Never a minced word

February 21, 2021

Mushahid Ullah Khan, who passed away this week, was known for not holding back his words

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has a diehard loyalist in Mushahid Ullah Khan who breathed his last on February 18 in Islamabad. He was 68. He was laid to rest at H-11 graveyard in Islamabad. The funeral prayer were attended by people from all walks of life, including Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

He had been close to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had been awarded a party ticket to contest the upcoming Senate election on a general seat from the Punjab. His son, Dr Afnan Ullah Khan was the covering candidate.

Party sources he had suffered from cancer and had grown quite frail following a bout with Covid-19.

Mushahid was born on November 30, 1952 in Rawalpindi and received his early education at Islamia High School. He had later studied at Gordon College for his bachelor’s at Urdu Law College in Karachi for his LLB.

As a frontline politician, Mushahid was aggressive, loyal and outspoken. He had joined the party in 1990 and was known for not holding back his words. Starting as a backbencher in the party cadre, he became a close aide of Nawaz Sharif after the military coup in 1999 after a number of party leaders joined the PML-Q bandwagon. He was also imprisoned during the Musharraf regime. In 2009, he was elected as a senator; in 2015 he was re-elected.

In January 2015, he was inducted into the federal cabinet and appointed chairman of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). He declined the latter office. He was later given the climate change portfolio. In August 2015 he was forced to resign following remarks made allegedly against the establishment.

In 2017, he was again inducted into the federal cabinet and became the federal minister for climate change.

Earlier, he had served as a traffic supervisor (1975-1997) at PIA Service, as an advisor to the Ministry of Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis from 1997 to 1999. He had headed the PIAC Employees’ Union from 1989 to 1999 and was Administrator of the Karachi Municipal Corporation from August 1999 to October 1999. He had been general secretary of the PML-N Labour Wing from 1994 to 1999, chief coordinator in 2000-2001, information secretary from 2001-2002 and central vice president from 2002-2011. He was the party’s central information secretary from 2011 onwards.

Following his demise, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz Sharif wrote on twitter: “Senator Mushahidullah Khan, Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS’s) loyal and exceptional companion, has left us. I am shattered to hear the sad news. Will never be able to forget his fatherly affection & love. Huge, huge loss. May Allah SWT shower upon him every blessing that he has reserved for the afterlife. Amen.”

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto said that he was a very sad at the death. He said Mushahid was one of the people who had always stood their ground in the fight against undemocratic forces.

Speaking to The News on Sunday, MNA Khurram Dastagir Khan said that Mushahid Ullah Khan had been an exceedingly rare politician; a person in whom conviction and cultivation met. He was by deeply-held conviction a foe to all tyrants and quislings, and a profound believer in democracy.

“Deeply loyal to Nawaz Sharif and PML-N, he heralded resistance to Musharraf’s dictatorship through his protest in Karachi’s Regal Chowk against the coup d’etat in 1999 and got beaten up as well as arrested; not for the first time,” he recalled.

Dastagir added that in the Senate, where Mushahid served for twelve years, he had confronted both the forces of tyranny and their facilitators. “He remained true to his conviction. Even as a federal minister, he spoke out, and was punished for it.”

Mushahid Ullah Khan was deeply in love with Urdu poetry. As a civilised person, he was known for his courtesy. His parliamentary speeches, particularly since 2018, were known for a biting satire and his use of Urdu verse to devastating effect. As standards of rhetoric and debate degenerate in parliament, he will likely be remembered for poetic repartee and surgical use of mot juste in service of his democratic ideals.

For Dastagir, he was one of the rare Pakistanis who, in the words of poet Stephen Spender, “in their lives fought for life,/Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre./And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

Agreeing with Dastagir, former Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair told The News on Sunday that Pakistan was supposed to be a constitutional democracy as envisaged by the Quaid and later endorsed by the 1973 constitution. “Unfortunately, Pakistan has struggled to create a true democratic environment. Four military interventions are a case in point. Even during the civilian rule, Pakistan could not achieve the kind of democracy we see in other countries. Hundreds of people over the decades have worked tirelessly to achieve the rule of law. Mushahid Ullah stands out as one of the leading pillars who remained committed to this struggle.”

“True to his democratic beliefs, He sacrificed his ministerial position but did not give up his principled stand for a democratic order. He was a pillar when it came to debates in the Senate. He had his own style of delivery and was a master in poetry which he used to communicate his message,” Zubair said.

His death is a blow to the ongoing struggle for democracy but he will remain an inspiration for all democratic loving people of Pakistan.

Talking to The News on Sunday, Senator Sherry Rehman, the PPP senior vice president, said he was not only a PML-N-stalwart, but also a senior parliamentarian with a mastery over his repertoire of speeches, verses and interventions.

“Was my neighbour in the Senate hall and a friend who shall be egregiously missed. May Allah grant him peace and eternal rest now; and his family and loved ones the fortitude to bear such a tragic loss,” Rehman added.

For Saadia Abbasi he was a true patriot, a relentless political worker, and a great leader of democracy in Pakistan. “He will be remembered forever for his values of commitment, integrity and honour. We will always remember him and cherish his memories. May Allah Almighty bless him and protect his family,” Abbasi said.

MNA Maiza Hameed said he was an exceptional man; hardworking and loyal. “Always stood on the right side of history and strove for excellence in his life. Never afraid to call out those in the wrong, truly a great loss for us all.”

MPA Hina Butt said: “I’ve been at a loss for words even since I heard of the sad death of Senator Mushahidullah Khan. He was a thorough gentleman, an honest politician of the old school, and a mentor to us all.”

Butt believes that his sense of purpose and loyalty will always be missed. “At a time when the party was unfairly persecuted, his wisdom and foresight enabled us all to keep our eyes on the bigger picture.”

“Even his fiercest rivals, who spared no opportunity to lock horns with him on the floor of the house, have only words of respect for him at this moment. His contributions to Pakistan’s politics and democracy will never be forgotten,” she stated.


The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. He reports on politics, economy and    militancy. He can be reached at [email protected]

Never a minced word