It is true that nothing can ever prepare you for the loss of a parent. More than 40 days on, and the blistering sense of shock has not eased one bit.
My father, Syed Iqbal Haider, passed away on November 11, 2012, in Karachi, due to lung failure. Anyone who knew him would tell you that his was an extraordinary life lived by a truly remarkable person. As a political activist, Iqbal Haider had the courage to face severe hardships and make personal sacrifices for the betterment of his country. As twice federal minister, attorney general of Pakistan and one of the closest companions of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Iqbal Haider was best known for his humility, honesty, integrity and, above all, for not compromising on his principles — consequences be damned. As a champion of human rights, he spoke fearlessly and loudly against the strongest of people and institutions. And, as a father who amongst all the chaos in his life also had to provide for his family, Abbu, as we called him, gave us the most invaluable gifts any parent could ever give his children: the best education he could afford and a lesson in how to live life without compromising on values and principles.
During the Ziaul Haq days, Abbu was a vigorously active and outspoken member of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) and played an instrumental role in MRD’s struggle against the military regime. Seen as a ‘troublemaker’ by the dictatorial regime, he was often whisked off to jail.
Speaking at a memorial held by the Joint Action Committee in Karachi, Mr Mairaj Mohammad Khan, the iconic leader of the MRD, recalled fondly how Iqbal was a powerhouse of energy and excitement — even when in jail. His high spirits and zeal for their common struggle for restoring democracy in Pakistan helped keep the morale of other political prisoners flying high. True to his style, he had endeared himself to the jail wardens who would sometimes let him sneak out of his ward and, with a spring in his feet, Iqbal would visit political prisoners in other cells, boosting their morale as he went along.
Abbu’s friends adoringly called him ‘Groovy’; in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad, he was known as the ‘Diplomat’s Darling’; and at family gatherings, he was ‘Judge Chacha’ — the noisy, jolly Pied Piper with a trail of hysterical children and pets following him everywhere he went. His arrival would instantly up the excitement levels by several decibels at any gathering. In any family he knew, he had individual friendships with all generations of the household. On the political front, such was the goodwill and respect he enjoyed, that his party often nominated him to negotiate with the other side of the aisle on parliamentary matters.
Yes, we knew that a large part of Iqbal Haider’s legal practice was devoted to fighting pro bono cases and that he was the voice of many faceless victims of injustice and human rights violations, but what this meant in real terms we realised only when we met in person the innumerable individuals and families whose lives he had bettered. They came to us inconsolable and lost. Each narrated a unique story of how Iqbal Haider had helped them and taken on their problem as if it was his own. When no one would spare the time to meet them, he selflessly devoted himself to ensuring that he got them justice. They came to us, not to condole our loss, but to weep over their own loss.
Iqbal Haider’s political struggle, his unwavering dedication to human rights causes and his sheer anger at all that is wrong with our society all stemmed from one source: his love for his country, Pakistan. So firm was he in his commitment to better his country, that for him no challenge was too great and no cause too small to justify inaction.
The numerous awards being conferred upon Iqbal Haider, the reference, memorials and prayers which continue to be held within and outside Pakistan, give us, his family, some comfort in knowing that his sacrifices and hard work did not go unacknowledged. As the curtains fall on his life, we are proud that our nation has honoured Iqbal Haider with a thunderous standing ovation for being a true son of the soil, the purpose of whose life was one and one alone: to serve Pakistan and its people with all his heart and to his final breath.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2013.