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Nokhar Conference- Never fight a losing war

Fayyaz Baqir

March 13th, 2017



On the question of armed struggle Prof Khalid once quoted Lenin, saying “A soldier is a peasant in the uniform”.  This axiom turned into strategic thinking in Mao Tse Tung thought. Peasants were going to be the backbone of armed resistance in semi-feudal societies. Professor’s Group (PG) also started work among peasantry to ultimately raise an army of rebels against the class system. Withreference to strategy and tactics of guerilla warfare, Azizudin always mentioned the most fundamental principle of strategy, “Never fight a losing war”. I think it was the first principle of warfare and distilled wisdom of entire human history, narrated by all great military thinkers. However, disastrous events at Nokhar revealed that there was an enormous gap between the words and deeds and there were serious problems of leadership in the peasant work. To this day, I have not come across any serious analysis of this event by PG, except for a sarcastic remark about a very fine member of PG, Kamil Khan Mumtaz, on Facebook.


The most important challenge before PG was of converting peasants into soldiers. At the time of Nokhar Conference, the time for armed conflict was far away. Here the issue was intelligently handling Police. PG was in very early stages of organizing the peasants. It was very important to understand the nature of this work. As (Major) Ishaq Mohammad once said peasants are like a heap of potatoes, you need to put them in a sack to help them assert their weight, which is a party’s job. If Party does not work as a sack then personalities perform this task. That is why traditional peasant political consciousness revolves around personalities; focusing on great men or singing the praises of great leaders, great helmsmen or Pride of Asia. It does not take political work very far. PG’s work was beset with a similar problem, it was more like glorifying peasant virtues; austerity, hard work, and walking long distance; whereas party’s work should be helping peasants overcome their limitations; and most of all their fear of state power, that is how a peasant becomes a soldier. Glorifying virtues of austerity and physical hardships does not help peasants to challenge tyranny.


Dispersal of the entire peasant gathering on in Nokhar on the first light baton charge showed that the participants were not prepared to deal with the lowest level of Police action. In Nokhar numerical and muscle strength of the peasant gathering was far greater than police. They lost because of their lack of preparedness, psychological fear and lack of leadership. I attended Kissan Conference held by Awami Tehrik in Bathoro in January 1976, and MKP Kissan Conference in Vehari and many other small conferences in rural areas, I never saw anything similar happening anywhere else.


Nokhar is situated in middle farmer district of Hafizabad. There were no big feudal lords opposing peasant politics. The person having an issue with this Conference was Governor Punjab, Mustafa Khar. He did not want any show of force by PG in this area. He sent instructions to local administration for a showdown with the Conference organizers. Most of the senior leaders were in attendance. Before the baton charge police alerted the organizers that if the Conference is not wound up Police will resort to baton charge. I clearly remember that when this message was conveyed to the main organizer he very confidently replied: “If they dare to enter the tent our workers would throw them on the ground and trample them under their feet”. This seemed a very exaggerated statement to me. I was standing next to my cousin Barkat and he asked me about my assessment. I said, “I suspect that people will disperse and I don’t see anyone fighting back.” I did not hear any directions to the workers to make preparation for dealing with the baton charge either.


At Nokhar Conference, leadership was lacking. Leadership helps workers defeat their opponent’s power. This is done by taking advantage of enemy’s weakness. I had seen Tariq Latif, Sufi Sibghat Ullah, and many students and workers groups fighting and winning much bigger fights against Police in Punjab. I will narrate Sufi’s encounter in a different post. Even women of the soft-mannered Siraiki community in Thal tore into pieces the uniforms of policemen raiding their village. While we as Maoists believed that all reactionaries are paper tigers, it is ironic that such a big revolutionary gathering was scared away by a pigmy paper tiger. Nokher raised serious questions about PG’s fighting capacity. I attended Nokhar Conference as an ‘outsider’ but it made me seriously ponder over the relationship between illusion and reality.


It is important to reflect here on the fighting spirit of PG in urban areas and its complete absence in its vast rural base. It is important to understand that conducting study circles and taking long walks does not create a solid organization. It depends on the knack of identifying and cultivating the activists with leadership qualities. The whole organization is glued by such activists and is inspired by their fighting spirit in charting out its future course of action. It reminds me the lesson I learned as an 8th grader in the school. I along with two of my classmates participated in wall chalking for Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah in Multan during her election campaign against Ayub Khan. One of our teachers supported Ayub Khan. He was a very independent minded and insightful teacher. It surprised us why he was supporting a dictator. We decided to engage him in a debate during the class. He was a nationalist and anti-colonialist. When we asked him why he supported a dictator, he said for one reason only; and what is that? He said, “Ayub Khan is Mardam Shanas” –meaning he has a knack for knowing the true worth and capabilities of people. That is what makes him a good leader. I did not agree with his political stand but his argument about the true quality of a leader -knowing the worth of people around him- made sense to me.  In PG Professor Khalid Mahmood was head and shoulders above others in terms of this leadership quality. He could find and cultivate real fighters. That is why his work among students, labourers and Academic Staff Association (ASA) blazed trails for others. This was lacking in PG’s work in rural areas. 


I remember when Arif Raja left NSO and joined YPF Professor Khalid Mahmood always grieved his loss. He remembered him fondly and called him “gem of a worker”. Another example is his discovery of Mushahid Hussain and his active support to him for contesting the office of General Secretary ASA Punjab University. One day during a private meeting Professor asked me, “Do you know where did Mushahid start his political career?” I had a vague memory of seeing him at some events but was not quite sure. Then smilingly, in his true joyful way of sharing secrets, he said, “Pak Korea Friendship Society”. It is important to mention here that Pak Korea Friendship Society was funded by North Korean Government of Kim Il Sung to publish full page propaganda material of Kim Il Sung in the newspapers and publish his works in Urdu. President of this society, Rahim, was considered by many as a spook. Najam Sethi harboured similar views about Mushahid and a few years back in a live TV interview said to him that “People think that you are a child of the establishment”. But credit goes to Professor Khalid that he recognized a fighter and ambitious politician in Mushahid Hussain and during Zia ul Haq’s tyrannical rule joined hands with him to fight a glorious battle for freedom of academia”. When both Professor Khalid and Mushahid were thrown out of Punjab University, he joined him as a journalist in The Muslim. Both of them fought a long battle together and then parted ways. Professor recognized both Mushahid’s strengths and limitations and made the best of his association with him. He kept his friendship with Mushahid although he did not attend his wedding ceremony because Zia ul Haq was invited there as a guest. That is what politics is all about.


Professor Khalid Mahmood had excellent organizational and talent detection skills but he also considered peasant virtues as true traits of revolutionary leadership. Since he did not live up to this stereotype, he did not consider himself to be the true epitome of a leader and shied away from play the role of thought leadership in Professor’s Group. But in practice, he proved his command over leadership building methods in student, labour and academic politics.    


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