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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 01:56 GMT 02:56 UK
Pakistan political veteran dies
By Shahid Malik
BBC reporter in Lahore

One of Pakistan's elder political statesmen, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, has died, at the age of 85.

Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan
Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan entered politics in the 1930s

Central leader of the opposition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), Mr Khan's political career spanned over half a century.

His willingness to forge alliances with opposing political parties became an almost permanent feature of his leadership.

He died on Saturday after being admitted to hospital in Islamabad earlier this week, following a heart attack.

Mr Khan often served as a rallying point for Pakistan's opposition parties in their fight against military rulers.

Small party

Hailing from Muzaffargarh district in southern Punjab, he entered politics as a young man in the late 1930s.

His earliest association was with Majlis Ahrar-e-Islam, a relatively small political party claiming little influence outside the Punjab province.

But the group had the unique distinction of producing some of the finest public speakers, offering a rare blend of religious rhetoric with a penchant for the oriental literary tradition.

Mr Khan though he had left the organization long before he contested his first election to the Provincial Assembly in 1946, was often recognised as the only surviving specimen of the Ahrar's political culture.

Pivotal position

But, while his literary leanings, the much-publicised portable "hookah" and the Turkish fez lent a certain distinction to his personality.

It is, in fact, his long and sustained struggle for a full-blooded democratic polity that earned him a pivotal position in the Pakistani politics.

It was in mid-1960s that Mr Khan- who had been the leader of his own faction of the Awami League - shot to prominence.

This was during General Ayub Khan's rule, when Mr Khan played a prominent role in the opposition grouping, Pakistan Democratic Movement, followed by his election as the central leader of the Democratic Action Committee.

This was a prelude to a kind of permanent role in forging political alliances of opposition parties.

In 1977, he headed the opposition team during the abortive negotiations with then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in the wake of a crisis triggered by allegations of electoral rigging.

Erstwhile rivals

Following Bhutto's hanging, the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in the 1980s, against General Zia-ul-Haq's military government, was as much a tribute to Mr Khan's commitment to the cause of democracy as his skills in bringing together apparently conflicting political elements.

It was the first alliance in which he joined hands with his erstwhile rivals, the Pakistan Peoples Party.

In later years, the launching of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) after the military takeover, in 1999, is a repeat performance of an earlier act.

Much to the embarrassment of the military authorities, Mr Khan, this time, was able to forge a united front with two traditional political adversaries - Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - being the main components.

After the general elections less than a year ago, the ARD refused support the Legal Framework Order, which provides a cover to General Pervez Musharraf's appointment as the President, with the power to dismiss the elected Parliament.

On this issue, the ARD, initially, claimed the support of the Islamic religious parties alliance, the Mottahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

But, following a series of meetings with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q), the MMA's stand now seems more ambivalent.

Can the ARD carry on the fight on the basis of its principled stand?

After Mr Khan's departure from the scene, it is for the two main components of the Alliance to answer this question.

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