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Interview with Riaz Mohammad Khan

Discussion in 'Pakistani Siasat' started by sparklingway, May 23, 2010.

  1. sparklingway


    May 12, 2009
    +0 / 5,071 / -0
    No Spinzone: Pakistan in the closet
    By Anjum Niaz
    Sunday, 23 May, 2010
    Riaz Mohammad Khan is not the sort of a man who allows peripheral discussion outside his world of foreign affairs. But darn, his heart is that of a bohemian’s, he must let his hair down sometimes! Whatever… his pride won’t allow him to ‘beg’ the foreign secretary to breathe life into his pet project ‘Pakistan’. We are the losers. - File Photo.

    No this can’t be! Our Foreign Office is not a khushamadi tattu (kowtower), or is it? There is still a modicum of decency in that dwindling bastion of babudom that once made our foreign policy. It values its foreign secretaries past. Why then is the current captain of the ship, the foreign secretary, loathe to own a coffee table book on Pakistan edited by his predecessor? Is it because the book’s history ends with Pakistan’s birth in 1947 instead of stretching to the present to sing hosannas of the Bhuttos?

    Is this the famous book (titled ‘Pakistan’) our leaders present to foreign dignitaries to showcase Pakistan? I ask my host Riaz Mohammad Khan, pointing to his book lying on a side table. “No” he says. I let the subject pass and move to matters more profound, err… like India. Sure, how goes with his Indian interlocutor, the affable S.K. Lambah on Kashmir? I ask. “Not too great!” he says blandly. After enabler Tariq Aziz left along with buddy Musharraf, the Foreign Office (read Asif Zardari) asked Riaz to keep the Indo-Pak dialogue going.

    But didn’t Mr Zardari fire you when you resisted involving the UN Security Council to investigate Benazir Bhutto’s assassination? I ask in the hope that Riaz will now open up. No way! He’s still very guarded. However, his few paltry sentences point towards his exit. Yes, he was told his job was over and he need not show up at the Foreign Office again! He stood dismissed. His sin was unpardonable.

    After he was pushed out rather unceremoniously, his dismissal did generate a degree of discussion in the circles of power. Finally sense prevailed and it was decided not to involve the Security Council. “Had that been done — a resolution by the SC would have become a source of considerable mischief for us. But still the government wanted the UN Secretary General to appoint the commission. The report therefore has a certain quasi-legal authority but not the same if it were to flow from the mandate of a Security Council resolution,” he says.

    Put simply, our establishment’s role (read military) according to the report is negative. It’s writ on stone, as they say, and has become a permanent UN record for America or any other power to use against Pakistan.

    Riaz Mohammad Khan lightens up at the lunch table. As a third secretary in China, he got the toughest assignment of his career. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sent his four children to tour China in 1972. “One evening I accompanied them to meet Prime Minister Chou En Lai. It was a very cordial meeting and Mrs Lai warmly welcomed the children of their friends. Benazir was on a vacation from Harvard and was full of the forthcoming presidential election between McGovern and Nixon. ‘Who do you think will win?’ asked the Chinese PM. ‘Why, of course McGovern!’ pat came her reply. ‘I think it will be Nixon,’ said the PM. He then went into minute details why he thought so: ‘I’m following the day-to-day campaign as it unfolds in the US,’ he said. Benazir kept quiet.” Nixon, as we know won.

    The first family had fun but when it was time to depart, the youngest, Shahnawaz fell sick with dysentery. They had to cancel their PIA flight much to the chagrin of Benazir. She wanted to return at any cost and harassed Riaz to book them on another flight. “All other flights went through Delhi. Imagine the headlines, ‘Bhutto kids in India!’ Don’t forget we had just come out of a war with them.”

    Benazir was furious and “complained bitterly” to Riaz’s ambassador Agha Shahi who had just arrived in Beijing. The kids finally left on a PIA flight. Decades later, as prime minister, BB rated Riaz as one of the best our foreign service could boast off.

    Tell me about the book that never got launched on August 14, 2008. You lost your job in April of that year and the book came back from the printer’s a month after that. “There are 2,000 copies in all that cost three million rupees. I wanted the copies presented to dignitaries.” He doesn’t know their fate. If the Foreign Office is so apathetic, why not market the book? Why can’t ordinary Pakistanis buy it? “Because, the money came from a fund that is not meant to be used for commercial purposes. But I personally feel we should go for a reprint and sell it in the market. The money can go to the welfare retirement fund of our officers.”

    He’s pitching for his book: “I show a different Pakistan to the world through photographs and text enlivening our diversity, culture, arts and craft, people and places. It melds the unique, complex and exciting aspects of our history pulling in the curious reader to travel along its pages.”

    What do you know of art? You’re a hardboiled diplomat talking about imponderables like Siachin and Sir Creek with Lambah? “Come in to my study. I paint.” I’m at Riaz’s home in the suburbs of Islamabad. His single-storeyed modest structure is surrounded by splendid views. Siberian cranes roam around freely. The Alsatian and the cat follow us as I look at my host’s works of art displayed on the wall facing his desktop. Our former foreign secretary, staid as he appears, has an artist’s eye.

    Wait, what do I see here? On another wall is a small pen sketch neatly framed of an attractive female figure. Whose is this? I ask. “I sketched it when I was in class nine.” You must have matured before time, I say, letting my reserve drop for once.

    Riaz Mohammad Khan is not the sort of a man who allows peripheral discussion outside his world of foreign affairs. But darn, his heart is that of a bohemian’s, he must let his hair down sometimes!

    Whatever… his pride won’t allow him to ‘beg’ the foreign secretary to breathe life into his pet project ‘Pakistan’. We are the losers.

    Personal Nore:- For those who'll most probably reply saying that he might be one of the "few" capable and honest high ranking bureaucrats, the higher echelons of bureaucracy is full of capable, intelligent, articulate and brilliant people. Honesty isn't hard to find either.