Of Mayors and Mice

karzai-mush-fakhruddin.jpg Afghanistan’s Ahmed Karzai (left), Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf (centre) and Bangladesh’s Fakhruddin Ahmed at the World Economic Forum at Davos. ? AFP
The smile would warm the cockles of your heart. Especially if you were a CIA agent. This was exactly what was wanted. Happy obedient leaders. Democracy simply got in the way. Karzai, Musharraf, Fakhruddin. The new alliance. One new poodle.
It was summer 2006. The Talibans were getting ever closer to Kabul. Sitting in the Aina office in Choroi Malek Asghar, I was listening to Reza, founder of the Afghan media organisation. The recent anti-drug campaign was bound to have failed he claimed. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s younger brother was the chief beneficiary of the drug trade. The US $ 500 million or so spent on combating drugs, was more likely to have been spent on the now famous ‘corrupto mansions’ than on alternative livelihood for opium farmers.
I had felt at ease walking the streets of Kabul. My Arafat scarf and beard also helped. It was different for the ‘saviours’ of Afghanistan. They stepped from their secure offices into their secure vehicles and went to their secure homes. The saviours spend a lot of time in secure cars. The Lexus car that took me to the Serena hotel had five television sets. My Afghan friends call Karzai “The Mayor of Central Kabul.”
A month later I was across the border, in the earthquake zone in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir. I spotted flags with Iqbal, Jinnah and Mickey Mouse flying above one of the refugee camps. The significance of the cartoon character had escaped me. Chatting with my friend Zaheer back in Karachi, I brought up the subject. “Mushy Mouse” was his smiling reply.
mushy-mouse-1195.jpg Poet Iqbal, Founder of Pakistan Jinnah, and Mickey Mouse on a flag flying in Muzaffarabad. August 2006. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mushy had come into power through a military coup, ousting an elected prime minister. He had suspended the constitution twice and arrested the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On 3rd November 2007, days before a bench of the Supreme Court was to decide on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of his re-election as president, he had shut down all private television channels. He had also failed to protect the life of his chief political opponent, Benazir. The real Mickey might have run the country better.
There seemed to be no malice or sense of competition between the three US stooges in Davos. Emerging out of the darkness, hands held together in their solidarity of servitude, they positively glowed. Mushy was candid and genuine when he advised his peer Fakhruddin, the Chief Adviser of Bangladesh. “I think you are doing a great job. Carry on doing it no matter what anyone thinks, irrespective of human rights.”
This comedy of errors is a tragedy in the making and our adviser is being true to his script. Mushy would have been proud of Fakhruddin’s human rights record. The ban on media coverage of indigenous rights groups. The more recent ban on the outspoken journalist Nurul Kabir from TV talk shows and the written ban on the popular live programmes on Ekushey TV, neatly slot in with the suppression of free media that both Mushy and Karzai have practiced. Like most other bans, Kabir’s had no paper trails. No written instructions to deny. Just the phone calls from Uttor Para (the cantonment) that we have come to recognise. Our Chief Adviser might even be trying to get ahead of his senior poodles by teaming up with the Myanmar generals.
But Mushy Mouse and the mayor of central Kabul have already staged their sham elections. Our adviser’s play is yet to be played out.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

7 thoughts on “Of Mayors and Mice”

  1. The three icons of servitude, standing together, prove another point. The empire is looking for more of their ilk, particularly in Asia, central and south, west and east. In south Asia we have to be vigilant against the potential traitors and prospective quislings whom the empire may force on the people. Fakhru is in good company – the coven of the crooks, the sty of scoundrels.

  2. May be it is my inexperience, but i think time has not come yet to decide about the doings of Fakhruddin. If he gives a fair election, I think he will be remembered long for his doings during these two years. So far there are lots of good as well as bad activities of his government. I did not forget the situation before Jan 11,2006 yet. We don’t want to go back to that reign.
    But everything, so far happened, as a pre planned drama and posibility of an extreem conspiracy by a foriegn force, shoud be taken with utmost sincerity. We must be very cautious.

  3. I would like to take everything with grains of salt. Each of these three cases has merits and demerits. Let?s face the reality – these three countries were not havens before these three crooks (as you referred) took over power. These countries were emerged in the worst of the worst condition before they took over. Can we give some credit to Hamid Karzai for showing the courage to come forward to rescue a country that was thrown into 600 B.C by Talibans? Can we give some credit to Fakruddin to rescue a country which was run by corrupt scoundrels, which gave Bangladesh the infamous title of the Most Corrupt Country on Earth. The situation in Pakistan was on the brink of destruction due to wild corruption and Islamic Fundamentalism. Pakistan has become the training ground for the international terrorism.
    Responsibility and freedom of speech go hand in hand. Freedom of speech has to be exercised with responsibility, especially in the illiterate countries like these three, where majority of the population is unable to make a conscious decision about their future. It is extremely easy to motivate general mass in the wrong direction through popular misinformation, as did Khaleda Zia in her election campaign that India will take over Bangladesh and mosque will be converted to Hindu temple if Awami League comes to power.
    We are all so vocal now to demand democracy in Bangladesh as soon as possible as if there were no democratic system before in Bangladesh. We should not forget that the title of the most corrupt country on earth came through the so called democratic system in Bangladesh. So, we should not rush into democracy without necessary reforms. It is easy to criticize but difficult to do. Thanks.
    Jiten Roy,
    New York

  4. Dear Shahidul bhai,
    An excellent tribute to the mouse of pindi and the mayor of a mahalla in Kabul! It seems however you have not been equally eulogistic about our paper tiger. Not just kabir and Ekushe TV issues, not even the economic down-turn
    problem, what was going on in my puzzle-buff silly mind since I saw the picture of the grinning trio was – what’s not common in our Fakhr (does it mean pride)? Holy extremism and holy terror have eaten up the first two
    countries and has brought the heavens closer to many of their citizens and leaders. The picuture seems to promise us, the third, we don’t have many more miles to reach the same manzil! Cheers for that??

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