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Agha Siraj — in the footsteps of his elders

Updated May 31, 2013


New Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani. — File Photo.
New Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani. — File Photo.

KARACHI: When Agha Siraj Durrani with his elder brother Agha Salahuddin contested the 1985 party-less elections, held under military ruler General Ziaul Haq, from Shikarpur and were shocked to see the dismal results, he could not have imagined that he was just three years away from turning the tables on his rival.

Agha Salahuddin, the elder brother who drowned during a picnic a couple of years later, bagged 809 votes against the mighty Nadir Khan Kumario’s over 26,000 votes. The younger Durrani’s result was even worse. He secured 771 votes against Ghous Bukhsh Khan’s over 33,000 votes.

In the country’s first party-based elections in the post-Zia era in 1988, the figures found themselves upended. It was the first of the two consecutive victories of Mr Durrani against his traditional rival, Mr Kumario. The factor which enabled him to reverse the matter was undoubtedly Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party.

The new Sindh Assembly speaker is believed to be among the most trusted friends of President Asif Ali Zardari. Some people recall an incident that had earned a young Siraj Durrani Mr Zardari’s enduring friendship.

It was in the Hotel Metropole’s Samar club in the 1970s when youngsters of the Bugti and Zardari families had a fight, which later spilled out of the hotel premises. The young Bugtis chased the car bearing Mr Zardari and friends to a house in PECHS where Mr Durrani wielding a gun took position on the rooftop of the house to defend his friend.

Born in the mid-1950s, Mr Durrani did his matric from Karachi’s St Patrick’s School in 1971 and got his bachelor of commerce degree from Karachi. Like his elderly colleague, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Mr Durrani got his LLB degree from Karachi’s Sindh Muslim Law College.

He was inspired by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for many reasons. His father, Agha Sadaruddin, was formerly a deputy speaker and speaker of the Sindh Assembly during Mr Bhutto’s governments in 1971 and 1977 and a staunch PPP loyalist. However, the most inspiring thing for him about the ‘charismatic leader’ was his personality and being a barrister educated from London.

He wanted to do bar-at-law from the same London institution, but could not do so for unknown reasons. However, he boarded a flight for the United States and got admission to the University of Texas’ business administration programme, which too he left after a year.

He tinkered with the hardware business in Texas until he came back home and filed nomination papers on a Shikarpur constituency in the 1985 elections as his brother Agha Salah fielded himself on another constituency of the same district.

After the defeat, he went back to the US where he remained an active member of the PPP’s overseas organisation and came back in 1988 after Gen Zia’s death in a plane crash.

The duo had illustrious family background in politics. Their uncle Agha Badruddin had been the Sindh Assembly’s deputy speaker in the 1940s. The uncle was said to be among the famous four Muslim Leaguers who had drafted and got passed the resolution for a separate country for the Indian Muslims carved out from British India. It is famously known that Agha Badruddin signed the draft with his blood. He became speaker of the Sindh Assembly in the 1950s.

Agha Badruddin was the chairman of the Sukkur Local Board when he provided free education for children up to matric at a time when education was not free anywhere in the country.

Mr Durrani’s father, Agha Sadaruddin, came into politics in 1971 when he won the Garhi Yasin constituency as an independent candidate and later joined the PPP. Agha Sadaruddin was a mechanical engineer, who had built a mini-cinema and a mini-railway station inside his spacious haveli. The theatre was exclusive for his family members to watch Pakistani and Indian movies. However, people of Garhi Yasin were free to bring their children to enjoy a ride on the mini-railcars. The railway network, consisted of a locomotive and three cars, was spread over half an acre of the mansion.

Agha Siraj’s grandfather, Agha Shamsuddin, was a noted musician, singer and poet, who had established a grand library called Aashyana in his haveli, spread over about half an acre. Scholars including Annemarie Schimmel of Germany were frequent visitors to it.

People close to the family say Agha Siraj had once invited Benazir Bhutto to the library, which hugely impressed her.

“After visiting the library and seeing thousands of books, Mohtarama candidly asked Siraj Durrani that she could not imagine his family had such a grand library.”

“But, Siraj, I have never seen you with a book in your hand,” a close friend quoted Benazir as having said.

Mr Durrani defeated Mir Murtaza Bhutto in the 1993 elections, but in the 1997 elections Mr Kumario defeated him, for the first time in Mr Durrani’s PPP-affiliated career.

Mr Durrani was arrested in 1990 on charges of embezzlement in several cases during Nawaz Sharif’s first government and he remained in jail for some time. The party called it part of political vendetta.

He was local government minister in the previous PPP government and by becoming the Sindh Assembly’s speaker, his family becomes the first to have three men presiding on the provincial assembly through generations.

Mr Durrani has been married to one of the sisters of Pir Pagaro, Sibghatullah Shah, for some 20 years.