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Meet Pakistan’s Oldest Blogger

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – From his study here, 85-year-old Arbab Hidayatullah, former police chief, former intelligence officer, and now writer, dispatches some of the most scathing, pithy assessments of what is going on in Pakistan.

For those fortunate to be on his e-mail list, Mr. Hidayatullah describes Pakistan’s politicians and military leaders in stark terms rarely found elsewhere, giving special emphasis to what he sees as a historically lenient attitude toward the Taliban and other militants. He is fearless in his judgments.

Here is a taste, from a missive in June sent after the Taliban kidnapped several hundred cadets from a military college. “I would suggest that we hang every policy maker of the day from the nearest trees.”

For months, Mr. Hidayatullah warned of the consequences of the government’s February peace deal with the Taliban in Swat, predicting correctly that it would allow the militants to gain strength. When the army finally launched its offensive against the Taliban in Swat, Mr. Arbab delivered measured commentary that stood apart.

Everyone should be aware, he wrote, of the perils of a conventional army accustomed to tanks and fighter jets embarking on a major counter-insurgency campaign.

“The events have so meandered and progressed that we have today an army in the thick of an operation and a million people running from pillar to post for shelter and a morsel of food,” he wrote. “The sane naturally ask to know if the displaced are being looked after properly and will carry back happy memories and will not turn into capsules of rancor like the Afghan refugees.”

The e-mails go to longtime acquaintances, journalists and academics. They arrive sporadically, usually when the news moves Mr. Hidayatullah to sit down at his Compaq computer on the polished wooden desk in his study where fading photographs of his forebears in formal British inspired attire festoon the walls. When he is not satisfied with the reporting in the Pakistani media Mr. Arbab does his own.

He is an old man working in a medium for the young, but his credentials are impeccable — and, so far, have kept him safe. He was a journalist who became a senior police official, working all around Pakistan.

“There’s nothing in the police department I’ve not done,” he said. That includes anti-corruption, and intelligence where his duties he once wrote included spying circa 1960 “on the spillovers from the American base” near Peshawar. He served as police chief of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, from 1977 to 1982.

In his twilight career as unblinking commentator, he has yet to receive a phone call or a visit from someone suggesting that he cool it. In fact, very quietly, some friendly officials and retired colleagues gathered at his home on a Sunday morning and discussed the problems of Pakistan in the shade of an arbor — he calls the spot his “far pavilion” — at the bottom of his garden.

“They think I’m reliable,” he said. “I give out information that is in the interest of my country: it’s not against my country, not even against Islam.”

By Jane Perlez, The New York Times


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