Abdul Rahim Khan Mandokhel’s recent death at the age of 81 brought to an end his life-long commitment to Pakhtun nationalism and loyalty to the family of the late Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai and his son and political heir Mahmood Khan Achakzai.
He was the senior deputy chairman of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) at the time of his death. This meant he was the second most important person in the party after its chairman Mahmood Khan Achakzai. In age and experience, he was the most senior member of the party and its ideologue.
Mandokhel was also a member of the National Assembly from the NA-260 Quetta-Chagai constituency. The constituency is one of the most difficult to win as it is the largest area-wise in Pakistan, stretching for 700 kilometres up to the border with both Afghanistan and Iran. It encompasses two districts where the voters belong to all ethnic groups living in Balochistan, including the Baloch, Pakhtuns, Hazaras and settlers. It is commonly said that voters from 72 tribes are living in this constituency.
Mandokhel easily won the seat on the PkMAP ticket in the 2013 general election even though he belonged to Zhob located faraway in northern Balochistan. He polled more than 30,000 votes and was far ahead of the several other contenders for the seat. The party wanted someone of his stature to represent part of Quetta and also mineral-rich Chagai located on the border with Iran and known as the district where Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests in May 1998.
As expected, Mandokhel’s funeral was very well attended. The Irfan Stadium in Zhob was chosen for it. People lined up by the roadside to say farewell to one of the most well-known sons of Zhob. The burial took place in his village, Omza. As happens so often in case of important personalities in the country, Mandokhel had earned fame outside his village, but the final resting place for the body was none other than his native Omza.
PkMAP had announced that the party flag would fly at half mast at its offices throughout the country in memory of Mandokhel for three days. This was the party’s way of paying respect to someone who had nourished and served it all his adult life.
Mandokhel was a versatile man. In his youth, he had been a ball boy for a Bengali officer who was a friend of his father and used to play tennis in an officers’ club in Zhob city. He had also been a schoolteacher, rising to the post of principal of a school in Qilla Saifullah. Earlier, he had worked as a newscaster for Radio Pakistan in Quetta. He became a practising lawyer after qualifying for the LLB degree from the University of Peshawar in 1963 and fought cases for his party, including one against the formation of the One Unit. He was also a prolific writer and historian and authored scores of articles and some books, mostly on the Afghan (Pakhtun) race, Afghanistan and imperialist powers.
However, it was Mandokhel’s long political career that brought him fame, respect and recognition. He belonged to a family of freedom-fighters and nationalists. His grandfather Mulla Noor Khan was a religious scholar and a freedom-fighter against British colonial rule in the subcontinent. It was therefore natural for Mandokhel to join the Pakhtun nationalist party, ‘Wror Pashtun’ founded by Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai. When the latter merged his party with the National Awami Party (NAP) formed by Pakhtun, Baloch, Sindhi and Bengali nationalists, Mandokhel stood by him and became an activist of the new party. And when Abdul Samad Achakzai developed differences with the NAP leadership and founded PkMAP in 1969, Mandokhel was among its founders.
However, Mandokhel wasn’t always a blind follower of Abdul Samad Achakzai, affectionately called ‘Khan Shaheed’ and celebrated by his followers as a martyr after he was killed in Quetta. Mandokhel had his own mind and political acumen. He differed with Abdul Samad Achakzai on PkMAP’s relations with the Pakistan People’s Party and turned a dissident for a while. Still he didn’t join any other party and before long was back to the fold. There was no other political party that suited him. Also, no other party could accommodate someone with such strong and independent views.
Mandokhel was once elected member of the Balochistan Assembly from his native Zhob and twice as Senator. His last electoral battle was for the National Assembly seat from Quetta-Chagai and it was certainly the biggest in his political career. It was a famous victory that gave immense joy to PkMAP and its supporters.
Some landmark events in Mandokhel’s politics are remembered with warmth by his fans. His hunger strike for 16 days to protest the re-demarcation of the assembly constituency in Quetta that reportedly favoured one ethnic group at the expense of the other became the talk of the town as it raised serious concern about his health. He had refused to eat or drink unlike most other hunger strikers who continue to take fluids.
Along with others, he is also remembered for his skill in drafting the manifestoes and programmes for opposition political alliances, including the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM) and the 32-party All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM). For a while in 1983, Mandokhel became the all-Pakistan convener of the 11-party MRD, created in 1981, in place of his party leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai who had gone underground to avoid arrest.
He was also among the founders of the Pashtun Rahbar Committee and the Pashtunkhwa National Democratic Alliance, two unworkable alliances that PkMAP made with the Awami National Party (ANP). He played an important role in formulating the landmark 18th Amendment that gave unprecedented provincial autonomy to the provinces. Besides, he was part of the Amn Jirga that brought together Afghan and Pakistani politicians, tribal elders and intellectuals in Kabul in August 2007 to jointly work for peace in the Af-Pak region. Also, his scholarly presentations at the Pashto World Conferences were eagerly awaited and heard.
Mandokhel’s party has failed to extend its support base beyond the Pakhtun-populated areas of Balochistan. PkMAP has been losing and winning elections against its principal rival, the JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. It also isn’t a major player in national politics. PkMAP’s stint in power in Balochistan since the May 2013 general election has also earned it criticism for promoting favouritism and nepotism. However, Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s steadfast struggle for democracy and Mandokhel’s honesty and dedication to causes dear to his heart have given PkMAP importance far beyond its electoral strength.
Mandokhel was a simple man who didn’t profit from his political career. He was elected to high positions, but couldn’t afford to buy a car. His simple attire made him unrecognisable, though the deference shown to him by his followers gave away his identity. Clad in shalwar-kameez with a chaddar wrapped around his shoulders like his ‘Mashar’ (elder) – the title given by PkMAP workers to party head Mahmood Khan Achakzai – Mandokhel was a kind and fatherly figure. This breed of selfless politicians is now almost extinct.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar,,