Focused and fearless:
Remembering Wajid Bhai

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By Kamran Shafi

I first met Mr. Wajid Shamsul Hasan when I called on former prime minister, late Benazir Bhutto, at the old Presidency in Rawalpindi where she lived at the time, at her kind invitation in the summer of 1988. The other gentleman present was the great Major General Nasirullah Khan Babar, now deceased.

I was ushered in, said ‘Salam’ to the PM, who immediately stood up and smilingly pointed me to a chair; that’s how courteous she was. I had no idea why I had been summoned. Arif Nizami, also now deceased, had passed on the invitation to me the previous night, to be in the old Presidency by 11 AM but had not said anything further to me.

The PM said she had been reading me in the press and wanted me to become the Principal Information Officer (PIO) to the government, working under the Information Ministry whose minister of state, Javed Jabbar was a friend of friends.

I moved to Islamabad a week later, found myself a room in one of the government’s hostels and the next day got an appointment to call on the Minister of State (the PM retained the portfolio herself). I greeted him, and without a ‘How are you? Settled down, etcetera’, Jabbar says: ‘Mr. PIO, I don’t know how you got here, but the buck stops here’, tapping his desk imperiously’! Being short of temper, I shot back, ‘Minister, I did not apply for this job; I did not stand in line for it; as far as I am concerned the buck stops at the Information Minister’s, the PM’s desk’!

I digress, but it was after this disastrous meeting that I saw Mr. Wajid Shamsul Hasan for the upright man he was. I went straight to his National Press Trust (NPT) office and informed him of this unpleasant happening. He laughed and said, “Array Yaar! You are right; the PM is the Minister of Information.” So started a warm and most pleasant relationship, which became ever closer when I was posted as Minister Press in the London High Commission where Wajid bhai was High Commissioner in 1994.

He was focused, fearless of the establishment, formed warm relationships with key members of Parliament, including my brother George Galloway, who helped Pakistan in many ways by taking up the Kashmir issue, resulting in the Labour Party’s resolution supporting Pakistan’s stand.

He was a very learned, bright man, fond of reading books which he could quote from memory. I so remember the time when I set up a BBC interview featuring him and the Indian High Commissioner Dr LM Singhvi, a former parliamentarian and jurist of note, and how Wajid bhai left him speechless, quoting from history. I was waiting outside the studio and heard Singhvi say “Marva dia aap ney” (you got me killed!) as they came out.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The Farooq Leghari-Shafqat Mahmood-led coup against their own party happened while Wajid bhai was visiting Pakistan for meetings and despite all of his successes as high commissioner, was jailed by Leghari on trumped-up charges.

Wajid bhai was courageous enough to write many letters to the government in Islamabad, cautioning it against using Mujahideen

I remember writing at the time that loud laughter could be heard from the Indian High Commission, which was still headed by Dr Singhvi who represented three different Indian governments in that important diplomatic post.

Wajid bhai was courageous enough to write many letters to the government in Islamabad, cautioning it against using Mujahideen and other non-government actors to foment trouble in Indian-held Kashmir, warning that India would pay us back by spreading unrest in Pakistan. Let alone a response, none of the letters elicited even an acknowledgement from the FO.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan expressing his views during an interview

There are other matters which proved him to be a very good man and a loyal senior friend. One instance that springs to mind and which portrays another of my old friends, in fact my English teacher at school, late Mr. Khalid Hasan in a not too good light.

Wajid bhai was courageous enough to write many letters to the government in Islamabad, cautioning it against using Mujahideen and other non-government actors to foment trouble in Indian-held Kashmir, warning that India would pay us back by spreading unrest in Pakistan

I was with the high commissioner in his office one day when a Foreign Office colleague came in and said he had just seen the infamous Masood Mahmood (who became an approver in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s sham trial) outside our High Commission’s Consular Office. Wajid bhai said, “You should have told him to go to Pakistan; mayhap the PM will also make him one of her Advisors!”

Wajid Shamsul Hasan is sitting with Benazir Bhutto

When the colleague left the office I said, “Wajid bhai, please don’t say such things. The walls have ears.” He merely laughed and said, “Yaar! It is only a joke.”

Three months later, as I lay in bed in Baltimore, having been operated on twice for a back problem at Johns Hopkins Hospital, three gentlemen came to visit me: Mr. Khalid Hasan, Iftikhar Ali of the APP and my old friend and former editor Shaheen Sehbai.

While talking of this and that, I told them this joke of Wajid bhai’s, saying clearly that this was off the record. I returned to London two weeks later and was working in my office when the intercom rang. “Uper ao,” (come upstairs) the high commissioner said. I went up to his office and he handed me a cutting of that day’s daily Nation, carrying Mr. Khalid Hasan’s article which someone in Pakistan had faxed to him just then and which went something like this: “And there was High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan, sitting in his office, wreathed in cigar smoke etcetera,” describing the Masood Mahmood episode in detail.

“This must be Bashir Riaz (a PPP stalwart and dear friend of Wajid bhai’s and myself); he always indulges in loose talk,” Wajid said lightly. I said, “Sir, yeh goon mein nae khaya hai” (I am the one behind this) and described my meeting with the three gentlemen in Baltimore. “Yaar tum bhi ajeeb aadmi ho; Ghalti bhi karte ho aur maan bhi jatay ho!” (You are a strange man; you make a mistake and admit it also).

I requested him that if the PM asked about this, he should tell her it was me who leaked the “joke.” He asked me to take it easy.

The PM would call Wajid bhai every weekend, so when we met the next Monday, I asked him worriedly if she mentioned Mr. Khalid Hasan’s article. She had not! Benazir Bibi was a big woman, in every sense, with a very big heart. May she and the good Wajid bhai rest in heaven. We are the poorer for their loss. There is so much to tell, but I am too overwrought with sadness to go on.