Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw
Home > Tributes and Remembrances > Iqbal Haider (14 January 1945 - 11 November 2012)

Iqbal Haider (14 January 1945 - 11 November 2012)

by, 11 November 2012

print version of this article print version

Iqbal Haider the distinguished Pakistani democrat who campaigned for peace, human rights and secularism, died on 11 November 2012 in a Karachi. In the past few years Iqbal Haider lobbied the governments of India and Pakistan to address human rights of prisoners jailed in the each other’s country.

o o o


1. Press Release by Forum for Secular Pakistan

November 12, 2012

The Forum for Secular Pakistan, expresses its grief and deep sorrow on the sad demise of their comrade, the President of the Forum for Secular Pakistan, Mr Iqbal Haider. He in his political career and as a lawyer stood for the oppressed people of the country, with specific focus on human rights.

It was his endeavor and effort the most that motivated us to form the Forum for Secular Pakistan, in the growing religion extremism. He was firm believer of secular values and the right of professing religion each according to every one’s belief and faith as a fundamental right which is also enshrined as Article 20 in the Constitution, which, however, has severely been violated to the extent of creating an existentialist crisis for the country.

Mr Iqbal Haider had committed to himself for rest of his life, with the struggle of secular Pakistan as a sole object to which he used to phrase as Jinnah’s Pakistan. He was a firm believer that all roads to go forward for  this country are beginning from the very clarity that it is a secular state and gives a secular education.

Mr Iqbal Haider was of the opine that the root cause in the failure of taking Jinnah’s vision and set guidelines, lies in the betrayal of the ruling elite whose roots are lying in the class formation of it which, he believed, is basically feudal which like the feudal of 17th century of Europe was with the church, is with the Madarasas triggered religion extremism.

Mr Iqbal Haider had set his all focus in preparing the nation with particular emphasis on working class, peasants, youth and intelligentsia that to stand with the side of history which inevitably has decided for this country to be secular or if it cannot move forward in that direction it cannot be able to move forward as a country at all.

The Forum and all those who were agreed on the cause of secular Pakistan have suffered an irreparable loss on the departure of Comrade Iqbal Haider. May God Rest his soul in peace. He shall however be remembered as a source of inspiration for the struggle of secular Pakistan and hence for Jinnah’s Pakistan

Javed Ahmed Qazi

o o o

The News, November 13, 2012

Remembering Iqbal Haider

by Zafar Hilaly

It’s difficult to believe that Iqbal Haider is no longer in our midst. Just about everything about him was larger than life, from his loud greeting to his unannounced arrival at some unearthly hour at night with a cheerful smile, as if to say, “Come on, wake up, break out the food; you know we only live once and are dead forever.”

And, indeed, he lived like that. His was a full life. I can think of no good cause that he did not espouse; no evil that he did not raise his voice against; nowhere that he was not prepared to go to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, the disadvantaged or the poor.

He ultimately lost his job as law minister for supporting, of all people, the right of Shaikh Rashid – then an MNA but imprisoned on some frivolous charge – being allowed to attend parliament when in session.

A furious Benazir Bhutto had demanded to know why the foulmouthed Shaikh Rashid had been allowed out of prison without her consent and asked who was responsible for the decision.

Iqbal Haider immediately said he had done so, because it was the law, and offered his resignation in the same breath, and BB, by then too far launched in her tirade to seem to have second thoughts, accepted it there and then.

As it happened, Iqbal was right. And, as he sauntered into my room after the cabinet meeting, there was not a word of recrimination or resentment for the public dressing down to which he had been subjected.

He liked and respected BB too much for that; he owed her a lot and, like many of us who did, could not entertain a wicked thought about her. So he returned to his office, took leave of his officers, went back to the unkempt quarters he occupied in Islamabad and flew home to Karachi, the city he loved.

The subject of Iqbal’s resignation was a taboo subject with BB. So I really never got to know why it had upset her as much as it did. But several months later, when she suggested that I lead a delegation to Brazil for the inauguration ceremony of the new president of Brazil (to compensate for the long hours I had put in in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat), I told her that a federal secretary was not the appropriate level for the occasion and pointed out that the US delegation was being represented by Attorney General Janet Reno. “So who?” she asked, somewhat impatiently. “Iqbal Haider,” I replied. BB paused, looked up from the file she had been working on, and said, “All right,” showing that she harboured no grudge against him.

I dashed off to inform him. “Groovy,” I recall telling him (“Groovy” was the nickname his hairstyle earned him), “you are leading the delegation to Brazil and I’m your deputy.”

There were hoops of joy (actually, affectionate abuse), at the other end of the line, only because we would be in Rio at Carnival time.

A devoutly secular man who passionately believed in Jinnah’s words that “religion has nothing to do with the business of the state,” Groovy had an unerring eye for trouble in the making. He foresaw the curse the Taliban would become and missed no opportunity to say so.

At a time when most of his peers thought the fanatics and extremists were at worst a nuisance, he pointed to the lethal danger they posed and, of course, heaped the blame on the military.

But he was much more scathing of his fellow civilian politicians for tolerating extremism. He understood their motives, scoffed at them and, on this count, at least, held them in contempt.

Seldom in public life in Pakistan has there been a man who spoke up for women’s rights as forcefully as Groovy did. He believed women were stronger than men, more patient and braver.

He was never condescending towards women and somehow, to me at least, sounded much more convincing and balanced when arguing with them than with men. Women seemed to sense this and reciprocated the respect he accorded them.

Groovy loved to travel. And in London he spent much of his time with my brother. He loved the good life but, as often as not, would end up eating his favourite desi dish in some small Pakistani-run restaurant after charming the owner into producing what he wanted and with the chapati of just the right size and thinness.

If he was a difficult customer, none of them showed it, and by the time the bill arrived, the owner was feeling guilty that he was charging a friend.

For some reason, Groovy felt there was no more important relationship for Pakistan than India. And he was determined to play his part in forging a friendship between the two countries.

He never turned down an invitation to India, and while there endeared himself to Indians. He once told me that he never ran down Pakistan to the Indians, “I tell them the truth about us.”

“Well, Groovy,” I recall saying once, “that amounts much to the same thing if they don’t admit the truth about themselves. Don’t you get it?”

“No,” he countered, “the truth is catching up with them. Look at the corruption issue. They thought we were more corrupt, but the sums involved in India are staggering and they don’t talk about our corruption anymore.”

Groovy was a much-sought-after guest at TV talk-shows. His command of Urdu was flawless and his criticism of people and policies in Urdu was trenchant, measured and devastating. Though, of course, his English was good, often when we appeared together he would turn to me and ask what the word he was searching for was.

And, invariably I would reply with something outrageous and inappropriate that could not be repeated on TV. Groovy would burst out laughing, and much of the time the whole scene had to be reshot. When the programme was going out “live” and that luxury was not available, Groovy would warn me before we went on, “Bastard, don’t make me laugh.”

There was not a crumb of pretence and hypocrisy about Groovy, which is rare among politicians. He was by nature so open, spontaneous and genuine that it was impossible for him to hide what he truly felt, and it is to his eternal credit that he didn’t try. In comparison his sins, such as they may have been, were trifling and I am sure He will assess him accordingly and forgive them. After all, he gave to his country all he had, which is enough surely to gain a friend in heaven.

The writer is a former ambassador.

o o o

The News on Sunday, 18 November 2012

We’ll miss your ‘groove’

With the death of Iqbal Haider, Pakistan has lost an ardent human rights and peace activist

by Beena Sarwar

The protests outside Karachi Press Club will be all the poorer without Senator Syed Iqbal Haider’s energising presence. Activists promoting any good cause could count on him to be there — whether it was justice for Mukhtaran Mai, protest against Shia killings, or a call for peace between India and Pakistan.

Essentially, he was always there to support any assertion of human rights. And he could be relied upon to inject energy into a gathering if asked to address it. If not, he would stand in silent support, with none of the airs and graces one might expect from someone who had held such exalted positions in government — Senator, Federal Law Minister, Attorney General of Pakistan.

The TV cameras would inevitably find him and focus on him as he made a passionate speech, the pitch and temp rising as he blasted extremists, terrorists, mischief makers, incompetent bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and army generals. He boldly and openly spoke out against anyone contributing to make life hell for ordinary people.

A graduate of the Punjab University Law College, he had been closely associated with the late Benazir Bhutto, and was active in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against the military dictator Ziaul Haq, a cause for which he was arrested several times. He had also borne his share of police baton charges and tear gas.

He was a founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP, which he later served as co-Chairperson) and of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). In 2005, he resigned from the PPP to concentrate on human rights activism.

“We mourn the loss of Mr Iqbal Haider, our dear friend from Pakistan. His contribution to the cause of Indo/ Pak peace process was enormous!” tweeted the film producer Mahesh Bhatt on hearing the news.

In November 2007, Iqbal Haider was among those present at the HRCP office in Lahore where activists gathered to formulate a response to Gen Musharraf’s ‘Emergency’. When the police raided the building and started rounding up activists, Iqbal Haider put up a spirited resistance, spryly skipping around the security walas trying to grab him and confiscate his cell phone, which he loudly refused to give up. The memory remains in many minds as a moment of high drama and also a source of much mirth.

The cell phone was eventually wrested from him and the arrested activists were carted off (literally, in the case of Salima Hashmi who calmly continued writing her notes, forcing the police to heave up the chair she was sitting on and carry it to the police mobile, at which point she got off and hopped into the van of her own accord). At the sub-jail, a house in Model Town, Iqbal Haider gleefully produced another cell phone to keep up his channel of communication with the outside world.

The detained activists made light of the situation, and much of the home-cooked feasts that were delivered to them, for the two days they were there. Still, it must have been difficult for those like Iqbal Haider who were on medication.

His commitment to peace between India and Pakistan was absolute and he spoke out boldly for it. At a demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club to condemn the Mumbai attacks of Nov 26, 2008, he pointed out the timing of these attacks, following President Asif Ali Zardari’s address to the Hindustan Times Conclave, at which he had stated that Pakistan would follow a no-first use nuclear policy. The attack four days later was no coincidence, suggested Iqbal Haider, as those involved had moved earlier than originally planned in order to teach the elected civilian government a lesson.

In fact, he was due to visit Mumbai for the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks, and as well as to attend a function in honour of Kuldip Nayar on November 28.

The Constitutional Petition (No.48/2010) he filed and pursued pro bono in July 2010 before the Supreme Court on behalf of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and PILER led to the Court ordering all cases of imprisoned fishermen to be heard expeditiously, preferably within a period of six weeks. The Court also ruled that all prisoners held under the Foreigners Act should be released and repatriated forthwith, if they had completed their sentences.

As a result, some 442 Indian fishermen were released and repatriated in one go, starting the process of a large number of Indian prisoners being released from Pakistan and vice versa.

Iqbal Haider was among the joint India-Pakistan delegation including Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Karamat Ali, as well as Kuldip Nayar, Mahesh Bhatt and Jatin Desai, who met with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and then home minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi, in September. The meeting led to India releasing some 50 Pakistani fishermen as a reciprocal gesture.

In September 2011, despite his ill health, Jatin Desai recalls how Iqbal Haider travelled a gruelling 700 km by road to meet the fisherfolk of Gujarat, Daman and Diu in India, along with Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and trade unionist Karamat Ali. It was their consistent efforts that led to the release of another large batch of Indian fishermen (179) from Malir Jail, Karachi, in January 2012.

“In his passing away, the fishing community of Gujarat and Diu (India) has lost a true friend and a saviour,” said the Porbandar Boat Owners’ Association and fishermen of Gujarat and Diu in a statement shared by Jatin Desai.

His friends worried for his safety and his health. Just six months ago, he had accepted the position of President, the Forum for Secular Pakistan (FSP), formed in response to the growing religion extremism in the country.

Iqbal Haider was a firm believer in secular values, a secular state and secular education, and the right of each person to profess their own religious beliefs, a fundamental right which is also enshrined as Article 20 in the Constitution.

For all the seriousness of the causes he supported, Iqbal Haider was a fun-loving person and a gentleman who went by the unlikely nickname ‘Groovy’. He was hospitalised just last month after feeling unwell and seemed to have recovered but was re-admitted last week with breathing difficulties and heart problems. When he sent an SMS out to friends telling them he was in the CCU in a Karachi hospital, no one expected that he would breathe his last there just two days later, on the morning of Nov 11.

As Lahore-based lawyer and environmentalist Rafay Alam’s tweeted: “RIP Senator Iqbal Haider. Your Groove will be missed.”

Yes, we will miss you Iqbal Haider, in all the struggles you were engaged with. I imagine you smiling upon us as these struggles continue, given impetus not only by your memory but your decades of consistent hard work and passion.