View Full Version : A ringside view of Pakistan By Aijaz Zaka Syed - 4th March 2016

4th March 2016, 09:20 AM
The writer is a Middle East based

One of the books that I have waited to read for the longest time is ‘Baar-i-Shanasaee’ (‘Burden of Association’ in English doesn’t quite do justice to the evocative and aesthetic title in Urdu), by Ambassador Karamatullah Ghori. I couldn’t get a hold of the book by the seasoned Pakistani diplomat and accomplished writer and poet during my frequent trips to Hyderabad, even though it was first published in India.

This week, I finally got my hands on the book – autographed by the author himself – when I met him at his son’s lovely villa in Dubai. The veteran diplomat, whom I met via an online literary group some years ago, has been a frequent visitor to Dubai. He and his wife Abida, who is a poet, visit their Saudi Arabia-based son and daughter every year, to escape the harsh winters of Canada – their adopted country.

With a remarkable career of 36 years, Ghori has had a ringside view of Pakistan’s history. He served as Pakistan’s senior diplomat and ambassador during its most eventful years in countries like China, Japan, Turkey, Kuwait, Algeria and Iraq. And he rubbed shoulders with political bigwigs like the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir Bhutto, General Ziaul Haq, President Farooq Leghari, General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Mohammed Khan Junejo etc.

The result is a fantastic, breezy book that is hard to put down. I couldn’t sleep until I finished it. And when I did, I wished that I hadn’t and that the author would continue telling his story forever. That is probably what defines a good book: leaving your readers wanting more.

‘Baar-i-Shanasaee’ is based on the sketches of powerful men and women, who have scripted and shaped Pakistan’s history and are largely responsible for many of its current woes. But it is not only political leaders whose shenanigans are documented in the book; there are luminaries like cricket icon Imran Khan, the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hakim Sayeed of Hamdard and the legendary scientist Prof Abdus Salam – Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate, who was unfortunately ostracised by his own people all his life because of his faith.

These are men whose friendship the diplomat not only cherished over the years, but who left an imprint on his life, just as they had an impact on successive generations of Pakistanis. Will Rogers famously described diplomacy as the art of saying “nice doggie” until you find a rock. Interacting with Ghori and reading his articles all these years – he writes columns in both English and Urdu, which are followed widely for its candour and sheer brilliance – I have often wondered how a man of his integrity and penchant for speaking the truth could have survived in a profession like diplomacy. It was a classic case of the right man in a wrong profession, I suppose.

He is brutally honest and always calls a spade a spade. No wonder the diplomat had to repeatedly pay the price for his inconvenient rectitude, from being transferred to a sanctions-hit Iraq to being forced into early retirement.

However, compared to his newspaper columns, Ghori is relatively restrained in his book. Still, not many publishers in Pakistan were prepared to touch it, given its contents, especially the chapter on Dr Abdus Salam. So, as the author notes with a touch of irony, a book about Pakistan was not seen as fit to be published in Pakistan initially – it has since been published from Karachi by Atlantis Publications and is already in its third edition – and had to be published by Pharos Media of Delhi, the author’s city of birth.

The Ghoris migrated to Pakistan when he was six years old. He literally grew up with the first Muslim homeland, for which millions struggled for long years and nearly a million lives were sacrificed. From teaching in Karachi University to serving as one of Pakistan’s finest diplomats, Ghori has had an exceptional career and a remarkably rewarding life. Of course, like all successful men, he had his fair share of adversities. But then what is life without its ups and downs?

The most memorable profiles and characters in the book, which stay with you long after you have read them are those of the mercurial Bhutto (1971-1977), his nemesis General Ziaul Haq (1978-1988) and the next generation of leaders: Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who succeeded each other as prime minister. General Musharraf, with whom the author shares a connection – their families lived a stone’s throw away from each other in the walled city of old Delhi – is another colourful character in this extraordinary gallery of nine portraits.

Ghori recalls an interesting anecdote during Musharraf’s visit to Turkey, soon after the 1999 military coup against Sharif. On being shown Ghori’s rich personal library in Ankara, the General is reported to have asked: “Have you read all these books?” When the well-read ambassador replied in the affirmative, saying that he had indeed grown up with books all around him and still couldn’t sleep without a book by his bedside, Musharraf quipped: ‘Mujhe parhnay ka shauq naheen’ (I am not interested in reading!) It is gems like these that make the book a brilliant, compelling read. Ghori rips Musharraf apart for his endless abuse of power, delusions of grandeur and, above all, for putting Pakistan and its resources at the beck and call of the US establishment after 9/11.

Bhutto, who was deposed by General Zia and later hanged – to the horror of his legions of admirers in the Arab and Muslim world – also receives stern criticism. Perhaps the most charismatic and popular leader after Jinnah, Bhutto was far ahead of his contemporaries in his political acumen and intellectual brilliance. The tragic, fatal flaw in his character was his hubris, which eventually proved to be his undoing. Ghori argues that while Bhutto went to great lengths to present himself as a socialist and a ‘man of the people’ in public perception, he was essentially a ‘wadera’ (feudal lord) at heart. Despite his fine Oxford education and democratic pretentions, he couldn’t transcend his roots as a rich landlord from interior Sindh.

As for Benazir, her political immaturity and the company that she kept seem to have hastened her downfall and eventual end. Recalling his correspondence with Benazir in her last years, in which he repeatedly advised her to return to Pakistan from her self-imposed exile in Dubai, Ghori says he was devastated when she was killed in cold blood on the campaign trail in Rawalpindi in 2007. And like the assassination of the first premier, Liaquat Ali Khan and the death of General Zia, he says that perhaps we will never know who really killed her. Clearly, a promising life and career were cut short.

Surprisingly, and contrary to the prevalent popular tradition in Pakistan, Ghori does not dismiss Zia as just another ruthless military tyrant and usurper of democracy. Indeed, he is all praise for Zia’s leadership, simplicity and integrity as a ruler. While acknowledging that the late military ruler was a controversial figure for many in Pakistan, the diplomat insists he hasn’t met a gentler and humbler man in his life. He gives several examples to support this claim.

‘Baar-i-Shanasaee’ is a must-read for every student of South Asian politics, and anyone who is interested in knowing and understanding Pakistan through the lives of its powerful movers and shakers. Ghori offers an up-close and personal view of the Islamic republic, from a perspective seldom seen before.