Lessons from a lost battle

A valuable resource of Mairaj Mohammad Khan’s life as well as left politics in Pakistan

Lessons from a lost battle

‘Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan’. But if we can learn lessons from the life and struggle of those who have spent their lives for a cause without achieving their goals or ideals, we may see some light. But for this, one needs to avoid pride and prejudice, a prerequisite for any rational analysis.

Pakistan’s degenerated left is still reluctant to do it partly due to a state of denial and particularly due to their prejudices. Some leaders are still enmeshed in the 1960s or 1970s’ factionalism while some are not ready to analyse the post-Soviet Union ground realities. The new and young leftists may find it easier to deconstruct it because of their fortunate absence from old left politics.

Unfortunately, Pakistani left has no archives of documents and, on top of it, progressive workers and leaders did not write their stories extensively. Without such archives, no one can contribute to it and that is the missing element.

The book Mairaj Mohammad Khan is a resource of left politics in Pakistan. Although it covers a relatively small period and deals with the complexities of those left groups who supported the newly-formed PPP in 1970 elections, this period is largely missing in the hardcore left narrative.

Jamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Musaddiq of Iran had provoked the nationalists and progressive elements to work together; but the objective conditions in the subcontinent were much different from countries run under kingships and totalitarianisms.

In Pakistan, some left groups tried nationalism (Sindhi, Baloch, Pukhtoon, Bengali) and had formed the National Awami Party (NAP) in the late 1950s and supported the Soviet bloc (misleadingly known as the socialist bloc). But till 1966, NAP was divided between the Chinese and Soviet camps, disappointing many progressives. Some of them had formed their own groups while some had joined the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Analysis of those leftists who joined the PPP is still largely missing in the left narratives. Mairaj Mohammad Khan was among those who left Tufail Abbas’s communist group based in Karachi in the late 1960s. He joined the PPP, but quit the party in haste due to his romanticism (he admitted it in an interview with M Mir, available on YouTube). He also tried his best to develop a parallel party but failed.

The book Mairaj Mohammad Khan is a resource of left politics in Pakistan. Although it covers a relatively small period and deals with the complexities of those left groups who supported the newly-formed PPP in 1970 elections, this period is largely missing in the hardcore left narrative.

But his failure after having joined the PPP cannot justify the politics of hardcore left, a misconception that the left usually presents in its defence. In his 2011 interview, he did not praise anyone from the left but Z.A. Bhutto, along with his policies and vision. He had resigned from the post of minister in 1972 during the decisive month of October when the interim constitution was ready to be signed. In that interview, he regretted that decision in his nastaaleeque (cultured) style "it was a period of romanticism". But some comrades still praise that act of resignation misleadingly -- Wazarat ko laat mar di (he spurned ministership).

Mairaj was among the various exponents of people’s politics, partly due to his inheritance and partly due to his ideological association with the Maoists. His father, Maulana Taj Muhammad, Lath-mar, was a leader of the Khilafat Movement in Furrukhabad (UP). So, like his brothers, he inherited many good and bad things too. On the one hand they were against colonialism and dictatorships, but on the other hand they were against democracy and national election system.

Under the banner of armed or people’s struggle, their ideals were Soviet or Chinese style totalitarianisms. Instead of Parchi (elections), their ideal was Barchi (armed struggle). In kingships and colonial societies, one may justify the armed struggle but it was hard to justify it in India and Pakistan that adopted a federal and constitutional way right from their inception.


On the eve of 1970 elections, Mairaj was double-minded and had signed the candidate form despite opposition from Tufail Abbas group. But at the eleventh hour, his elder brother, Minhaj Barna (he was also in the same communist group), intervened and had him change his decision. Khwaja Saleem, a tested friend of Mairaj, has narrated the story in this book as well. Saleem, the first secretary of the PPP Rawalpindi, called it the biggest mistake of the pro-PPP Pakistani left. A few contributors to this book have accepted that mistake in the book too, yet majority of writers used cliché or stereotypes largely.

The book is a compilation of almost 44 articles, majority of the published in newspapers, compiled by a tested colleague of Mairaj and a vibrant political worker Arshad Butt. The book needs revision not only due to errors but also due to repetitions. In the preface Butt, unlike his comrades, acknowledges Mairaj’s struggle along with his mistakes especially his joining of the PTI and his support for dictator Musharraf. Arshad Butt was PTI Lahore President but he had resigned much before Mairaj in March 2000 when Imran Khan announced his support for Musharraf.

Many contributors unsuccessfully tried their best to justify Mairaj’s meeting with the dictator Musharaf; yet the most interesting revelations are penned by Advocate Hamid Khan. "In April 2002 Musharraf asked Imran [Khan] for support in the referendum and invited PTI central committee members to meet him….me and Mairaj were only two who opposed this idea of supporting him and his referendum…majority of members believed that in the absence of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, there is a chance for Imran Khan for Premiership and we should not lose that chance….so all decided to meet Musharraf. I refused to go…after meeting I told Mairaj that if you can go with Imran it will be good.." The PTI had supported Musharraf since March 2000 when Arshad Butt resigned but Hamid Khan remained in the party.

Mairaj was offered to form a mohajir party two times, first by Karachi industrialists (Seths) during dictator Yahya times but he refused. In 1978, dictator Ziaul Haq himself offered him the same proposition and as per Mairaj’s interviews, he had refused and after that Ziaul Haq selected Altaf Hussain for that job. After his release and refusal to Zia, in 1978, Mairaj formed his own party Qaumi Mahaz-e-Azadi. Interestingly, in that party, he was president and his secretary general Iqbal Haider was also a Karachi mohajir.

Mairaj Mohammad Khan was a vibrant political leader who inspired many people across the country. But he committed mistakes too. A rational analysis of his politics will help us unfold the strengths and weaknesses of people’s politics.

Mairaj Mohammad Khan
Compiled by: Arshad Butt
Publisher: Fiction House, Lahore, 2017
Pages: 224
Price: Rs500

Lessons from a lost battle