Javed hashmi

1970 doesn’t seem that distant when one is overcome by a cloud of nostalgia, encompassing memories both drear and dear. Such was the beginning of a memorable decade for me when I got admission at the Philosophy Department of the University of the Punjab. I had the privilege of meeting Prof Waris Mir, my mentor who chiseled a lot of rough corners of my political outlook and thought pattern. The best words to describe Waris Mir would be: a democracy loving, progressive and liberal intellectual and a truthful, honest and brave teacher and journalist. The timeline I am taking my readers back to while remembering Waris Mir is of a chaotic turmoil in the political history of Pakistan.

To briefly summarise it, the first general elections in Pakistan had shown sweeping results in favour of the Awami League but the winners of the poll were still waiting for the reins of power to be thrust into their hands. We were breathing the inexplicable feeling of dismay and distrust as young students of politics and current affairs. In such times, the atmosphere around us was always charged with political ions which led me to take part in my first ever election of the Student’s Union in January 1971 and won. Waris Mir was also performing the duties of the Adviser to the Students Affairs at the PU and thus we used to meet quite often. The most memorable time I would relate to is when the Vice Chancellor of the PU, Allama Allauddin Siddiqui had sanctioned a trip of the PU Students Union to the then East Pakistan.

The military operation of Bengal had begun in March 1971. Our delegation had touched the Bengali ground in October 1971, hardly three months before the dismemberment of the East Pakistan in December 1971. Waris Mir wrote a series of columns based on his experiences in the Bengal during his stay there. He was perturbed by the actuality of the situation as facts lay bare in front of his eyes. His opposition to the military offensive against the Bengalis led him to write his heart out. It was because of his 1971 visit to the then East Pakistan and the travelogue written by him that the Bangladeshi government had decorated Waris Mir and several other Pakistanis with the highest civil award of the country in 2013 including Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Dr Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Malik Ghulam Jilani, etc.

I take pride in being one of those people who were led by Waris Mir to Dhaka in those days of mortification. We had been prepared by our mentor and guide to face anti-sentiments but my first exposure to a life threat came like a blow when Mukti Bahni announced prize money of Rs 2 lac each for our heads. Prof Waris Mir was scrunched between a rock and a hard place. He didn’t only have to worry about his life but also ours. I have seen many people give up under this kind of pressure but my mentor stood firm and strong. He knew he had to complete what he had started and so our mission began.

Under storms of threats booming from the private radio station of the Mukti Bahni, we visited the Bihari Camps in Muhammad Pur and Mirpur as well as the Chittagong; at one instance we found ourselves witnessing vultures and stray dogs pulling at the human flesh of unidentified dead bodies. At another instance, we were being briefed by SK Jillani, Commissioner of Chittagong about the brutal murders committed by Mukti Bahni. One day, we were told horrifying stories of ruthlessness by the professors and students of the Dhaka University and the other day we were treated like royal guests at the PTV station in Dhaka. Regular transmission was cut off and Punjabi songs were ordered to be aired in honour of the delegates.

Being in Dhaka had its pros and cons. Ironically the pros were so much seeped into the cons that I found myself lost in a fuzzy haze of grayness. People of West Pakistan had clearly been kept blind to the situation in the East Pakistan. We felt guilty but equally helpless too. We wanted to hold a press conference in Dhaka to highlight the situation but the military officials declined our request. Now, when I see the dynamism of a free media, I am compelled to think, if media was free then, Pakistan could have been saved.

One of the striking meetings we had in those days was with General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi who informed us that India was meddling between the affairs of East and West Pakistan. When someone from the delegates asked, what if India attacks? General Niazi calmly replied, “We can take ten of India’s armies down. Let them bring it.” As the meeting ended, he gave out orders to his subordinates to make sure we would “enjoy” but our hearts were far from any sort of entertaining desire. The air reeked of gore and gloom. Once back in Lahore, we held a press conference relating our horrific delegation and the realities that lay bare in front of our eyes. Sadly, in a dictatorial regime, none of the newspapers had the spine or the permission to print a word from that press conference.

After earning my Master’s degree, seeing Waris Mir became occasional but whenever it occurred, it was a joyous moment for me. He was that sort of a man - he smiled despite the turmoil going inside of him. For him, the threats hadn’t ended with Mukti Bahni but the trail followed him for different reasons back home. His profession as a teacher, a writer, his family, his life, everything was under constant threat from those who felt insecure because of his writings and ideals.

There’s a dark side of the moon and one only needs to change the angle of perspective to bring that dark side to light. Waris Mir had that capability. The truths about the Pakistani society and politics that had been shoved away into corners untouched were brought into light in such a way that it created a literary havoc in the minds of his readers.

Just a few days before this mysterious death, I met him at a function and found him unusually blue. When I inquired, he said, “I don’t think I can take all this much longer,” a response that I could not have expected from the thunderous Waris Mir. I tried to cheer him up before we parted and all he said in return with a smiling face was, “Don’t worry about me, I have faith.”

Days later, on 9th July 1987, when I heard that he had suddenly passed away, I was shocked beyond words. On his death anniversary today, I want to stress on the fact that Pakistan is faced with problems direr than 1971. We need to open our minds and strengthen our loose ends. Prof Waris Mir was punished for writing the truth. Decades later, we have yet to start treating truthful and daring people like him well. And believe me, the loss is ours.

 Javed Hashmi is a former parliamentarian.