Derailing Umra Express
Maybe the Internet and email should be abolished, because it brings both good and bad news in real time, which means that nothing can be swept under the carpet any longer. Nor kept under wraps.
There is a large Pakistani community settled in America. Much of it is duly and legally landed. There are also cowboys, but how many they are and how they managed to get past customs and immigration remains a well-guarded secret and a tribute to their dexterous touch.
But whether they be legal or illegal, urban or rural, rich or poor, they worry about Pakistan and what goes on there. It is a pity that there is always something going on there, and has been going on there as long as one can remember.
The recent disclosure in the Senate that three prime ministers had used state funds to have their families, friends and hangers-on perform the umra really shocked Pakistanis living here. Since the publication of the list, Chaudhri Shujaat Hussain has cleared his name and Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri has done the decent thing and apologised. The foreign minister’s example should be followed by others, because although it wasn’t he personally who drew up the list or handed it in, he accepted responsibility and it has not diminished him.
The other two prime ministers, including the present incumbent of that office with the crown of thorns, have said not a word, nor offered to pay what by any yardstick is their personal responsibility. I do not know much about the financial situation of Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, though being a good old feudal, he should be in no want, but Shaukat Aziz is rich and, I am told, no Scrooge either, so why has he not apologised and restored to the national exchequer what should never have been taken out of it?
A Pakistani-American who has lived here for over thirty years has been calling me to talk about this, though I have suggested to him that he should call the prime minister instead, something he seems reluctant to do (not that he will get through to the occupant of the chair that once was occupied by Khan Liaquat Ali Khan, Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto). This greatly troubled gentleman wants to know why Pakistanis who get into elevated positions show such lack of style, good taste and — he adds with much regret — honesty. He recalled an incident during Bill Clinton’s presidency when a senior White House staffer who had used an official helicopter to play a few rounds of golf in another town had to resign after the story of his day off at unauthorised public expense appeared in the press. What can I tell him, except that Pakistan is not America.
Another Pakistani, an academic, wants to know why after having spent his entire life working in one of the world’s most famous banks and after reaching a position of much eminence there, the present prime minister did exactly what one would have expected the run-of-the-mill public servant to do. He wondered if his doing this sort of thing, despite a lifetime of the most sophisticated experience in Europe and the United States, only proves that once we return to Pakistan, genetics takes over. I have no answer to give him, so I hope Shaukat Aziz will drop him a line (address supplied on request).
I am reminded of Agha Mumtaz, a great batsman from Sialkot who had played representative cricket before independence. Once watching a match on a Sunday, he noticed a player who was using his bat as if it were some kind of an outsize hammer or a cross he had been condemned to carry. “Ye kya batsmen aa gaye hain; na koi stroke hai, na koi style hai”, was all Agha Mumtaz said.
I am of the view that even if you do the “not done” thing, you should do it with some flair. Years ago, for instance, a friend of mine who was doing time in a European jail for having passed game checks to more than one establishment, phoned me — he was resourceful — to go and see an Austrian businessman and assure him that all matters of contention between the two of them would be settled once he was free. The businessman, owner of a most reputable Viennese company, expressed amazement that such a request should have been made to him, considering that he had been cheated out of a lot of money. So I asked him how come with all his experience and knowledge of business, he had been “took”. His reply was simple, “Mein lieber Freund, that is a compliment to the genius of the gentleman whose message you bring me.”
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent