This past Sunday I caught Pakistan's new Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Fareed Zakaria GPS. I was immediately intrigued to see how this newly-minted stateswoman would present herself amidst the journalist gravitas that CNN and Zakaria hold.
Being positioned at such a high level of international diplomacy at the age of 34 undoubtedly raised many eyebrows. Others far more experienced were often on the lips of political pundits who immediately questioned her unexpected posting. As a co-owner of a popular high-end restaurant, it can be easily be said that her dynastic connection to the political world was a easy entry into politics. Her uncle is Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar, former governor of Punjab, and her father is politician Malik Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar. She comes from powerful stock.
It goes without saying her style has been immediately blogged and written about and photographed. Endless and predictable comparisons to Benazir Bhutto were instantly splashed across the pages of the nation's gossip columns. And of course let's not forget the breathless mentions of her Birkin bag she sported on her recent visit to India. Yes, she has style, yes, she's beautiful and remarkably young. Just what Pakistan and their citizens needs... right?
Not so fast. Khar's appointment is another example of how nepotism, corruption and dynastic political families can get their cake and eat it too, while the rest of the nation are left with crumbs and questions. She isn't the first and definitely won't be the last. Remember Asif Ali Zardari immediately appointing his 19-year-old son Baliwal to be the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party immediately after Bhutto's death? Exactly.
It's the classic tale of Bollywood's typical cinematic story: mother gives up two sons, one becomes a cop/top industrialist, the other ends up embracing the life of crime as a gangster/con man. So here we have two nations, India and Pakistan born in 1947, two orphaned children: one finds their way into unpredictable and enviable success, while the other struggles in the deep waters of corruption.
The Bollywoodesque or Shakespearean (take your pick) decline of Pakistan intrigues me. I've been exposed to the country's highs and lows through various trips to Pakistan during my youth. Every summer we would pack up our bags and head for a two-for-one type of summer jaunt, hitting both Pakistan and India catching up with friends and relatives spread across both countries. During the '80s, Pakistan was thriving; it was filled with artistic culture, super hot cricket players and the promise of being the mover and shaker on the international stage. When Oxford-educated Benazir Bhutto grabbed the international spotlight, as the first female prime minister with a modern take, the country rallied around her. Her style was imitated and the masses thrived on the fact that a well-educated, political savvy woman would lead the country on the road to attaining the much-envied higher status of economic and social positioning on the world stage.
All the while India was stagnant. Terminally stuck in the '70s with limited options. Suffocating under an endless international embargo, the people were only exposed to Russian cars, and copycats of Western condiments. India was the non-smoking section peering enviously over the border to their neighbour who held court at the cool table, and elegantly drank, danced, smoked and got laid. There was a groovy party going on and India wasn't even a second thought.
The Good Son:
Then something changed. India's embargo lifted in the mid-'90s allowing international companies to set up shop, providing jobs and increasing the education of its citizens. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs immediately embraced the technological revolution and classes were filled with men and women eager to take a bite out of the alluring economic pie. And they were dressed for success, as international designers were easily attainable, the younger generation were soon walking, talking and pretty much strutting just like the Bollywood and Hollywood celebs they idolized on the big and small screens.
As I've previously reported, India in the last 20 years has now grown to be the 12th largest consumer market in the word with a projected annual growth rate of 13.4 per cent. They are the belle of the global ball, courted by the movers and shakers of the international fashion, style and entertainment and corporate worlds. Recently Hermès announced that they would be launching another set of limited edition of saris, as part of their public wooing of the Indian subcontinent, following in the footsteps of various designers including Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs who also openly flirted with the Indian consumer through limited collections and targeted advertising.
And so they should, as I've noted in a past post, CNN reported that the latest wealth report by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Capgemini shows that the number of Indian persons earning $1 million-plus more than doubled in 2009. India is on the fast track to becoming the third largest economy. The middle class is estimated at 50 million people, the purchasing power is expected to grow reaching 6.1 per cent of the world by 2015. Currently its economic growth is hitting a staggering 8.3 per cent a year.
And as far as education goes, India has seen a record 9.2 per cent rise in literacy in 2011, hitting a 74 per cent overall literacy rate, earning them a valuable ranking as 134th most literate country.
The Bad Son:
Pakistan tried. Desperately. With a 35-year-old female prime minister at the helm, who brought youthful flavour and visions of a progressive nation, Bhutto had dreams for her country and her country fearlessly dreamed with her. Holding the top job off and on from 1988 through 1996, glamour and prestige enveloped the country.
Then Pakistan's rosy lenses cracked thanks to her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Analysts believe he brought to the spotlight his insatiable urge to skim off the top.
Corruption charges started making headlines and became common chatter among political party leaders and citizens alike. Pakistanis immediately felt protective of Bhutto believing that it was entirely the greedy workings of her husband who was tarnishing her image. Her hopes of charting her country along moderate waters were short-lived. In 1998, a year after her loss for a third run, with the corruption charges pending, the former First Family packed up and left for Dubai, taking the hopes and dreams of her nation with her.
Pakistan's longstanding inability to balance its Islamic identity with the ideals of the West continued to beleaguer the nation. Government coffers overflowed while the everyday Pakistani was left to face the daunting challenges of life on their own. The toxic combination of a low literacy rate at 55 per cent, rating 160th in the world, along with declining confidence in their political leaders and faith in the overall system, proved ample breeding ground for the fundamentalist school of thought, where cultural and misguided religious zeal took over thus creating an impenetrable divide throughout the nation, among communities, genders and economic classes.
Then came Sept. 11 and Pakistan's partnership with the U.S. on the war on terror was a bad marriage from the start clouded with mistrust and double talk. Now, 10 years and $20 billion dollars of U.S. foreign aide later, corruption continues to be integrated in Pakistan's national identity, with most recent examples of the country's top leaders' inability to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to their weary earthquake-ravaged villages as well as during the tragic floods of last year and this year.
Pakistanis couldn't even escape the drama with their much-revered pastime, as last fall, two months after their massive floods, three main players of their national cricket team were publicly busted on a major betting and match-fixing scandal.
It's clear that Pakistanis just can't get a break.
So now we have Hina Rabbani Khar holding court and put in a position to lead her country on rosy diplomatic journey. Yes, of course she isn't the prime minister, however in this day and age, with all things considered, her participation in the international diplomatic waters is more effective than that of Zardari. Of course, it is widely speculated that she just may be window-dressing, while the old political boys club will pull the strings to ensure that she stays on their detrimental track.
Go ahead. Call me cynical. Call me anti-Pakistani or whatever. Please prove me wrong and let's have a classic Bollywood ending, where both sons unite and join forces to fight the good fight with sweeping music, dancing and all.