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QK Archives: Wali Khan leaves behind his "mark of treason"

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 published by the Daily Times
Wali Khan leaves behind his ‘mark of treason’

By Sarfaraz Ahmed

Soon after 9/11 and the American invasion of Afghanistan, Khan Abdul Wali Khan would address a press conference in Peshawar. It would be his last major political activity. In that meeting with the media, Wali Khan said that had the US not attacked Afghanistan, that country would have turned into an Arab colony since Osama Bin Laden had a well-equipped army of 16,000 people which far outnumbered the trained soldiers in the Afghan army.

Exactly four years later, this writer got a chance to meet him at his Wali Bagh residence in Charsadda. He had been bed-ridden for over a year. His speech had become incoherent. Nor would his family allow visitors, particularly journalists seeking interviews. Thanks to Begum Wali, I was allowed to meet him in his bedroom.

“Who is he?”, Khan Wali Khan enquired in Pushto from Sangeen Wali, his youngest son. “Baba, he’s a journalist from Karachi,” Sangeen replied. “Is he a Pushtoon?” asked Wali Khan. “Baba he’s a journalist who has read your book, ‘Facts are Sacred’. He has questions about your book,” Sangeen said in English. “How are you?” Wali Khan now addressed me. “Good,” I replied.

We remained with him for a short while and then met again in the sitting room. Wali Khan’s undiminishing preference for “Pushto” and “Pushtoon” brought to mind, among other things, the speech he delivered at Darul Ulum Haqqaniya, Akhora Khattak, in the 70s. He told a gathering there that the ulema and NAP’s present close relations were due to their identity of views about Islam and Pushto. As a result, Mufti Mahmood was forced to make a U-turn on his statement that Urdu would remain the official language of the Frontier, stating in the provincial assembly that Pushto would be the language of the province and the adoption of Urdu was only a ‘stop gap’ arrangement.

I noticed the walls and pillars of his house, adorned with his pictures and those of major historical figures from this region, such as Bacha Khan, Dr Khan Saheb, Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, the late Shah of Iran Daud Khan and Dr Najibullah of Afghanistan. He and his family had always enjoyed very cordial relations with the Congress leadership, but they have not met much since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1990. By this time, Wali Khan had also withdrawn from active politics. He could not speak much because of his poor health.

It was disturbing to find that Wali Khan could not speak of the British military operations he witnessed in South Waziristan in August-September 1946, or of the similarities with the current operation against Al Qaeda and Taliban sympathisers. He was not to be bothered for his account of Nehru’s visit to the tribal areas in October 1946, or the role played by the then NWFP governor, Sir Olaf Caroe. Nor would he draw parallels between the military operations in Balochistan in the 1970s and the current upheavals in that province. Nor would he shed light on how Gen Zia offered him a government through Gen Fazl-e-Haq and later withdrew the offer.

A highly controversial politician because of his and his predecessors’ vehement opposition to the creation of Pakistan, he was nevertheless a treasure trove of history, pre- and post-Independence. He was considered one of the most learned politicians in Pakistan, even as he neared the end of his political career. Iqbal Akhund, adviser on national security and foreign issues during Benazir Bhutto’s first government, writes in his highly acclaimed ‘Trial and Error: The Advent and Eclipse of Benazir Bhutto’:

“The opposition’s partisan agenda was very much in evidence at the joint session of Parliament that met on 10 February. Benazir opened the session in the afternoon with a speech delivered alternately in Urdu and English, sounding, as a result, ‘somewhat disjointed and not very coherent’, as one newspaper wrote the next day...

“However, the speech delivered by the opposition’s co-leader, Khan Wali Khan, struck an unexpected note and set the dovecots aflutter on all sides of the House. Kashmir, he said, was a problem inherited by the present government and it would be unfair to blame it for the existing situation. Kashmir was lost long ago, he went on, by Pakistan’s own repeated mistakes, recalling that it was Jinnah who had insisted that the rulers of princely states and not their people should decide the affiliation of a state with India or Pakistan.

“Wali Khan also referred to Pakistan’s rejection of Sardar Patel’s supposed offer: ‘You lay off Hyderabad, we lay off Kashmir.’ Why, the Khan asked, had Jinnah accepted the accession of Junagadh, a state with an overwhelming Hindu majority and not contiguous to Pakistan? He blamed Jinnah also for giving carte blanche to Cyril Radcliffe and agreeing that his award should be final and not subject to appeal, whereas India had wanted to provide for an appeal. As for the Simla Accord, Wali Khan reminded members that it had been ratified by the National Assembly, and if now they wanted to renounce it then the Assembly would have formally to abrogate it.

“Wali Khan got a big hand from the treasury benches. On the opposition side there was first a rustle of surprise and then an embarrassed hush as the Khan spoke on...”

Wali Khan remained committed to his views. He felt there was an overt British tilt towards the Muslim League. In ‘Facts are Sacred’, he writes: “I used to think that Bacha Khan had become unduly embittered with the colonial rulers because of the agonies he and his followers had suffered at their hands. I was particularly sceptical about the Congress charges that the British were responsible for fanning communal passions within the country to further their imperialistic designs. I used to think that such accusations were exercises in finding scapegoats ... But I had not imagined that the truth was infinitely uglier than their portrayal of it. The evidence was there in black and white, written and signed by the guilty ones themselves, secured for posterity in their own official library - the communications of the highest British dignitary in India, the viceroy, and the minister concerned with Indian affairs in Whitehall.”

He felt that the Muslim League was playing into the hands of the British. “Britain was resolved that there should be no election at the Centre. After the War had broken out and India too had been declared party to it, she got a good excuse. She also received encouragement in this from Muslim League leaders. Here is what the Viceroy writes on October 7, 1939, about the advice he received from Nawab Ismail, President of UP Muslim League. ‘The Nawab suggested that it was essential that any declaration should make it clear that a democratic system at the Centre is not acceptable to the Muslim community and went on to urge that the Congress claim to speak for India and to control defence was perfectly inadmissible.’

“This was strange logic. The Congress which had won election in eight provinces could not speak for India: while the Muslim League, which could not form a ministry even in a single province, had the right of veto.”

These “anti-Pakistan” views meant Wali Khan could never become a national leader. But, as his close friend Sherbaz Khan Mazari writes in ‘A Journey to Disillusionment’, he should best be remembered as a patriot: “On Sept 28 [1974] a serious attempt was made on Wali Khan’s life as he was driving to Swat. Both his driver and guard were killed but Wali Khan luckily emerged unscathed. This incident had little effect on the NAP party president. He remained undaunted and continued steadfastly with his role as Leader of the Opposition. Bhutto knew the power of the printed press and used it to destroy the image of his opponents in the eyes of the gullible public. Wali Khan was to carry this ‘mark of treason’ for many years to follow, until sections of the press supporting the government of the day decided to exonerate him ... The very same Wali Khan, twenty years later, would be welcomed as a political partner by a prime minister from central Punjab [Nawaz Sharif] and be hailed by him as a Pakistani patriot...”

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