WHAT the author describes as a “trilogy consisting of the Transfer of Power, Camelot by the sea, and Asian Drama Revisited,” The Waters of Lahore, a memoir by Kamal Azfar, is essentially a comprehensive political history of Pakistan.
Starting with the inception and development of the idea of a separate country for the Muslims of South Asia to the general elections of 2013, the book is a well documented and researched text and reproduces several court judgments.
The two major sub-themes in the book are Kamal’s awe of the British Raj, which was fortified by the influence of his ICS father, Muhammad Azfar, OBE: “As twilight fell, the liveried head-bearer, Razzak, wheeled in a trolley with sundowners: scotch for Mitchel and Mrs Mitchel. The masalchi carried in a blazing pertomas, there being no electricity in Sambalpur. Twelve domestics served the DC’s house: a paniwalla, a pankhawalla, a groom, a driver, a valet, a cook, three chaprassis, two sentries, a topless sweepress … and above all, buxom Kulsoom, ayah to the three boys, Shahab, Kamal and Jawaid.”
The second major sub-theme is the economic development plans envisaged for Pakistan that are largely inspired by Azfar’s years of studying at Oxford and working under Nobel prize-winning economist, Professor Gunnar Myrdal.
The Waters of Lahore offers a thorough description of the events preceding the creation of Pakistan, the formation of the governments since, and the dynamics of the power struggles between the founders, the bureaucrats, the military and the indigenous feudal political forces. Azfar writes: “In 1937, when the 25th session of the All India Muslim League was convened at Lucknow, the Muslim leaders in the UP consisted of three groups: the talukdars of Oudh, the Western-educated shurfa, and the Ulema. The talukdars were best represented by men like the Raja Sahib of Mahmoodabad … the ulema scholars like Maulana Abul Jamaluddin Abdul Wahab, and Jamal Mian, president of the All India Khilafat Committee; and the educated middle-class by men such as Justice Z. H. Lari and Muhammad Athar Advocate.”
Written in a clipped style, the memoir includes occasional gossip about “lovers” and “cuckolds” among the mighty and the famous Azfar comes across. But probably the most interesting and revealing aspect of the book is the behind-the-scenes interactions between Azfar and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, and other prominent members of the PPP. The formation, rise and decline of the PPP, as described by someone who was a part of the game from the beginning, and his anecdotes about numerous personalities including the Bhuttos, make for an absorbing and instructive read.
Notwithstanding the frank scathing remarks about many individuals and institutions, Azfar seems to have sailed through his narrative seemingly without offending the establishment, the PPP, the PML-N, the religious parties, or anyone else for that matter, by balancing them with complimentary remarks. Perhaps this tolerance or understanding, which some might term a lack of commitment to any one side, has been the reason for the absence of an outstanding contribution during his public life in spite of his being close to the helm for years. Conscious of this dilemma, and writing in the third person, Azfar remarks, “Green-eyed jealousy was a constant companion of Kamal’s checquered political career. Whether it was Benazir Bhutto’s demon lover and husband, Asif Ali Zardari stopping Benazir from appointing Kamal to replace Farooq Laghari as foreign minister in 1994, or Abdul Waheed Katpar … poisoning ZAB’s mind … or Yahya Bakhtiar…”
Extolling the contributions of the British colonisers frequently, Azfar acknowledges some of the indigenous systems of government which the Raj retained, but there is little else about the methods exercised by the pre-Raj rulers to govern the vast, rich and diversified territories of combined India. Azfar also overlooks mentioning that he was among the pioneers of television talk show hosts during the black and white era of the PTV.
A full chapter is dedicated to Faiz Ahmed Faiz in which, among other things, Azfar talks about Faiz’s love affairs, and that his father, a barrister who was the ambassador of Afghanistan to England during the reign of Emir Abdur Rahman, was the author of a biography of the legendary ruler and the recipient of a medal from Queen Victoria, “which Faiz sahib kept hidden in a drawer of his table and showed only to Minnoo Bhandara.”
The best thing about The Waters of Lahore is that Azfar has highlighted his faith in the future of Pakistan and illustrated his hopes through historic, geographic, cultural and political arguments. For example, he concludes the book saying, “Like Egypt, Pakistan is a state with one national language and one river system. The Indus and Urdu are to Pakistan what the Nile and Arabic are to Egypt … Pakistan has come of age. Pakistan was created a State; let us make it one Nation.” It is a realistic book for disheartened Pakistanis to engage in a constructive debate about their country.
The Waters of Lahore
By Kamal Azfar
SAMA Editorial & Publishing Services, Karachi