Dr Hasan Zafar Arif was found dead in a car in Ibrahim Hyderi on Sunday morning. After disappearing from the public eye for several years, the left-leaning intellectual and former philosophy teacher had returned to Karachi’s political scene on May 15 last year when he announced joining the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
His move was surprising for many of his colleagues as well as the people who knew him personally because he had joined the MQM at a time when the Rangers were leading a crackdown against the party and, more importantly, after former party leaders Mustafa Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani had formed the Pak Sarzameen Party, prompting mass defections.
“I joined the MQM for two reasons,” Dr Hasan had told this scribe after joining the party at the Karachi Press Club. “Firstly, the party has been facing state repression, and secondly, for achieving the rights of the residents of Karachi. As a socialist, I feel it is the right time to join the party.”
After joining the MQM, he brought in some of his leftist colleagues – such as Sathi Ishaq Advocate, a key Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader in Karachi, and Momin Khan Momin, former president of the National Students Federation – and started delivering lectures to the party’s cadres on global, national and organisational issues.
Three months later, however, the situation turned sour for him and his newly adopted party. MQM founder Altaf Hussain’s August 22 diatribe against the country and his incitement to attacks on media houses caused majority of the Pakistan-based party leaders, led by Dr Farooq Sattar, to announce complete dissociation from the London leadership, especially from Altaf.
In this situation, when most of his loyalists had left the MQM and the law enforcement and security agencies were ready to arrest anyone who had any sort of affiliation with the party’s London faction, Altaf assigned Dr Hasan with the toughest task: to run the party in Sindh’s urban centres, especially in Karachi.
On October 14 Dr Hasan was inducted into the MQM’s 12-member interim coordination committee – five of the members had recently joined the party and three of them were based in London. Three days later he addressed a news conference at the press club, showing the London faction’s presence in the city.
However, Dr Hasan was arrested on October 22 outside the press club, where he was due to address a news conference. Police said he had facilitated Altaf’s July 29 anti-state speech delivered at the MQM headquarters, Nine Zero, over the telephone. He was released from the Central Jail Karachi in April the following year after an anti-terrorism court issued the order for his release.
Dr Hasan studied at the University of Karachi before pursuing his PhD from the University of Reading in England and engaging in post-doctoral research at the Harvard University in the US.
He had never been an MQM member or Altaf’s supporter. According to one of his acquaintances, Dr Hasan opposed the MQM’s “fascist” politics in the 1980s because he believed that the party had been dividing Karachi’s labour force over ethnicity.
Affiliated with the Communist Party of Pakistan, Dr Hasan was an instructor at KU’s Department of Philosophy and an active participant in campus politics, campaigning for the rights of teachers, non-teaching staff and for the university itself. He also served as the president of KU’s teachers’ body.
During Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime he spent several months of 1984 in jail because he had written in response to a circular of Gen Jehandad Khan, the martial law administrator for the southern zone.
He was also sacked from KU. According to his colleagues, after his dismissal he started working within the PPP and its student wing, the Peoples Students Federation, because the party was playing an active role in agitation against Zia’s dictatorship under the banner of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.
After the PPP, he also worked with the party’s Shaheed Bhutto faction. But he quit politics later over ideological differences, following which, from the platform of the Karachi Study Circle, he started delivering lectures to and training left-leaning activists as well as translating foreign publications on the socialist ideology into Urdu.