When it comes to politicians, a lot of what we are exposed to is driven by hype. That hype seems to die down soon after they’re gone. Once in a blue moon there comes a politician that lives up to his or her reputation.
Iftikhar Ahmed Khan Jhagra was one such politician. As the son of Ibrahim, the Khan of Jhagra, a village that makes up the storied rural Peshawar, Iftikhar Jhagra had enormous shoes to fill.
His father was an Independence leader and led the Peshawar Division to the site where the Minar-e-Pakistan now stands in 1940. Often called the ‘Kingmaker of the Frontier’, the Khan of Jhagra made unruly politics look like a gentleman’s sport. His son Iftikhar, was a chip off the old block. However, his entrance into politics was anything but planned.
Having lost his father at the age of just 12, Iftikhar Jhagra entered Bhutto’s PPP as a young man. His mentor Hayat Sherpao sent word to his mother about Bhutto, claiming his movement was strong and it would pain Sherpao to see anyone other than Ibrahim Khan’s sons take his seat. Not long before entering active politics, Jhagra became a member of the Peshawar District Council at the age of 24. He was elected to the then Frontier Assembly in the 1985 general elections. Iftikhar’s reputation began to precede him and Pakistan’s political elite began to take notice of him.
In the 1988 elections, he joined the provincial cabinet of Aftab Sherpao as the minister for education, solidifying his reputation as a man who could not only deliver but who delivered with grace and professionalism. It seemed there was nothing he could not do.
In 1990, Jhagra ran as an independent candidate, joining Pir Sabir Shah’s government as a minister. This time he helped Sherpao become the chief minister for a second time by getting the required number of MPs to bring Shah’s government down. Sherpao eventually felt Jhagra would take his place and therefore supported Jhagra’s rival Hidayatullah Chamkani in 1993.
In 1997, Iftikhar Jhagra lost to Chamkani by a slim margin – an election that still arouses intense debate. In 2002, during the MMA’s sweep, Jhagra made a roaring comeback to the provincial assembly. He used his influence to bring the Saifullah family back from the political wilderness.
In 2008, Jhagra lost to his rival Arbab Ayub Jan by barely 200 votes – an election that even the late Jan admits he did not expect to win. Following this, Jhagra grew weary of the PPP’s leadership and Asif Zardari’s alienation of old leaders.
In 2011, Jhagra held a rally for Imran Khan where he announced joining the PTI. The rally is still remembered as the PTI’s first real show of strength in KP. Unfortunately, because of Imran Khan’s constant backtracking of his promises and his refusal to allow Jhagra to strip bear the PPP and ANP of its strongest candidates, he quit the PTI and rejoined the PPP weeks before the 2013 general elections.
His last political act was to aid Pervez Khattak to become chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Had he remained in the PTI, there is little doubt it would have been Jhagra claiming the slot rather than Aftab Sherpao’s protege. Since the 2013 elections, Jhagra’s health also slowly and gradually began to give way. The stresses and greedy machinations of new and old political entrants were not Jhagra’s cup of tea. He fought brave and he fought hard, but he was too decent and respectable a man for such corrupt schemes and intrigues.
He passed away due to cardiac arrest on April 19, 2017, just two weeks after his 63rd birthday. After his death, the face of KP politics has been severely altered for the worse. With it, comes the end of one of Peshawar’s most storied legacies, something the almost 20,000 mourners who attended his funeral will be well aware of.