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September 5, 2015

Abdul Hafeez Pirzada — a giant in politics as in law


September 5, 2015

As I stepped in, rather nervously, to meet my new boss on a September afternoon forty-one year ago to this day, I heard a loud and crisp voice ask: "so you are the new officer they have assigned?" I raised my eyes to take a look at my new boss and replied "yes sir". He then asked rather abruptly: "can you write? I mean can you write in English?" Rattled, I replied, "yes sir, I believe I can". He stared at me sternly and said, "ok there is an insurgency in Balochistan. I am leaving for Quetta tomorrow. You come along". That was the beginning of my most valuable professional association with a man who was as much a giant in politics as he later proved in his practice of law. That was Mr Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, the then Minister for Education and Provincial Coordination, second in power and esteem only to the then all powerful Mr ZA Bhutto. It could never have occurred to me in my wildest dream that four decades later, I will be writing his epitaph.
For the next ten days, we travelled on every available mode of transport-aircraft, helicopter, jeeps, boats and even mules to cover such far flung areas as Zhob, Loralai, Barkhan, Mastung, Dera Bugti, Kalat and other smaller towns and villages. We visited surrendering tribes. We met Pakistani troops deployed in those areas and we interacted with a large and varied group of Balochis. Pirzada was young then and very energetic. I was young too and proud and enthusiastic to be associated with the country's second most powerful man, popularly known as the "sohna munda" (handsome boy). On return to Islamabad, he held a press conference on the situation in Balochistan. At the end of it, as he was getting into his car, the late Afzal Zaidi, the then principal information officer (PIO) asked him, rather muttered, if the new officer (me) was upto the mark. "Oh yes, he is fine. Let him continue", replied Pirzada much to my joy and to the visible relief of the PIO. Such was the terror of the "sohna munda" who brooked no nonsense

and had little patience for fools. But he quietly appreciated intelligent and hard work. And he encouraged initiative and dedication.
In my three years of association with him until the military take over of July 4-5, 1977, I learnt much from him. He worked almost twelve hours daily and then also had time to regularly visit the provinces as the Minister for Provincial Coordination. He never ignored his National Assembly constituency in Malir and kept a regular contact with them directly as also through his political aides including the current Chairman of the Senate, Raza Rabbani. On being assigned the portfolio of finance following the general elections of 1977, he asked me to find a placement for Raza Rabbani in Islamabad. I conveyed the minister's desire to the then Finance Secretary Rauf Sheikh. A post of OSD in BS 18 was created and Rabbani held that position primarily focusing on the problems of the people of the minister's constituency. He enjoyed Pirzada's trust and confidence and I would like to believe that Rabbani got most of his early political grooming from Pirzada Saheb.
There is so much that I wish to say about Pirzada but obviously all that cannot be capsuled in one newspaper column. In those days, corruption in politics was a rarity, not the norm as it is today. Pirzada who wielded so much power and influence in the country was always in debt. I remember the National Bank Manager from the D-Block Secretariat Branch regularly visiting the minister's office and asking his private secretary to request the minister to adjust the overdraft which was perennial. The private secretary dreaded him so much that he would take weeks to bring up the issue to the notice of Pirzada who would then call his younger brother Mujeeb to send some advance money from his share of the ancestral agricultural income to settle the bank overdraft. That was the level of integrity of the man and indeed of most of the political leadership then. When Ziaul Haq ousted Bhutto, he hanged him for alleged murder but could not accuse him of corruption. Pirzada made big money later from his law practice, never from his politics.
Pirzada was exceptionally intelligent. He was brilliant and outstanding not just in politics but in every responsibility that was assigned to him. Bhutto entrusted him with many sensitive assignments. When the Tarbela Dam tunnel developed a crack threatening the Dam itself, Pirzada and not the minister for Water & Power (late Yusuf Khattak) was appointed as the head of the Cabinet Committee on Tarbela. We would encamp at Tarbela every weekend. Robert McNamara, the then President of the World Bank visited during the crisis and met the Cabinet Committee. He was briefed by Pirzada. As the briefing concluded, McNamara thanked Pirzada and said he was not aware that the minister was a hydro engineer. "I am not", replied Pirzada, "I am a lawyer by training", he explained to a visibly unbelieving McNamara.
There is so much to be said about Pirzada's many many qualities. But I will conclude by saying that as head of the agreement drafting committee, he had clinched the deal with PNA. Professor Abdul Ghafoor who was representing the opposition (PNA) at the drafting committee had agreed and we had dotted the Is and crossed the Ts. Had Ziaul Haq delayed his take over by 24 hours, the Hafiz Pirzada/Abdul Ghafoor draft would have been signed. I still have a copy of the final draft as the one who was responsible for arranging their meetings and for crossing the Ts and dotting the Is as directed by the two.
Pirzada was stern on the outside but had a soft heart. He lost it more than once. But of that, another time. In his death, Pakistan is poorer. May his soul rest in peace. Ameen.
The writer is a former federal secretary

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