In this second part, Naazir Mahmood recounts, through his father’s eyes, the two tumultuous decades between 1960 and 1980, that revolve around the government’s hostility to progressive politics and the growth of the Mullahs.
In Lahore, the 1960s began with devastating news for all progressive and left-wing activists. Hassan Nasir, a young communist leader, was arrested and tortured to death by goons of the Ayub regime in a cell at the Lahore Fort.
Being in Lahore, my father was an eyewitness to how the events unfolded at that time. Nasir’s mother travelled all the way from Hyderabad Deccan to Lahore to receive her son’s body that the military regime had claimed to had buried after he allegedly committed suicide under detention at the Lahore Fort torture cell. But the script went awry, because Hassan’s mother refused to accept the body as her son’s. This case shook the country’s political landscape, in any case reeling under General Ayub Khan’s dictatorship. Even in his death, Hassan became a symbol of resistance!
In 1964 – just a few months before I came to this world – my father travelled to Bombay for the first and last time since his arrival in Pakistan in 1954. He says that from 1947 to 1964 relations between India and Pakistan were not that bad and there was free exchange of books, magazines, periodicals. People could get visas and travel easily to both countries. There was also cultural exchange as intellectuals, journalists, poets, writers, could visit each other. Sports tournaments such as cricket, hockey, and even kabaddi matches between the two countries excited spectators.
Ayub’s historical misadventure
In Lahore one could find visiting Sikhs who were warmly welcomed by the local people, and the wounds of Partition and its violence were gradually healing. My father experienced the same when he visited Bombay, the place of his birth and youth, and met senior comrades there. But things suddenly changed in 1965 when General Ayub Khan stole the elections from Fatima Jinnah. Being an activist of the NAP, my father could testify that General Ayub had no chance of winning that presidential election, had he not used the state machinery he commanded to rig the polls.
Things took an ugly turn when the general and his coterie accused Fatima Jinnah of being an Indian agent. She became yet another politician to receive the honour of being a ‘traitor’. My father narrates how General Ayub Khan became extremely unpopular after declaring himself an ‘elected president’ by winning that sham election. To counter his declining fortunes, he and his spin masters planned a further hostile approach to India. He did manage to mobilize the public sentiment against India but this region has been paying a heavy price for that adventure to date.
The leadership of the National Awami Party developed differences as Maulana Bhashani showed a soft corner for the general while other leaders like G B Bizenjo and Wali Khan were waging a struggle for the restoration of democracy. When the party split in 1967, my father joined the NAP faction led by Wali Khan. Among the leftist groups, there was also a pro-China and pro-Moscow rift. NAP-Wali was clearly pro-Moscow, wanting better relations between India and Pakistan while Bhashani followed a staunchly anti-India path.
By the time of the elections in 1970, my father had his own shop in Liaquatabad, which people still referred to as its old name: Lalu Khet. Mahmudul Haq Usmani was a senior leader of NAP–Wali and my father took an active part in his campaign for elections. For the first time, my father managed to purchase a television set to watch the live transmission of the 1970 elections. I was six years old and excited at living in a home with a television – so rare in those days. My father’s interest in national issues and active involvement in politics was shaping the boy who is now writing these lines.
The NAP was a clearly progressive and secular party and won a good number of seats in Balochistan and in the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). NAP activists and leaders were against the military action in East Pakistan after the victory of Sheikh Mujib. My father recalls, with great sadness, how General Yahya Khan’s military regime embarked on a ruthlessly destructive path to destroy Awami League that got a clear majority at the hustings. Political workers such as my father in West Pakistan found themselves helpless against the state-sponsored propaganda.
Bhutto or the Mullahs?
After the 1971 surrender, Z A Bhutto became the new PM of the rump Pakistan. The days of doom and gloom appeared to be over as the NAP formed its coalition governments in Balochistan and the (former) NWFP. But the euphoria was short-lived as left-wing workers and leaders found themselves on the receiving end under the new government too. There were arrests and raids to capture many NAP comrades such as Afrasiab Khattak, Dr Aizaz Nazeer, Jam Saqi, and many others.
It was another sad day when the NAP government became a victim of Bhutto’s paranoia. In 1975, the NAP came under severe restrictions with all its assets captured by the Bhutto government. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Hamoodur Rehman validated the ban Bhutto had imposed on the NAP declaring it a party of ‘traitors’. Those were dark days for progressive workers under a so-called democratic government. The tide then turned in January 1977 when Bhutto announced early general elections. The NAP leadership was in jail and Sherbaz Mazari and Begum Naseem Wali had formed a new party called the National Democratic Party (NDP).
When most right-wing parties formed an anti-Bhutto Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), it became a decisive moment for leftist workers. Most joined the PNA but my father was fairly clear on this issue. I remember him saying ‘If the choice is between Bhutto and the Mullahs, I would prefer Bhutto’. In the Karachi of 1977, prominent leftist personalities included Barrister Abdul Wadood, Anis Hashmi, Dr Aizaz Nazeer, Fasihuddin Salar, Javed Shakoor, M R Hassan, Muhammad Mian, Nawaz Butt, Zubairur Rehman, and many others. Some of them were not happy at my father’s inclination towards Bhutto.
The Bhutto years
Z A Bhutto had done tremendous harm to leftist, progressive, and secular politics in Pakistan during his five-year rule. That had angered nearly every leftist who could not reconcile with the idea of Bhutto being cast as preferable to the PNA fighting for more Islamization in the country. In a matter of time, one of my uncles in Malir opened a PPP election office at home and my father gave him all his support.
My father’s small shop suffered losses and we fell back into the arms of hard times when the PNA launched its movement against the results of the 1977 elections and agitation raged mostly in the urban centres of Pakistan. The result of that agitation was yet another military coup that targeted Bhutto and the PPP while aligning itself with the religious right. The Islamization that General Ziaul Haq launched proved my father right that the fight against Bhutto would result in the decimation of whatever democracy we enjoyed under Bhutto.
In the 1980s, there was another dark period for progressives as the murder of Hassan Nasir was re-enacted when Comrade Nazeer Abbasi became a victim of similar torture and lost his life.
To be continued
The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: [email protected]