At first the Pakistani officials clapped politely as Uzbek singers sang traditional Makom folk music. They listened quietly as Munojat Yulchieva, who has the official title of People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, sang haunting classical pieces.
And then they heard ‘Lathay di chadar’; the diplomatic masks dropped and the Pakistani entourage began hooting in excitement. A smile even spread across Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s face as the celebrated Uzbek vocalist Munira Mukhamedova, dressed in a turquoise Peshawari outfit embellished with mirrors, sang the famous Punjabi song, giving the prime minister and his delegation a taste of home.
The Uzbek government pulled out all the stops for the prime minister and other Pakistani officials at a state banquet and reception hosted by Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev here at the Hotel Intercontinental on March 24.
The night began with a concert celebrating Uzbekistan’s musical traditions, old and new. Then came a seven-course meal, accompanied by continuing performances by dancers and musicians. The waiters serving the food went from table to table in synch, seemingly as choreographed as the dancers.
Avazi Tulsunov, who supervised the banquet, told The Express Tribune that it took a whole day to prepare the elaborate meal. Special ingredients and fresh produce were especially brought, on the Uzbek prime minister’s instructions, from Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand, he said.
The seven-course menu included red caviar with butter, an assortment of cold meat cuts, a fish platter, a cheese platter, salads, pickled vegetables, mezzeh, mini fish shashlik served with perch fish and prawns, cream of spinach soup, special Uzbek plov and a croquant parfait with sliced seasonal fruits as dessert.
“It was a great experience and an honour for us to cook for the prime minister of Pakistan,” Tulsunov said.
Mohammad Waheedul Hasan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, said the prime minister and his delegation got special treatment. “The prime minister of Uzbekistan left all his other engagements and was committed to Prime Minister Gilani throughout his trip here. The Uzbek government has gone out of its way to show their gratitude to Pakistan,” Hasan said.
At the end, after posing for pictures, Gilani thanked the performers for an unforgettable night. He especially appreciated the Punjabi folk song. According to Tulsunov, this was the best such event for three years.
The Pakistan entourage included ministers Hina Rabbani Khar, Nawabzada Mir Israrullah Khan Zehri and Naveed Qamar, officials from the Pakistan embassy and the Foreign Office, and journalists.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2011.