Larger than life

Nawaz Khokhar, the former National Assembly deputy speaker, breathed his last on January 9

Nawaz Khokhar,, the head of the politically active Khokhar clan, passed away on January 9. He was 74 and suffering from a coronavirus infection. He is survived by three sons. Three days before his death, his brother Imtiaz Khokar had passed away.

The two brothers are now buried side by side in their ancestral graveyard in Koral area of Rawalpindi, but they lived in totally different worlds.

While Nawaz Khokhar was known for his political acumen and his ability to rise above party lines, his brother Imtiaz Khokhar was on the Fourth Schedule of Anti-Terrorism Act and on the most wanted list of Rawalpindi police.

When Islamabad was declared the federal capital in 1967, the fortunes of the landed families of the villages that fell in its jurisdiction changed overnight. Many of them reaped windfall benefits and sold their lands to buy luxury vehicles and build mighty mansions.

Haji Nawaz Khokhar, a graduate from Gordon College, Rawalpindi, was among the few who kept an eye out on the larger pie. He took to active politics, knowing well that future of the country lay in his city now.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, his contemporary and college fellow, recalled memories of the four decades spent together while offering prayers and condolence for Khokhar at his residence in Islamabad.

Former Senate chairman Nayyar Bukhari and former federal minister Pervez Rashid were also his contemporaries and studied at Gordon College. They too shared their memories.

Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik, the former International Islamic University rector, and an authority on Iqbaliyat, recalled weekend visits by Haji Nawaz Khokhar and a journalist friend to his house at Chandni Chowk.

Offering prayers for his late friend at his house, he said that Haji Nawaz had left a vacuum behind him. “All my friends have crossed over, now it is my turn,” the professor said. He said their wives too had been class fellows and that they received university degrees at a time when women’s education was frowned upon.

Haji Nawaz made his mark in the party-less 1985 elections when he defeated Zafar Ali Shah. “It will not be wrong to assert that the PML-N was founded in his house,” said Prof Malik. When differences arose between Nawaz Sharif and Muhammad Khan Junejo, Haji Nawaz sided with Sharif and hosted him at his house.

In 1990, he again won a National Assembly seat and Nawaz Sharif made him the deputy speaker. Till his last day in office in 1993, he saw himself as a trouble-shooter as the assembly was beset with constant protests.

However, he also faced opposition from within the party, especially from Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Nisar was not a one-seat politician. Ambitious and having important connections, he formed allies well outside Rawalpindi.

Haji Nawaz was also known for laying out a big dining table. The PPP gave him a tough time when it came to power in 1993. The Federal Investigation Agency was particularly active against him. A property tycoon became Haji Nawaz’s friend in those days. It is generally believed that his willingness to reconcile and the tycoon friend won him a berth in the PPP.

In the end, he was acquitted in all FIA and NAB cases against him. The Supreme Court of Pakistan even reprimanded NAB while disposing of its appeal against his acquittal.

A hidden aspect of his life was his philanthropy. Since Saturday, politicians from several parties as well as the general public have made a beeline to his house to offer their condolences.

Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar is receiving most of the guests including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Asif Ali Zardari has said in his condolence message that the passing away of Khokhar has caused a vacuum.

Mustafa is seen by some as the bearer of his legacy. Like his father, he is a law graduate. He has studied in the UK. He has been very vocal on abuse of human rights at parliamentary forums.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

Nawaz Khokhar: Larger than life