The Assange Twist

He is a TV star in Russia,chatting with Imran Khan and Slavoj Zizek

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: June 23, 2012 12:01:05 am

On Wednesday morning,Julian Assange surprised weighty citizens and page 3-wallahs like Michael Moore and Jemima Khan who had hauled out their wads to post £2,00,000 bail for him. He secreted himself in the Embassy of Ecuador in London and applied for political asylum in the South American country. Which the geography-poor morning show of Times Now referred to as a “South African country”. A country can lurk within the unwitting womb of another country? It’s an outrage worth a whole WikiLeaks dump.

Oblivious to this treasonous development,officers of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Extradition Unit prowled outside the Embassy of Ecuador,charged to arrest Assange if he stepped out of the Lakshmanrekha of diplomatic immunity and bundle him off to Stockholm. Assange is unsuccessfully fighting extradition fearing,quite reasonably,that US interrogators will get access to him. The US still has to connect the dots between him and whistleblower Bradley Manning to make sedition charges stick,and a cosy chinwag would help.

But it wouldn’t be just a hacker and dumper that the Swedish authorities take custody of. Assange is now a prominent Russian television personality. In April,while in detention without charges,he reinvented himself as a talk show host on RT,formerly Russia Today,a government-backed TV station created to influence international opinion about Russia. Assange’s show,The World Tomorrow,gets top billing on RT’s website. It is available on Airtel TV in India and can be watched canned at It feels appropriate to watch it on the Net,since miles of footage consist of video conferences on Assange’s computer screen.

Just before he sought asylum,Assange’s half-hour show aired its ninth episode,a chummy interview with a freshly energised Imran Khan,who thanks WikiLeaks for his resurgence. If the Islamabad cables Assange published had not taken the underwear off the Pakistani elite,who were dealing with Washington in private and grandstanding as nationalists in public,he says,new parties like his could never have found their feet.

Being interviewed by Mr Transparency encourages candour,even if it is over a dinky little USB modem. Imran Khan shares confidences that he would perhaps not reveal to Barkha Dutt or even Simi Garewal. For instance,when asked if he knows the much-denounced A.Q. Khan,he reveals that he is anti-nuclear himself. A clean shot in the foot,since he’s the prospective CEO of an energy-starved nation who,elsewhere in the programme,bewails 14-hour power cuts in Pakistan’s cities.

Khan’s vision for Pakistan is equally candid. Future Pakistan is present India. A sovereign nation not dependent on US aid,the relationship being defined by mutual respect,not money. There’s no place for drone attacks on obscure suspects in the future Land of the Pure. Or for embarrassing incidents in Abbottabad either.

It’s hard to square the thoughtful,articulate Imran Khan on Assange’s laptop screen with Im the Dim,the goofy,privileged Third World politician immortalised by Jugnu Mohsin. But then,the show caught Khan at an interesting time. Ironically,Assange tells him,“Your interesting time is a little more interesting than my interesting time.”

Assange has interviewed several figures who live in interesting times: Hassan Nasrallah,secretary general of Hezbollah,Cult of the Dead Cow hacker and activist Jacob Appelbaum,Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg,Occupy anarchist David Graeber,Tunisia’s interim president Moncef Marzouki and Slavoj Zizek,Derrida’s 21st century avatar. Assange sought asylum shortly after the Khan episode aired,though there is no causal link. And now,in limbo between nations,he is living out the ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

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