I am very fortunate to have had Salmaan Taseer as my father. Although he is now at rest, I have found peace in knowing that his legacy will be etched indelibly in the history of Pakistan — a country he loved dearly enough to give his life for. His bold voice of truth, justice and sanity will forever resonate in the minds of millions. No bullets can erase his example and courage.
Salmaan Taseer was a man of diverse interests and talents. He lived his life passionately and zestfully with one overriding condition — anything worth doing, must be done well. Unflinching and determined, he believed in excellence and accepted nothing less from himself and those around him. He had an innate ability to sift through the fuzziness of any situation and get to the key issues poignantly. His wit was razor sharp and he would skilfully use humour to bring out the focal points in any discussion, analyse it before most had hardly registered it!
My father was also a true romantic at heart. He loved poetry, music, and stories — tales of great love, tragedy, heroism, legends of martyrdom and songs that touched the heart. He grew up in a literary home: his father MD Taseer, a well-known educationalist and poet, and his uncle, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, served as mentors. Unsurprisingly, he developed a passion for Urdu poetry; especially couplets that could make you shed tears.
He was a man who relished all emotions life had to offer and lived his life to full capacity in almost every way. I marvelled at his ability to connect with a wide range of people — young and old, from varying backgrounds. It was his keen interest in people that resulted in voracious readings of autobiographies, as he hungered to learn from the successes of great men and women. This interest was also the basis for his love for politics and he never tired of engaging with people.
My father was also an optimist — he never spent time wallowing in self-pity or bemoaning negative events in his life. Quite the opposite, he was vibrantly positive, ready to take on what life brought to him and upbeat even during difficult times. He pulled those around him along for the rides of their lives.
As his eldest child, I consider myself privileged to have had him as a guide and role model. My memories of my upbringing are filled with his words and actions, a towering presence that was kind, gentle and staunchly protective, yet strong and persevering. From my earliest memories, I recall his strong interest in my development and education, and he was delighted when I earned an honours degree at the London School of Economics. He also always encouraged my hobbies – for example, when I was 13, seeing my passion and interest in cooking, he arranged to have a small kitchen built for me.
My father was a purely self-made man, determined to succeed from a young age. Early on in life, he had to take on the responsibility of his family since his own father died when he was only six. At 16, he landed on the shores of Britain with many hopes and dreams but few resources. He started his articleship in accountancy, working during the day and studying by night, sometimes only having the money to buy bars of English chocolate for dinner. He qualified as an accountant and upon his return to the East, rapidly established an accounting firm partnering with the KPMG in the UAE and Pakistan in the 1970s — today, KPMG Taseer Hadi is one of the leading accounting firms in Pakistan.
However, his true love was politics and he always yearned to serve his country. As a young student, he developed a great admiration for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and joined his party, whilst in his twenties. His association with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would last for the rest of his life-time. Growing up as a young girl, I remember my grandmother and mother typing and retyping manuscripts of the biography my father wrote on Bhutto. One of the darkest times I can remember in my childhood was the day Bhutto Sahib was executed; our home was in mourning for days.
My father soon sold his successful accountancy business and joined politics in his thirties. As a steadfast opponent of military dictatorships, he campaigned tirelessly with the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.
At the age of 50, my father left politics to start a business. Politics had drained his resources, and he needed to establish financial security. When it came to business, he was a visionary and a true entrepreneur. Having myself just returned from college, I worked with my father to set up First Capital Securities. Within months, we had outgrown our newly-refurbished offices on Davis road in Lahore, and foreign investors had taken a stake in the company. It was always difficult to keep pace with him. During the early days of business in Karachi, I remember he used to call me at 6:30am every morning to plan for the day. I had to work hard to meet his expectation. In business, he was hard to please — he was a task master with giant expectations. The more you did, the more he gave you to do — just as he set high standards for himself, he expected others to also push themselves to achieve. At that stage of life, I loved the challenges he gave me and, of course, it was a great learning process. He never shied from exploring new possibilities or giving responsibility to young people and was willing to take risks provided he could see the potential rewards. He built teams and was a natural leader, with those around him hankering to be a part of his vision for the future. He went on to lay down the first cable networks in Pakistan, was a pioneer in mobile communications, and started investment and insurance companies. He built newspapers, shopping malls, real estate companies and art galleries. Even though he had the Midas touch, he felt that there was something missing in his life.
With President Asif Ali Zardari assuming office in 2008, the PPP Government asked him to become governor of Punjab. He was delighted with this appointment, realising a lifetime personal ambition. Despite all the years of building his business, I knew he was happiest playing a role in politics in Pakistan. My father once told a dear journalist friend of mine Moni Mohsin, that even though knowledge, strategy and prowess were necessary components of life’s success, luck also played an important part. My father used to say that when Napoleon chose his soldiers, he is said to have asked them if they felt ‘lucky’, using that as a final selection criteria. He knew battles were won in the mind far earlier than in the battlefield. My father knew, and was confident he could always succeed in business, but did not always have that faith when it came to politics. He felt luck may not always be on his side.
In the end, he was aware of the risks, but was unwavering in his pursuit of justice and speaking his mind for the betterment of a secular Pakistan. He stood firmly for what he believed in to the very end, knowing that luck may one day let go of his hand.
He told me a week before he was assassinated that if he, as a person of privilege, shied away from speaking for justice, who then, would have the courage to speak up. He believed that in life, a person is known by the weak person’s hand he holds, not by the strong ones he lean on.
I am consoled in knowing that his legacy is one of bravery and justice and that his ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten. I am lucky to have Salmaan Taseer as my father and Pakistan is lucky to have had him as her child.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2013.