Major-General (retd) Naseerullah Babar, who was known for his role in the operation against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and widely seen as the brains behind the Taliban in Afghanistan, passed away on January 10 in Peshawar.
He reportedly had an attack of paralysis on Sunday and was admitted to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Peshawar, where he died early on Monday. He was buried in his ancestral graveyard in Pirpai, Nowshera, on Monday afternoon. His funeral was attended by many prominent political and government functionaries.
He was 82 and is survived by his wife and daughter.
Born in 1928, Babar served in the Pakistan Army from 1948 to 1974 and joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 1970s. He also served as inspector general of the Frontier Corps, as well as governor of the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) from 1975 to 1977.
He was considered to be extremely close to the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and served as interior minister during her second tenure. It was at this time that the government decided to launch an operation against the MQM, one that saw the streets of Karachi turn into a battlefield.
“Regardless of how grave the situation was, he would remain cool and unfazed. Even during the operation he would go out on the streets and visit affected areas himself,” one journalist recalled. “Benazir Bhutto treated him with a lot of respect and trusted him completely. She would always address him as Babar Sahib,” he said.
Senior PPP leader Taj Haider said Babar was “very brave and had a great deal of integrity.” In the years following the dismissal of Benazir’s second government, Babar remained close to the PPP leader. “He was very perturbed about her security when she returned in 2007,” Haider recalled.
Babar’s role in propping up and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan was also pivotal. He made no bones about the fact that he was the father of the Taliban and commanded respect within the Taliban leadership. However, the sources say, Babar looked at Taliban as a ‘strategic and political ally’, not an organisation he was ideologically connected to, and believed a Taliban government could help Pakistan strategically.
Babar’s connection with Afghanistan spanned several decades. Several books, including Steve Coll’s Ghost Warsand Ahmed Rashid’s Descent into Chaos, mention that Babar trained Afghan leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massoud in the 1970s to launch a guerrilla movement.
In his twilight years, Babar distanced himself from the PPP over the issue of the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance – of which he was a bitter critic – choosing to leave the party and formally end his political career.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2011.