An Exercise In Excellence

An Exercise In Excellence
Mohammad Masud Zaman, who passed away earlier this month in his nineties, was the epitome of an 'officer and gentleman'. Born in Lahore in 1927, he was educated at St Anthony's and Government College. He attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston on a Fulbright scholarship, but prior to graduating joined the Civil Services Academy in Lahore, having been selected in the competitive examination for the topmost tier of the 'central superior services', the CSP, in 1954.


His career - stellar by any standards - spanned decades of service in different areas of Pakistan, from the Northern Areas to interior Sindh. Inter alia it featured his capable handling of the post of Chief Secretary Sindh from 1977 to 1983, in days that held several challenges to law and order in the province and in the city of Karachi. He was the main author of the Karachi Commission Report which analysed the metropolis’s major issues and suggested a way forward. He held in addition responsible positions in the federal government, such as Joint and Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce from 1969 to 1976. His career was crowned by his exemplary occupation of the seniormost position of Cabinet Secretary in 1985.

The administrators of Pakistan following the untimely exit of the Quaid having fallen progressively into disrepute, it was a rare officer indeed who remained both efficient and incorruptible. These are qualities everyone who ever came across Masud Zaman saw and continued to see until his retirement.

To dwell now a little on his family background, his father Justice Khurshid uz Zaman, Oxford-educated in the early 20th century with a Bar at Law qualification from the Middle Temple, graced the Lahore High Court in the 1950s and 60s, and was known for his decisiveness and fairness. Masud's grandfather Mir Azizuddin, hailing from Zafarwal near Sialkot, was a capable administrator in the Political Service of Balochistan pre 1920, and after retirement President of the Anjuman e Himayat e Islam in Lahore and a vice president of the Model Town Society from the 1920s. Masud's mother Zohra, a warm and wonderful lady, belonged to an established and well-connected family of Amritsar.


Masud's brother Mahmud Zaman like their father was a jurist. Completing his LLM from Harvard in 1960, with Kissinger as one of his professors, he went on to handle most of the French nuclear-related reprocessing plant negotiations for the government. He was known as one of the most brilliant lawyers of his day, and it was said he had repeatedly refused offers to join the bench of the Punjab High Court. The youngest brother Farooq Zaman was likewise a lawyer and highly intelligent. He was also a sportsman, and in family accounts the photos of his leading Pakistan's first table tennis team to Beijing and posing with Premier Chou en Lai in the sports stadium are legendary.

Masud Bhai married an equally remarkable lady: Farhat, educated in Lahore and hailing from Dera Ismail Khan and Punjab. Her father Ayub Awan, IG Pakistan and Secretary Interior, needs no introduction, having been an exemplary police officer and able administrator throughout his own career. Her mother Nusrat, from Lahore College, was an educationist, pursuing her calling and inspiring young women throughout her husband's career, wherever it took her.

1958 Marriage

Farhat Zaman complemented her husband par excellence, ably and gracefully representing Pakistan alongside him on their assignments abroad such as to the CENTO Secretariat in Ankara, Turkey, and doing her utmost for the welfare and wellbeing of as many women and families as possible whilst wife of the Chief Secretary Sindh and in the different districts they were posted to.

In her own right she is an extremely gifted artist and painter, working with classical techniques such as Ikebana, and with mixed media; has presided over the Floral Arts Society of Pakistan, led teams to events worldwide, and regularly wins national and international competitions.

The beauty and serenity of the Zamans' residence and its flower-filled garden in Islamabad is thus easy to imagine! Their hospitality is well-known across their wide circle of family and friends; and their devoted sons, Aamir, Omar, and Aadil, experts in their chosen fields of precision engineering, medicine, and pharmaceuticals, live up to this training likewise; complemented similarly  by their own families.

1963 The Zaman Family

When my parents retired from the Foreign Service and settled in Islamabad in the early 1980s, my brothers being often abroad or elsewhere in Pakistan pursuing their own professions and myself working late hours in my office, it was wonderful for us that Masud Bhai and Farhat Apa - he my mother's nephew and she her dear college friend’s daughter - were literally around the corner here in F-7/3. They would visit my parents regularly, always be the first to arrive on Eid, and knowing my mother's sweet tooth bring treats from any and every new patisserie opening in the city. We too looked forward to our visits to their welcoming home both informally or on festive occasions such as Eid or family weddings.

The affection and admiration in which Masud was held was evident in the attendance at his Janaza and at the Dua: the entire street was taken up by the vehicles of those present, as was all the space in the garden and inside the house, right upto the kitchen door.

In writing about Masud Zaman one has to mention his always positive demeanour, his courtesy in dealing with those from all walks of life, including his staff in office and at home; and his subtle and sophisticated sense of humour. He was forever soft-spoken, another testimony to the respect and regard he commanded always both professionally and personally. He was a classic combination of caring son, husband, sibling, father, and firm friend – and a doting and doted-upon grandparent too.

He also had that wonderful and unusual quality - regrettably rare amidst our compatriots - of laughing at oneself or at one's profession or at any other institution. His quotable quips and that humour were the life of the party on many an afternoon or evening amongst family and friends in the cosy calm of the parlour or the elegant ambience of the drawing room.


A favourite anecdote of his, one of many, went like this: a politician, on assuming the new and important office assigned to him, nervously asked his staff officer how he should deal expeditiously with the files he received daily, and how to record his review thereof. 'Sir', offered the young official, 'Just note 'Seen' below each submission or summary'. 'Excellent advice, young man!' said the incumbent. When the luminary moved on to his next exalted appointment, it was 'seen' that he had marked each page he saw with the Urdu letter 'Seen'. A favourite observation was that in the tradition of  medieval courts, those in power   valued blind loyalty above efficiency and objective reporting.

Masud Zaman shall be much missed by many.