One day I received a call from Admiral Akbar. He was at home and was to catch a flight for Islamabad in the afternoon. He asked me to meet him at the airport. On my way to the airport, I was wondering what was it that necessitated him to call me at the airport. And when I met him, he said:
“I want you to go with me to Australia. I want to have your consent before sending your name to the ministry for approval”.
I was flabbergasted at this invitation from chairman and had a mixed feeling of joy and guilt. I had known about this visit which was being financed by Austrade (Australian trade commission), as part of master planning of port Qasim through a grant. And I also knew that Commodore Qaiser Mahmood, director general (planning & development) was to accompany chairman for the proposed visit. My spontaneous reaction was:
“Sir! I am so very grateful to you for considering me to go to Australia with you. But I have heard that Commodore Qaiser was nominated for this tour. I am afraid he will not be comfortable at this last-minute change.”
“I will handle that part.” Chairman said:
“Take it as a gift from my side. I didn’t know you, but through your excellent performance in such a short period of time, I am convinced that you are a deserving candidate and a right man for undertaking this tour, and I expect from you to make use of this tour in future development of the port.”
Back in office I was feeling guilty of being part of an act of replacing my boss for the tour. I had a relationship of mutual respect with Commodore Qaiser Mahmood. As an immediate reaction I thought that since it was not my doing, I should keep quiet and let the chairman handle this affair at his end. But then I thought that although I was innocent, but when Commodore Qaiser would come to know about it, he would blame me for cheating. This confusion gripped me all day long and I had restless night at home. I decided that whatever the outcome, I must inform Qaiser Mahmood even at the cost of displeasure of the chairman. First thing I did the next morning was that I went to Commodore Qaiser and told him everything.
“I want you to know the purpose of chairman’s visit to Islamabad. And I want you to know that I am not a party to this plan. I have come to you to tell you to use your good office to undo this plan. And I request you to do it in such a way that chairman doesn’t suspect about me having disclosed this secret to you.”
Commodore Qaiser was visibly disturbed and I could see his face turning pale and his eyes turning red. He took a considerable time to compose himself and asked his secretary not to allow visitors in his office and ordered cup of tea for two of us. He told me that he had uncomfortable relationship with the chairman and that there was no point now to pursue inclusion of his name for the visit, and he was happy that I was the one replacing him and he wished me good luck.
“I have a daughter in Australia and I was keen to visit her. She was excited that I would soon be able to join her after a very long time. She had drawn out interesting plans to take me to places in Australia. The news that I have been dropped out of the visit at this eleventh hour will fall heavily on her. I had tried to go to Australia on my private visit but was unable to get the visa, and hence this visit was quite important to me.”
He could hardly speak in broken words. I suggested to him that if he wanted, I could personally request the chairman to drop my name. But he stopped me from doing so, as he thought that it was useless now to pursue the matter. A couple of days later, the ministry issued notification of my visit to Australia in place of Commodore Qaiser Mahmood.
Our Australian visit started from Melbourne, a beautiful port city. The tour programme was meticulously arranged. We visited a port in Tasmania island and travelled to Brisbane by road which enabled us to see the nature at its best in this beautiful country. Sydney was the last leg of our tour. Incidentally the Pakistan cricket team was in Sydney during those days and our hosts were kind enough to arrange excellent seats for us in the VIP enclosure of Qantas airline in the stadium. Saeed Anwar was a new upcoming cricketer during those days and Australians were all praise for him. I was amazed at the keen interest of Australians in the game of cricket. Ask any Australian about cricket, and he would know everything about it. We were travelling in a taxi in Sydney and when we told our driver that we were from Pakistan, he told us the anecdotes about our cricket team which even we were unaware of. Fortunately, we won that one-day game which gave us a reason to rejoice our last days of the tour.
I had seen many places in the world, but of all the countries I had visited, Australia was by far an attractive place to live. One thing that impressed me the most, was their economic stability. I didn’t see a beggar anywhere. Our hosts told us that Australian government looked after their people and it provided subsistence allowance to the needy which was sufficient enough to take care of their basic necessities of life. I started daydreaming of getting a chance to live here. How would I have known that my son Sikandar Razzaq, who was just about ten years at that time, was listening to my daydream and a day will come when he will settle down in Sydney.
Compared to robust economy of Australia if we turn around and look at ourselves, we find beggars galore in every nook and corner of our roads and public places. Beggary has taken the shape of profession to an extent that if an effort is made to rehabilitate these beggars, they resist it with full force. Some of these beggars were shifted to orphan houses to be taken care of their basic necessities of life, but they chose to leave these comfortable houses to resume their profession of begging. Street crime has flourished under the garb of beggars. On a busy road a criminal may be harassing and snatching valuables of a driver unscrupulously, and yet the car occupants next to this car, may be unaware and would take him to be a beggar until the criminal would pounce on their heads. We as a society are also to blame ourselves for this incessant crime of feeding the beggars without realizing that we are unintentionally creating nurseries of beggars and criminals alike. Indeed, we may consider these things to be too small and of no consequence, but such things are barometers for gauging the economic stability of any country.