Cuba Really!


Under usual circumstances, Pak Tea House on Lahore’s Mall isn’t the ideal haunt of Aurangzeb Babar. In fact, it was not. AB doesn’t rub shoulders with that sort of crowd.

His favorite perch is the Motundas Chotumul Mansion in one of the areas where Lahore’s 1% live, renamed Neelum Haveli, despite its now-fading yellow hue, by its new owners when they moved there after crossing the newly-created border into Pakistan in 1947. The chiseled ‘MCM’ over it archway porch still survived. It matched, the abode’s 1900 construction year.

AB is a sort of Lahore’s version of Bertie Wooster: the non-working, comfortably living gentleman. Knowing AB, no one ever asked how he managed a carefree life, smoking a brand name cigarette but do note, just one cigarette in the entire day!

AB, forever the outsider, is anyone’s the ultimate insider. He was never part of the Pakistani civil or foreign service. Oh, and never part of the army. He never even tried to become an officer cadet – effort was not part of his destiny. The only ‘job’ he could mention, and that he often did, that he was a liaison person for the Czechoslovak crystal producers chambers who had sent a team during the heyday of the Ayub era to visit Pakistani cities and appoint sales dealers for their products.

Running into AB in that environs was a surprise but Feroze Pervez considered himself lucky. He knew that this chance meeting could unravel a mystery that had been on his mind since August 2015 when had read that Kamran Shafi had been appointed and taken up residence as Pakistan’s ambassador in Havana, Cuba.

FP was convinced that it was a bureaucratic mix up in Islamabad, reading the wrong continents.

Wow, FP had muttered to himself, dear Kamran Shafi visiting with President Mamnoon Hasan for his papers. M-a-m-n-o-on H-a-s-a-n!

The retired army major had served as press secretary to Benazir Bhutto. But why Nawaz Sharif had bestowed a diplomatic assignment on him. No secrets. But AB, whispered Feroze Pervez, does it have anything to do with the Nawaz-BB Charter of Democracy. Both of them have a hearty laugh over this. Their cups of tea have long lost their being.

Feroze whispered “Deep State” was a favorite KS topic. Perhaps could at least this much show Nawaz’s bravado before his former tormentors, the military. Wasn’t it sometimes in 2009 that Micky was raging against the army for threatening him? I recall that the Express Tribune had commented that KS likely appointment as Pakistan’s envoy to England has come as a surprise for many and a bold step on part of Nawaz, as he is considered a staunch critic of the army. Or, is it Nawaz’s way of embarrassing Imran, as you know that how well Mickey and IK gel.

AB, you remember, I do, that there was some mention that KS being so thoroughly Anglicized. I don’t think that it was a move on part of KS but perhaps an admirer did it. So wasn’t the Court of St James the appropriate address for him, rather than the Miramar Playa in Havana?

Yes, AB, we remain mentally enslaved, where only an Anglicized person would make a good envoy to the Old Country.

FP, now here is something that sounds quite authentic. You know how KS was so Buckingham Palace mind, so the story that I hear that in order to demonstrate his Englishness to Nawaz, he sought a meeting with him.

FP, call Nawaz what you may but we agree that his beverage list is just single item — lassi. Here is KS, an imaginary single-malt glass in one hand, proving his knowledge of scotch on the rocks. He drops in the imaginary ice cubes! And Nawaz is all like, ‘Do I hear Cuba! Yes, I do!’ and before KS can top them with scotch, the next thing is that Nawaz is on the line with Aizaz, the Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry … Chaudhry Sahib please send an accreditation letter assigning Khalid Shafi in Cuba.

Sir, you mean Khalid Shafi, the columnist. Yes.

He wants to be our representative in Cuba.

Agreed. AB, this looks quite reasonable. AB chimes in, I would give it full credence.

AB interjected that FP should not overlook the hidden charms of Cuba: cigars, rum, Hemingway and baseball. Here AB chuckled that with T20 cricket numbing our minds, Pakistanis can swimmingly take to baseball.

AB, I recall reading it in the newspapers in October 2013, just six months after Mian Sahib’s election, Kamran Shafi reportedly confirmed to The Express Tribune that he was in contact with the government for the coveted diplomatic post. Coveted means the Court of St. James: Marlborough Rd, London SW1A 1BS, United Kingdom. The government, he had added, had not yet informed him about its final decision.

But Cuba, AB when Fidel no longer maintains a public presence.

AB was quick to retort: Cuba or Cobwebs, at least, FP, His Excellency can get a gravestone saying that here lies Ambassador Micky. And FP, you are overlooking the bonus, KS can bring a boxes of cigars for his friend Sheikh Rasheed every time he comes to report to the Foreign Office!

Throughout, FP’s intrusion, AB had eyes and fingers on his wrist watch. He was missing his Neelum crowd, a virtual of assembly of characters from PG Wodehouse books, gentlemen who had no cares and had never worked. Of course, there SB was the star of the sessions with oceans of freshly-pressed insider knowledge (from the outside).

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