INTERVIEW By: NAIMAT KHAN
- As a rebellious kid Khan “attacked” British soldier in Mumbai
- turned down Zia’s offer to form party of Karachi’s Mohajirs
- Former Afghan President Dr Najib called him his Excellency
- Says “Bhutto was responsible for disintegration of Pakistan.”
- Shaikh Mujeeb facilitated Bhutto to hold public gathering in his constituency
- Thinks “Congress and Muslim could have better way-out”
- Saw Nehru kicking soldiers for not protecting Jamia Islamia students
- Used to swim in Jamna every day in morning
- “Bhutto was forced for federation, he believed in concentration of power”
- “Sitting generals used to attend Bhutto’s cabinet”
Being an Afridi of Zakha Khel clan, the news reports of fighting and continuous bloodshed in Tirah Valley, his ancestral town in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), would leave him very upset. It is the place from where his forefathers had migrated to Qaimganj, a city in Farrukhabad district in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Meraj Muhammad Khan was the youngest of four sons of Hakeem Molvi Taj Muhammad Khan, who practiced medicine (Hikmat) in Quetta city after getting education in the field from Hakeem Ajmal Khan Dehelvi. Siraj Muhammad Khan, Wahaj Muhammad Khan (Dukhi Prem Nagri) and journalist icon Minhaj Muhammad Khan (Burna) were his elder brothers. Elder sister, Asghari Khanum (Sahar) had been publishing women’s magazine “Tanvir” from Mumbai.
Dr Zakir Hussain, the third president of the Republic of India and former principle of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, who also hailed from the same town, would encourage the youths of his hometown to join the prestigious institution, Khan told me. His brother Minhaj Burna was the first in the family to get enrolled in Jamia at the persuasion of Dr Hussain. Later, Meraj Muhammad Khan also got admission in the prestigious institution.
Jamia Millia Islamia, drawing its funds from the government of British India and a supporter of independence of united India, laid the foundation of his thoughts, which also correspond to his family upbringing. It was here that he met Gandhi Gee, Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Abdul Kalam Azad among other prominent congress leaders.
“None of the dwellers of Qaimganj, a Pathan-Muslim dominant area, had any idea of partition till the partition day”, told Khan, whose own schooling was done in the institution opponent to the partition of India, though it had never kept its student ignorant of the point of view of Muslim League. To Khan every minute political development of India would be shared with students of Jamia in brief.
Sharing light moments of his life, Khan told that he along with his friends would regularly swim in the Jamna [river] early in the morning. It was one such morning that after returning to Jamia he saw Jawaharlal Nehru kicking the soldiers of Gorkha Regiment, who had failed to properly protect the student of Jamia Millia during the partition riots.
“He was probably called by Dr Zakir Hussain.”
“How can you protect these kids when you will be sleeping, I had not sent you to sleep here”, told infuriated Nehru who then deputed the personnel of Madras regiment, which was considered the most reliable and dutiful force at that time.
Nationalism prevailed in Jamia Millia, the leftist politician said.
Recalling his inherent hatreds towards the British occupation forces, Khan said he threw a flowerpot over a British soldier from the balcony of his sister’s home in Mumbai. The soldier escaped unhurt but the “attack” by little defiant invited the wrath of soldiers. “However after the exchange of harsh words, the rare gentleman colonel left their place with issuing future warnings.
It was the era of Malah rebellion in 1946 when Soraaj (independence) was the hot topic of discussion at his home.
Then came a turn in his life and the family believing in united India was left with no alternatives but to leave for the newly curved out Pakistan in 1949.
“A Sikh custodian knocked our door and asked my mother as where her husband was. Her obvious reply was that he is in Quetta and comes once in a year for some months”. To cut the story short, Taj’s wife was told that since her husband was not present in India, their home would be seized by the state, however the family could live there on rent.
Consequently all brothers, who were in different cities at that time, were called in through telegram and the family reached Lahore through Pak-Air, the then national career. After a night stay at Lahore the family moved to Quetta and resided there.
Meraj who as student of Jamia Islamia would chant slogans of “Hindu, Muslims aur Sikh Bhai Bhai” had now to migrate to a state being created for the Muslims as their separate homeland.
Meraj believes that Quaid-e-Azam had never wanted a separate homeland for the Muslims. Instead, he said, Jinnah was campaigning for the Muslim rights within united India. This was Nehru who forced Quaid-e-Azam to demand a separate homeland. Nehru, Meraj told, after formally signing the cabinet mission plan retracted and said that he would get the approval of parliament.
“I don’t believe that Quid-e-Azam is responsible for the partition of India,” Khan told.
“I think that congress and Muslim league could have better way-out, I believe that cabinet mission should have reached to conclusion. I believe that this was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who under pressure from Hindus forced Jinnah to go for the partition”.
Meraj and his brothers continued their education in Quetta before they were sent to Karachi for pursuing higher education.
This was the era of student politics on its height and when big student movements were being run and controlled from the seaside city of Karachi. Though DSF, the largest student organization of 50s, was banned in 1956, the National Student Federation (NSF) also invited the wrath of military dictator, Ayub Khan, who after occupying power was entering into military treaties with United States.
The well known philanthropist Dr Adeeb Rizvi and Dr Sarwar, who were leaders of NSF, were arrested, Khan says.
In fact, our rulers mortgaged our foreign policy to America in 1954 by signing those pacts. The students strongly opposed the Baghdad Pact, CETO and CENTO and demanded independent foreign policy. Meraj said a conspiracy was hatched to give Pakistani into the American slavery through the military pacts, which later proved counterproductive for the country.
Meraj said Ayub Khan not only mortgaged sovereignty but also cultivated the seeds of hatreds among Bengalis who experienced more oppression in his than any other period. The foundation of disintegration of Pakistan was laid in Ayub Khan’s period and it destined in 1970 when we denied Bengalis their right to rule the country.
“Only one high level bureaucrat was in government during the Ayub era, creating feeling of deprivation among the Bengalis”.
The parties, Qayyum League and Jamaat-e-Islami, which general Yahya Khan wanted to see in power, got defeated and against his expectation PPP, Awami league and National Awami Party emerged victorious in elections of 1970. “I accepted the results and I agitated when the slogan of “Udhar Tum, Idhar Hum” (There you, here we) was raised from the stage of PPP”, claimed Khan.
Khan had also protested in central committee against the boycott, a day before.
Recalling the days before separation of Bangladesh, Khan draws the picture of Shaikh Mujeeb, which has been rarely shown to Pakistanis in the distorted history books.
“When we went to Dacca after elections Bhutto told Mujeeb that he wanted to hold a public gathering in Dacca”. Meraj tells that Shaikh Mujeeb offered his own constituency where Bhutto addressed to a crowd of well over 50,000 people.
“Bhutto delivered a tactical speech in which he told whether they [Bengalis] wanted two separate states of imperialists and feudal lords or one Pakistan of laborers? 90 percent of the crowd chanted “Aik Tho Pakistan, (we want one Pakistan)”.
Meraj said he, then, refused to go alongwith Bhutto for the second time to Bangladesh as the Army had already been deployed. “By the time when the delegation comprising by Mumtaz Bhutto and Mustafa Khar returned, the military action had been started”.
“Bhutto said God has saved Pakistan. I told the God has never been on the side of oppressors, they have won the elections. You’re on the wrong side”, he dared to tell his leader. Meraj said that although the foundation was laid well before Bhutto, he too was responsible for the fall of Dacca as he refused to accept the peoples’ mandate.
But that was not a single mistake committed by Bhutto. He later banned National Awami Party (NAP) through the then Supreme Court. He made military action against Balochs, further strengthening military establishment.
He fell in the trap of international forces who did not want to see him especially after his creation of atomic bomb and organizing Islamic summit in Lahore. “The international forces had assessed that he will make trouble by perusing independent policy”. He called Islamic summit in which Kaddafi and Shah Faysal hugged each other, the thing which annoyed and warned US.”
“Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wanted to see independent and sovereign Pakistan. He wanted to empower the poor. He initiated land reforms, he gave consensus constitution, Article 3 of which relates to elimination of exploitation” Meraj told while counting the positive aspects of Bhutto.
The irony of Bhutto was that he “killed” his A-team who had co-founded the party with him. Then a time came when sitting General would attend his cabinet meetings.
On the question that how did pro-democratic leaders supported Z A. Bhutto, a man who had served as cabinet members of a dictator, Meraj opined this question had been raised several times but every time Bhutto would assure that party’s discipline would make everyone bound.
“One day when I was reading newspaper in my Tariq road home, suddenly the people shouted Bhutto is here, Bhutto is here. When he entered into my two room small home, he said did you stop your battle against Ayub Khan?” I said, “no”. He, then, said “let’s struggle together”.
“Now the car of Bhutto would often pick me for a discussion on the formation of party, Khan tells the story of party formation. Zulfiqar ali Bhutto, J A Rahim, Meraj Muhammad Khan, Hayat Khan Sherpao, Rana Mukhtar, Rasool Bux Khan Talpur, Mubashir Hasan and others would attend the meetings, he tells.
“The concentration of power led Bhutto to push away his A-team. He believed in concentration of Power but these were the prevailing conditions that forced him to form a federation”.
Having zero tolerance for critics Bhutto detained his old friends Meraj Muhammad Khan and Habib Jalib alongwith Wali Khan, Ghaus Bux Bezinjo, Ataullah Mengal, Khair Bux Murri and others in the Hyderabad tribunal. Khan was accused of working for the independence of Balochistan.
But when Bhutto was indicted the in the murder case, Meraj forgot his personal suffering at the hands of his former leader.
“When Bhutto was jailed by Zia, I told Begum Sahiba that he would be hanged. I told that Generals would never leave him alive. But till then the Saudi ambassador had put her inside crystal class”.
When Bhutto abandoned co-founders, the opportunists secured the place and when Bhutto was hanged, no one took to the street, he said.
“We had a plan to paralyze the whole country just a week before his hanging but our plan was not let to materialize, said Khan.
Khan believes that the damaged which Zia could not done to PPP in over decade despite his desperate efforts, that is being done by Asif Ali Zardari in few years. His corruption, faulty planning and ineptness has almost vanished the party of brave Bhuttos, he said. “Many friends of PPP in Punjab told me that the party seemed to lose elections due absence of any guideline from the leadership.” The party has been confined to a brother and his sisters and young boy, he told.
Meraj though could not make to the Bhutto’s list of liked ones he became the Excellency of many.
“Don’t call me his Excellency, I am not your Excellency, indeed you’re mine” these were the words of none other than former President of Afghanistan and revolutionary leader Dr Najib Ullah, who told the delegates that when Meraj Muhammad Khan was the president of National Student Federation (NSF) in Pakistan, he [Najeeb] was the worker of that student organization in Peshawar, where he was pursuing his studies.
Sharing memories of his Kabul visit, he said when got invitation from Najib he informed his host that it was not possible for him to directly visit Afghanistan. Dr Najeeb then arranged from his visa via India. It was during this visit some three decades ago that Dr. Najib made the prediction of current Pakistan situation. Dr Najib was of the view that Pakistan’s considering Afghanistan its province and its unnecessary involvement would backfire it in form of destabilization of the country later. “His words proved correct.”
“I asked him that when will the Russian forces leave. Najib said the Russian forces will leave in his life time, but the Afghan war will never end. If the meddling of your ISI continued, it will ruin both countries. We have nothing at our disposal but Meraj! let me tell you that when I will not be here American will be present here in Kabul. And from here the game will start which will start at the disintegration of Pakistan” he said.
When Meraj was freed of Attock prison following a year imprisonment by the military court for his press conference against the ban on daily Musawat by military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, he was taken straight to Zia’s residence in Rawalpindi.
Minister of industries, Ghulam Hasan Khan, was also present in the meeting when the military General asked him to join his cabinet but he flatly refused by saying that he would not join the cabinet of a dictator. Zia then asked Khan to restart his battle against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. “You have made a coupe which is wrong” told the daring Khan. But Zia went on to give another offer to form a Mohajir party in Karachi. “I don’t want to spread riot and bloodshed in the earth of God” told the foresighted Khan.
“The city having large number of Pashtun, Punjabi, Sindhis and Baloch besides majority of Urdu-speaking community will bleed if I founded the party of Mohajirs”, the veteran’s response to the General’s offer carried a predication which later proved right.
Zia, actually, wanted to weaken Karachi, which had been a base camp of democratic forces, and which the military dictator considered a great threat to himself, tells Meraj. Khan told Zia that though it would do no good to Mohajirs or the port city, it will certainly benefit him [Zia] once the city with strong trade and students unions divides along ethnic lines.
Meraj Muhammad Khan, however, said he is not sure whether the party founded by Altaf Hussain, which came into being just couple of years after Zia’s offer to him, was the outcome of efforts of army general or it was the result of Altaf Hussain’s own gist for awarding Mohajirs their due rights.
Khan, who was part of the PTI delegation which met Musharraf before the 2002 general polls, reveals that Musharraf refused to accept PTI leaders demand to abandon Chaudhrys, arguing that he could not get the desired results without them.
“When we as a delegation comprising Imran Khan, Nawabzada Mohsin Ali Khan, Khwaja Jameel and others met with General Musharraf he said you can win two or three seats only, Chaudhrys can win majority, your two seats are of no value for me, how can I throw away them”, tells Khan.
He then turned towards me and asked Khan Sahib why you are quiet? I said I have a simple question and want simple answer from you. When are you going to hold elections, in three month, one year, two years or four years? He laughed and did not answer. I asked them to leave as Musharraf wanted to use PTI for furthering his own agenda. Later, Imran Khan apologized to the nation, Meraj says.
“Even I opposed the PTI’s support to Musharraf’s referendum and when Imran khan was casting his vote, he asked me to accompany him. I refused and told that I would not cast vote as I thought it was wrong”.
Having total asset of honesty and dignity, Khan lives with his son these days. That is not his inherited home but his self-made son, who is a banker, has constructed after struggle and efforts of many years.
When asked about what he has made in politics, Khan shared an interesting story. “I was being allotted a 1000 yards plot in Islamabad. I went to Bhutto and said what I will do with that if I have no money to build home on it. He said I am allotting another one, go sell it and construct home on the first one. I said suppose the home is built from where will I get furniture and other households? He said let me allot another one for fulfilling that needs.”
When Bhutto finished, Meraj told him he needed no plots as his parents had never taught him to beg for anything. “I was kidding; I belong to the family that has never spread its hands before anyone”, Khan told Bhutto.
The author is a Karachi based journalist. He can be reached at his Email: email@example.com and Twitter: @NKMalazai