On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal released an op-ed by President Asif Ali Zardari defending his Europe tour, a trip that garnered tremendous criticism and even resulted in shoes being lobbed in his direction.
Yes, shoes. Nice throwback to Bush in Iraq in 2008, don’t you think?
In the article “written” by Zardari, he noted,
As the floods hit the country, I faced a dilemma as head of state. I could stay in Pakistan and support the prime minister in our response to the floods, or I could continue with a scheduled visit abroad. I chose to use my travels to mobilize foreign assistance—money, supplies, food, tents, medical care, engineers, clean water and medicine—for our people. Some have criticized my decision, saying it represented aloofness, but I felt that I had to choose substance over symbolism.
To an extent, I agree with the-aide-writing-as-Zardari. If he had stayed in Pakistan instead of jetting off to Europe, would that have made an enormous difference to the government’s response, or lack thereof, to the floods? Probably not.
He went on to add,
I might have benefited personally from the political symbolism of being in the country at the time of natural disaster. But hungry people can’t eat symbols. The situation demanded action, and I acted to mobilize the world.
Mister President, I agree with fellow bloggers that media attention on your trip has been overblown and took away from the much more serious issues at hand. But I am not sure a Europe jaunt was the necessary step in “mobilizing the world.” Couldn’t a phone call have sufficed? Skype? A few smiley faces and lol’s can go a long way these days.
But regardless of our feelings toward Zardari’s trip, the series of developments prior to and upon his return are even more frustrating. After the GEO and ARY television networks aired the shoe-hurling incident against Zardari, the two stations’ signals were reportedly “blacked out” in parts of Sindh. Geo’s managing director Azhar Abbas told CNN, “Activists of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party are threatening cable operators to take Geo off the air as well as cut cables of operators in Karachi and interior Sindh.” Copies of the Jang group’s daily Urdu newspaper, the Daily Jang, were also set on fire, and when a group of PPP activists surrounded Geo’s building Tuesday, “law enforcement groups did nothing to stop them.”
While the threat of media groups is a dangerous phenomenon, it is also exacerbated by these outlets’ responses, which sensationalize reports and further this cycle. All the while, the attention that should be dedicated to the 14 million affected by the floods in Pakistan is diverted to far less important things. So shame on you. Shame on all of you.