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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Write your Memoirs, Rashid Bhai!

In my life of 67 years I have been fortunate to meet and know many leading personalities of the subcontinent - a privilege I owe to two things: (1) The accident of being born into a family which, though not financially well-to-do, was deeply involved with Poetry, Music, and Activism ... and, (2) Having run away from the Education system and, thus, spending more time mingling with some of the most wonderful minds of my time. Among the many people I have met, is Rashid Latif Ansari (Rashid Bhai, to me, as he is 9 years my senior!). RB's penchant for truth and never shying from speaking it - a facet that I have admired immensely and marvelled at the shape it has taken at times - makes some of his eye-opening stories almost unbelievable in an age where Truth is an unwelcome stranger to most. Our chance meeting took place when my uncle, Talat Mahmood, visited Karachi in 1961 for a memorable concert tour. RB - then at EMI and a great fan of Talat Mahmood, himself - came into our family's life and has been part of it ever since. However, I remain, among all my relations, probably in closest contact with him. He entered the Govt service "as a lateral entrant on a two year contract". In a mail to me he wrote, "I never wanted to join the Govt of Pakistan and was actually scared to join it when BB offered that job." Describing the BB meeting and what followed, he said:

I had met BB, along with Feroze Qaiser, only 15 days before I became Sec'y Information & Broadcasting. Not being interested in politics, I did not know her at all. When she asked us to be seated in her Bilawal House drawing room, while she could freshen up, I asked FQ who she was. I was then told that she was Benazir. My colleagues in the government never believed this true story. They often told me to my face that no-one could rise to the Secretaryship within 15 days of acquaintance with a PM.

When I met her she had returned from one of her election rallies. After she won the elections, the army was very reluctant to have a woman PM. It took a few days before they could come around to accepting her. They wanted a man from PPP to take that post. During the days that followed she kept on consulting FQ and me.

After she was sworn in as PM, I called on her in Islamabad and mentioned that I was returning to Karachi. She stunned me by saying, "Stay back I have a job for you". I replied, "I do not need a job". She said, "I know that you do not need a job, but we need you. Go to the Establishment Secretary, who is waiting for you with your letter of appointment as Sec'y I & B". I again said, "There must be a mistake. I am not a CSP officer, so I cannot be a Sec'y". She said, "Do not worry about that. I know what I am doing and you can be appointed by me as a Sec'y."

I was thinking of refusing that offer but a senior Secretary, Syed Ijlal Hyder Zaidi, a very old friend, who knew me very well advised me against that on two grounds:

1. One should not refuse a PM specially in our country, as the PM would take it as a personal insult.

2. In his opinion I was quite capable of handling that job and if I needed any help regarding Govt rules and regulations, he would help me,

I was also very friendly with the then Sec'y I & B, Yusuf, who was a Zia favourite and a Maulvi, so I felt bad and sought his views, as I did not want to take his chair. He told me that because of his views, he was bound to be replaced by someone. For him, it was much better if he was replaced by a friend rather than by anyone else.

So in November 1988, I took over as Sec'y I & B on a two year contract that was terminated in Sept 1990, about 3 weeks after her Govt was sacked on 6 Aug 1990."

Isn't that a delighful tale? I am trying to convince him to write his memoirs in his usual candid and conversational fashion so that we can hear many other such anecdotes.

The following remarkable exchange took place between Rashid Bhai and a friend of his who had sent him some questions and statements by email (to which I was a cc'd recipient). I asked RB for permission to place this on the blog and he said that I could, provided I do not name the Friend - who is quoted in Italics (while RB is in Bold)
F: I am not a supporter of Musharraf but merely represent those who have silently watched the present drama being played! Enough is enough! I am fed up! I am sure balanced people are also fed up with the shenanigans of the black coated honorable professionals and their 'political ploys and theatrical props' including those of present day politicians. 60% of silent majority is not interested in their cause, as during last 60 years justice has been denied to the broad masses, despite the rule of the politicians/ dictators in the past and their inspired 'activist' judiciary whose cause is now being taken up by present day agitators. R: You have seen the working of the Pak Govt from close quarters and you know that in Pakistan the democracy only means that the players on the stage are not in Khakis but their strings are still in the hands of Khaki puppeteers. I have been in Govt for a much shorter period than you, but I have seen how Khaki ruled even when the world thought that Benazir was in power. In those days I acted as a go-between BB and Aslam Beg. She carried out GHQ instructions but on 21 July 1990 she turned defiant and refused to sack the four ministers that the GHQ had ordered her to sack (through me). [Incidentally one of the four was Aitezaz Ahsan]. On the 6th August 1990, she was removed as a corrupt and incompetent PM. So she was not even given the one month notice by GHQ that an ordinary worker receives. I do not know how you have arrived at a percentage. Has any scientific method been used to arrive at 60% figure. The question is not about the past. The question is only of the present - and a very simple one: Should justice be perpetually denied simply because it has been denied in the past 60 years? Why was the Judiciary not made independent of the Executive in the past? Why only now is Musharraf's Government being made the target? Albeit being a dictator. My question is again the same, Is it desirable that judiciary should remain under the control of the executive? If your answer is yes, I have no qualms with you. You have every right to hold your opinion. My opinion is just the opposite. You know how close our family is to Musharraf, but it is not Musharraf, it is the army rule that I feel is the worst thing that could happen to any society. If some people have realised it now even after 60 years, I salute them, despite having a soft corner for Musharraf. Who permitted the establishment of largest number of channels in Pakistan's history, which had the freedom to abuse the dictator ad nauseam? Who tolerated the same with equanimity? Here some of the facts are not correct. Present Govt did not encourage the establishment of large number of channels. With satellite technology, circumstances changed and Sh Rashid took credit for proliferating something that he could not stop. The facts are just the opposite of what you feel. The revolution brought about by satellite technology meant 'media sans frontier'. More than 20 channels were operating from outside Pakistan, albeit by Pakistanis, while Sh Rashid was constantly taking credit for those. 8 channels of ARY, 4 channels of Geo and Hum TV were being up linked from Dubai while the Musharraf Govt was taking credit for those. Technically those were UAE channels and not Pakistani. In any case, when shove came to push, even the UAE Govt was asked to take ARY and Geo off the air! India has nearly 400 channels operating from its own soil, so if Pakistan could not have even 40 channels, Pakistanis would have been watching only Indian channels today. Musharraf Govt very reluctantly gave permission to Aaj and then to the personal friend of Sh Rashid, Taher Khan, to up-link from Pakistan. DTH licenses were auctioned and two parties (GEO and ARY) were declared successful on 21 Oct 2003. More than 4 years have elapsed and Musharraf Govt has not taken any further steps in that direction. India has at least 4 well established DTH operators while Pakistan has none. Despite 8 years of dictatorial rule and enjoying absolute power, Musharraf has not kept his promise of allowing terrestrial TV stations. Instead of issuing a single license, he did just the opposite and nationalised the only semi-private Shalimar Television. He had promised that he will not allow PTV to take away private shares. His confidante and long time friend who has again been appointed as Spokesperson for the President, Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi, had given his word to me that he would completely privatise SRBC, even till the last minute before the crucial meeting was held at GHQ, where Javed Jabbar and I represented SRBC's case and Yusuf Baig Mirza was representing PTV. [JJ was the Minister of Information & Broadcasting, and he was to present his case to Gen Aziz Khan --- what an irony!]. The "Soldier of Allah" not only went back on his words of giving full support to us but spoke vehemently against us. Both Javed Jabbar and I were absolutely shocked and stunned at this turncoat. I have never come across a greater cheat and liar in my life than Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi and yet the pious army puts all the blame on politicians (not that I hold any brief for them). Who permitted complete freedom of the 'press' for the first time in Pakistan? This is also a travesty of truth. The only person I know who has sincerely and consistently worked for the freedom of the press has been Javed Jabbar. His proposals were badly mutilated by various Governments that he served and then left in disgust. Musharraf also picked him but his junta hated JJ's ideas. Rashid Qureshi was deadly against him and whispered in Musharraf's ears against JJ's approach towards media freedom. Once he did that right in front of me. One such example is PEMRA Ordinance, which was drafted under JJ's guidance. The president's secretariat (his generals) mutilated that to such an extent that when it came out it was a totally different animal to what was created by JJ. The first-ever freedom to press was given by JJ. Nawai Waqt was strongly against us and specially hated me for my anti-religious views. It had published an editorial against me. Six months after that Govt was sacked, the same Nawai Waqt wrote another editorial and praised me and JJ by name for the first-ever freedom given to the press by our team. During my tenure not a single journalist received any so called "advice" from the ministry. Often the journalists would come to me and ask me for the "advice". I always replied to them to write whatever they felt was the truth. In the past the journalists used to receive payments for printing such "advice". I did not pay a single paisa to any journalist. Those on Zia's list of secret payments kept receiving their regular bonuses even in BB's rule. Imagine continuing with that list and returning Rs. 6M of un-utilised Secretary's Secret Fund (non-auditable). That secret fund now runs in Crores. The freedom enjoyed by the press today is again due to the advancement in technology. With Satellites and Internet (Blogs, emails and mobile phone cameras) even the most powerful countries possessing sophisticated technology cannot curb this new-found freedom of expression. So the junta was not a lover of freedom of press ... it just could not gag it. It tried its best, but the cost involved was prohibitive. The press and the private channels could not afford to lose their clientele just for a pittance (remuneration for the "Advices"). They had much higher stakes now, when the world media was competing to be the first with breaking news, and could not be tempted to receive the "secret envelope" for complying with the Ministry of I & B's "requests". Who allowed complete freedom to the Judiciary which became an activist judiciary? You yourself point out that Iftekhar took oath under PCO. So was that act of Musharraf for an independent judiciary? An extremely forceful attempt was made to gag the judiciary in March this year. Musharraf like, Bhutto, thought that by promoting out of turn or bestowing favours, one could buy loyalty. It did not work in Bhutto/Zia case and it also back fired in Musharraf/Iftekhar case. In March Musharraf used brute force to straighten a PCOed CJ, but it did not work. His failure to cow down judiciary cannot be taken as his chivalry to promote freedom of the judiciary. He is the only dictator in the history of Pakistan who sacked himself for incompetence and then reappointed himself as the saviour of the country. Who allowed largest participation of Women in the parliament? On this point I agree that what BB should have done long ago was done by a military dictator. During whose regime National Assembly completed it full tem, although the said assembly is being termed as flawed by the so-called agitators ... The army used to sack the previous assemblies. When they themselves could have tenures of 11 years at a stretch, they could easily give 4 years to their hand crafted assembly. So, what is the big deal? In the past the track record of Black Coated professionals is nothing to write home about. 'Doctrine of necessity' has been their creed and will remain so. I have already dwelt on this subject. Present should be judged on its own merits and not on the Past. Christ was a Jew; Ibrahim was from the family of idol worshippers; Jinnah was a staunch nationalist and one who would have become the president of Indian National Congress, had he not been let down by Gandhi at the last moment; Faiz Ahmad Faiz was a colonel in the British Army who wrote verses, simply to advocate joining a mercenary force. (Remember: "Yeh A∂osan Pa∂osan Jo Chaahay Kahay / Maén To Chhoray Ko Bhartee Karaé Aaee Ray"... ?) Can these revolutionaries be written off simply because of their past? If we accept this principle to blame an entire community because of one black sheep, Sharifuddin Peerzada, then Jinnah would also be bracketed with the black coats. Where were the honorable professionals when Supreme Court was stormed during the so called civilian rule? The same leader is crying hoarse for the restoration of the so called activist judiciary! I agree with you that Nawaz Sharif has no right to cry foul now, unless he admits that it was his gravest mistake and offers his unconditional apology to the nation for his sin. I was extremely sad and upset that day and still consider that day as the blackest day in Pakistan's history, but that does not mean that Pakistanis should never make any effort for the restoration of an independent and fearless judiciary. Where were the honorable professionals during the Governments of civilians 1947- 1958? (Famous doctrine of necessity was adopted during this period by the honorable profession) I have already written enough on this subject. My only questions are: "Is Rule of Law a bad thing?" And, "Is independent judiciary undesirable?" If your answer to either is "Yes", I have no qualms with you. If the answer is "No!", then why no should efforts be made to rectify the situation? Where were the honorable professionals during the regime of the dictator Ayub Khan 1958-1969? Where were the honorable professionals during the regime of the dictator Zia 1977-1988? Did the honorable profession not join the disgruntled politicians and the dictator Zia in toppling the duly elected civilian government and derail democracy? Where were the honorable professionals during 1988- 1999? Have the agitators suddenly woken up. WHY? It is not that we should ask the honorable professionals where they were. The REAL question should be, "WHERE WERE WE?"
What prompted me to write about him and quote him today was the DAWN advertisement, looking for a Prime Minister for Pakistan. I am wondering if the PM job is as easy to handle as was the IB Secy's ... If the deadline had not passed, I'd have proposed RB's name. Kyaa khayaal hae, Rashid Bhai? aur agar PM naheeñ bantay to memoirs hee likh deejiyay, na ... :-)

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Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

Well, the questioner definitely does seem to be a Musharraf supporter.

08 December, 2007 23:26

Blogger Raza Rumi said...

thanks for the memorable account of RB's meeting with BB and the subsequent appointment. The dialogue between F and R was pretty engaging as well except that there are many a gray areas between the two positons..

09 December, 2007 18:04

Anonymous rahmat masih said...

There's gray everywhere ... but mainly, it seems to me, in F's mind. I think it's clouded.

09 December, 2007 18:19

Blogger Ghazala said...

@Zakintosh many thanks for posting such a delightful dialogue between Rashid bhai and his friend, who is obviously talking like the officious government official that he obviously is or was. Having had the pleasure of meeting RB @ your house earlier this year,and hearing some of his unabashedly forthright views,I tend to agree with him when he talks about making the effort for change now rather than keep going back to the old story of why things weren't done earlier by the professionals. He is also absolutely right in asking where were WE?
@ Raza Rumi, unfortunately I fail to understand where the grey areas that you mention are. Clarification and being a little more specific would help.
@ Zakintosh I'd like to add my request to urge RB to write his memoirs. Should really make fascinating reading.

09 December, 2007 19:30

Anonymous the olive ream said...

Bravo! What a great post! Such a delight reading the exchange between RB and his friend.

Although I must admit I have SERIOUS issues with the questions that were asked of RB, specifically in relation to the media, press, and judiciary, (although they were brilliantly and appropriately addressed by RB). I had the same issues when I heard Musharaf's speech after he declared emergency.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear! The media, press, judiciary, (AND the people of Pakistan) are (and should be) inherently/intrinsicly free!! Musharaf DID NOT give anyone those freedoms. He may have restored some and taken away more subsequently but all these freedoms are not a privilege that were granted by Musharaf, these are (and should be) RIGHTS of every citizen of Pakistan!

The fact that various govts over the years have infringed on those rights (including Musharaf) is the REAL issue here.

One last question for the supporters of Musharaf. Ever heard of lady called Amna Janjua? Ask her about the "freedoms granted" by Musharaf to her husband and hundreds of others detained under the label of War on terror. AND i am not talking about the arrest of Al Qaeda, Taliban-friendly extremists here!

10 December, 2007 01:06

Anonymous Saira Q Paul said...

Thanks for posting this debate between RLA & F. It was stimulating and inspirational to know that there still are people like your Rashid Bhai.

10 December, 2007 19:06

Anonymous rahmat masih said...

Rashid Sahib: please do write the memoirs ... they should be serialised in a newspaper.

10 December, 2007 23:02

Blogger Fawad said...

Zak, Thanks for sharing such an interesting dialog between RB and F. I really liked his thoughtful, fact-based and calm answers to the questions. I add my voice to the chorus who would like to read more about RB's life.

I was also glad that he addressed the absurd point that many people continue to make that if somebody hasn't always done the right thing then somehow even their correct positions today have little validity. This attitude of trying to make "perfect the enemy of the good" is simply a ruse to discredit people by focusing on them rather than their positions. RB is exactly right: if you believe that the judiciary should be subservient to the executive then there is no basis for a quarrel as the assumptions are different but if one believes in judiciary as an independent pillar of state then that position should be supported even if people have not done so consistently in the past.

@raza rumi: I have to say I completely miss the vast areas of gray between the two positions.

11 December, 2007 11:19

Blogger izuber said...

Admired reading such an articulate and elaborate Q & A session, quite enlightening.
Among all this I smell and feel the traditional personalities who can have and maintain an ongoing conversation with wisdom.
In my self imposed exile for over 3 decades, reading through this interview of Rashid sahib and the interrogator takes me back a long time when people with dignity existed and carried on diligently.
The touch of poetry and mention of poets every now and then in your own writing is quite aspirational to me, it was a week ago as I was watching a video of Habib Jalib's last session in Washington which I enjoyed very much.
Best regards to Zakintosh, Rashid sahib & the interrogator.
A. Zuberi

17 February, 2008 12:27


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