The Kerry-Qureshi Ruckus

zhqSuch a ruckus about the son of Pakistani Foreign Minister being an intern with Senator John Kerry of US Senate! After a host of blogs, columns and news items on spreadsheets and on cyberspace, I could not make out what exactly is the problem with a young kid getting education in one of US institutions, and getting a fellowship in US Senate? A friend Mosharraf Zaidi resolved it for me this morning by citing a column by Ms. Anjum Niaz, an experienced journalist turned columnist.

A scanned image of the visiting card of Mr. Zain H. Qureshi, son of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, has been in circulation among the ‘Twitteretti’ and cyber-based social networks ever since Jang group gave it prime printed and airspace. The image shows Mr. Zain as a Legislative Fellow with Senator John Kerry in US Senate. The propaganda had been done as if the intern son of the Foreign Minister has been a key factor in government’s support of recent media-inflated Kerry-Lugar Bill.  The impression was also given as if this ‘great favour’ was won by Qureshi, in lieu of his ‘baseless’ support to KLB.

Ms. Anjum has come up with a little piece of research for us before terming it a “conflict of Interest”. She, probably the only one who cared to do this before publicly mudslinging on Mr. Qureshi, was responsible enough to make a call on the numbers given in the card. The cell number, as her research goes, “ . . . on ZHQ’s call card has been disconnected; while the mail box belonging to “Zain Qureshi” was “full!” So, I couldn’t get to him”. But she did not give up. A professional journalist she is. She tried to make calls to Senator Kerry’s office, and after “a number of calls” she finally got connected to a male staffer of the Senator (as if Senator’s office knew she’s going to call so they must not take the call . ..  so she had to make “number of calls”). Without doubting the credibility of as professional a journalist as Ms. Niaz, let’s put no questions to what she has written in her column dedicated to the Foreign Minister’s son.

So she made calls, I mean number of calls, and found out that Mr. Zain had indeed worked for Senator’s office, but he doesn’t now. Brilliant work indeed. But one thing was missing, the staffers did not tell her, what capacity Zain was working there. Probably she forgot to ask, or maybe it was just not important. Because someone just wanted to blow up the fact that the young Qureshi was associated with Kerry. Nothing else. And Ms. Niaz in very supportive cooperation with our media pundits did not take long before making it news of the hour.

Why do I say that? Because anyone with an average level of intelligence and with half an hour of close watch on Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB) debate in Pakistan, could tell where the criticism has been coming from. Without going into the details of KLB for it has been discussed and swollen in Pakistani media to serve those who were not given a good share from the cake of the AID for the first time in Pak-US Aid history.

Coming back to the fellowship issue, the issue would appear rather strange, if we examine how these fellowships are awarded. Anyone who’s familiar with the system would know that Senate does not offer these fellowships, nor do individual Senators unless they offer it for their own firms, companies and offices. In that case, the interns are not given visiting cards bearing Senate insignia. Since the circulated image of ZHQ’s card bears one, we would assume he was neither an employee nor an intern employed by Senator Kerry in his private capacity.

Senate of US does not allocate budget to support these fellows and interns for individual members. What happens is, the associations, organizations and Foundations who work in close association with the educational institutions and the Congress, often offer these internships and also pay for them. According to a “How to do” website for students of American Universities “there are several organizations out there who want to get their little protégés up the steps and onto the Hill”. Students often search for the best fellowship that mirrors them and their ideals in best possible manner, for example, AGU Science and Society or American Association for the Advancement of Science for science fellowships etc. Students contact the American Political Science Association for fellowships through its organization; the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation or the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies for minority fellowship possibilities. There are many other fellowships ranging from religious issues to nuclear science fellowships in Congress.

The stipend / pay for these fellowships differs on where the funding is coming from and the duration of these fellowships in turn differs on how much the budget is. In many such fellowships, the awarded is even expected to raise funds for not only his/her stipend, but also for the Foundation. We can understand what the fellowship expects of the Fellow simply, you are working in Congress and usually for a congressman, but you are paid by another employer. It is usually the employer in consultation with the congressman who decides about the jobs description of the Fellow.

Having explained all this, I fail to understand, where does this issue of “conflict of Interest” stem from? In order to understand this, we may recall the introductory lines that usually appear before Ms. Niaz’s columns: “First Pakistani woman to qualify under US Government Immigration as possessing Extraordinary Ability in Journalism, Coordinator at Johns Hopkins University and a Board Director The Population Institute in Washington DC”. Well, that raises some questions about how come a knowledge beneficiary of American education system, speak so loudly about it? In one of the columns Ms. Niaz is accusing US of hatching a conspiracy against democracy in Pakistan by developing rifts between Zardari and the army through KLB, on the other hand she is becoming an implement with those trying to prove that KLB is a conspiracy against Pakistan and Zardari and his cabinet (read Shah Mehmood Qureshi) is the part of that conspiracy. Oh Ms. Niaz, you need to put your mind and your pen in the right place. And so should the Twettering and ‘FaceBook’ing intellectual elite of Pakistan.