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Wali Khan: A life of struggle

January 27, 2006

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PESHAWAR: Wali Khan, known among his supporters as “Baba”, led a hectic political life during which he survived four assassination attempts, served prolonged jail terms as a political prisoner and experienced house arrest on numerous occasions.

In his 48-year-long struggle for the political and social rights of the Pukhtoons, Wali Khan attracted the wrath of elected as well as military regimes by challenging them and forging alliances with political forces representing both the left and the right.

Wali Khan faced politically motivated cases such as the Hyderabad conspiracy case instituted against him by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (which was withdrawn by military dictator Ziaul Haq). He also saw his popular National Awami Party (NAP) getting banned twice, first by military dictator Ayub Khan and then by the elected government of Mr Bhutto in 1975 — the year which also saw dismissal of the NWFP government in which his party was a coalition partner with Maulana Mufti Mehmood’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.

As the son of the Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and because of his close association with leaders of the All India Congress and the former USSR, Wali Khan, for most part of his political life, was viewed with deep suspicion by the civil and military establishment of the country as well as by the political elite of the Punjab.

Though he was vaguely considered a part of the country’s liberal left tendency, with his party the NAP seen as a progressive organization, his political career also saw situations in which he entered into alliances with the right.

NAP was a coalition partner in the NWFP government with the religious conservative JUI led by Maulana Mufti Mehmood. In 1990 and 1997 the renamed ANP was a coalition partner in the NWFP government with the Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif.

Wali Khan was a comrade of Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo and other nationalist leaders of Balochistan and Sindh. His death removes a major anti-establishment figure from the political scene.

Born on January 11, 1917, in Utmanzai, district Charsadda near Peshawar, Khan Abdul Wali Khan received his early education at the Islamia High School, which formed part of a chain of schools his father Bacha Khan, the founder of the Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik (Servants of God Movement), had launched to spread education among the Pukhtoons. He was later sent to a school in Dehradun from where he passed his Cambridge examination in 1933.

However, he could not continue his studies because of eyesight problem. It was in 1942 when he formally stepped into the field of politics and commenced his political career from the platform of the Khudai Khidmatgar. Within one year Wali Khan experienced imprisonment; he was arrested in 1943, — the first of his many incarcerations. At the time of partition in 1947, he was a member of the All India Congress Committee and joint secretary of the NWFP branch of the party.

On June 15, 1948, he was put behind bars in Haripur jail in the NWFP, and after serving more than five years in various jails he was released by the then federal government in 1953.

In February 1949, Wali Khan was shifted from Haripur jail to Mach jail in Balochistan and in May 1951 to Quetta jail and in 1952 to Dera Ismail Khan jail. He was brought back to Haripur jail in March 1952 from where he was set free on Oct 14, 1953. In this way he remained in jail for five years and five months.

After his release, he initiated negotiations with the federal government to allay apprehensions among the rulers about the Khudai Khidmatgar. In this connection, he held talks with the then NWFP chief minister Abdul Rashid and prime minister Mohammed Ali Bogra. In the end he held a series of meetings with the then governor-general Ghulam Mohammed. He successfully managed to secure release of hundreds of political prisoners belonging to the tehrik.

Wali Khan was in the forefront with Bacha Khan in the struggle for abolition of One Unit, established in 1954, and was among the founding members of the National Awami Party (NAP) which came into being in 1956.

He became president of NAP in June 1968 and on Nov 13 that year he was put behind bars in the Montgomery jail. Later he was shifted to Gujrat jail and set free in March 1969.

During his political career, Wali Khan survived four attempts on his life — two in Malakand agency, and one each in Rawalpindi and Gujranwala.

He survived the first attack when the vehicle he was travelling in from Jandol to Timmergarrah in Dir came under fire. One of his bodyguards was killed in the attack.

He survived a grenade attack at the Gujranwala railway station when he, along with Pir Pagara and Chaudhry Zahur Elahi, was on a visit to Punjab in connection with a mass mobilization campaign under the banner of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

The fourth attack was carried out when he was about to address a public meeting in Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi. A youth standing close to Wali Khan on the stage was killed by the bullet meant for the Pathan leader.

On Feb 8, 1975, he was again arrested and sent to Sahiwal jail. This time he was arrested in the backdrop of the assassination of Pakistan People’s Party leader Hayat Mohammed Khan Sherpao.

The murder of Sherpao led to arrest of several leaders of NAP and was made a reason for a ban on the party by Mr Bhutto on Feb 9, 1975. From Sahiwal prison he, along with other party leaders, was shifted to Rawalpindi and from there they were sent to Sukkur jail. Finally, Wali Khan and his companions were charged in Hyderabad conspiracy case for allegedly hatching a plot with the aim of disintegrating Pakistan.

He was a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP) which was established after NAP was proscribed in 1975. NDP, led by Sherbaz Khan Mazari, joined the Pakistan National Alliance after opposition parties assembled on a single platform to contest the general elections in 1977.

When Ziaul Haq took over, he held several rounds of talks with Wali Khan in Hyderabad jail and finally absolved him and all others of the charges levelled against them.

After his release from prison, Wali Khan again became active in the political arena and also served the newly founded NDP as its president.

Wali Khan and his followers then established the Awami National Party (ANP) in 1986, which is now headed by his son Asfandyar Wali.

He was the founding president of ANP and he held this office for two consecutive terms of two years each.

During his prolonged political struggle, he won elections from his home constituency more than once and became a member of the National Assembly in 1970 and 1988.

Wali Khan retired from active politics after his electoral defeat at the hands of Maulana Hassan Jan who was fielded against him jointly by the PPP and JUI-F.

But he continued to dominate politics of the Frontier and kept his hold on the ANP through his wife Nasim Wali, a political activist in her own right.

He had two brothers, educationist Abdul Ali Khan, and poet and writer Ghani Khan.

— Intikhab Amir