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A dinner with Zardari

world Updated: Apr 30, 2009 00:52 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

It is difficult to turn down an invitation to meet President Asif Ali Zardari. This week, an off-the-record briefing between local journalists and the President created a new record — in the three hours of questions and answers not once was India mentioned.

Possibly, this has happened the first time in any such interaction at this level. While one is ethically not allowed to relate what the topics of discussion were, one can safely say that most questions related to the situation in Swat Valley. Journalists asked about how serious the situation was and each time the reply was reassurance with the trademark ‘killer’ smile.

Zardari was charm personified — not once did he lose his cool. His party’s information secretary, Fozia Wahab, said the President was on a media offensive — to answer the questions the media want to ask.

Zardari ate fried bhindi and daal, while others were treated to a six course meal.

Unlike the prim and proper Musharraf, Zardari was happy to drink water straight from the bottle and in between his talk was quite content to use his chap-stick more than once. With some journalists, he also became less formal and ascribed his informality to his days in jail. He also lamented that while many journalists were assembled to meet Zardari the president, few would come to see Zardari the imprisoned politician.

Most journalists, who enjoyed the conversation and the friendly banter, however, did not quite get any angle or scoop that they had hoped for. While the President enjoys his talks, unlike his predecessor, he chooses his words well. As one was trucked out of the presidency in the small hours of the night, it became clear that either the President was not willing to answer the questions posed to him, or worse, he may not have had the answers many were looking for.

Either way, only time will tell.