It was an enjoyable experience listening to Dr Kamal Hossain, a former foreign minister of Bangladesh, who spoke at a recent function. The occasion was the death anniversary of Fatehyab Ali Khan, a tireless campaigner for liberty, dispensation of justice, the rule of law and the establishment of a democratic system in Pakistan. The venue was the library of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs in Karachi — an institution whose log over the years has swelled to an embarrassment of riches in the field on book launches, talks and lectures. After the death of her husband Fatehyab, the institute has been ably run by Dr Masuma Hasan, a former ambassador and cabinet secretary who spoke about her late husband and introduced Dr Hossain to the city’s literati. Mercifully, there were no other speakers, just a clutch of men and women who subsequently asked questions. This was in refreshing contrast to the normal practice in Pakistan where an average of eight orators feel it is their bounden duty to loosen their vocal chords in public.
Not only did Dr Hossain speak extempore, he was articulate. It would not be an exaggeration to say that from the moment he made his introductory remarks the audience was absolutely riveted to what he had to say. There were none of the usual cornball clichés and gross generalisations that are spewed out by politicians with a grudge, vast resentments and huge egos. Perhaps a few members of the audience were a little disappointed — but for the wrong reasons. Many older Bangladeshis still harbour a deep resentment against a former senior partner that has been accused of colonising them. And perhaps, these listeners expected him to commence with a spirited defence of why the eastern wing felt a need to break away, and the mass rape of Bengali women during the occupation and war against the Mukhti Bahini. But Dr Hossain would have none of that. He displayed no anger or antipathy or felt the need to exhume the sepia tints of history. He spoke about the future and only briefly hinted at events in the past, assiduously avoiding issues that might have caused offence.
In his modest, scholarly and balanced fashion, he struck a completely different chord and harped on a theme that was once successfully employed and needed revamping. This involved young people in the affairs of state. The youth are the agents of change, he said with certain emphasis. How true. They can be the instruments of a political osmosis. Since their parents apparently don’t want to get involved they should take up the banner. For starters, they should badger their representatives in parliament and ask them what they are doing and have done to make their country a better place to live in. In a way, Dr Hossain was speaking from a position of advantage. He was representing a country that has moved ahead while we in Pakistan seem to have relapsed into a state of medieval intolerance and anarchy from which there doesn’t appear to be any escape. In Bangladesh they speak only one vernacular language. They have only one province, one common political cause — democracy and a fierce sense of nationalism. This is a country that has had elections from the word go, and which declared itself to be a secular republic. It is also a country whose exports are higher than those of Pakistan and whose currency fares far better against the dollar. Chou-en-Lai once told Dr Hossain “You should form a Commonwealth of South Asia”. Now who is going to connect the dots on the map?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2012, see here.