PESHAWAR - Veteran politician, former president of Awami National Party (ANP) and a well-known Pashto poet, Muhammad Ajmal Khattak, died in Akora Khattak, Nowshera, on Sunday. He was 85. According to his son Aimal Khattak, his father breathed his last on late Sunday evening after protracted illness. He had been bedridden for sometime due to a host of diseases but was mentally alert. Born in September 1925, Ajmal Khattak was a committed political worker who suffered imprisonment and self-exile for years due to his strong convictions. But he was also a literary man, having published a number of books of prose and poetry, mostly in Pashto and some in Urdu languages. His funeral prayer would be held today (Monday) after Zohar prayers in Akora Khattak. The ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan while eulogising his services announced three-day mourning for the deceased party leader. Mr Khattak started his career as a schoolteacher in a government school. But he left the job to become a journalist. He worked with dailies Anjam and Shahbaz and did well in both Urdu and Pashto journalism. He later began writing columns on political and social issues. Ajmal Khattak lost the election for the MNA slot in 1970 from Nowshera. He finally won the assembly seat in the 1990 elections to become an MNA on the ANP ticket. He also remained a senator. His early political career began during the Quit India Movement after he came under the influence of the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement. He was forced to leave the school due to his involvement in that Movement. He was the stage secretary at the United Democratic Front rally held at Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi, on March 23, 1973, when shots were fired at the UDF leaders including Khan Abdul Wali Khan. After that incident, he fled to Afghanistan and lived an exile life till 1990. Ajmal Khattak had served the ANP as central president for two terms when Wali Khan stepped down from the post. In the 1993 general elections, Ajmal Khattak lost his re-election bid in Nowshera to the PPP candidate Major Gen (Retd) Naseerullah Babar. However, he was elected to the Senate in March 1994 from NWFP Assembly. The decision to join PONM was made despite strong pressure from party critics. Eventually, Khattak succumbed to party pressure and the ANP left PONM by joining the Grand Democratic Alliance. He was ousted as ANPs president in 2000, after a protracted power struggle with some members of Wali Khan family. Deciding to leave the party, he briefly led a splinter group called National Awami Party of Pakistan. His party did not win even a single seat in the 2002 general elections amidst the religo-political parties alliance in NWFP. After realising his political mistake, he himself visited Wali Bagh, Charsadda, and rejoined the ANP in the presence of Khan Abdul Wali Khan. Like Wali Khan, he also retired from active politics and was attending only literary gatherings. He wrote 13 books in Pashto and Urdu, including A History of Pashto Literature, Pakistan Main Qaumi Jamhoori Tehrikin, Da Ghirat Chagha, Batoor, Gul Auo Perhar, Guloona Auo Takaloona, Jalawatan Ki Shairee, Pukhtana Shora and Da Wakht Chagha. His first poem was published in 1944 in a magazine named Pakhtun (founded by Bacha Khan) while his first poetry collection, Da Ghairat Chegha, came out in 1958. The collection was banned in Pakistan for a long time. However, his services for Pakhtun nation and Pashto language would be remembered for years. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has expressed deep grief and sorrow over the sad demise of ANP leader Ajmal Khattak. The PM in his message of condolence to the bereaved family prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul. He praised the political services of the ANP leader and declared his demise as an irreparable loss. He also prayed to Allah Almighty to give courage to the family to bear this loss. PML(N) Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif have also expressed deep sense of sorrow and grief over the death of Ajmal Khattak, renowned intellectual, an elder politician and former head of ANP. In a condolence message, both leaders of PML(N) paid rich tributes to the national services of late Ajmal Khattak and said that his service for the national politics and Pashto literature would be remembered for a long time. They have prayed Allah Almighty to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and grant courage and strength to the members of the bereaved family to bear the irreparable loss with fortitude.