Remembering Amanullah Khan

IT WAS February 28 and the venue was the Gilgit Press Club. A condolence ceremony in memory of a journalist was in progress, with the guests already seated, when suddenly a frail man entered the hall. It was the late Amanullah Khan, the supreme head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. He was frail to the extent that walking up to a seat appeared to be a tough job for the 82-year-old, who had not long ago suffered a stroke. Yet, his participation in the event, despite his deteriorating health, spoke volumes of his inner strength and commitment. I was fortunate enough to get a seat next to him in the hall. Khan addressed the audience but with much difficulty. He would take reprieve in the pauses between the sentences.

The speaker of the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Assembly, Fida Muhammad Nashad, was also present as chief guest at the ceremony. In his speech, Nashad paid tribute to Khan but at the same time reminded him that G-B would have won its constitutional battle much earlier had he led it from the front. “It seems Nashad isn’t aware of my struggle for this region,” Khan told me in a feeble voice. “Other things apart, I spent almost two years behind bars here for the sake of the people.”

After the event, Khan sat with us and spoke briefly about G-B and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plans to detach the region from the rest of Kashmir to take maximum benefits from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. To me, this was a chance to interact with an iconic leader who I last met in 2011. In the informal chat, he said he wasn’t an enemy of the people or the state of either India or Pakistan but wanted the people’s voice to be heard in order to decide the fate of Kashmir.

A couple of years ago when I heard that he had suffered a stroke, I thought he would now shun politics to spend the rest of his life in prayer and meditation, as many others in our society do. But that wasn’t the case with this steel-nerved man. He remained sharply dressed, always downplayed his frailty, and continued to reiterate his mission due to which he had often been dubbed an ‘agent of India’ in Pakistan or an ‘agent of Pakistan’ in India. During his struggle, he visited over 20 countries to lobby for the cause of an independent Kashmir.

Khan was born in Gilgit in 1934 and laid to rest in the same city in 2016. In between those 82 years, he rarely visited G-B — other than the days he spent in jail in the 1970s — while his focus of attention remained the pursuance of an independent Kashmir. Naturally people in this region couldn’t develop a close affiliation with him and his cause, something that left him disappointed. The absence of leaders of his calibre opened up space for sectarian groups that filled the vacuum and strengthened their grip over the public. Khan remained averse to the politics of sectarianism and openly denounced it.

In pursuit of education, he moved to Kashmir and stood first among Muslim students in the tenth grade examination held at Kashmir University. Khan then joined S P College and later Amar Singh College, Srinagar before migrating to Pakistan in 1952. A graduate of law from S M Law College, Karachi, he played a vital role in helping students from G-B get an education. A former lawmaker from Hunza valley, Mutabiat Shah, reveals that “many of us knew Amanullah sahib more for his great educational services dating back to the 1950 and ’60s for G-B’s youth in Karachi than for his struggle for Kashmir. Several colleagues got education from institutions like Habibia School and College established and run by him and his brothers. His education services will long be remembered in this region.”

Khan’s daughter, Asma, married to Sajjad Ghani Lone and based in Srinagar, writes about Kashmir and regional geo-political issues. Khan himself penned books in English and Urdu explaining his politics and movement. After his recent passing, political giants of his stature will be rare to find among the mediocrities currently active in the politics of Kashmir and G-B.

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