Silence is golden

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Though a lot has been said and written about the General’s book promotion trip to the USA and many have justifiably vented their anger at the gross misuse of taxpayers’ money and of self-delegated authority, not much has been said about the media’s role in such visits. Along with the seventy-plus top heavy official delegation, cavorting and carousing in the US at our expense for three weeks, there was a big contingent of media persons. The official media persons certainly must have been enjoying themselves at our expense. It remains a mystery if non-official media persons representing various media groups too were fulfilling their responsibilities at our cost. It certainly would be interesting to know who footed the bill for whom. The total cost to the national exchequer will be partly known when questions are raised in the Assembly, but the damage done to the country’s already tarnished image will never be assessed because that is not quantifiable.

We usually get a lopsided picture of these visits because the official media obscures the real issues. Credit should be given to those journalists who stay committed to honest reporting in spite of various pressures. It is their unwavering commitment and comments that keep the media free of shackles and lend respect and credibility to it. Their reports present the true picture and we should be grateful to them.

One such journalist, writing in a local English daily, says, “Conscious of the serious implications of the president’s sometimes indiscreet remarks, Khurshid Kasuri prompted him whenever he sensed danger. But for most part, the president followed his own instinct.” At one place she tells us, “On his strength, President Musharraf said: I have a few strengths and one is that I am a Sayed. I have been inside Khana Kaaba seven times and am the only leader who went to the roof of Khana Kaaba. I’ve been to Madina six times.”

For Heaven’s sake, General Sahib, give us a break. How on earth can these things add either to your stature or your wisdom? There are numberless Sayeds inhabiting our region and you are just one of them, not the only one. You have been inside Khana Kaaba seven times. So? Attendants there must have been inside countless times. Should they on that strength be made our ruler too? You are the only leader who has been to the roof of the Kaaba! Those involved in repair work there must have been on the roof umpteen times. How does that make you or them any better than any of us here? Your claim to eminence on these grounds is illusory, fallacious and infantile. It reminds me of a famous saying of Sheikh Saadi Shirazi but it would be too rude to quote it here.

Let’s hear another one. “On hostile media and unfounded allegations: ‘My natural instinct is to fight back. Agar koi mujhe aik sunae to mein unhein pundra suna doon ga.’”

Bravo, General Sahib, it is very easy to ‘sunao pundra’ to a journalist when you are the president of a country. I remember seeing a cartoon in the 1960s. It showed an extremely thin and terrified person hanging from chains in a dungeon being told: “I can say this to you without any fear of contradiction” by a gigantic person holding a cat-o’-nine- tails in his hand. Yes sir, you certainly can sunao pundra to anyone except perhaps your good friends Armitage, Colin Powell and Bush.

Regarding his overconfidence she tells us: “Rubbishing rumours of a military coup in Pakistan, he categorically stated: ‘The army follows me, the army likes me. I’m relaxed as the army and military is with me. So how can anything happen there? Nothing will happen there ever.’”

Well! Well! So now we all know that we the people have never mattered and will never matter in this country. As long as the army and military is with you we will have suffer you interminably, although an overwhelming majority of us desires an immediate change. “Nothing will happen there ever.” Yes we believe you; we have not only come to a standstill state but have in fact regressed.

About progress she quotes him: “On development projects: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have also built a costal highway and you can drive on it as fast as your car drives.’”

General Sahib come and see the state of roads in most cities. Drive your car as fast as it drives on the roads in Hyderabad to enjoy the bone jarring ride and to know the hardships confronting people who have to face these derelict pot-holed roads day in day out. Sir, progress is not measured by the travelling speed on motorways but by facilities available to people in their everyday lives.

The General’s visit had its fair share of embarrassment too it seems. She says: “The most embarrassing moment experienced was when some 1,000 Pakistani-Americans assembled at a glitzy New York hotel to watch the much-publicised CBS interview on the eve of President Musharraf’s book launch. He was introduced as the president of a country where the ‘Pakistani evil of A. Q. Khan lives’ and Pakistan was described as the ‘most dangerous’ country. The president who otherwise is self-confident was put on the defensive and looked nervous when cornered with pointed questions, particularly on the A. Q. Khan nuclear scandal. The president arrived at the function after the interview had been aired and perhaps to make up for the super let-down spoke extempore for more than two hours non-stop. Realising that he had set a record, the president in the end quipped: ‘I think I have never spoken so much but I thought I would test myself after the open-heart surgery.’”

In two hour extempore speeches you are bound to go off the tangent and come up with the gems presented by the journalist quoted above. Her choice of his quotes is very pointed and telling. Her efforts will certainly not endear her to the official media managers.

The inner thoughts and attitudes of the rulers are never meant for public display, as they like to maintain a pleasant public façade. Fortunately these are unintentionally revealed in off-the-cuff speeches. This then helps us mere mortals to evaluate the real worth of these demi-gods. The adage, ‘Speech is Silver but Silence is Golden’ should be strictly observed by the rulers but then to understand its value they need to be in touch with reality. Sheikh Saadi Shirazi has rightly said:

Nadaan ra bah az Khamooshi neest o agar een maslahat bidanisti Nadaan na boodi.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

This article was first published on 06 November 2006 in The Post

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