Death of a tribal expert

Published March 26, 2013

THE British administered Pakistan’s tribal areas with a combination of such skill and guile for more than 100 years that doubts were widely expressed whether the government of Pakistan would be able to win the trust of the tribes more as citizens of an independent country rather than as crafty fighters or loyalists of an imperial power.

The Indian Political Service having been abolished, on independence the responsibility of administering the tribes fell on a group of officers carefully chosen from among the provincial (PCS) and federal (CSP) cadres.

Syed Ijlal Haider Zaidi who died the other day was a leading light of that group. Some others being Roedad Khan, Syed Munir Husain, Jamil Ahmad (author of the Flight of the Falcon), Nasrum Minallah, Fateh Khan Bandial (father of the chief justice of Lahore High Court, Umar Bandial), Imran Shah, Salim Abbas Jilani and Abdul Karim Lodhi. Many others, no less distinguished, for reason of space must be left unnamed. Under the guidance of some cool-headed and experienced men of integrity, one being Nawabzada Sher Afzal Khan, they put the government’s relationship with the tribes on a new footing.

This writer had the good fortune of working with the late Mr Zaidi in the tribal region and to learn the craft from him and some others. Very few however equalled him. Later in his career he held key positions in the government at the policy level during critical transitions. Deserving a special mention is his exertions in finding a role for the civil servants in Ziaul Haq’s military regime. Suspicious and wary of them to begin with, the civil servants soon came to have an effective voice in public affairs though they could never dispel the dictator’s religious prejudices.

The place of Ijlal Haider Zaidi is however assured among the pioneers of Pakistan’s tribal policy and administration.

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