STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
The budget has passed. The economy is still vulnerable. Signs are positive. A coherent Economic team is in place. Kudos to Hamad Azhar’s stewardship of budget.
I sense IK is coming into his own. Velvet gloves are off. No more pussy footing. A criminal is to be treated as a criminal. The anger and frustration of the Opposition’s shrill tone conveys their desperation. Signs of cracks in its parliamentary parties are too loud to ignore. Let’s keep a close eye on events unfolding.
This has given me an opportunity to go down the memory lane. There is a message too, please consider it seriously.
I found out that 9th July is the anniversary of Professor Waris Mir. It unleashed a flood of memories. Mir sb was Advisor Students Affairs when I was President PU Students Union. An endearing persona, you had no choice but to fall in love with him. A charming, stocky figure with a disarming smile and an extremely sharp mind. You could not decipher it till you noticed the furrows on his forehead. He totally understood our youthful shenanigans, but pretended as if he didn’t, or chose to ignore.
Professor Khawaja Sadiq was Director Student Affairs. As head of Philosophy Department, this was an additional charge. A father figure, he would get involved only when required. Mir sb had an office in Student Teacher Center which also housed the Union’s office. We interacted regularly. He was an intense person, never held back his feelings, but had a heart of gold. I think his expression of intensity was in his writings. His quality to manage human relationships is borne by the way he handled VP Rashid Butt, diehard PPP supporter and General Secretary Javed Hashmi, of Islami Jamiat e Tulba butting heads! Mir sb got along with both equally well. Why? Because he was always fair and honest.
We were the first Union elected after lifting of a considerable long ban. It functioned smoothly despite diversity amongst the key office bearers. The University Authorities had earned a feather in their cap. So, the University syndicate decided to reward us with a foreign tour. Professor Waris Mir would head the tour and I would lead the student delegation.
In a meeting with Vice Chancellor Allama Alauddin Siddiqui, Turkey or a European destination were proposed. I sought time to discuss. Opinions varied. I sat down with Mir sb. He was, and continued to be till the end of his days, an idealist. I was a young buck charged with patriotism. We were aware of the Army action in East Pakistan and the festering rebellion by Mukti Bahni. We agreed on a bold plan. Visit East Pakistan in an effort to bridge the widening gap between the people of the two wings.
Administration reaction was luke warm. The strength of our argument prevailed. Preparations started for this rather dangerous adventure. The delegation included Rashid Butt, Javed Hashmi, Murtaza Rahim, Moin Ul Islam and one more. Professor Waris Mir and myself. Our host was Dr. Mahmood Hussain, Vice Chancellor Dhaka University. India had banned overhead flights. We went to Karachi, enjoyed the freedom still prevalent in 1971, and boarded the plane to Dhaka via Colombo.
We were well received in Dhaka. Transported to International Hostel in Dhaka University as our accommodation. En route I observed everything was eerie quiet. A ghost ridden calm. Something irked me. Everyone was distant, smiles were forced, no one looked you in the eye!
The first night we were invited for dinner by the VC. We were fed well, introduced to the team that would take us around. There was some press too. At the end of the dinner the VC took Mir sb and me aside. He politely stated we were welcome, but his advice rang an alarm bell. Get out of Dhaka as soon as we could, for his and our sake! This was my country, where had we gone wrong?
The next day our visit was widely reported. I was contacted by some Army friends serving there. I invited them over. We talked about their experiences. The atrocities committed by Mukti Bahni and their reactions. As an impulse I borrowed a pistol from an Army friend. Army is not a law and order force. Once deployed they shoot to kill. Across from our residence was a University hostel which had become the hotbed of resistance. It had been destroyed in Army Action. It was a disturbing reminder of how bad things were. Slowly the enormity of the situation started to dawn. Tensions were palpable. Security was a serious issue. My mind was working overtime, why were two parts of one body pulling in opposite directions?
Let me share some anecdotes from this visit. Mir sb was an early sleeper. He and I were in adjoining rooms. That night he was woken by a knock on his window. He snuck over. Rashid Butt and I were sitting together. He was pale as if he had seen a ghost! He told us of the knock!! Before I could react, Rashid grabbed my pistol and a torch and in a commando crouch went around the building. It was a huge grass hopper tapping! The combination of relief and fear conveys our state of mind.
Next day we were invited to an interactive session with students at the Radio station. By the time we arrived participating students were seated. We had just started when suddenly Security barged in and ordered our immediate departure. We complied. On our way back the intelligence escort disclosed that a female student tried to enter at the last minute. She was wearing enough explosives to blow up the entire building. My first exposure to terrorism! They viewed us as occupiers not compatriots. It was heart breaking.
The rest of the stay in Dhaka were a few polite lunches, no dinners. A visit was organized to training camps of Al Badr and Al Shams, organizations supporting the State. They did a march past. My distinct memory is youngsters holding guns taller than their heights! Their spirits were high, it hurt deeply as I knew they were sheep headed for slaughter.
Our next stop was Chittagong. On the way from airport I have a view that imprinted in my mind. Beautifully nestled on a mountain surrounded by forest was the Commissioner’s residence. The arrogant style of bureaucracy, mostly West Pakistanis. They misgoverned the Bengalis brewing hatred resulting in this revolt. The intense hatred, the pain shared by the nation was cumulative result of prolonged neglect, never treated as equals, letting loose a strong sense of deprivation. Insensitive, short term and unpatriotic approach.
Our visit to Chittagong was an eye opener. There was devastation all around. I felt heartbroken. My eyes shed silent tears, I often choked. A trip was organized to slaughter houses run by Mukti Bahni. They would tie the victims upside down, slit the veins and let them bleed out. It was traumatic.
On our flight back everyone was subdued. My soul ached. I saw Mir sb visibly depressed. This war was a culmination of events accumulated over 2 decades. In hindsight, Army action was too little too late managed by incompetent, wayward Generals and greedy politicians.
Mir sb expressed that in his writings. The self appointed guardians amongst the Rightist intelligentsia were quick to brand it as a betrayal of Pakistan!
Bangla Desh Government viewed our trip differently. Thanks to an old PU Alumni Mohyuddin, they viewed our effort as a positive effort to help undivided Pakistan. What a dichotomy!!!
During multiple American wars, many writers and journalists opposed these wars openly. They were not branded as traitors. It is their right embedded in their Constitution. Freedom of Expression. We mentally tortured a sensitive, patriotic, caring “Qalandar” into a tragic early departure at the age of 48 on 9th July 1987. May Allah bless him.