Saturday Aug 22, 2020
Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo was only a student when he made history.
In 1983, a young Bizenjo appeared as a witness to defend six communist leaders before a military court. His father, the late Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, also recorded his statement in the same court.
For the first time, a father and son appeared as witnesses in a case that came to be known in our political history as the Jam Saqi case. Others who recorded their statements included Benazir Bhutto, who was also very young at that time. She was brought from detention, under heavy security, to the courtroom.
All those named were later sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of sedition. Charges they all denied.
Shabber Sher, one of the accused in the case, recalled Hasil’s appearance.
“You are young. You are a student,” a military officer said to Hasil, asking why he was adamant to record his statement. Hasil replied that students had played a key role in the struggle for the restoration of democracy, such as the 1953 students' movement, against One Unit and against Ayub Khan.
“I am the chairman of the United Students Movement at Karachi University,” Hasil went on, “I believe that the accused are fighting for people’s rights, against a military dictator, who has usurped power through illegal and unconstitutional means.”
I also had the privilege of meeting his father and former governor of Balochistan, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo. Hasil took me to see him. His father was very ill and was living in a small house near the Sea View in Karachi.
As we talked, it seemed to me that Mir Bizenjo was more interested in passing on his legacy to his eldest son. “Hasil,” I remember him saying, “is too young. He should concentrate on his studies. But I know he has political germs.” I told him that I saw in Hasil a leading politician, considering how he tackled campus politics. His father merely smiled.
Mir Bizenjo was one of the architects of the 1973 constitution. He told me that during the making of the constitution, the National Awami Party decided to boycott the negotiations. “Z. A.Bhutto called me that night and asked me to convey to Mengal and Wali Khan that if they rejected the talks, he would be left with no other choice but to give in to the right wing,” Mir recalled. “He [Bhutto] was right.”
Mir Bizenjo later died of cancer.
It was not easy for me to write about Hasil. He knew death was coming for him from the day he was diagnosed with cancer, which is why we called him “a fighter.”
I met Hasil 40 years ago at a cafe at Karachi University. A friend, Abdullah Baluch, introduced the two of us. From that day on, we stayed friends. Although when I joined journalism, I became his critic.
In the last three months, I have lost two great friends from Balochistan. Both were active in politics — Ayatullah Durrani from the Pakistan People’s Party and Mir Hasil Bizenjo.
Interestingly, I met Durrani before the 2018 elections at a hotel in Karachi. When I asked him about PPP’s chances of winning the election, he said: “Bhai sahib, iss bar tender Zardari sahib ko nahi melay ga.” (This time the tender will not go to Zardari).
The three of us would spend our days and nights at the campus and hostel.
Hasil was associated with the Baloch Student Organisation (BSO) while I was involved with the Progressive Front.
One day, in 1981, a conflict emerged between activists of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), Rafiq Afghan and Salamullah Tipu, who later hijacked a PIA Boeing aircraft. The tussle turned violent. Tipu came to campus and began firing indiscriminately killing an IJT activist, Hafiq Aslam.
In retaliation, Jamiat's armed men barred entry of all the Progressive Front activists on the campus grounds.
Therefore, in response, it was decided to form the United Student Movement. Hasil was made its president. The activists decided to return to campus with young Hasil leading them. But things became so tense that a year later Hasil escaped an attempt on his life with a bullet wound.
Later, in 1990, Hasil Bizenjo contested the election for the first time and became a member of the national assembly from his native town, Khuzdar. He was reelected in 1997.
When the Pakistan Muslim League-N won national polls and bagged enough seats in Balochistan, a meeting was called in Murree to discuss the formation of a coalition with the National Party, headed by Dr Abdul Malik Baloch and Hasil Bizenjo.
At that time, I was among a dozen journalists who had gathered outside the building. I managed to get inside and was greeted by Hasil.
“What is going on?” I asked him. Mian Nawaz Sharif wants to name Baloch as chief minister, he told me, but Sanaullah Khan Zehri is resisting. Then, he said he saw Shehbaz Sharif take Zehri into another room, where it was decided to let Baloch be chief minister for half a term and Zehri for the other half.
Malik Baloch and Hasil had both tried to bring hardline nationalists and separatists like Allah Nazar and Brahumdagh Bugti into mainstream politics. They even used their influence to get missing persons recovered. Maybe, if Baloch had been given a full term, things would have been different. But Hasil always credited Nawaz Sharif for at least sending a positive message by putting his support behind nationalists in the province.
Recently, during Senate elections, Hasil Bizenjo tried his best to get the top slot for Raza Rabbani, but he could not get any support from then-president Asif Ali Zardari. When Sadiq Sanjrani was elected chairman, Hasil delivered a fiery speech in the Senate.
I called him that night.
“Oh bhai, take a break. No need to get emotional,” I joked.
Hasil fought a brave battle against cancer, a deadly disease, but in the end, he lost.
Now that he is gone, Pakistan has lost a politician who stood for what he believed in and one who never changed loyalties. That is a rarity.
Rest in peace, dear friend.
— Abbas is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO