PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan, 21, Reuter: President Mohammad ZiaulHaq joined thousands of mourners in pouring rain on Thursday to pay his respects to Pakistan’s “Frontier Gandhi” the late anti colonialist campaigner Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
The lifelong pacifist and social reformer lay in state in a glass topped coffin a stone’s throw from Peshawar’s Balahisar Fort, seat of power of successive Afghan, Sikh and British rulers, as his followers struggled to catch a last glimpse.
Ghaffar Khan died on Wednesday aged 97 after a long illness. Thousands of supporters are expected to accompany the body over the Khyber Pass on Friday for burial in Afghanistan.
Zia joined Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo and many of Pakistan’s leading leftwing politicians for prayers.
He was following Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who paid a flying visit to Peshawar on Wednesday to pay homage to a man revered in India but often viewed with suspicion by his fellow Pakistanis and imprisoned by successive governments.
Also present were Soviet Ambassador Abdurrehman Vezirov, Indian Ambassador S.K. Singh, and Afghan charge D’Affairs Qudrutullah Ahmadi, all representing governments sharply at odds with Zia.
India has declared five days of state mourning while the Soviet backed Afghan government hailed him as a tireless fighter for peace, freedom and justice.
Ghaffar Khan fought all his life for the rights of the Pashtuns, the proud, warlike people of the northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, divided by the Durand Line Frontier. For this reason he initially opposed the 1947 creation of Pakistan as a homeland for Moslems living in British India.
“He was the father of the modern Pashtun nation”, said Latif Afridi, Deputy Secretary General of Ghaffar Khan’s leftwing Awami National Party (ANP).
His lying in state coincided with the end of a prolonged drought which has ravaged crop prospects across northern Pakistan. A steady downpour turned the Jinnah Park where the body lay into a quagmire and the crowd resembled a sea of black umbrellas.
Followers, many dressed in the ted caps and clothes of his pre-independence Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) social movement, queued in the rain for hours and struggled in a tight press near the coffin to see the body.
Vendors sold pictures of the hook nosed old man, who died of pneumonia and breathing complications after a long coma at nearby Lady Reading Hospital. Pashtuns are conservative Moslems and virtually no women were present.
ANP President Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the dead man’s son, will lead a funeral procession over the Khyber Pass early on Friday to the Afghan city of Jalalabad.
Ghaffar Khan spent many years there in exile over the past few decades and will be buried, in accordance with his wishes, at his house there.
Leaders of the anticommunist Afghan guerrillas based in Peshawar have ordered their fighters Operating between Jalalabad and the border crossing of Torkham to let the cortege pass and return unharmed.
Article extracted from this publication >> January 29, 1988