Humayun Khan (1932-2022), The Man Who Stood For India-Pakistan Dosti

Humayun Khan (1932-2022), The Man Who Stood For India-Pakistan Dosti

In the passing away of Humayun Khan, former foreign secretary of Pakistan and Islamabad’s envoy to New Delhi, the Indian Subcontinent has lost a wise, almost sagely soul, who was also a “formidable diplomat, a thinker of high calibre and a genuine humanist,” as former Pakistani Senator (and current leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement), Afrasaib Khattak, described him. Khan was a Pashtun in the mould of the “frontier” Gandhi, Badshah Khan, rather than the usurpers of Pashtunwali, the dreadful Taliban. He was, above all, a passionate believer in India-Pakistan dosti.

Khan understood that long-term realism in South Asia demands moving beyond the tactical and looking forward towards a common and secure future. In the last decades of his full and varied life, he devoted himself to his two passions — the cause of India-Pakistan peace and rural development, especially to ensure the sustainable development of the people of his beloved Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

For Humayun “Lalla”, the essence of the problematique of India-Pakistan relations was simple: India must have a larger heart and Pakistan must develop a more thoughtful head. If an expansive heart of India met the sensitive spirit of Pakistan, no problem would be too difficult to resolve. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see this dream translate into reality.

Even his formidable adversaries within the Indian establishment spoke of his generosity, in thought and action. The former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Gopalaswamy Parthasarthy, often seen as a hardliner, happily admitted to me that Khan “was a class apart”. Parthasarthy and Khan had co-authored a book, Diplomatic Divide, reminiscing about their lives in Islamabad and New Delhi, respectively.

Khan belonged to a distinguished Pashtun family of Peshawar and had his early education as a boarder at Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, and then went to earn a tripos from Trinity at Cambridge. Subsequently, he joined the Civil Service of Pakistan and served primarily in the Northwest Frontier (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) including as Political Agent in Malakand and North Waziristan and then as Home Secretary for the Province.