Book review: Frank, candid and revealing tales about Pakistani leaders
Few years ago I was bitterly surprised to see a writeup by a Pakistani journalist friend wherein he had mentioned few names of the fighters of India’s freedom movement all of whom were non-Muslims. When I saw him and expressed my shock at his neglect of including the names of Muslim freedom fighters therein, then to my further surprise he quipped that no emerging journalist in Pakistan wanted to do something that would invite the risk of him being linked to Jamat-e-Islami.
I was particularly reminded of this incident when I read about the struggle and failures of the author of Bar-e-Shanasai, a retired and seasoned diplomat with a track record of 36 years in diplomatic service, now living in Canada, in getting his book published in Pakistan. Even the publisher who had published his earlier books apologised saying that his legal advisors had warned him that the publication of this book in Pakistan would create problems for them. He writes:
‘This book should have been published in Pakistan and this could have been done two years ago [the book was published in 2013: Reviewer]…but could not be published…because in this God-Given-Country, whose citizens have come to delude themselves into believing that they are the foremost and true followers of the True religion, and there are therefore very few ears brave enough to hear the truth and very few eyes bold enough to read factual account. Otherwise deceit and hypocrisy is what that rules there.’
Its first addition therefore eventually got published in 2013 in India by Pharos Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd.
The book is based on the author’s personal observations, encounters and experiences with Pakistani politicians. After reading the book one is hardly surprised why it could not be published in Pakistan.
Not only it is ruthlessly frank and candid but the very first chapter is on General Zia-ul-Haq, probably the most hated figure in Pakistan’s history without the condemnation of whom no political analysis is ever considered complete. Even almost 29 years after his death he is held responsible for almost every ailment the country suffers from now.
There is no doubt that like all other rulers Zia-ul-Haq committed several blunders and would have many weaknesses too but the main reason why he is the most demonised and hated figure in political and intellectual circles is his love for Islam. Such is the level of hatred against Zia that when a journalist friend, a regular contributor to a Pakistani daily, mentioned the book in one of his columns, he received an angry email from the editor asking him how could he praise a dictator.
However, the author has not given a clean chit to Zia-ul-Haq either. He praises him where it is due and criticises him where necessary. He writes that Zia-ul-Haq: ‘…was without doubt an extremely controversial figure and will remain so. But a fact that I should admit and testify, without any fear today, is that during my 35 years of diplomatic and governmental service I have never seen as polite and as flexible a person as Zia-ul-Haq. I am least worried about what verdict does the history come to pass on Zia-ul-Haq as a person but no honest historian can contradict my statement with regard to him being a polite and highly courteous man.’
Was this Zia-ul-Haq’s hypocrisy, as his critics allege? According to the author: ‘…The spontaneous courtesy and openness that I had seen in Zia-ul-Haq in meeting people did not give the slightest doubt of it being an acting or a put up show. I saw him meeting with heads of states, ministers, ambassadors, or a street cleaner and the attendant who used to open the door of his car with the same warmth and shaking their hands with equal cordiality and level of humility. If this was an acting then this was definitely a masterpiece of a character and [in that case] had he adopted acting as his profession he would have gained the same level of popularity as he did as president of Pakistan. In that case so many question marks would have not bracketed his personality that now continue to be associated with him.’
Describing the misunderstandings surrounding Zia-ul-Haq the author says: ‘In my view what created doubts and suspicions in the minds of Pakistanis about Zia-ul-Haq’s honesty, humility and courteousness is the fact that prior to him they had become used to a ruthless, bad-tempered and vindictive leader like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto…No one can question Bhutto’s sharp intelligence and talents but as far as his personality was concerned, by nature he was nothing but a Vadera [feudal lord], a bad-tempered and an extremely arrogant man whose DNA was full of a sense of self-pride and the feeling of being some kind of a superior being than any other around him. Despite his claim of being the leader of the masses, he was never able to come out of this complex that he had inherited through his vadera blood.’
The author has cited numerous incidents and examples of Zia-ul-Haq’s courtesy, humility, high morals and love for his religion mentioning that would greatly lengthen this review. However one, the incident about his visit to Afghanistan would surely help the readers form some opinion about the whole state of affairs:
‘…our Chief Protocol Officer Col. Ismail who had been greatly favoured and liked by Bhutto but Zia-ul-Haq for his army background let him continue in that position. During this trip [to Afghanistan] now he continued moaning and comparing this visit with the one in which he had travelled with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto two years ago. He kept lamenting and saying, “What a transition! With Bhutto we travelled in a big jet aeroplane. Now what we have got it here, a shaking old Fokker friendship aircraft! Then in that trip before, no sooner was the plane airborne than the champagne bottles were opened. Whereas now it is this lifeless and dry journey.”’
Narrating a shopping incident of Zia-ul-Haq’s wife who had accompanied her husband during his China visit the author says: ‘In 1982 when she came to Beijing with her husband, Zia-ul-Haq, she went out for shopping with my wife. At that time she was Pakistan’s first lady. After shopping when they came back Abida’s [author’s wife] first sentence was, “I have not seen such a simple woman in my life who, despite being the first lady, was so careful in her shopping and was spending as if her husband had a very limited income. During the whole shopping the poor lady had'nt spent even $100.” Whereas we had in this very Beijing seen Pakistani Generals and Air Marshalls and their wives with their handbags full of wads of $100 bills and buying the best items from the Friendship Store without even looking at the price tags on them. One wife of an Air Marshal had done so much shopping that in order to ferry it to the C-130 aeroplane waiting at the airport for them, our Air Attaché had to hire a truck.’
Quoting Pakistan’s Nobel laureate scientist late Professor Abdus Salam on Zia-ul-Haq the author says:
‘At the time of Professor Salam’s Algeria visit, Zia-ul-Haq was no more. When during a conversation his name came up the Professor prayed for his maghfirah [forgiveness] in a raised voice and said, “Zia-ul-Haq himself was not as much an extremist as those surrounding and prospering around him.” Agreeing with the Professor I added, “The blame will, however, lie on Zia-ul-Haq who patronised that narrow-minded and conservative elements who, in the name of religion, promoted fascism instead.”
The author narrates eyewitness accounts of a number of Pharaohic incidents related to Bhutto of which one is enough to outrage the self-respect of any human being.
‘Having attended one such meeting with him, I was about to exit from his magnificent office when the uniformed peon standing at the door gave way to an MNA [Member of National Assembly] belonging to Mumtaz Bhutto’s People’s Party whom I knew quiet well…The guy rushed like a flash towards Bhutto’s desk behind which he was sitting in his revolving chair with his legs stretched. He then put his head in Bhutto’s feet. Seeing this I felt a great shudder in whole of my body… Neither Bhutto tried to stop him doing this nor did he ask him to remove his head from his feet. I have no idea for how long did he stay like this prostrating over the dust of Bhutto’s feet because in a state of extreme shock I had walked out of the office and the peon wearing the glittering uniform had closed the door behind me.’
The author pays rich tribute to Bhutto’s intelligence, self-confidence and writing and oratory skills. But, in his view, Bhutto’s Vadera background had made these qualities and skills meaningless. He writes:
‘Bhutto’s basic problem was the accident of his birth. Intelligence is a God-gifted quality that he had inherited from his mother. But from his father’s side he had inherited the germs of feudalism that remained ingrained into his personality like termite and, perhaps, contributed to his premature death and destroyed the gift of his intelligence. The Writer of Destiny had blessed him with extreme qualities immensely. Not only the good use of these blessings would have let him live a longer life but could have also given him equally a longer political life and leadership.’
Like Bhutto the author heaps praises on his daughter Benazir as well who had inherited her father’s talents. But like her father she too did not get the time to use these talents fully. The author has entitled the chapter on Benazir as ‘Benazir…Ek Adhoori Kahani’. [Benazir: An Incomplete Story].
In the author’s opinion:
‘During Zia-ul-Haq’s rule efforts were made to close each and every door for Benazir and she had to endure imprisonments that had left deep psychological impact on her and a sense of some unknown fear and suspicion had become part of her psyche…’
The details of a bitter communication between the author and Benazir give an impression that she was pretty credulous and was often misguided by the sycophants and party colleagues around her. He writes:
‘It was pretty painful and disappointing for me to observe that Benazir lacked the ability to judge human beings.’
The author provides a detailed account of the beginning of his strained and tense relations with Benazir and misunderstandings created between the two by her sycophants. Later these relations turned into a good friendship and even after the author’s retirement they remained in touch with each other through email. According to him: ‘During this time I realised—and this was not just the figment of my imagination—that after her return to Pakistan from US she was seriously trying to get US’ blessings. But the bitter truth is that after the tie-up between Bush administration and Musharraf in the wake of the of tragedy of 9/11 and the manner in which Washington and Islamabad were coming closer to invade Afghanistan, had made the usefulness of Benazir zero in the sight of the inconsiderate Bush administration. Things had come to a point when in order to get an appointment with even ordinary government officials in Washington she had to struggle a lot. However BB did not lose heart and did not rest until she was able to convince the extremely conservative elements in Bush administration about her usefulness…This is, however, altogether a different issue that her home return, after a long exile, did not suit or benefit her.’
One, however, wonders why a seasoned politician like her, Benazir felt it necessary to get the blessings and support of a foreign government? Perhaps the answer is that Pakistani politicians, no matter how popular and strong they may appear to be in their domestic domain, are intrinsically weak. On the face of it they may appear to be very popular but they do not have their roots in the masses. Perhaps, having been subjugated to foreign rule for centuries people of the Indian subcontinent have not been able to free themselves from their slavish mindset. In the whole region political parties are run as family organisations and Pakistan happens to be the worst example of it. The leadership of People’s Party down to Bilawal Bhutto now after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto through a bequest that no one has seen and the acceptance of it by senior party leaders and ordinary members alike without any question has crossed all the limits of violation of principles adding a new concept in a democratic setup.
In Pakistan Bhutto is not only an icon and a ‘Martyr leader’of a political party but has almost become the founder of a cult. Party loyalists known as ‘Jiale’ have the impunity to do anything they want in his name. No journalist or politician can dare criticise and disapprove even the most serious irregularities committed by them.
In addition to political cults and feudal lords clergies too are equally powerful in Pakistan. In a Muslim country this group of seemingly pious people are treated as above criticism. While the critics of powerful political leaders and feudal lords can face physical violence or even death, the critics of powerful political clergies are simply blemished and discredited by being declared as apostates, Zionist agents or simply disloyal to the country. Whether their abilities and experience match with the demands of a particular post or not, some in this group keep eying at as big a post as even the Prime Minister. One of such a figure is Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, jokingly known as ‘Maulana Diesel’.
The author narrates an interesting incident about the Maulana during the author's ambassadorship in Kuwait where the Maulana had gone as the Chairman of External Affairs Committee. Maulana was supposed to address a gathering of highly educated members of Kuwait Assembly. He writes: ‘In a very pleasant style Jassim Al-Saqr formally welcomed Maulana and requested him to tell the gathering about the purpose of his visit. But the Maulana asked me instead to brief the audience about Pakistani stand on Kashmir.
‘I was surprised why Maulana was trying to avoid what was his duty. Therefore I thought it necessary to remind him that he had come as a special representative of Pakistan and I had taken him there on the special directions of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.’
‘Maulana agreed but half-heartedly. As the silence descended on the audience [waiting to hear Maulana’s address] he spoke for about five to seven minutes with great difficulty and hesitation that I translated for him in English. Then I realised that Maulana was not coming to the real subject and the audience were squinting at each other. Therefore in order to avoid the situation becoming disruptive, I interrupted and said that if Maulana did not have any objection I wanted to add in the conversation. I felt as if Maulana was waiting for this moment. He readily agreed for me to do the job while he concentrated on the cake and pastry on the table. For about an hour I continued to address the gathering on his behalf while he kept busy in hosting his belly.
‘Having fulfilled this duty as we came out I was under the impression that Maulana would thank me for helping him out of such a difficult situation. But what Maulana asked me for as soon as we sat in the car was to take him to Jassim Al-Hajji the President, the main person in Kuwait’s internationally renowned welfare and charity organisation Al-Zakat. This organisation gives funds to madarsas, hospitals, orphanages and other welfare organisations all over the Muslim world…’
With regard to the unsuitability and unworthiness for the high posts these figures manage to occupy, the author describes another incident of Maulana Sattar Niazi.
While describing his experience with main figures in Pakistani politics, the author also ropes in and gives details of the shallowness, greed, power hungriness and corruption of other ministers and political figures. In order not to lengthen this review we cut the story short and go forward for things other than these.
Recalling his first encounter with Nawaz Sharif the author writes: ‘I realised— in later years my observation was further reconfirmed several times—that by nature Nawaz Sharif is a shy and reticent person and is completely devoid, or has very little, of the ability to win people, a necessary quality in what Allama Iqbal called the Shaheen [eagle/mascot] like youths. This is, however, a different thing that he uses to hide his weaknesses with the cover of his handsome personality.’
The author describes in detail his several encounters with Nawaz Sharif the first of which took place in 1987 in Kathmandu where Mr. Sharif had gone as the Chief Minister of Punjab in a delegation led by Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo to participate in the SARC Conference.
During the visit the author and his colleagues had gone to a shop to buy pashmina shawls but after learning the prices none of them had the courage to buy even one shawl. ‘After a little while Mian Saheb [Nawaz Sharif] came along with his friends…He entered into the shop with great pomp and show… Seeing us viewing the shawls he asked us if in our view the shawls were worthy of being purchased? And when I and Riaz Khokar confirmed that the shawls were indeed of high quality, Mian Saheb asked the Nepali girls standing behind the counter to pack one piece of all the colours of Pashmina shawls.
‘The SARC conference in Kathmandu was being held when world cup cricket matches between India and Pakistan were also being played. Coincidentally on the last day of the stay of the delegation in Kathmandu when Pakistani Ambassador hosted a lunch at his residence for Prime Minister Junejo and his delegation, that same day Pakistani and Australian teams were playing semi-final in Calcutta. Nawaz Sharif, therefore apologised from attending the lunch because he was watching the match and did not want to leave it at any cost.’
Providing his observation about Nawaz Sharif during his Algeria tour as Pakistan’s Prime Minister the author says: ‘…Yes, during these discussions, I noticed that in the Chattering Class in Pakistan there were rumours that Mian Saheb’s focussing span on a subject was not more than three to four minutes. This won’t be an exaggeration to say that the span of a person of average intelligence is usually seven minutes.’
After giving the details of the poor performance of Nawaz Sharif’s ministers and advisors, Mr. Ghori comments: ‘…I was being troubled by the fear and doubts that the result of Nawaz Sharif’s diplomacy whatever it was going to be was a separate issue but with ministers and advisors the like he had, the life of his prime ministership looked very short.’
Similarly his Turkish tour where he had gone to express his sympathy and brotherly condolences at the devastating earthquake is not less interesting. According to the author: ‘I noticed that while watching the devastation, specially the destroyed houses and buildings, Mian Saheb was really deeply moved…But earthquake is one thing and Mian Saheb’s love for good food quite another… A wolf may lose its teeth but not its nature…Therefore no sooner had we reached the hotel than Mian Saheb told me that he would like to have his dinner at his favourite kebab restaurant.
‘This popular restaurant of Istanbul and is near the airport. The reason of its popularity for the last few years had been that Mian Saheb was one of its patrons…Mian Saheb had done special favours to the owner of the restaurant and had before invited him as an official guest on a weeklong tour of Pakistan. I had seen with my own eyes on every floor and every wall of the restaurant photographs of the owner that had been taken during his Pakistani tour with his chief patron Mian Nawaz Sharif…In my view this was not an appropriate time for the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who had come to express sympathy with his Turkish brothers at such a calamity, to indulge in such a recreation. Therefore, with due respect and using appropriate language I expressed my reservations without any hesitation…’
The author provides some revealing information about General Parvez Musharraf as well. His first encounter with him was when only few days after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif on 12 October 1999 the General paid a visit to Turkey.
‘Expecting a pat on his back by his Turkish friends and supporters. Instead it was General Musharraf’s hard luck that it was also the era of the then Turkish President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit both of whom had been bitten by the army… Mr Demirel welcomed him with great warmth and respect. But as the conversation proceeded he, to use the proverb, said all the home truths, only to help him differentiate between the right and what was wrong:
‘Continuing his conversation with great maturity, persistence and patience President Demirel said: “General I have been in practical politics for more than 50 years. During this period what has harmed my country most is the army's interference. Our Generals too had this whimsical idea that they can reform the country but each time, after playing their game when they returned to their barracks the situation they left behind was worse than before. General! No army in the world can change the destiny of a country. I am saying this with my experience. I love Pakistan and regard you as my younger brother. Therefore, as an elder brother I advise you to return power to the politicians and go back to barracks as soon as possible.”’
Having been told bitter truth by President Demirel, General Musharraf was taken to task by Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit as well. In comparison to President Demirel he had suffered more at the hands of the army and therefore ‘…enumerated all the harms that unwarranted army interference had inflicted upon Turkey and could be inflicted anywhere else and have been inflicted in every country wherever army captures power by force.’
During the tour General Musharraf discussed several issues with the author and also asked him what in his view was the most serious challenge confronting Pakistan and what was its solution. The issues highlighted by him are the ones every Pakistani and every observer interested in Pakistan knows i.e. illiteracy and domination of politics by feudal lords. However, the solutions presented by him are really interesting.
He said: ‘General Saheb! The world has already accused you of being a dictator anyway. For as long as you stay in power this tag will become stickier and stickier. However, if you really want to change the course of destiny of Pakistan then you will not only have to swallow not one of the bitter pills but will have to chew several of them. Since Kamal Ataturk is a role model for you, follow his example. Ataturk had many drawbacks and many weaknesses. But he had a very great quality that is, and must be, possessed by every great leader who claims to change the destiny of his country. Whatever Ataturk decided to do he did not remain in any doubt about it; nor did he leave any doubt about it in the minds of his people… If one has the resolve anything can be possible. I have a formula in my mind. It is that mark 1971 as the watershed. Because of this tragedy Pakistan got divided. To date no one has been personally held responsible for this. However, in the open court of the masses politicians’ failure was the main reason why the country broke and Qaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan shattered into pieces. You issue a decree that all those who were in Pakistan’s national and provincial assemblies at the time of fall of Dacca, their sons, nephews and sons-in-law will not be eligible to take part in practical politics for the next 20 years. In these 20 years at least four elections would have been held and as a result not only old guards and players would have disappeared from the political spectrum of Pakistan but a new leadership would have emerged and established itself.’
For the last few years some of the Indian Muslim intellectuals have been severely criticising the Khilafat Movement. There is no doubt that an honest and objective study should be made of this important phase of history. But what is saddening is the manner in which respectable, selfless and honest figures who suffered and made sacrifices in this movement are also being targeted and vilified. I have not read it anywhere but have been told by someone that before Erdoghan’s government some Turkish minister was asked during a visit to India if the money sent by Indian Muslims had ever reached Turkey. Unaware of his country’s history the minister is said to have given a sarcastic smile and remarked ‘Would that have happened.’ To such elements this was yet another proof of the insincerity of the leaders of Khilafat movement.
Such critics would find author’s observation of some interest: ‘But when I first met the Governor of Turkey’s central bank which is like our State Bank’, he writes, ‘He told me that when Indian Muslims came to Turkey with the gift of lakhs of Rupees, appreciating their warm brotherhood and their sincere help to Turkish Muslims, Ataturk ordered this generous gift of Indian Muslims to be deposited in the foundation fund of Millat Bank that was then in the process of being founded. Therefore, the hard earned money of our ancestors is part of the foundation of Millat Bank and Turkish leaders are aware of it. Even today they talk about it and mention Indian Muslims’ great sacrifice with great sense of gratitude.’
The book consists of full chapters on General Zia-ul-Haq, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Mohammad Khan Junejo, Mian Nawaz Sharif, General Parvez Musharraf, Professor Dr. AbusSalam, Hakeem Mohammad Saeed and Faiz Ahmad Faiz and includes interesting information about various other key figures for example Imran Khan is highly praised for his simplicity, honesty, straightforwardness and missionary spirit.
For helping Imran Khan in raising funds for his cancer hospital the author earned Benazir’s displeasure and wrath that led to bitter communication between the two. Later this bitterness was overcome and they had good friendship.
On Professor Abdus Salam and Hakeem Saeed the author says: ‘…In all of my active life I have not seen more as nice, pleasant, gentle and noble figure as late Hakeem Saeed and late Professor Abdus Salam’. The book contains interesting events relating to both of them.
In a detailed chapter on Faiz Ahmad Faiz he writes: ‘Faiz Saheb was not only impressed with the spirit to win their freedom, courage and resistance of Palestinians against Israel but was a great admirer and supporter of them. But what is strange and shocking is the fact that not even single word could come out of Faiz Saheb’s pen against December 1979 Soviet Union’s bloody aggression on Afghanistan. Did he not count Afghans as the oppressed or was he tight-lipped because the one who had deprived the Afghans of their freedom was the very Russian colonialist that Faiz Saheb had been praising since his youth days as the helper and sympathiser of the oppressed?’
Regarding Faiz Saheb’s self-imposed exile he writes: ‘…The five years of exile, 1978 to 1983, for which his fans held him as the victim and Zia-ul-Haq a tormentor, was totally his personal decision. Otherwise neither the Pakistani Government nor any significant official had forced him for this. He was allergic to Zia-ul-Haq as were many other intellectuals.’