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Interview : Dr. Rasheed Hasan Khan —- Zameer Sheikh.

Dr.Rasheed Hasan Khan, was born in Hyderabad(India) and migrated to Pakistan. He completed his Secondary education in Karachi and Graduated from the Dow Medical College (now Dow University of Health Sciences).After graduation, he established welfare based clinics in the working class areas of Karachi. He was actively involved in the progressive movement, specially the National Student Federation since early youth. In 2010, he retired from Medical Practice to devote himself to reading and writing about the core problems confronting the people of Pakistan. He can be contacted at <apnakal wordpress.com>


Dr. Rasheed Hasan Khan

Q- Why the leftist philosophy, which also considered as Socio-economic revolution could not take roots in Pakistan, despite the fact the students rendered sacrifices and faced the wrath of the regime of the day? Is there any room for changes? Has the leftists failed to convey their message to the masses? How do you see?

Dr. Rasheed Hassan Khan; –

Every political movement makes progress or takes roots according to the economic, political, social and other particularities of that region. When Pakistan came into being in 1947, very few political movements had existed in the region that constituted West Pakistan and they were very rudimentary. The carnage and mass migration of Partition seriously affected the political map of West Pakistan since a large number of progressive political workers and leaders who were either Hindu or Sikh and had to migrate from Pakistan.

 Progressive elements who migrated to Pakistan from India had the disadvantage of working in an environment about which they had to learn as they went along. Even though the progressive elements succeeded in building up a progressive movement in Karachi and in some pockets of Punjab, KhyberPukhtunkhwa and Balochistan, but strong feudal and tribal system in West Pakistan was a great obstacle in its way.

On the contrary, the situation was different in East Pakistan, for, there was no entrenched tribal or feudal system there. Moreover, there was no great outward migration of population and the roots of left were deeper in that part of the country, students in East Pakistan were also in the forefront of the struggle for change.

A united Progressive forces both in East and West Pakistan could have been a decisive counterweight to the conservative and obscurantist forces in Pakistan; but it did not happen because both worked separately, without having a strong co-ordinated working, due to long distance between the two parts of the country, the difference in the political conditions and the role of Imperialism in helping the oppressive and exploitative system.   But still, the progressive forces in E.Pakistan exercised a very positive influence on the body politics of Pakistan in curbing and countering the forces of Imperialism and feudalism.

Since the social structure of Karachi was neither tribal nor feudal, progressive element, which migrated and settled in Karachi, soon made the port city a nursery of progressive thinking and organization.

In the 50s the rulers of the day ganged up with American imperialism and joined a series of anti-people military pacts.  Under the politically dictatorial era of Ghulam Muhammad, a troika comprising the weak nascent capitalists, feudal aristocracy and civil and military bureaucracy came into existence and became the dominant force in the country.

At this juncture, progressive students in Pakistan launched the Democratic Student Federation (DSF) and made it a vehicle for developing the progressive movement in the students and youth. The Student Movement of January 8 1954 was a part of this struggle. Efforts were also made to form All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO). For this purpose, a meeting of progressive student was held in now defunct’ Katrak Hall’ near Empress Market; but the goons of the establishment disrupted the meeting and the government also imposed a ban on APSO.  

Thus a reign of terror was let loose against the progressive students. When USA President Eisenhower in 1959 visited Pakistan, the workers of DSF and National Students Federation (NSF) which was also launched in tandem were put behind the bars. General Ayub Khan broke all records of tyranny against progressive forces particularly the students, who were the worst sufferers at the hands of police and intelligence network. They were blacklisted, externed, imprisoned and generally victimized.

Q- Is it correct that left movement remained isolated and avoided mass contact?

RHK; – No, it is wrong. Left movement was not restricted. The policy of the left was aimed at making the masses aware of their rights and motivating them to struggle and strive for achieving those rights. From day one, it continued to set up its units in colleges existing at that time. Not a single segment of society was ignored. Intellectuals and writers having left leaning laid the foundation of Anjuman Taraqqi Passand Musanifeen, efforts were made to organize the workers in trade unions, the peasants in peasant’s organizations, the women in women’s organizations. There was no sector of the society that was ignored.  

The relentless hounding of the victimization of progressive forces was definitely a factor in impeding the emergence of a revolutionary political party in Pakistan that could affect a fundamental change in the economic and political structure. Needless to say, there were weaknesses within the left movement that made it possible for state repression to succeed.

Q- Is it correct that Z.A Bhutto had used the left philosophy and leftists students unions and leaders for his personal and political; ambitions?

RHK:- When Z.A Bhutto emerged on the political horizon, the dictatorship of Ayub Khan was in a shambles. The disastrous internal and external policies had brought the regime into a blind alley. It will not be wrong to say that there was a political vacuum in the country. Bhutto was aware of the power and influence of progressive forces. The world in the sixth decade of the last century was a heady place. The Viet Nam War had created a militant anti-imperialist movement across the world; liberation struggles throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America were making epoch making advances against Imperialism. Bhutto was alive to this milieu and determined to obtain personal advantage from this.

On the invitation of Bhutto, the progressive students, and activists supported Bhutto with a view that this will bring about change and the elimination of an old and decrepit political system. Bhutto shrewdly framed the manifesto of PPP on left program and slogans. He presented himself as left of the left, at least in the formative stage of the PPP and during the Movement against the Ayub Regime in 1968. He exploited the leftist and progressive forces to enter the corridor of power on their shoulders. But this was not a one way street. The left, in supporting Bhutto, also made political gains in isolating Imperialism and its lackeys  in Pakistan. Furthermore, the left isolated the diehard obscurantist and anti-people forces, represented by the religious political parties by counter posing the forces such as PPP, Awami League and NAP against them. It may sound strange today, with all the hype and the creation of a cult of personality, but Bhutto envisioned a grand alliance against Ayub Khan which included the Jamaat e Islami!! It was the Jamaat e Islami which refused to align itself with the PPP and chose to support Ayub instead.   

In a short span of six month, Bhutto showed his true colour when police resorted to firing on labourers, who had launched a movement in favour of their demands, in Karachi SITE and Landhi. The mill owners were ready to accept the charter of demands of the workers, but Bhutto threatened them of dire consequences, if they accepted the demands of workers, since he wanted to crush the trade union movement and the progressive forces.

Q- How long your sympathies with Bhutto lasted?

RHK: – The role which Bhutto played in the 1968 Movement against Ayub Khan was the high water mark and the most positive aspect of his political career. The Hala Conference however, brought the future course of the PPP into the light of the day. With his compromise with the feudal lords and exploiters all over Pakistan, affected, the PPP had reached a turning point. Henceforth, it would be a co-opted force of the establishment and change and reform would be excised from its lexicon.  

Q- Is it correct that General Yahya was ready to restore the federal status of Karachi when he decided to revoke One Unit?

RHK: – Yes, General Yahya was ready to restore the old status of Karachi as federal territory and had invited public comments from everyone, including the progressive students, particularly of NSF. But we opposed his idea and argued that Karachi should remain part of Sindh. We were of the view that the purpose of separating Karachi was to hand over the city to the compradors and Imperialist powers, while the interior Sindh would be given to feudal lords as their jagir.

Q- How long did you remain behind the bars?

RHK:- When Yahya took over reign of government in March 1969, he imposed a ban on student unions. At that time, the new academic year in Karachi commenced in September. In the month of Oct/ November, students, sat on hunger strike in Karachi University demanding the holding of elections to the student unions and were arrested. To support the demand for the holding of elections to student unions and the release of arrested students, the NSF organized a movement all over Pakistan. We were arrested and tried in Military Courts for this ‘Crime’.Hasnain Bokhari, Sheryar Mirza, Zahid Hussain, Baseer Naveed, Abdul Qudoos, Sibt-e-Athar,Ali Yawar, Kaleem Durrani and others were tried in summary military courts and awarded punishment ranging six month to one year. When One Unit was dissolved, we were released. However, I was again arrested soon for opposing the bungling in DMC Student’s Union funds by the then President of DMCSU who enjoyed the support of the establishment. Some of my friends were of the opinion that it would have been some other pretext if not this. They may be right because the proceedings of the Military Court were nothing more than a sham and a joke. I told the President of the Court that he should not waste time and pass the sentence quickly to allow everyone some rest. He instituted contempt of court proceedings against me. The case was sent to Special Military Court. The court found me guilty and ordered that I should serve the remaining part of the sentence passed in the previous case.

Q;- Where were you during 1970 general elections?

RHK:- I was in jail during 1970 elections and was released in February/ March 1971 while the Military action in E. Pakistan was in full swing.

Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur, Tariq Aziz and Maulana Abdul Haq from MirpurKhas ( leaders of thePPP) were in Hyderabad jail at the same time. They were released from jail before the National Elections. After his release, Tariq Aziz gave an interview in a newspaper about the dismal state of our prisons and the involvement of jail officials in the sale of drugs to the prison inmates. The Jail Superintendent, Pir Ali Ahmed Sarhandi, a relic of the British era, asked me to issue a statement refuting the allegations of Tariq Aziz. This was a most unreasonable demand. On my refusal, I was literally dragged to the solitary confinement ward, also known as punishment ward. This was a 10’X10’ cell which had historical antecedents. It was the cell in which Pir Pagara Sibghatullah Shah, had spent his last days. There were four doors of the cell one on each side, and each of the doors a jail guard was kept on duty, day and night. Thankfully during my stay there, there was only one guard on duty and he kept himself (and me) awake by dragging his baton on the bars all night.

To protest against this illegal and highhanded treatment, I started a hunger strike while in solitary confinement. My health started deteriorating after one week, but no proper medical treatment was given to me. On the contrary, I was transferred to Sukkur Jail. In Sukkur Jail I gained fame as being an associate of Shaikh Mujeeb ur Rehman. Since there were no other political prisoners in West Pakistan jails, the inmates surmised I must associated with the current victim of the establishment’s anger! I was released in early 1972. But during the 1972 ethnic riots, that broke out in Karachi, raids were conducted at DMC hostel and at my home to arrest me. I did not think it useful to waste any more time as a guest of the state, therefore I avoided arrest in 1972 and maintained a very low public profile till 1977.

Q- The nationalistic forces with left leaning existed in Sindh, Balochistan and the NAP which also argued and followed the leftists’ philosophy. They would have come on one platform and join hands for their agenda which was almost identical. In your opinion what were the reasons and factors responsible for these separate identities that discouraged them to come together and form a greater and stronger alliance to advance their philosophy?

RHK: The question could have been more simply constructed. Anyway, with 20/20 hind sight, it is easy to suggest various ‘effective’ strategies and tactics. The truth however, is that at any given time a united front can only come into being if all the parties or stake holders (in the current jargon) are, firstly, interested in organizing a united front. Secondly, given the ground realities of today, whether a viable and politically dynamic united front can possibly be organized. An objective study of the past history of our experimentation along these lines may yield some useful results in this regard. Above all, it must be borne in mind that nothing can provide a soveriegn cure for lack of political clarity, absence of commitment and indolence.   

Q- Will it be correct to say that Z.A Bhutto son of Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, a big landlord of Sindh stabbed the left movement in the back which caused its demise?

RHK: I do not agree.  I also think that the use of the term ‘demise’ rather misplaced. Bhutto’s antipathy to the left and the PPP government’s anti people policies definitely damaged the left, but the reasons for the marginalization of the left are somewhat different. We do not have the space to go into a detailed discussion, but briefly it has to do with the factors internal to the left such as lack of political clarity, style of work etc. and external factors such as infiltration and co-option of the left movement and individuals within the movement, coupled with severe state repression.


2 thoughts on “Interview : Dr. Rasheed Hasan Khan —- Zameer Sheikh.

  1. Thankyou Zameer for this historical contribution, i hope it will continue to the present time.

    Thanks again.

    Anwer Malick

    Posted by Anwer. Malick | May 31, 2012, 4:47 am
  2. Fascinating interview by a great political analyst and activist. It has precisely given the true picture of the progressive politics in the time of ZA Bhutto era. AG Kasi

    Posted by Abdul Ghafoor Kasi | January 22, 2014, 7:04 pm

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