| Musharraf: Carefree
From machismo to music, hardline to humaneness. From puritanical Zia to polished Pervez.
Pakistan is pulling out all stops to change its image of a dour, backward country, lorded over by mullahs and teeming with terrorists, to that of a “softer”, carefree nation.
The man who’s guiding the effort, its President, is trying a little image makeover of his own on the side. From stern dictator to modern, fun-loving leader.
Islamabad officially kicked off its “Image Pakistan” project three weeks ago, hiring a British-born Pakistani media adviser to head it, local newspaper Dawn has reported.
The Cambridge- and Harvard-educated Mahreen Khan, who has hosted BBC World’s Question Time Pakistan and Hardtalk Pakistan, must project a “softer image” for the nation by painting it as a land of the ghazal and bhangra ' even pop.
For, the country which refused a visa to Indian singer Shubha Mudgal last month has diagnosed its main problem: nobody in the world associates it with “arts, culture, music”, Dawn says.
Pervez Musharraf couldn’t agree more. “There is conflict in our minds. On one side, we award pride of performance to artistes and on the other hand, we treat them with bias,” the general has told another daily, The News.
“From the mid-70s to 90s (mostly during the reign of the previous military dictator, Zia-ul Haq) there was a period when art was rejected. Musically we saw a period when songs were banned. We did not want to have music in any place'.
“Extremists held sway and they pushed the soft face, the art face of Pakistan into the background, calling it un-Islamic ' whereas it is not.”
But the general was no fuddy-duddy connoisseur, pushing only for ghazal and classical concerts; he was a regular guy ready to tap his feet to the beats of pop.
“Some people like classical and dislike pop, but I do not think like that at all,” he said. “Pop is very different, very good. I can be part of any fun with youngsters with pop and enjoy classical music with my generation. We should not discourage pop.”
When the interviewer expressed amazement that he could enjoy Pakistani pop music, furiously condemned by conservatives, the President shot back: “I am amazed, aren’t heads of state normal human beings' I think there is some abnormality in a person who does not like music.
“I love music. I find it very relaxing. I have the habit of listening to it while working. I find that I work better if some music is going on.”
That was in evidence during the President’s Delhi trip last month, when he tried to make music for Indian ears by chanting “Phir wohi dil nahi laya hoon” and “Main naya dil laya hoon” ' a take-off on a hit Bollywood number of the 60s.
But if he has a partiality for Indian songs, it did not stop him from a brief bout of one-upmanship.
“Our classical singers and pop singers are the best in the subcontinent,” Musharraf told The News. “I also think Urdu is extraordinary. The expression of Urdu poetry cannot be matched by any other language,” he added.
The general, who has banned the screening of Indian films in Pakistan (making a lone exception for Mughal-e-Azam), was, however, worried about the quality of films made in his own country.
Pakistani movies, because of their “poor quality”, was discouraging the best from entering the industry, he said.
“Filmmakers need to come forward to produce better quality films, which will draw in better people from better families.”
The “Image Pakistan” project will be a huge affair, involving a slew of ministries and embassies, the global print and electronic media, academics, opinionmakers and overseas Pakistanis.