His achievements as an educationist and philanthropist seem to be far more enduring than what he accomplished in his political carer
he sudden death of Hunaid Lakhani at 49 has shocked the educational and philanthropic communities of the country. He died shortly after contracting dengue following his return from Thatta, where he had gone to oversee flood relief work.
After founding the Iqra University and serving as its chancellor for several years, Lakhani embarked on a political career and joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
As Wasim Akhtar’s tenure as the Karachi mayor came to an end, there was speculation in Karachi that Lakhani would be the PTI’s mayoral candidate. However, the local government elections did not take place immediately. Then there was the Covid-19 pandemic and the speculation waned. When the local government elections were announced in 2022, the PTI nominated Jabbar Ashraf Qureshi for the mayoral slot.
However, it is not his political career that stands out. His achievements as an educationist and philanthropist seem to be far more enduring than what he accomplished in his political career, or may have achieved if he had been elected the mayor.
He managed, even in his political career, not to let go of decency. Seldom did he issue the kind of statements expected of mayoral candidates. He was more focused on his philanthropic work through politics.
He also had a successful career in the construction sector. Some of the prominent projects in Karachi built under his supervision include Hunaid City, Gulf Shopping Mall and Gulshan View.
Lakhani was born to Hussain Lakhani, a business tycoon in the real estate sector. His mother was a housewife. The late educationist had one brother, Naveed Lakhani, and three sisters, Maheen Lakhani, Erum Lakhani and Sanober Lakhani. He married twice. His first wife is the daughter of a former finance minister of Pakistan. He has three children, including two boys and a girl, from his first marriage.
This year in May, he contracted a second marriage. His second wife belonged to an educated but humble family.
In 2000, Lakhani founded the Iqra University. In several interviews, he maintained that he had to run from pillar to post to get all the approvals and complete the formalities. He said it took him two and a half years.
The varsity, over the years, became the largest private university in Karachi with five campuses, including the main campus in Defence View. It also expanded to Islamabad and Quetta.
Despite being a private concern, Iqra University is seen as affordable for the middle class. Its campuses in North Karachi and Model Colony areas reflect that it was not meant to be a varsity for the elite. According to its website, a total of 6,000 students are currently enrolled at the varsity, which offers degrees in several disciplines in engineering and social sciences.
“He wanted to build a varsity that could give the lower income class access to quality education. I encouraged him and assured my support,” says Prof Dr Wasim Qazi, vice chancellor of the Iqra University.
Recalling his 25-year association with Lakhani, Iqra University’s Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Wasim Qazi told The News on Sunday that he had first met Lakhani in 1997, when the latter visited Hamdard University. “I was Hakeem Muhammad Saeed’s special assistant. One day, Hunaid had a meeting with Saeed, after which he came to my office. From that day we became friends.”
Dr Qazi said that before having established the Iqra University, Lakhani had sought his opinion. “He wanted to build a varsity that could give the lower income class access to quality education. I encouraged him and assured my support,” Prof Qazi added.
After leaving the University of Faisalabad in 2004, Prof Qazi had shifted to Karachi. On Lakhani’s request, he joined the Iqra University in February 2004. “During our two-and-a-half-decade friendship, we made many mistakes and saw several ups and downs. This did not affect our relations.”
He recalled the varsity’s founder as an empathetic, supportive, energetic and cooperative leader. He added that Lakhani also wanted to establish an online university for which he had completed preparations and was in contact with foreign faculty members.
Prof Qazi said he was against Lakhani’s decision to enter politics. “I criticised Lakhani for his political activities. He would listen to my criticism with patience.”
Lakhani used the name “Iqra” for his Sweet Home project. The first orphanage under the project was completed in 2016. Later, two more projects for orphans were completed. Lakhani personally oversaw the affairs of Iqra Sweet Homes.
In his tribute on social media, Faizullah Khan, a journalist, recalled Lakhani as someone who not only cared for his philanthropic projects but also donated heavily to other welfare organisations including the Edhi Foundation, the JDC, the Baitussalam Trust and Saylani.
At the time of his death, he was also serving as the chairman of Sindh Baitul Mal.
Khan said the PTI did not value Lakhani the way he deserved. As a result, he felt sidelined and gradually withdrew to his business and philanthropic activities.
His personal secretary, Waqar Lakho, told a media organisation that of late, he was not active in politics and was more focused on promoting education, as chairman of a private varsity, and through his social work.
In an interview published in May 2020, Lakhani said before joining politics he had felt that he was a successful person. He added that politics was a thankless job and took a toll on one’s health and family. He also remarked that being in a political party, one had to not only fight the rivals but also deal with leg-pulling from within one’s party. This, he said, was demotivating as well as challenging.
The writer is based in Karachi and reports on education