"Kings don’t like kingmakers” is one of the many prickly remarks in Treasured Memories, Shahid Hamid’s elegant, immaculately produced memoir. One more feather in his already crowded cap, Hamid’s book is a delightful read — cheerful, witty and packed with anecdotes and photographs. Obviously, every public figure has sympathisers and detractors, so a memoir, in essence, cannot have much room for those who may hold a diverse point of view about the author or his views.
Reviewing the book was quite a challenge, though, for multiple reasons. As an “apolitical” personality who has maintained relatively low public visibility in his long career, the author’s behind-the-scenes involvement and contribution to national affairs and political developments have been profound, controversial and enduring — for instance, his input as a constitutional lawyer during the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s second government, as well as the formation of the interim governments that followed.
Both Hamid’s family background and academic accomplishments are exceptional. His paternal grandfather, Khan Bahadur Shah Nawaz Khan, retired from provincial civil service in the 1930s and was elected to Punjab’s legislative assembly in 1951. Hamid’s father was military secretary to former governor-general of Pakistan, Khawaja Nazimuddin, and continued with his successor Ghulam Mohammad. Later, he served as Pakistan’s ambassador and, after retirement, was elected twice to the National Assembly.
Hamid was born in 1941. He obtained a degree in economics from the University of Cambridge and became a barrister-at-law at the Inner Temple before joining Pakistan’s civil service, in which he served for 14 years, including two (1967-69) in East Pakistan.
Having been secretary to former chief minister Punjab, Hanif Ramay, during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rule, he acquired valuable firsthand experience of power politics in Pakistan. He worked closely with former president Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari — his batchmate in the civil service — during the ouster of Benazir’s government; was appointed federal minister of defence, establishment and law; and, in 1999, resigned from his post as governor of Punjab weeks before Gen Pervez Musharraf took over. His law practice spans 40 years.
Significant in his book are the intriguing revelations about the workings of the inner corridors of power, the paradox between what the public gets to know and what goes on behind the scenes, how decisions to dismiss governments are made, and how the announcements are drafted. Not to mention, how power centres interact.
Former top bureaucrat Shahid Hamid’s memoirs are packed with anecdotes about the workings of the inner corridors of power
In one of the book’s many enlightening accounts, he writes: “President Leghari was asked to represent Pakistan at the annual Davos Conference in Switzerland. In the previous year, Benazir had gone ... with an extra-large delegation for which, according to our ambassador, a dozen limousines had to be hired.
“The prime minister of Sweden, who was staying at the same hotel as Benazir, went to and from the conference venue on public transport and got there faster than did the fleet of limousines.
“Leghari was determined to take along a much smaller delegation. He chose two ministers and two important persons, namely myself and the late M.S. Baqir, father of the present governor State Bank, as well as a couple of officers from the foreign and finance ministries. All businessmen aspiring to accompany were told to get there on their own. As a result, hardly any turned up, just a few bankers. The small delegation was still too large. The conference organisers allow entry of only three from each country into the main hall. The rest of us had to sit and wait in the anterooms. Davos is a beautiful ski resort and the three days there [were] a very enjoyable tourist experience.”
About the sycophancy rampant in high places, Hamid relates that, during a flight, he overheard a senior official say to Nawaz Sharif: “Prime Minister, when you are in the 22nd year of your term ...”
On showing handmade Pakistani carpets to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on their 1997 visit, Hamid narrates: “Her eyes lit up. She took off her shoes and walked up and down in her stockinged feet ... She said, ‘Governor, can you ask the price?’ When I did and told her, there was a raised eyebrow and she said what for me is forever unforgettable, ‘Governor, do you think we can haggle?’ She left Pakistan with four carpets, three gifted to her by the president, the prime minister and me, and the one she purchased.”
In the chapter ‘Confrontation’, Hamid offers another rare insight into the conduct in high offices. “Other than the slight blip caused by the 13th amendment, relations between Farooq Leghari and Nawaz Sharif and his government remained cordial for the first six months and I was able to smooth the way where required.
Obviously, every public figure has sympathisers and detractors.
“Nawaz Sharif had decided on anti-terrorist legislation that sought to create a trial court and appellate court structure independent of the superior judiciary. When [Chief Justice] Sajjad Ali Shah got to hear of this, he said the Supreme Court would strike down any such law, and proposed trial by the high courts and appeals to the Supreme Court to expedite the judicial process in terrorism cases. The draft law was sent to me. On learning this, nothing in Pakistan is secret, some of the high court judges who might have been selected [for the] trial courts came to me and said, ‘Please tell your prime minister and our chief justice that we will not be “qurbani ka bakra” [sacrificial goat], we will hear the appeals but let there be special courts for trials whose judges should be given all necessary security.’
“I prepared a draft law in light of this feedback. Sajjad Ali Shah said that its validity would have to be determined by the inevitable judicial challenge, but agreed that the appointment of special judges in consultation with respective chief justices of the high courts kept the proposed set-up within the overarching judicial organ. The draft law was finalised at a special meeting under the chairmanship of the prime minister to which I was also invited.
“As the meeting was about to conclude with its approval, Chaudhry Shujaat, the interior minister, spoke up, ‘Mian Sahib, don’t pass this law.’ A surprised Nawaz Sharif asked, ‘Why Chaudhry Sahib?’ Came the answer, ‘I fear that one day sadde gulleh paeye jaaeh ga [it can become our undoing].’ We all laughed, but shouldn’t have. Nawaz Sharif was convicted under this law in 2000. Chaudhry Shujaat was prescient.”
Another interesting account is of Hamid asking his father, Hamid Nawaz Khan, why Khwaja Nazimuddin’s government was dismissed. Nazimuddin had taken over as prime minister after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination in 1951. Khan replied that Nazimuddin and his cabinet were asked to meet then governor-general Ghulam Mohammad. Mohammad opened proceedings by asking for Nazimuddin’s resignation. “A stunned Khawaja Sahib asked, ‘Why should I resign?’ Ghulam Mohammad terminated proceedings by saying, ‘Very well, in that case, you are dismissed,’ and walked out.”
The only explanation for this dismissal that the author gives is: “Ghulam Mohammad could not have sacked the prime minister and his government without the support of General Ayub Khan.”
The ‘Epilogue’ concludes Treasured Memories with optimism and hope for Pakistan and emphasises the importance of economic growth. In this regard, Hamid speaks of a crucial national issue not treated effectively in our national discourse:
“Post-1971 a big, big failure has been the failure to control population growth. This failure continues and is the result of the dismantling of the family planning programme during the tenure of Gen Ziaul Haq. When we separated, the population of East Pakistan was  million more than ours. Today, ours is  million more than theirs. This factor, more than any other, is responsible for the fact that our living standards ... are now far behind ... South Korea and Malaysia who saw us as a role model in the 1960s. We have to put in place a consensus long term plan to contain population growth.”
The reviewer is a freelance writer and translator of Freedom of the Press: The War on Words 1977-1978; and Mr. and Mrs. Jinnah: The Marriage that Shook India, in English and Urdu respectively
By Shahid Hamid
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 23rd, 2021