POSTCARD USA: Arnold Zeitlin’s Pakistan — Khalid Hasan
Zeitlin concludes his Pakistan diary with what can only be described as a kick in the seat of the pants, “All in all, fun time for me. Islamabad is thriving, with a population of one million, about ten times what Ayub Khan had hoped. It is running out of water, so people talk about Fatehpur Sikri, the fabulous complex Emperor Akbar built near Agra, only to discover (that there was) no water...”
I first met Arnold Zeitlin in Rawalpindi. He was the Associated Press (AP) correspondent in Pakistan and I was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s press secretary. One thing was clear: Zeitlin, who had been asked to leave Manila because of his less than friendly depiction of the Marcos government in the dispatches he filed from there, did not like Mr Bhutto. On the other hand, he seemed to be enamoured of Khan Abdul Wali Khan and his two-and-a-half tehsil strong National Awami Party. Muslehuddin, always a great wit, used to call Zeitlin, the AP’s National Awami Party correspondent.
Zeitlin was in Dhaka in March 1971 but did not get thrown out with the other foreign reporters because he was with friends on the evening of March 24, including Yahya Khan’s federal information secretary and today’s born-again democrat Roedad Khan, in a house in the plush residential area of Gulshan. He spent the night there, returned to the Hotel Intercontinental, the only decent watering hole in the city at the time, the next day and made a beeline for the Tejgaon airport to catch one of the last PIA flights to West Pakistan. He also filed the first report of the military crackdown, dictating it to the AP stringer in Colombo by phone.
Since no good turn is remembered, my good turn to Zeitlin, I realised was no exception either when I made an oblique reference to it on one of his visits to Washington. He had no recollection of it, although I remember it as if it were yesterday. Briefly, after Zeitlin had done yet another story that Mr Bhutto considered both negative and unfair — he called Zeitlin a serial offender — he ordered that the man should be expelled and AP headquarters informed. When I came to know of it, Mr Bhutto had already ordered the Information Ministry to do the necessary.
Unlike most of his ministers, I was never afraid of speaking my mind to him, so I pleaded with Mr Bhutto not to throw out Zeitlin. Once his mind was made up, he seldom changed it, but maybe he was in a generous mood that day, and he agreed. He also said, “All right but tell Zeitlin that next time, it is outs for him.” I told Zeitlin when he came to see me at my rented house on Peshawar Road. He thanked me and I said there was no need for that. This was in 1972. I remember it, but Zeitlin does not, but that is all right. They say: no good deed goes unpunished, so I should be grateful that Zeitlin has not punished me for mine.
Zeitlin, who spent many years in Hong Kong as head of the Freedom House office, now divides his time between China and the United States, interspersed with visits to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. He teaches journalism at the Guandong University for Foreign Students in China and has held workshops for young journalists in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Periodically, he mails out a letter to his friends and contacts to keep them au courant. I am enlarging the readership of the one he sent recently from China after two weeks in Pakistan, where he held a workshop for journalists and made a bus trip to Bagh. Mushahid Hussain treated him to a “bran-flake breakfast” (which explains “Mushaadsaab’s trim waistline) and took him to the Senate where he heard KM “Blameworthy” insist that Pakistan is “not a patsy for the United States” and “to hell with those who believe that Pakistan is a base for Al Qaeda”. Zeitlin knew Mahmud Ali Kasuri and since all comparisons are odious, both he and I have refrained from making them.
Zeitlin was treated to dinner by Roedad Khan, whom he found to have “mellowed into a critic of the government so fierce that another friend, Ziauddin, editor of the Islamabad edition of Dawn, told me that no paper except The Nation in Lahore dares print his articles”. I would only add that other papers don’t print Roedad Khan because not only does he lack credibility but he also writes bad bureaucratese, full of learned quotations.
To that I would add that after feasting on 900 mice, no cat can turn to vegetarianism and expect to be taken seriously. Zeitlin also met Agha Shahi — once called “Begum Shahi” by Gen Yahya Khan — who believes that the United States will use Israeli air force to attack Iran. He also met former ambassador Maqbul Bhatti, one of Islamabad’s great morning walkers, who had the impossible task of selling Pakistan to the world on behalf of the Foreign Office in 1971. “These fellows”, observed Zeitlin, “see all life through the prism of relations with India”.
Adds our inveterate correspondent, “I also had dinner with another former foreign secretary, Riaz Khokhar, who retired last year. Riaz now is a special envoy for the prime minister, junketing around the world promoting the establishment of a think tank to focus on Islam and the rest of the world. He says he will try to bring Israel into the project.” Khokhar was once a hawk, but he won’t be the only hawk to have turned into a dove in the end.
Zeitlin writes, “Of course, there were those at the workshop who believe Bin Laden is an American agent and the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN are under the dictates of the State Department (as if anyone listens these days to the State Department, adds Zeitlin)”. He had lunch with Adnan Aurengzeb, “whose dad Mian Gul was more or less the last Wali of Swat”. Adnan, who was swept out by the Mullahs in the last election, is now trying to win back his National Assembly seat.
Zeitlin points out that “although he ostensibly supports the government of the day, he is bitterly anti-Mush”. Zeitlin also spent time with his old friend G Moeenuddin’s son, Taimur, who works for UNICEF and was a tremendous help to his country after the October earthquake.
Zeitlin concludes his Pakistan diary with what can only be described as a kick in the seat of the pants, “All in all, fun time for me. Islamabad is thriving, with a population of one million, about ten times what Ayub Khan had hoped. It is running out of water, so people talk about Fatehpur Sikri the fabulous complex Emperor Akbar built near Agra, only to discover (that there was) no water. It sits there, abandoned today. If it were not for its strategic location and its possession of nuclear weapons, I guess Pakistan would be a comic opera backwater.”
Comic opera backwater? Come on Arnie, don’t you want a Pakistan visa next year to sup with the world’s greatest living reborn democrat, Roedad Khan?
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based `correspondent. His e-mail is email@example.com