In September 1974 I said goodbye to Institute of South Asian Studies to join Gomal University at Dera Ismail Khan (DIK). By this time Hamid Qizilbash had taken over as Director of the Institute and I had started some meaningful research work under his guidance and a weekly seminar series was also started. I had picked “Peasant Rebellions in Punjab during the British period” as my research topic and Hamid had started teaching me the basics of research work which I remember to this day. In our seminar series, I proposed the first seminar on Thinking. We had a very interesting discussion and Hamid aptly concluded the discussion by saying “Thinking is linking between the two”. However, I along with a big contingent of fresh graduates from Punjab University moved to DIK to be part of the newly established university.
It would be appropriate here to say a few words about the city and the university. In 1970 elections, Bhutto Sahib contested election for National Assembly from 6 constituencies including DIK. DIK was the only constituency where he lost the election against Mufti Mahmood. Mufti Sahib was a Pushtoon settler and won the election due to the strong hold of his Madrassas in a predominantly Balochi/ Saraiki area.
Saraikis resented the domination of Pushtoons to such an extent that many of them opposed break up of One Unit. PPP also suffered the death of one of its shining leader Haq Nawaz Gandapur in 1970 elections. Haq Nawaz was killed in a mysterious circumstance and soon after the elections, Bhuto Sahib flew into DIK to condole with the aggrieved family. Bhutto Sahib wanted to break the domination of Pushtuns and Mullahs in DIK and saw the establishment of a university as a good entry point for this purpose.
Bhutto Sahib picked Nawab Allah Nawaz Khan as first VC due to his influence in the area. Nawab Sahib was a very shrewd and seasoned politician and had retired from politics by now. He lived in Lahore and made sure to recruit the majority of the faculty from Lahore to neutralize Pushtun and Mullah Power. Nawab Sahib was so fond of Lahore that he used to carry drinking water from Lahore whenever he visited DIK. He was scared of flying by air and always traveled by road. Nawab Sahib provided full support to newcomers so that they could amicably settle down in their new home. For most of the Lahore educated fellows coming to DIK was a big cultural shock and Aurangzeb used to call DIK the Fourth World to express his surprise and shock at the poverty, conservatism and arrested development of the area.
But it seems we also descended as a source of shock to the people of this small, sleepy, rural border town. We had a sizeable group of progressive lecturers. We introduced some radical courses as part of graduate studies programme in Economics and engaged in activities –like pulling cycle rickshaws and hand driven carts, eating on roadside joints, having informal dress code and hairstyle -considered to be unbecoming of university professors. Our dress, language, and gestures were completely alien to the locals. In the neighborhood where I lived, the kids thought that we worked for PTV. They would look at my glasses, beard and long hair and shout Uncle Urfi- thinking I resembled famous TV play character Uncle Urfi. Traveling to DIK was not less than an adventure. It was cut off from other major towns due to long distances, a 14-mile spread bed of river Indus and dirt and stone roads where a vehicle could travel at the speed of 15 miles per hour. It was an isolated town with strong parochial culture. Natives of DIK considered Siraiki spoken in other parts of Siraiki region as ‘foreign’ language. Whenever I talked to a shopkeeper in Siraiki, he would respond in Urdu. One day I asked one shopkeeper “why don’t you speak to us in your own language”; he said, “you speak a different language, so it is better to respond in Urdu”.
We very quickly made contacts with local progressive groups and parties. We had decided that we shall hold joint study circles, joint meetings and political activities while keeping our distinct identities. We made initial contacts with NSF led by Mohammad Daud, Buland Iqbal and Salahuddin Gandapur; Pakistan Socialist Party (which was headed at that time by it’s supposedly ‘lifelong president’ Umar Farooq Miankhel). Umar later on joined Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and won the seat for National Assembly with the help of our common friend Pir Moeen ul Haq Gilani of Golra Sharif; Mazdoor Kissan Party was led earlier by a barber Khadim Hussain and later by a Para dentist Mahmood Bukhari; Mazhar Nawaz Baloch who had actively participated in trade union activity in Fertilizer Factory Multan and was now a banker and worked closely with us; activists of Pukhtun Students Federation and Mohammad Yunus and Riwayat Khan of Pakistan Students Federation; National Democratic Party (NDP) led by Shahnawaz Khan of a Khudai Khidmatgar family; Behram Sahil, editor of a local daily; local Saraiki poets Tasleem Feroz, Naseer Sarmad and others. We also developed close contacts with the sole trade industrial union in DIK in Tribal Textile Mill and Abba Pandi (His name Abba was short of Abdur Rahim and the word Pandi in Siraiki means porter) leader of the porters’ union in local fruit and vegetable market. With the help of Mazhar Nawaz we started organizing sweepers’ union. We worked very closely with the General Secretary of PPP Shaista Khan Baloch. Munshi Faiz Mohammad was a very honest, sharp and courageous PPP worker. He was a gem of a person and had great communication skills. He and another PPP worker Abdur Rahid were our close allies. Abdur Rashid was a very enterprising man. He started his career as a used cloth vendor and ended up building a private hospital. He was perhaps primary school dropout and hired his brother, who was a medical graduate, as hospital’s Chief Medical Officer. In our informal study group Mohammad Ayub General Secretary Jamiat Ulema I Islam (JUI) and some of his close friend Suleman also used to participate. In this entire fraternity, Salahuddin Gandapur was the only person who was extremely sectarian, narrow-minded and rigid; he considered cooperating with other left groups as the betrayal of “correct politics”. To keep him in the circle I stopped going to some public events where he thought NSF’s leadership was being undermined by the presence of a ‘bourgeois’ professor. We used to send Mahmood Bukhari as our representative. That worked out fine and we managed to keep close interaction.
We had decided early on that in the name of ‘political correctness’ we shall not publically oppose each other and collaborate on all issues of common concern. If there was a public event or press conference, then leaders of all groups were given representation. Whenever the leader of any progressive party visited DIK we invited all our contacts to attend his talk. In a couple of hours, we could gather around 40-50 people. I must mention here that size of DIK population was 60,000 at that time. All the progressive groups came together in the form of a close-knit family. It was quite opposite of the way we used to work in Lahore.