A rare breed

Fatehyab Ali Khan did not seek anything at the cost of his principles and that was the difference between him and others

By B. M. Kutty

Fatehyab Ali Khan was a remarkable person. It is about six months since he said the last good bye and left this world. Fatehyab’s friends from his college and university days have spoken at memorial meetings and written in newspapers and journals, lauding his outstanding role as an inspiring leader of the student movement against Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship.

I have a feeling that Fatehyab Ali Khan, the politician, whose rock-like steadfastness and unflinching conviction in what he thought was right, also deserves special recognition, especially considering the type of politicians and politics we are forced to live with today.

I had had the privilege of working with Fatehyab Ali Khan in the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) during General Ziaul Haq’s ‘Islamic’ military dictatorship and in the subsequent years of half-baked democratic dispensations. That was when I came to know him more, as we used to argue, agree, disagree and occasionally discipline each other, spending time in jail together and in interrogation camps and umpteen times at informal ‘ideological encounters’ at his Karachi residence, umpired occasionally by Dr. Masuma Hasan.

Fatehyab’s status and stature as a politician in his capacity of President of the Pakistan Mazdoor Kisan Party were essentially different from most of his contemporaries. Some of them did not understand him or did not want to. With a few exceptions, many of them had taken to politics with their eyes fixed on gainful positions in the corridors of power. No doubt, the ultimate destination of politics by political parties is power, without which they cannot hope to implement their party manifestoes.

But in our country’s 65 years’ history, we have had few politicians who did politics as a matter of one’s duty to the society, irrespective of whether or not his/her party would come to power. I am sure that at least some of those who knew and worked with Fatehyab Ali Khan in the chronically chaotic jungle of Pakistani politics will agree with me that Fatehyab was one such rare specimen. Maybe, that explains the very close rapport Fatehyab developed with Begum Nusrat Bhutto in those rough and tough years when a fragmented democratic opposition was struggling to unite and challenge Ziaul Haq’s loathsome dictatorship and Nusrat Bhutto was playing a leading role in that struggle.

One may recall the stories of how Fatehyab evaded the CID and police spooks for months on end and went round the country incognito to consult interned political leaders and obtain their approval on a consensus document to be signed by all the parties as the first step towards formation of MRD. In one such ‘expedition’, he had visited Air Marshal Asghar Khan, then under house arrest in Abbottabad, traveling with late Omar Asghar Khan in latter’s car as a family friend. I remember late Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo narrating to us with genuine admiration how Fatehyab Ali Khan called on him at his residence in Nal in Khuzdar District, where Mir Saheb was staying after his entry into Karachi was banned. According to Mir Saheb, Fatehyab had secretly arrived in Khuzdar city, where he took help from Mir Amanullah Gichki and the two then braved the heavy rains and dangerous potholes on the crack-filled track that was the Khuzdar-Nal road, and traveled to Nal in a jeep to obtain Mir Saheb’s endorsement of the Draft Declaration as President of Pakistan National Party.

I came to know Fatehyab Ali Khan, the political practitioner, during our internment in Karachi Central Jail in the first months of 1981, following the mystery-shrouded hijacking of a PIA plane by Salamullah Tipu, allegedly one of the Al Zulfiqar desperadoes. The youth wing of the PPP, headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhuttto’s sons Murtaza and Shahnawaz, had formed a resistance group called Al Zulfiqar. On 28th February 1981, a week after the signing of MRD’s joint declaration by nine political parties, a PIA plane was hijacked to Kabul.

Murtaza Bhutto claimed that Al-Zulfiqar had carried out the hijacking under his orders but the timing of the deed, seven days after the signing of MRD’s founding declaration, raised many doubts. It was suspected that Tipu was acting at the behest of some other forces who wanted to provide the excuse to Zia regime to crack down on the entire progressive political cadre in the country and undermine the MRD in its very infancy. On the night of the hijacking, a large number of political activists, not only of PPP but also other parties, including PNP to which I belonged, were arrested and thrown into jail. Fatehyab Ali Khan and Pyar Ali Allana had played important roles in the preliminary efforts that eventually led to the signing of the joint declaration by leaders of nine parties on February 21, 1981, paving the way for the formation of the MRD. Both were detained in the same barrack of Karachi Central Jail. I liked both of them, but the difference between the two was that while Allana was too much of an extrovert, very outgoing even when not necessary, Fatehyab was reserved, not talking unduly, at times almost creating an impression of being arrogant, as I felt in the beginning. It was only later on that I discovered the brooding, thinking politician that was Fatehyab Ali Khan, unlike the ‘trying-to-be-populist’ Allana.

We were originally detained for ninety days but at the end of the 90 days period, a new order came extending the detention for another 90 days. Then one morning, without any prior warning, Fatehyab Ali Khan and I were taken out and transported to the Frontier Corps camp in Baldia Town and put in separate lockups. An interesting thing happened there. Fatehyab, while passing by my cell to go to the washroom, whispered to me that the whole Iranian Majlis had been blown up. He had brought his mini pocket radio with him without being detected by the police escort.

Between 1981 and 1988 — the period of democratic struggle against Zia’s dictatorship under the banner of MRD, Fatehyab played the role of a strong pillar of strength for the movement. He had a hand in the drafting of some of the most important policy documents, so much so that after the end of Zia regime he persuaded me to join him in putting together a collection of all resolutions, statements, and other documents adopted by the MRD Central Committee over the years, which was duly done and disseminated to various political parties before the 1988 elections.

Fatehyab was a restless soul when it came to having to put up with the distortion of constitutional provisions or violation of democratic values and norms, irrespective of whether the culprits were military or civilian rulers. He would invite friends like me to his house and express his agony at what was happening, share his views with us and before long he would come out with the draft of an article or a petition and invite our comments. I had had many such interactions with him invariably at his initiative. Besides authoring dozens of such articles on a variety of political and constitutional issues, electoral reforms, anomalies in the judicial system, foreign relations and inter-state disputes, provincial autonomy, labour rights and so on so forth, Fatehyab was also known for agitating such issues through constitutional petitions in the superior courts, as a matter of ‘self-assumed duty’, I should say.

At this point, one cannot forget the epic legal battle he waged since 1980 against the illegal seizure of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs by Ziaul Haq’s predatory martial law regime, eventually wresting it back through an order of the Supreme Court in 1993, restoring its prestigious status as the pioneer institution of its kind in the country. He also steered it for the next 15 years as its elected Chairman, while still continuing to keep a close watch on the country’s political process through interactive intellectual discourse on various national and international issues at the Institute. Today, as I look back at those years of my association with Fatehyab, I cannot but admit that he was an empathetic visionary who not only internalised problems of the deprived and marginalised sections of society but also regarded it as his obligation and commitment as a man who had led a political party that stood for the rights of workers and peasants, to seek and suggest democratic solutions.

Fatehyab Ali Khan lived his life the way he wanted to, but it is a national tragedy that people like him never made it to parliament and policymaking positions. He could have become whatever he wanted but he did not seek anything at the cost of his principles and that was the difference between him and the others.

The writer is Secretary General, Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC) and this article was published in the News. In the video below he explains the role of his PNP (which worked closely with the MKP in the Zia days) within the Movement of Restoration of Democracy or MRD. 

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