Austerity: Local instead of imported bottled water served at Zardari’s banquet

Leaders at dinner of over 13 dishes make pledge to pull Pakistan out of all crises

Guests at the luxury house of former president Asif Ali Zardari restricted themselves to local soda and sparkling glass bottled water due to the ban on imported water usually served at the feasts organized by the ruling elite in Pakistan.

A handout picture tweeted by the Pakistan People’s Party’s official handle about the Thursday night banquet hosted by the party co-chairman at his residence in Islamabad’s F-8 showed the leaders of the political parties of the unity government sitting around the dining table with water and soda.

An insider told Minute Mirror that 13 dishes – contrary to the past practices of 15 or above – were cooked for the guests, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid President Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain.

The menu included barbeque, mutton chops, desi chicken qorma, fish, bhindi, daal and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s favourite, beef (katta gosht) karahi. Kheer, halwa and jalebi were among the desserts with a chicken vegetable soup as a starter and qehwa at the end of the meal.

Dinners and luncheons are frequently organized by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the PPP in honour of each other and allies since the two bitter rivals entered into an alliance to end the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government.

A couple of months ago, Zardari hosted a party in honour of the PML-N president and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at his other palace in Lahore. Sharif also organized a 15-dish dinner for PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the foreign minister in the Shehbaz cabinet, and his father, who is considered the main architect of the no-trust motion resulting in the unceremonious end of Imran Khan’s government, at his house in Model Town Lahore.

Maulana, the main ally and the head of Pakistan’s largest religious party of Deobandi/Sunni school of Islamic thought, JUI-F, attended both the gatherings.

MQM convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Jamhoori Watan Party head Shahzain Bugti along with Awami National Party’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa President Aimal Wali Khan – the son of the nationalist party head Asfandyar Wali and the grandson of the party founder late Wali Khan – were present on the occasion.

MNA Khalid Magsi and MNA Israr Tareen of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and MNA (independent) from Lasbela Balochistan Mohammad Aslam Bhootani also attended Thursday’s dinner. Aga Hasan Baloch, an MNA from Quetta represented Balochistan National Party-Mengal on the occasion. Other leaders of the PPP, and PML-N included Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Federal Minister Ayaz Sadiq, Senator Yousaf Raza Gilani and Federal Minister Sherry Rehman.

Bilawal did not attend as he was in quarantine. A source said that Zardari, Shehbaz and Shujaat ate the prescribed diet due to health issues.

A PPP leader said, “Zardari sahib eats simple food like daal and mix vegetables for years. He occasionally tastes meat and desserts.”

Meanwhile, a UNICEF report says an estimated 70 percent of households in Pakistan drink bacterially contaminated water and over 53,000 children under five die annually from diarrhoea due to poor water and sanitation. Media reports deaths of animals and hardships of people in the Cholistan area on a daily basis due to severe shortages of drinking water in the desert.

The leaders who met at the dinner, however, made a pledge (another time) to pull the country out of all the crises, as per the statement issued after the meeting. PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira said that simple food was served to the guests and matters such as budget and the overall economic situation came under discussion.

Iftikhar Alam is a correspondent writing on religion, politics, agriculture, and energy. He takes people on a rich journey through the culture of Punjab. He tweets @imiftikharalam and can be reached at