Monday October 03, 2022

Two American women who created a stir in Pak politics

June 09, 2020

LAHORE: Pakistan-based American blogger and journalist, Cynthia D. Ritchie, is not the first American woman who has literally created a stir in Pakistan’s ever-turbulent and eventful political arena during the course of country's action-packed history, research conducted by the "Jang Group and Geo Television Network" reveals.

More than three decades ago, another American socialite, television talk show host and businesswoman, Joanne King Herring (born 1929), had also flashed headlines, predominantly in foreign Press though, for her long association and political relation with the-then Pakistani President, General Ziaul Haq. However, Herring was in the news for different reasons.

Cynthia Ritchie, as we all know, has levelled allegations of rape and assault against some top Pakistan People’s Party leaders, including the likes of former Premier Yousaf Raza Gillani, former Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, and former Health Minister, Makhdoom Shahabuddin.

Incidentally, like Cynthia Ritchie, Joanne Herring had also hailed from the American State of Texas! Both have worked in media and both had access to the cozy Pakistani power corridors.

Joanne Herring had also served as the honorary Consul at the Pakistani Consulate-General in Houston, and was also the recipient of a prestigious civil award “the Quaid-e-Azam Medal” for her services.

In its August 12, 2014 edition, on General Zia’s birthday, the esteemed “Forbes” magazine of United States had insisted she was appointed by General Zia against Foreign Office protocols.

Since it was a tamed and censored Pakistani Press under General Ziaul Haq, a lot about Joanne Herring and her activities could not be reported locally.

Many historians, journalists and authors have written that throughout the 1980s that the attractive Herring had almost single-handedly created the entire United States support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan by assisting the US representative, Charlie Wilson.

She convinced Wilson to persuade Washington DC to train and arm the freedom fighters in Afghanistan so that they could fight in the 1979 Soviet-Afghan War.

Her contacts with General Zia dated back to the early 1970s, when the Pakistani military ruler was serving as a Brigadier-General and contingent commander of Pakistani Army in Jordan.

In 1980, General Zia had even reportedly held a dinner in honor of Joanne Herring in Islamabad.

She defended General Zia’s action on many occasions and paid rich tribute to him in her 2011 autobiography “Diplomacy and Diamonds: My wars from the ballroom to the battlefield.”

She had written: “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was tried by his own judges and convicted of murder. The Holy Quran serves as the unofficial Constitution of Pakistan. It exacts an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If you murder, you must die. The only thing Zia did was to not commute Bhutto's sentence. In a country whose constitution demanded capital punishment for murder, Zia could not violate the Law.”

In his book “Charlie Wilson’s War,” eminent American journalist (late) George Crille reveals: “Herring was said to have been a most trusted American adviser in President Zia’s administration. It was Herring who acquainted US politician Charlie Wilson with Zia who later secured major funding for Pakistan's anti-Communist policies. Over the years, Herring's influence on Zia and his military administration grew further, and Zia became so enamoured with her that he would interrupt cabinet meetings to take her call.”

In his book “Strategy, diplomacy, humanity: Life and work of Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, “former Pakistani Foreign Minister, General (retd) Sahibzada Yaqub Khan had viewed: “She absolutely had his ear, it was terrible!”

Controversial Pakistani diplomat Hussain Haqqani had described Herring as "known more for glamour than for her political wisdom. Zia showered her with hospitality to use her connections. She knew little about the country and inaccurately described Pakistan as an "Arab nation" in her memoirs.”

About 91 now, Herring is portrayed by actress Julia Roberts in her 2007 film “Charlie Wilson Wars.”

Since the 9/11 episode, Herring has stated that she "did not make Al-Qaeda and that she could not predict the future.

(References: Journalist Philip Sherwell’s December 2, 2007 article in British newspaper “The Telegraph,” Joanne Herring’s 2011 book “Diplomacy and Diamonds: My wars from the ballroom to the battlefield, “ author Semma Sirohi’s August 2003 article in “Outlook India” and controversial Pakistani diplomat Hussain Haqqani’s book “Magnificent Delusions”)

By the way, apart from the two above-mentioned American women, Joanne Herring and Cynthia Ritchie, a few other ladies of foreign origin have also been an integral part of the Pakistani political system’s history.

Ms. Viqar-un-Nisa Noon ( born in Austria as Victoria in 1920) was married to Pakistan's Seventh Premier Sir Feroze Khan Noon in 1945. She was an active worker of Pakiatan Movement and served as country's First Lady between 1957 and 1958.

She died in year 2000, and was an eminent socialite who initiated many welfare projects for poor and downtrodden masses till she lived.

Naheed Mirza (1919-2019), the second wife of first Pakistani President and Fourth Governor General, Iskander Ali Mirza (1899-1969), was an Iranian by nationality.

In October 1954, while in West Pakistan, Iskander Mirza's second marriage took place in Karachi after he fell in love with an Iranian aristocrat, Naheed Amirteymour.

Naheed was a close friend of Begum Nusrat Ispahani Bhutto (1929-2011), second wife of PPP founder, former Pakistani President and Premier, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1928-1979).

It was this friendship that had actually brought Zulfikar Ali Bhutto into the political arena of Pakistan.

These facts are mentioned in a book titled “From Plassey to Pakistan: The family history of Iskander Mirza.”

This book was written by Iskander Miza’s son Humayun Mirza, who writes: “Nahid Iskander was also the cousin of Nusrat Bhutto. Although Nusrat was 15 years younger to Nahid, she got married a few years earlier than her elder relative in September 1951.”

While airing a report on Naheed Mirza’s obituary on January 25, 2019, “Samaa Television” had mentioned: “The book says that Nahid was the second wife of the president and they married after his son, Enver Mirza, died in a plane crash on June 4, 1953. When they first met, she was married to Lieutenant Colonel Afghamy, a military attaché at the Iranian embassy in Pakistan. Mirjaveh, which is the main crossing point between Iran and Pakistan, was ceded to Iran under the presidency of Iskander Mirza. Nahid Mirza played an instrumental role in the deal, Ahmed Yar Khan writes in Inside Balochistan. According to historians, she is the one who introduced Iskander Mirza and Ayub Ali Khan to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.”

This is what another former Pakistani Prime Minister, Firoz Khan Noon (1893-1970), had written in his book “From Memory,” which was published in 1966: “No account of Iskander would be complete without a mention of his beautiful and talented wife, Nahid. She kept open house and a magnificent table, which suited the large and hospitable heart of Iskander.”

Former Pakistani First Lady, Nusrat Bhutto, had met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1949, when he (Bhutto) had returned to Karachi from Berkeley University (United States) to attend his sister's wedding.

Born to parents of Kurdish-Iranian heritage and pampered by her elder sisters, Nusrat Ispahani completed her senior Cambridge exams at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Bombay, but did not go to college.

Archival accounts shed a lot of light on how Nusrat took on political roles while her husband was still in power, including a position in the cabinet.

When Bhutto was dethroned and subsequently imprisoned by General Ziaul Haq’s regime, Nusrat was faced with a choice – go abroad or live in Pakistan but stay out of politics. Nusrat chose to continue her husband’s legacy and struggle for his release.

After many important political figures had left her husband’s political entity, the PPP, Nusrat had tried to glue the party loyalists together.

The 1970s and 1980s were marked with numerous house arrests and detentions for herself and her daughter, Benazir Bhutto.

The Zia regime had not even allowed her to attend her husband’s funeral after he was executed in 1979.

Last but not least, siting Pakistani Premier Imran Khan’s first wife, Jemima Marcelle Goldsmith (born 1974), had also stolen a lot of limelight before and after tying knot with the 1992 World Cup-winning Cricketing hero.

Jemima, a British TV, film and documentary producer and founder of a television production company

Messrs “Instinct Productions,” was formerly a journalist and associate editor of “The New Statesman,”

a British political and cultural magazine, and European Editor-at-large of widely-read magazine “Vanity Fair.”

She and Imran had married on June 21, 1995, but on June 22, 2004, it was announced that the couple had divorced ending the nine-year marriage.