It was my friend Omar Waraich who introduced me to Salman Taseer for the first time. Before that all I knew was that he was one of Pakistan’s more enigmatic politicians who I had seen on the television.
A Pakistan People’s Party loyalist who had suffered under rival regimes, he was – following the party’s election victory – back in the land he loved.
But the governorship of Punjab is a fraught post, particularly if you belong to a ruling party that does not control the province. Nawaz Sharif, the former Pakistani prime minister, and his brother hold real control of the province, and they were not fans of Taseer.
Taseer, however, was a man by all accounts not afraid of a challenge. This was a man who built a business empire under the toughest conditions. He set up media networks in Pakistan, yet was humble when you met him.
Like I said, it was Omar who really introduced us.
It was a breakfast meeting, which surprised me as most of Pakistan’s elite have a reputation for late nights. Salman offered a traditional breakfast of hot Pakistani food and began to tell us of his visions of Pakistan.
He was a secularist who was an outspoken critic of the political rulers of Punjab. He worried about the how the Punjab rulers were siding with the religious parties, and therefore in his opinion allowing groups like the Pakistani Taliban a free rein within Pakistan.
He wanted Pakistan to be a free state, where one could believe in one’s faith without prejudice.
But he had his critics. Some believed he was as corrupt as many Pakistani politicians. Others questioned his relations with Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president.
Taseer was a controversial figure.
He had a son, Aatish Taseer, who eloquently wrote a book about his estranged father. It’s called Stranger To History. It’s essentially about a man looking for a father he never knew.
I wanted to ask Taseer about the book, but I never did.
At that breakfast Taseer was impressive. A man that understood the turmoil his country was going through and who wanted change.
His reputation, however, was one of a tough man willing to do whatever it took to succeed.
You can never know a man through one meeting, and in Pakistan reputations are tarnished before they are even made.
Perhaps the stories of his ruthlessness and his corruption are true I don’t know.
I think my own father put it best. When he heard I was meeting Taseer, he asked me to do one thing: Put on a suit. To treat this man with the dignity he deserved.
I didn’t. I wore a shirt, a blazer and jeans. I didn’t regret it as Salman treated me with a huge amount of respect.
But for my father, I wish I had.