My dear Muhammad Ali: Unlike the Brits, who have a love-hate relationship with the Pathans, I love them. The British love them as brave and upstanding adversaries and hate them because they always beat the stuffing out of them - and everyone else that has ever tried to subjugate them. I love the Pathans despite knowing that they have every bad tradition that the people of our other three provinces also have and more, except that they are fiercely independent and would give up their lives to guard it. They have the blood of Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army coursing through their veins. Anyone that makes an enemy of them has got to be stupid and anyone that befriends them has got to be wise. Despite the saying that "a Pathan and his gun are inseparable" many of them can be highly civilised. Your brother-in-law Sikandar (which means Alexander, by the way) is one of the most civilised persons I know. I have never seen him toting a gun, even though he is a Mohmand, one of the tribes that have got up America's nose like an ant crawls up an elephant's trunk and drives it insane. Or the Khattaks for that matter, best known for their dance. One peculiar characteristic of the Pathans, though, is that they consider Pathans of other tribes inferior and some not even Pathans at all, like the Niazis. Their generic ethnic name is neither Pathan, nor Pukhtoon nor Pushtoon. It is Afghan. My late father, God bless him it was his eighth death anniversary the day before yesterday, used to tell me that the Afghans are the most difficult people to negotiate with. They can be obsessive though and carry a grudge or blood feud for generations: that is why it is fondly said that Pathan is not an ethnicity; it is a condition - kaifiat. It is my duty to tell you the complete history, though. The Pathans have beaten every potential subjugator except the Punjabis under Ranjit Singh's General Hari Singh, after whom the town Haripur near Islamabad is named. Why, even today Pathan mothers straighten naughty children out with the threat, "Hari Singh is coming," and they fall in line. But before you get all puffed up, being a Punjabi, let me also tell you that Hari Singh was a Punjabi Sikh. Sadly, in these days of 'instant news' the human race has been reduced to living life from moment-to-moment, not having the patience to pay attention to things that are not of the moment. Perhaps it is because of this that we have fallen into the trap of populism, abdicating our independent thought process to mind controllers, opinion formers and perception managers, lazily letting the media, especially sound byte television, do all our thinking for us and forming (not informing) our opinions. This now prevents us from paying due attention to the good and the patriotic and has led to our penchant of turning heroes into villains and villains into heroes. Since today is the chelum of Mr Aslam Khattak (my friend Shaharyar Khattak's grandfather whom you call 'SK2'), a ritual observed mostly by the subcontinent's Muslims approximately 40 days after a person's death, I thought that I owed it to the Grand Old Pathan that I should tell the younger generation about him. I was in China when I got a message from your sister Saniyya that he had died. He was 103. If I had been in Pakistan I would have gone to his funeral to contribute to his send-off. I was saddened, of course. That is but natural. But then I said to myself, "Why mourn? His was a life to celebrate. It was a life spent intensely and extensively, spanning a century and more in which he saw a lot of history being made and also participated in the making of some of it." Born at the zenith of the British Raj in 1908 at the cusp of war and peace, Aslam Khattak saw the massacre of the Romanovs and the rise of Soviet communism; the First World War and the Balfour Declaration; the discovery of penicillin and later of the anti-biotic; great strides in surgery; Trotsky's loss of the power struggle to Stalin; the Great Depression; the emergence of Gandhi, Nehru and our founder Mr Jinnah; the rise of Hitler, America's entry in the Second World War after the bombing of Pearl Harbour which, along with Germany's defeat by the Soviet Union, led to Hitler's defeat; Einstein and his General Theory of Relativity that changed the world; the discovery of fusion and the making of the atom bomb and the dastardly use of it in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (unarguably the biggest war crime in history); the rise of America and the USSR as superpowers and the advent of the Cold War; the waning and withering of European Empires and the advent of many new nation-states including his beloved Pakistan in whose making he had a historic hand and which led to the greatest migration in history; the victory of Mao Zedong and the communists in China; the creation of Israel in Palestine and the homelessness and genocide of the Palestinians; Von Braun and rocket technology that took man to the moon and into deep space; the discovery of DNA and the mapping of the human genome which is like reading a leaf out of the mythical 'Book of Life'; Pakistan losing its way and its division in 1971; the Iranian Revolution, the rise of political Islam and the events of September 11, 2001 that changed the world; the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the emergence of America as a single superpower and now its demise just at the time of his passing; the shift of power from West to East as near-unfettered market capitalism too collapsed and China emerged as a new superpower; the millennium...and so much more that I cannot remember offhand. He witnessed virtually the whole of the most exciting century in Mankind's history for its exponential increase in knowledge and often the gross misuse of it. I'm not overdoing it in saying that Aslam Khattak was not just walking-talking history but history in his person too. The secret, I imagine, of Aslam Khattak's longevity, apart from good genes, was that he was not a worrier and lived a good life. Most importantly, he ate well. I remember at a dinner he called me over to his table - "Young man, come and sit with me." As I was about to tuck into the sort of vegetation that is fit only for horses in my futile battle of the bulge, I noticed that he had a veritable mountain of pulao lashed in chicken qorma swimming in oil on his plate. He was already in his Nineties. "Bloody Hell," I thought to myself. "If this man can eat all this and live so long and healthy, why am I torturing myself?" I returned to the buffet table and came back with my own K2 of food to his Mount Everest. That was the day I lost the battle of the bulge. Aslam Khattak joined government service obviously in British times but later went on to hold many high-level ministerial positions in government. Mentioning them here would waste space; you can find the details elsewhere. It's no feather in the cap being a minister or chief minister or prime minister any longer. It's more of a stigma. Why, a special ministry was created the other day for the man who said in the Senate that burying women alive is fine because it is part of Baloch tradition and he has been elevated to head it as minister while the many 'emancipated' women in Cabinet have not even had the decency to rebel. Aslam Khattak made a great contribution in writing his autobiography, A Pathan Odyssey. It's a fascinating book, not the usual self-serving life story that is dished out by many a culprit that blames others for his own misdeeds or simply skips over them. In it you will read that Pakistan and Afghanistan could have become a confederation but for the last-minute vacillation of our rulers of the time and some politicians who had an extra-national agenda. History would have been quite different, and I'm sure better, had that happened. We had even agreed to the Afghan king being head of state. A big contribution of Aslam Khattak that many don't know of is that as President of the Khyber Union he also headed a group of five who crafted the name 'Pakistan'. The others were Dr A Rahim, Vice President; Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, Secretary; and Sheikh Muhammad Sadiq and Inayatullah Khan, Members Executive Committee. Most people have had it dinned into their heads that this was Chaudhry Rahmat Ali's achievement alone. In fact, this man later turned against the Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Pakistan. Inayatullah Khan wrote this in his note with the pamphlet, 'Now or Never' in which the name 'Pakistan' is mooted: "Luckily, the stewardship of the Khyber Union was with the most popular Pathan student Aslam Khattak of Brasenose College, Oxford. His flat in London was our rendezvous for all occasions of celebrations or deliberations. Throughout his stay, he was always elected president by our unanimous vote." May God rest his soul in peace. Ameen. The writer is a senior political analyst E-mail: