A True Voice for Moderation
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.