Tariq Siddiqi is no more. Patient, courteous to all and sundry, cultivated as well as urbane, personified simplicity and religious without wearing it on the sleeves and an erstwhile socialist.
This was Tariq Sahib, as we called him. He was the husband of Nigar Ahmad, a women’s rights activist, whom I knew from the Government College Lahore days. I first met Tariq Sahib when he became Secretary of Planning and Development Division, euphemistically called Planning Commission. Secretaries in this Division have mostly come from the administrative group. They would have practical knowledge of running a Division.
The Planning Division is a distinct Division of the Federal Government because officers other than the Secretary are all professionals — economists, engineers, medical doctors and others. Any secretary appointed to this Division invariably faces the idiosyncrasies of all manner of professionals. I was one of them when Tariq Sahib appeared on the scene.
We were pleasantly surprised that he was a PhD in economics from Syracuse University. He had not yet grown a beard, but a simple Shalwar Kameez distinguished him from others in lounge suits. He had the knack of a professional who also knew how things work in the real world.
He understood why some policies, projects, programmes, plans, had no chance to be implemented, despite being based on sound economics. He would answer questions with questions, as in his view most professionals could not frame the right questions, something he viewed as the key first step in any discourse. The Planning Division was his last posting before retirement.
After retirement, he went on to serve as Vice Chancellor of Quaid-e-Azam University and Allama Iqbal Open Univesity in Islamabad. This is why some obituaries describe him as an educationist of distinction. He had been a highly respected Director General of the elite Civil Service Academy in Lahore.
He came up to the expectations of a former Director, Geoffrey Burgess, who wrote in his confidential report: “Tariq will not suffer fools”. And he didn’t. At the Quaid-e-Azam University, he established peace and, true to his nature, rooked no nonsense. The faculty at Quaid-e-Azam University remembers him as the best VC ever. There is this incident involving a religious student group known to force their way in the universities.
He told them plainly that “it is my way or the highway”, and they painted the walls of Islamabad by declaring him a kafir. Nobody believed them. Tariq Sahib was now a five-time praying person and a darvesh. An MSc in physics, he scored cent per cent in the English essay paper of the CSS competitive examination, a rare feat.
A scientific background, mastery of the English language and a doctorate in economics — and a member of the herd distinct — gave him a certain intellectual arrogance. He would enjoy conversing with those who had it in equal measure.
But his real match was a person who is humility herself. I am talking of Shoaib Sultan Khan, the icon of participatory development at home and abroad. He writes: “One day I heard Tariq had been dismissed from service on allegedly saying ‘Bhutto ko Goli Maro’. When asked to explain, he wrote, ‘My intention was only to make the Director relevant to the subject under discussion and I had no other intention’.
Later when asked to apply for reinstatement, he stated, ‘I had done nothing wrong why should I apply. I had already given my explanation’.” According to Shoaib Sahib, “His sense of humour was in the category of artless art of repartee.” An instantly-composed poem by Tariq Sahib shows this: Oh what a clever Cat/Who caught all the rats/Reading all the Sections and the Laws/But when asked/On whom lies the burden of proof/Pat came the reply/“On the judge.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2019.
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