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True or false, Isloo seduces all

For a subcontinent prone to recurrent war and separation, here’s a could-be love story with a twist.

A Dhaka tabloid screamed “illicit love” between Pakistan’s first woman foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, 35, and the chairperson of its ruling party, Bilawal Bhutto, 24, this morning, throwing most of Islamabad a subcontinent across.

Believing doesn’t come easy in Pakistan, so much of its truth, and lies, come filtered through anonymous conspiracy servers.

Unbelieving can be a risk of equal measure for the unbelievable often happens. A military coup has been successfully effected from the cockpit of an airborne aircraft. An elected Prime Minister has been hanged by his hand-picked chief of staff because he couldn’t contend with his ghosts.

Three Prime Ministers and two Presidents, including the present one, have spent a good part of their political lives in exile; if you’re not in power in Pakistan, it’s often best not to be there at all. A cricketer is cheerily daring the nightmare of taking guard on a minefield. Pakistan is an incredulous place. Anything can happen, but never bet on it.

Nobody seemed to know what to trust, what not to.

And nobody was helping anybody decide. Was it for real, or was it a romance rigged up as interpolation to the classical Pakistani narrative — a long-distance depth charge launched by the military-ISI complex against the Bhutto-Zardari clan as the nation approaches elections?

Hina’s foreign office had moved camp to the United Nations in New York and begun putting out drab drip-feed of diplomatese on her listed engagements. President House, Islamabad, where the young Bhutto usually takes residence, stood aloof and shut behind its fortifications. President Asif Ali Zardari too is in New York. No word on whether Bilawal had hitched a ride and was in the Big Apple at the same time as Hina.

Unencumbered by dare or denial, a ravished rumour of romance, however induced or imaginary, dripped from Islamabad’s otherwise sulphurous and terror-ridden skies. “Ah, late-night Isloo (insider slang for Islamabad) gossip. The glamorous foreign minister is indeed getting a divorce?” tweeted journalist Cyril Almeida, happy to dip into what must be a rare enterprise for a Pakistani scribe — a rumour sans guns and jackboots, a smack of the lips rather than a tremble up the spine.

A Pakistani news website exulted in the turn in tide of grim news from the capital. It proclaimed Islamabad “aflame with the hottest buzz since Yahaya Khan in a drunken (act) made a pass at Queen Farah Diba of Iran.”

But if cyberspace lay replete with puffs of jolly mongering, there were also bursts of admonition for what some considered purely licentious. “This is ridiculous Bilawal is like a younger brother to Hina Rabbani Khar we must avoid to discuss these kind of baseless rumors,” ran a counter-tweet, this one from Hamid Mir, a personage of formidable reputation in Pakistan’s media and political circles.

It wouldn’t do for Mir’s reputation to merely describe him as head of GEO television. He has famously interviewed Osama bin Laden at the height of his fear-grip, he was long considered close to the Pakistani Army and the ISI. He is currently invested with closeness to President Zardari, and, therefore, to at least one part of the Pakistani establishment.

What’s all the fuss about, though? For the complete details, lurid and lavished across several pages, feel free to visit www.weeklyblitz.net, but here’s what’s printable in a family newspaper on the disclaimer that it remains utterly unreliably learnt.

The weekly Blitz of Bangladesh has quoted “western intelligence sources” to write up more than just one story of lust rocking the Zardari household and, who knows, the Pakistani government itself. Bilawal and Hina, it claims, are so in love they are willing to defy the enraged elder Zardari and pack off to Switzerland to live happily ever after.

There are angry exchanges between father and son and between Hina and President Zardari quoted in the Blitz pieces, but the tabloid doesn’t afford the reader any knowledge of where the quotes were sourced. It also runs two photographs, purportedly of Hina with Bilawal. One is so poorly photoshopped even the blind will tell two photographs have been morphed to make one. The other depicts an unmentionable pose between a young man and a woman who the editors of Blitz want us to believe are Bilawal and Hina, respectively.

Hina is married to businessman Feroze Gulzar and has two daughters with him, Annaya and Dina. Hina also has deep business interests tied into her marriage with Gulzar, the best known among which is the posh Polo Lounge restaurant in Lahore.

There are faint murmurs, duly megaphoned by the Blitz, of marital tiffs between Hina and Gulzar on account of the latter’s alleged indiscretions with juniors at work.

Hina’s own ancestry may tempt some to speculate on the possibility of her straying from the straight and narrow. Hina’s uncle, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, was a fabled philanderer-politician who married many times over. One of his last wives, Tehmina Durrani, wrote the widely read boudoir memoir, My Feudal Lord, on her days in the Khar household.

Bilawal is single. He has only recently begun to make summit appearances with his father and, often, with Hina. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Zardari in Tehran last month, Bilawal sat side by side with Hina. Nothing undiplomatic was reported of their body language from that meeting, although it must be noted they were consciously in the public eye at the time, not to speak of the presence of elders.

Who’s to tell what, if anything, happens between the two when they are in private? For the moment, only the Blitz of Bangladesh claims to know. Or, rather, claims knowledge from “western intelligence”. What’s to be said of the record of “western intelligence” in Pakistan? Osama bin Laden hopped wives and television channels without a care for years in a palace in Abbottabad before a Pakistani medic nosed him out.

But then, who’s to tell the human heart such as both Hina and Bilawal must possess? Henry James famously warned humanity that it’s the last thing it should dare predicting.