Thursday, January 19, 2023

The loss of remarkable Latif Lala

Latif Afridi emerged as a strong voice for the voiceless in a securitised and oppressive system

Former Supreme Court Bar Association president Latif Afridi. — Facebook video
Former Supreme Court Bar Association president Latif Afridi. — Facebook video

With the passing away of Advocate Latif Afridi, progressives and democrats have lost an important leader and one of the finest human beings we had. I have lost a great mentor and it is hard to find suitable words to pay tribute to this truly remarkable man or express my pain in words.

Latif Lala, a progressive Marxist, had lived an extraordinary life of belief in the simple principle of fighting injustice. Given his legal and political struggle on the larger regional chessboard, he achieved more than could be expected of any man. I was privy to his thoughts and struggle as we navigated our legal and political trajectories, wrestled with an oppressive state, confronted the strategic policy in Afghanistan and the Pashtun tribal belt, took the measure of the enforced disappearances in the country, overcame insurmountable odds to fight for the political rights of erstwhile FATA, responded to the self-defeating policies on terrorism and radicalization in Pakhtunkhwa, and relentlessly pursued democratic ideals.

In a securitised, extractive and oppressive system that has overseen grave injustices against certain communities or expropriated their resources, Lala emerged as a strong voice for the voiceless. Where others feared to tread the difficult path, Lala never minced his words regarding oppression by the powerful, or in defence of individual liberty or rule of law. Deeply aware of the inherent dangers in exposing oppressors, he would always caution restraint for young activists; however, he was the epitome of courage when it came to such sensitive matters. Hardly anyone can match his legal struggle against enforced disappearances.

Despite massive pressure, he stood like a rock beside me during a particularly difficult time and led the panel of lawyers that represented me and others in court. In our quest to project a progressive and liberal voice in Pakistan’s usual chaotic political landscape, he helped us lay the foundation of the National Democratic Movement (NDM).

Latif Lala was a consistent presence on Pakistan’s national stage for over six decades. I am one of the countless thousands who drew inspiration from his courageous career. From my initial political engagement with him at the Pashtun Students Federation to my apprenticeship at his chamber to the establishment of the NDM, Lala was an unending source of inspiration and guidance. While he was instrumental in laying the foundation for the NDM, he demonstrated immense trust in me as his student to lead the party. Inspiring a generation of lawyers, politicians, nationalists, social activists, progressives and youth, Lala commanded immense respect from all and sundry across the political divide.

While the world remembers him for his towering legal persona, behind that was a man who had a passion for indigenous culture, and entertainment and extended immense respect to artists. I remember a man who was always absorbed in books and who had a wonderful sense of wit and a generous heart for his mentees. I remember a charismatic towering figure who always held his audience spellbound. Known for his mastery over the legal and the political, he was frequently consulted by younger politicians, activists, lawyers and others looking for sober analysis of the political, legal and regional developments in the country.

While we mourn the loss of one of the sanest, most courageous and profoundly good human beings, we must ask ourselves one fundamental question: what shall we do to respond to the tasks of building a progressive and democratic society true to the ideals of democracy, rule of law and freedom from violence and terror? It falls to us as best as we can to forward the example that Latif Lala set; to stand up for those who are oppressed; to be guided by rule of law and not personal whims; and to never underestimate the power of democratic ideals and the difference that each individual can make to the lives of those around us.

Lala has departed at an unfortunate time when the Pashtun belt is on the cusp of a renewed and simmering conflict. At such a time, Latif Lala's bold voice will be dearly missed. He proved that there is great honour in fighting injustice. Lala will always be remembered for his unrelenting pursuit of human rights, his abiding faith in democracy and constitutionalism, and his loud voice for the voiceless.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly.

Twitter: @mjdawar