Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A view from America: By Shaheen Sehbai

Comment: Shaheen Sehbai is back in the media with a bang.

Friday club nausea: A view from America
By Shaheen Sehbai
The writer is a senior Washington-based Pakistani journalist

How should a Pakistani, living in a foreign land, away from the country for years, view, analyse and react to the mainstream press articles and website rants of a well-informed insider of the Pakistani establishment?

Is this frustration of an almost senile angry old man? Is this because he has been kept away from the corridors of power by military masters similar to those he has been serving for decades? Is this a belated feeling of guilt after enjoying, and mostly misusing, decades of unchecked and uninterrupted administrative and political power? Or are these the anguished cries of a genuinely concerned citizen who cannot see his country get buried into the dustbin of shame and ignominy?

Yes I am talking about the recent articles of Roedad Khan, the super-bureaucrat who proudly claims on his website that during his service he got to know two prime ministers Benazir and Nawaz Sharif and six presidents -- Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, ZA Bhutto, Ziaul Haq, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari -- in varying measure.

"They all displayed vast differences in personality, character and style. Each one of them has directly or indirectly contributed to our generation's anguish and sense of betrayal, our loss of confidence in our rulers, in our country, in our future, in ourselves and the souring of the dream of Pakistan. Every now and then, I put pen to paper and unburden myself of the things that weigh upon my spirit: the sense of being in a blind alley, the perception of our collective guilt, the knowledge of all that has been irrevocably lost," he states recalling those he served.

At another place on the same website, under the title of "Friday Club", Mr Khan reveals the company he keeps every Friday in Islamabad at his residence. "This is an informal, social gathering of about 20 persons, mostly retired civil servants, all united by a common interest in current affairs, meeting every Friday, for intellectual stimulation and catharsis, without a fixed agenda at 10:30 am at the residence of Mr Roedad Khan, who acts as host and coordinator. Its origin goes back to the mid 1970s when 'club members' used to meet every Friday at Zubaida Agha's residence. Altaf Gauhar, Ejaz Naik and Roedad Khan formed the nucleus. Others joined the club later.

He claims the members of the Friday club now include retired governors, foreign ministers, air marshals, federal secretaries, ambassadors, educationists, poets and columnists. No papers are read and no speeches are delivered. No minutes are recorded and no record is kept. Discussions are uninhibited, free, frank, animated, and end up as brainstorming sessions. According to him these meetings last for about four hours.

Among other points on his long CV since he joined the civil service in 1949, the year of my birth, Roedad Khan can boast of several important appointments, including those of chief secretary, Sindh; secretary, ministry of interior; secretary general, ministry of interior; federal minister in charge of accountability; and advisor to the prime minister on accountability.

His latest article in a national daily newspaper has fired me up, so much so, that I decided to write about him ignoring the hot shot disclosures made by President Musharraf in his just released memoir, In the Line of Fire. Mr Khan had already come in my line of fire before General Musharraf released his bombshells and hot air balloons.

This is what Mr Khan wrote which angered me more than General Musharraf's truths. "Pakistan is a nation of teahouse politicians, midgets with no commitment to principles and no values; nothing to die for and nothing to live for. Here we have pocketbook liberals, pseudo-democrats and orthodox religious leaders concerned only with short-term profits and only too eager to do business with the military…" And he goes on and on against everybody else.

The descriptions he gave in the above paragraph, ironically, fit his own character and performance since 1949, like a glove on a lady's hand. He talks of everyone's failings except bureaucrats, his own, to be specific. He was a collaborator and partner in every crime the military rulers and their henchmen committed against the country but he forgets all that with ease. He calls politicians midgets with no commitment to principles, but does he have any of his own to show?

He accuses all pocketbook liberals, pseudo democrats and orthodox religious leaders of being opportunists and eager to do business with the military. But what about his own association and business with the military dictators of the past? Was Ayub Khan or Yahya Khan or Ziaul Haq an elected leader that he served and boot-licked?

Who does not remember his role as the leader of the secret election cell in the Ghulam Ishaq Khan presidency in 1990 when he rigged the election blatantly in collaboration with his colleague Ijlal Haider Zaidi and General Rafaqat? His exploits have all been recorded in several books written about those elections. Does that conduct fit into his description of "nothing to die for and nothing to live for" or was it only for a short-term gain?

By his own admission he sits only with the elite or the so-called elite of Islamabad, mostly those who are now retired and have nothing else to do but find faults with everybody else. The list of foreign ministers, retired governors etc. does not appear to include any one who may have enough respect and credibility that he could be named by name. The Friday club is apparently nothing but a group of has-beens who envy the magician Sharifuddin Peerzada and curse him day in and day out as he has managed to stay inside the power corridors, despite his age and frailty. So if they are not in, nothing is right, cannot be.

Mr Roedad Khan and his Friday club may be making the right noises at this point in time but they owe tons and tons of apologies to the nation before their voices could be taken as sincere, honest and well meaning. They have to remove the stigma of their yester years of serving all ilks of dictators and autocrats who have brought the country to the current pass. Mr Khan cannot escape the burden of guilt that would forever stay on his shoulders.

Who can say with confidence that if tomorrow General Musharraf summons him for consultations and help on how to run a democracy, in uniform, Roedad Khan would not order a new sherwani, or a three-piece suit, on an urgent delivery basis and be there in the king's court within 24 hours.

The lack of credibility issue has to be resolved first before the Friday Club lectures on democracy make any sense. Mr Khan can begin with an apology to the nation in his next column or display it on his website.

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