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SYED IFTIKHAR HUSSAIN GILLANI.....THE GENTLE DOVE

 

I would not be quite honest if I claimed to have understood Iftikhar Gillani after interviewing him. It is not that simple. Iftikhar is a very private person whose emotions, reactions and responses are all under tight control. He seemed aware of every word he uttered, giving away only what he wanted to. Denying this, he says that being deliberate in thought and speech is an inherent trait. He became aware of it only after joining public life.

The eldest child of Pir Syed Amir Hussain Gillani, he says he was made to believe he was the cat's whiskers and had no reason to believe otherwise until he was about fifteen years old. Matriculating in 1954, and following a one year stint at Islamia College, Peshawar, Iftikhar joined Forman Christian College, Lahore, in 1956. This was his first visit to Lahore, and he suffered a sort of cultural shock. Finding his classmates to be polished, sophisticated and worldly wise, he kept a low profile until he had learned their ways. Within a year he had learned enough to be elected the President of the College Union. Learning to play Tennis, he went on to win the Trophy for his college. Until then, the Government College Lahore, had been the undisputed champions for almost ten years. This is Iftikhar's style. He is too sure of himself, too quietly confident, to be overawed by anyone.

Iftikhar has become well-known for being soft spoken in these days of loud, brash politics. His greatest asset though, is his self-control, this has allowed him to be whom he wants to be; another is his vaunting ambition! Honest enough to recognize his own shortcomings, Iftikhar is not above learning from others. Although he admits to admiring some people, he says he has never been overawed by them.

Amusedly, Iftikhar recounted an incident that took place on 14, August 1947. His mother had found him, face against the wall, crying inconsolably.

"Why are you crying?" she asked wondering why he did not join the general jubilation; afraid someone had hurt her precious first-born.

"Quaid-e-Azam has made Pakistan. There is nothing left for me to achieve!" answered her ambitious seven year old. Iftikhar's mother was a wise woman, she pacified her child without mocking him, encouraging him to dream other dreams of greatness.

Syed Iftikhar Hussain Gillani says he had never felt restricted by his Junglekhel background, (a Kohat suburb) where he was born on 18th. July 1940. He always knew, with a quiet certainty, that his future lay beyond. Very early in life Iftikhar had decided that great things were in store for him, and he bitterly fought any restraint in his journey to meet destiny.

Admitting that he is not a very physically active person, Iftikhar says he prefers cerebral stimulation. I do not know whether he will agree with me, but I have a serious suspicion that Iftikhar is not the kind of man who will forgive or forget a slight. An injury he may ignore. Although he projects the air of a relaxed, easy-going democrat; I suspect he is also a demanding, controlled and ambitious man. I also got the impression that he despises people who do not have a similar self-control and implacable will power.

Glorifying respect and obedience to elders, he told of when his father visited his office while he was an advisor to the N.W.F.P Governor. Seeing him rushing to touch his father's feet in obeisance amazed the others present at the time.

Yet, the very same obedient son married a girl of his own choice, in the teeth of his family's opposition. Since that fateful day in 1959, when Iftikhar first saw Nusrat, until 1964 when they were finally married, he did not doubt for a moment that he would not marry her. He said he had made up his mind and that was that! Warm, impulsive Nusrat, with her bubbling sense of humour and her transparent sincerity was a perfect foil for the complex Iftikhar. Her breath-taking beauty was an added attraction.

After studying law at the Punjab University from 1959-61, Iftikhar was apprenticed to Latif Khan, a criminal lawyer of Peshawar. Then, instead of setting up as a lawyer, Iftikhar went back to Kohat and started a construction business. He admits that he was not cut out for business and lost quite a lot of money. Finally his father decided he might make a better lawyer, and in 1967 Iftikhar moved to Peshawar to practice the Law.

Then came the 1970 elections. Although Iftikhar was attracted by the Pakistan People's Party pro-people programme, the general consensus in his family was that he should contest for the Provincial Assembly as an independent candidate. Losing his first election he joined the PPP in 1971. In 1975 Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao was assassinated. The N.W.F.P Government was dissolved and Iftikhar was appointed Advisor to the Governor.

I asked whether he was in contact with any of his childhood friends from Government High School No:2, Kohat. Iftikhar replied that, moving in different social circles they do not meet on a very regular basis. Yet, when they do meet, within minutes, the barricades built by time and social status are swept aside. During his elections, he depends on their help and support, which they have never been niggardly in giving.

Although Iftikhar professes to be a proponent of Women's Rights, as Law Minister in the first Benazir Government he never framed any laws that would protect, safeguard or further the cause of women in Pakistan. I asked him about this. Iftikhar says he did not believe laws could change attitudes. I was a little taken aback by the answer, but then, Iftikhar is a complex bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions.

Answering a question about his resignation from the PPP and joining Nawaz Shareef's Muslim League, Iftikhar said he disagreed with Ms.Bhutto's political expediency in joining hands with Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It is Iftikhar's considered opinion that Ghulam Ishaq Khan was the worst thing that happened to Pakistani politics. `A glorified bureaucrat with no imagination or breadth of vision,' is how he describes GIK. After having his say, Iftikhar hastens to add that he has nothing personal against GIK. The criticism only applies to his style of retrogressive governance as a President.

When asked whether he found any difference between the ideologies of the Muslim League and the Peoples Party, Iftikhar had to admit that there really was very little difference. I noticed more than a hint of nostalgia as he spoke of the camaraderie that existed in the Pakistan People's Party. The top brass met frequently, and Ms. Bhutto, while visiting his house would pull up her feet, chatting easily with the whole family. Iftikhar was full of praise for Mohtrama Benazir as a person. He says that during his long association with the PPP, BB and he were very tolerant of each other. There was never any animosity, bitterness nor acrimony, inspite of their many shouting matches when they did not see eye to eye. Disagreeing with BB's impatience with the democratic process, Iftikhar finally parted ways with the PPP in 1993. He believes that in her haste to enter the corridors of power, Mohtrama Benazir sacrificed the very principles that were at the heart of the PPP's struggle for democracy. This, for Iftikhar, is a cardinal sin.

Another ticklish question that Iftikhar deflected in his own inimicable fashion, was about his position on the Kalabagh Dam. Instead of giving me a direct answer he told me a story about when, as Law Minister, he had gone to Saudi Arabia. Showing him rows upon rows of apartment buildings in Ryadh, empty because of a fatwa against living so high above the ground, a Court Minister explained that instead of forcing his fiat, the King had decided to wait until there was consensus of opinion about inhabiting them. Firmly believing in the relativity of perception, Iftikhar believes that nothing is intrinsically either good or bad. Since good governance lies in collective wisdom, decisions should be made keeping in mind the wishes of the people.

It is very difficult to put a finger on what makes Iftikhar Gillani tick. Although a politician, he savours solitude; spending many days alone in his lovely Nathiagali house. Although a family man to the core, he maintains an indefinable distance with his children, Rabia, Aamir and Maliha. As a parent, he is not given to overt expressions of love, and there is no question of a quick hug or a kiss; yet, they dote on him.

It may sound like a strange thing to say, but I found a certain arrogance in his humility; and some contradictions in his self-concept. He prefers to be known as a tolerant man; yet, it is difficult to believe that for one so very particular of what he says and does; for one who is so very intolerant of his own shortcomings; he could be very tolerant of another's weaknesses. A perfectionist, he demands the very best from everyone else.

Long ago, Iftikhar pulled himself up by the bootstraps, vowing to be equal to all men, and never having to look up to another person. When all is said and done, I do believe he has succeeded. Today, Syed Iftikhar Hussain Gillani is considered a statesman among politicians, a thorough gentleman and an uncompromising democrat.


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