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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Always true to poetry, politics

Always true to poetry, politics

A freedom fighter and a born rebel, Ajmal Khattak died on February 7, 2010

By Rahimullah Yusufzai

Fans of Mohammad Ajmal Khattak's poetry and prose used to say that he would have given a lot more to literature had he not spent so much time doing politics. They are probably right, but then he would not have become so well known.

Ajmal Khattak the politician contributed to the fame of Ajmal Khattak the poet and vice-versa. Otherwise, there are scores of Pashto poets and writers who deserve fame and appreciation, but who remain unsung and die largely unknown.

By the time he died at the age of 85, Ajmal Khattak had proved his versatility. He began his career as a teacher at a government school and then moved on to journalism. But his true vocations were poetry and politics. He was barely 13 when he read his Pashto poetry at a mushaira and earned applause. And he was still a teenager when he took part in political processions during the Quit India Movement against the British colonial rule and got rusticated from his school. Later in life he completed his education by qualifying for his master's degree in Persian.

Ajmal Khattak led such an eventful life that it is difficult to keep track of all his activities. He composed poetry and wrote prose in both Pashto and Urdu. He did active journalism in dailies such as Anjam and Shahbaz and wrote columns on political and social issues. For a time he served as a scriptwriter at Radio Pakistan Peshawar. During this period, he had to follow the state-run radio station's policy and write scripts critical of the Afghan government. But then a time came in the 1970s that Ajmal Khattak, while living in self-exile in Afghanistan, championed the Pakhtunistan cause and made speeches from Radio Kabul criticising the Pakistan government.

Some of his critics have mentioned these examples to show the contradictions in his life and political career. He was also accused of raising false hopes among the Pashtun youth by promising them that he would come from Afghanistan with a "red dholi." It meant that he would lead a red revolution from his exile in Afghanistan and influence events in Pakistan, particularly among the Pashtuns.

However, these accusations failed to dent Ajmal Khattak's popularity. His sacrifices, honesty, simplicity and dedication to the cause of the poor and downtrodden endeared him to his people. He was a freedom fighter and a born rebel who suffered imprisonment, torture in custody and financial losses. Despite remaining a member of the National Assembly and the Senate, he continued to live in his three-room house in his hometown Akora Khattak. Unlike other politicians who often make money after getting elected to the parliament and find lucrative jobs for their children and relatives, he didn't indulge in such vices and instead focused on his work as lawmaker and devoted time to political causes and literary pursuits.

The leadership of the late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar movement and its successor organisations such as National Awami Party and Awami National Party had remained in the hands of Bacha Khan and his family, represented subsequently by Khan Abdul Wali Khan and now Asfandyar Wali Khan. But such was the family's trust in Ajmal Khattak and so high was his status as a clean and committed politician that he was chosen to lead the party twice as president. And Ajmal Khattak was welcomed back into the ANP when he mended fences with Wali Khan after having broken away along with a group of party activists in 2000 to form the National Awami Party Pakistan. It is said General Pervez Musharraf encouraged Ajmal Khattak to form his own party in a meeting that created waves as he was the first politician whom the military ruler had met after staging the coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government in October 1999.

Despite his political responsibilities, Ajmal Khattak found time to author 24 books. His first book of Pashto poetry, "Da Ghairat Chagha" (The call of honour), was published in 1952. And his last book, again a collection of his Pashto poetry, was published in August 2009 when he was ill. It was titled, "Da Spin Ghar Da Sara" (From the top of the White Mountain. He authored five books in Urdu, wrote dramas in Pashto, and penned a history of Pashto language and literature. Some of his Pashto poetry was translated into Urdu by late Urdu and Hindko scholar Prof Khatir Ghaznavi. Ajmal Khattak's poetry and prose is highly rated and critics praise his contribution as path-breaking because he was among the first Pashto poets who wrote about the plight and rights of the peasants and workers and highlighted the need for a revolution.

It was on March 23, 1973 that Ajmal Khattak decided to leave Pakistan and escape to Afghanistan after the opposition's public meeting in Liaquat Bagh was fired at and several NAP workers were killed before his eyes. On that fateful day, he felt it was no longer possible for Pashtuns and members of other smaller nationalities to live as equal partners in Punjab-dominated Pakistan. For the next 16 years, he lived in self-exile in Afghanistan. However, times changed and Ajmal Khattak not only returned home and reconciled with the Pakistani state, but was also subsequently elected to the parliament and performed his role as a patriotic lawmaker.

1 comment:

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