By Zuhair Siddiqi , Viewpoint, June 11, 1976
On April 18, 1959, a half-educated military dictator, advised and assisted by a clique of underlings, scribes of easy virtue, and elevated college passmen, seized the direction and control of the Progressive Papers —the publishers of The Pakistan Times, Imroze and Lail-o-Nahar. A little over three years later—on June 6, 1962—the man who had founded the institution and been its moving spirit for over a decade, died.
Two days earlier, Mian Iftikharud-Din and his political associates had been branded as enemies of the nation in a columnful of editorial gibberish on the front page of The Pakistan Times. When he died, somebody sarcastically remarked that that combination of political perversity and atrocious English had given the last blow to Mian Sahib’s ailing, lacerated heart.
It was the heyday of Ayub’s despotism, and the mourning for one of its chief victims was, understandably, a muted affair:
Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note—
A crowd of relatives, friends, admirers and old colleagues quietly laid him down in the family graveyard at Baghbanpura. Some dear and near ones cried quietly to themselves. Some newspapers carried perfunctory obituary notices, the most insipid ones being those of the newspapers that he had established and nurtured.
Some compensation came, a few days later, at a public condolence meeting at Lahore’s Mochi Gate, which had often resounded with Mian Sahib’s voice until Ayub gagged all the political voices in the land except his own. Touching tributes were paid to Mian Sahib’s memory by Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan, Nawab Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan and a host of other public men. “Iftikhar-udDin had nursed and brought up his newspapers like his own children”, said Shaukat Hayat, “but when they had grown up, the Government abducted them.”
Some time later, a muffled poetic homage came from Faiz in the guise of a ghazal (muffled, because it did not name the subject and therefore lost its significance for the common reader):
Karo kaj jabeen pe sare kafan,
merey qatilon ko guman na ho,
Ki ghuroor-e-ishq ka bankpan
vase marg ham ne bhula diya.
The two daily newspapers founded by Iftikhar-ud-Din still silently proclaim to thousands of readers every day the tragedy of the destruction of his most treasured possession and most remarkable achievement. And yet most of us have practically forgotten him. The Press, which, perhaps owes him more than it owes any single individual, has been more indifferent to him in death than it has been to any of our past notables. Our newspapers and periodicals have scarcely talked of him during these fourteen years since his death—as if he never was.
Soon after the death of the Quaid-i-Azam, authoritarian trends began to strike root in our political soil. Although organised political opposition was practically non-existent, the rulers started betraying an almost pathological fear of dissent and a disturbing anxiety to tackle it with a heavy hand. Civil liberties had long been a cherished cause for Iftikhar-ud-Din. Shortly before independence, he had brought about a direct confrontation on the issue between the Punjab Muslim League and the Khizar Hayat Ministry, which eventually developed into a full-fledged civil disobedience movement. Now, on the morrow of freedom, Mian Sahib fell foul of his own erstwhile colleagues and seniors when the ruling junta at the Centre decided to put on the Statute Book an Ordinance empowering authority to arrest and detain people without trial.
He started by mobilising the Punjab’s representatives in the Constituent Assembly, and they agreed to sign with him a resolution denouncing ‘this complete suppression of the right of free speech, association and elementary civil rights’. Unfortunately, six of the eight signatories later backed out under pressure from Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan; but Iftikhar-ud-Din stuck to his guns, fully backed by Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan. He carried the battle right into the precincts of the Constituent Assembly, where he combined his championship of civil liberties with a strong attack on the despotic rule in the princely states.
These ugly islands of despotism, he argued, were an anachronism in free Pakistan and a blot on her name; they should be abolished not only in the interest of their voiceless, miserable, subjects, but also to help the cause of the liberation of Kashmir. He held that the continued existence of these principalities, many of which held their subjects down in medieval terror and barbarism, could not endear Pakistan to the people of Indian-held Kashmir and induce them to cast in their lot with Pakistan. Only a democratic and progressive order in this country, he argued, could provide the necessary stimulus for the generation of a militant liberation movement in Kashmir.
All this soon began to ring bells of alarm in the chambers and corridors of power. Instead of re-examining their own shortsighted and undemocratic policies, the smug, heavy-handed men who then ruled Pakistan decided to throw out of the Muslim League both the men who were clamouring for the change. In January, 1950, Mian Iftikharud-Din and Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan were expelled from the Muslim League Party in the Constituent Assembly. Three months later, they were both expelled from the organisation as well.
Incidentally, the list of the sponsors of the expulsion move was headed by three of the six members who, only three months earlier, had signed with Iftikhar-ud-Din a statement strongly denouncing the Security of Pakistan Ordinance.
Mian Sahib’s courage as a champion of fundamental human rights and civil liberties was put to an exceptionally severe test in the spring of the year 1951, when a bill was moved in the Constituent Assembly to enable the Government to constitute a special tribunal for the trial of the so-called Rawalpindi conspiracy case. The Bill not only provided for a secret trial but also sought to vitiate some of the valuable safeguards to which an accused person is entitled under the normal law of the land. For instance, statements made to the police were to be rendered admissible in evidence, and the right of appeal to the highest court in the country was to be taken away.
The situation was tense and dangerous. The Government and the ruling party had succeeded in creating an atmosphere of suspicion and terror not very different from the McCarthyism that had begun to grip the United States about the same time. Most of the newspapers were asking for the heads of the accused without any recourse to the niceties of the rule of law or the `tortuous procedures’ of Anglo-Saxon justice. At least one Urdu daily of Lahore came out with a special edition, in colour, to give full expression to its bloodlust.
Naturally, the Constituent Assembly could not have remained unaffected by the mood outside. But Ifiikhar-ud-Din’s courage did not fail him, and he pleaded vehemently for the trial of the accused in accordance with the normal law of the land. He failed —gloriously.
A striking combination of political courage and foresight found expression a couple of years later in Mian Sahib’s radical approach to the problem of the country’s future Constitution. He was the first political leader in Pakistan to realise—and concede —that the Constitution-makers’ awkward fight against geography was also a hopeless one, that all the talk about the ideology of Pakistan, etc., would not be able to abolish the vast differences between the two Wings of the country arising from the geographical separation.
He, therefore, advocated a confederal pattern of government as early as 1953. The Centre, Mian Sahib suggested, should be entrusted only with foreign affairs and defence, and East Bengal should enjoy full autonomy in all other matters. In West Pakistan, which comprised contiguous provincial units with an obvious community of culture, ways of living, and economic life, he proposed a zonal federation based on four linguistic provinces.
The scheme was generally denounced in West Pakistan as a design to weaken the country, and most people remained indifferent to the gathering storm in the East. Even the rout of the Muslim League in the provincial elections of 1954 failed to register an impact upon the Establishment, and public opinion in this Wing refused to learn any lesson from the event. On the contrary, the ruling caboodle resolved to do its damndest to frustrate the verdict of East Pakistan’s millions and run the province as a satrapy. Iftikhar-ud-Din again raised his voice against this disastrous policy. The Centre’s action in dismissing the Fazlul Huq Ministry and imposing Governor’s rule, he warned, would “lead to further estrangement and further disintegration. It is a great insult to the people of East Bengal to tell them that we will not respect their representatives even if they back them with a majority of 95 per cent amongst the Muslims alone… The best way to disintegrate Pakistan is to rule Bengal in the manner that we are doing to-day.”
The people then in power, and those who followed them over the next fifteen years, were far too stupid and narrow-minded to have responded to that grim warning; they all adhered perniciously to the ‘best way’ and ultimately, in the dark December of 1971, the nation crashed at the terrible end of the road.
While Gen. Iskander Mirza was strutting about East Pakistan like a medieval satrap, the gang of political charlatans and card-sharpers in control of West Pakistan were hatching a dark conspiracy to demolish provincial autonomy in this Wing. The scheme had the full backing of the then Army Chief, Gen. Ayub Khan, upon whom the virtues of One Unit had dawned rather mystically during a sleepless night in the solitude of his suite in a London Hotel (Friends Not Masters, pp. 186 et seq).
The ground for the execution of this sinister plan was prepared through successive dismissals of provincial ministries, indiscriminate arrests and detentions, suppression of dissent and criticism, and downright bullying of opponents. By the end of August, 1955, the death warrant of provincial autonomy had been writ-ten—to be signed and sealed on October 14.
Early in September, during the debate on the One Unit Bill in the Constituent Assembly, Iftikhar-ud-Din condemned the whole scheme and pleaded for adequate autonomy for the four linguistic groups inhabiting West Pakistan in clearly-defined territories: “One Unit, we should bear in mind, cannot solve our democratic problems. It is being set up to solve the problems of the ruling clique. The Unit, we should know, is going to be run in the same manner and by the same people as have governed West Pakistan up to now…” And this is exactly what happened.
Largely for reasons beyond his control, but partly also on account of his own limitations as a political leader and organiser, Iftikhar-ud-Din’s voice remained practically a cry in the wilderness. He achieved no striking results, either within Parliament or amongst the people at large. Nevertheless, his intangible contribution to the political life of the nation was considerable. He kept the sparks of dissent and criticism kindled in the deepening gloom of authoritarian rule and intellectual regimentation. His non-conformism opened a window in many minds. His vigorous advocacy of democratic values and socialist doctrine used to come as a breath of fresh air in a close atmosphere vitiated by obscurantist slogans, regimented politics and rank opportunism. He often succeeded in putting the rulers of the day on the defensive and exposing many burning evils and festering sores which would otherwise have remained concealed from the public view.
His fearless championship of the causes of the peasantry and the working class, and his relentless battle for civil liberties, gave heart and hope to the poor and the downtrodden. It brought courage and strength to the weak and scattered forces holding aloft small flags of democracy and freedom in various parts of the land.
Today, as we look back upon what Iftikhar-ud-Din said and did during the decade of his political life in Pakistan, we cannot but acknowledge the inherent soundness of the political and economic objectives and policies that he stood for: a democratic political system, a genuine federalism, a socialist economy and an independent foreign policy. We admire his imagination and foresight. We lament the obtuse minds and jaundiced vision of those who failed to understand him and perceive the basic truth of his opinions. And we feel disgusted at the perversity of those who gave him all kinds of names to tarnish his image and destroy the effect of his message.
Less than eight years after Mian Sahib’s death, almost all the major elements in the political life of the country had adopted his widely-maligned ‘heresies’ as their political creed and programme. And at the first general elections in the country, at the turn of the decade, these heresies’ received a massive and categorical approval from the people.