Eqbal Ahmad: Public Intellectual with a global vision

Twenty years back, on 11 May, South Asia’s top public intellectual Eqbal Ahmed passed away due to heart attack. He died after surgery of colon cancer from which he was suffering. Eqbal was an academic, activist, author, writer, political analyst and an active participant in global left movement. As renowned American historian Howard Zinn writes about him, ” Eqbal was not an armchair analyst but a participant of some of the most important struggles of our times”. A rare combination a public intellectual who himself fought for oppressed people and their struggles. He was a gramscian and a socialist, democrat in his own words. He was close friends and had close association with top intellectuals of the time like Frantz Fanon, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, David Dellinger, Howard Zinn, Ibrahim Abu Lughad, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Aga Shahid Ali and many others.

Eqbal had a deep vision and eye. He predicted future events which later proved true. He predicted Iraq invasion, Arab uprising long back and gave reasons of economic and strategic interests in Middle East. He had eye on Middle East since his Phd days as his topic was on Tunusian-Morrocon trade unions. He warned newer forms of imperialism in the form of American imperialism. He was most vocal critic of US foreign policies and hegemony. He was of the opinion that USA has poisoned seeds in Middle East and South Asia. His close friend, public intellectual and founder of Post Colonial studies, Edward Said called him “the shrewdest and most original anti imperialist analyst of the post world war”. His writings on anti colonial struggles, revolutionary uprisings and Western Imperialism are still considered best. He was even arrested on Jan 1971 for kidnapping president Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kessinger from which he was acquitted after fourteen months and is said to have been falsely arrested for being vocal critic of US policies and hegemony.

Eqbal had critical solidarity with Algeria’s National Liberation Front and Palestinian’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation. He even was vocal against Bosnian ethnic cleansing. He met a wide range of activists like Yasir Arafat and Afghan Mujahideen pioneers like Osama Bin Laden. He was of the opinion that Islamic radicalism can be curbed by free and fair election, end of wrong policies and dictatorship. In 1998, he gave a brilliant talk at University Of Colorodo on “Terrorism theirs and ours” by demystifying the mainstream and popular notion of terrorism.

He not only spoke, wrote on these movements but on Kashmir also. In fact, he fought in first war of Kashmir 1947. His close friend Stuart Schaar has written a book on him “Eqbal Ahmad, Critical outsider in a turbulent age” published by Cambridge University Press. It discusses in detail about his fight in Kashmir’s first war based on his interview with his daughter Dohra. Eqbal was recruited by Muslim leaguers for Kashmir war from his school. He was just fourteen years old that time. Besides Muslims leaguers there were two other groups also of Ahmadis and communists led by Latif Afghani who introduced Eqbal to leftist ideology. He even witnessed killing, raping and looting by pathans. Eqbal extensively wrote on Kashmir also. In his essay “A Kashmiri solution for Kashmir”, he writes about Kashmir not being communal problem and dispute can’t be resolved by undertaking Kashmiri aspiration. Nehru’s broken promise and manipulation of Kashmiri’s not only by India but by Pakistani’s also. He writes about Ghulam Ahmad’s betrayal of Kashmiri’s when Sardar Patel offered him Kashmir for Hyderabad which he declined. One of his last writing of his life was on Kashmir “Kashmir and it’s challenges” which was published on 31 jan,1999. In this article he writes about Kashmir’s indigenous movement and unusually powerful. The challenges it faces. He was of the opinion that Kashmir dispute can’t be solved militarily but by dialogue taking Kashmiri aspirations in consideration.  In his opinion decades of misrule and repression started uprising in Kashmir. Eqbal with Physicists Abdul Hamid Nayyar and Parvez Hoodbhoy were against nuclear folly. They feared nuclear proliferation and atomic disaster. He wanted to promote dialogue as both India and Pakistan possessed nuclear weapon. India, Pakistan, Kashmir should negotiate and end bloody expensive and blood conflict.

He wrote extensively on South Asia post Partition. He wrote Partition didn’t solve problems it aimed. Poverty, education, healthcare worst in post partition South Asia. Bengli’s supported partition but felt alienated post partition. Uprisings in East Pakistan, Punjab and Kashmir are witness to it.

Eqbal was critical of Pakistan leaders’ policies also. He was critical of Bhuttos, Zia, Nawaz and others also. He had high opinion about founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He saw him as a great liberal, visionary whose opponents of Pre Partition era became heroes in Pakistan. He called Zulfiqar Bhutto mass rhetorician, dedicated to himself not people. He called Zia’s rule dark rule. Eqbal at the end of his life wanted to establish a liberal arts college “Khaldunia” which Benazir Bhutto didn’t allow to build because of his criticism to her and her father’s regimes’ policies and corruption. He wanted to make it big humanities university which lags behind not only in Pakistan but in whole South Asia. Later Polo ground was built on the allotted field. His dream of Khaldunia is still unfulfilled, the sad tragedy of not only Pakistan but whole South Asia. As Arundhati Roy wrote about him, “Eqbal was quite brilliant man with brilliant insights. My only complaint is he is not here, we need him most”. South Asia is in dire need of a brilliant person like Eqbal Ahmad.