Crusading democrat

The death of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan snaps a precious link with the political tradition of pre-independence days and the values of decency, tolerance and commitment on which politicians of those days were nurtured. There may have been aberrations in the Nawabzada's long political career - such as allowing his party to briefly become a part of the Ziaul Haq administration - but these should be judged as errors of judgment rather than a deviation from principles for personal political gain. His conservative background did not induce in him the same active involvement with social issues that he brought to his political work, and he was unable to clearly identify the element of vindictiveness that motivated some of his colleagues in the PNA agitation of 1977. He was also rigid in his attitude to normalization of relations with India. But he was a consistent voice of dissent against the authoritarianism of both civilian and military governments, emerging as the quintessential opposition figure, and his sincerity in working for a democratic Pakistan won the respect of even those whom he publicly opposed. In recent times, he had adopted an uncompromising stand on the LFO and refused totally to accept the new dispensation.

The Nawabzada had crossed swords with both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, but in the wake of the 1988 elections, he had worked assiduously, if unsuccessfully, to persuade the PML and the PPP to work together. He had made greater headway in this direction recently by bringingthe two parties within the fold of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), and the alliance may now well be beset with a crisis of leadership. The Nawabzada had resisted any tendency to do a deal with the government and kept his flock in line by sheer force of his personality. With the Nawabzada gone, the government may make a renewed effort to poach on the ARD. The slender link between the ARD and the MMA may also come under added strain. In a Dawn Dialogue interview published just three weeks ago, the Nawabzada had described the existing situation as worse than dictatorship because all institutions had been undermined, and said: "It's like painting dictatorship as democracy. If a cock crows at midnight, it doesn't mean that it's morning."

Dawn, Editorial, 2003,09,28