People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 14, 2010

On 50th Anniversary of Hasan Naasir’s Martyrdom


Naresh ‘Nadeem’


COME November 13 and it will be half a century since the martyrdom of Comrade Hasan Naasir who was brutally tortured to death on this day in 1960, in the Lahore Fort jail of Pakistan. He was only 32 when the Ayub dictatorship deprived him of his right to live and fight.




Not much is known about the early life of Comrade Shabbir Lashari Hasan Naasir except that he was born in a high aristocratic family of Hyderabad Deccan in 1928. From his mother’s side, he was a great grandson of Nawab Mohsinul-Mulk who was among the founders of the Muslim League in 1906. After his initial education in Hyderabad, he went to the Cambridge University of England for higher studies. Here he came in contact with several fellow students who later became leading figures of the Communist Party of India. It is known that in those days a vibrant group of Indian communist students was very much active on the Cambridge campus. Hasan Naasir’s conversion to communism took place here. His political consciousness further bloomed after he returned to India and came into contact with eminent revolutionary poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin and others. Now we see him fighting in the glorious armed struggle of Telangana peasantry.


After the country’s independence, the second congress of the Communist Party took place in Kolkata in 1948. The congress came to the conclusion that continuation of a single party was not a feasible proposition for the two countries, India and Pakistan. Accordingly, the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) came into existence on March 6, 1948, with Comrade Sajjad Zaheer as general secretary. Karachi, the then capital of Pakistan, was the main centre of his activity.


How Hasan Naasir migrated to Pakistan, is not clear. While the self-justificatory version put forward by the government of Pakistan said he was planted (sic!) by the Communist Party of India, many refuse to buy this story. According to one of his friends, Hasan Naasir was on his way to England when his steamship stopped at Karachi, and he stepped down to the shore to meet some of his friends of Cambridge days. It is they who persuaded him to stay in Karachi. Be that as it may, the CPP entrusted him the responsibility of assisting Comrade Sajjad Zaheer in his day to day work. Now, having left his palace-like home behind, he began to live in a dilapidated one-room house, full of bugs and mosquitoes, in a workers colony.   



AFFAIR of 1951

Soon after its formation, the CPP faced an attack (so far the worst) from the ruling classes of Pakistan. In 1951 started the infamous Rawalpindi conspiracy case in which several leaders of the party were implicated along with some army officers and journalists.


That the Rawalpindi case was a cooked-up affair from beginning to end, has been laid bare by Captain Zafarullah Poshni who is now the lone survivor among the Pindi accused and came to meet the Indian communist delegation when it was in Karachi on March 2, 2005. In his Urdu book Zindagï Zindäñdilï kä Näm Hai (1993), he says it was Brigadier Akbar Khan who had planned the army coup that was quoted as the justification of the Rawalpindi case.


The story goes like this. Brigadier Akbar Khan, who was then officiating as army chief because Pakistan then lacked an army general, was a vacuous fellow and was dead infuriated against Liaquat Ali Khan, the then prime minister, over the fiasco in Kashmir. Ignoring the national and international situation then obtaining, the brigadier harboured the idea that it was Liaquat Khan who had ordered the tribal raiders to come back when they were at the outskirts of Srinagar. This was why Akbar Khan wanted to topple the government.


As the intelligence-wallas came to know about Brigadier Akbar’s plot, the government arrested him. However, to make the case more credible looking, the government invented the story that the CPP was planning to start a rebellion in the country and had enlisted several army officers for the purpose. That the charge was sans substance, becomes clear from the fact that according to a CIA estimation the CPP membership did not exceed 3,000 even in the mid-sixties. Moreover, numerous reports pointed out that it was the brigadier and his faithfuls who wanted to enlist the Communist Party’s support for their design and that the party had rejected their proposals outright. Faiz, our singer of revolution, says:


Wo bät säre fasäne meñ jiskä zikr na thä

Wo bät unko bahut nägwär guzarï hai.

(The thing which was not even mentioned in the whole story,


The same thing has offended him too severely.)


As for Liaquat Khan, he had to pay the price for getting several army officers arrested and thus annoying the army’s top brass. He was assassinated in the same Rawalpindi city.




In his book Across Three Continents, Dr Ehtisham Akhtar (a student activist of those days) says:  “PM Liaquat Ali Khan had been besieged by the landowners. (He had left his estate in India)… He made much of the conspiracy, made a very emotional speech and gained high stature and acceptance, so far denied him because he had been so much in the shadow of Jinnah.”


The theory appears credible, more so because Sir Khwaja Näzimuddin who was nominated the governor general after Jinnah’s demise, was the prime minister’s own man and too weak to check his ambitions. (The British monarch used to be the head of state of Pakistan and appointed the governor general in consultation with the prime minister, till the country became a republic on March 23, 1956.)


At the time, Hasan Naasir eluded arrest for some time and was arrested in 1952.


The case found an echo in the Indian parliament and, in response to the demands coming up, Nehru interceded on behalf of the Pindi accused who were the migrants from India. The government of Pakistan agreed to release Comrade Sajjad Zaheer on the condition that India would take him back. Nehru’s intervention saved Hasan Naasir from being implicated in the case; instead, he was exiled.  


Hasan Naasir’s dedication to the cause was such that, restless as he was, he returned to Pakistan after a year. He now played an active role in the formation of the National Awami Party (NAP), led by Maulana Bhasani and Wali Khan. Members of the banned Communist Party began to function through the NAP, which later became the Awami National Party (ANP). Hasan Naasir was soon elected secretary of the CPP’s Sindh provincial unit. Eventually, the Ayub dictatorship began to view him as one of the most dreaded communists of Pakistan. At that time, the CPP and its mass organisations were showing some possibility of growth.




This was the situation when the Ayub dictatorship further intensified the repression that the Liaquat government had let loose against the party.


Hasan Naasir evaded arrest for some time. It is known that he spent several months in the house of the foreign secretary whose daughters were enamoured of him. He, however, did not use the connection for any personal aggrandisement. He had so thoroughly declassed himself that he spent several nights among the beggars on the Lahore pavements and was found quite fresh every morning. He was eventually arrested and incarcerated in the Lahore Fort --- a majestic Mughal structure which the British had converted into a detention camp. The torture meted out to him in this fort jail has been best described by Umar Chaudhari as “a story of McCarthyism in Pakistan.” Chaudhari used these words while reviewing the 2008 edition of Hasan Näsir ki Shahädat, a 1970 Urdu book by Major Mohd Ishaq.


As the story goes, one day in 1960, Major Ishaq, one of the Pindi accused, went to meet Faiz and found him unusually perturbed. To his query, Faiz told him that some communist from Karachi had been brought to the Lahore Fort and was being tortured there --- so much so that his cries of pain were terrifying the other prisoners there. Faiz had come to know about it from a prisoner’s wife.


Major Ishaq moved a habeas corpus petition in Lahore High Court on November 22, 1960 and thus the fact of Hasan Naasir’s death surfaced during the hearing next day. The governmental version was that he had committed suicide on November 13, but the officials refused to disclose the site of his grave. Finally, after much legal wrangling and in order to prove its innocence, the government agreed to exhume the body when Hasan Naasir’s mother, Mrs Zehra Alambardar Hussain, reached from India to claim his body. However, while no hanging mark was found on the corpse’s neck, there were marks of torture on knees, elbows and some other parts. At the same time, after closely inspecting the teeth, hair and the feet, Mrs Hussain refused to accept that it was her son’s body. Evidently, the government had decided to conceal Hasan Naasir’s body from his mother too.


Some time later, the cell where Hasan Naasir was confined, was gutted in a mysterious fire, and it is widely believed that it was part of the official plot to destroy every evidence about his death. Documentary records so far remain undisclosed in the name of national interest (!).


On February 24, 2005, when (late) Comrade Surjeet visited the Lahore Fort to see the Cell No 3 where he was confined during the British days, we got a chance to see a wall and the half-burnt small window in it; these are now the only surviving parts of Hasan Naasir’s cell.   


However, much as the government tried in its power, it failed to erase the memory of Comrade Hasan Naasir who now stands as an icon of the Left in Pakistan. He is the theme of numerous folk songs and poems, short stories and plays. Shehr-e-Nigäräñ, a book by renowned Marxist critic Sibte-Hasan, is highly inspiring.   


Quite recently, as reported in these columns earlier, the Supreme Court has reopened the case of Comrade Nazir Abbasi and ordered the arrest of Imtiaz Billa who was responsible for his murder. This gives one the hope that Hasan Naasir’s case too would be reopened, all the evidence pertaining to his death brought to light and thus a long-standing demand fulfilled.

November 09, 2010