|Daily Times - Site Edition||Saturday, January 28, 2006|
Wali Khan — demise of a dream
By Adil Zareef
“Only a dead nation remembers its heroes when they die. Real nations respect them when they are alive.” These golden words were famously uttered by the great Bacha Khan of the Pakhtuns; Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan as known to the rest of the world and nicknamed the “Frontier Gandhi” by admirers and foes alike.
I learnt this quote from Baba (Wali Khan) during one of his lengthy discourses on the freedom struggle, and what became of the subcontinent after the birth of India and Pakistan. This “special relationship” was conferred upon a few others besides me, being class fellows of Gulalai Wali Khan, herself an idealist and a dreamer like the rest of our generation. Che Guevara’s icon was our trademark, being a symbol of resistance for the rest of the world.
Many a time, I thought of writing a biography of this great and dignified man who shaped my political and social thought during my formative years. But the exigencies of the world took me away from this indulgent idea and today, I am left vexing to write an obituary to this legend known to the world as Khan Abdul Wali Khan.
As numerous cable networks scramble to make headlines of his sad demise, the above-mentioned quote compels me to write this.
It is indeed a difficult task to write about a political titan who earnestly shared his thoughts and ideas, and whose courage and principled life will serve as a beacon to many who watch political pygmies and charlatans straddling the political horizon change colour more easily than any chameleon.
But the national press will assuredly lavish praise on this great legend for standing stiff against a string of dictators from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf. Perhaps resilience was in his blood, as was the resistance to Kalabagh Dam and the Afghan War, the détente with India and the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, which diverts precious human and economic resources away from the development and progress of the subcontinent.
These causes symbolised Bacha Khan’s struggle for justice and fair play, and moulded Wali Khan’s political career. Thankfully, the legacy seems to carry on in the political heirs of ANP.
On closer scrutiny, one can identify the unifying strain of resistance against injustice and inequality in all these struggles, just as Kalabagh Dam seems to unify nationalists of all hues against the World Bank-led hegemony of international consortiums to plunder the resources of third world nations in the name of development and progress, giving them in return a lasting legacy of debt, perpetual enslavement and environmental and social catastrophes.
Kashmir and Indo-Pak détente was Wali Khan’s theme as well as his father’s. With the end of the Cold War, the subcontinent offered an opportunity for a huge market for the western world. It is strange to see Pakistan and India dancing the proverbial foxtrot with Western prodding, albeit with a few missed steps, while the Iron Wall on the Afghan border remains as high as ever, if not more pronounced.
It sends the discomfiting message that one is free to dance the bhangra with fellow Punjabis across the border, but Pakhtuns cannot do the Atanh together and are destined to remain divided along the Durand Line! Wali Khan’s dream of a united Pakhtun nation remains unfulfilled despite their Punjabi compatriots jump-frogging the Wagah border.
The Afghan conflict was a defining moment in Afghan and Pakistani politics. Wali Khan, like his compatriots, had objected to a super power meddling in the region, arguing that it would “bleed the Pakhtuns”. Watching the turmoil in Waziristan and Bajaur and the rest of NWFP, this prophecy seems to have come true.
Now the religious right seems more vociferous in anti-Americanism than the left was during the bygone yeas of the Cold War. But the lesson of non-violence and peace was never a Pakhtun trait, or else ours would have been a happier world.
Wali Khan bade farewell to politics after his defeat to Maulana Hasan Jan. He left the political scene simply, a graceful act in this dastardly world of politics. When asked his reason for retirement, he said that he had no place in politics “when the mullahs and ISI decide our destiny and politics”.
Fifteen years on, one wonders who has had the last laugh.
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