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QK Archives Wali Khan his fathers shadow

QK archives
Originally published by chowk.com in 2006



Khan Abdul Wali Khan: His Fathers Shadow?
H P January 25, 2006

A few personal memories of an honest and straightforward politician of Pakistan

I first met Khan Abdul Wali Khan with a group of students in the late 70s. My graduation still had a few more months to go and I was planning to continue in politics after graduating from student politics that I had joined in the volatile year of 1977.

By that time, Khan Wali Khan had lost his aura. He had made wrong choices in 1973 and paid a price. His party had split and Gen. Zia ul Haq was not happy with his party’s pro- Afghan leanings. Bacha Khan was still in Kabul in a self imposed exile and Wali Khan was looking for ways to bring him back to Pakistan.

It was quite obvious that there were difficulties ahead in Afghanistan. The news of proliferation of Jihadi organizations all over NWFP, especially in the tribal belt, were not encouraging for the progressive and liberal politics in NWFP and in Pakistan.

He talked about Afghanistan and Bacha Khan. It was an informative session but it was quite apparent that he was about ready to give up on politics in Pakistan alhough he kept encouraging us to fight on, repeatedly mentioning that we have a long way to go before Pakistan becomes a democracy.

Just a few years ago, Wali Khan was the leader of the Opposition in the first elected National assembly of Pakistan. There were stories about how Prime Minister Z A Bhutto was scared of him and on many occasions avoided meeting with Wali Khan preferring his close lieutenant and the Baloch leader Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo.

Physically, Wali Khan was an imposing figure standing well over six feet tall. With dark glasses to hide his loss of an eye, he was always difficult to read. Wali Khan also had an annoying habit during his leader of the opposition days, to issue threats of dire consequences and often talked about moving chains beyond the Attock Fort. That did not endear him to the people in Punjab.

Eventually Bhutto and the army were able to take advantage his often redundant outbursts when they brought the first Baloch Government of Balochistan down and had the army move in Balochistan to suppress resistance by the National Awami Party.

It was not the first time that the National Awami Party or NAP was in trouble with the army. NAP was banned during the army operations in East Pakistan in 1971. It was the only party in West Pakistan that stood up for Bengalis and condemned the army action in East Pakistan. That was the proudest moment in the lives of many NAP workers as they sincerely believed that they were fighting to save Pakistan by supporting Pakistanis of the Bengali origin. Later on, I met many former NAP workers who always excitedly talked about the dark days of 1971 when either they were behind bars or were distributing leaflets against the army in the darks of nights in different Pakistani cities.

Some old timers told me that Wali Khan himself was not ready to confront the army but always had words of encouragement for students and Labor leaders in NWFP and supported their families when they were in jail.

Unlike Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, some would say, Wali Khan often showed his reluctance to take the authorities on. He was always a vocal opponent but when the time came to confront Gen. Ayub or Gen. Yahya Khan, he moved back to Wali Bagh, Charsadda in NWFP, reading a huge collection of books that he had acquired.

Today when I look back, I feel that Wali Khan never actually fulfilled his promise. He inherited a strong tradition of personal sacrifices, selfless political and social work of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the Khudai Khadmitgar movement. On many occasions, in different parts of NWFP, I remember meeting old Surkhposh who still loved Ghaffar Khan but could never get excited about Wali Khan and his leadership. They always showed up to listen to him but the enthusiasm that they had for Ghaffar Khan was never there. Perhaps, that was the reason the surkhposh movement, a genuinely secular political movement, slowly died in NWFP giving rise to the current religious political parties.

Wali Khan spent almost three years in jail in Hyderabad prison. The jail Superintendent was our family friend and a proud Sindhis nationalist. He always wanted to help the NAP leaders that included Wali Khan, Bizenjo, Mengal, and many others but this was the first time that Wali Khan was incarcerated for a long period of time. He was bitter and wanted to get out of the jail at any price. He did not appreciate the jail limitations and once slapped the Superintendent. That destroyed that gentle soul. He resigned. When I met Wali Khan for the last time and on finding out that I was from Hyderabad, he asked me about the Superintendent. He felt sorry for what he did and wanted me to convey his apologies to him.

That jail term actually ended Wali Khan’s short-lived political career in Pakistan. He wanted to come out of the jail and wanted to go back to Wali Bagh and his books. He reportedly made a deal with the army and his wife Begum Nasim Wali Khan, joined the rightwing ISI sponsored alliance that eventually led to the army coup of Gen. Zia ul Haq in Pakistan.

Interestingly, Begum Nasim Wali Khan was a phenomenal orator in both Urdu and Pashto. Her speeches against Bhutto and the Peoples’ Party moved crowds all over Pakistan in 1977. People in Karachi, Lahore, and Hyderabad would come to every rally where she was the main speaker. She made so many friends in Punjab that often people wondered as to why she was not the NAP leader instead of Wali Khan. She was articulate and made her case to Punjab with eloquence and dignity.

That aside, after 1977 Wali Khan the politician, had embarked on a slippery slope that continued to slide. He made compromises with the army, left his Baloch friends, refused to allow the liberals from Sindh and Punjab to join his political party, and finally declared “Islam humara deen” in his party’s manifesto.

Historians would judge Wali Khan’s contribution to Pakistani politics better than I could but if someone were to write the history of the Surkhposh movement in NWFP, they would not remember Wali Khan with the kind of reverence that was reserved for Khan Ghaffar Khan.

On Pakistan’s national political scene, he would still be remembered as a politician who for most of his career worked under the huge shadow of Khan Ghaffar Khan, but at times was able to bring a kind of honestly and straightforwardness to Pakistani politics that was often lacking in the politicians that worked under the different Muslim League banners.
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