Our hospitality is legendary. Ye hum nahi, loag kehte hain (the people, not us, say it) — so goes the refrain. Last month’s D-8 Summit in leafy but security besieged Islamabad provided us with yet another opportunity to display the warmth.
As expected we heard ad nauseam about how the coming together of at least five heads of state — Bangladesh, Egypt and Malaysia being the exceptions — had helped Islamabad break diplomatic isolation in terms of hosting the highest leadership.
But it didn’t quite go according to script.
We already know why Sheikh Hasina Wajed didn’t come despite the charm offensive led by Foreign Minister Hina Khar, who flew out especially to Dhaka to extend the invitation.
In a royal ‘Bengal Tiger’ kind of snub, Dhaka chose to send only its foreign minister — and an advisor to the PM — to fill up for Ms Wajed.
This did not stop the hosts in Islamabad from going the extra mile as a gross result of which the said advisor ended up getting presidential protocol against diplomatic norms. He must have felt like a million Takas!
Meanwhile, the Egyptian president cancelled his visit at the proverbial eleventh hour, giving Islamabad to believe there were pressing issues back home to attend to.
Be that as it may, what led to the cancellation — at least in part — was the report card given by his advance team, which was not happy with the ‘magnitude’ of his lodging. It was not deemed at par with the Iranian and Turkish leaders who got presidential suites.
Desperate situations call for desperate measures. What the hosts did next was something out of Ripley’s book; they had the walls of two adjoining rooms dismantled quickly to address “size matters”.
Alas! the labour of love proved in vain.
It is not yet clear whose bright idea it was to provide grand limos for the perusal of two coveted leaders. When another demanded the same pomp, even the previous two were withdrawn (because there were not enough in the shed to keep everyone in good humour).
Talking of humour — but not necessarily, good in this case — at one stage, a minister-in-waiting disappeared, leaving the Nigerian president scratching his head. On the other hand, the Malaysian deputy prime minister suffered the ignominy of having been mistakenly stopped by security personnel because he was dropped at the unintended entrance!
The D-8 is an interesting mix of states, which don’t always see eye-to-eye on some issues — the making, in this instance, of their geographical interests.
At one point during a meeting on our ‘Capitol Hill’, the Turkish and Iranian leaders went ballistic over who’s trying to be funny in Syria, forcing the Indonesian president to intervene and help restore order.
Meanwhile, it was sheer bad luck for Goodluck. The Nigerian president whose name is Goodluck Jonathan was mourning the death of his brother, who incidentally died on his (Goodluck’s) birthday. But that did not stop the colourful Fedora-wearing head of state from attending the D-8 summit in Islamabad and smiling for the cameras.
What did not fetch a smile but only wonderment for the Turkish leader was our capital’s plight.
“Islamabad looks great,” he said, “but where are the people?”
The people — literally, far removed from the scene — were of course, waiting for the summit to close.
– Kamran Rehmat