Fatehyab Ali Khan, Chairman of the Council of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs from 1995 to 2009, passed away on 26 September 2010. He was a legendary figure in the public and national life of Pakistan. A visionary in politics, his struggle for democracy, fundamental freedoms, justice in society and the rule of law forms a glowing chapter in the history of our country. His support for the cause of the oppressed and under-privileged will long be remembered.
Fatehyab’s family migrated from Hyderabad Deccan to Pakistan after the Partition and settled in Shikarpur and Karachi. His bold stand against injustices in the local education system made him prominent at a very early age. Gifted with unusual organizing skills, persuasiveness and charm, he joined the National Students Federation and soon assumed leadership roles in the student community. He was elected as Vice President of Islamia College Students’ Union (at that time the president used to be an official), President of Karachi University Students’ Union and Chairman of the Inter-Collegiate Body. He was a brilliant debater.
During the students’ movement against Ayub Khan’s martial law, when political parties were quiet spectators, Fatehyab shot to fame as a national figure. He was tried as Accused Number One and convicted by a military court in 1961. After he had served his sentence, along with other activists, he was twice externed from all parts of the country, except Quetta. In course of time, he took up law as his profession in Karachi.
Fatehyab’s greatest contribution to politics came during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) as a fearless fighter against Ziaul Haq’s martial law regime. The Mazdoor Kissan Party, of which he was president, was a member of the alliance. He worked tirelessly to organize and spread the movement and to develop a consensus for the alliance to work from a common platform in the future, which was not to be. The decade of the 1980s was a period of internments, externments, trial by a military court and numerous prison terms for Fatehyab.
Whenever he found respite during the 1980s, Fatehyab turned his attention to the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, of which he had become a member in 1972. In 1980, Ziaul Haq had taken over the Institute through a presidential ordinance, turning it virtually into a government department. Between prison terms and other commitments, Fatehyab led a determined and courageous legal campaign to get the Institute restored to its original independent and non-official status. After many setbacks, his persistence triumphed and the presidential ordinance was declared ultra vires of the constitution by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1993.
In 1995, Fatehyab was elected as Chairman of the Institute’s Council, a position he held until 2009. As Chairman, he jealously guarded the independent character of the Institute, countering all pressure with the strength of his own personality. He followed an open door policy and generously allowed access, especially to young people, to its rich library holdings. Free from traditional prejudices, he was a great supporter of the women’s movement and especially encouraged the young women researchers at the Institute in their careers.
He was a prolific writer and has left behind a rich archive consisting of numerous constitutional petitions filed by him against martial law, articles on constitutional and international issues, political analyses and statements. These documents reflect not only his own commitment and contribution but also the dilemmas of the times in which he lived.
Admired for his cultured and gentle manner, Fatehyab was a literary connoisseur and a lover of all music forms. He was universally respected for his integrity and never compromised on his principles or sought any favours. Wealth and material assets, which bring security to many, meant nothing to him. Musing about his life, he would smile engagingly and say: ‘Mein aik nazaryati admi hun.’ We will miss his wisdom, civility, and wit.
Chairman and Members of the Council
The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs
Pakistan Horizon Volume 63 No4, October 2010