In Pakistan,conspiracy theories are often less surprising than the truth
I crossed the border from Lahore to Amritsar on foot last week to have my Bhrigu Shastra horoscope read by an astrologer in Hoshiarpur. (Bet you never thought a Pakistani would say that.) Unfortunately,after the effort of making it across militarised borders and Amritsars suburban traffic,I was told that they couldnt locate my exact horoscope that day and I should return in a few months. Obviously I was disappointed,like when I first saw the building of the Bhrigu Shastra astrologers office,and realised it looked less ancient mystical site and more Baby Gap. However,I did discover two things: The first is that I am on my final incarnation,have achieved moksha or salvation,and am now free from the repetitive cycles of life (and,one hopes,death),which is an unexpected relief. The second was how very big Bilawal Bhutto is in India.
Newspapers were filled with juicy,operatic articles about how Baby Bhutto had fled to Dubai after a passionate fight with his father and aunt over the failures of the PPP government while in office. From the way the fight was described,Baby Bhutto was single-handedly defending the honour of country he loves against the sad truth that it is his family that has been running it. Poor Baby B,so alone,so idealistic,so committed to truth that hes prepared to turn against his own father to help the nation out. My heart aches,like,real bad.
I was surprised to read the story in such detail in Indian papers,mainly because the item didnt get nearly as much traction in Pakistan. Why would it though? We have historic transitional elections (only took us 66 years. Stay tuned for free healthcare by 2080),Imran Khan,monochromatic Tahir-ul-Qadri,and crises in taxation and British aid. To say nothing of the reverse Spanish Inquisition thats going on to disqualify candidates from contesting elections for not knowing some Quranic verses well enough (because our elected officials breaking into scriptural Arabic is totally whats going to win us negotiations at the UN). The point is you have to up your game if you want to crack the local news cycle.
The opera continued into Act Two: Asif Ali Zardari himself hopped on a plane to Dubai to patch things up with the prodigal son,to pacify his concerns and by extension the nations. Less is known about the dialogue of this scene but things are generally believed to have gone swimmingly. By the time I returned to Lahore,Act Three had begun; there were reports that the dynasty was secure and that Baby B would be coming home to reaffirm his commitment to his country and cause. I love a story with closure.
The last time Bilawal was so in the papers was when the absurd but infectious rumor spread that he was having an affair with our erstwhile foreign minister she of the pearls Hina Rabbani Khar. That story too did the rounds in India,but for what its worth I dont think anyone really believed it. Its more likely that someone was trying desperately to link up the only star members of the PPP who are not geriatrics with bald patches in an effort to sell papers. The fascination India has with Bilawal is palpable. I imagine hes seen to be for Pakistan what Rahul Gandhi is for India. No one saw Bilawal in Pakistan while he was growing up,and even now he seems transplanted here; unfamiliar with the language,the customs,fickle public opinion and bureaucratic maze that must be negotiated by anyone in politics. His first speech in Urdu recently wasnt exactly fluent,but considering hes spent his entire life abroad (and the memory of Benazirs Urdu still makes for good one-liners),it was quite impressive.
But dont be fooled. Think: why is it that a story about Bilawal fighting with his father is making the rounds now,so close to elections? If you buy into the drama as truth,you are probably left with a feeling that young Bilawal is not aligned with his father,shares everyones strong reservations about how the PPP have done things during their term in power and will act differently if he is ever in power. I suspect that is exactly what you are expected to think. This circus (and elections are nothing if not an elaborate show with fire breathers and carnivorous predators) was performed to distance Baby B from his fathers regime,and on a grander,more long-term level,to try and distance the future of the PPP from its present legacy. After all,if one doesnt offer a change,how else would one be elected?
Pakistanis are famous for th-eir cynicism and conspiracy theories. We know that about ourselves. But in a land where conspiracy theories are often less surprising than the truth,I think we can be forgiven this tendency. Perhaps Im wrong and the fight was real and not a showy PR move. Maybe Im just another cynical Pakistani. Then again,as a soul in my last incarnation before nirvana,maybe Ive just seen it all before.
Aijazuddin in an artist and writer based in Lahore