She glides into the hall a few steps ahead of Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh, looking regal in a fuchsia lace saree and a pearl necklace. It’s a function to launch his biography and his close friend from Pakistan, Aroosa Alam, occupies a pride of place on the sofa along with the erstwhile maharaja of Patiala. But there is more to Alam, the Pakistani journalist who first caught the media eyeballs when she befriended Amarinder during a trip to Punjab over 10 years ago.
DROPPING A HINT
Alam hinted at a book as she spoke of her heydays in journalism, Indo-Pak relations, and the way forward. “I have stopped writing for personal reasons. I am enjoying my retirement,” she says before offering a glimpse into her eventful journey as a journalist that began in 1986.
“I started off as a social reporter before graduating to political and diplomatic reporting,” she says. Soon, she was specialising in defence affairs and Indo-Pak relations. It was defence reporting that catapulted her to fame. Her series of investigative reports on Agosta-90B submarine deals, 22 to be precise, led to the arrest of then Pakistan naval chief Mansurul Haq in 1997.
The case had a ripple effect in France as well when an aide of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was charged in this scandal in 2012.
But it was her role as a peacenik that led to her visit to Punjab and subsequent meeting with then chief minister Amarinder Singh in Jalandhar. “I was the president of South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) and we were working for peace between the two countries. It was a sort of informal diplomacy,” she says.
Punjab to Punjab relations had received a mega boost with Amarinder inviting his counterpart Pervaiz Elahi to India, and famously announcing at a conclave in Chandigarh that if he had his way, the borders would be open and he would have breakfast in Patiala and lunch in Lahore.
KASHMIR ON BACKBURNER
Alam rues that the ties between the two countries have deteriorated since the Mumbai blasts. “Till the time the two sides get rid of the hawks, allow people to meet, allow journalists to interact, there cannot be any peace. I think Pakistan has moved a little bit, but India has not been ready for a dialogue ever since the Bombay attacks.”
Listing out issues that could have been solved, Alam points to Siachen. “There was almost an agreement, they wanted to withdraw forces from there. It was so easy to sign that but they didn’t sign it,” she says.
On Kashmir, she says she thinks both sides should put it on the backburner. “We should work for progress, for the economy,” she says, waving her bejewelled hand. The Kashmir issue has held more than 1 billion people hostage in both countries. “We have every right to education and health facilities,” she says, calling for trade and people-to-people contact as some great measures for shoring up Indo-Pak ties.
‘MY RELATIONSHIP A SENSITIVE ISSUE’
Aroosa Alam said she was aware of the buzz she generated whenever she appeared in public with her friend, Capt Amarinder. “My relationship is a big issue even back home, I think he (author Khushwant Singh) has handled it very wisely,” she said, quite happy with a small chapter that the author has devoted to her.
“But it’s a sensitive issue, I am a Muslim woman, and you know how people back home think. There are fundoos (fundamentalists), there are terrorists. Women are in trouble in Pakistan,” she shoots a rueful smile.
Has she contemplated moving base overseas? She shakes her head vehemently, saying: “No, I have never thought of going abroad.”
The mother of two sons — her elder son Fakhr-e-Alam, 41, is a celebrated TV host and singer, while the younger one is a barrister in Dhaka — Alam says she keeps a low profile back home. “I believe I am an honest person and I won’t be harmed.”
Age sits lightly on Alam, who is 62, but looks decades younger. Ask her the secret, and she laughs, attributing it to positive thinking and yoga. Yes, she does yoga every day.
Asked if there was anything about Amarinder that she would like to highlight, she thought hard, smiled and then said the book had really done justice to him. “Khushwant has covered all the aspects.”
In a 2010 interview with a radio channel in Canada, Alam said she was particularly impressed with Amarinder’s simplicity and “aankh ki sharam”.