He Could Bring Lahore To A Halt With One Word: My Friend And Comrade, Rao Tariq

He Could Bring Lahore To A Halt With One Word: My Friend And Comrade, Rao Tariq
It is very difficult to write about a very dear friend and comrade, especially with a close association spanning more than five decades.

I vividly remember that I used to live in Room No. 5 at the Law College Hostel in 1970. Those were the days of Punjab University Students Union (PUSU) elections. One evening, while I was in my room, some five or six well-built, tall, mustached young men entered my room and introduced Rao Tariq Latif, stating that he was their candidate for PUSU.

These were the first PUSU elections during General Yahya Khan’s martial law regime. We had established the Nationalist Students Organisation (NSO), a Maoist left student organization, and we wanted to challenge the monopoly of the right-wing Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT). So our aim was to have a one-to-one contest between Left and Right. We thought that Jahangir Badar, who had been president of Hailey College Students Union, would be the most suitable candidate to take on IJT's Hafiz Idrees. Shahid Mehmud Nadeem and Tariq Latif were also in the run but thankfully they withdrew and supported Jahangir Badar.

That was beginning of our friendship. I made Tariq Latif and Tariq Masud members of NSO.

Now the NSO arranged a reception for sacked journalists at the Cafetaria of the Old Campus Punjab University, and Rao was asked to present an address of welcome.

One still remembers leftist students with Bengali comrades raising slogans at STC, New Campus after the elections.

“Jera waway, ohoi khaway!
Socialism aaway hee aaway!”
(“They who sow the crops, shall eat of them!
Socialism will surely come!)

“Surkh hai, surkh hai, Asia surkh hai!”
(It is Red, it is Red, Asia is Red!”

“Tera bari, mera bari, Naxalbari, Naxalbari!”
(Yours and mine: Naxalbari!”)

“Amriki Samraj Murdabad!”
(“Death to US imperialism!”)

“Amrika ka jo yar hai, ghadar hai, ghadar hai!”
(“Whoever is America's friend, they're traitors, they're traitors!”)

There were irregularities in the elections for President of the student union, so we decided to boycott and disrupt the Secretary’s election. Students attacked polling booths and disrupted the election. As a result, many students were arrested under Martial Law orders. They were tried and convicted. The NSO Chief Convener was sentenced to one year. It was very important to fill the vacuum. I nominated Tariq Latif as the new Chief Convener of NSO.

I was asked by seniors to stay away from the hostel for a few days. Tariq had the key of my room. One day, police raided my room and took with them Tariq Latif – presuming him to be Zaman Khan. He was later released by Civil Lines Police.


We used to spend most of the times together, besides being comrades we became very good personal friends. After doing our LLB we decided to start our legal practice with different seniors. I used to reside at 2/B Tagore Park, Nicholson Road, at the flat of my dear friend Tariq Iqbal (today a leading banker). One day myself, Tariq Latif and Tariq Masud were having a raucous time and shouting “Jera waway, ohoi khaway! Socialism aaway hee aaway!” (“Who sows the crops shall eat of them! Socialism will surely come!)

A neighbour from the Jamat-e-Islami replied, “Gaddi thalay!” (It will come under a car!) We enjoyed his comments.
He kept alive the tradition of observing May Day even in the dark and oppressive days of General Zia's military regime. Naturally, he had been many times in jail

We used to spend most of our time together while doing political and ideological work among students and workers. At one time I shifted to Rao’s house 42 F Model Town Lahore. I was a member of Tariq’s family. He was one of few guests at my Barat and Valima.

I also remember that for the first time we went to Kot Lakhpat, an industrial area, to see labour leaders. There we met Abdul Rehman, Altaf Baloch, Mohammad Akbar and Baji Shamim. We used to conduct study circles in all industrial areas of Lahore, including for the Railways.

One must mention veteran trade union leaders Comrade Zia Butt (Chief Salar of the Peoples Guards) and Mehmud Butt – both of whom were leaders and part of our team.


I would like to share a very interesting incident. A member of NSO, Shahzad Khan, used to live at Sargodha. One morning he entered my law office on Mall Road with his girlfriend Farzana. Interestingly, at the same time, Shahzad’s first cousin Asif Khan also reached my office with “larki-walay” (her family). I did not know what to do now. I locked Asif Khan and others in a room and took Shahzad Khan and Farzana to 42 F Model Town. Tariq was not at home. On his return, Tariq shifted them to the house of a comrade and friend Rafi at Rehman Park, and arranged their Nikah ceremony – and thus they were wedded. (It is worth mentioning that this Abdul Rafi was later a councilor under General Zia’s local bodies election on an “Awam Dost” ticket and was set to become Mayor of Lahore - but he was disqualified).

Next day, the girl was returned to her parents. It is another story that when Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan filed a habeas corpus writ, Farzana refused to go with Shahzad!

In the meantime, Tariq shifted to 104 F Model Town, a house with a very big lawn, where political meetings could be held. It was an open house where anybody who was a comrade was welcome to spend night. Tariq was very kind to orphans. He would pick up some child, educate him make him part of his family.


It is worth mentioning that this was the era of the Sino-Soviet split in world affairs. The working classes and trade unionists were not above it – the clash between the Soviet Union and Maoist China impacted their politics. So, the Kot Lakhpat trade unionists' leadership was also divided. Rehman opted to be with the Maoists, while Baloch and Akbar were pro-Soviet. Unfortunately this tussle led to the gruesome murder of Abdul Rehman. Altaf Baloch and Mohammad Akbar were nominated in the FIR. Unfortunately, they had to spend lot of time in jail.

Rao Tariq Latif eventually adopted the name Tariq Rehman.

A time came when Tariq decided to part ways with the ‘core group’ - all the leading student activists were with him and he also invited me to the meeting. I did not agree with their move and suggested that they join the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP), which they did later on. So we were together in MKP till the time it merged into Awami National Party (ANP).

We went to Karachi for the founding meeting of ANP and stayed at the flat of Karamat. ANP was formed at the residence of Hakim Ali Zardari.

Rao was uncrowned king of the workers' movement of Lahore. One remembers the 1971 May Day procession, when the whole Mall Road and adjacent roads were red with banners and flags and chanting our slogans (already mentioned) of how socialism was inevitable and Asia was Red!

He was the leader of leaders, on whose one word the whole of Lahore would come to a halt. The Muttahida Mazdoor Majlis-e-Amal, an umbrella organisation of Lahore workers, was established on the roof of the then under-construction Bashir Bakhtiar Labour Hall at Nisbet Road.

We were all with MKP till its merger into Awami National Party (ANP) as mentioned. In fact, we went to see the great Bacha Khan at the residence of Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, where we heard his story of the anti-colonial freedom struggle. In his late 90s, he could read the newspaper without spectacles.

In fact, we also went to Jalalabad for the burial of Bacha Khan. We were lucky: as we disembarked from our jeep, there was a big explosion in the parking lot and our jeep was also damaged. And so we had to travel back without a windscreen.

When Begum Nasim Wali secretly met Nawaz Sharif, all left-wing activists were angry. I was assigned the duty by friends to express our criticism and condemnation. I told Wali Khan our views quite frankly, which created a lot of resentment. But thanks are due to Wali Khan, for he listened. That was, however, the end of left-wing participation in ANP and it became party of Pashtun nationalists.

It is worth mentioning that Rao was offered many posts and seats in the assemblies by all parties, but he stuck to his guns and never betrayed his left-wing ideology.

Rao Tariq Latif with Farooq Abdullah for the funural of Bacha Khan, at Jalalabad, Afghanistan

And here, I would like to raise a very pertinent question for all the progressive and left-wing forces of Pakistan. Rao spent his last few years at the home of his brother, alone with a helper. Why has the Left not been able to create an institution where it could take care of old comrades? After all, we know that the government only provides help with the medical expenses of the elite and its lackeys.

In any case, we last traveled together to Sri Lanka and on our return we had to spend the night at the Karachi airport traveler's lounge, because we missed our Lahore connecting flight due to the Pakistani cricket team's late arrival at the Sri Lankan airport.


Rao was married – rather late in life – with Shella who was a divorcee. They had two daughters Ayesha and Fatima. An open reception was given in the ground of D-Block Model Town for celebrations (“ulgul”) on his valima.

As such, Rao took a very keen interest in the upbringing and education of his daughters. Both of Rao's girls are now on their own. Rao would regularly visit my place at Model Town with Shella Rao for “ulgul.” Unfortunately, their marriage did not last long.

Rao was a man of simple living. He would eat and live like a common worker. His house was open for all and his mother would cook for everyone, particularly Urhar Dal and Chapati. Like every mother, his mother also would say that “Zaman is the one who is a bad influence on my son!”
He was the leader of leaders, on whose one word the whole of Lahore would come to a halt

The family, although migrants from UP, did not have any house at Model Town. In fact, Rao's family spent all their life in rented accommodation.

Rao himself studied at a school in Model Town and then F.C. College Lahore, but he had to discontinue his studies because of family duties. After some years, he joined the Law College.

It also bears mentioning that he was first cousin of Aijaz Ahmad and Brig. Rao Abid Hamid.

Rao Tariq would recall that his father died at his village in UP. He suspected that he was poisoned. He would say that their family was so strong and dominant in that region that once his father had ordered the hair-knot of a Hindu to be cut off. Clearly, Islam had not been in danger where they lived in UP!

The family originally was living in Haryana, but when given a Jagir, they had shifted to Muzafarnagar, UP.


He was a very good speaker. The way he controlled workers after the gruesome murder of trade unionist Abdul Rehman was commendable.

Moreover, he kept alive the tradition of observing May Day even in the dark and oppressive days of General Zia's military regime. Naturally, he had been many times in jail. In one or two cases, he and I were co-accused.

Prof. Waqas Masood Khawaja, a leading scientist who was raised by Tariq like his own son, told me that as a child he used to recite Habib Jalib's poem at the May Day meeting at Gulberg, Lahore Jalib’s poem, which went “Banday ko khuda kya likhna?” (How can one describe a mere man as a god?)

Rao provided volunteers in the 1983 MRD movement to court arrest. He was arrested along with Khawaja Tariq Masood in the WAPDA House Bomb Case and underwent torture at the ‘Shahi Qila’ in Lahore.

He was a beacon of light for oppressed, downtrodden and wretched of the earth. And he lived up to his commitment to his ideology. His mission is, of course, far from fulfilled. Yet he passed on with honour and dignity. He was a conscious political figure: a labour leader with a commitment to Marxism, struggling for workers' and peasants' rule. This, despite the fact that he was not a professional trade unionist.

He had a great sense of humour and could laugh at himself.

Habib Jalib, the great revolutionary people’s poet, would be his daily guest at Chaudhry Anwar’s office for some good old ‘Ulgul.’


During his last days, his only companions were books. He was facing many of the ills of old age.

I would not expect the Government to announce any award for Rao Tariq Latif, because it is in my personal knowledge that despite the best and most sincere efforts of Omer Asghar and Karamat Ali, the regime of General Musharraf had refused to acknowledge the contributions to the freedom movement of legendry communist Mirza Ibarahim.

But I do expect from workers' organisations of Lahore, particularly, to do something that would keep alive his memory and contributions to the workers' cause.

One even dares hope that a university like LUMS might one day have a student who writes a thesis on Rao Tariq Latif!