Iqbal Lala – ‘The bravest Pakhtun alive’

* As soon as the two great fathers reached the stage they both received a standing ovation by the audience

It was pouring down in London on last Saturday evening. I had reached at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) twenty minutes before the scheduled event, although the history of most of Asian events taught me not to arrive early if not late. After five minutes I noticed a group of people approaching the entrance of the main reception. Two of the faces were quite familiar to me. One was the father of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousufzai and the other gentleman was one of the greatest inspirations and the face of resistance late Mashal Khan’s father Iqbal Khan Lala. They both arrived at the venue before scheduled time to carry their children’s legacy forward.

I met with another surprise when I entered the hall and found it full with the audience except the reserved seats. People showed up in large numbers to give a heroic welcome to Iqbal Khan Lala. As soon as the two great fathers reached the stage they both received a standing ovation by the audience. I have not experienced such warmth and love for anyone in recent times. And this was before Malala Yousafzai’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai took the rostrum to formally introduce Iqbal Khan Lala. Most of the people stood up again, in acknowledgement of not just the statement, but the moment when two of Pakistan’s most resilient fathers were in concert on stage. Despite being the male parent of a girl who taught us how to dream, Yousafzai made sure that the night belonged to Lala, his legacy and his son.

ZiauddinYousufzai said that Iqbal Lala’s courage and dedication to progressive ideology had changed minds and hearts of millions of people. He said Muhammad Iqbal is called “Iqbal Lala” because he is loved by everyone in his small town. We might know him because of his son, but long before that Iqbal Lala made sure that he celebrated his daughter’s first birthday with the sprightliness of a son. He smashed the chains of patriarchy back then, and today, he stands for truth and justice. This is “tabdeeli”.

He is fighting the case of Mashal Khan in the streets of Pakistan.He is resisting for all those who suffered at the hands of blasphemy and all those who were lynched publically. Ziauddin Yousafzai said, he is standing up for every Malala and every Mashal of Pakistan. He is standing for Naqeeb Mehsud, he is standing for all of us. Iqbal Lala is living the philosophy of Bacha Khan; he is leading the philosophy of Bacha Khan.

He added while introducing Muhammad Iqbal to the audience, the story doesn’t stop here. Who is Muhammad Iqbal, beyond Mashal Khan’s father? He had four children and now he’s left with three. He has named all his children after historical and progressive Pashtuns. I have never experienced such a great man in my life. He is a great poet who is inspiring and loving. He is the bravest Pashtun that I have ever witnessed.

He quoted Iqbal Lala as saying, “My Mashal will not come back but I will stand up for all Mashals of Pakistan.”

Before Mashal Khan’s father had the chance to begin his speech, he had already received two standing ovations. He was sad but proud. Mashal has gotten the best of Pakistan. I was surprised and overwhelmed to watch how many people reached out to us to show their solidarity.

Iqbal Lala, a Pushto poet who actively participated in Bacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar movement, said, society has degenerated to a level where if you don’t like your neighbour’s dog, you claim it is mad and kill it. This is what needs to change. For this we have to unify as a society. I hope Mashal has given us enough reason to cause that. Iqbal Lala told the audience that extremists using the name of Islam for terrorist objectives had to be defeated through a united fight and progressive forces had to lead the fight through public awareness campaigns and message of non-violence.

He stated his son believed in Sufi ideology of peace, knowledge and love and wanted to spread the same message. He believed in getting knowledge, called himself a humanist and said that Allah has created nature for everyone and everyone has equal right and no one has the right to occupy its resources for personal use. He was a great believer in the Last Prophet Muhammad’s pbuh last sermon in which he declared, it’s not you, colour or origin or belonging that makes you outstanding but your ideology, character and your faith. Mashal was a Sufi by heart and a humanist in practice, always promoting freedom of thought for everyone. He would always articulate that this is God’s earth, not ours and that’s why animals and birds have an equal right to it. I have been a political worker long enough to experience that these days, politics of interests has overtaken politics of ideology. Some people from the left or whatsoever you may call it have equally venomous thoughts and ideas.

He praised the police of KP but the KP government. “The government assured that the local university would be named after his son, district council made promises too but no promise had been fulfilled. We are commoners, they (government) are our rulers, we respect them, but they have done nothing for us thus far. We are responsible for our own security”.

By the end of the gathering, the hall echoed with slogans like ‘Mashal’s blood will make a revolution’.

The event was a constituent of the annual Bacha Khan lecture organised by Bloomsbury Pakistan.

We both are known because of our children, but Iqbal Lala is the bravest Pakhtun alive.

~Zia ud Din Yousafzai


The writer is a traveller and freelance writer based in UK. He has previously written for @the_nation @Dawn_com @DunyaNews @TheAsians He can be contacted on Twitter @SyedIHusain