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Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Pakhtoon revolutionary remembered

A Pakhtoon revolutionary remembered
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
By By Shahid Husain

In the death of Ajmal Khattak, who passed away on February 7, Pakistan in general and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in particular lost one of its best sons.

Born on September 15, 1926, in Akora Khattak, a small village in NWFP, Ajmal Khattak emerged as one of the finest Pashto poets, journalists and political leaders who suffered immensely at the hands of civilian and military dictators.

I met Khattak in 1970 when I was a student of B.Sc (Honours) first year at the University of Karachi. Erstwhile, the National Awami Party (NAP) was having its central committee meeting in Karachi and top NAP leaders were in the city.

Maulana Jawad-ul-Asghar, a scholar who taught at Sirajuddaulah College, Karachi, arranged a public meeting in Ancholi Society, Federal ‘B’ Area, in honour of Khattak. I was very anxious to meet him after reading a column in “Jang” by (late) Raees Amrohvi in which he had stated that Khattak was not only a poet and politician but also a psychic.

As people were gathering at the Ancholi playground where one finds a park today I saw Khattak talking to a group of political activists and introduced myself as a member of the leftwing National Students Federation (NSF). I asked him if it was true that he was a psychic. I was puzzled when he said, “He had called me,” although he didn’t know me at that time, nor had I heard his voice.

Then I met him at a dinner hosted by (late) Dr Nayyar Aziz Masoodi, an NSF leader at that time who later emerged as a scientist and a professor of physiology at the Sindh Medical College. Masoodi lived in Azizabad and had hosted a dinner at the rooftop of his house. NAP stalwarts, including Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Khair Bux Marri, Ataullah Mengal, Mahmood-ul-Haq Usmani, Prof. Muzaffar Ahmed, Ajmal Khattak etc, were present there.

However, I came close to Khattak a year later in 1971 when Gen. Yahya Khan and his coterie had unleashed genocide in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the Press had been put in chains. Communist leader Jam Saqi had issued a statement against atrocities in East Pakistan and I was entrusted by my seniors to take a bundle of that cyclostyled statement to Khattak in Peshawar.

I was given Rs75 as my traveling expenses by my seniors. I told my mother that I was going to Peshawar on a study tour along with my classmates but my mother became suspicious and sent my uncle, (late) S.M Jaffar, to say goodbye to me at the railway station. Obviously, he caught me red-handed because I was all alone at the railway station, but he kept his promise when I requested him not to tell my mother.

After arriving at Peshawar Cantt. I took a Tonga and went to the spacious NAP office where Khattak lived. He also published daily “Shehbaz” from there. He was a bit disturbed, however, when I handed over the bundle of Jam Saqi’s statement to him and immediately concealed it somewhere in the office.

I requested Khattak that I wanted to meet leaders of the Pushtoon Students’ Federation (PSF), an ally of the NSF, but he somehow evaded my request. However, we would chat for hours and I was served “Chapli Kebab” and green tea with the well known hospitality of the Pushtoons.

After two or three days, trade union leader, (late) Dr Aizaz Nazir, and my friend, Mir Thebo, then-general secretary of the Sindh National Students Federation (SNSF), also arrived there. Khattak knew them very well and asked them about me privately. After becoming satisfied he told me he had become suspicious if I was the real guy because the situation in Peshawar was very tense and NAP office was under surveillance round-the-clock.

The next day a NAP activist and poet Aasi escorted me to the pharmacy shop of (late) Dr Sher Afzal Malik who was an NSF leader in the 1950s and 1960s and probably the most dedicated student leader the NSF had ever produced. Dr Sher Afzal had retired from student politics and ran a pharmacy shop in the heart of Peshawar city. While I was chatting with him, I noticed that he would look at the prescription of every buyer and then tell him that the medicine was not available. After about an hour I asked Dr Sher Afzal Malik that his shop seems to be well stocked but strangely enough he was telling his every client that medicine was not available. Dr Sher Afzal, who I was meeting for the first time, laughed heartily and said, “A comrade has come from Karachi. Should I talk to him or sell medicines?”

Aasi then took me to Peshawar University where we had a meeting in its lawn with the leaders of PSF. We also had dinner at the university’s cafeteria.

I vividly remember that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto arrived in Peshawar clandestinely and wanted to have a meeting with NAP President Khan Abdul Wali Khan who bluntly refused to meet him and retired in his ancestral village Wali Bagh. However, after much persuasion he agreed to meet Bhutto and came to the NAP office and narrated a strange story. Wali Khan told us that Bhutto said that Yahya was now in a mess in former East Pakistan and if NAP started a movement in NWFP and Balochistan and the PPP in Sindh and the Punjab, his government could be toppled. But Wali Khan told him that he had earlier given a statement that there were only three forces in Pakistan: Awami League of Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, the PPP and the army, and since Awami League was in trouble and NAP stands nowhere, therefore, if he wanted to topple Yahya’s government he should do it on its own. A couple of days after this meeting, Wali Khan left for London.

The week I spent with Khattak at the NAP/Shehbaz office in 1971 made us good friends and I would meet him whenever he was in Karachi. He would stay at the servant quarter at the bungalow of NAP General Secretary Mahmood-ul-Haq Usmani and sleep on a mat, while Pushtoon workers thronged the room. He was very simple, affectionate and loving.

Khattak went into self-exile in Kabul after a public meeting at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, was fired upon on March 23, 1973, during the era of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and several political activists were killed. We lost touch.

He, however, never forgot me. When the Sour Revolution occurred in Afghanistan in 1978 and Nur Mohammad Taraki became the prime minister of that country, my journalist friend Mujahid Brelvi went to Kabul to interview the Afghan leader. Mujahid was anxious to meet Taraki but was not sure if he would get an appointment. I told him to contact Khattak and give my reference although I was not sure if he remembered me. On his return Mujahid told me that Khattak spoke about me fondly, and said: “Kis Ka Naam Le Liya, Aesay Laga Jese Bahaar Aagayee.”

Khattak returned home in 1989 and again became active in politics. I remember in 1990 when I was working for Daily News, I called him for an interview. He was staying in Gulshan-e-Iqbal with some party worker and immediately gave me an appointment. However, I became angry after I had to wait there for half an hour and left the place. Khattak came out barefoot and said that a journalist from another newspaper was interviewing him and he wanted to get rid of him so that we could talk at leisure.

Khattak is no more with us but his simplicity and affection will continue to inspire political activists and people of letters alike for years to come.

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