‘PPP is the future of progressive movement’: Jam Saqi talks about his life and politics in Pakistan
The interview with Jam Saqi was conducted by Zaman Khan in 2005.
Mohammad Jam, commonly known as Jam Saqi, was born on October 31, 1946, in Janjhi village of Tharparkar district in a family of teachers. His father, Mohammad Sachal, was a dedicated educationist, who was instrumental in the opening of many schools, particularly those for girls, in Thar.
Jam Saqi’s mother Menhbai was illiterate at the time of her marriage but Mohammad Sachal taught her to become a teacher as well.
During Ziaul Haq’s rule, Jam was arrested and one could see wall chalking from Karachi to Gilgit seeking his release from prison. He earned this eminence through sheer dedication and sacrifice for the cause of the downtrodden, the disadvantaged and the marginalized.
Jam Saqi has been to jail for a number of times. He was first arrested on March 5, 1967 for agitating against the intervention of bureaucracy in universities. Total time he spent behind the bars – including the days he was kept at Lahore’s infamous Shahi Qila detention centre – is no less than 14 years with the longest single stint being eight years long.
During Zia’s dictatorship, he was tried in Karachi by a military court for treason, a charge that carries death penalty. People who appeared during the trial as his defence witnesses included Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ghous Bux Bizenjo and Benazir Bhutto.
Jam Saqi received his primary education in his village, and went to Hyderabad for higher studies after doing high school from Thar. He did masters in political science while in jail.
He served as secretary Hyderabad Students Federation and the president Sindh National Students Federation. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto resigned from Ayub Khan’s cabinet, Saqi invited him to a student’s convention on December 13, 1966. It was the first public meeting that Bhutto addressed.
When Bhutto was arrested in November 1968, some students, including Jam Saqi, were also arrested from Hyderabad. They were detained for three months. “That was the time when US and Pakistani bureaucracies had decided to get rid of Ayub. Army had put Ayub under house arrest on March 3, 1969, though they formally declared martial law about twenty days later,” he reminisces about those heady days.
During one of his imprisonments, the Sindh High Court issued an order of his production but the police did not do so. There were rumours that he had been murdered, making his wife commit suicide by jumping into a well on Jan 19, 1979.
Though Jam Saqi is usually known as a progressive political leader, he is also a poet and a fiction writer — Saqi being his nom de plume. He started writing poetry while in school.
I had the priviledge of interviewing him some years ago and here is what we talked about:
Zaman Khan: How did you become a Marxist?
Jam Saqi: While I made a speech at a students’ gathering arranged to observe Liaquat Ali Khan’s death anniversary on October 16, 1961, a retired school teacher present on the occasion was greatly impressed by my progressive tone. I had meeting with him even a couple of days after the anniversary. He told me how socialism could all the disparities that we saw around us.
When did you join Communist Party of Pakistan?
I joined the party on June 7, 1964.
Why did you leave the party?
I was elected the Communist Party of Pakistan’s Secretary General on December 25, 1990, at the party’s Karachi Congress. I was the representative of new thinking but those belonging to the old guard were in majority. For instance, I proposed that the party should be a mass party and should take part in elections. But this proposal was rejected. I also proposed that party’s name should be changed. But these differences apart, I worked as Secretary General till April 1991.
What did you do after leaving the party?
After leaving the Communist Party of Pakistan, I created a platform with the name of Jamhoori Tehreek. I organized a long march starting from the provincial border between Sindh and Punjab on December 10, 1991. It was a 33-day long march. Everybody joined it, including the Communist Party of Pakistan. Though it was a secular affair, many participants carried the copies of the holy Quarn, some others had Geeta and the Bible with them, still others had in their hands the poetry of Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid, and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.
What were the demands of the marchers?
Crimes were rampant at that time in Sindh. So one of our major demands was an end to them. We demanded that if the government could not do anything to rectify the situation, then people should be armed so that they could combat dacoits on their own. We believed the police could not effectively check the situation.
During the march, some dacoits contacted us and offered to fete us which we rejected, telling them to give up committing crimes first and vow to avoid them in future. Then they offered us ajraks (traditional Sindhi shawls). I rejected this offer as well citing same demands. The dacoits replied that if they give up arms, waderas (feudal lords) and the police would have them killed.
When did you join Pakistan People’s Party?
It was in 1994. Abdullah Shah visited my house as Sindh Chief Minister and requested me to join PPP. I initially apologized. He came back to me again, this time with a letter from Benazir Bhutto requesting me to join the party. I could not say no to the daughter of Zulifkar Ali Bhutto. I was made an advisor in the party’s government. When they offered the post to me, I first declined it. But they said they wanted credibility for PPP.
Why did you join PPP?
Because I believe without doing popular politics, we cannot bring meaningful change in the lives of masses.
What are the causes of the failure of left movement in Pakistan?
One of the reasons of this failure was that the Communist Party of Pakistan used to blindly toe Moscow’s line. Leftist leaders would act as viceroys of Moscow or Beijing.
Then our leftist friends unnecessarily made religion an issue. The other reason was the absence of democracy in Pakistan and the persecution that progressive activists always suffered as a result. In 1961 Hasan Nasir was killed, in 1980 Nazir Abbasi was murdered. Their deaths were a message for others.
How do you look at the future of left movement in Pakistan?
It is high time for providing leadership to people. They are ready for it. From my personal experience of doing popular politics and working in PPP, I believe that all leftists can get united in this party. PPP will certainly be the main beneficiary of this union, but I believe that it’s the only mass party in Pakistan.
At the same time, I believe PPP should not exploit this situation. PPP should make itself a better party.
Why and when did you join Human Rights Commission of Pakistan?
I joined HRCP in 1991. I was elected its council member in 2002. I believe it’s a platform under whose banner one can serve people, especially peasants in Sindh. It is the only platform in the country with an untarnished image. All democratic parties and forums respect HRCP. In fact, all democratic elements in the society can rally around HRCP because struggles for human rights and democracy are interrelated.
Recently you were booked in a case involving crimes like possession of explosives and kidnapping for ransom. What’s your side of the story?
The case is nothing but political victimization. HRCP’s Karachi office was approached by a Hindu women, Dhinno, who said her son Uttum was allegedly kidnapped by the nephew of Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Rahim. Uttum, according to his mother, had injured one of his kidnappers when they tried to molest his sister and wife back in 2002.
HRCP sent a fact-finding team to Khet Lari, the village in Thar where the incident took place. People there were so scared that nobody dared to cooperate with HRCP team. I had a feeling that Chief Minister, who also comes from the same village, would not tolerate it. He did not want anybody to visit his village. Uttum’s family, while narrating how things happened, said they had no complaints against the Arbabs.
HRCP team, which included me as a member, prepared the report and sent it to Karachi. Arbab did not like it. ‘How dare Jam Saqi visit Khet Lari?’ I was named in a false case of possessing explosives.
There was an uproar over my arrest. PPP took out a procession and warned the government against creating a law and order situation. So, I was released immediately afterwards.
Next day — that is May 31 — they police again came to my house while I was away. They rummaged through the whole house. On June 4, they came and arrested my wife. Again, there was a lot of resentment.
What about the case of Kidnapping for ransom?
My sister-in-law’s former husband is being used by the government in the case. He alleges that we kidnapped his son, born as a result of his marriage with my sister-in-law. The marriage lasted one year, with the two sides parting ways on the condition that my sister-in-law will not demand dower money in return for keeping the custody of her son.
They child is living safe and sound with his mother in Sukkur. Nobody abducted him; nobody asked for any money for him.
Zaman Khan is a journalist and former staffer at Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.