Zia through a daughter’s eyes
As the presidential election campaign begins to roll, the air is thick with accusations from both sides. The Democratic candidate, the Lincolnesque — at least in looks if not in deeds — Sen. John Kerry is attacking President Bush for having dragged the country into an unnecessary war and for his failure to revive the economy, while the White House is flinging blows, several under the belt, at the man it calls ‘Senator Flip Flop’, which as such names go, is the kind that will stick.
Sen. Kerry has changed his position far too many times on far too many issues, say the Republicans, to inspire any confidence in his judgment or ability to lead America. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once described politics as a game of dancing but cautioned that the dancer must remain nimble on his feet. Good dancing and flip-flopping go hand in hand in politics, so Sen. Kerry hasn’t done anything that politicians from time immemorial have not been doing. So what else is new!
This political grandstanding will go on until November and if it is true that history repeats itself, then George W should lose as his father did, going down in history as yet another incumbent who failed to get re-elected. However, for the Pakistani community, one of the most talked-about events last week has been the first published interview of the late Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s daughter, Rubina Salim. Some of the things she told Afaq Khayali of Pakistan Post, New York, about who liquidated her father formed the basis of a news story I filed last week; but there are other things, things of a more personal nature, that she talked about that would be of interest to many people back home.
What sort of a person was Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, the man with the double handshake who walked his visitors to their cars and did not move until they had disappeared from view? He was polite to a point where it became suspicious. He was a good listener and could sit through long, boring presentations without batting an eye. I once met a journalist in London who used to hate Zia but had been raving about him after being received by the General on a visit to Pakistan. I was curious as to his change of heart and learnt that Zia has asked him for ‘advice’ on how to run the country. That had so tickled the man’s ego that he had gone on and on telling Zia how to do so. I asked him for Zia’s reaction. It turned out Zia hadn’t said a word. I am also quite sure he had not really heard a word. The hostile Indian press, in the end, was eating out of his hand.
Rubina Salim who often travelled with her father, said of him, “We as children were in awe of him because he had no patience with impertinence, but he never scolded us. But we could tell from the look in his eyes what he disapproved of. I never even once saw him angry. He never said a harsh word to anyone at home.” Asked about his daily prayers, she said while he never asked his children to pray, he would always say, “It is prayer time” and leave the room. Asked what her father thought of politics, she replied, “He would say, ‘What can I do? Whichever stone I turn, reveals nothing but filth. How can I set it all right?’” She said her father did not want any of his sons to be in politics.
Asked abut his personal habits, she said he went to bed late, rose early for prayers and went to sleep again for a couple of hours. His military secretary Gen. Mahmud Durrani told me that the General hated file work and would throw most files submitted to him behind his favourite sofa. After his death, hundreds of them were retrieved from their resting place under Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s instructions. Zia was greatly devoted to his daughter Zain, a special child. Once she asked her father after watching a movie about elephants for one. The next day, the Nepalese prime minister presented a baby elephant to Gen. Zia and Zain’s wish came true. She was ultimately persuaded to give the animal to the Islamabad zoo, Ms Salim recalled.
Ms Salim said it is not true, as some believe, that after Bhutto’s hanging, there were celebrations in the Zia home. “That is wrong. Our home was as sad as Benazir’s that day. My mother did not even know that Bhutto was going to be hanged,” she said. He never discussed his work as president at home. He was a studious newspaper reader, going over not only headlines but all the stories as well, marking the ones that interested him. He never found time to write anything, but used to say, Ms Salim recalled, that he would devote himself to just two things after retirement, his special child Zain and the book he would write.
She denied that her father enriched himself, saying his Pindi home was completed after his death. She said the family owned only two homes, one in Pindi, the other in Islamabad. Zia used to smoke Dunhills but gave up, promising himself not to smoke till he had held elections. Perhaps why he did not hold them in ‘90 days’, was because he did not want to restart smoking. Did he have any premonition about the air crash, she was asked? “None at all,” she replied. His favourite daughter Zain and his son Anwaar were to go with him to Bahawalpur, but since they had gone to bed late, he left them sleeping soundly.
Did he seek any family member’s advice on the hanging of Bhutto? “None of us knew the night before that Bhutto was going to be executed the next morning.” Did her mother ever ask her husband to let Bhutto go? “No,” she said, “never!”
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent