Iftekhar A Khan
Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, our tennis star of international eminence, the men’s and mixed doubles finalist of US Open, has passed on a message of peace to the world from Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. He said not all Pakistanis are terrorists, although there are some terrorist groups in Pakistan as there are in other countries. He expressed his opinion at the time of the awards ceremony when the stadium was packed to capacity. As he voiced his peace message in the quiet air, the spectators he had entertained with a sizzling match broke into rapturous applause. What they heard touched them. Aisam’s plain words, without diplomatic nuances, were more persuasive and achieved much more than reams of print and diplomacy could have achieved.
Aisam, scion of a cultured tennis-playing family, is a great sport both on and off the court. It’s a pleasure to watch him practice his shots on the lush greens of 21-K Sports Club, Model Town. Aisam’s mother, Noushin Ehtesham, has been one of Pakistan’s top women players at the national level. This writer has faced her many a time from across the court, with her piercing and formidable forehand drives. Next comes what she isn’t likely to appreciate: that she mostly won not so much for her tennis prowess as for my respect for the gender.
However, Aisam Qureshi’s message to the world has appealed many in the Western countries who know that Muslims are not intrinsically terrorists; they resort to aggression, including the sacrifice of their lives, only to resist foreign occupation of their lands. The present Muslim antipathy against the West is because of the doings of Western governments. More than 1.3 million innocent men, women and children have lost their lives during the occupation of Iraq, which is ongoing. Even a large majority of people in the Western world feel the invasion of Iraq was unjustified and unprovoked. Similar is the situation in Afghanistan.
Recall the seventies and eighties when foreigners lived among us, socialised with us and even became good family friends. I remember friends like George and his lovely wife Mernie, who lived here for many years. George was extremely fond of our spicy dishes and relished tandoori chapatti in particular. Quite a prankster, he sometimes travelled in wagons from Lahore to Peshawar, donning shalwar-qamees and covering his head with a Swati cap. The tall Californian easily passed for a handsome Afridi Pathan. He would confound his fellow travellers when he opened his little box of snuff (naswar), with its mirror on top. What he chewed was in fact anything but snuff. Nostalgic days!
Our young ambassador Aisam has sowed the sapling of peace for the Western world to nurture. And he did it in a city that lost its towers in this month nine years ago. He has presented a soft face of his country by reminding the West that Pakistanis are friendly, warm and welcoming. If a tourist asks a Pakistani the way, the local would not only guide him, he would ride in the tourist’s car to the destination. It’s pure courtesy, and not that Pakistanis have all the time in the world to spare. On the other hand, ask a New Yorker the way if you’re lost in Manhattan. “Get yourself a map, baby,” is what you’d likely hear.
Aisam has also drawn government attention to the apathy with which all sports except cricket are treated in Pakistan. Notably, the managers of various high-sounding sports boards enjoy more perks and are given more importance than the players. In other words, those who sweat and toil to earn a name for their country are not as important as the parasites that occupy the managerial positions. The mention of two names—Faisal Saleh Hayat and Suleman Butt—explains this. Both have taken turns as heads of the Football Association for as far back as the memory goes. At what positions in the field the two supremos ever played, is a mystery. But good luck to Aisam.