What Musharraf is upto and story of Ram Lal

POSTCARD USA: Aitzaz lights up Washington —Khalid Hasan
Daily Times, October 29, 2006

Aitzaz Ahsan came to Washington last week but so brief was his visit that it reminded me of the one Ghalib compared to saiqa au shoal au seemab, or a flash of lightening, a leaping flame or mercury. He was come and gone before you could say he came. I don’t think there is another in Pakistan who can keep an audience entranced with the sparkle of his conversation as Aitzaz Ahsan can. Quite a few years ago, a young woman from parts foreign asked my friend Zafar Rathore, “And what do you do Mr Rathore.” “Madam,” he replied, “I converse.” So does Aitzaz Ahsan.

We had him over at the small group we have here where anyone interesting from back home is invited to come, break bread with us in a Pakistani restaurant in Springfield, Virginia and converse. The group I named the Kebab Masala Group, since it always met in a restaurant by that name (which went out of business, naturally) actually bears a rather high-sounding name, which could well be that of a think tank in this city of think tanks and tanks of the other kind. It is called the Washington Policy Analysis Group and it was founded over 15 years ago. It has survived all these years for two reasons. It has no office bearers. And it has no membership fee. The rule is that everyone pays for dinner except the guest speaker. To Aitzaz Ahsan’s credit, it should be noted, that at the end of the evening, he offered to chip in. And although it would have been a rare experience to see a lawyer parting with not taking money, he was told, “No, thank you but thank you.”

Nobody asked but half of us were wondering why the brightest light in the toiling masses party was not in London, sitting to the right of the Mohtarma as she reassured Nawaz Sharif that reports of her contacts with the President’s men were overrated. Whether she convinced Nawaz Sharif, who being a cricketer, has a keen eye for the ‘doosra’, is hard to say. I think from now on, he is going to watch her hand and where she pitches the ball. Nor should he be faulted for that. You only have to lower your guard once and your middle stump will be in the vicinity of short fine leg.

But back to Aitzaz Ahsan. He reminded everyone that Gen. Pervez Musharraf was not the spokesman of the Pakistan People’s Party and anything he said or anything said on his behalf should not be confused with the party’s outlook on the weather. He said such stories were spread to throw “the cat of suspicion among pigeons”. He went on to paint a pretty unnerving picture of the ‘free and fair’ elections that the regime is promising everybody, including Charlie’s aunt who can be found, I am told, in the vicinity of Wah Village. He told us about ‘ghost polling stations’ and computer sleight of hand (hats off to Gen. Rafaqat Syed, the Columbus of this novel method of ‘ascertaining’ popular will) artists who produce not rabbis but votes out of their hats. By the time Aitzaz was done with the political bits, he had convinced everyone that Gen. Musharraf was not going to hold elections in order to leave office. Another thing was also clear. Staff scenarios notwithstanding (and in Pakistan they have a sorry record), the General was not riding a tiger. More likely, it was the tiger that was riding him.

Then Aitzaz Ahsan told us a tale — and there is no better raconteur than the man Admiral Ardeshir Cowasjee once named the Cambridge Chaudhry. To the Admiral’s great disappointment, the man he used to call ‘Cicero’ went to the ‘dark side’ by way of a judicial doosra. In Multan jail, AA said, where he was lodged by Gen Zia-ul-Haq, his saving grace was the delightful company of the late Comrade Kaswar Gardezi. The two of them were often served by an Indian who had been there for many, many years. His sin: he had strayed into Pakistan from a neighbouring Indian village and nabbed as a ‘jasoos’. The man we’ll call Ram Lal would have lived happily in Ajmer Sharif with his mother had he not tried to bowl a googly to that master batsman among Saints, the great Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti. His mother used to go to the Khawaja’s shrine every Thursday to light a lamp. One Thursday, being unwell, she gave some money to Ram Lal to make the offering on her behalf. Ram Lal instead of going to the Saint, went gallivanting with his loafer friends. His argument, “Khawaja has been lying there for hundreds of years, he is not going to go away anywhere so what is the hurry, he will get his offering another day.”

The Khawaja, he told Aitzaz Ahsan, doesn’t like being double-crossed, which was why Ram Lal found himself some days later staring into the business end of a very mean-looking gun pointed at him by a Pakistani border guard. Ram Lal said he had been acquitted of the espionage charge but was still here because the moment he stepped out of the jail, he would be an alien without papers and they would pick him up again for more of the same. The jail superintendent confirmed that Ram Lal was right. Years passed. Aitzaz was freed, Zia’s plane crashed, elections were held, Benazir Bhutto became prime minister and who should become the interior minister but Aitzaz Ahsan. One of the first things he did was to ask how many Indian prisoners there were in Pakistani jails. Over 800, he was told. A larger number of Pakistanis was in India. Aitzaz succeeded in persuading his Indian counterpart about an exchange, which took place and Aitzaz saw to it that Ram Lal was safely sent back to Ajmer.

Some time later, he went to Ajmer for a conference — having changed plans to do so on an earlier occasion in favour of a more touristy trip. Having known what the Khawaja had done to Ram Lal, Aitzaz was not going to take any chances. He also wanted to take Ram Lal with him. His Indian hosts mounted a search for Ram Lal but failed to find him. It turned out that on return Ram Lal had been picked up by RAW and given the treatment, this time for being a Pakistani spy. After some time they got bored and let him go. That was the last anyone saw of Ram Lal. He probably went to the Khawaja and said, “I have had more than my share of ill fortune, so if there are no hard feelings, may I leave and disappear somewhere in this vast country so that RAW won’t pick me up again for target practice.” The Khawaja must have smiled and said, “You are cleared to do.” That was the story of Ram Lal that Aitzaz Ahsan told us.

So who knows, the Khawaja may be nice to Aitzaz and his party, though one should bear in mind that Gen. Pervez Musharraf went to see the Khawaja too, the last time he was in India. He couldn’t go the first time, which is perhaps why the Agra summit failed. The moral of the story in Ram Lal’s words: “Ye Khawaja bara sakht hai agar naraaj ho jai tau.”

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is khasan2@cox.net

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