The Pir Pagaro is no more. The head of the Hurs has died. More important for the rest of the country, the last head of a united PML has passed, now merely the head of a faction of the party. For the PPP, perhaps, its most implacable opponent is no more, after having joined forces with it in Sindh, but before the final breaking off that was presaged in further talks with the PML-N.

However, perhaps the most important fact about him was that he was the Pir Pagaro. That he was the seventh Pir meant that he has been preceded by the sixth, but there was no guarantee that he would succeed. That was because the sixth Pir embarked on the path of rebellion against the British, a path which ended with his hanging in 1943. Mardan Shah, the second of his name, was then only 15, and was then taken abroad to the UK along with his brother. He was brought back to Pakistan only after its creation, and the intervention of its Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. When he returned, his dastarbandi as the Pir Pagaro was carried out, and the extensive property was restored.

Pir Pagaro was a faqir, right to the end. There was a system under which the Pir’s income was divided into three, one share for the Pir, one for his family, and one for the khalifah. There were four khalifahs, who received the income for three months each, and divided the income. The khalifahs, thus, were the ones who actually paid for all the Pir’s living, which in the case of the present Pir included horseracing. However, that was relatively public. It is not commonly known that one of the Pir’s hobbies included movies, and he had one of the best video libraries in the country.

Though being the Pir Pagaro meant a lot, it was not the only explanation of his renown. After all, there had been two pirs sent out of Kingri, one Pir Pagaro, the ‘pir of the turbans’ and the other Pir Jhando, the ‘pir of the flags’, and Pir Jhando was a quiet Pir of Sindh, and his contemporary Pir Jhando died a member of the Senate, at a time he too was a member, back in 1993. Pir Pagaro was a lord of the language, and the peculiar personal language he spoke made good copy. He was a finicky soul, who only allowed certain reporters access, on a promise of good behaviour extracted from an earlier member of the charmed circle.

There was a certain logic to this, and when he adopted a more public role, some of his disciples, Hurs, resented, and showed their resentment, of the free and easy ways (like sitting down) of political workers. As they had not become workers to put their lives in danger, they were understandably put off.

However, though the Pir was a faqir, he still handled large sums of money. That was the money given by GHQ to the Hurs. The Hurs were strategically placed along the border with Pakistan. One consequence was that the Pir Pagaro had Hindus among his followers. Another was that the defence of the Sindh border with India was in Hur hands. Hurs were formed into the Mujahid Force Regiment units, which were even officered by Hurs, and only had COs and adjutants posted from the Pakistan Army, and which were equipped like Ranger units. The MRF units gave good account of themselves in the 1965 war. The Pir’s main connection to the military was thus created.

Another reason why the military used him in the Zia era was because he was implacably opposed to the PPP. This is said to be because Bhutto’s father, the late Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, was a disciple of the Pir Pagaro, then Pir Sibghatullah, but Sir Shahnawaz played a key role in his hanging. So much so, that when Zulfikar Ali was hanged, he is supposed to have said: “Today my father is avenged.” It is said that when Pir Pagaro returned, the Hurs asked for permission to revenge themselves on Sir Shahnawaz. The Pir is supposed to have forbidden them, saying that “Allah will take my revenge.” Pir Pagaro lived to see not just Sir Shahnawaz, but his two sons, his two grandsons, one of his granddaughters, and his two daughters-in-law, die, some naturally, but some violently. Indeed, while she was still alive, the Pir spoke of Benazir as like a daughter, who had been to the same school as his children.

Pir Pagaro was in some ways the quintessential pir of politics. As pirs have great followings, so did Pir Pagaro, who was one of the great pirs of Sindh, a land which has many pirs. However, his opposition to Bhutto did not allow him to do what many pirs did, which was to join the PPP. The prime example of that are the Pirs of Hala, the present incumbent, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, being in the federal Cabinet as Senior Minister, and who almost became Prime Minister. The present Prime Minister is linked to the Pir, being the father-in-law of one of his granddaughters. The Pir had a previous marriage link to the Punjab, himself being married to the daughter of Makhdoom Ghulam Miran Shah, who was the father of Makhdoom Hassan Mahmood, and thus the grandfather of the present Makhdoom of Jamaldin Wali, Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood. However, the Pir divorced this wife after fathering a number of children, including three sons.

It is to be noted that, if one sees the photographs of the Pir’s grandfather, one would easily mistake him for the Pir, dressed in the special robes of the Pir. Similarly, the Pir’s eldest son, named Sibghatullah after the Pir’s father, but popularly known as Raja Sain, who has served as a Sindh Minister, resembled him greatly. Both had the same leonine cast of countenance, which marked the Rashidis. Raja Sain was victorious on a provincial seat in 1988, 1990 and 1993, even as the Pir went down to massive defeats by the PPP on the national seat. It is said of the Hurs that they said that their head belonged to the Pir, but their vote to Bhutto.

Whatever the reason, the Pir spent lavishly on the mosque complex at Pir Jo Goth, which is down the road from Kingri, where the Pir’s ancestors came from, and with which he still identified, to the extent of calling his Karachi residence Kingri House. The Pir has been buried at Pir Jo Goth, where he was also born, and where there was the annual appearance on Eidul Azha, which took place from the balcony of the house which was within the mosque complex. The Pir was fond of the mosque complex, which also included a madressa, the Jamia Rashidiyya, because of which the Pir said he was not a Brelvi, as the Jamia Rashidiyya was older than either the madressa at Rae Bareilly or the one at Deoband, after which the Sunni schools are known.

The Pir is buried alongside his ancestors, an appropriate fate his father did not share, his successor, following the tradition of the Hur jamaat, has been named, so that the Jamaat might not be without a head above ground, and its members might not be without a Pir. The new Pir will obviously inherit some of the political position of the late Pir, but he cannot for some time, and until he demonstrates the requisite qualities of head and heart, hope to aspire to that position, he will not be given it. That position changed from the time Mardan Shah came back to his gaddi, and a new country, and almost led to his becoming Ziaul Haq’s Vice-President under the Interim Constitution, but ended with his becoming an elder statesman, probably the most senior of the country’s elder statesmen.

    The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.