OH! Loads”, says Farogh Naweed, a former additional secretary who has held key positions in Nawaz Sharif’s and Benazir Bhutto’s governments. Ask him how and he’s got a story to tell why names matter, especially those that get jerked around long after the people whose memory they honour are dead and gone. The name Emerson, for example. But more of this later.
Today, name-calling has hit the Indian media like a Titanic hitting an iceberg. The ‘iceberg’ being our prime minister. “He’s getting called ‘The Beheader’,” a relative from Delhi rings up to say. “It’s Pakistan bashing at its height provoked by the arrival of Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf to India”. Pity the man who has earned the name of ‘Raja Rental’ in his own country and now netted a new title from across the border. “The Indians blame him for the slaying of their soldier,” she quickly adds. A frequent visitor to Delhi to pay her respects at the shrine of Nazimuddin Aulia, Nigar says the hysteria against the Pakistani VVIP visitor is unprecedented. Notorious for name-tagging, folks in the subcontinent show resentment against crooked leaders by dubbing them with deleterious labels that stick like gum. In short, these epithets become household names. Recounting them requires a separate column. Another time, shall we say?
Pakistan is presently undergoing the resurrection of the Bhutto name just when the pretender to that name winds up his five year ‘democracy is the best revenge’ misrule. Everything in sight is being baptised with Bhutto as if Islamabad didn’t already have a surfeit of the name. The PPP honchos at the Senate recently sneaked in a bill naming Islamabad’s existing Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) the ‘Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University’. Like the North Koreans who worship their leader Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un, the Zardari government doggedly wants the Bhutto to become another Kim Jong cult.
History shows that these myopically short-range schemes of the jiyalas drag the Bhutto name in the dust when a new ruler turns up. Remember how the ‘Bhutto House’ written big and bold across the grand edifice touted as the ‘Awami Centre’ in Islamabad by bureaucrat Salman Farooqi to please prime minister Benazir Bhutto got unceremoniously pulled down the moment she exited.
Driving on Jinnah Avenue, we hit Agha Shahi Road. We wait endlessly at the traffic intersection. The dual carriageway is choked at all times of the day. The road was named after the former foreign secretary soon after his death. One feels sorry for the civic agencies scraping the barrel, so to say, when they have to resort to calling the Ninth Avenue ‘Agha Shahi Road.’
Dr Nafis Sadik, the former executive director of UN Population Fund is with us in the car. She is the first woman to have broken through the glass ceiling at the United Nations. She notices the Agha Shahi name and casually remarks that prime minister Benazir Bhutto had promised to honour the memory of Nafis Sadik’s late father finance minister Mohammad Shoaib by naming a road after him. That never happened. Pakistani leaders, past and present, have a penchant for naming or renaming anything that catches their personal whims.
President Ayub Khan dislodged the whole government from Karachi, spent billions to construct a new capital and called it ‘Islamabad’. Only because he wanted to be close to the GHQ in Pindi and his village Rehana