ISLAMABAD, May 11, 1999: Dr Eqbal Ahmad, renowned scholar and a columnist of Dawn, passed away in Islamabad in the early hours of May 11, 1999 after a brief illness. He was 67.
According to a press release issued by Dr Eqbal's family, he was born in Bihar in 1932 and made the journey to Pakistan during partition as a teenager under harrowing circumstances which cemented at this early age his commitment to the cause of oppressed people. In 1958, he joined the FLN and actively fought in the Algerian War of Liberation, earning a place in the Algerian delegation to the peace talks at Evian. A graduate of the FC College Lahore, Eqbal did his doctorate at the Princeton University and stayed in the US for teaching.
He was an active participant in the US Civil Rights Movement in support of the right of Black Americans in the 1960s and an ardent advocate of the Vietnamese struggle against the US imperialism during which period he became famous as a member of the "Harrisburg Seven". Accused of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up the heating systems of the Pentagon, The Seven were subjected to a show trial, which rapidly degenerated into farce and gave added impetus to the Anti-Vietnam War protest movement in the US.
Eqbal was also a prominent and valued supporter of the cause of the Palestinian people, although like his close friend Edward Said he opposed the surrender of the Palestinian people's interests under the guise of the "Oslo Peace Process". Always tied by indissoluble bonds to Pakistan - although deeply disappointed by the steady decline of Pakistan society through military dictatorship into an era of thieving politicians - Eqbal took the momentous decision to bring to a close an academic career of great distinction at Hampshire College in America to return to Pakistan. He took this step even when it became clear that the petty interests that dominate in various aspects of Pakistani life would not allow him to proceed with the setting up of Khaldunia University, his lifelong ambition to set up a world- class institution of higher education in Pakistan, removed from the dead hand of government. He was chancellor of the Textile Institute of Pakistan, one of the founders of the Translational Institute in America and a Founding Member of the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, D.C. and affiliated with left-wing think-tanks. He was an editor of Race and Class (London), Contributing Editor of the Middle East Report (Washington, DC), a member of the Editorial Board of Arab Studies Quarterly (Boston) and a contributor to the Third World Quarterly and Africasie. Eqbal's writing has appeared in the popular as well as scholarly journals and newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, Le Monde Diplomatic and the New Yorker. He also wrote weekly columns for Dawn (Karachi), Al-Ahram (Cairo), Al-Hayat (London), Times of India (Delhi), Daily Star (Dhaka) and Frontline (Madras.)
In Eqbal's death, Pakistan has lost possibly its most prescient and insightful observer of society and politics. He is survived by his wife Lie Ahmad in the United States and daughter Dohra Khadija Ahmad, several nephews and nieces and countless grieving friends in Pakistan, the Subcontinent, the Arab World, the US and Europe.