A Gentleman In Politics

A Gentleman In Politics
Whenever I visit Pakistan, I miss the times when people were gentle, fruits were tasty, words were honest and hearts were real. In search of purposeful healing, I consequently try and reach out for people and places that may be familiar and magical.

We may have lived in parallel worlds, but our paths were bound to cross. I was always intrigued, as a professional, by his decency in human interactions, remarkable success in business and calmness under stress. I was more interested, however, in his public service credentials – leadership on agriculture reforms, industrial transformation, poverty alleviation and improvement in educational infrastructure. As a self-made person, he never boasts about these achievements, and lives by the dictum “Be patient when you have nothing, be polite when you have everything.”

Everyone knows him as a kind, gentle, smart and resourceful man. Jahangir Khan Tareen (JKT) is known for not yielding to obstacles, is unmoved by allurement of position, tokens of the affluent, or due to pressure of public opinion. He had entered politics in the spirit of national service, for making a difference in the lives of ordinary people. In an age of sycophancy and time-serving, when political values are estimated by what they would gain from a political party, JKT is all-giving. He also has a history of assailing the giants and grinding them to dust under his trip-hammer blows. He is loyal to the core values of public service, which are over and above party and personality-based politics.

Unless it is an emergency, JKT does not entertain social calls on Sundays. It must be the force behind me or my good luck that he agreed to meet with me. When I arrived at his residence, I found it rather modest, reflective of his personality than financial status. I was greeted by an equally unassuming attendant who ushered me into what appeared to be his office or study. Its furniture and decor were classic, and the ambiance was tranquil. The worn layout and untidy character of the room alluded to the occupant being wealthy and comfortable with that status.

JKT walked in briskly, wearing his trademark smile and white shalwar kameez. I thought I was looking at a black & white photograph of an aging police officer from early last century. I wondered what lay behind those harmless looks? What lies behind his soft words? I had plans to go beyond the surface; reach behind things so that I could compare the seen with the unseen. I quickly started explaining who I was and why I had come to see him.

I said that I was there to offer my support for the ill-health and ill-will he had suffered in the recent past. It was hard to gauge, which one had hurt him more, because he did not say anything in response. “Koi aur baat karain, Doctor sahib,” his voice was resonant, like a storm was approaching; but gentle, like the rain was ending. As a practicing man of faith, he must have accepted ill-health as his fate. What about the betrayal he had suffered at the hands of his best friend?

Friendship is not something we give or take – it is something two people nurture and grow together. It is like creating flesh and blood of our choice that God never gave us. Therefore, when it goes wrong, it feels like a cruel mistake where you blame yourself for trusting the other. Betrayal by a friend is never easy to process and there is no right way to accept it. It feels like one is being left alone in the middle of a desert at noon without any water or shade. It is, therefore, easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. “It must have been very painful when FIRs were being registered against your daughters” I asked. JKT offered a wry smile and looked away; he was more interested in talking about me.

I asked his friend, Ishaq Khakwani, about what had gone wrong between JKT and Imran Khan. He blamed extreme jealously about how close they were, and the role of palace-style intrigues by those currently close to Khan. Imran Khan was always a simpleton for easily trusting others, and remains incapable of forming genuine friendships. I wanted to understand how he could become so vindictive towards JKT when others in the so called “Sugar Mafia” had stayed in the government or were pursued nominally. Khakwani could not confirm the role of eavesdropping of JKT where he may have said something about Bushra Bibi’s undue influence – a no-go area for anyone as for as Khan is concerned. The real answer is only known to Imran Khan who unleashed Shehzad Akbar and Azam Khan, among others, on JKT, and the rest is history.

History will record that JKT, with his back against the wall, went into rearguard action that contributed to the disintegration, and eventual demise of the Khan government. Some stories also get written because no one believes the absurdity of some real-life events. This one would tell how a man who had worked so hard to help PTI form the government in 2018, was also responsible for bringing it down. Revenge is a dish best served cold – this was perhaps too fresh, and too soon. In the dynamics of betrayal, one can never hurt the other enough to make their betrayal stop hurting. It will also be cited somewhere in the script, “What is more important, that Caesar is assassinated or that he is assassinated by his intimate friends? … That,’ Frederick said, 'is where the tragedy is.”

It doesn't matter what we do in life as long as we change something for better from the way it was before we touched it. The choices we make about how we live determine the sort of legacies we leave behind. I asked JKT what does he think his legacy would be like? He either did not hear my question or chose to ignore it. Great ambition and talent without enduring contribution are of no significance, unless he is one of those to whom only the journey matters. He could live a quiet, well-behaved, and well-healed life from here onwards and leave this world without a trace. Alternatively, he could still seek greatness with a righteous vengeance so that his legacy is told as stories people share about him. The history could be how he feels now.

Before I left, we agreed to meet again. It could start a life-long friendship we hoped. I did not ask him, but the smart money says that he will join the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) along with his group and carry on into the political sunset. This will take him where he had started, “I do not come from a political family but was married into a political family.”

A great story, however, would be if he stays in PTI, regains his lost place, and his children carry on with his political legacy. Away from politics, he should aim to establish a great world-class institution in Pakistan – a JKT Institute of Medical Sciences or a JKT Agricultural University. As a technocrat and a great manager at heart, that could be his real legacy.

Would he follow the whispers where they lead him?

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist and visiting professor