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Sunday , August 15 , 2010
 
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The husband of my friend is not my friend

It was a bit of a surprise, shock even, to hear Maleeha Lodhi having a go last week at Asif Ali Zardari. Normally, Pakistan’s former High Commissioner in London is careful with her words. Her close friend, Benazir Bhutto, appointed her ambassador in Washington. But Maleeha, who clearly has great ambition plus survival skills, managed to retain the job under General Pervez Musharraf, who was no friend of Benazir.

Under Musharraf, Maleeha also enjoyed a long innings as Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London. But when Zardari took over as a President after Benazir’s assassination and Musharraf got edged out, Maleeha was replaced as High Commissioner in London by Wajid Shamsul Hasan, a journalist and Bhutto loyalist who had held the job before.

Being close to Benazir does not mean Maleeha is also close to Zardari. In fact, by getting close to Musharraf, she had shown where her loyalties lay — presumably with Maleeha.

Last week in an interview on BBC Radio 4, she suggested that Zardari should have cut short his visit to Britain.

Maleeha, a former newspaper editor, repeated some of her charges in an article.

Zardari’s refusal to return “was as much a statement of the President’s priorities as another example of the disconnect between his government and public opinion,” she fumed.

The “President’s priorities” could only be a reference to Zardari’s apparent scheme, later abandoned, to project his 21-year-old son, Bilawal, at a rally in Birmingham as the crown prince.

Zardari may overlook an attack on himself, though this seems unlikely, but will he ever forgive Maleeha for indirectly targeting his son? It seems the bridges between Zardari and Maleeha, if ever there were any, have now been burnt.

Since Musharraf is now also cooling his heels in London, he possibly gets together with Maleeha of an evening and discusses how he should get back — to “save Pakistan”.

In her BBC interview, Maleeha showed remarkable sympathy for the army. Ordinary Pakistanis were glad there was, at least, one institution around that could help them in their hour of grim tragedy, she said.

Could it be the real target of Pakistani anger was not Cameron but Zardari himself?

“It was poor judgement to press ahead (with the UK tour) after Prime Minister David Cameron’s gratuitous remarks questioning Pakistan’s commitment to fight terrorism — remarks that enraged most Pakistanis,” raged Maleeha.

She is among those who hope Zardari is toppled soon, which he may well be, though some British diplomats think his ability to cling on should not be underestimated. It is certainly a lot more than 10 per cent.

Beamers & bouncers

Another fortnight, another Private Eye cover, this time poking fun at David Cameron for invoking the wrath of the Pakistanis by stating that elements within their country were in the business of exporting terror.

“Oh no! I have been caught out,” says the caption.

Strictly speaking, the British Prime Minister wasn’t. He was at the Dhyan Chand stadium in Delhi hitting a tennis ball bowled gently by Kapil Dev for six.

Should he worry that British Pakistanis may retaliate at the next election by not voting Tory?

On BBC Radio 4, the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, said British donations to flood victims in Pakistan had been affected by Cameron’s comments.

“Yes, indeed Pakistan has suffered because of what Mr Cameron has said, because the British people will listen to their Prime Minister,” he alleged.

However, many others feel that Cameron is like the little boy who has spotted the emperor is not wearing any clothes and has blurted out the truth.

There may well be domestic political consequences as a result of the row over Cameron’s statement that elements in Pakistan should not be allowed to “promote the export of terror, whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world”.

Pakistanis, as Labour peer Bhikhu Parekh has already pointed out, do not vote Tory, anyway. But the chances are even more Indians will vote for him next time — and there are twice as many Indians as Pakistanis in Britain.

Downwardly mobile

Though I am happy to use my Vodafone Indian mobile in India, I do get charged a rupee every time I answer a nuisance call.

Meanwhile, cheeky Airtel charges my niece Rs 15 for “subscribing to missed call alert service” and Rs 30 “for choosing Jokes Pack” — both unsolicited.

Back in London, I consulted industry regulators, Ofcom, who warn: “We have powers to potentially fine a company up to 10 per cent of relevant turnover.”

Meanwhile, PhonepayPlus, an agency of Ofcom, is promising a full investigation after complaints from UK customers: “In the UK, we have clear rules in place on how to stop these subscription services.”

Book worm

Baroness Shriti Vadera, once one of Gordon Brown’s most trusted and influential women in the last Labour government, has got to get down to some serious reading.

The Indian origin former investment banker from Uganda is one of the judges for The Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year for 2010.

Her job will be to help “identify the book providing the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues”.

The long list of 16 will be whittled down initially to a short list of six before the winner is picked.

In the running are The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar (Little, Brown, Twelve/Hachette Group) and Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram Rajan (Princeton University Press).

Being shallow I think I would much rather read an account of how Shriti, a terrifying woman by all accounts, made grown men weep when she was a senior adviser to the Prime Minister at the Treasury.

Tittle tattle

Sex should not be such a contentious issue any more with single girls in the UK but double standards certainly apply. Asian girls are still expected to be “good”.

Take the case of Tasmin Khan, a 30-year-old Bangladeshi girl making her way as a presenter on television.

She is mortified because a tabloid newspaper has splashed nude photographs of her, obviously supplied by a dumped boyfriend who sold the snaps for a five figure sum.

Tasmin, who read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, is mortified.

She is “inconsolable and in floods of tears”.

“I am devastated that I have been let down and embarrassed by a man I once thought I could trust,” she said.

May be she should have been concerned when he got out his digital camera (“just to remember you when we are apart, darling!”).

Anyway, her reaction stands in marked contrast to the brassy boast by Lynn Barber, a famous feature writer, who was a guest on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs.

“The demon Barber of Fleet Street” startled the presenter, Kirsty Wark, by casually remarking she slept with “probably 50 men” during her last two terms at Oxford.

Private Eye calculated “that works out at almost one every other day”.

There are some feminists who argue that there is only one thing Tasmin should regret — that she possibly spent too much time on her books at Oxford.

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