Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hayat Khan Sherpao: The Murder

I've been staring at the Peshawar High Court’s judgment in Asfandyar Wali v the State for about 8 months. This case, like several in Pakistan's history, is deeply intertwined with both national and international politics. As part of the backdrop to Bhutto’s dismissal and ultimately his execution, I would assume that it has been addressed at some length in print literature. However, having looked a fair bit, I've yet to find anything and there is certainly nothing on the Internet about the case.

I will therefore, attempt to ‘blog’ the entire case as I read it. I am however mindful that the post is likely to be quite long, and so to ensure that it doesn't go completely unread by all of Five Rupees’ ADD suffering readership, I will break up the post into several segments and post on consecutive days.

Note: This is therefore the first of a four part series of posts about the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao.

Click here for the 2nd part.
Click here for the 3rd part.
Click here for the 4th part.

This case is about a political assassination committed in 1975. The links to the circumstances surrounding Benazir’s assassination and Pakistan's current situation are numerous, and I shall do my best to identify them as I blog the case. But I will say at the outset that it is remarkable to see just how much of Pakistan’s politics 'runs in the families’, and how structural and geopolitical issues play out on such personal levels within those families.

Succession and Autonomy

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto dismissed the NAP - JUI coalition government in Baluchistan in February of 1973. A declassified intelligence dispatch from the American Embassy in Islamabad explained that particular incident in the 'great game' and described how Iraq was involved.The NAP was obviously less than pleased and resigned its N.W.F.P ministry in protest.

By July of 1973 Wali Khan was becoming increasingly vitriolic. Regarding Bhutto's sacking of the NAP-JUI government in Baluchistan, he announced publicly that the time for appeals had passed and his followers would now meet force with force.

How things have(nt) changed. To state the obvious, even if the current problems in N.W.F.P and Baluchistan are not simply continuations of the previous conflicts, they do follow a pattern wherein:

a) An ethnic or sub-ethnic group angrily aires a legitimate grievance,
b) which is unsatisfactorily addressed by the Federal Government,
c) and which is then expressed again but this time with violence and force,
d) and that violence is met with more force from the Government,
e) and the issue morphs into a debate about the use of force against the state's own citizens and vice-versa,
f) and what began as a grievance evolves into a situation somewhere between outright succession and militant ethno- nationalism.

I digress. By 1974, the Baluchi insurgency was well and truly underway with an estimated 135'000 soldiers and militants thrashing it out in the province. The pro-Soviet Sardar Daoud regime in Kabul was backing the insurgents. The Shah of Iran, who also had his own ethnic Baluch to deal with, was equally wary of Kabul, and was backing Bhutto. Which brings us nicely to the date in question; the 8th of February 1975.


The Murder

It's a Saturday, and the Assembly Hall at Peshawar University is crowded with students and professors. The office bearers of the History Department are due to take oath in the afternoon. The Chief Guest is to administer the oaths, and he’s running late. He eventually arrives and is received warmly by the President and Secretary of the History Society.

The Holy Quran is read aloud at 4:00 pm, and the assembly hall sits quietly.

One by one, the Chief Guest administers the oaths. The series of handshakes are punctuated by camera flashes from an attending photographer. During the oath taking, an employee of Radio Pakistan gets up and places a tape recorder on a table near the entrance to the hall. The Chief Guest finishes administering the oaths, and there are smiles and a few speeches, including one from the Chief Guest himself. The Chairman of the History Society then calls the Chief Guest away from the rostrum, to have some tea on the verandah.

The Chief Guest walks towards that direction, but is called back when Sardar Muhammad Khan, Joint Secretary of the society, demands a donation from the Chief Guest and starts asking why it wasn’t announced during his earlier speech.

Hayat Khan Sherpao is the Chief Guest. He returns to the rostrum to explain why the donation had not been announced. He speaks a few words, but his speech is ended by the force of the blast. From under his feet, a huge explosion tears through his legs, breaks his jaws and rips through his skull, causing his brain to protrude.

Hayat Khan Sherpao was a founding member of the PPP and one of Bhutto's closest lieutenants. He was said to have been an orator on par with Bhutto himself, an outspoken nationalist and a decent man. He was tasked with developing grass roots support for the party in the frontier during the PPP's formative years. After the PPP's win in the 1970 election, he became known as Bhutto's "lion of the Frontier", synonymous with the "lion of the Punjab" Ghulam Mustafa Khar.

According to a tribute from the Daily Times:

"People who could not rival him in terms of perfo
rmance and charisma turned against him and were baying for his blood. Sensing danger, his well-wishers advised him to avoid public meetings but he ignored them because he did not want to stay away from his people"

And therein lies another parallel.


ali mate said...

nice parallel banana at the end cognac.

NB said...

Hahah thanks. (Get to the point!)

AKS said...

congratulations on finishing the post. So far it looks good - especially your point regarding the incestuous nature of our politics.

It is quite interesting to compare the pre-Zia political parties and political leaders and compare them with the post-Zia era. Between 1947-1977 Pakistan produced a number of notable people who created an independent political space for themselves. However, from 1977-2007 the only names that comes to my mind are Altaf Hussain and Sheikh Rashid!(Benazir is a Bhutto; Nawaz was pushed to the fray by the overlords)

I'd have preferred reading the whole thing at once but I do realise that it might have been too much for our ADD crippled (mental) audience! Do remember to link all the posts though.

NB said...

Thanks AKS. But im fairly certain that it'll go largley unread. Your point about the politicians is right vaisay. Everyone today of note is a son or relative of someone from the 70's or at the very least has patronage from someone who was active then. You have to wonder where were going to be in 10 years time.

Whats also interesting is how those families are still lining up broadly on two sides of the establishment, namley Anti-and Pro army.

AKS said...

I was just reading stuff on the NAP and its quite fascinating.

It really does dispel the notion that the provincial nationalist movements were the creation of the Soviets (great game, left v right, etc). The Soviets may have funded them at a later stage but these movements have a deeper history that needs to be taken into consideration. Take for example the Sindhudesh Movement (Jeay Sindh) which seeks greater provincial autonomy (at times independence) and traces its history to pre-partition. Their biggest greivance is regarding the relegation of Sindhi Culture as subservient to Pakistan's (Islamic) culture. It may have been necessary but the manner in which Sindhi language and Sindhi history were sidelined is deplorable. To this day Pakistani students (including O-Level students) are taught that Raja Dahir was a horrible ruler who was defeated by the pious boy wonder, Muhammad Bin Qasim (lesson: enemy of Islm = enemy of Pakistan). The Sindhis have a different take on the story. For them Raja Dahir was a nationalist hero who bravely resisted an invading army. The Sindhi (Bengali, Baluch and Pashtu are all applicable here) culture has a long and cherished history and it deserves at least some respect from the state of Pakistan.

ali mate said...

@ nb:

yo i'm waiting for part deux of the instalment...i'll be one of the 3 ppl reading it! hehe, i hope more people read it!

@ aks:

i agree with your observations on the sidelined "non-pakistani" cultures, but i would take your last statement slightly further and say all those cultures deserve WAY MORE RECOGNITION/RESPECT from the pakistan state, not just some. i feel that a lot of pakistan/india's history is tainted and misquoted to us for some romanticised vision, and confronting our history boldly will help us progress better. actually, it might not...some crazy ass pakis might randomly re-interpret stuff and blow up the country more.

i also had slight issue with your statement about the relegation of sindhi [baluchi,pathan,bengali,etc] language - why should this all had been relegated? i'm thinking of india's approach (which shouldn't be the best comparable, but still) where they implemented a 3-language national curriculum of english, hindi, and the local language. i feel this "mutual recognition" (to borrow a euro-centric term, something i hate doing when talking about the non-west) of the national and regional cultures helped indian 'multi-cultural' stability.

ali mate said...

@ aks:

i didn't clarify what i was referring to in my second paragraph above - i was specifically responding to your statement:
"It may have been necessary" halfway through your main paragraph.

AKS said...

@ ali mate

I said "some respect" to highlight that the state has shown no respect of the indigenous provincial cultures.

Secondly, I do not support the relegation of local languages but the state apparently does and has followed this tactic fervour. Mutual recognition (ala Belgium) may have been a better strategy.

The pressures of preventing a new, ethnically diverse country from disintegrating must have been huge and decisions had to be taken. But after 60 years it's become clear that some of these decisions have done more harm than good and it's about time something was done to address the situation. But it's not that easy a task. The army and the bureaucracy (who run the state) are like dead weights and changing their internal trajectories is well nigh impossible and might require us reenancting the French Revolution (not me personally, I quite like my spoilt, cake-filled life!)

ali mate said...

i just saw a news excerpt last night of altaf bhai's latest speech live via telephone to his devotees.
ok, i'll allow for nawaz sharif's devotees, and bhutto's/ppp's devotees. but what the bloody hell???!

Anonymous said...

At the time of his assassination it was rumoured that Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao had been murdere on the direct orders of ZAB himself. The theory behind it was that he (sherpao)was interested in marrying Benazir, to which Zulfiqar did not condescend. Has anyone else heard about this

NB said...


Yes, Ive heard this from a number of different people. Its listed in part four of this series of posts (the link is avaliable at the top of this post.)

But its one of those stories that is hard to substantiate, and smells a little fishy. Especially because Benazir was so very young at the time (at university i beleive), and moreover because Hayat Sherpao was apparently already married at the time.

seemab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seemab said...

Aoa ,
Dear Admin,

Hope you 'll be fine and doing well . I wish to congratulate you all
for building such discussion forum. I am a researcher and always had a sense of greif after
seeing the neglected part of reserach on Pak politics on net.
.Now a days, I am working on the
murder mystery of "Hayat Sherpao", some of the writings are consulted
too, but can you please help me about the references you quoted in
this blog? or in other words the sources of information
being gathered for the web page ... I'll be highly thankful for this

Very Kind regards,

mehreenkasana said...

This post has helped me learn a bit more about what happened to Sherpao back then. I happen to be an aspiring journalist; your blog helps me with comprehending the twisted terms and stories of Pakistani politics.

Is there any chance if I could find a book, too, related to the murder mystery of Sherpao?

Much Regards,
Mehreen Ali Kasana