Dr Mubashir Hasan passed away on March 14, three weeks ago, on a day which also marked the 137th anniversary of the passing away of Karl Marx. Yet unlike the funeral of the latter, which consisted of a crowd of a mere eleven people, Dr Hasan’s funeral consisted of hundreds of people – a fitting testament to the political party to which he belonged for the greater part of his long life, as well as of the leader who Dr Hasan devotedly followed while in power and even out of it.
Dr Hasan’s biographical details, too, stayed close to those of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), having turned 98 earlier this year in January, the same month Bhutto was born, and passing away merely three weeks from the date of ZAB’s execution (April 4 will mark the 41st anniversary of ZAB’s execution). In fact, just a month before he passed away, on February 10, I called the eminent writer and journalist Masood Ashar to wish him on his 90th birthday, noting in passing that he had now joined the distinguished ‘nervous 90s’ – to use a cricketing expression – club of Lahoris to which the names of the writer Ikramullah, the leftist publisher Rauf Malik and the then-living Dr Mubashir Hasan had already been added.
I only met Hasan a couple of times. His name was a looming presence when I was writing my Master’s dissertation in Leeds in the summer of 2002. Since the major chapter of that study was on ZAB’s populism, I resolved to see him when I returned to Lahore for a few weeks that summer to conduct interviews. Unfortunately, he could not make time for a meeting, but we talked on the phone and he immediately recommended that I consult his books on the topic namely The Mirage of Power and an Urdu pamphlet on the causes and solution to Pakistan’s political crisis.
I then moved on to other things and our paths did not cross, again but somehow somewhere the latent wish to meet and interact with one of ZAB’s most formidable confidantes remained. And as it were, it was two books which provided the occasion for my other two meetings with Dr Hasan.
Dr. Hasan, even as ZAB’s Finance Minister, continues speaking truth to power. He recounts that in September 1972 he refused to sanction the purchase of $ 1,000 by Murtaza Bhutto through the State Bank, other than what he was entitled to like any other Pakistani student studying abroad
In the summer of 2017, during Ramazan, I went to meet with Dr Syeda Syedain Hameed, a cousin of Hasan’s who was visiting from India and who had been previously introduced to me a few years earlier on email. I had gone on this occasion to collect my copy of Dr Hameed’s book Gold Dust of the Begum Sultans, an intriguing translation of a novel by Zubeida Sultan, a scion of the illustrious Nawabs of Rampur; she had kindly brought it for me from Delhi. It was there, at the historic 4 K Gulberg home where the founding convention of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) took place, where I finally met the great man himself. It was a brief meeting but I was very much taken in by the cultured, almost aristocratic voice of the latter, and after a ritual exchange of pleasantries he evinced a lot of interest in my own activities in the Progressive Writers Association. I was also humbled by the concern he showed when I told him I was an independent writer looking to write and publish, to which he gently counseled that one should be somehow employed somewhere. After a promise to meet again, we parted.
Here before going onto my second and last meeting with Hasan, I want make a digression, which in fact is related to a book which after reading, made it necessary to meet Dr Hasan a second time. This is a book written by the aforementioned Dr Syeda Hameed, titled Born To Be Hanged – the best political biography of ZAB in recent times. When it first came out in 2017, it was poorly or hardly reviewed here in Pakistan, which was a surprise given that it had been written sympathetically, though not uncritically, by an Indian citizen, and thus could not be accused of being biased. The book, of course, is about ZAB, but that is not the reason I mention it here. The reason is that this book is entirely based on the archives of Dr Mubashir Hasan kept in Lahore, and whose larger-than-life figure runs throughout the book; so I dare say that it is Dr Mubashir Hasan rather than ZAB who is the real hero of the book.
Indeed Dr Hameed has dedicated the book to him. She also mentions Hasan’s aforementioned book The Mirage of Power as one of her primary sources; and the foreword of the book has also been penned by him. The foreword makes use of a most interesting anecdote on the sidelines of the Tashkent Summit following the 1965 Pakistan-India War which buried the career of General Ayub Khan and proved to be the rise of ZAB. Both former allies fell out as a result of this Agreement. So much so that as Dr Hasan reports, when the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away of a heart attack in Tashkent and the news was relayed to a sleeping ZAB by an orderly as, “Sir, the bastard has died.” ZAB retorted, “Which one?”
In subsequent events marking the rise of ZAB as the iconic creator of the PPP to winning the elections of 1970 and subsequently as the first popularly-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, and thence to his fall from grace and towards his grisly end, it is the presence of Dr Mubashir Hasan which bears witness to this history-in-the making. The writer informs us about the valuable prison letters which ZAB wrote to Hasan from Ayub’s jail between November 1968 and early 1969; seventeen letters in all, mention of which one has not seen in any of the various obituaries written about Hasan since he passed away. These letters are full of directions, disappointments and blame which the leader feels for his newly-found political party. We learn that it was the party ideologue J.A. Rahim who convinced ZAB of the need for a socialist party in Pakistan; how the PPP manifesto was framed; and that one of the slogans of the party, namely “All Power to the People” was taken from the Bolsheviks’ famous “All Power to the Soviets”. Also noted here are how Hasan and his wife were witnesses to the chilling scenes of ZAB’s arrest from the former’s residence in November 1968, and ZAB’s indecision about whether to contest the upcoming elections under General Ayub’s Basic Democracies Elections or to boycott them. Most interesting is the correspondence between ZAB and Hasan regarding PPP’s dealings with the Jamaat-e-Islami and its chief Maulana Maudoodi. In one of these letters, ZAB, anxious to placate the Jamaat writes, “Please remember that Islam is the fount of this state. We are progressive Muslims not reactionaries but we are not communists either.” An ominous sign perhaps for the more left-wing leaders of the PPP like Hasan, Mairaj Mohammad Khan and Sheikh Rashid?
We are witness to Hasan’s frustrations as some of the most dedicated leaders of the PPP like Mahmud Ali Kasuri, Mairaj Mohammad Khan and then Hasan himself part ways with ZAB. Amid all this, Hasan even as ZAB’s Finance Minister, continues speaking truth to power. He recounts that in September 1972 he refused to sanction the purchase of $ 1,000 by Murtaza Bhutto through the State Bank, other than what he was entitled to like any other Pakistani student studying abroad.
(to be continued)