The legend of Prince Aly Khan

March 27, 2012

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LEGEND has it that when the late Prince Aly Khan (a son of the late Aga Khan) was Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1950s, the evening receptions he hosted at the Pakistan House in New York were hugely popular and well-attended.

According to one old veteran of the paparazzi, everybody who was anybody in New York’s party circuit wanted to come to Pakistan House.

The cards to the ambassador’s party were reportedly sold to some rich people for $500. Why?

Well, because Prince Aly Khan was once married to the famous Hollywood beauty Rita Hayworth, was known for his love of fast cars and women and because so called A-list movie stars as well as UN diplomats came to his parties.

According to Wikipedia, “In Nov 1957, Aly Khan met President Iskander Mirza and was offered a service as the country’s permanent spokesman in the United Nations, whose formal announcement was made on Feb 6, 1958.”

The New York Times said that “as a member of the United Nations Political and Security Committee representing Pakistan, Aly Khan’s brief UN posting was viewed with surprise by many observers”. He was elected vice president of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 17, 1958, and also served as chairman of the UN’s Peace Observation Committee.

I am told by veteran correspondent Iftikhar Ali of the APP that although Prince Aly Khan’s appointment was opposed by many in Pakistan, when he spoke in the UN General Assembly all press cameras and reporters’ eyes focused on him. He spoke eloquently about all the issues concerning Pakistan, including Kashmir.

For Pakistan, it was a great bonus. He got great press because of his flamboyant personality, as did Pakistan’s viewpoint. Aly Khan never took a salary except for $1, and even when he threw lavish parties from the Pakistan house, he footed the whole bill.

This March, besides UN diplomats hundreds of Pakistanis came to the Pakistan Day reception. The place was so packed it was impossible not to bump into people. Since the Pakistan cricket team had won a cliffhanger of a match against Bangladesh, people were eager to exchange notes.

Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, whose friendship with Pakistan’s envoy to the UN, Abdullah Husain Haroon, has become quite famous, was there. Mr Puri was immediately nabbed by PTV cameramen and reporters and after spending a little time there, both were gone. When asked where Mr Haroon had suddenly gone, his press officer said that “he was not feeling well and had to leave”.

One of the reasons for the huge turnout of the Pakistani community was an announcement in a local Pakistani newspaper that March 22 would be an open party for all. But a big factor was the Pakistan cricket team’s victory and people wanted to exchange greetings.

Just a couple of days earlier, on the occasion of Nauroz, Iran, Pakistan and India, along with nine other regional countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan ) held a huge ceremony at the United Nations General Assembly, attended by hundreds of diplomats and representatives from all of New York’s communities. On that occasion, the Indian ambassador gave a brief speech which was applauded by the crowd. Mr Haroon gave an almost 25-minute long speech. He referred to Mr Puri three times but the latter makes it a point to not bring up the subject of their friendship. Mr Haroon is, on his own, quite popular in the diplomatic community.

Most diplomats speak in glowing terms about his lavish parties during which he serves Pakistani dishes which he says are cooked according to his mother’s recipes. His own passion for cooking is also palpable as he describes the ingredients of every dish.

As in case of Prince Aly Khan, Mr Haroon also says he never charges the Foreign Office for the great lunches he hosts at restaurants.