Afzal Bangash - The Marxist maverick

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Afzal Bangash - The Marxist maverick, Dr. Mohammad Taqi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Sunday, January 15 2012 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Afzal Bangash - The Marxist maverick

Dr. Mohammad Taqi

Publishing Date: Sunday, January 15 2012

I count myself in nothing else so happy,
As in a soul remembering my good friends -- Shakespeare in Richard II

Reminiscing some of the stars of the secular galaxy of Pakistan and especially Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, is an obligation not just due to a family association or personal feel-good, nostalgic reasons. It is a must because the current generations - being fed a steady diet of religious extremism masquerading as non-denominational Islam - ought to get acquainted with the history of this land.

In a country where first the state-controlled, and now the state-indoctrinated, media persons have systematically relegated both our saints and secularists to oblivion, while projecting larger-than-life images of the obscurantist characters from the Pakistan and Islamic studies textbooks, such recollections become a moral duty. One such distinguished progressive, secular person was the leader of the Mazdoor Kisan Party (MKP), Muhammad Afzal Bangash who died on this day (October 28th) in 1986.

Somewhere in the middle 1986, Bangash returned from exile and took up residence on Kohat Road in Peshawar. The word spread around quickly and this scribe got to tag along with a group of friends and family who called upon him. For some reason, the conversation started in Urdu. But then Bangash asked "Tussi saray Hindko samajhdayo na?" (Do all of you understand Hindko?) Some nodded and others verbalised in an affirmative. He then quipped: "Bohat achha aiy, kyoonkeh mein Urdu bolna waan tey inj lagda aiy jhoot bol riya waan" (Great then, because if I speak in Urdu I feel I am lying).

In one sweep he had thus made a case for the mother tongue; Bangash was not known for subtleties. Twenty-four years later a study by the British Council Pakistan recommended last month that the mother tongue be the medium of instruction in elementary schools.

Afzal Bangash was above any chauvinism and parochialism though. He spoke and wrote in Urdu, Pushto and English and had great command of the Peshawari and Kohati dialects of Hindko. In fact he remained part of the Ulasi Adabi Jirgah (People's Literary Guild) along with the Urdu poets Farigh Bokhari and Raza Hamdani. He shared the forum with progressive nationalist poets like Ajmal Khattak and Qalandar Momand on one hand and the religio-romantic nationalist masters like Amir Hamza Shinwari and Dost Muhammad Kamil on the other. The guild was founded by his mentor Kaka ji Sanober Hussain Momand, a revolutionary leader of the Indian freedom movement, after whom Bangash later named the MKP weekly "Sanober" that also carried Kaka ji's verse on the cover.

In fact Bangash detested labels and branding. While many characterised him as a Maoist, he took umbrage at the tag for he was the Marxist maverick who had officially documented his opposition to the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, in the MKP's journal "Circular" and parted ways with his colleagues who had endorsed it. After the Afghan revolution Hafizullah Amin wanted Bangash to form a Pakistani party allied with his Khalq faction. Not only did he snub Amin but further admonished him for their aggressiveness and advised them to take the local culture and norms into serious consideration.

As a son of the soil, Bangash was not fond of importing or exporting revolutions and believed in an indigenous struggle and means to his revolutionary ends. He was of the opinion that only the local circumstances can dictate such ways and means. To him the most essential tool was the revolutionary self-reliance meaning a combination of the mass mobilisation of the oppressed people through an astute leadership, culminating in the directly concerned people shouldering the burden of waging the struggle. In an agrarian society this meant that the peasantry was to be the vanguard of such a movement.

But having served as Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah's provincial campaign manager in her bid against Ayub Khan, in an election rigged by the General, Bangash was acutely aware of the deck stacked against the masses. He had been a member of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) since 1948 and had seen the Quaid-i-Azam watch helplessly as the West Punjab Assembly flouted the recommendations of its own land reform sub-committee within six months of independence. Whether it was fixing the tenant's share in the crop, the abolition of begaar (unpaid forced labour), making cheap credit available to the tenant or preventing their forced evictions, the legislative help was not on the horizon.

Bangash was also elected as the first general secretary of the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1957 and was intimately familiar with the workings of such multi-class leftist fronts which in many instances meant the feudal nationalist elements holding sway over the party decisions. It was one such decision by the NAP leadership barring Bangash and others from working in the peasant committees that led to his parting ways with NAP and founding on May 1, 1968, the MKP - perhaps the largest revolutionary leftist party in Pakistan's history that openly eschewed electoral politics.

The MKP's red flag with a white star became a symbol of resistance to the feudal lords in Hashtnagar (Charsadda), Peshawar, Mardan and Swat/Malakand. It drew support from not only the tenants, agri-labourers but also from white-collar people like lawyers. In fact Wali Khan's nephew Faridoon Khan hoisted the MKP flag in his father Ghani Khan's house and 'de-classed' himself to join the peasant uprising. After a tenant, Sardar Shah raised the MKP flag as a challenge against his landlord Usman Ali "Wawa" Khan's eviction order, the scene was set for a mass uprising in Northern Hashtnagar and an armed struggle ensued. The peasant uprising lasted through three successive governments including that of the NAP. Along with its contemporary Naxalite struggle and the Peruvian and Nepalese peasant movements that followed it, the Hashtnagar peasant struggle provides a unique case study in an era when urban fascists are trying to claim the mantle of anti-feudalism.

Bangash was well-versed in Marxist theory and many of his speeches and writings reflected this command but he was not a dogmatist. However, he did develop a methodology of 'theory-practice-feedback-theory-practice' to keep adjusting both the ideological framework and the means to achieve the ideological goals. He was highly proud of his comrades like Major Ishaq Muhammad, Prof. Eric Cyprian and Imtiaz Alam who contributed to both to theoretical and practical side of the struggle. During the recent judiciary movement some of his former associates like Latif Afridi and Justice Shahjahan Yousufzai demonstrated, from the bar and the bench respectively, the acumen and resolve of the seasoned campaigners that Bangash had trained by the dozen.

Bangash did gradually move towards mainstream politics starting with the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) of which the MKP was a founding and highly functional component. He had great working relationship with Benazir Bhutto during that era. Along with Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Mumtaz Bhutto and Hafiz Pirzada, Bangash formed the Sindh Baloch Pashtun Front (SBFP) in 1985 to counter the establishment's hegemony and proposed a confederal state.

Upon his arrival back in Pakistan, he remained involved with the merger of the left-oriented parties and closed the door on a generation-long rift with Wali Khan. The MKP, a faction of the PNP, Rasool Bux Paleejo's Awami Tehrik and the NDP thus came together to form the Awami National Party. Wali Khan became its first president while MKP's Sardar Shaukat Ali was elected as its general secretary.

The legacy of Bangash is that of highly secular, selfless devotion to the deliverance of the wretched of the earth from oppression and exploitation, if needed, by challenging through all means available, the Weberian concept of the 'legitimate monopoly on violence' as well the hegemony of the forces of tradition.

He may not have achieved a political high office but being not the one to be suborned by such temptations, he remained loyally committed till last breath to the cause he championed. He was originally buried in his native Shadi Khel village, Kohat but later his mortal remains were transferred to Hashtnagar where he rests in peace along with his comrades and cadres.

A newspaper column cannot do justice to a political life spanning more than four decades but younger friends should remember the words of Iqbal and Hafiz:

سر خاک شهيدے برگهاے لاله مي پاشم
که خونش با نهال ملت ما سازگار آمد
بيا تا گل برافشانيم و می در ساغر اندازيم
فلك را سقف بشگافيم و طرح نو در اندازيم

Sir e khaak e shaheeday barghaiy lala mi paashem
Keh khoonash baa nehaal e millat maa sazgar aamed
Biya ta gul barafshaanem o mai der saghar andaazem
Falak raa seqf beshigafem o tarh e nau darandaazem

I scatter the petals of tulips upon the dust of martyrs
For their blood profits the sapling of the community;
Come so that we may strew roses and pour wine into the cup;
Let us tear open the roof of Heaven and think upon new ways.


Thanks are due to Kamil Bangash, a former vice-president of the ANP and son of Afzal Bangash, for his help in verifying certain information and the priceless gift of Bangash Sahib's portrait.

The writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.com. The article first appeared in the Statesman and Daily Times on 28 October 2010.

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Afzal Bangash - The Marxist maverick, Dr. Mohammad Taqi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Sunday, January 15 2012 (http://www.khyber.org)