A True Voice for Mod­er­a­tion

Southasia - - Tribute - By J. En­ver J. En­ver is a free­lance writer who writes on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and cul­ture and so­ci­ety.

It is ironic that Iqbal Haider and Ardeshir Cowas­jee left for the Here­after within a span of two weeks last Novem­ber. Both were good friends. Cowas­jee used to call the late lawyer Iqbal ‘Groovy’ Haider and would al­ways re­fer to him by this ep­i­thet when­ever he men­tioned him in his col­umns.

It is not known what prompted the colum­nist to in­sert this ap­pel­la­tion in Iqbal Haider’s name be­cause there was noth­ing groovy about the man – at least not on the sur­face. But then, Mr. Cowas­jee must have had his own rea­sons. The prob­lem is that now we have ac­cess to nei­ther of the two to as­cer­tain what the real rea­son for Mr. Iqbal Haider’s ‘groovi­ness’ was.

Iqbal Haider was a man of many facets – lawyer, hu­man rights ac­tivist, sec­u­lar­ist, politi­cian, par­lia­men­tar­ian and party an­i­mal. Per­haps it was the last men­tioned that made him ‘groovy’ in Cowas­jee’s es­ti­ma­tion, be­cause he was of­ten seen at so­cial gath­er­ings and house par­ties, hold­ing his own on sub­jects close to his heart, the most im­por­tant be­ing the is­sues of honor killings, karo-kari, bonded la­bor and miss­ing per­sons.

He was iden­ti­fied promi­nently with the Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party which he joined in the late 80s and was quite close to Be­nazir Bhutto in her two stints as Prime Min­is­ter, when he served her government as Fed­eral Law Min­is­ter and also served from time to time as mem­ber of var­i­ous Se­nate Stand­ing Com­mit­tees, such as De­fense, De­fense Pro­duc­tion and Avi­a­tion, In­for­ma­tion and Broad­cast­ing, Cul­ture, Sports and Tourism and Women Devel­op­ment and Youth Af­fairs. He was also a mem­ber of the Func­tional Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights.

Iqbal Haider re­ceived his early ed­u­ca­tion in Karachi and earned a Law de­gree from the Pun­jab Univer­sity Law Col­lege, La­hore in 1966. In 1967 he went to the Lin­coln’s Inn in Lon­don where he also served as Vice Pres­i­dent of the Stu­dents Union.

He made his mark early in his ca­reer as a bright young lawyer who was sure to go places as he was among only a gutsy few who spoke openly against the es­tab­lish­ment and the in­ter­ven­tion of the armed forces in na­tional pol­i­tics.

‘Places’ he did go af­ter he came to the fore as a mover and shaker in the MRD. He gave the Move­ment his best, first as Cen­tral Act­ing Con­vener, then as Act­ing Cen­tral Sec­re­tary Gen­eral and Act­ing Joint Sec­re­tary. In those days of po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion, his di­rect­ness ob­vi­ously did not go well with the khakis and, be­tween 1981 and 1986, he was a guest of the Mar­tial Law au­thor­i­ties on at least ten oc­ca­sions.

When the Zi­aul Haq regime suc­ceeded in break­ing through the MRD lines and the Move­ment fiz­zled out, Iqbal Haider went through a bout of dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the lead­ing lights of the group and de­cided to switch to the PPP. This was per­haps the stage in his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer when his ide­al­ism gave way to prag­ma­tism and he agreed to be­come Ad­vi­sor to the Sindh Chief Min­is­ter. He was sub­se­quently elected to the Se­nate of Pak­istan and served the PPP as Pres­i­dent, Karachi Di­vi­sion, Vice Pres­i­dent, Sindh and as a mem­ber of the Cen­tral Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee.

Iqbal Haider could never di­vorce him­self from his first pas­sion – Hu­man Rights. He was on the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights and was one of the found­ing mem­bers of the HRCP un­der which he un­re­lent­ingly pur­sued de­serv­ing causes.

He was greatly dis­turbed by the grow­ing in­flu­ence of fun­da­men­tal­ism in Pak­istan and just a few months be­fore his death, had launched the Fo­rum for Sec­u­lar Pak­istan to de­velop a strat­egy that would counter ex­trem­ism.

At the age of 67, Iqbal Haider was still pur­su­ing his mis­sion with great dili­gence and his ac­tivism must have made a dif­fer­ence where it mat­tered. It is sad that an­other voice for mod­er­a­tion and tol­er­ance is now silent.

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