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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
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 Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat is the Op-ed and Features Editor at Gulf Times. He has edited newspapers and magazines, and writes on a range of subjects from politics and sports to showbiz and culture. Widely read and travelled, he has a rich background in both print and electronic media.
PHILOSOPHY: u201cWhat use is education when we do not become human beings? My school is the welfare of humanityu201d - Abdul Sattar Edhi
Opinion
The beloved distributor of hope

Meray mulk ke ghareebon ka khayal rakhna (look after the poor of my country). Famous last words of the man Mother Teresa famously called a saint. When someone has looked after the poor and the dispossessed selflessly, relentlessly, obsessively for more than six decades, words begin to fail. A bit like how daily Pakistan Today’s profound epitaph of a headline on the passing of perhaps, the greatest humanitarian in modern history suggested:  Abdul Sattar Edhi:  Too big for words  If you want to get a measure of the man  - not that evidence is needed - Pakistan stood still, infectiously united in grief, on Friday when news of Edhi’s demise finally broke. One says ‘finally’, because rumours to this effect had surfaced in the recent past, more than once, given his rapidly deteriorating health. Only last month, the Foreign Office blundered in issuing a condolence message following one such call. This time, there would be no going back. For all the inevitability surrounding death - and in Edhi’s case, a seemingly closer call given his precarious condition - the reality begins to bite when those larger-than-life shadows begin to assume sepia tones. The sense of grief in Pakistan is palpable because in a nation often riven by fissures and hopelessness springing from a lack of governance, there has never been anyone like Edhi, the absolute last man standing where humanity, love, selflessness and trust is concerned. But being Edhi, he wasn’t done. Not with literally, making his own grave a quarter century ago, and a will to be buried in the same clothes he last wore - all he ever kept to himself were two pairs of a tunic all his adult life and a pair of shoes worn for two decades, repaired whenever needed, and making a windowless room with a bed, sink and a hotplate his assets! As well as making that last clarion call about his beloved poor on deathbed, Edhi donated his eyes - bequeathing any other organ was implausible as these had been rendered unproductive - corneas of which were successfully transplanted in two blind persons, hours after his death. Post-surgery, they are set to see the world for the first time in a week from now. Remarkable that A Mirror To The Blind (Edhi’s acclaimed biography) would on take a literal meaning here!  Edhi’s life in the phenomenal service of humankind - even if the Nobel Prize Committee never noticed it to the great resentment of millions, but only a shrug from Edhi himself - cannot be possibly encapsulated in one piece. But the least one can do is to make an attempt to pay one’s due. This was a man who single-handedly established a network of charitable homes, including an emergency service that provides ambulances and other assistance for the needy. The hotline fields an emergency call, on average, every 8-10 seconds - some 10,000 in a day with 6,000 in Karachi, the world’s second most populous city, alone. Before kidneys failed him in 2013, Edhi would often pick up a call himself and be the first to arrive on the scene in that familiar white coloured, horn blaring ambulance - one of over 1,800, the world’s largest such service. The Edhi Foundation also boasts three dozen rescue boats, two fixed-wings planes and a helicopter. So enormous was the respect and reverence Edhi was held in that often when an ambulance arrived on the scene in response to an SOS call - smack in the middle of an ongoing shootout between notorious political gangs and the police in a Karachi cauldron - they would cease fire before resuming battle once the ambulance left! Replete as Edhi’s life was with incidents that brought home a converted soul, he was once robbed by a gang of thieves, but just as they were about to leave, one of the them recognised Edhi and a profuse apology later, immediately returned the spoils, and himself pulled out a hundred rupee note to donate, telling astonished fellows in the gang: “We can’t do this; this is Edhi, who is the only one who will come to our rescue even when our family would have forsaken us!”.  But ambulance service is just one, albeit more visible, of the chain of charity work rendered by the Edhi Foundation. The ‘Angel of Mercy’ did more with shelters for the homeless, the sick, the physically and mentally challenged and orphans. According to 2014 figures, there were 17 shelters for women seeking refuge from domestic violence and other abuse, nursing homes, hospitals and blood banks. His centres are abroad, too, in the US, Canada, Afghanistan, Nepal and the Middle East. From reaching out to refugees in Afghanistan to famine victims of Ethiopia and even victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US, the Edhi Foundation has made its presence felt. The Foundation also has the largest morgue in Pakistan which can accommodate 300 bodies at a time. The free kitchen in Karachi affords meals for 30,000 people every evening. A large animal home where abused, sick and abandoned animals are taken care of and fed is just another hallmark of the saintly Edhi’s legacy. None in modern history however, rival his work in giving dignity to the dead. He brought back bloated, drowned bodies from the sea - black bodies that crumbled with one touch - and others from rivers, inside wells, accident sites and hospitals. As his biography notes, when families forsook them and authorities threw them away, he picked and brought them home to his work force to give them a decent burial. But perhaps, what outdoes everything else was his decision in the 90s to take in abandoned babies, ignoring an outcry from the clergy, which would rather brush it under the carpet than address the deep-rooted problem. Up until 2014, partnered by his equally devoted wife Bilquis, Edhi had helped save more than 40,000 unwanted babies; feeding, nurturing and educating them. Many of them rose to be in positions of advantage in society, while still others chose to return to Edhi homes to take care of the dispossessed, in turn. Still Edhi did not have an easy life, facing the wrath of the mullahs and political mafias in Karachi, who resented the citizenry’s deep sense of loyalty to him in giving alms and trusting him with their money which they wanted for themselves and did so by force. This never stopped Edhi from giving them two hoots, and carrying on with his mission undeterred. Not only did he shun them and any activity that smelt of pomp and ceremony, he refused to take money from the rich or foreign organisations, often turning down millions. “If the common people are the givers, it will last forever,” he used to say. More recently, he declined an offer from former president Asif Zardari - infamous for his alleged ill-gotten wealth - to be treated abroad, gesturing with a frail hand that he was content to be home. All this was reflected in what he said years ago about his country, people and rulers. “Pakistanis give wholeheartedly. They give tens of thousands and they don’t even take a receipt. They just walk in and give. This is a good country. It’s just run by bad people.” Much said. With the typical soul and simplicity of an Edhi. RIP. The writer is Community Editor.

Gulf Times
Opinion
Drone transparency long overdue

Pakistan on Friday reiterated a call to immediately nix the controversial CIA drone programme that it sees as a violation of “territorial integrity and sovereignty of states”. Dr Maleeha Lodhi, the country’s permanent representative to United Nations, drove home at the General Assembly that counter-terrorism measures violating territorial integrity and sovereignty of states could be counterproductive while also fuelling violent extremism. Pakistan is top of the pile where casualties - a significantly high number of civilians amongst them - from drone strikes are concerned. Lodhi’s reaction followed Obama administration’s decision to release information about a civilian casualty count - a departure from its longstanding unwillingness to even recognise any such occurrence - during the period 2009-2015. The administration released the data - three years after it first promised to do so - estimating that between 64-116 civilians apart from 2,372-2,581 militants (in 473 strikes) were eliminated as a result of the unmanned predators’ target-shooting. The tally, it said, included those outside the war zones although no country was specified. Independent watchdogs, non-governmental organisations and rights groups weren’t taken in by the administration’s math; they could hardly be faulted since not only does the count appear significantly smaller than what has been reported in the international media and accounted for by these dedicated scrutinisers - despite the obvious difficulty in obtaining an accurate scorecard thanks to the very secretive nature of the programme and accessibility - the continuing ambiguity was akin to that proverbial inverted finger in terms of probity. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), an independent not-for-profit organisation based in London that pursues research, investigations, reporting and analysis, in collaboration with renowned global media houses, and which boasts critical acclaim on the covert drone programme, puts the civilian death count as a result of the strikes in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia at 380-801. “While any disclosure of information about the (US) government’s targeted-killing policies is welcome,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the BIJ, “the government should be releasing information about every strike - the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. “The public has a right to know who the government is killing - and if the government doesn’t know who it’s killing, the public should know that,” he said. Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve, a London-based human rights organisation that works with the international media to help the most vulnerable on the planet and raise awareness about the unlawful CIA drone strikes, felt Washington may have missed the boat. “For three years now, President Obama has been promising to shed light on the CIA’s covert drone programme. Today, he had a golden opportunity to do just that. Instead, he chose to do the opposite. He published numbers that are hundreds lower than even the lowest estimates by independent organisations. The only thing those numbers tell us is that this administration simply doesn’t know who it has killed,” Gibson said. “Back in 2011, it claimed to have killed “only 60” civilians. Does it really expect us to believe that it has killed only four more civilians since then, despite taking hundreds more strikes? The most glaring absence from this announcement are the names and faces of those civilians that have been killed,” she said. In Pakistan, drone strikes have been a sticking point in relations with the US. The sovereignty breach is seen as a betrayal for all the monumental losses that the country has suffered for fronting the US-led global war-on-terror. Pakistan has lost more than 60,000 lives, including civilians and military; and $120bn in material terms, according to unofficial but widely quoted figures, since it was coerced to join the war 15 years ago. Talking of drone strikes alone, according to the BIJ, there have been 424 strikes in Pakistan in this time - a remarkable 373 under Obama, who was handed a Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months into office to his own surprise - with more than 2,500 killed, including 350 civilians. This includes 69 children in one single strike on a seminary in Chenegai (Bajaur region) in 2006 alone! The contrast with former president George W Bush - with a pronounced war-mongering repute and under whom the drone programme was initiated - couldn’t be starker. Where Bush authorised 51 strikes in seven years, Obama ratcheted it up to 373 -  128 in 2010 alone - in a still unfinished eight-year presidency, according to BIJ. Despite the surge, the civilian casualty percentage remains low for Obama - 5.6%  to Bush’s eight. When citing the “illegality” of the action, critics, in particular, point to the noncombatants running the covert programme. The indiscriminate use of force has led to large-scale civilian casualties with the profound disadvantage that it breeds extremism and anti-Americanism - when innocents die and are dismissed as “collateral” - against the intended purpose of quelling it. Nevertheless, the executive decision by President Obama to institutionalise a reporting process on the drone programme - following pressure from foreign governments and rights organisations/groups - for the next commander-in-chief suggests there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. The willingness to recognise that some sort of transparency is in order, is welcome - as noted by Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program. “(The) disclosure is a crucial shift away from the Obama Administration’s longstanding policy of concealing information about civilians killed in drone strikes,” she said in a statement. “It is a vital step in dismantling the dangerous precedent of a global, secret killing programme. President Obama’s willingness to comprehensively assess the impact of (the) drone programme and to apologise and compensate victims, will ultimately influence his human rights legacy and set a clear benchmark for the next administration and the one after that,” Shah noted. “This is not the end of the public conversation on US drone strikes, but just the beginning,” she enthused, in what many hope, will find a more receptive ear in the White House. - The writer is Community editor.

Two to tango: Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifu2019s advisor on foreign affairs, right, with Indiau2019s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Opinion
Time for a joint Indo-Pak NSG bid?

The decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to not accept India’s application for the membership of the coveted 48-nation club in Seoul has pretty much followed the script. The build-up to the summit had been frenzied with all eyes on China, which was reckoned to hold the key to the final outcome. As expected, Beijing held firm on the opposition despite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to persuade his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping otherwise on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Tashkent ahead of the NSG summit. A few other surprises were thrown up as well with countries that had earlier promised to back New Delhi’s bid eventually holding back, citing the mandatory requirement of signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Both India and Pakistan - which, too, had applied for membership - have not signed the NPT. The NSG is committed to limiting nuclear arms proliferation by overseeing the export, re-transfer and protection of sensitive materials that could foster nuclear weapons development. India had been granted a special waiver for trading in sensitive nuclear technology with NSG members back in 2008 following a civilian nuclear deal with the US. Pakistan’s endeavour to be treated on par did not find favour in Washington despite its tremendous sacrifices in the US-led war-on-terror. While India has been seeking NSG membership since 2010, Pakistan joined the race only two months ago. If an application for membership is accepted by the NSG, a vote follows. All members of the club have to vote in favour since only a consensus can pave the way for inclusion. If even a single member votes against the application, the motion does not go through. The Seoul setback, predictably, led to contrasting reactions in the two neighbouring nuclear capitals, New Delhi and Islamabad. While disappointment, even bitterness at China’s “stonewalling”, was evident in the former, a sigh of relief at not being at the receiving end of discrimination was palpable in the latter. Islamabad had only recently picked up the diplomatic thread to push its case, and that, too, without any high profile pitch; New Delhi, on the other hand, had been feverishly working up the circuit. While India had publicly received unequivocal support from prominent NSG members, led by the United States, Pakistan was realistically banking on China to hold the fort even though it felt it had a strong case, too. Media reports say sharp divisions were evident among the NSG members at the plenary session with some insisting on adhering to the NPT signature pre-condition, and others, for putting in place a uniform criteria-based process for new admissions - which is what Islamabad’s stance on the issue is. Ambassador Wang Qun, China’s top negotiator at the NSG, was quoted as having said there were “many differences on admitting non-NPT members”, which were described as “a matter of principle” - broadly, sticking to the NPT regime, that is. Even though the NSG did not close the doors for India and Pakistan, in saying it would continue deliberations on the issue of accepting non-NPT states in its fold, it did not explain how it would proceed. A communique issued at the end of the two-day meeting said the participants “had discussions on the issue of technical, legal, and political aspects of the participation of non-NPT states in NSG and decided to continue with that”. The pointed assertion that “full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT” would remain the basis of the non-proliferation regime suggests any forward movement on the inclusion of non-NPT states would be a tough call. Interestingly, while both India and Pakistan pursued their gambits with some zeal in the lead up to the Seoul summit - some pundits felt it had a zero-sum mien to it - both eventually, took to suggesting they did not object to each other’s similar ambition! Islamabad went a step further by urging the NSG to consider entry applications of Pakistan and India simultaneously, and in an even-handed manner, keeping in view the region’s strategic stability. In India, the ruling BJP ignored the opposition Congress’s stinging criticism of what it called the Modi government’s diplomatic “haste” that led to “equating India with Pakistan” in the NSG case, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj saying India would have no objection to the entry of Pakistan into the NSG, based on merit. But while that is what parties in opposition are wont to do, perhaps, the time has come for both Pakistan and India to turn the corner and exhibit maturity by supporting each other’s bid, if not jointly putting up papers. If this sounds like an idle man’s pipe dream, the setback in Seoul should allow for some good old-fashioned soul searching! As for Pakistan, it had better embrace proactive, not reactive, policy any which way. Munir Akram, a former ambassador to the UN and an expert on the subject, certainly thinks there are no two ways about it. In a four-pronged strategy outlined last week, he called for an active diplomatic campaign at the UN, in major capitals and the media, “to expose the false premises for discriminatory restrictions against Pakistan and double standards on disarmament and non-proliferation”. Akram also thinks it would be worthwhile to engage India for reciprocal arms control and strategic restraint, which he feels, would put Pakistan’s larger neighbour on the “diplomatic defensive” and help ward off US pressure to accept unilateral restraints. His third proposal for Pakistan is to expand leverage by making offers of peaceful nuclear cooperation, under IAEA safeguards, to Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Muslim and developing countries. Akram suggests this may invigorate the NSG into considering Pakistan’s inclusion with the seriousness it deserves. Finally, he says, Islamabad should build its case as a meaningful and credible player by initiating genuine disarmament with China and other developing countries, including treaties “to halt the current multi-billion dollar upgrade and miniaturisation of US and Russian nuclear weapons and bans on the development and deployment of laser, anti-satellite and other space weapons”. - The writer is Community editor.

Underwhelming: Sartaz Aziz, who has been a foreign and finance minister in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifu2019s two earlier terms, is now only adviser on foreign affairs.
Opinion
Needed: a full-time foreign minister for Pakistan

Islamabad remains one of the world’s pre-eminent capitals for its geo-strategic gravitas. As one of a handful of declared nuclear powers alone means it ultimately, retains business interest for the world, but there is a question mark over how much Islamabad itself is doing to advance those strategic interests. The long absence of a full-time foreign minister is not helping Islamabad’s cause at all and a belated move –  reported by Reuters last week – to hire lobbyists in Washington after an eight-year hiatus to fill up the diplomacy gaps and influence movers-and-shakers on the DC circuit is an acknowledgment of how far have US-Pak ties slipped, of late. The pinch was also felt more recently when Pakistan’s largely security driven foreign policy goals were gingerly pursued even as its rivals moved at a frenetic pace to convince any leftover skeptics around the world for a place in the coveted 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group. Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s adviser on foreign affairs, did make a few calls to key world capitals, but it was never going to be enough, and remains unlikely to deliver the results that would be a decent bet, if say, Islamabad had a fulltime foreign minister manning the beat. To be sure, there’s just no substitute for pro-active diplomacy that physically takes the top diplomat places, or have these foreign capitals reach out to — as opposed to making do with poor ad hoc cousins. Trepidation is apparent in Sharif’s decision to not appoint a full time foreign minister in his third stint as prime minister. There is an interesting background to this of course, but whether it is also justifiable is a moot point. It stems from his uneasy relationship with the powerful security establishment during his previous two aborted terms. But it is the relatively more recent episode pertaining to how Shah Mehmood Qureshi served as foreign minister at a crucial juncture in the last government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and his exit that so alarmed Sharif that he chose to keep the portfolio with himself upon assuming office in June 2013. Qureshi refused to oblige his own party (PPP) – insiders suggest, after a nod from the security establishment – in the infamous Raymond Davis case. Davis, a covert CIA contractor, was arrested by the authorities in Lahore after he killed two Pakistanis on mere suspicion they were chasing him. The PPP government wanted the American released citing (unfounded) diplomatic immunity (after the Obama administration pressured Islamabad). The Qureshi dissent so annoyed Asif Zardari, the-then president and also PPP co-chairman, that he resorted to a cabinet reshuffle soon after a negotiated settlement - reportedly, between the Americans and the Pakistan military – led to Davis’ eventual release. In the reshuffle, Qureshi was offered the agriculture ministry, which he reckoned to be beneath his “stature”, and therefore, declined. Weeks later, Qureshi, who was a major contender for the PM’s slot when the Zardari-led PPP returned to power in 2008, quit the party and joined the emerging opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf of firebrand cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. He is now its vice-chairman. This episode, more than anything else, insiders say, made Sharif wary and as a consequence, he decided beforehand that he would not be appointing a foreign minister. Initially, Sharif also held the defence portfolio before reluctantly, handing over charge to his confidante Khawaja Asif in the winter of 2013. Interestingly, Asif has found it difficult to endear himself to the security establishment because of his damning remarks against its role during General Parvez Musharraf’s reign. The PM, however, does not seem to have the same level of trust when it comes to the foreign affairs portfolio. What bewilders the pundits is that Sartaj Aziz has been a foreign minister – and before that the finance minister – in Sharif’s earlier two terms. But this time, the veteran with a known ambitionless mien, was not even given a ticket to the Senate – upper house of Pakistan’s bilateral legislature – which would have constitutionally, enabled him to take the full minister’s charge. In what appeared to be a further dilution of whatever powers Aziz would have enjoyed, if at all, Tariq Fatemi, another aide, was also appointed special assistant to the PM on foreign affairs, which predictably, sowed confusion and some heartburn to boot. Riaz Khokhar, a much respected former foreign secretary, admitted in a subsequent piece on the subject that this move created confusion at the Foreign Office and even foreign delegates appeared clueless in whom to approach for what. Even though Aziz did gain the upper hand in a match of wits with Fatemi, it still does not hold water since foreigners – in world capitals and delegates visiting Islamabad – remain sceptical of the pointman’s essential reach. They cannot, of course, talk to the PM directly because of protocol even though they routinely make courtesy calls with the only leverage left with perhaps, a visiting US secretary of state. With the PM also away for treatment and recuperation in Britain for weeks now – and rapid developments pregnant with far reaching repercussions at home, in the region and elsewhere on the globe – Islamabad was never more in need of a full time foreign minister as it is now. The declining state of relations with the US, worrying border tensions with Afghanistan and the need for a viable diplomatic strategy to deal with the Nuclear Suppliers Group zeitgeist makes it incumbent upon Sharif to find a quick solution. Reluctant half measures are no longer an option. Any apprehensions surrounding a “Qureshi” encore are, in effect, meaningless and counterproductive because nothing can be achieved by creating a vacuum. In fact, the “vacancy” makes it difficult for Sharif to direct and exercise steady control over foreign policy. While hiring lobbyists in DC may help plug some of the gaps that have allowed disenchantment to grow manifold in Washington in the last few months – to speak of just one of the most critical bilaterals in the international arena; it does not, on its own, fill the void at the Foreign Office in Islamabad. - The writer is Community Editor.

DOTING DAD: Muhammad Ali looks at his two-and-a-half-week old daughter Laila, who later rose to become a world champion as well, in 1978.
Opinion
Muhammad Ali, the people’s champ

The spirit never wavered whoever he faced: be it opponents in the ring or opponents out of the ring, or debilitating disease As if proof was needed, the immensely poignant inter-faith memorial that followed Muhammad Ali’s funeral on Friday showed his universal appeal. Like elsewhere on the globe, Ali’s passing left Pakistani fans grieving, too. But it also rekindled memories that are unique for a reason: he remains probably the most famous convert to the Muslim faith in modern history, and was deeply admired beyond the sport, which really has no base in Pakistan to speak of. Ali came to be lionised across the world for taking a high moral ground in refusing the Vietnam draft and going to the extent of giving up his World Heavyweight Champion title for his beliefs. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister, even offered him to come live in the South Asian country when he was being ostracised in the US for refusing military service. Eventually, Ali came for a visit in 1988 and was predictably, jubilantly mobbed. One would like to also make an own recollection in trying to figure out what the most famous athlete of the last century meant to the world. Watching I Am Ali - the 2014 documentary that provides rare access to audio journals spanning hundreds of hours that he had maintained over the years - was insightful. Whilst going through the paces and looking at his frail form in the face of Parkinson’s fist, the fear when we would hear the last of him - he had been hospitalised for mostly pneumonia and urinary tract infection a few times - was all too real. Many Pakistanis of my generation have blurred images imprinted on the mind of the black-and-white live feed on the state broadcaster (Pakistan Television), bringing the glory of Ali at often ungodly hours. Even though he always seemed and remains larger than life, one didn’t always reconcile with his bombast about being “The Greatest” but paradoxically, that’s the sweeping legacy of sport he has left behind. He was lightning quick on his toes as we all know, but in later years, did debunk the “myth” of any human being the “greatest”, saying it was the sole reserve of God. For me, what first made him a hero was learning through a chapter in the English curriculum at school in New Delhi, India, about him throwing away his coveted Olympic medal in the Ohio River. Ali (then Cassius Clay) was only 18 and wore the distinction with pride all the time! He felt deeply hurt and outraged after being refused service at a small dinner party in the US just because of his race. Ali’s iconic life from thereon - particularly, a stinging rejoinder to the Vietnam draft on a principle so profound it pierces through the heart - will remain etched in memory. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?,” retorted Ali. Considering that boxing was his bread and butter, he took a massive risk in taking the fight away from the ring for people of his race, who desperately needed a voice. Forsaking self - and three prime years of his career - until the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction ensured the people’s hero found a halo that has, for its import, a certain Nelson Mandela streak to it. A more effusive side of the champion browbeater - that of a loving father - was visibly drawn by his photographer Michael Gaffney in one interview. With a lump in his throat, he recalled asking The Champ if he could take a picture of him with daughter Laila - then only two-and-a-half weeks old - and was given a go-ahead thus: The out-worldly conceited Ali knelt down, holding the tiny baby in his big brawny hands as if he had eyes only for her and the world stood still. There’s one amazing dichotomy governing Ali’s legacy. We’ve always been taught that sport is bigger than the player - that no player, however great, can rise above the game itself. Ali perhaps, was an exception. It is difficult to recall a single other instance where such a large assembly of connoisseurs agrees that his aura then, and legacy now, transcends the sport itself! Probably, it has to do with his powerful persona and prowess outside the ring more than inside it. Finally, a confession: one has always found it difficult to reconcile with a “sport” that, by design or default, may bring down a competitor with sometimes fatal consequences. History is littered with boxers dying of body blows or becoming the walking wounded. In his prime, he had the gift of gab, the sense of occasion and unbridled chutzpah that gelled well with his handsome figure. Ali’s demise will remain one of the saddest days for his legion of admirers. But of course, it’s not for his prowess in the ring that he always endeared himself to us, although to start and end with, that’s why we’re even talking about him here! The 32-year fight with Parkinson’s could not make light of his heavyweight legacy. But it’s a relief that he’s past it - as his now-retired world champion daughter Laila admitted last week: “I have been sad for a long time, just watching my father struggling with Parkinson’s disease. (But) I have comfort knowing that he’s not suffering anymore.” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer may have been slightly overwhelmed when he called Ali a “supernatural figure” - but the rest of the tribute was on message - “who crossed all kinds of boundaries, from athletics to art, to humanitarian activities, from black to white, from Christianity to Islam, and he belongs to the world.” R.I.P., Ali. In life, you were sometimes knocked down, but not knocked out - the spirit never wavered whoever you faced: be it opponents in the ring or opponents out of the ring, or debilitating disease. May you now find peace that you richly deserved! - The writer is Community Editor.