For the past few years, a few good friends and I have invariably spent the weeks surrounding the New Year in Morocco. This year was no different. A little relaxing time away from the turmoil that is Pakistan is something to look forward to. Even though the winter months are the rainy season in that country, the temperate climate is, by and large, all you could wish for.But the latter half of the holiday was totally ruined by the personally devastating news from back home. More than two weeks have now passed since that fateful morning in Tangier when I was woken up by a call from the wife. She was weeping as she told me that my friend ST (for that is what Salmaan Taseer was called by many) had just been assassinated. Life will not quite be the same for me, at least for some while yet.There was little I could say in response to her (what can one say on such occasions?) beyond the usual incoherent mumblings. As I put the phone down, I thought of some words of Mark Antony about Caesar: “O mighty Caesar, dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.” ST may not have been a Caesar (and I certainly am no Antony), but he was, in every sense, a larger than life figure who left an indelible imprint on all those he came across, friend or foe.
The rest of that day was spent in a daze, as a myriad confused and jumbled recollections raced incoherently through my mind. For, I had known Salmaan for some 50 years, and counted him amongst the handful of the few good friends I had made in life. I first got to know him in the early 60s during Government College days. A few years later, we met up again in London. And then, a decade later, it was ST who persuaded me to relocate to Dubai, where he had established a successful accountancy practice.In the years after he left Dubai in the late 70s to return to Lahore, I would invariably spend many an evening with him on my frequent trips back to Pakistan. Indeed, in the last few years, we had lunch together many a time in Kohsar Market in Islamabad before nonchalantly walking back to his Guest House a few hundred yards away (even after his appointment as governor, though we were then escorted by his security detail). And it was he who persuaded me to write for this newspaper.I spent the rest of that day in a listless, sombre and pre-occupied mood. My friends, sensing how distracted and distraught I was, tried whatever they could to be supportive and comforting. Insisting we go out, we ended up on that clear and crisp evening in Tangier at a spot known as Cap Spartel, sipping delicious menthol-laced chai maghrebi in a café, watching the vapour trails of commercial jets high in the sky and the pale golden disk sink slowly below the horizon in the Atlantic Ocean.
But only the grieving know that on such occasions nothing really helps; that time alone is the only sure healer in such circumstances, and time will not be hurried. So I remained wrapped up in my own solitary thoughts. What is in a life? Is it not all momentary and fleeting? For all our vain efforts through the writing and teaching of history, and the erection of monuments and other forms of ritual remembrance, is it not all ultimately meaningless, except to the individual and his dearest and nearest?I think of such matters because Cap Spartel is the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, and Spain lies but a few kilometres away, clearly visible across the Straits of Gibraltar. It was from here that, some 13 centuries ago, Tariq bin Ziyad (the Berber governor of Tangier and the lieutenant of Musa bin Nusayr, the then Muslim Governor of Maghreb) launched his audacious attack on Spain with a handful of men, landing at Gabr al Tariq (in Arabic, ‘the rock of Tariq’, hence the name Gibraltar) on the European side. Ironically, there is little here now to remind us of this fateful event of Islamic history. Instead, up on the hill behind Cap Spartel, is the magnificently opulent palace, long lying vacant, of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. And nearby is the cave of Hercules, the legendary pre-historic strongman of Greek and Roman mythology, who probably was little more than a pirate really. Where are they all now?
I thought of Tariq bin Ziyad because the same streak of audacity, utter fearlessness, self-confidence, boundless energy, and a keen eye for the main chance, marked out ST as a natural leader of men. He was a doer who led from the front, and the worldly practical man par excellence, always prepared to take a calculated risk. Little wonder he was so successful at whatever he did. He was the sort of man I would unhesitatingly entrust a difficult task, confident that if it could be done he would find a way to accomplish it (though not necessarily with finesse and delicacy, I should add! For, he did not suffer fools gladly, and his often brusque and abrasive manner, made him many enemies). Needing little sleep, he could party all night with the best of them and yet be up early, berating, pushing and demanding his subordinates to get on with whatever he had asked them to do.As I said, he was a worldly man, and so he enjoyed the good things in life. In his salad days he cut a dashing figure, whom women found irresistible. That was because he was as good-looking and urbane as they come, intelligent, knowledgeable, and always well informed. And, with his wickedly impish and naughty sense of humour and a raconteur without peer, he could charm anyone out of their pants. No wonder then, that he naturally became the life and soul of any gathering. With him around, there was no possibility of ever being bored.I will miss you dearly, my friend. Men like you make Pakistan proud – Dailytimes – Munir Attaullah