Are dictatorship and democracy mutually exclusive? In a country of cultures as ancient and complex as Pakistan’s, the answer to what the future holds is not straightforward. Projected to be the world’s third-most-populous country by 2050, Pakistan has stood at the crossroads of East and West for centuries.
Now in the “nuclear club,” and an emerging secular democracy amidst neighboring Islamic theocracies, Pakistan plays a critical role in America’s war on terrorism. Former President Pervez Musharraf had long been viewed as a key U.S. ally in the region—a reputation that did not always serve him well in Pakistan. DINNER WITH THE PRESIDENT: A Nation’s Journey recounts a moment in Pakistani history and helps to inform an exploration of its future.
Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar and Sri Lankan co-director Satha Sathananthan request a dinner with their country’s leader—and to their surprise, the request is granted. The journey goes beyond dinner table conversation as the filmmakers achieve a sense of openness with their host. The president shares his thoughts about topics not usually explored by the media as he engages in personal conversation never seen in news clips.
The filmmakers travel throughout the country: from remote rural areas to talk with chiefs about traditional government, to a beach resort to take the pulse of wealthy young hipsters, and to the North-West Frontier Province to see how democracy works within a strict Islamic culture.
As they encounter people from all levels of Pakistani society, the film reveals a country where ethnic and tribal loyalties struggle against modernization and religious Islamic forces threaten to make Pakistan a theocracy like Iran. In the crosshairs of these changes sits the president himself, whose ties to the military and modernization efforts in Pakistan had made him a lightning rod for controversy from across the political spectrum.
DINNER WITH THE PRESIDENT asks its audience to rethink conventional Western wisdom around concepts such as individual rights, democracy, power and political process.