MUHAMMAD ASLAM KHAN KHATTAK ..............A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.
Mr. Aslam Khattak received me at his house in University Town, Peshawar, and led me to the front veranda. The veranda overlooks the garden that his late wife had tended with great care. He said he always feels her presence there. Taslim Aslam Khattak's death last year had been a wrench. It took Aslam Khan some time to realize that after almost sixty years she had left him and their three daughters, forever.
Aslam Khan Khattak, the eldest son ofKhan Bahadur Muhammad Quli Khan, was born in Chitral on 5th. April 1908. An octogenarian, Muhammad Aslam Khan Khattak stands over six feet tall and as erect as any man half his age. He has always lived a very disciplined life, eating carefully, sleeping early and exercising regularly. Although of commanding appearance, he is an utterly charming man. Loving and affectionate, he is hospitable to the core. The only exception is when people visit him with a cough or a cold (which he fears like the plague)!
Aslam Khattak is a keen sportsman. He used to swim, play tennis and was particularly fond of mountaineering. He says that short of the highest peaks of the Hindu Kush he has climbed all the mountains that came his way, in Abbotabad and Kabul. Football was a passion with him in school and he was the captain of his school team. Young Aslam had just matriculated, when his father advised him to take up a sport that he could play for the rest of his life. Introducing his son to tennis he bought him a Slazenger racquet and engaged a coach to teach him the game. As with everything he did Aslam Khattak went on to master Tennis, winning prize after prize, at college and university.
Aslam Khattak's political career is well known, I therefore asked him to tell me more about his early life. With an engaging smile he confessed that, if it hadn't been for his father's stern control, he might have been an outlaw with the Faqir of Ipi. Admitting to being a very mischievous boy, he says he preferred to ride, hunt and generally enjoy himself. Although he was not interested in his books, his father saw to it that his tutors accompanied him wherever he went. The iron control paid off, and Aslam Khattak grew to be a son that any father could be justly proud of.
Shabqadar Primary School was the first school he attended, before going on to The Islamia Collegiate School, Peshawar. When he was in the 7th.Class, the Deputy Commissioner (Griffiths), advised his father to send Aslam Khan to the Cadet College at Dehra Dun. Aslam Khan's uncle found out about it while Aslam was still being fitted out for his new uniforms, and put Quli Khan on the mat.
`Do we have so many sons that we can afford to sacrifice one for the British? ' he said.
That was the end of Aslam Khan's nascent military career.
Aslam Khattak remembers that when he Matriculated he used to repeat to himself, "Aslam, Matriculate". No other scholastic success gave him as much pleasure. After graduating from the Islamia College, Peshawar, Aslam Khattak left for Great Britain in 1928. Enrolling at the Brasenose College, Oxford University, he secured an M.A. degree and was called to the Bar in 1933. At Oxford he was the President of the Khyber Union, a member of the Oxford Union (1929) and Secretary of the October Club. Mr. Aslam Khattak has been the President of the Ox-bridge Union for the last seven years, and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Afghan Academy.
While a student at Oxford Aslam Khattak said he worked for the Pakistan Movement and was a co-author of the booklet "Now or Never" (1930), which coined the word `Pakistan', (the `A' stood for Afghania, i.e. the pathans of N.W.F.P.). The Scotland Yard record that followed him to India put him down as a revolutionary, due to his anti-british activities.
Speaking to Mr.Khattak about his career, one is astonished at his successes in several fields. Aslam Khattak speaks, reads and writes Pashtu, Urdu, Punjabi, Persian, Arabic, French and English. He says he did a journalism course from Brussels, and introduced freestyle essays in Pashtu literature in his booklet "Gul Masti". He also says he wrote a pashtu play, "Da Veno Jam". This was highly commended in the literary supplement of `The Times' (London), when it was later translated into English.
On his return from Oxford, for a while, Aslam Khattak practiced as a Barrister. He said with amusement that people engaged him not because of his brilliance, but because he was his father's son. Earning a high score in the Civil Service examination he opted for the Foreign Service. That was not to be, short of an act of Parliament, no Indian could join the Foreign Service. Joining the Civil Service, he took over as Publicity Officer from his father. The Publicity Office was a camouflage for the Intelligence Services. The Chief Secretary did not want to hand over the Intelligence portfolio to Aslam Khattak because of his record as a revolutionary. Griffiths, the Governor now, trusted his friend, Quli Khan's son, and the complete portfolio was handed over to Aslam Khattak.
The first Radio Station in India was set up in Peshawar. The Marconi Company wanted to set up a broadcasting station in India and had about fifty receiving sets to go with it. All the major provinces were keen to get the station. Griffiths argued that there were no newspapers in the remote regions of the Frontier Province and the Bolsheviks had infiltrated the tribal areas. He convinced the Viceroy that the Broadcasting Station was the only means of countering Communist propaganda. The Broadcasting Station was sanctioned for Peshawar; Aslam Khattak as Publicity Officer, was in charge of it.
In 1936, as one of the five candidates for foreign representation, he was selected as the Trade Agent to Afghanistan. Aslam Khattak remembers that there were no metalled roads in Kabul at that time. To clear the way they had to carry shovels and pickaxes in their cars. The British enclave, now the Pakistan Embassy, consisted of a walled compound. It was against the rules for Indian employees of the Mission to use the main gate. They had to use another, smaller gate. This rule was broken for Aslam Khan. He said that he was not only the first Indian who entered through the main gate, but was also a house-guest of the British Minister, Sir Fraser Trackler.
Aslam Khattak was recalled from Kabul under a cloud, and he related the events that led up to it. One day he was visiting the office of Khan Bahadur Sikander Khan. He found Mir Munshi from Tal (Karak) in tears, as Counsellor Worth had abused him. Aslam Khan couldn't understand why he had taken the abuse lying down and asked,
"Where was your tongue? why didn't you abuse him back?"
Stung, Mir Munshi rushed to Counsellor Worth's office and roundly abused him. Pandemonium broke out at the office. The Military Attache's report held Aslam Khattak responsible for the whole affair. On his return to Peshawar Dr.Khan Sahib, the N.W.F.P. Chief Minister, welcomed the young Khattak as a hero and refused to sack him.Meanwhile, the DIG (Haripur) applied for a six-month leave. Dr. Khan Sahib sanctioned it and ordered that Aslam Khattak take over Haripur Jail. The Jail was an important prison. The Chief Secretary, Mr. Dundas, objected on the grounds of Khattak's inexperience, but Dr. Khan Sahib insisted.
Although Aslam Khattak has served as Ambassador, Governor and Federal Minister, he says that the job he enjoyed most was that of Superintendent Haripur Jail. In that job he could do the most good for suffering humanity. His tenure at Haripur jail, was marked by a humane administration, and an improvement in living conditions. Aslam Khattak ensured that imprisoned boys were educated up to the sixth class and that the prisoners were given vocational training. As a pathan Aslam Khan realized that most of the prisoners were victims of tribal feuds. He encouraged rival factions to reach a compromise. Charges were then dropped, and the men freed. This policy lead to the release of many prisoners, and the end of several blood feuds. Seeing the effect of his work, the I.G Police and the Chief Minister delegated their powers of remission of sentence to Aslam Khattak, which he used sagaciously and to good effect.
Meanwhile, Dr. Khan Sahib's Congress government resigned. The Chief minister's favouritism had made many jealous of Khattak. There were rumours that Congressite prisoners at Haripur jail were given preferential treatment. While the Governor was on leave, Aslam Khan was transferred to D.I.K as Judicial Officer. On his return, Sir George Cunningham (the Governor, and another friend of his father), posted Aslam Khan to Delhi, where he was Director Counter Propaganda. In Delhi, Dr. Khan Sahib and other Congressite leaders often stayed with him. The Foreign Office was infuriated and wrote a negative report about Khattak. Once more Sir George Cunningham protected his friend Quli Khan's son. Khattak was recalled and appointed as Registrar Co-operative Societies with the additional portfolio of Director Industries and Post-War Reconstruction Officer.
In 1946 Aslam Khattak was appointed Director of Public Instruction. He enjoyed working in the Education Department, as education was a subject close to his heart. School Uniforms were introduced and the Department was streamlined. Meanwhile, Yusuf Khattak, disagreeing with Khan Abdul Qayum Khan's undemocratic style of politics, fell out with the Chief Minister. Khan Qayum's vengeance fell on his elder brother, Aslam Khattak. When all efforts to dislodge him from the Education Department failed, he was kicked upstairs. As Educational Advisor he was side-lined and had no real job.
The Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, the friend and mentor of his younger brother, then appointed Aslam Khan to the Ministry of State Frontier Regions, at Karachi. Next he was sent to Afghanistan as Counselor Minister in the Pakistan Embassy. In 1955, when he was Charge-de-affaire, the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul was attacked. The Embassy had prior knowledge of the attack and Aslam Khattak waited alone on the ground-floor. Wave after wave of attackers damaged and looted the embassy. He was warned that the Wazirs, who had murder in their hearts, were on their way to the Embassy. Aslam Khattak welcomed the attacking Waziris in the Bannu-pashtu dialect. They stopped short, surprised to find a fellow Pakhtun at the helm of affairs, and the situation was diffused. The Government of Pakistan sent Aslam Khattak a letter of Commendation on his handling of the situation.
During his tenure as Ambassador to Afghanistan Aslam Khan contacted the Faqir of Ipi, who was exiled in Afghanistan. He was working on a plan where the Faqir would become the Wali of Waziristan, on the same lines as Swat. Aslam Khattak hoped his plan would tame the troublesome agency, while at the same time giving the Government of Pakistan a chance to develop it.The Martial Law of 1958 also saw the end of another dream. Aslam Khan planned on bringing about a confederation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The American Government, backing the plan, agreed to develop Gawadar and the port of Karachi in exchange. They also agreed to build a railroad from Chaman to Kandahar and from Landikotal to Jalalabad. They were to donate five thousand locomotives and five hundred wagons for the railroad.King Zahir Shah, Sardar Daud and other high ranking Afghans visited Pakistan while President Iskander Mirza and the Prime Minister Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy visited Afghanistan. In 1956, Aslam Khattak had a narrow escape when, during a Naval exercise for the visiting Afghans, a ricocheting bullet hit Aslam Khattak. The Government of Pakistan compensated him with a plot on Hospital Road.
Aslam Khattak was recalled from Afghanistan in 1958, and was awarded the Sitara-e-Pakistan in recognition of his meritorious service. Within six months of the appointment of the new Ambassador relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were at the lowest ebb. All plans for a confederation were shelved. In 1959 Aslam Khattak was appointed the Ambassador to Iraq. Kuwait came under the Pakistani Ambassador. Kuwaiti independence was imminent and Aslam Khattak decided to be the first to greet the Emir as `Your Majesty'. On a visit to Kuwait he greeted the Emir in Arabic, `As'salam alaikum ya Jalala til Malik.' The Emir was pleased. He invited Aslam Khattak to stay at the palace and expressed the desire to visit Pakistan on his first state visit. Unfortunately, the Foreign Office did not extend the expected invitation and Kuwait drew closer to India, instead.
President Ayub Khan recalled Aslam Khan from Iraq. The pretext was that he was not popular in the Foreign Office. Khattak did not take kindly to the insinuation that he had not been a highly successful diplomat. He refused the offer of a job within the country and tendered his resignation on the spot. Aslam Khan was at a loose end, not knowing what to do next. Mr. Amjad Ali gave him the idea of setting up a beverages plant.On a visit to Lahore Mr. Hassan Shirazi offered him a partnership in the Coca Cola Franchise. Mr. Shirazi would run the Rawalpindi plant while Aslam Khattak ran the Peshawar plant. Mr. Khattak later bought out Mr. Shirazi to become sole owner of the Peshawar\Rawalpindi franchise.
In 1965 Aslam Khattak made his debut in Political life from his family seat, PF-26- Kohat 111-Karak. As with the rest of his career, his political career has been highly successful. Aslam Khattak avoids confrontation; always looking for a compromise to the status quo.Winning again in the 1970 elections as an Independent candidate, he formed the `United Front' and was elected the Speaker of the N.W.F.P. Assembly.
I discovered the keynote of Aslam Khattak's style of politics from an anecdote he told me. On President Bhutto's visit to Simla he invited the Chief Minister Mufti Mahmud and Mr. Wali Khan to a breakfast meeting. When Wali Khan agreed to speak in support of the President in the Assembly, Mufti Sahib, in all innocence asked, `Are we not enemies of Bhutto?' Aslam Khattak explained to Mufti Sahib that in Politics you do not have enemies, only opponents. This view has always been the guiding principle of his political life.
When Mr.Bhutto sacked Arbab Sikander Khan Khalil, the Governor of N.W.F.P., Aslam Khattak joined the PPP and was appointed Governor N.W.F.P. His boyhood dream had come true. He remembers that on passing his Matriculation he had written "When I am Governor I will appoint you to a high post," in a friend's book. He also remembers that as a young boy, whenever he cycled past the Government House, he vowed to live there some day.
In 1974 Mr.Bhutto appointed Khattak as the Ambassador to Iran. His diplomatic skills were once more used to further Pakistan's interests. Iran and Pakistan relations improved under his stewardship. On his return from Iran Aslam Khattak devoted himself to his beverage business until the 1977 elections. He contested the elections on a PPP ticket and lost to the JUI.
Learning the art of Pakistani Politics, which is played under quite different and original rules, Aslam Khattak contested the 1985 elections and was elected to General Zia-ul-Haq's Majlis Shura. In the Junejo Government he was first the Interior Minister and later Minister of Communications and Railways. When General Zia sacked the Junejo Government, Khattak was appointed Senior Minister.
Then General Zia-ul-Haq died and the 1990 elections were held. Aslam Khattak stood for the National Assembly on a Muslim League ticket, and lost. Benazir Bhutto was elected the Prime Minister. When her Government was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan,.and fresh elections were called, Aslam Khattak was returned as an Independent candidate. Nawaz Sharif included him in his cabinet as Minister of Inter-provincial Co-ordination. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan once again dismissed the government. Elections were held, but Khattak lost and began devoting more time to his beverage business, commuting between Peshawar and Islamabad; and entertaining his many friends.
I asked Aslam Khattak about what he believes are his greatest achievement and his greatest disappointment in life. He did not have to think very long and his answer came from the heart. His greatest achievement, he said, is that he always spoke the truth before dictators, yet they become his friends. That I would put down to his inimitable style of coating a bitter pill in the most endearing manner. His step-mother always said he was `honey-tongued'. His greatest disappointment he says is that he was withdrawn as Ambassador before he could bring about the confederation between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is only right that his pleasures and disappointments come from his public life. Having led such a varied, successful and high profile public life, his private life is humdrum in comparison!
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