Death of a veteran

ARD convener and PDP President Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan will be remembered for his uncanny ability to build opposition alliances. Among today’s politicians he alone had the distinction of having been active in politics well before Partition, as a junior leader of the pro-Congress Majlis-e-Ahrar, on whose ticket he contested the 1946 elections unsuccessfully. After Independence he joined the PML and was elected to the Punjab Assembly on its ticket in 1951. He was thus the oldest parliamentarian still in active politics. A crusader by temperament, the Nawabzada was cut out for the role of an opposition leader. Resigning from the PML which was the party in power in the early 1950s he joined suhrawardy’s Awami League. In the 1960s he formed, along with Mr Nurul Amin the PDP, a centrist party later accused of siding with the Army during the military action in East Pakistan. The Nawabzada was elected MNA in 1962 but remained in opposition throughout the Ayub era. He was subsequently instrumental in forming the NDF, a four-party alliance which opposed the Ayub regime, and the DAC which was put together during the countrywide anti-Ayub agitation that culminated in the dictator’s overthrow. The Nawabzada played an important role in forging the PNA, an unusual combination of secular and religious parties with the one-point agenda of opposition to the Bhutto regime. Ironically, while the Nawabzada had opposed Mr Bhutto for pursuing autocratic policies, his PDP joined Zia’s cabinet along with other PNA parties. It did not however take him long to realise his mistake and he threw himself body and soul into creating the MRD, another alliance comprising disparate elements united on the two points of opposition to Zia’s dictatorship, and restoration of democracy.

Except during Ms Bhutto’s second tenure when he was Chairman of the Kashmir Action Committee, the Nawabzada remained in Opposition throughout the post-1988 period. He has been criticised for taking the fight against the Nawaz government to the point of no-return and for forming the GNA that some feel paved the way for military rule in 1999. But the indefatigable Nawabzada subsequently united the PPP and PML(N) to form the nucleus of the ARD. He then brought together the ARD and MMA in an All Parties Conference.

The Nawabzada had hoped the ARD would be the last alliance he had to form for the restoration of democracy, for he believed that in the 21st century, military rule, direct or indirect, constituted an aberration and was universally unacceptable. While this might be true in general, the future of democracy is very much tied up with the level of maturity displayed by politicians. Only in case they remain united on the issue of the supremacy of Parliament and learn to keep their differences within manageable limits, will the country have genuine democracy and the politicians succeed in keeping other players in check. The Nawabzada’s consummate skills as a deal-maker will be sorely missed by the Opposition, for not only did he play an important role in cementing the ARD components, but he was also widely respected in the MMA. His passing is a serious loss to the Opposition

Editorial, Daily Nation, Lahore