Farah Pandit: she came, she saw, er, she left...

How serious is America in mending fences with the Muslim World?
By Iftikhar Gilani

New Delhi: She came, she saw, er she left. Breaking hopes and dreams, this decorous US representative for Muslim world, Farah Pandit, left, failing to inspire during her three day visit. Even while interacting with selected group of journalists and intelligentsia off-record, she avoided crucial questions on Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq in a brazen tactless manner. In contrast, her accomplice, Uzra Zeya, Political Minister-counselor in US Embassy, displayed typical diplomatic acumen to cover Pandit's uninspiring and un-diplomatic persona.

Her ardour got finally punctured at the only public function arranged for her at the India Islamic Culture Centre (IICC), which was devoid of any intellectual content. All manner of camera teams, scribblers, acolytes and stargazers had assembled for an audience to seek glimpse and hear President Obama's envoy, a purported hope for new world.

Just before she was to arrive at the IICC, almost everybody in the audience was trying to dig contacts with Kashmir's apple rich Sopore, her ancestral town. With a camera in hand, a Kashmiri member of IICC, Dr. Asrar Sultanpuri was attempting to persuade host Siraj Qureshi to permit him to present a bouquet. The list of persons holding bouquets had already exceeded a hundred. Still hoping to get a call for bouquet, Sultanpuri was pleading handful of front-benchers to click him while rubbing shoulders with Pandit. But the compere Wasi Nomani just ignored 'mazloom Kashmiri', breaking a fragile heart in the process. What was his Sopore connection? Sultanpuri retorted, Samad Talkies was my destination almost every week. And she owes me a salutation as Farah's grandfather was the owner of that theatre, North-Kashmir's first.

A moment of embarrassment was when former top bureaucrat Mehmood-u-Rahman prolonged his lacklustre eulogies. His connection with Sopore was that he had visited grandfather of Farah, Khawaja Abdul Samad Pandit in a dak bunglow. He touched issues of terrorism and destruction in Kashmir. As home secretary, he had briefed Robin Raffel and attempted to switch her sympathies. But definitely he had failed, which he forgot to mention.

Tracing history, he began analysing battles of Chengiz Khan and his invasion of Central Asia. Actually Chengiz Khan was to invade Europe, but settled for Iran and Central Asia, he said. Someone quipped form the audience, Chengiz Khan must have got a home secretary like Mehmood-u-Rahman to guide him to chastise Muslims than Christians in Europe.

In the midst of public function, the IICC president grabbed the mike and called a 'sardarji' and introduced his as Dr. Risam the leading heart specialist. But he was not there to attend hearts which had been already broken. But to present his book, a novel on terrorism, which he claimed has been selling like hot cakes. He had brought a crate of books and it took him a while supplicating beneath the skirts of Farah and Uzra to open the crate.

The crowd was in splits. The sardarji looked exploring something underneath with just his shaking pagdi visible from the floor and the two ladies waiting on the dais for him. Qureshi claimed the book has already crossed a million mark. The doctor had also discovered his Sopore connection as a character of his book comes from Sopore, a Muslim. Why Sopore? The livid doctor raising his head questioned, why not? Sopore? Is it not a hotbed of militancy? And where has his book been sold? He was more purple and left in a huff. Later, it became known he was attending hearts at Delhi's Batra hospital and for every headache or backache he prescribes an open heart surgery to fill coffers of his employers. And for this feat, he has also received a Padma Shri aka Muma Kana, the counter-insurgent who received the same award recently for killing scores back home in Kashmir.

From her interaction with Muslim journalists to interacting with students in Jamia Millia Islamia Farah Pandit repeated the cliché: to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are more than serious about establishing good relations with the Muslim communities on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect. We are engaging young Muslim generation in dialogues and conversations to build trust and remove misunderstandings, said Kashmir-born Farah Pandit. Asked how she thinks President Barack Obama's outreach effort to the Muslim world is successful, she said: We have continued our efforts to reach to the Muslim communities and build relations and remove misconceptions. We are not ticking box to list success points.

She took several questions from the journalists, most of them were from Urdu media, but carefully avoided political issues when repeatedly asked why the US needed to launch such outreach efforts and a special portfolio of United States Special Representative to Muslim Communities. When asked specifically if the move is an admission that some of its foreign policies have gone wrong, she again did not answer clearly.

One-fourth of the world population is Muslim, so United States wants to build partnership with Muslim communities across the planet on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, she again repeated at IICC during her 5-minute speech. “Since I assumed office last September I have been crisscrossing the Muslim World. I have visited Nigeria, Indonesia, Iraq and many other Muslim countries. For us New Delhi is as much important as any Muslim country because India has third largest Muslim population in the World”, said she who had reached the venue after visiting Jamia Millia Islamia where she gave a lecture on Muslims in the US. As more than 25% of the world population is below the age of 30, we want to engage youth of the Muslim community, she said.

Earlier, welcoming Farah Pandit, IICC President and businessman Sirajuddin Qureshi said that turning clash of civilizations into dialogue between civilizations is the hallmark of Obama's regime. If the US could play effective role in resolving Palestine-Israel conflict, it will be welcomed by the Muslim world. "I am proud of being Indian and Muslim. I assure you of our full support to Obama's vision," he said.

Prof. Akhtarul Wasey of Jamia Millia Islamia said world Muslims have now high expectation from President Obama after his speeches in his inauguration, in Turkey and Egypt where he gave clear indication of shift in US approach to the Muslim world. Now they are awaiting the day when Iraq and Afghanistan will be completely free of foreign occupation, he said.

Ghulam Nabi Qazi, Vice Chancellor, Jamia Hamdard, said that he being a scientist wants evidence to accept anything. "If things are changing because of Obama's outreach efforts, they must be seen happening," he said and urged the Obama Government to normalize visa process for Muslims in India who want to visit US. He narrated his personal incident wherein he, despite holding a diplomatic passport, "was not given visa last year because he was Ghulam Nabi Qazi." If President Obama could do something on this front, it will bring great change, he said.

Not a single word on Kashmir. When finally our Kashmiri friend Sultanpuri managed to break cordons and conveyed salutations from her cousins which he was specially carrying from Srinagar, she just smiled and left. Sultanpuri's camera remained hung from his shoulders without recording his rubbing of shoulders with the prima donna of President Obama.