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Leader with a difference

Shahzada Mohiuddin who passed away yesterday dominated the political life of Chitral District for over thirty years. He remained MNA (four times), a District Council Chairman (twice), and District Nazim once. He also served as a minister of state and provincial caretaker minister and as a parliamentary secretary. 

The final tribute to his political legacy was when after his retirement the Chitralis elected his son Iftikharuddin with little political experience as MNA in 2013.

Chitral has no pocket constituency. With its geographical spread of over 14,500 sq. km,  its difficult terrain, thin spread of population and a highly politically conscious electorate, winning and retaining the confidence of the people for a time as long as he did was no ordinary achievement.

While he was born in the royal family, he remained  a man of the people who won his position through life long commitment to ameliorating the lives of the people. Extraordinary talent, hard work and dedication were part of his personality.  He could easily empathize and cut across social divides and readily made friends with even his foes. Using foul language, disrespecting his adversaries or hitting someone below the belt were not part of his political arsenal. He avoided playing on social divisions in the society and believed that at the end of the day the only yardstick by which a leader should be judged is the difference his work made  in his community.

The Shahzada was known for speaking truth to power. In 1986, at the annual Shandur Polo event, Shahzada Mohiuddin threw aside the customary written speech while General Zia in military uniform listened, highlighting the problems Chitral faced; and how the government blissfully ignored them.

Earlier, Shahzada Sahib had been been tipped off by a federal secretary that the six wings which the president had promised for Chitral Scouts during his visit to Drosh the previous year after the Russian bombing of Sweer would be partly filled from outside the district. It had triggered a reaction making him speak his mind. The president was visibly upset by this bravado and left the function without attending the lunch organized for him.

After a great deal of persuasion, Shahzada Sahib joined the president at the airport in Chitral and the matter was amicably resolved. This episode ended with Chitral being represented in Chitral Scouts by 6,000 households out of the 32,000 households that made up Chitral in those days. It was a remarkable contribution of his and Colonel Murad, the Commandant Chitral Scouts, to the livelihoods in the district.

When the military governor of NWFP was visiting Chitral, Shahzada Mohiuddin, as a young man in government service in Chitral, was visibly upset by the treatment being meted out to officials of the former State after its merger with West Pakistan in 1969. He got hold of the governor at the Chitral Pologround to say what he felt without mincing any words. It certainly did not go well with the regime who  made sure that he left the government service which he had been a part off since completing his education. This, he would say, was the best thing that happened to him.

In government service, he would have ended up as a Babu somewhere. The change in career enabled him to become a successful business man first and then blossom into a successful politician. When he first challenged outsiders who exclusively dominated the business of transporting timber out of Chitral, by competing with them, it caused tremors in the business circles of Chitral. The Chitralis of those days never went beyond subsistence farming. This was a small step at the time but a giant leap in terms of Chitrali’s competing with outsiders, and opening the way for many other Chitralis to take on new careers and benefit from new opportunities in the business and commercial fields. Later, as a public contractor, his work at the Singur Power house, Mori and Calkathak channels were exemplary with no cost overruns and timely completion and a high quality of work that shows even today. This was a far cry from the standard of work public contracting produces today.

While in the Nawaz cabinet as a Minister of State for Tourism, he did not hesitate  speaking his mind where there was a need. He was one of the two ministers who would tell the Prime Minister that his decision to accept the resignation of General Jahangir Karamat was wrong and did not set a good precedent while sycophants around were singing his praises for his brave decision. Similarly, when the Nawaz government was restored in 1993 by the Supreme Court and everyone was celebrating and congratulating the PM in the cabinet meeting, his colleagues would recall him saying to the Prime Minister that while he was happy to see him return, but he was certain that he would repeat his mistake again because he did not learn from them. Subsequent events showed that the Prime Minister never learnt.

During Princes Diana’s visit to Chitral, he found the visit to the Chitral Fort being cancelled at the last minute on the pretext of shortage of time by overzealous bureaucrats, he would tell Princess Diana and Nicholas Barrington, the British High Commissioner, that they could not insult the ex-ruling family having made them wait for hours to receive them on a visit scheduled by their own request. He made sure that the visit took place… The Princes aircraft as a result had to leave Chitral when it was almost dusk.

For Shahzada Mohiuddin, politics was about public service as much as it was about power.  After completing his education he had served as deputy commissioner for several years in Upper Chitral in the political raj that replaced the Mehtar’s rule in Chitral State from 1953. As a public servant, his hard work, close interaction with the communities and comprehension of their problems stood him well in the political career that he later undertook.
Chitral District which area wise made up almost 20% of KP comprising over 36 valleys. Its size could be gauged from the fact that its longest valley from Boroghil to Lowari takes as much time to travel in a helicopter as it does to travel from Chitral to Islamabad.  Shahzada Sahib with his phenomenal stamina and photogenic memory lived up to the task. He spent a large part of his time in his constituency. He travelled endlessly, over difficult jeepable dirt tracks escaping dangerous accidents several times, many times journeying hours on foot, spending nights often in his adversaries homes in the villages and meeting and mixing with people greeting everyone with his warm smile and open embrace. He was one of the few people who knew the problems of each of   the over five hundred villages in Chitral whether it was Boroghil or Rech, Ramram or Madashil.

When resources are distributed on the basis of population at the provincial level, Chitral gets very little, throwing up endless challenges for its representatives to meet the need of its constituents in an area which is geographically large and population wise very small. This was especially true in the pre 18th amendment days. Shahzada Mohiuddin made up for the scanty allocations through his interpersonal and persuasive skills at provincial and federal levels where he would raise additional grants to address its problems, solving them incrementally. He was a firm believer that remote and marginalized regions had little to gain by becoming part of wider national politics and that their politics should be restricted to getting the maximum resources for their area with all possible political alignments.
In the Chitral of the pre Lowari tunnel days, how problems were prioritized was very different from that today. Ensuring that the remotest valleys had government godowns which were well stocked with subsidized wheat; making sure that there were extra PIA flights to clear the passenger backlog or travel through Afghanistan was possible in winters. Building 84 bridges and long valley roads to break down the constraints that inaccessibility made for local lives through the District Council speak of the capacity he built within this usually weak department as its chairman.

Distant valleys like Arkari, Begusht, Lone and Gohkir, Madaklasht, Domel, Melp Ovir, Sunich, Jingeret, Urtsun were all connected to the main valley through rickety roads built at low cost within the meagre resources he raised. Similarly the spate of schools that were built in this period contributed to the literacy jump that later came in the district. In 1984 UNICEF declared Chitral a model district council with another two in KP when he was the Chairman.  The provision of water pipes by UNICEF enabled him to distribute them to distant villages thus providing a rudimentary gravity pull pipes system for drinking water in remotest parts of Chitral. He fully understood that government rules drawn up to meet the needs of people living in the plains with different working seasons would become a problem in the mountainous regions. To overcome it he would often take the liberty to break them but would always ask the auditors to visit the sites to determine if the government got value for money for his decisions. During their visit to the Jingiret road the auditors came back saying that the District should have been paid three times their payment for the quality of road that had been built. 

When a junior army major after the General Pervez Musharraf coup bullied the entire Chitral political leadership in a meeting over a sensitive public issue over which they were all united, he rolled up his wrists to challenge him to a fight or maintain decorum and decency in the meeting.

Like all Pakistani politicians operating in a patrimonial environment, he had his patronage networks. But he was firm that government funds when given for a public purpose must serve that purpose and went very far to ensure that even when his friends were implementing the projects. His commitment to public service came from the experience of his childhood spent in Chitral where each fortnight he had to travel 25 miles on foot to get to School.

As was traditional in Chitral he had spent some years with foster parents in the poverty stricken Biyori valley during his childhood that gave him a firsthand experience of pain and agony the poor have to undergo in their lives. It moulded his values. His towering personality brought dignity and self-respect for the Chitralis who often felt belittled by outsiders, many of whom in positions of authority understood them little. Even his adversaries in Chitral miss him on this count today.

Shahzada Mohiuddin had the foresight to see how civil society could play a useful role in the development of Chitral by bringing additional resources and ensuring participatory development very much in tune with the social norms prevalent in Chitrali villages. He therefore extended support to the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme when it was established against great opposition in Chitral. Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan the founder of the RSPs in Pakistan has acknowledged that one of his best finds was Shahzada Mohiuddin because without his help it was difficult to imagine what the programme would have done in Chitral. 

During all crises which had communal overtones in Chitral he would bravely take up cudgels on behalf of the under dogs and would not even hesitate to address congregations in mosques at heights of the crisis to cool down tempers. He intelligently brought harmony between the development objectives of the development organizations and his own development goals. When he found that the IFAD funded CADP projects funds were not being used economically by concentrating on village level projects duplicating the work of AKRSP he persuaded the Project to fund cluster projects to address the problems with roads in Harth, Breshgram and Arkari areas. When communities did not willingly save, a condition to benefit from AKRSP in Domel, he released District Councils funds to them to save so that they could leverage from the larger AKRSP support for road building. He was always there to extend support to organisations seeking funds from donors and made sure that his voice gave the demand legitimacy. He deeply deplored the marriages of young Chitrali girls to elderly people outside the districts exploiting poverty in the region and set up a committee to prevent that. Many girls found refuge in his house and he made sure that they were well cared for and their problems resolved.

Shahzada Mohiuddin found himself comfortable equally in the company of the elites and the downtrodden. He spoke at the UN in 1986, visited India, Sri Lanka and Maldives with President Zia. He was always elegantly dressed. He was also a great host and entertained all official visitors visiting Chitral and those working in Chitral in true spirit of Chitrali hospitality. His house at his village Serdur was thronged by thousands on Eid and festivals when he sat with people often listening to their problems.
Shahzada was a versatile personality. He led the Pakistan Universities in Football at Dacca against Rest of Pakistan in the 60s winning accolades from President Ayub for making it this far from a remote region. In Chitral he played polo well and while Deputy Commissioner he led his team against teams in Gilgit both here and across the Shandur Pass. He patronized music and folk dancing. He was an eloquent speaker whose resounding voice and clarity of thought would be dearly missed at public meetings.
His finest hours were perhaps those most secluded from the public eye.  In his last tenure as MNA an ischemic stroke severely affected him making him lose most of his eye sight. But he faced this with grace and bravery not giving up his public functions and responsibilities in his last two years. Once he had retired and the illness overwhelmed him he bore it with an unparalleled dignity. There was never a word of complaint and there was always a gratitude to Allah for the opportunity for service He had given him. Even in his illness the only questions he asked were whether a village had a road, or its electricity problem had been solved or its school was functioning?  Shahzada Sahib was no saint. He had his blemishes. But when you count for everything, his was a remarkable life of dedicated public service and he will always be remembered among the titans of Chitral’s history. May he rest in peace.

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