Pakistan has produced many colourful politicians over the years. Arguably, Mohammad Azam Khan Hoti was one of them.
Azam Hoti died at the age of 69 due to complications arising from throat cancer and was buried in the lawns of his palatial house by the side of his mother in Mardan city on April 16.
It was kind of homecoming for the veteran Pakhtun nationalist who in his last years of life had become estranged from his wife and sons after contracting another marriage with a younger woman and shifting to Peshawar. Though the family had reconciled through the efforts of its well-wishers some months ago, Azam Hoti only briefly returned to the Mardan house that he had lovingly built before going to his residence in Peshawar to spend the last painful days of his life.
Those who knew Azam Hoti were almost always impressed by his knowledge and guile, but the ones who had never interacted with him didn’t have a high opinion of him. His public image was poor and it became poorer when he served twice as federal minister of communication in the two stints of Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister. His arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on charges of misusing his powers as the federal minister further damaged his reputation.
Azam Hoti became the target of name-calling when his elder son, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, served as the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from 2008-2013. This was due to the immense authority that he wielded as the father of the young chief minister. Azam Hoti didn’t hold any formal position in the government, but he had more powers than the ministers, particularly in Mardan division and the adjoining districts such as Buner.
In context of the name-calling, the word ‘easy-load’ became associated with Azam Hoti. In popular jargon, ‘easy-load’ meant that Azam Hoti needed to be approached through whatever means possible to get a job done. You had to ‘easy-load’ your cell-phone to contact “baba” as he was referred to reverently by his followers and the problem would be resolved. No wonder then that people used to say that the province certainly had a chief minister, but Azam Hoti was “Da wazir-i-aala plar” or the father of Haider Hoti and hence a lot more powerful. In the Pashto language, the “wazir-i-aala plar” meant someone very powerful because the Pakhtun cultural norms dictated that the father must be unquestionably obeyed by the son.
Government officials aware of his immense powers regularly appeared in his ‘court’ every evening to take orders and present the day’s report to him. Seekers of favours such as good postings, development work contracts and government jobs made a beeline to his house as they knew Azam Hoti is capable of delivering.
On his part, Azam Hoti challenged the allegations against him and asked for evidence of his wrong-doing. It was during Haider Hoti’s stint as chief minister that Azam Hoti got approval for mega development projects for Mardan to give it the status it deserved as the second biggest city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after Peshawar. His contribution to building the Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway and ensuring that it touched all five districts of Peshawar valley — Swabi, Mardan, Nowshera, Charsadda and Peshawar — has yet to be appreciated.
Azam Hoti was equally loved and loathed, depending on the person’s political views and accessibility. He helped hundreds of people find jobs and their families were forever grateful to him. Families that remained loyal to the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) and offered sacrifices during British rule and after Pakistan’s independence were identified and helped for the first time. Azam Hoti knew ANP workers by name and lost no opportunity to join them on occasions of both happiness and sorrow. He was equally at ease at big, luxurious houses among rich and educated people and at a poor man’s mud-house.
Hailing from Mardan’s twin Hoti town, Azam Hoti belonged to a known political family. His father Amir Mohammad Khan was a freedom-fighter who waged struggle against the British colonial rule in the company of Bacha Khan. He had a high upbringing as he studied at the Aitchison College, Lahore and got commission in the Pakistan Army in 1967 to rise to the rank of captain. He fought in the wars against India before quitting the army. His military training enabled him to organise the NAP and ANP’s uniformed volunteers known as Zalmay Pakhtun. He was its “salaar” (commander) and sometimes proudly wore its uniform of red shalwar-kameez and cap.
Azam Hoti went into self-exile to Afghanistan after the 1973 firing incident in the NAP’s public meeting in Rawalpindi’s Liaqat Bagh in which Abdul Wali Khan, Ajmal Khattak and others survived an attack by goons apparently sent by prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government. Along with many other Pakhtun and Baloch nationalists, Azam Hoti spearheaded moves from his base in Kabul to destabilise Pakistan as they believed there was little room for doing peaceful politics to win Pakhtun and Baloch rights. There are stories galore about Azam Hoti’s days in Kabul as he struggled to stay afloat away from home and family and ran the separatist movement that didn’t enjoy any real support among the Pakistani Pakhtuns.
The political situation changed and so did Azam Hoti’s fortunes. Once back home, he was elected twice to the National Assembly from two different constituencies in Mardan, served as Senator until the end of his life, and earned berths in the federal cabinet. He was now a wealthy man and much sought after due to his influence in the ANP. He was also a good orator and a clever politician.
Azam Hoti befriended Nawaz Sharif and such was his clout that the latter used his contacts to build an alliance with the ANP. Who else could claim the kind of family ties that he had as his nephew Asfandyar Wali Khan was the ANP President, his sister Begum Nasim Wali Khan was married to Khan Abdul Wali Khan and held important positions in the party, and his son Ameer Haider Hoti became the chief minister at such a young age.
In the last stage of his life, Azam Hoti fell out with Asfandyar Wali and held him responsible for the ANP’s worst ever electoral defeat in the May 2013 general election. He even accused Asfandyar Wali and Afrasiab Khattak of taking money from the US to support its ‘war on terror’ in the region. If one were to believe Azam Hoti’s close aide Farhad Khawar, he eventually regretted his strident opposition to Asfandyar Wali. However, Azam Hoti didn’t publicly offer any regrets. Those who knew this proud man were aware that he seldom went back on his word.
It is said Azam Hoti did whatever took his fancy. He followed his heart and fulfilled all his wishes. This landed him in trouble but he cared little what the world thought of him. However, his last years brought him much grief. He had to leave his Mardan home due to dispute with his sons Haider Hoti and Ghazan Hoti and was expelled from the ANP after challenging Asfandyar Wali. He was now a lonely and forgotten man. Poor health and family disputes had turned this once smart and handsome man into someone unrecognizable. It was a sad end to the life of a lively and fun-loving man.