Pir Pagara

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Syed Shah Mardan Shah, popularly known as Pir Pagara, was born in Pir Pagaras family on 20 November 1928. His illustrious father, the late Pir Sibghatullah Shah Pagara, was a great freedom fighter and had a tremendous following as a great Pir in the province of Sindh. He valiantly waged a revolutionary struggle for independence against the British colonial rule that caused the supreme sacrifice of his life. The British used coercive methods on the Pir and his followers. When he was declared traitor and tried in 1936 by the British, his lawyer was Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Pir Sahib was, however, sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. He was deported to Bombay and then transferred to Calcutta where he breathed his last. Later, though, the British sponsored Syed Mardan Shah to study at Oxford, he returned at the request of Pakistan’s first premier, Liaquat Ali Khan, in the early 1950s. He was warmly invited to join national politics on the PML’s platform. On the part of Liaquat Ali Khan who was then also President of the Pakistan Muslim League, it may be considered as an effort to muster feudal support in areas where it cannot command a democratic following.

Pir Pagara is a powerful spiritual leader with a million tribal members known as Hurs (free and brave men). The Hurs consider the Pir Pagara as literally their god on earth. They always enthusiastically welcome him and shower him with rupees and gifts (nazranas) whenever he makes an appearance, no matter how brief it may be. Pir Sahib always defended Pakistan’s ideology and its borders. He has always been in favor of constructing Kalabagh Dam and new water reservoirs for he believes that “If dams are built, electricity would be available at cheap rates. At present we are suffering because of PPP which had made electricity costly.” Imbued with strong sense of patriotism, Pir Pagara supplied thousands of volunteers to the Pakistan army during the 1965 and 1970 wars against India. Thus militarily the Hurs are a great source of strength. That is why the Pakistan Army was not deployed on the Thar border and the vast expanse of Sindh desert was open to the enemy. India could have chosen the area of its operations and done irrevocable damage to the country but the militia of Hurs proved to be easily available substitute for the Army. Hurs and their camels did a terrific job as and when they were required to defend their borders. No doubt, it conveniently caused to help him forge strong ties with the military.

He is a fascinating person and has diverse reading habits. One of his favorite hobbies has always been horseracing. Sitting in his office in his house, behind a door decorated with the sign of Scorpio, Pir Pagara takes relish in having a meal of fried fish and lentil. He always takes pleasure in the company of military rulers of Pakistan. On many an occasion he publicly stated that “I take orders in national politics from GHQ”. In 1968 Pir Pagara was an active member of the Council League that participated in the Democratic Action Committee Movement against the Ayub government. But afterwards, contrary to the Muslim League of Chatha Group, he favored the government of General Zial-ul-Haq. For a period he did acknowledge Muhammad Khan Junejo as the President of PML. But after his death in 1993, the Muslim League divided into three groups, PML (N), PML (J) and the third one was his own Functional Group (PML (F). For some time he was close to even General Musharraf and advised him to become president of the unified PML. But later on, due to his differences with Ch. Shujaat Hussain, the President of the ruling PML (Q), he announced his disassociation from PML to revive his own party PML (F), which he had earlier merged with the Pakistan Muslim League on the personal request of the President. Thus as his political choice is concerned, he looks so often capricious and unpredictable.

He has great personal wealth, a “palatial residence” in Karachi, and great numbers of willing acolytes to do his bidding. It is rather difficult to keep the Pir Sahib out of the political orb, as he has always been influential in his region. At oft-times he is labeled as a kingmaker in Pakistani politics. At least no one can imagine becoming a chief minister of Sindh without his support. The influence of Pir Sahib has increased over time because of his ability to predict the happenings in the political system. His domineering influence can be gauged by the fact that even a powerful Prime Minister like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could not afford to turn his back on him. When he came to power after the fall of Dacca, he invariably tried to please the Pir Sahib also due to the fact that he looked for ways to keep control of his own home province. In a way Pir Pagara has been inconsistent with the rest of the political personalities of his time. The difference is that he was never in the race of political favors for himself being confident of his own spiritual and temporal powers.

This article was last updated on Thursday, Jan 06, 2011