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The Death of Khan Abdul Wali Khan, a great Pakhtun patriot

The towering icon of this province, Khan Abdul Wali Khan has passed away, after years of service and devotion to this land and its people. He spent  the best part of his life struggling for the Pakhtun people and nation. Like his illustrious father, the venerable Ghaffar Khan, a truly Nelson Mandela figure, many of these years were spent in painful confinement. Both son and father were ignored by fortune, but I am certain the conclusion of history will be more favorable. No doubt there will be well deserved and many glowing obituaries about Khan Wali Khan and his contributions as a rare and a great Pakhtun leader; I wish to remember him as a seer, who could peer into the future. He was personally very kind to me in my various capacities as an administrator and someone belonging to this province.

In 1982-83, as deputy commissioner, Peshawar, I had the awful and distasteful duty to place Khan Abdul Wali Khan in preventive detention during the MRD agitation against the martial law of Ziaul Haq. There existed, I felt a bond, based on respect and which lasted beyond official capacity; it was love for a person, who struggled for the rights of his people. His periodic tirades against the federation served its cause many a times; it forced the federal government to be just to NWFP in terms of funds and other matters. I intend to write today about a meeting with him in which he analyzed Pakistan’s situation in clear terms. Because what he said then is even more relevant than before.


On the morning of 3rd October 1983, I was informed by assistant commissioner Charsadda, that Begum Wali Khan had a serious medical problem and if I would have her personal physician Dr. Alif Khan rushed to Wali Bagh. This was arranged. However, fearing that more assistance may be needed, I also went to Wali Bagh. Wali Khan was also present and was plainly distressed about the medical problem of Bibi. After it was controlled, I was requested to stay back for lunch. During and after lunch Wali Khan, spoke at great length about the situation in Pakistan and what he thought was wrong with it.

I reproduce verbatim my noting of the period, which I have kept. The situation then was that there was a guerrilla war going on in Afghanistan; a secret war in which Pakistan was the conduit for provisioning the Afghan jihad with money, weapons and jihadis from all over the Muslim world, including Osama bin Laden. Internally there was a martial law, where a military dictator had been in power since 1977. The political parties had launched a movement for the restoration of democracy (MRD). There was distrust between the PPP and the NDP, similar to the one today. Political activities were banned, preventive arrests were made and in Sindh there was violence and many deaths. President Zia, cautioned that the times were delicate and sought understanding from political forces.

Wali Khan was pessimistic about the future of the country. He felt that the political problems facing it required deft political handling and intermediation of political forces to resolve the issues of various nationalities composing the state. However, the United States was not allowing that to happen, because of support for the Zia government, in order to achieve its political objectives in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Wali Khan said that the army looked for support not from its own people but from the foreign power. It is an exchange of resources (armaments) for political backing of a military regime, he said.

He felt that the MRD movement had become regionalized. That was its greatest weakness. The smaller provinces were fighting a political battle for getting their rights, but Punjab was happy with the continuance of the Zia regime because of the transfer of resources to it.Until more balance was brought into the province – centre relationship, the smaller provinces would remain back ward and their development will be thwarted Wali Khan said.  He thought that One way was to limit the powers of the federation and to confine them to the Lahore Resolution subjects of defense, foreign affairs, currency and communication. Wali Khan spoke at length of the alienation of Sindh and suggested that its problems must be dealt with politically and not with the heavy hand of violent suppression.

Abdul Wali Khan said, The main reason for the entry of the USSR into Afghanistan was Pakistan’s faulty foreign policy relationship with its smaller neighbor; if we had not been so callous in frequent closures of the Pak-Afghan border in the past, it would not have forced the Afghans to look to Moscow for trade and other needs. Our actions had brought Soviet influence to Afghanistan and into our back yard.

Wali Khan felt that no military regime was capable of solving Pakistan’s political problems because, The military was self centered and dependent not on internal democratic support but upon external help. On the other hand a political government is always dependent upon its popularity in the public; its agenda is internal. This gave the democratic process an edge in facing many difficult challenges not available to any other form of government. If the present trend of non-democratic governance continued for long, it could carry within it the seeds of incalculable danger to Pakistan’s future.


It is indeed a sad state of affairs that the passing away of a great and a rare personality took place in circumstances, which in many ways resembles the internal and external situation confronting Pakistan in 1983. Does it mean that we have not progressed in the last 23 years? My only regret is that Khan Abdul Wali Khan could have been so much more. He had so many qualities, which would have served Pakistan well; however I believe he was not comfortable with power. The frontier has lost one of its most outstanding leader and a prominent fighter, who advocated equity and justice as the operating principles of the federation. 

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