When apples were oranges

When apples were oranges


When Ambassador Teresita Schaffer called Husain Haqqani a man with golden tongue, she must have missed the conversations with another contemporary, Mushahid Hussain Sayed.

Both gentlemen – rather unique characters of Pakistani politics – used to engage with each other in heated debates at the palatial residence of Begum Abida Hussain in mid 1980s. The apples were then oranges.

Mr Hussain used to defend Benazir Bhutto and curse Muslim leaguers, while Mr Haqqani was a staunch critic of Bhutto dynasty and was, later, accused of circulating controversial pictures of the women of Bhutto family.

Both gentlemen had exceptional skills of manoeuvring their way to the top echelons. Mr Haqqani went on to become the country’s ambassador to the United States.

Comparatively, Mr Hussain played his cards better. He correctly foresaw his bright future with Nawaz Sharif. Introducing people like Maleeha Lodhi to Ms Bhutto and driving inspiration from Chaha Niazi were just old tales through the pensieve.

He seized the opportunity ahead and represented the PML-Nawaz government as its mouthpiece. “Oh Mian sahab ka-ra-kay kad diyan gey,” he used to say in unadulterated Lahori dialect.

Mr Hussain spearheaded the media team of the party, also comprising Siddiqul Farooq and Khalil Malik. Mr Farooq became the press secretary to the prime minister, while late Khalil Malik was appointed adviser to the National Bank of Pakistan.

Mr Hussain wasn’t an active journalist. Long ago, during the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), he along with late Omar Asghar Khan had been fired from the lecturer-ship of Punjab University after reportedly writing something against the martial law regime.

His detractors often criticised him of rubbing shoulders with senior members of the military establishment. It was he who arranged an interview of Dr AQ Khan with Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar, when he came to Islamabad to attend his marriage ceremony. Who gave an Indian journalist access to someone running the country’s top-secret nuclear programme could not be a secret. According to Indian Express, it was General (r) Aslam Beg who orchestrated the plan to reveal Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

Mr Nayar believed, as he also wrote in his book Beyond Headlines, that he had bagged the scoop of his life. One cannot resist asking if that was really a scoop; why wouldn’t Mr Hussain prefer it for The Muslim, a newspaper he was then editing.

Another tale that never made the headlines was his reported detention in Iran along with the newspaper’s owner Aga Murtaza Poya. Late Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan once narrated the whole story to a few of his confidants that how he visited Tehran, met then Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and brought both gentlemen back to Pakistan in his special plane. Might some inquisitive journalist try to dig the relevant file out after the passage of proposed right to information bill by parliament. And if Kargil inquiry is initiated in our lifetime, the investigators might ask Mr Hussain who was behind the publication of a controversial ad terming Pak Army a “rogue army”.

After two joyrides with Mian Sahab, Mr Hussain left him conveniently post October 1999 military coup. He chose “their” way, not the highway. He had the experience, friends at the right positions, and, of course, the golden tongue.

The elder brother of Mr Hussain was a class-fellow of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and used to live at his residence, in Islamabad. He would have helped his younger brother get the entry pass.

Before becoming a senator and secretary general of the PML-Q, Mr Hussain once took then US ambassador Nancy Powel to Chaudhry Shujaat’s residence. In a side room they held a closed-door meeting. Whatever was discussed remained a mystery, yet the Chaudhry brothers realised that Mr Hussain could represent them better at the right forums and before the people who actually mattered.

Gen Nadeem Taj may or may not reveal at some stage the reasons behind Mr Hussain’s appointment to the office of PML-Q secretary general. Advices from senior politicians to let Humayun Akhtar Khan hold that office had been ignored at the behest of the Chaudhry brothers.

Mr Hussain was the most frequent visitor of Chaudhry Shujaat’s. With iPod in one hand and Perrier in another, he always posed to be engulfed in an aura of energy, which his critics believed was fake. He once boasted that he and General Kiyani had exchanged iPods that forced the army chief to admit that Mr Hussain’s music collection was far better than his.

Mr Hussain tried to keep everyone happy. In 2005, he demanded the release of Asif Ali Zardari. In November 2007, he urged upon General (r) Musharraf to lift the state of emergency. In the final months of his tenure, General Musharraf had stopped meeting Mr Hussain. Some claimed his entry to the Presidency was banned. Earlier, he was trusted enough to negotiate the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) with the Pakistan People’s Party representatives at an F-102 safe house.

Mr Hussain learnt to survive the odds. He redirected his time and energies to safeguard his future. He founded the Pak-China Friendship Forum with the help of his foreign-educated son. His work on China and timely lobbying won him the chairmanship of an important parliamentary committee on the CPEC. He was recently given additional responsibility of being the convener of a steering committee on National Counter-Terrorism Authority. The future was secure.

Last month, at a lunch, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat recalled ‘good old days’. He seemed to have realised his mistake of keeping wrong people for the job. A few days later, Tariq Bashir Cheema was nominated PML-Q secretary general.

The PML-Q intraparty elections were held on October 19. Mr Hussain, the secretary general, was conspicuous with his absence. The election for the office of secretary general was withheld.

It would not surprise anyone if he formally joins the PML-N. This time he might coin some new phrases to please Mian Sahab. Mr Hussain often advises his listeners to make new mistakes instead of repeating the old ones. Apparently, he is better at giving advice than following it. PS Mr Hussain neither receives phone calls nor replies to the text messages.