Re­mem­ber­ing Iqbal Haider

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Za­far Hi­laly

IT’S dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that Iqbal Haider is no longer in our midst. Just about ev­ery­thing about him was larger than life, from his loud greet­ing to his unan­nounced ar­rival at some un­earthly hour at night with a cheer­ful smile, as if to say, “Come on, wake up, break out the food; you know we only live once and are dead for­ever.”

And, in­deed, he lived like that. His was a full life. I can think of no good cause that he did not es­pouse; no evil that he did not raise his voice against; nowhere that he was not pre­pared to go to speak out on be­half of the op­pressed, the dis­ad­van­taged or the poor.

He ul­ti­mately lost his job as law min­is­ter for sup­port­ing, of all peo­ple, the right of Shaikh Rashid – then an MNA but im­pris­oned on some friv­o­lous charge – be­ing al­lowed to at­tend par­lia­ment when in ses­sion.

A fu­ri­ous Be­nazir Bhutto had de­manded to know why the foul­mouthed Shaikh Rashid had been al­lowed out of prison with­out her con­sent and asked who was re­spon­si­ble for the de­ci­sion.

Iqbal Haider im­me­di­ately said he had done so, be­cause it was the law, and of­fered his res­ig­na­tion in the same breath, and BB, by then too far launched in her tirade to seem to have sec­ond thoughts, ac­cepted it there and then.

As it hap­pened, Iqbal was right. And, as he saun­tered into my room af­ter the cab­i­net meet­ing, there was not a word of re­crim­i­na­tion or re­sent­ment for the pub­lic dress­ing down to which he had been sub­jected.

He liked and re­spected BB too much for that; he owed her a lot and, like many of us who did, could not en­ter­tain a wicked thought about her. So he re­turned to his of­fice, took leave of his of­fi­cers, went back to the un­kempt quar­ters he oc­cu­pied in Is­lam­abad and flew home to Karachi, the city he loved.

The sub­ject of Iqbal’s res­ig­na­tion was a taboo sub­ject with BB. So I re­ally never got to know why it had up­set her as much as it did. But sev­eral months later, when she sug­gested that I lead a del­e­ga­tion to Brazil for the in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony of the new pres­i­dent of Brazil (to com­pen­sate for the long hours I had put in in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Secretariat), I told her that a fed­eral sec­re­tary was not the ap­pro­pri­ate level for the oc­ca­sion and pointed out that the US del­e­ga­tion was be­ing rep­re­sented by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Reno. “So who?” she asked, some­what im­pa­tiently. “Iqbal Haider,” I replied. BB paused, looked up from the file she had been work­ing on, and said, “All right,” show­ing that she har­boured no grudge against him.

I dashed off to in­form him. “Groovy,” I re­call telling him (“Groovy” was the nick­name his hair­style earned him), “you are lead­ing the del­e­ga­tion to Brazil and I’m your deputy.”

There were hoops of joy (ac­tu­ally, af­fec­tion­ate abuse), at the other end of the line, only be­cause we would be in Rio at Carnival time.

A de­voutly sec­u­lar man who pas­sion­ately be­lieved in Jin­nah’s words that “re­li­gion has noth­ing to do with the busi­ness of the state,” Groovy had an unerring eye for trou­ble in the mak­ing. He fore­saw the curse the Tal­iban would be­come and missed no op­por­tu­nity to say so.

At a time when most of his peers thought the fa­nat­ics and ex­trem­ists were at worst a nui­sance, he pointed to the lethal dan­ger they posed and, of course, heaped the blame on the mil­i­tary.

But he was much more scathing of his fel­low civil­ian politi­cians for tol­er­at­ing ex­trem­ism. He un­der­stood their mo­tives, scoffed at them and, on this count, at least, held them in con­tempt.

Sel­dom in pub­lic life in Pak­istan has there been a man who spoke up for women’s rights as force­fully as Groovy did. He be­lieved women were stronger than men, more pa­tient and braver.

He was never con­de­scend­ing to­wards women and some­how, to me at least, sounded much more con­vinc­ing and bal­anced when ar­gu­ing with them than with men. Women seemed to sense this and re­cip­ro­cated the re­spect he ac­corded them.

Groovy loved to travel. And in Lon­don he spent much of his time with my brother. He loved the good life but, as of­ten as not, would end up eat­ing his favourite desi dish in some small Pak­istani-run res­tau­rant af­ter charm­ing the owner into pro­duc­ing what he wanted and with the cha­p­ati of just the right size and thin­ness.

If he was a dif­fi­cult cus­tomer, none of them showed it, and by the time the bill ar­rived, the owner was feel­ing guilty that he was charg­ing a friend.

For some rea­son, Groovy felt there was no more im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship for Pak­istan than In­dia. And he was de­ter­mined to play his part in forg­ing a friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries.

He never turned down an in­vi­ta­tion to In­dia, and while there en­deared him­self to In­di­ans. He once told me that he never ran down Pak­istan to the In­di­ans, “I tell them the truth about us.”

“Well, Groovy,” I re­call say­ing once, “that amounts much to the same thing if they don’t ad­mit the truth about them­selves. Don’t you get it?”

“No,” he coun­tered, “the truth is catch­ing up with them. Look at the cor­rup­tion is­sue. They thought we were more cor­rupt, but the sums in­volved in In­dia are stag­ger­ing and they don’t talk about our cor­rup­tion any­more.”

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