Pakistan has few enough friends as it is. To lose two within the same week is calamitous. Former PM A.B. Vajpayee died on 16 August, the journalist Kuldip Nayar on 23 August. Both were in their mid-nineties. They, like that other friend of Pakistan Khushwant Singh, belonged to an age when pre-August 1947 was another country.

I knew all three, the other two better than Vajpayee sahib. One could never know him well. He was as unfathomable as the deepest ocean. I had the privilege of hearing him speak, once during his bus yatra to Lahore in February 1999, and the second time when we shared the stage in April 2001 at the Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi.

By 2001, Kargil had taken place. PM Vajpayee – disappointed but undeterred – re-iterated his resolve not to ‘give up our policy of peaceful coexistence with our neighbours.’ His theist heart, if not his BJP mind, taught him: ‘Hate had no religion’. To him, secularism had a universal application: ‘equal respect and equal treatment of all religions’.

In 2001, after our speeches, Vajpayee sahib met me privately. Teasingly, I asked him whether he still had the return ticket in his pocket. He smiled. He used it in 2004, when he revisited Pakistan.  

Vajpayee sahib’s heart and his tongue had an umbilical connection. He felt before he spoke. At the reception in Governor’s House Lahore in 1999, Kuldip Nayar whispered to me as Vajpayee sahib rose to address three hundred of Pakistan’s elite: “If he reads from a text, he will be a disaster.” Vajpayee spoke extempore. Gradually, he so mesmerised his audience that even when the azan for maghrib prayer was called, not one person – from the PM of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the lowest attendee – left his seat.

Both Kuldip Nayar and Khushwant Singh appeared to be vociferously pro-Pakistani, except that neither of them loved Pakistan as much as they loved provoking their own governments.

Kuldip made frequent bee-like visits to Pakistan, to collect pollen of information that he could use as a working journalist. In 1987, he was handed a scoop by Dr A.Q. Khan who revealed to him ‘in confidence’ that Pakistan had gone nuclear. Kuldip did what every free-lance journalist would have done. He touted the information (so General Ziaul Haq suspected) to the highest bidder. Eventually, General Zia, irked by the delay, used another detonator to agitate the Indians.

Soon after General Musharraf took over in 1999, Kuldip en route for his first meeting with Musharraf asked me: ‘Is Kashmir the core issue?” My response was spontaneous but indiscreet. “Kashmir is not  a core issue – it is more a Corps Commanders’ issue.” “Marvellous,” he chuckled, “I will put that into my column.” And he did, all but naming me as his Deep Throat.

On occasions, I detected an anti-Muslim bias in his writings. At first he denied it, but when we met again after a few months, he asked me whether there was still a bias. I replied that there must have been one for him to rectify it.

Now that Khushwant Singh, A.B. Vajpayee and Kuldip Nayar have gone, the flickering torch of Indo-Pak amity has been left for the ‘uninterruptible’, courageous Mani Shankar Aiyar to carry. Mani (a Congress-ite) often sparred with Vajpayee sahib. He never hugged him, but he did embrace (like millions of sane Indians and Pakistanis) Shri Vajpayee’s belief that ‘ultimately we will have to return to the goal of living together in peace, howsoever haywire we may go on this path’. Khushwant Singh, Kuldip Nayar and Shri Vajpayee will no longer be our fellow passengers on that path. Their lives have shown us the way.