Aroosa Alam: The good friend

It’s a photograph of her sitting next to then-Chief Minister Amarinder Singh at the Jalandhar Press Club inauguration in 2005, who introduced Aroosa Alam to Punjab.

The media were fascinated by her “beauty” and her easy familiarity with Amarinder. The buzz was such that the state government apparatus facilitated a press meeting with Aroosa in Chandigarh, where she called Amarinder a “good friend” and dwelled on Indo-Pak relations, which were in turmoil. rebirth under his leadership. Amarinder had visited Pakistan twice during that term and had invited his counterpart Pervez Ilahi for a summit from Punjab to Punjab.

It was the beginning. Now in the middle of a public slugfest between Amarinder and her colleagues in Congress, Aroosa, the Pakistani journalist and “good friend” of Amarinder, finds herself caught in the crosshairs. But unlike in the past, this time the glare was harsh.

Peacenik, used to the social circuit

Shortly after this Press Club appearance, Aroosa became a fixture in Amarinder’s social life amid rumors that his wife, Patiala MP Preneet Kaur, had complained about her to the head of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi. When the election was held in 2007 and some questioned whether the relationship would hurt Amarinder, a senior congressional official joked that on the contrary, it had earned him brownie points in the backcountry, where the men considered it a “royal conquest by the Maharaja of Patiala”.

Over the years, both when Amarinder was out of power for a decade and when he returned to power in 2017, Aroosa has flown in and out of Punjab. But she was largely left alone, by both media and politicians – whether when she accompanied Amarinder for the launch of her biography (a chapter was devoted to her) at a Chandigarh hotel in February 2017, or when she was given the place of honor among the VVIPs during her swearing-in ceremony as Chief Minister shortly thereafter.

Until the second half of 2020 – when she last left for Pakistan – congressional leaders rushed to pay tribute to her at her receptions, with a senior Amarinder official even touching her feet.

A friend of Aroosa, who did not want to be named, remembers how, after dinners at the CM residence, ministers and officers not only went to Aroosa to say goodnight to Aroosa, but also greeted each other. duty to say goodbye to his pet Shih Tzu.

That all changed last week when Deputy CM Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said he had ordered an investigation into Aroosa’s “ISI ties”.

The tide had changed. Now accused of abusing her influence in the Amarinder government for “bribes,” the woman who has always been seen, though rarely heard, said Indian express recently that Congressional politicians were “a pack of hyenas” and asked if the authorities who gave him the visa year after year were also ISI agents.

It’s a long way from when Aroosa first met Amarinder on her trip to Islamabad in 2005 – she was then vice-president of the National Press Club and an aspiring peace activist.

Specialist in military and diplomatic affairs, she had reported two years earlier of a complicity of a British diplomat with an employee, in Pakistan Observer, which had led to her unceremonious exit.

The highlight of his journalistic career had been a series of 22 investigative reports in The Muslim about the Pakistani submarine Agosta 90B with France which led to the arrest of then naval chief Mansurul Haq in 1997. Much later, an associate of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was indicted in this case in 2012.

A military historian himself, Amarinder was very proud to portray Aroosa as a defense journalist, who had completed a course in strategic studies at the University of National Defense in Islamabad.

Journalist, daughter of ‘Gen Rani’

Aroosa’s contact with military affairs actually started much earlier. His mother, Akleen Akhtar, was known as “General Rani” because of her proximity to Pakistani dictator General Yahya Khan. Akleen, the fiery daughter of a landowner in Gujrat (a town in the Pakistani Punjab), was married to a policeman twice her age and gave him six children. Rebel Akleen is known to have abandoned her husband while on vacation in Muree, a hill station near Rawalpindi.

An article in the May 2002 issue of Newsline (an English monthly magazine in Pakistan that ceased publication in 2019) called Akleen “easily the most influential figure in Pakistan’s second military regime”, who “at the slightest gesture of his hand adorned with jewels could guarantee employment, ensure promotions and cause untimely transfers ”.

It was the time when Aroosa was also coming of age. Married to Pakistani foreign service officer Ejaz Alam in the early 1970s, she gave birth to her eldest son, Fakhr-e-Alam, in January 1976.

By this time, her mother had gone through difficult times. Shortly after coming to power, President ZA Bhutto placed Akleen Akhtar under house arrest in 1972. She was not released until General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Bhutto’s regime in July 1977.

In a previous conversation, Aroosa explained how she started her career as a journalist in the mid-1980s, starting with reporting on the company, before covering diplomatic affairs for Pakistan Observer in 1986.

In 1988, she joined The Muslim as a defense reporter, and in 1997, became the newspaper and the region’s first female chief reporter. She joined Pakistan Observer in 2000 and in 2002 started working as an overseas correspondent for the Japanese agency Kyodo.

By the time Amarinder visited in 2005, she had taken on the role of a pacifist – she was president of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) – and often spoke fondly of her visits to India.

Although it was in her ancestral home in Patiala that Amarinder first officially welcomed Aroosa, while in India she spent most of her time in Chandigarh. It was not uncommon to see her shopping at the market in sector 9 of the city.

Along the way, she became a member of a social group that remembers her as a warm host who loved her garden at Amarinder’s farm in Mohinderbagh, was fluent in Punjabi and could even sing along. “She was a very nice person, she had never had anything to say about him,” said a friend, who did not want to be named because of the current controversy. Another remembered her as a fitness enthusiast, who never missed her daily yoga. “She called it the secret of her youth.”

Aroosa also spoke fondly of his two sons, the youngest lawyer in Dhaka and Fakhr-e-Alam, who is now a prominent TV presenter and producer. Returning to Pakistan, she is best known as the mother of Fakhr-e-Alam, who recently did a reality show with the Pakistani military, and now hosts the ICC T20 World Cup at Ten Sports Pakistan and ASports. An aviator, he traveled the world alone.

Harkirat Ahluwalia, hotelier and friend of Amarinder’s family, remembers how easily Aroosa formed friendships. “All those politicians who slander her now used to hang on to her every word,” he said, adding that it is wrong to call her a gold digger, as she stayed with Amarinder for so long. 10 years even when he was not there. Power.

While in India, his birthday on May 21 was an annual gala, often celebrated in Mashobra in Himachal Pradesh in the presence of the who’s who from Punjab.

Although Amarinder’s family objected to their relationship, he remained adamant about it. Aroosa claimed earlier in this article that she shares a warm relationship with Amarinder’s family. “Whenever I am in India, I not only meet him (the captain) but also his family… everyone except madam maharani sahiba (Preneet Kaur). At first my friends and I used to stay at Moti Bagh Palace in Patiala and we used to meet Maharani Sahiba. She was a good host. But later, we didn’t meet… ”she said.

One of the regulars at Amarinder Farm Mohinder Bagh said the two were very comfortable with their relationship. “I remember Aroosa telling us how they spend the morning together. She told us: ‘While Capt Saab reads the newspaper clippings, I go through the papers. After that, we follow our own paths ”.

In an interview with a Canadian radio station, Aroosa said what she found most endearing about Amarinder was her “aankh ki sharam (consideration for others)”. Her friendship with Amarinder, she admitted, was a “sensitive matter” and could get her in trouble with fundamentalists in her country.

After the recent fight in the Punjab, the two went to great lengths to clarify the nature of their relationship. In a Facebook post where he posted photos of Aroosa with various dignitaries including the late BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, Amarinder wrote: “I’m going to be 80 in March and Ms. Alam 69 next year. Narrow-mindedness seems to be the order of the day.

Aroosa told this newspaper: “When I met Capt Saab (in 2005) I was over 50 and he was over 60. So if you call it a love story and try to to give it a romantic angle, that’s very wrong … it’s a pure and beautiful friendship. ”

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