By Asha’ar Rehman Courtesy Daily Dawan
ON that spring day in February 1974, we, a group of boys living off Regal chowk in Lahore, simply gravitated to the spot in front of the Punjab Assembly. We could instinctively tell that we were in the middle of something big and important.
The Lahoris were indeed privileged to be witness to the unfolding of an Islamic summit conference but that significance was lost on our young minds. But we were thrilled at having a glimpse of the heroes we had heard our elders talk about in laudatory terms.
We were all too captured by the shine on Idi Amin’s brow, the zeal in Yasser Arafat’s victory sign and King Faisal’s calm efforts at trying to understand die politics of pan-Islamism that our homegrown favourite, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had brought to our city.
Our own litde conference was successful the moment we managed to ? in those peaceful days ? stop an Idi Amin or an Arafat on The Mall with our frantic waving and extract from them an acknowledgment of our existence.
One particularly appealing member of this extremely agreeable company that we had created for ourselves was a man whose gestures excited us the most. Before and after the summit meeting, and in the years diat followed, we came to regard him as a friend of Pakistan and this was one of the few images that survived as the innocent children of the past grew into youthful iconoclasts too obsessed with destroying eveiything in sight and building the world anew.
Colonel Muammar Qadhafi grew into a giant as we grew up and were expected to give reasons for our preferences. He was a rebel who was ready to take on the world after having toppled a king along
the way. This toppling business, which qualified the rebel for the title of the revolutionary, to our mind, further distinguished him from a number of hereditary rulers.
Other Muslim rulers received our approval whenever they got together in that age of hopeful pan-Islamism or during their friendly bilateral engagements with Pakistan ? which invariably meant more jobs and more free oil for us to live on ? Qadhafi won our respect because he was not a member of a royal family. In our understanding, he was a progressive enough man, and a man of the masses with a few ideals of his own to implement.
He was almost a cult figure and we were in the habit of naming the most committed and the most determined
amongst us after him. In those days an overdose of the 9pm Khabarnama quite often foimd us dreaming of a Muslim renaissance where we often would find ZAB flanked by Arafat and Qadhafi.
In our task of backing our likes with reasons, we learnt that he was among the first ones to open the gates of prosperity on the Pakistani expatriate by offering jobs in his country to Pakistanis. We were told (and we believed it) that he had a special liking for Pakistan because of his close friendship with Z.A. Bhutto. Now adults but not sufficiently out of the influence of our early beliefs, it was something of a shock to us that no Qadhafi or Arafat arrived to save ZAB as he was persecuted and finallv hanged in April 1979.
On the Pakistani popularity chart, Qadhafi (and Arafat) survived their fail-
ure to come to the rescue of their friend on the strength of their own struggles against the dominant world. He was celebrated as something of a “ghazi” amid news of the murders and disgracing of many from among the 1974 summit conference group.
King Faisal was assassinated, Sadat was killed. Idi Amin was disgraced… Only Qadhafi remained to fight it out and it was as much for his sake as for die sake of Pakistanis that his ‘second betrayal’ of our trust worried us.
This time his son was found making revelations about Pakistan making illegal nuclear transfers to North Korea. It was a bit of an anti-climax, we thought, the iron man was wilting; he was seeking to win imperialist favours by implicating an old friend. To many of his admirers in Pakistan, that signified the ageing of the old Muammar in the face of a world that was closing in on him; the beginning of the end.
As it turned out, the Pakistani images of him, right or wrong, reasonable or flimsy, seem to have outlived his own people’s patience. The Lahore he had inspired in 1974 was not sure how to react to his killing and public humiliation on Oct 20,2011. The old dear memories that cast him as a proponent of the anti-diesis fought ferociously with pictures of the oppressed Libyan people celebrating the faH of someone’s childhood hero, with the conspiracy theories about the great game to capture the oil reserves lurking ever so meaningfully in the background.
Pakistanis are a conspiracy-obsessed and confused lot. And Qadhafi’s exit does nothing to lift the mist they are surrounded by. They are yet waiting to hear from the colonel’s side.