Over twenty articles in Pakistan and abroad have been written about Dr Mubashir Hasan’s life and how his death on the 14th of March 2020 signified the end of an era. His admirers – activists from all walks of life – made the overnight trek on buses and trains to pay their last respects. It is a strange feeling when people inspired by him grieve as much as his family or close friends. He was chacha or mamu to us, but to most he was simply “Doctor Sahib”.
The youngest of five siblings, Mubashir Hasan was born in Panipat on the 21st of January 1922, in a well to do clan of ‘Hakeemwalas’. From his mother’s side he was related to the poet Altaf Hussain Hali. He and his four siblings were brought up in Ansaar Mohalla, largely by their mother and uncle Khawaja Latif Hasan – a retired civil engineer and agriculturist. His father Munawar Hasan (who died when Mubashir was 16), worked in Hyderabad Deccan and visited Panipat during the holidays. As a favourite child Mubashir or ‘Pari’ was always inquisitive, hyperactive and a problematic eater. He matriculated from Hali Muslim School Panipat, but rather than Aligarh, he was sent to Government College Lahore, where his elder brother Shubbar (my father) was already enrolled at King Edward’s Medical College. After Government College he joined the (then Maclagan) Engineering College in Lahore and graduated as a civil engineer shortly after his twentieth birthday.
Upon graduation, he joined the Irrigation Department as an SDO in Amritsar, but within two years he received a scholarship for a Masters degree in water resources at Columbia University and left for New York. There he completed his Masters but due to Partition in 1947, he had to cut short his plan of a PhD program to return to Pakistan, where he joined the Engineering College as a lecturer. In 1953 he went back to the US, this time enrolling at Iowa State University, where he did his PhD in 1955. And together with his new bride Dr Zeenat Hussain he drove in his Ford all the way back from the US to Pakistan. Upon his return he re-joined the Engineering College as a professor and rose to be Chairman of the civil engineering department.
Dr Mubashir’s interest in politics developed early in life when in 1940 he, Dr Shubbar Hasan and Hameed Nizami launched a weekly Urdu newspaper Nawa-i-Waqt. Dr Mubashir was press-ganged as an unpaid reporter and attended the historic All India Muslim League convention on the 23rd of March 1940, in Lahore.
Mubashir and Shubbar’s conflict with the Ayub Khan regime began after Hameed Nizami’s sudden death in 1962, when Altaf Gauhar and the Punjab Governor Nawab Kalabagh tried to amalgamate the now vulnerable Nawa-i-Waqt into the National Press Trust. The brothers avoided that but Nawab Kalabagh turned against them; Dr Shubbar was compelled to leave Pakistan and joined the World Health Organization in Egypt in 1964. Dr Mubashir remained in their crosshairs, till in 1965 he was dismissed from the Engineering University on charges of inciting students against Ayub Khan’s regime.
Dr Mubashir then established an engineering consultancy practice, and his wife Dr Zeenat set up her Medical Diagnostic Laboratory – the first in Lahore – and both were comfortable. The classic Ford was disposed off and new cars acquired, including the 1967 beige VolksWagon beetle (arguably one of the most famous cars in Lahore).
Together with his new bride Dr Zeenat Hussain he drove in his Ford all the way back from the US to Pakistan
My late father told us, “Your chacha always follows his passion (shouq)” and Dr Mubashir’s passion was to dismantle Pakistan’s colonial structure and end the inequitable distribution of wealth. With friends like Hanif Ramay he started a study circle, focusing on ways of helping and mobilizing the poor. The circle soon realised that these objectives could not be achieved without entering the political arena.
When Dr Mubashir reached out to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) in 1967 to discuss the idea of forming a political party, ZAB suggested that he meet with J.A. Rahim who was writing the founding documents for such a party. Thus the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was launched at Dr Sahib’s home in Lahore in November 1967. It was Dr Mubashir and Mr Ramay who distilled the verbiage into succinctly crafted messages for wider dissemination, including the four basic principles of the PPP.
In the 1970 elections, Dr Mubashir was elected MNA from Lahore, with the largest majority in the Punjab. His constituency included Baghbanpura and Dharampura, an area which continued to produce the most committed PPP workers; it was dubbed the Larkana of Lahore.
Once Bhutto took office as President in December 1971, Dr Mubashir was appointed Finance Minister and given the task of implementing the PPP’s manifesto, including nationalisation of large industries and banks. On nationalization Dr Mubashir always maintained that this had been clearly stated in the PPP’s manifesto, which Pakistani voters had voted for.
Together with his former star student Mazhar Ali, he conceived and implemented a number of projects of strategic importance including a number of state owned (now privatized) cement plants, fertilizer factories and most significantly the blueprint for Pakistan’s nuclear program, the KRL, NESPAK, HMC Taxila and other engineering entities. For Pakistan’s self-reliance in defence it included the Heavy Rebuild Factory (HRF) in Taxila and the Mirage Rebuild Factory in Kamra where F-17 fighters are currently built.
Never one to hold back his punches, he fell out with ZAB, who he felt continued to appoint establishment appointees into prominent positions, while moving away from the original socialist principles of the Party. Dr Mubashir resigned as Finance Minister in 1974 and moved back to Lahore, only to be appointed Secretary General of the PPP in 1975. But he was disillusioned again as party workers were ignored in favour of establishment appointees. In the aftermath of the 1977 elections when the PNA movement appeared to gain traction, he advised ZAB to rely on PPP workers and his supporters to counter it, instead of calling in the police and/or the army. ZAB ignored his advice, so Dr Mubashir left Pakistan.
During the Martial Law era (1977-88) that followed, Dr Mubashir was imprisoned four times, including a stint in the infamous ISI torture centre in Lahore Fort, where he was made to listen to the screams of political workers being tortured. During the crucial Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), owing to his gravitas, political workers would always seek his counsel.
The idea of the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy was initiated by his friend Eqbal Ahmed in the early 1990s, but it was Dr Mubashir and the indomitable I.A. Rehman who made this movement a success
However, once Benazir Bhutto ascended to power in 1989, she distanced herself from Dr Mubashir. Despite several offers after her ouster, he chose never to join any interim government.
In the 1990s, he formed an Independent Planning Commission to write papers on various matters including local government, power policy, education policy etc. He published over ten books, and in addition to the widely read Mirage of Power on the Bhutto years and Shahrah-e-Inqilab, a book on Ghalib and together with Qasim Jafri a booklet on Mir. In the 1990s he also published a monthly Urdu magazine Dost.
The idea of the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy was initiated by his friend Eqbal Ahmed in the early 1990s, but it was Dr Mubashir and the indomitable I.A. Rehman who made this movement a success. The premise was simple; without peace between India and Pakistan, the entire region could not make any meaningful progress or see improvements in poverty levels. Dr Sahib’s mother’s house on Temple Road served as the secretariat and still has the sign on the gate. He never charged any rent and paid for all its expenses and overheads, including his own travel.
Any profile of Dr Mubashir would be incomplete without mentioning his love of all animals especially birds. As my father recalled, when he was a toddler he knew the names of many birds and their call signs. Under Raza Kazim’s advice, he purchased a special lens for nature photography and thus rose the ornithologist in him, publishing a book on the Birds of the Indus, in 1993 with TJ Roberts. His love of the outdoors ensured that every winter he would organise a cross generational family trip to an island in the Jhelum for bird photography, chess and camping. Summer included a trip to the mountains of Naran, Swat, Gilgit, or the Neelam Valley. He would always drive himself, and fill the car with nieces and nephews. Whether in or out of power, he avoided government rest houses or hotels, preferring to camp or stay with relatives.
After my father’s death in 2016, he began to lose interest in life. Every evening there would be seven or eight devotees for tea in his room, but we could all see that the agitator in him had begun to fade. Even Syeda Hameed’s regular phone calls from Delhi telling him about India and Kashmir stopped having their desired effect.
I will miss Chacha terribly; his wide smile, the twinkle in his pale blue eyes, the turning of the head and inevitable “yeh bilkul fazool baat hai (this is complete rubbish)” if you uttered something stupid, his intellect, principles, patience when dealing with people regardless of age or stature, simple lifestyle, but especially his unrequited for Pakistan’s poor and marginalized.