister of Pakistan, she refused to visit the Gaza Strip because she needed clearance from the Israeli authorities. An irate Rabin hit back by telling Benazir Bhutto “to learn some manners.” The two crossed each other at the UN but each looked the other way. That gesture made headlines.
And of course! Who can forget Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s fiery speech at the UN Security Council on December 15, 1971, one day before the fall of Dhaka. ZAB travelled to New York as Pakistan’s foreign minister. His address was relayed on PTV watched by millions war-weary-but-undeterred Pakistanis, standing proud and upright in the face of Indian aggression that resulted in the loss of half of their country.
“I am not a rat,” said ZAB in a high-pitched squeak at the UN. “I have never ratted in my life. I have faced assassination attempts, I have faced imprisonments. I have always confronted crises. Today I am not ratting, but I am leaving your Security Council. I find it disgraceful to my person and to my country to remain here a moment longer than is necessary. I am not boycotting… We will fight; we will go back and fight. My country beckons me. Why should I waste my time here in the Security Council? I will not be a party to the ignominious surrender of a part of my country. You can take your Security Council. Here you are. (Ripping papers) I am going.”
Pakistan again cries for a leader like ZAB. His address will be the badly needed shot in the arm for a somnolent dozy Hotel Fantasia whose future is more of the same twaddle. Perhaps a concert by Madonna can stir things up. At a recent performance in Washington, she shouted from stage while sipping from a bottle of water with a straw. “We have a black Muslim in the White House! Now that’s some amazing s**t.”
This was her way to draw attention by calling on Americans to vote for Obama. Of course, he’s not a Muslim, she later commented.
Madonna, 54, unlike the leaders at the UN, is willing to open up her heart and say words that come straight from it. One delegate like Madonna resolved: “So I stand before the United Nations General Assembly and urge to thine own self be true, to thine own Charter be true; and to thine own resolutions be true.”
That will be the day!