Who would have known 60 years ago that Aitchison’s “rebel without a cause” would one day become Pakistan’s renowned political figure and a rebel with a cause to uphold democratic values. Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan has been fighting for his cause on various fronts. He is an eminent Barrister, former President Supreme Court Bar Association, former Federal Minister, a writer and an intellectual. He is widely lauded for his leading role in the 2007-2009 Lawyers’ Movement for the restoration of an independent judiciary. Read on to find out more about Aitzaz Ahsan’s school days, his most prized achievement and source of motivation.
When did you join Aitchison College and what was it like back then?
I joined Aitchison in 1954. There were less than 300 students in the school altogether. One therefore knew most of the contemporaries not only in one’s own class but in classes above and below. There was a greater emphasis then on sports and relatively less on academics, so most of the outstanding students excelled in the sports field. The standard of academic excellence, so to say, was not as high as it is today.
The Principal was Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah most of the time. Then in 1962 he retired and was replaced by Mr. Abdul Ali Khan. Zulfiqar Ali Shah was a very lax and relaxed gentleman. Then suddenly Abdul Ali Khan, a very strict disciplinarian took over and that was a shock for us.
Any fond memories from your school days?
Yes! At Aitchison, we got introduced into a plural environment. We had with us some international students also. The faculty itself was plural. In the Junior School, in my time, we had some lovely teachers - Ms. Gore was the Headmistress, Ms. Bholanath was a Hindu teacher, Ms. Morris was a Christian teacher, Ms. Bukhari was a Muslim teacher.
The faculty in the Prep and Senior Schools included some very devoted teachers like Mr. Tajuddin, Mr. Fedden, Mr. T. L. G. Malan. Mr. Goldstein, the Headmaster of the Senior School, taught us nothing but etiquette, manners and character building. There were also female teachers; Mrs. Neilson and Mrs. Feddon. They were quite a devoted lot of teachers.
Did you win any awards at Aitchison College?
I received the Godley Medal which was given to the best student in English Literature and Language. I also won the Chiragh Khan Debating Cup.
What kind of impact did Aitchison have on your life?
The environment at Aitchison provided me with an ideal foundation for studying abroad at Cambridge. However, the environment was not suited for living in Pakistan.
Which one achievement are you most proud of?
The second of December, 1988 – Benazir Bhutto Shaheed had just taken oath as Prime Minister and I was announcing the release of around 8000 political prisoners on her behalf as the Law Minister and Interior Minister. These were all prisoners of a brutal martial law period of Zia-ul-Haq, when people were flogged and hanged by orders of military courts which gave no justice. They were all basically arrested for political activity against Zia’s regime or for speaking or writing against it. It opened the gates of all the prisons for political prisoners.
Did you always have a rebellious streak in you?
Principal Abdul Ali Khan used to call me ‘a rebel without a cause’. The reason was that there were some issues that I took up with the Principal in the school assembly. The principal had stopped the cars from coming in through the main gate to drop the boys. But the Governor’s car bringing his grandsons was allowed inside and I protested. Although I used to go on a bicycle to the school, I said that this was very unfair and there should be no special privilege.
There was a time when Mr. Abdul Ali Khan was very rough with an employee of the College who looked after our bicycles. One day I found him about to physically hit this man. The Principal was very angry. As a young student I stood in his way and said, “Sir, no please, no please, no.” So he was very angry with me. He used to call me a rebel without a cause.
You’ve always been resilient in the face of adversity. What keeps you motivated?
My late parents and my grandfather, Chaudhary Bahawal Baksh. My grandfather was a man who resisted and raised his voice even under the British Raj. In 1946, my grandfather who was 81 years old courted arrest. Three days later, my father resigned from government and courted arrest and 3 days after that my mother carrying me in her arms as a one year old, courted arrest. So there was a political tradition of resistance in the family. In the 1960’s my father had to suffer because of the resistance to Ayub Khan’s military rule. In the 80’s, I was resisting Zia-ul-Haq’s rule and I was jailed. Against Musharraf, I led the Lawyers’ Movement and I was put in jail again. So there is a history.
What are you doing when not working?
I read a lot, mostly history, not law. Unfortunately, my capacity to read per day is largely exhausted by reading files, books, judgments and precedents. But I love reading history, particularly South Asian history. I’ve written on that also. My book the ‘Indus Saga’, which was written during my jail terms under Zia-ul-Haq, has done almost 40 print outs by now.
Are you in touch with your old batch mates?
We have a group we call ACOFA – Aitchison College Old Friends’ Association. My batch was '63 but from class of '61 to '65, we get together every month. One of us hosts dinner. I can’t attend that often but when I go there it’s about 15 - 16 old Aitchisonians of this period who get together once every month. Although we are a total group of 50 who try to come to dinners.
Any advice for our current students?
Aitchisonians have to learn to be more caring. I find them very bright and brilliant but somewhat aloof, somewhat distanced from Pakistan and that is to my mind a structural flaw. But it’s born around the exclusivity that Aitchison offers and the total management of the life of a young boy from age 5 to age 18. Aitchison just embraces him, envelops him and virtually devours him. That is the only thing I’d say.