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KARACHI: Abdus Sattar Afghani passes away

November 05, 2006


KARACHI, Nov 4: Abdul Sattar Afghani, an MNA and twice elected mayor of Karachi, died at a local hospital due to kidney failure. He was 76. He had been admitted to the Aga Khan University Hospital about a week back after suffered from severe pneumonia and pain in kidney.

“He was put on dialysis four times in a week but his condition deteriorated late on Friday night and he died at about 2:30am on Thursday,” a family member said.

Mr Afghani is survived by a widow, three sons and three daughters. His Namaz-i-Janaza will be performed in Kakri Ground on Sunday at 10am and he would be laid to rest in Mewashah Graveyard.

Born on July 6, 1930 in Karachi, Mr Afghani had an interesting life history. He was a teenager when his uncle inspired him to become a member of the Congress Party’s youth wing. “But a couple of years later, Maulana Maudoodi inspired him to join and follow the Jamaat-i-Islami,” Abdus Samad, his eldest son told Dawn.

Coming from an ethnic Persian-speaking Tajik tribe, the Afghan family had left its ancestral town of Jalalabad some 150 years ago and settled partly in Bombay (now Mumbai) and partly in a tiny coastal town of Karachi. The late Afghani’s forefathers had settled in Lyari and his father made his permanent abode near Pathan Mosque in Moosa Lane where the family still lives.

After creation of Pakistan, Afghani had a lackluster career as an activist of Jamaat-i-Islami and follower of Maulana Maudoodi till he was got a chance in mass politics in 1960s, when he was elected as a member of the controversial Basic Democracies (BD) system, introduced by General Ayub Khan.

During that period, he took some time to pass his graduation as a private candidate from the University of Karachi while he was working as a salesman at his brother-in-law’s shoe outlet on M.A. Jinnah Road.

“He was already conversant with many languages, besides his mother tongue (Persian), including Sindhi, Balochi, Gujarati and Pashto but his job as a salesman taught him more languages of the subcontinent and Europe,” Mr Samad said.

Mr Afghani came in limelight in 1970 when JI awarded him the party ticket to contest general election on a Lyari seat against Pakistan People Party’s Abdul Sattar Gabol. He lost the election from the constituency which the PPP has not lost to date.

Fifteen years later, he contested from the same constituency in a party-less poll against Ghulam Mohammad Chishti, an unknown entity and again lost.

“He lost the election not because Chishti had a great following but because Afghani was representing Jamaat-i-Islami, which opposed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and supported General Ziaul Haq. Chishti exploited the Bhutto factor in his favour though he was not a PPP nominee,” Abdul Hameed, a resident of Moosa Lane and Mr Afghani’s neighbour, said.

Mr Afghani was not the only victim of such negative voting during February 1985 general elections as another JI stalwart, Syed Munawwar Hassan, had also suffered defeat at the hands of Kunwar Qutbuddin.

When he fought the NA election and lost, Mr Afghani was already passing his second term as one of the few city mayors who are believed to have worked for the welfare of this city and its forgotten citizens.

He won as a general councilor in 1979 local bodies elections and was elected as mayor of Karachi. In the next elections in 1983, Mr Afghani was again elected as a councilor on labourers’ seat and became mayor for second time in succession.

His neighbours and some colleagues said he was a politician but had very little things of the traditional politicians of Pakistan.

“The fact that he did not move from his ancestral house during his peak and remained there till his death is self-explanatory about his spotless character. Tell me, how many politicians are there who do not shift to posh localities once they get power and influence,” Mohammad Hussain Mehnati, one of late Afghani’s old colleagues, said.

“He did not hide from his constituents and never stopped those who criticised him at his doorstep,” Haji Ahmed, a sexagenarian neighbour, said.

Mr Afghani was removed from the mayor’s office in 1987 mainly for his outspokenness for the rights of the city. He spearheaded a campaign for the defunct Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s right over motor-vehicle tax and property tax, which became to be the chief cause for his ouster. But, he never hid his differences with the provincial or federal government. In fact, he presided over a session of the city council in December 1986 (summoned to discuss the worst ethnic riots in Karachi) which demanded removal of the then governor and government of chief minister Ghous Ali Shah.

Mr Afghani was first arrested in 1987 when he was leading a procession of councilors from KMC Building to the Sindh Secretariat to protest against the provincial government’s decision not to part with motor-vehicle tax and property tax in favour of KMC. A curfew-like situation persisted around the Sindh Secretariat as heavy contingent of police cordoned off the entire area as the people witnessed the arrest of a city father on the charge of his demand for the rights and autonomy of local institutions.

Despite being removed from the mayor’s office, he again led a procession from the Quaid’s Mausoleum in July 1987 to protest against the blast in Bohri Bazaar which had claimed more than 150 lives, and was arrested yet again.

Shahid Aziz Siddiqui, the then commissioner of Karachi, fondly remembers him: “He was very noble person, a decent human being and it had really hurt me when he had been removed from the mayor’s office,” Mr Siddiqui said.

The late Afghani remained out of active politics till 2002 when the MMA leadership awarded him a ticket to contest on a national assembly seat which he secured defeating MQM and PPP candidates.