Like a prophet from the pages of
the old scriptures, our UN ambassador, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, has been sounding warnings in quarters ranging from the UN secretary general to increasingly mystified diplomats, visitors and guests, and even a bewildered European minister, that if those now knocking at the gates of Khyber are not stopped, there will be nothing to stop them from storming their way to Panipat.
Since that old battlefield now lies in the Indian state of Haryana, I wonder if New Delhi, already reeling after the terrorist bloodbath in Mumbai, has taken note of our ambassador’s Cassandra-like words.
One can only admire the zeal with which the ambassador is trying to do his job, the first he has held, barring his brief stint as the Sindh Assembly speaker; but since every word that leaves a UN ambassador’s lips is pondered over and analysed, Ambassador Haroon’s dire prediction, backed he insists by history, is causing much anxiety, not to mention confusion.
History books have been consulted by some of the envoys and a wise one has even suggested that Romila Thapar, the eminent Indian historian, who happens to be in the States these days to receive an award, should be invited to brief a group of the more curious and mystified ambassadors as to the significance of the Pakistani permanent representative’s repeated references to Panipat. Thapar may be an authority on ancient India, she will surely be able satisfy the ambassadors’ curiosity about Panipat.
The first Battle of Panipat was fought between Babur and Ibrahim Lodhi in 1526; the second between Akbar and Adil Shah Suri in 1556 and the third between Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Marathas in 1761. Since Ambassador Haroon is obviously apprehensive of the hoards climbing over the gates of Khyber and riding over its dry hills into Pakistan, and then all the way to Panipat, shouldn’t we all be worried? The ambassador is obviously convinced that after laying Pakistan to waste, the marauding hoardes would do the same to India, and may even bring its government down, Panipat being just 80 miles north of Delhi.
Can one stretch this to conclude that had Ambassador Haroon been around in 1761, he would have sided with the Marathas, and in 1556 with Suri and 30 years earlier with Lodhi?
The ambassador wrote a long letter to the UN secretary general the other day (yes, he did not forget to warn him about Panipat) suggesting that Condoleezza Rice should rush to the Subcontinent in view of the Mumbai attacks. While the ambassador perhaps thinks that Rice takes her orders from Ban Ki-moon rather than the man we all thought she works for, it did leave everyone in a tizzy.
One later learnt that he sent a copy of his letter to every UN ambassador. When the secretary-general’s spokesperson Michele Montas was asked on Thursday if there had been any response to Haroon’s letter from the UN chief, she replied with an amused look, “It is a general letter addressed to the secretary-general and to all member states. No action was required in the letter.”
Standard UN practice and etiquette lays down that an ambassador only writes to the secretary-general on a substantive matter requiring his urgent personal attention. When someone said something on these lines to our ambassador, he replied that he was not a bureaucrat but a politician who would do his own thing. My request to my countrymen, therefore, is, “Tighten your seat belts; we have rough weather ahead.” But then it also occurs to me that Ambassador Haroon is following Mirza Ghalib: Khat likhain gai garchay matlab kuchh na ho. (letter one’ll write though it may have no meaning).
Ambassador Haroon is certainly following his own style. A week or so after the UN General Assembly went into session and President Zardari was come and gone, our man flew off to Karachi. Nobody knew why. He stayed there close to a month, thus setting a kind of precedence which no country is likely to follow, namely leaving your mission leaderless at a time when all ambassadors are hard at work following the UN standing committees’ work and pushing their country’s case on given items of that session’s agenda.
Inquiries made in Karachi revealed that much of Ambassador Haroon’s time had been taken up with Sindh Club elections where he was canvassing for a government heavy who was running for the vice president’s slot. He lost. In the event that it is decided to post an ambassador to the Sindh Club, one very much hopes that our worthy president will know who the most appropriate person for that most delicate of appointments is.
I am reminded of more poetry as I write this. Nasir Kazmi this time: Yoon-hi aabad rahay gi dunya: Hum na hoon gay koi hum-sa ho ga (The world will remain as it is: We won’t be around but there’ll be others like us).
And that brings me to Jam Amir Ali of blessed memory, who is remembered to this day for having delivered a classic speech to the General Assembly in 1981. After reading from the text that he had been given by the Pakistan Mission, he told the assembled diplomats: “Now sir, in conclusion, I humbly submit that the dilemma for the resolution of the conscious outlook is the only remedy. It is said that abhorrence for the learned in his infidelities and the inept in his devotions — our times are impatient of both and especially of the last. Let us not be pestered with assertions and half-truths, with emotions and scuffle. In the closing decades of the 20th century, these cannot conceivably solve any problem and indeed it is the source of positive danger to mankind — or words to that effect. It declares that this community of interest, in interests makes all men, otherwise differently interested partners in the great enterprise of replacing evil with good and good with better, so as to achieve the best possible. It is a proverb that to cut the cakes is never conducive to mankind. Also it is not humanitarian to be with farrago of twisted facts. God save us from the sprangles of cataclysm. And the scuttles of the ship should be repaired expeditiously by this august body. It is said that one man’s mickle is another man’s muckle. In conclusion, I greatly appreciate and express my warm gratitude to you by giving me the floor of this august house. Thank you.”
While I take a bow to the Jam for introducing the world to the sprangles of cataclysm and for proving that one man’s mickle can never be another man’s muckle, things being what they are, it is only a matter of time before we mickle our way to Panipat.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is email@example.com://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008\12\07\story_7-12-2008_pg3_3