PESHAWAR: Originally named ‘Cunningham Union’, the Khyber Union was formed in 1921-22 for carrying out cultural activities in the Islamia College Peshawar to boost the confidence of its students and spur their creative talent.
Two decades later, in 1942, a magnificent hall called the Khyber Union Hall was built to create leadership qualities among the learners of this great seat of knowledge.
The Khyber Union was created to produce leaders with broad vision and global understanding of issues. Earlier, all the activities used to be held in Roos Keppel Hall, but in 1942 another magnificent building, the Khyber Union Hall, was built for the purpose.
However, during early 60s and 70s the selection of the Khyber Union president got politicised so much so that in 1983 the selection of KU president was abandoned in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ban on the student unions on the campuses.
It was formed to spur students’ creative talent
The best orator capable of leadership qualities from among the students of the college used to be selected after a tough contest as president of the Khyber Union. According the KU record, Ghulam Haider Khan had served as the first president of Khyber Union for the academic year 1921-22.
According to the college archives, the union president would enjoy some special perks such as a car with flag besides having his own cabinet members and a lodge in Osmania Hostel where he would entertain guests in three rooms, receive protocol and invite guest leaders and experts for delivering addresses.
The Khyber Union was created on the pattern of the ‘Oxford Union’, a forum where scholars, political leaders and artists of high repute were invited to share their views on a wide range of topics, while the students also conducted debates on world issues.
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah paid his first visit to the Islamia College Peshawar on October 20, 1936, as the President of All-India Muslim League on the invitation of Khyber Union . On his second visit in 1945, the Quaid mobilised students to play their role in the Independence Movement and on the third visit in 1948 he acknowledged the role of Islamians in golden words.
Masood Jan, 85, a retired officer and old Islamian, quoted his father who was then present on Quaid’s visit as telling him that a student requested the Quaid to change the name of ‘Cunningham Union’ to Khyber Union as he had also changed ‘Cunningham Park’ to Jinnah Park during the same visit, which was immediately accepted.
About 31 personalities, heads of states and statesmen from 1922 to 2002 had had the privilege to become the life members of Khyber Union owing to its high status. The list includes Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Reza Shah Pahalvi of Iran, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt of the US, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Fatima Jinnah and Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Prof Izharullah Izhar, in-charge of the Khyber Union Hall, told this scribe that around 16 different student societies had been holding social, literary and cultural events during the academic session. He said that the students took great interest in such activities.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2022