Yes, I was there in the stadium for the Champions Trophy Finals in the Amstelveen municipality of Amsterdam when the anti-Zia demonstration took place. While millions of Pakistanis saw it for less than a minute before the Pakistan Television (PTV) screen went blank, I was there to actually see, and not just hear a commentary of, the full second half of the match.
June 1982 was a time when I had, for personal and family reasons, taken a temporary retreat from active politics and was concentrating on making a living through writing. I was on a business tour in Europe, and the keen sports fan in me compelled me to travel to Amsterdam to watch the hockey finals up close.
I reached the Centraal train station that day and proceeded to the information desk to find out the route to the hockey stadium. The girl at the desk was perhaps as keen a sports fan as I was. Even before informing me about the route, she insisted that Holland would beat Pakistan in the finals that afternoon, and we ended up placing a 10-pound bet.
I was leaving Amsterdam the same night, so I placed the ten pounds on her table. If Pakistan lost, I would not come back, but if we won then her colleague at the desk would pay me 20 pounds when I returned for my train to Paris. “I know, tall man, you will not come back, and so bye bye,” she said as I left the information desk.
She was right.
At the stadium, I entered from the north side. Captain Samiullah was having a cup of tea in the café, looking very concerned. He was not happy with the defense. On the left flank, he would have to restrain himself. Our right half was injured and a substitute, not trained for that position, was being played. Samiullah thought that the Dutch would sense this weakness and create openings from the right flank.
As we walked out of the café, we saw Qasim Zia warming up. Samiullah had great faith in Zia. He felt that if Zia could hold the defense together, the forward line would be able to attack freely. I reassured him that Qasim Zia was a fine athlete and a very experienced defender, who would surely do better than expected.
“It is only the second part of his name that I cannot appreciate,” I joked, at which Samiullah, tense for so long, heartily laughed. “Best of luck, captain,” I said, and walked towards the stands at the northern end of the pitch.
If I remember correctly, the Dutch had scored two goals by half-time, both through openings created in the right flank. As the sides changed in the second half and our goalkeeper moved to the southern end, I could see that our defense had shifted a little to the right, opening up gaps on the left.
And then they came and unfurled their banners: The group of four young, self-exiled Pakistani men was diagonally across from me near the Pakistan goal line. From the distance, I could not recognise their faces, but the slogans against Zia were loud and clear. “Accelerate the struggle in Pakistan against the Ziaul Haq dictatorship!” one of them read.
I saw the Dutch police forming a cordon around them and stopping them from entering the ground. They did not enter the pitch but they managed to keep up the demonstration till a few minutes before the final whistle.
The Dutch team was now creating openings from the left flank, straight in the direction of where the demonstration was being held.
I can fully understand the dilemma that PTV commentators must have found themselves in, since the Dutch were closing in on the Greenshirts, restricting them to almost a quarter of the field on the Pakistani side — just where the Pakistani demonstrators were vociferously protesting.
We lost the match seven goals to one, and that solitary goal was scored when an almost desperate Samiullah ran down the left flank and banged the board from the top of the D. Perhaps four of the five goals had been scored from the left flank where the Dutch had opened up large gaps as we strengthened our right flank.
A few minutes before the final whistle, the demonstrators dispersed and perhaps left the ground too. With the Dutch celebrating their impressive victory, singing, dancing and drinking beer, I found PTV director Mr Muslehuddin standing dejected in a corner.
He must have gone through a tough ordeal blocking the visuals, but he was depressed at the margin of the Dutch victory. He even complained that the umpire had allowed a clear offside goal against us. But he unexpectedly cheered up when I mentioned the demonstration. The demonstration was the only positive thing that happened to us that day, he said.
“Are you joining us this evening for the reception at the embassy,” star player Hanif Khan asked me as he walked by. “What is there to celebrate, Hanif?” I asked.
“You are forgetting the demonstration against Zia, Taj sahib,” Muslehuddin quipped, with a big smile on his face.
On my way back, the Dutch bus driver refused to accept bus fare from me. “You are in grief, you lost the match. No ticket from you,” he taunted.
I got down near a taxi stand, and a Pakistani taxi driver offered to take me to a Pakistani Hotel. The hotel was quite huge, but lunch time was over and I was very hungry. The taxi driver offered to take me home then, where he said he would cook chicken for me. I declined. “There is a place for Pakistani food, sir, but it is not of your high standard,” he told me. “Don’t worry about the standard, take me there,” I replied.
It was a very humble, yellow-coloured eatery, built at the corner of an open ground. Outside the door, a large poster in Urdu announced an urs of a saint in Murree. I walked through a narrow corridor and into a large, dark room, where I could only see shadows and hear happy calls of “Taj bhai.”
Jane-Alam, Khagaan Mirza, Lal Khan and Wahab Siddique (ex-editor of Al-Fatah, the left-wing weekly newspaper) were all there, celebrating the grand success of their demonstration against Ziaul Haq.
The taste of Aaloo-Qeema and hot chapatis from the small restaurant still linger on in my memory. By the evening, everyone who had dispersed after the demonstration joined in for celebration. By the end of it, I boarded the train to Paris as a happy man.
After the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy began in 1983, Zia unleashed another spell of terror. Hundreds were killed, thousands arrested. Many opted to leave the country secretly and a whole underground system was in place to assist them in this.
A trading company was set up in Paris, with another base in Amsterdam, whose letterhead along with those of some other companies lied with me in Karachi. Business invitations were typed on the letterheads of the companies at Muhammadi House, my office in Karachi, while the French Consulate in Bath Island issued business visas the same day, in full knowledge of our clandestine activities.
I will never forget the two immigration officers posted at the Karachi airport. They simply had to be told the name of the passenger and his flight number, and they would see that the person safely boarded his flight. Often, the officials would have advance information about intended departures, as movements at my office, situated a few hundred metres from the police head office, were closely monitored.
The instructions to these immigration officials were explicit.
The airport was under surveillance, and it seemed suspicious if one arrived for departure alone or with young friends. Those looking to leave the country were told to hire an old ‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘sisters’, and/or ‘kids’, to have them see them off at the airport, since their own families were under observation as well.
They were instructed to carry business documents and business cards in their briefcases. After passing through immigration and into the departure lounge, they were told to shut themselves up in toilets, and come out only five minutes after the announcement of their flights. At least on one occasion, the officials prevented two innocent passengers from boarding the plane so they could prove their “loyalty” toward Zia.
The trickle abroad of PPP jiyalas continued, with the result that in Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, London, and Rome, smoothly functioning teams assisting Shaheed Bibi Sahiba during her first exile abroad took firm roots in a short period of time. So when Bibi Shaheed returned home in 1986, democracy returned to Pakistan, but many of those who left their homes during Zia’s tyrannical rule never made it back.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 26th, 2012.
More in MagazineOil, sweat and dirt