A man to remember

Agha Showkat Ali - an actor of unfolding ‘K’ tragedy

Dr. Javid Iqbal
Publish Date: Apr 3 2013 12:00PM

 With the passing away of Agha Showkat a few days back, an actor of unfolding ‘K’ tragedy has left the scene. Memories however remain of the person with an imprint from Srinagar to Lahore and on to Virginia. January 1920 Srinagar born, Showkat was born in highly cultured, elitist Agha family. His brother Agha Nasser—former chief secretary was two years older and another Agha Ashraf…the academician two years younger to Agha Showkat. Mother—Begum Zaffar Ali [1900-1999] was the first female matriculate in the valley. Married to Zaffar Ali, she was daughter of Agha Syed Hussain—Home and Judicial Minister in Hari Singh’s autocratic rule.
Agha Showkat impressed Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah on his 1944 tour of Kashmir. Besides Agah Showkat, KH Khursheed earned the distinction to be in Quaid’s good books. This led to his quick elevation as general secretary of Muslim Conference. Strangely, as Agah Ashraf relates academically he was bred on Nehruvian prose. Nehru’s autography, Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History were doing rounds in Agha household. With Quaid-e-Azam, it was love at first sight for Agah Showkat. Conversely Agha Ashraf’s focus of attention was Zakir Hussain…“love at first sight”. While as love for Quaid-e-Azam had Agah Showkat landing in Lahore, Jamia Millie Delhi became the cherished destination of Agah Ashraf.
Urdu daily Khidmat—NC’s publication denotes a historical trail of unfolding ‘K’ tragedy, particularly the editorials of 1947. Presenting a rosy view of NC, the study however between the lines provides an insight. September the 4th 1947 editorial states that following his ouster on August, the 11th 1947 as Kashmir premier—RC Kak remained in contact with anti-Abdullah elements in Muslim Conference. The editorial makes out that Kak met Agha Showkat in Gulmarg, besides remaining in contact with Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah and Chowdary Hamidullah. Kak was believed to favour independent Kashmir. And he was fiercely opposed to Nehru-Abdullah combine. His ouster was the result of pressure exerted by Delhi—Sardar Patel mainly. Sardar had a relationship of sorts with Kashmir Durbar. Nehru on the contrary was not a favourite of Maharaja Hari Singh. Thakur Janak Singh—the interim PM was soon replaced by Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan. The judge had worked as one of the two Indian members in Radcliff boundary commission.
Agha Showkat was battling heavy odds. Aged just 27, his resilience and width of activity evokes admiration for one so young. Prem Shankar Jha in his [Kashmir 1947—Rival Versions of History—an Oxford publication] picks up the tale. The book is widely believed to be the Indian answer to [Allister Lamb’s Kashmir 1947—Birth of a Tragedy—Roxford publications, 1994] a book highly critical of Indian moves. On page [14] Jha notes, “During the reminder of 1946, the Muslim Conference began to model itself closely on the Muslim League”. Jha parades several factors—importing Punjab Muslim League leaders, shaping a National Guard on pattern of Muslim League and attributes all these steps to Agha Showkat, “All this followed the appointment of Agha Showkat Ali as the general secretary of Muslim Conference and Choudhuri Ghulam Abbas as it president”. Jha also notes a report of Col. Webb—Srinagar based British Resident. Webb reported that Agha Showkat Ali and others though threatening ‘direct action in Kashmir in September’ failed to unite Muslim Conference factions [ibid-page: 15]. All these evidences point to the fact of Agha Showkat being a significant actor in the unfolding ‘K’ tragedy.
Agha Showkat was imprisoned as Abdullah administration took over. He was externed, as was Yousuf Bucch. Agha Ashraf though insists that his brother was externed against his wishes. Mushtaq Gurmani—Pakistan’s first Minister of Kashmir Affairs emerges in negative light in accounts of the periods, including the comprehensive one ‘Shuhab Nama’ of Jammu born Quadratullah Shuhab—Pakistan Administered Kashmir’s first top civil servant. Agha Showkat’s protest led to his expulsion from Muslim Conference. He joined civil services. Later he studied international relations in Princeton University on Fulbright scholarship. Agha Showkat wrote a book on Soviet Central Asia. He held important positions in Pakistan administrative services, though never ever did he loose touch with politics. With Yousuf Bucch, he was counted by Pakistan’s leadership as the person to be consulted on ‘K’ moves. From Bhutto to Musharaf Pakistani leaders solicited his advice.
He visited Kashmir twice—1963 and 1979. In 1963, in a private talk with some academics he rued the factional Sher--Bakra fight. Of the 1963 Bhutto-Swaran talks, he said that instead of self determination finding expression in plebiscite, alternative forms of expression were being explored. In 1979, Sheikh Abdullah held a few lengthy sessions with him exploring avenues of ‘K’ conflict resolution. While in Srinagar, he suffered Myocardial Infraction. Abdullah requested Dr. Ali Jan to personally supervise the treatment in SMHS Hospital, overlooking the great physician’s plea of having retired from services. Agha Showkat also suffered for long from Rheumatoid Arthritis. In his later years, he shifted to United States and remained absorbed in running ‘Allama Iqbal—Ali Sharyati [an Iranian literary figure—Iqbal devotee] Foundation’. Never ever did he loose touch with Kashmir. The grapevine has it that he had a hand in how Musharaf’s thinking evolved on Kashmir—an out of box peaceful solution devoid of violence.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]
Iqbal. javid46@gmail.com

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