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September 30, 2019

The distinguished dozen


September 30, 2019

Seeking unanimity in selecting the top achievers in different fields is a near impossibility; perceptions differ even where no bias is at play. All the same, I am making an ingenuous attempt to pick Pakistan’s best of the best in twelve categories if only to introduce some names for the younger generation. By distinguished I mean honourable high achievers. The current holders of power are excluded from scrutiny till their terms conclude.

We start with Pakistani politics because finding really distinguished persons in this field is akin to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. I feel both Ayub Khan and Khan Qaiyum left us with some development monuments. Khan Qaiyum was bright, bold and innovative and scrupulously honest too but neither he nor his relatives benefitted financially from his political career.

Ayub Khan could boast of material progress in the water and power sectors as indeed in industrial and agricultural growth but he had his shortcomings. His folly in initiating the strategically miscalculated war with India in 1965 was responsible for Pakistan’s aborted economic take-off which perhaps contributed to the later separation of East Pakistan. Three other prime ministers, the sharp and witty Husyn Shaheed Suhrwardy, the staid and solid Muhammad Khan Junejo and the intelligent and competent Shaukat Aziz left few lasting legacies despite their talents.

Chaudhry Muhammad Ali and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto arguably were among the brightest minds the country ever saw but each damaged the political structure irretrievably by forsaking the politics of compromise. My choice as winner is Khan Qaiyum despite his vindictiveness towards his political opponents!

The bureaucracy sported hundreds of bright, honourable and capable officials who toiled hard, mostly without recognition, on very frugal terms. Sheer numbers prevent them being named. Their accomplishments aside, all bureaucrats remained a lap or two behind the incomparable Paladin, Ghulam Ishaq Khan in official conduct and dedication to duty. Happily, there lies hope for the future; I notice great promise among some officers now serving competently despite the odds stacked against them.

The judiciary generally, and especially at the subordinate level, has been a disappointment but there were some quiet and solid trendsetters all along. Few among the thousands who donned the robes reached the statures of Justices AR Cornelius, Rustam Kiyani, KM Samdani, Qaiser Khan, Rana Baghwan Das, Tassadaq Jilani (or Aitizaz Ahsan from the bar), to this august list.

One name that recently rang loudest was that of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry even though he appeared overbearing? Yet he should be remembered for saving the Margalla hills from chalet-construction and retrieving the Munda-Mohmand dam from private sector carpetbaggers. Recklessly meddling in the Reko Dig copper mines, the rental power sector and the Karachi steel mill were grievous mistakes. My choice for the top slot is a tossup between Rana Baghwan Das and K M Samdani for ability, humility and credibility.

The real heroes from the military were not the commanders but the ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen (not forgetting the policemen) who faced bullets in battle. The commanders in Pakistan, for reasons well known, had additional domestic obligations forced upon them by political exigencies that sucked in apolitical figures like General Waheed Kakar. Regardless of the results of the wars fought, they don’t distract from the raw courage displayed by a few like Major Generals Iftikhar Janjua and Naseerullah Babar.

The resolve shown by the likes of Generals Ashfaq Kiyani, Raheel Sharif and Tariq Khan during our darkest hours in 2009 deserves a special place in our pantheon. Thankfully, the aura of invincibility of the Pakistan Air Force remained on display thanks to devoted professionals like Air Marshals Asghar Khan, Nur Khan, Hakeemullah and others.

Somehow we do not celebrate the derring-do of fighter pilots like Saiful Azam, Sattar Alvi and Hatif who shot down a number of Israeli planes nor of those who downed over a dozen planes during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the military, the top gun remains Asghar Khan.

In philanthropy and public service Pakistan boasts many a hero and gratuitously this list gets longer annually. Philanthropists like Abdul Sattar Eidhi, Imran Khan, Dr Adeeb Rizvi, Dr Abdul Bari and Jamshed Marker have become household names. In addition, thousands of Christian and other non-Muslims serve in schools and hospitals under trying conditions in service of humanity.

We can count many ‘Langlands’ but none could surpass Dr Ruth Pfau whose dedication helped eradicate leprosy in Pakistan. She gets the top position over all despite all obstacles she faced; she was a foreigner (initially), a Christian and a lady and yet chose to care for Muslim lepers whom the Muslims shunned.

In the sporting arena the lead contenders include Imran Khan the cricketer, Hashim Khan and Jansher Khan the squash legends, Brojan Das who swam the English channel, Naseer Bunda whose goal got Pakistan the hockey gold medal in the Rome Olympic in 1960 and the captain of his team Brigadier Hameedi. However, no contender could match Jehangir Khan, the squash legend who won the World Open eight times and the British Open on six occasions. Achievements aside, where did he get his humility from and why is no road in Islamabad named after him and others?

Leaders in the field of business, banking and industry were many but a few stand out like Ardesher Cowasjee, Agha Hasan Abidi and Ghulam Farook. Modern agriculture in Pakistan owes much to Dr Norman Borlaugh and to Jehangir Tareen. Interestingly, two unconventional but remarkably successful investors have lately emerged in Malik Riaz and the Haigher group who have propelled housing and electronic industry to new heights because they worked the system well. I like Cowasjee the most.

In scientific achievement none could compare with our Nobel Prize winner Dr Abdul Salam though Dr Ishfaq Ahmad, Dr A Q Khan, Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy were exemplary scientists. In poetry and literature Faiz Ahmad Faiz out-soared even Hafeez Jalundri and Ahmad Faraz. The cinema and showbiz sector saw the popularity of Nur Jehan, Nadia Hasan and Alamgir surge high but for the connoisseurs only Mehdi Hasan could suffice.

Finally, a special children’s category involved intense competition amongst iconic teenagers Arfa Karim, the information technology genius, Malala Yusafzai the Nobel Peace prize winner and Aitizaz Hasan of Hangu who died tackling a suicide bomber. Should the late Arfa get the top spot – or is a choice not possible?

There are another two hundred million heroes as well – the patient, abused and neglected people of Pakistan. They are preyed upon by everyone with authority, force or guile. Pakistan Zindabad.

The writer has served as the chief secretary of GB, AJK, KP and Sindh and was the

chairman of Wapda and the Pakistan Railways.

Email: [email protected]