Pakistan’s Makers and Unmakers

Book: Baar-e Shanasaee - kuch log, kuch yadain, kuch tazkeray (Urdu)
Author: Karamatullah Ghori
Publisher: Pharos Media, New Delhi (
Year: 2013
Pages: 199
ISBN: 978-81-7221-060-4
Price: Rs 200/Euro 10

Books by Pakistani writers arouse interest in India because Pakistanis are so much like us, yet so unlike in many other ways. Their people are like us, broadly, and their politicians are as corrupt and unpatriotic as ours. However, from accounts like the present one and those of Qudratullah Shehab’s Shehabnama (Urdu) as well as Tehmina Durrani’s My Feudal Lord, we come to learn that their politicians are far more vicious and bloody-minded than ours. Also, they are hardly an improvement on their military generals in their disregard for democracy.  

General Ziaul Haq is loathed as the ungrateful dictator who toppled Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s elected government and had him hanged after what still looks like a kangaroo trial. Zia did all that he did in spite of the fact that he was promoted by Bhutto to the position of the country’s army chief, ignoring the seniority of other generals. This character was as intensely hated as General Sisi of Egypt is hated today for similar reasons.  

In Ghori’s account (he is the same Karamatullah Ghori, formerly of Pak Foreign Service, who writes a regular column in MG) General Zia comes across as a tolerant, warm, personally considerate person. As a Foreign Service official (and, in later years, as ambassador) Ghori had the opportunity to work closely with General Ziaul Haq, General Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister ZA Bhutto, Prime Minister (Sa’in) Junejo, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, “persons who made and unmade Pakistan’s history.”

 A close reading of this book shows these people were often excellent at unmaking Pakistan’s history than making it. Despite his black deeds General Zia looks far less arrogant and power-drunk than the drink-loving, dismissive (and full of other vices) ZA Bhutto. Bhutto’s socialism and his love for the people were sham. Under his skin he was an elitist vadera whose family had a tyrannical sway over helpless peasants.

Ghori says that ZA Bhutto was certainly the brightest person he had ever come across. He was also the most haughty. Ghori could as well have added that ZA happened to be better-educated than most leaders of the Subcontinent of his time. Here ZA looks like another Caligula who had no use for moral qualms. He wanted power for power’s sake. This admirer of Naepoleon (and also of Mr Jinnah) thought that power had its own justification, its own legitimacy. Power was self-referential and needed no other justification. All this, Ghori thinks, led to his dethroning and untimely death.

Zia’s criminal misdemeanour involved not the toppling of one legally elected Prime Minister, the Sindhi ZA Bhutto, but another Sindhi Prime Minister, Mohammad Khan Junejo, as well. And where did democracy stand amid all this chicanery? Nowhere at all, for Bhutto only used it as a form, without content, and as mere convenience. On the other hand, Zia was openly contemptuous of the political process and the political class. As if to dispel all doubt about where he stood vis-à-vis constitutional order, he used to boast that the Pak Constitution was nothing more than a scrap of paper which he could tear into shreds and throw into garbage bin any time he so fancied.  

Junejo, whom Ghori calls (more in zest than in earnest) “Sa’in Junejo”, was a simpleton, who was convinced that he could take on the mighty Zia. No sooner than this hubris appeared, Junejo’s nemesis, General Zia, dismissed his government summarily, without notice, without warning. And that was the end of it. Junejo was a vadera, who was not really a vadera, his land holding was not as large as that of the Bhuttos, nor was his ego as inflated and ready to burst.

 In her first term, Benazir was her father’s daughter, with all the vadera arrogance, only sharpened by an education that was similar to her father’s. Her career was also cut short as quickly and dramatically as Junejo’s by a dubious and markedly undemocratic presidential authority. ZA’s, Junejo’s and Benazir’s unceremonious ouster shows how different Pakistan is from India. Can we imagine Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv being summarily dismissed? Pakistan has yet to mature in a crucial sense. Incidentally, all these were Sindhis. Are Sindhi PMs more vulnerable in Pakistan?

 Benazir matured quickly. In her second term, she was a far more responsible and tolerant person, though her feudal upbringing still limited her. In some ways she was like Indira Gandhi in the sixties. The daughter of Prime Minister Nehru was not allowed by the Congress old guard to function freely.  

In a power struggle, Indira Gandhi came on top of her rivals and cut them down to their size.  Yet, she was always suspicious of people’s motives, always fearing that her opponents were out to kill her. This paranoia led to the infamous Emergency.  

Somehow ZA’s daughter Benazir too had similar misgivings. “She always thought she was being thwarted,” Ghori writes of Benazir. During one of her foreign tours, Ambassador Ghori came into her aircraft to usher her out to meet the host country’s prime minister waiting to welcome her on the tarmac. Following protocol, Ghori welcomed her in the aircraft and requested her to please condescend to come out. She abruptly said, “How can I when you are standing athwart the passage.” Ghori says he was standing clear of her way.

Ghori is extremely unhappy about the way her third term was pre-empted. He is sad at the heartlessness of the way her assassination was dealt with by the government of the day. He is sure Benazir would have turned out to be a good leader in her third term. It was such a waste. Pakistan had rarely seen a good leader in the six decades of its existence. From Benazir to Asif Ali Zardari was a real come down, writes Ghori.  

Among the rulers General Pervez Musharraf and Genral Zia’s Sohna Munda (Golden Boy), Mian Nawaz Sharif, are also featured. Like Ghori, Musharraf, too, is a Delhi boy. Their families lived in neighbouring areas of Old Delhi. They moved to Pakistan when the two boys were still in their early school years. 

Ghori is also an Urduwallah, recognised as such in Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment as well as in their national bureaucracy. He writes interesting prose, leavened by subtle humour and the unmistakable flavour of Delhi idiom. Ghori was amazed to find that General Musharraf was talking to him in an Urdu that was more like Punjabi with Urdu vocabulary.

Ghori, who has this rather undiplomatic trait of sometimes talking straight to powerful people, including Zia, asked Gen. Musharraf how come his Urdu was rather off keel, or something to the effect. The general admitted that years of life in the military had taken its toll on his Urdu diction and accent.  

The first few months of Pakistan’s “Chief Executive” Gen. Musharraf were pretty difficult for the country’s ties with some important Muslim countries, which could not see how the Pakistani state had turned into a business firm with a CEO as its head. Also, countries like Algeria and Turkey, which greatly loved Pakistan and its people, were disturbed by yet another military officer toppling a democratic government in Pakistan once again.

 Ironically, both Zia and Musharraf were infinitely more polite and well-behaved than ZA, who routinely barked at high officials and humiliated them in the presence of foreign dignitaries. Ghori has mentioned some extremely embarrassing moments.

Ghori talks about an incident involving the Sri Lankan ambassador designate whom he had to take into Prime Minister Bhutto’s presence where he was to present his credentials. Bhutto flared up to see him talking to the ambassador comfortably. He said Ghori was being chummy and paly with the envoy.   

Bhutto tried to slight him in the ambassador’s presence and ordered him to sit on a chair at a distance. After the ceremony was over, Bhutto asked him to stay back for another round of humiliation. After some more discourtesy, Bhutto threatened that he would “talk to Shahi (the Foreign Secretary Agha Shahi) about it.” Sure in his knowledge that career diplomats cannot easily be harmed, Ghori said in his heart, “Go, talk to Shahi (kingdom), or shehenshahi (empire). I damn care.” That shows the diplomat in Ghori: cool as cucumber, unprovocable, unperturtable.  

One of the men profiled here is Hakim Sayeed, the younger brother of our own late Hakim Abdul Hameed, chief of Hamdard Dwakhana and founder of Jamia Hamdard, the beautiful university at Tughlaqabad, Delhi. Hakim Sayeed, who is less well-known in India, had built as important institutions in his country as his elder brother had done here in India. He was the chief of Hamdard Pakistan. Hakim Sahib’s profile is a tribute from an admirer. Hakim Sahib, a sufi at heart, was also the Governor of Sindh. He was assassinated without much rhyme or reason. His assassination was an epitome of the mindless violence that has engulfed Pakistan for some years.

Another man who has been treated with uncritical admiration is the physicist Abdus Salam. This Nobel laureate was among the all-time great physicists. His work brought a new understanding of matter, the universe, the cosmos. The most astounding part of his enduring work is that it rounded off and filled the gaps left in the works of great physicists like Newton and Einstein.  

Ghori discusses, not the science, but the man, who was among the most gentle of humankind - the Mother Teresa of physics, so to say. This man had a vision for the development of science in the Muslim world. Ghori says he had a good plan for developing different institutions and laboratories in different Muslim countries, keeping in view their particular strength.  

Ghori also describes an evening (a night, rather) with the great Faiz at his home in Tokyo, where he was posted as a diplomat in the Pakistan embassy. His wife Abida and he (both of them poets) organised a small poetry recital evening for Faiz, who was visiting Tokyo at the time. Fuelled by some choice drink (possibly from the regular supply to the diplomatic mission) Faiz went on reciting from his famous repertoire. In between Abida, too, presented some of her own poetry.  

The Ghoris are such admirers of Faiz (and who is not in India-Pak?) that he stuck out his neck to invite him home, knowing well that by doing so he was presenting a nice target for General Zia’s sword to fall on it. The ambassador warned him of the possible consequences, but allowed him to do as he willed, with the only condition that the ambassador and the embassy would not be responsible for what could happen to him.  

Faiz, too, was amazed at the gumption of this young Pakistani diplomat who was inviting him home. He tried to reason with him not to embark on such a misadventure. However, he insisted and brought him home. His love and admiration for Faiz as a poet notwithstanding, Ghori has expressed disappointment with some of his politics. This part is better left for readers of the book to discover for themselves. “He was great, will live forever,” Ghori says of Faiz.

 When he visited another of his heroes, the scientist Abdus Salam, during one of his postings abroad, Abdus Salam became apprehensive about Ghori’s safety and wellbeing as it was the time of Zia. Ghori calls the scientist “a diamond which we (Pakistanis) failed to value.” Ghori, as said earlier, has an “undiplomatic” streak. This reviewer heard an elder of Indian Muslim community remark: “What do you think of the aql (intelligence) of a country that sends Pathans abroad as diplomats?” Well.

Ghori is a genuine Urduwallah, not one who learnt it after joining the Foreign Service as a cultural embellishment. His prose is racy, the style gripping, the book unputdownable. It is an interesting reading for people interested in Pakistan’s political and cultural life. It has its villains (the vaderas and rulers), anti-hero (Musharraf), saints (Hakim Sayeed, Prof. Abdus Salam), one of the greatest poets of all time (you know who) and Pakistan’s own Joan d’Arc (Benazir).

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2014 on page no. 21

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