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A man with nerves of steel

Updated July 27, 2013
“At times it really tested my nerves, but after every attack I made it a point to hold a press briefing to show to the terrorists that I am still as strong as ever to face them.” -Photo by Reuters
“At times it really tested my nerves, but after every attack I made it a point to hold a press briefing to show to the terrorists that I am still as strong as ever to face them.” -Photo by Reuters

PESHAWAR: Five years full of nerve-testing situations, tight security barriers, chilling death threats, social isolation (as others considered him a security threat to themselves) and apparently even the cold-blooded killing of his only young son seem not to have broken the spirits of the 55-year-old Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the spokesperson of the former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government which had opposed the terrorists and successfully rescued the Swat Valley from falling into their hands.

“One should never lose hope,” says Mr Hussain in an exclusive interview with Dawn, with his typical serene smile and composed demeanour, showing no sign of bitterness even after losing his seat in May 11 general elections.

Mr Hussain doesn’t show he is a broken man, even though he is going to observe the third anniversary of his sole son who was targeted by the Taliban.

The man, who as a spokesperson of the Awami National Party (ANP) government, emerged as a bold voice against the terrorist conglomerate called Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spent sleepless nights finding a way to express his innermost thoughts and agony after his only son, Mian Rashid Hussain, only 26, was killed by Taliban to teach Mian Sahib a lesson.

Sitting in his office in deserted looking Bacha Khan Markaz all alone on the death anniversary of his son, his heart must be bleeding as he listens to his own poetry sung by a Pashto singer when Mian Sahib remarked that women are better off than men as they can cry openly. He himself quietly listens to the heart-wrenching poetry – cry of a father over the loss of a son.

Mian Sahib, as everyone would call him, has a degree in Pashto literature. He is a very good orator and everybody who has attended his live public meetings, acknowledges it. When he lost his son, his feelings took the shape of poetry.

It is when one listens to these, “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” that one realises that the smile and composed demeanour, is nothing but a charade.

“Zama pe Shondo keh Khanda da, Deh Dunya de Para,..”

Mian Sahib has expressed his innermost feelings in verses. He expresses well how there is pain behind his smiles. The outspoken politician has not only expressed how loss of one’s only child changes the world for a father, but also how agonising this kind of loss is for a mother and sister who loses a young brother just when she is hoping to see him happily married.

Mian Sahib, who talks of hope, is a completely different man as he expresses his loss. The tragic loss has darkened the world for him. He expresses how helpless he is as a father since he cannot console his daughter. He feels his life has become an open wound which can never be healed.

Mian Sahib underwent a lot of pressure on many occasions, he recalls, since he was the spokesman and used to receive sensitive information.

“At times it really tested my nerves, but after every attack I made it a point to hold a press briefing to show to the terrorists that I am still as strong as ever to face them,” said Mian Sahib. However, he had no idea that they would target his son who was never involved in politics.

Even the cold-blooded murder of his son didn’t deter him from speaking up against any terrorist attack which targeted a party worker, a policeman or any civilian.

He stood against terrorists and people at home and abroad acknowledged his bravery. The government of Pakistan has decorated him with the country’s prestigious Hilal-i-Imtiaz and Defenders of Human Rights Award by President Asif Ali Zardari. His party, ANP, had rendered sacrifices of around 700 party workers and leaders in the last five years in terrorist attacks and targeted killing.

“Our people remember and honour the dead, not the living,” says Mian Sahib without any tinge of bitterness when asked about how he feels about the defeat in the recent general elections. However, as a politician, he feels that there is still need for people to be aware of their priorities and future.

Now that Mian Sahib has lost election in his constituency and doesn’t have tight security, he went to pay his condolences to the family of a policeman from Daag Besood, a small locality in his constituency, who was killed by terrorists recently.

Ironically, the area falls in the constituency (NA-5) of the incumbent Chief Minister Pervez Khattak. Mian Sahib cannot help but reach out to those families targeted by militants since he shares and understands their pain and loss. He feels sad that none of the senior police officials or the ruling politicians from the area even showed sympathy to the family with a few words of consolation.

Political opponents and critics term bad governance and corruption as the main cause of defeat for the ANP in the May 11 general elections, but when it comes to Mian Sahib, ANP’s eloquent critics are mum. Even political rivals look at him with respect since as a spokesperson he set a benchmark that the present and coming provincial spokesmen will find hard to reach.

Mian Sahib even now remains busy with party activities and has a very limited social life. People avoided him and stayed away from him since they considered him a ‘security threat’. He was not even welcomed at a mosque, which is a centre of peace. He was refused by many when he tried to rent an apartment for himself.

When Mian Iftikhar Hussain puts his and his family’s life in the line of fire and opposed terrorists, and still others do not stand on his side to support him then his heart cries out,

“Maa Chey Deh Qaam Gata Kawala, Khana Teh May Bai Le” (I was fighting a war of gains for my nation, but lost you (my precious) my darling…)