Dr Hassan Zafar Arif | Family, Wedding Pics, Age, Biography, Education, Height, Scandal, Weight, Wife, Wiki & More
More of a phenomenon than a person, Zafar Arif, or Dr. Saheb, (as he is endearingly called both by his juniors and elders) has been around, and in more ways that it is incredible to find out that so many Karachiites do not know of existence. But then one can easily see why his presence has not been felt in these paltry times. An unassuming and modest man, he hasn’t pursued his own agendas, if he ever had one. Throughout his struggle-filled life, he has not been self promoting and chose to stay behind while promoting others, only caring to fill those spots left vacant in the process.
A precocious child, he finished High School at the age of 13. Early on, he showed promise in table tennis and won against the top ranking Pakistani players of his day. By the time he was 18, he had become the first ever MA student from the arts faculty to top in all the faculties of Karachi University, and as was the custom in those days he was awarded a full scholarship to pursue higher studies in England. He was in England in the middle to late sixties and early seventies where he took part in the student movements of the day and completed his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Reading University. The tile of his dissertation reads…..An Elucidation on the Concept of Truth. Truth—staying true to an ideal of the self—proved to be the Achilles heel in the course of his life.
In 1973, he returned to Karachi University as Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy. His presence was immediately felt on the campus scene. For one, he went lightly on the campus grounds in his Bugti sandals and blue jeans, with a self assured carefreeness, and a disarming smile that won him instant approval among the liberal circles of the university. Prior to 1973, Jamat-i- Islami’s student wing IJT (Islami Jamiat Talaba) swept the elections by hook or crook but their that privilege ended that year. They never got a clear mandate in the University of Karachi elections after (that year) 1973, mostly because of one man’s influence—Zafar Arif. Even though he didn’t seem to have any personal agendas, a product of the 60s, he stood for universal human rights, the pursuit of which put him at odds with the rightest lobby of the university. In those days the entire politics of the city was centred on the Karachi university campus.
Dr. Saheb struggled with and for the university and college teachers, and for the non-teaching staff on and off campus, and was a key figure in the University Teacher’s Society and the Syndicate. One of his crowning achievements was the teachers ADHOC movement where he almost single-handedly secured tenure for hundreds of part time college and university teachers.
A few years later he was he was at the helm of affairs of the Progressive Students Front formed to combat the draconian rule of IJT on university campus. This same alliance was transformed into USM—the United Students Movement—again, an alliance of all progressive and nationalist student parties against the IJT. As things got worse for the progressives in the wake of Bhutto’s execution, Jamat I Islami and its reactionary ideology became the guiding ideology of Zia Ul Haq’s regime. Jamaati goons—or in Syed Sibte Hassan’s parlance—Jamaati GUNDAY—ran rough shod over all opposition, muzzling all voices of dissent, threatening to kill the musical note and break all musical instruments with the active backing of the Zia regime.
During this time Dr. Saheb was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to do Post-doctoral research at Harvard University in the USA. There he worked with the world renowned analytic philosopher and formal logician, Willard Van Orman Quine, who is deemed the biggest name in philosophy in the Anglo Saxon world, next only to Bertrand Russell. Quine’s collected papers, famously known as the Quine papers, have a reference of his collaboration with Hasan Zafar Arif. At Harvard, he also had encounters with another major analytic philosopher and philosopher of science of the 20th century, Hillary Putnam, who was a member of the Harvard Philosophy faculty at the time. Through assisting a friend with her research, he had the opportunity to study Hegel in depth which brought him closer to the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism.
Upon his return, he was back in the fray again. This was days after Salam Ullah Tipu, along with two associates, hijacked a PIA airliner after having made a show on campus in which an IJT activist was gunned down. (I saw a TV program where Mr. Habib Akram was trying to portray Zafar Arif as the patron saint of left wing terrorists, highlighting his affiliation with Tipu and other members of ‘Al Murtaza’ group. By this he must have meant the militant organization Al Zulfiqar, formed by the Bhutto brothers in exile after the execution of their father by the Zia regime. Sifting through ISPR files for information on politicians must indeed be a painstaking job! Dr. Saheb would of course have met and known Tipu had he not been on his sabbatical during the rise of Tipu in the ranks of USM. By the time he got back, Tipu had already conducted the operation against IJT and on his way to Kabul.) Subsequently, Jamiat banned all progressives from entering the university campus and the onus was again on Dr. Saheb to assemble an alliance against the IJT. At that time he met many student leaders, including APMSO leader Altaf Hussain, and persuaded them to return and resume their activities at the university.
He was also elected president of the KUTS (Karachi University Teachers Society) and was firing on all cylinders when he was chucked out of the university by the order of the then MLA administrator, General Jahandad Khan. Jahandad sent him a show cause notice, expecting a cowering response. He instead received a towering one—in which he described the atrocities committed by the Martial law regime in succinct terms. This was one of the most cogent and daring invectives ever drafted in the history of Pakistani politics. Jahandad was obviously upset, visibly upset if we are to believe in rumours. He ordered Dr. Saheb’s immediate termination from his university post and sentenced him to prison.
While in prison, Dr. Saheb refused to sign any mercy plea. He was kept in jail for over two years, released mainly due to pressure on authorities built through a network of human rights activists and scholars in Europe and the USA. The publicity his case received included a statement in the Hansard report of 1983, in which Jack Straw raised concern about Dr. Saheb’s unlawful detention.
Out of prison, and removed from campus, he began to work indefatigably towards organizing the PPP and its student wing PSF from the city. He actively participated in the MRD movement (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy) and had occasional meetings with Nusrat Bhutto at a time when doing so was perhaps akin to currently calling Altaf Hussain Altaf Bhai! Prior to Benazir’s arrival in Pakistan, Dr. Saheb was one of the central figures in active PPP politics. People who were part of his group, namely Fahim Zaman, Masroor Sabzwari, Waqar Abid, Sathi Ishaq, Ahmad Ali Soomro, all became leaders of the PPP and confidantes of Benazir Bhutto. In the early days of Benazir’s arrival, he closely worked with her, and she asked him to hold study circles at 70 Clifton that she herself attended. But it was becoming clear to him that Benazir had made a pact with the devil. She was relying on the CIA, the Army and the USA State Department nexus to pursue her political agenda. With little room for his leftist ideology and people’s oriented politics in the self-promoting and Ji bibi Ji Bibi culture of the PPP, he quietly removed himself from the thick of things, while still on good terms with Benazir.
Dr. Saheb began translating foreign publications and writing books on leftist ideology. He polemicized with the so called nationalist Marxists and presented his notorious paper on the National Question amid great controversy at the Karachi Press club. The PINDAAL was filled with the supporters of nationalist parties. In the Q & A session after his speech, one Sindhi nationalist stood up and cheekily asked if Lenin objected to the forming of the Sindhology board. He replied with his characteristic serenity, ‘Did Lenin ever ask for the forming of such an institution!’ There was a buzz in the crowd. Dr Zafar Arif could have given a more through, extra logical reply to the question but the mood of the participants had well-nigh indicated that it would have fallen on deaf ears. Sometime later he also held a polemic with the Qaumi Inquilabi party of Afrasiyab Khatak. In a defining pamphlet which was a masterful exercise in Leninism, he took apart their tawdry world view and critiqued their pessimism towards revolutionary struggle.
He was still somewhat involved in the affairs of PPP and PSF, albeit from a distance. The final straw came when he realized that Karachi PSF and some criminal elements under its patronage were under direct orders from 70 Clifton to conduct violent operations against members of the MQM in a bid to take over the city. He asked all under his influence in the PPP/ PSF to immediately resign from their party posts to avoid direct conflict with the MQM. Most of them obliged. Those few who remained at their posts were killed in the violence of the early 90s. Prominent among them was Najib Ahmad, the legendary fighter and the president of Karachi PSF. It goes to Dr. Saheb’s credit that during this time when the Al Zulfiqar group was making headway inside the PSF and PPP ranks he opposed them and translated a book titled, ‘Are left wing terrorists really the people of the left’. It was not taken in good humour by the opposite camp of Masroor Ahsan, and one of Asif Zardari’s notorious hitman, Zahid Saeed, was in hot pursuit of Dr. Saheb for several days, until sanity prevailed.
With these episodes, Dr. Saheb completely extricated himself from popular politics and started the Karachi Study Circle with a view to providing ideological training to the left oriented intelligentsia. He briefly acted as the chairman of the Karachi chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. In 1996, after having survived a massive myocardial infarction, he engaged in some political activity on the request of his personal friend from PPP days, Makhdoom Khaliq uz Zaman, who asked him to join Murtaza Bhutto’s cabinet in an advisory role. After Murtaza’s death he remained active for a while with Ghinwa Bhutto and then dissociated from her as well.
For the next 15 or so years he kept a low profile engaging in various types of business and educational activities where he conceived and started a project from the scratch and moved on to the next by the call of his free spirit.
And now after a long interval, he has resurfaced again on the political scene, ostensibly backing the cause of a political party with a sectarian lineage that has reasonably left everyone, his friends and foes alike, baffled. While those who don’t know him are trying to find out who Zafar Arif is, those who are in the know are grappling with his reasons for joining and actively supporting the so called MQM London at this juncture of its life. I belong to the second group.
I decided to pen this article after having recently watched a TV show conducted by Mr. Amir Liaquat Hussain on BOL TV. In the show he and another Amir from Karachi University—Amir Zia— sought to demystify Zafar Arif for the audience. It was an exercise in utter bad taste, and in yellowest journalism. Amir Zia claimed that he has spoken to one of Zafar Arif’s old students who informed him that Zafar’s problem is that he desires to be in the limelight. He seeks attention, publicity, Amir said. But then he added that Zafar also has a reputation for showing up for support when some party is badly in need of it, which runs contrary to the spirit of his attention seeking claim. Amir Liaquat on his part quipped, ‘another Hussain Haqqani then,’ to which the other Amir nodded with a sarcastic smile.
Zafar Arif can be accused of many things. For a dialectician who dwells in contradiction and never cares to explain the vagaries of his personal conduct, he can be accused of being capricious, of changing sides without reason or notice, leaving businesses unfinished so to speak. But he is no limelight seeker. He himself is the light, lime and all. And those whom he has touched can tell you that he is Dilwaala and Dimaaghwaala, not a Darbarwaala! Can it even stand to common sense that a man of his credentials did not hold a post in any government in Pakistan? That he never did take part in the national loot that has been going on right under his nose, never bathed in the Ganges in which every Qaim, Mushahid, and Zehri seem to have egregiously bathed? You think Benazir would not have been pleased to have him as his Qaim Ali Shah or N D Khan or Amir Haider Kazmi! Fact is that Zafar Arif, Dr. Saheb, never owned a house or any property anywhere. Since leaving his university professorship, he lived off odd jobs, stripped to essentials, in rented places all over Karachi. That even when Benazir came to power and he was on good personal terms her and with some key people in her cabinet he never once asked to be reinstated or claimed his pay in arrears for lost years of employment, or access to his pension fund for over a decade of employment. He had every reason to ask to be compensated as he lost his job fighting for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. I am sure Benazir would have obliged.
I am well aware of the constraints on the Pakistani media. Still, I am royally pissed with the journalists from Karachi for their inability to tell what they unquestionably know about Zafar Arif. Mazhar Abbas and Mujahid Barelvi know of his struggle. They could vouch for most of what I have written about his political life and his character as they were around when he was out there. Since his reappearance on the political scene, only certain facts about his life are cherry-picked and then distorted to further the impression that he has ties with the left wing militants in the past. Nothing is further from the truth as he has fought against militancy all his life. Always a believer in peaceful politics he was going to exercise his right to freely speak when he was picked up by the Rangers outside the Karachi Press Club. In an interview given to Samaa TV the day before he was arrested, the anchor at one point asked him about his recent exercise in futility, his insisting on Altaf Hussain, calling him Altaf Bhai in public. Dr. Saheb’s reply was illuminating: Altaf Bhai is the voice of the people. Minus Altaf means minus people, and minus people cannot happen.
It seems to me that Dr. Saheb has come full circle. He is still standing on the same patch, when the ground and all else around him has shifted. He still upholds the same values and universal human rights that he started out with, and he doesn’t believe that one has to beg for those rights or ask special ‘spatial’ concessions from the members of establishment. Here’s a point to ponder: I think it will serve his critics well if rather than locating hidden agenda or ascribing petty incentive to his recent move, so late in his career, they begin to ponder why a man of his pedigree chose to call Altaf Hussain, Altaf Bhai, when those closest to the once unquestioned leader of Karachi are forced to utter his name in less endearing terms, if they can utter it at all.
Let us discover the ingredients of Zafar Arif’s hemlock.