A recent article published by The News, one of Pakistan's premier newspapers, has confirmed that President Asif Ali Zardari is indeed the proud owner of an auspicious new Hyde Park Penthouse following a suggestion to investigate the issue made by journalist Shaheen Sehbai printed in the same paper just days earlier.
Sold at a record-breaking £140 million (nearly $216 million), the six-bedroom apartment comes equipped with entirely bullet-proof windows, a panic room, and Special Air Service security guards, making it a seemingly perfect getaway for an increasingly unpopular leader known for his paranoia.
As terribly ironic a tale as it might be for Zardari to acquire yet another residence as millions of his countrymen lose theirs, the whole thing seems too-good-to-be-true for the majority of Pakistanis who look unfavorably upon Zardari's leadership. It's also a bit curious that no other news sources, Pakistani or otherwise, have picked up the story.
Incidentally, Sehbai, who has been rebuked by Pakistan Media Watch for strategic fictionalizing of such accounts in the past. The journalist also has a bone to pick with Zardari, having been denied a much-desired ambassadorship by the President which makes one wonder about the credibility of this latest bit of inflammatory reportage against him.
Although the identity of the buyer has been deemed a "closely-guarded secret" by the UK's Telegraph, many frustrated Pakistanis have been quick to equate the purchase of this prime real-estate to Zardari. Hugely criticized for embarking on a European "joyride" as flood waters swelled across Pakistan, the fact that Zardari was in London around the time of the sale may be evidence enough for malcontents.
In a statement published not in any Pakistani media outlet, but in the Wall Street Journal, Zardari disregarded criticism for his two week hiatus. Citing his decision as a move for "substance over symbolism," the South Asian leader held that meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy brought added international attention and aid to disaster relief efforts. Even if this line is to be believed, far less defensible is the President's stop at his 16th Century Normandy chateau, which only cast additional light on Zardari's keen interest not in European aid for the millions made homeless by the tidal wave sweeping his country, but in the European housing market.
As likely as the story might seem, there are additional motives to consider when weighing in on the veracity of the Hyde Park Apartment claim. Aside from Sehbai's own personal vendetta, The Jang Group, parent company of English-language The News and Urdu-language Jang, has recently come under fire in the Pakistani blogosphere for lauding the military's role in flood relief in an effort to fan flames of dissent against the current ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and its hugely unpopular figurehead.
Already widely known as Mr. Ten Percent for his habit of skimming government moneys for personal use developed during his late wife Benazir Bhutto's administration, the rampant rumors around this latest entry into Zardari's list of addresses are one thing, but without any demonstrable proof the confirmation of these rumors remains questionable, even if they are not altogether uncharacteristic of the president's antics. If the story is a false account, it will only prove a willingness of one of Pakistan's most revered media outlets to twist the truth for political appeal, in other words, enter into the same sort of occupational corruption it tries to hold the government responsible for.