Fatehyab Ali Khan, President of the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party and a legendary figure in the public and national life of Pakistan, passed away on 26 September 2010. A visionary in politics, his relentless struggle for democracy, fundamental freedoms, justice in society and the rule of law forms a glowing chapter in the history of our country. His support for the cause of the oppressed and under-privileged will long be remembered. Today, i.e. 19 May, is Fatehyab’s Birthday.
Fatehyab’s family migrated from Hyderabad Deccan to Pakistan after the Partition and settled in Shikarpur and Karachi. His bold stand against injustices in the local education system made him prominent at a very early age. Gifted with unusual organizing skills, persuasiveness and charm, he joined the National Students Federation and soon assumed leadership roles in the student community. He was elected as Vice President of Islamia College Students’ Union (at that time the president of the union used to be an official), President of Karachi University Students’ Union and Chairman of the Inter-Collegiate Body. He was a brilliant debater in both Urdu and English.
During the students’ movement against Ayub Khan’s martial law, when political parties were quiet spectators, Fatehyab shot to fame as a national figure and the leader of the movement. He was tried as Accused Number One and convicted by a military court in 1961. After he had served his sentence in Bahawalpur Central Jail, along with other activists, he was twice externed from all parts of the country, except Quetta. He was denied a passport to study abroad by the regime and ultimately took up law as his profession in Karachi.
Fatehyab was in the forefront of all movements against dictatorship in the country. His greatest contribution to politics came during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). He was a fearless fighter against Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship. The Mazdoor Kissan Party, of which he was president, was a member of the MRD alliance. On 12 August 1983, he courted arrest in Empress Market Karachi as part of MRD’s civil disobedience campaign. He worked tirelessly to organize and spread the movement and to develop a consensus for the alliance to work from a common platform in the future, which was not to be. The decade of the 1980s was a period of internments, externments, and numerous prison terms for Fatehyab. He was the only signatory of the MRD declaration who was tried and convicted by a military court. However, he never yielded to pressure and never compromised on his political principles.
Fatehyab served his prison terms in the 1980s in Karachi and Sukkur jails but whenever he found respite, he turned his attention to The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, of which he had become a member in 1972. In 1980, Ziaul Haq had taken over the Institute through a presidential ordinance, turning it virtually into a government department. Between prison terms, he led a determined and courageous legal campaign to get the Institute restored to its original independent and non-official status. After many setbacks, his persistence triumphed and the presidential ordinance was declared ultra vires of the Constitution by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1993.
In 1995, Fatehyab was elected as Chairman of the Institute’s Council, a position he held until 2009. As Chairman, he jealously guarded the independent character of the Institute, countering all pressure with the strength of his own personality. Free from traditional prejudices, Fatehyab was a great supporter of the rights of the marginalized, including the women’s movement, and stood by every initiative for women’s empowerment.
He was a prolific writer and has left behind a rich archive consisting of numerous constitutional petitions filed by him against martial law, articles on constitutional and international issues, political analyses and statements. These documents reflect not only his own commitment and contribution but also the dilemmas of the times in which he lived. These historic documents in the struggle for democracy will be exposed in a forthcoming book by his wife Dr Masuma Hasan.