The late Abdur Rahman Pazhwak was a legendary Afghan scholar-diplomat. He was at ease in the archives of renowned world libraries, studying ancient Afghan manuscripts, as he was discussing and resolving matters of national and international significance. His background in journalism and diplomacy testifies to a thorough understanding of international affairs and Afghan politics, but even a short conversation with him would reveal his major preoccupation with philosophy and writing, matters less transient than the day-to-day intricacies of diplomacy and governance.
Ustad Pazhwak was born 7 March1919 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, the birthplace of the great Afghan writer, Senna-e. Pazhwak attended elementary schools in Nangarhar province, his ancestral home, and high school in Kabul. Additionally, Pazhwak received home schooling, studying theology and Afghan literature under the guidance of his late father, Judge Abdullah Khan, and his late older brother Judge Hafizullah Khan. He studied the works of great Afghan writers and Sufi poets, and the training seemed to have encouraged his philosophical and spiritual turn of mind. By the time, Pazhwak was fourteen years old; he had already mastered Islamic Fiqa and read most of the classics of Afghan literature.
After graduating from Habibia Lycee in Kabul at the top of his class, he was automatically assigned to attend the Faculty of Medicine at Kabul University. After spending two years as a medical student, lack of personal interest in the field and family misfortune forced Pazhwak to abandon his formal education. The death of his father was a major blow to the family’s finances and ability to live in Kabul. Pazhwak took responsibility as the head of the family and entered the workforce as a free-lance journalist and translator at the Afghan Historical Society. Later on, Pazhwak furthered his studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, taking courses in international relations and journalism. In 1939, he became the editor of Eslah, major news daily, and at the same time served as the Director of Publications, Department of Press. Between 1941 and 1943, Pazhwak did an appointment as the Director, Bakhtar News Agency, Afghanistan’s national news organ, follow by Director General of the Pashtu Academy, member of which were scholars of Afghan literature and philosophy. Pazhwak’s quick rise to prominence as a successful journalist and civil servant was accompanied by winning acclaim as a scholar and poet.
From 1943 to 1946, Pazhwak was Director-General at the Ministry of Information, followed by an appointment as the Press and Cultural Secretary at the Afghan Embassy in London. The appointment marked the beginning of his diplomatic career. Pazhwak resigned his position due to conflict with his superiors and accepted a position with the Press and Information Section of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Montreal, Canada. Despite being successful with ILO, Pazhwak was persuaded to rejoin the Afghan government in 1948 as he felt a compelling moral obligation to serve his native country and was appointed as the Press and Cultural Attaché at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C. In 1953, he returned to Afghanistan and took up appointments as the Director of the 3rd Political Section at the Foreign Ministry and Acting Director of the United Nations (UN) Department. From 1955 to 1958, Pazhwak was the Director General of the Political Affairs at the Ministry.
In 1958, he was appointed Afghan Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a post he held for fourteen years. During this period Ustad Pazhwak presided over a variety of UN Commissions and was elected as the President of the General Assembly in 1966. In 1967, an emergence session of the General Assembly was called at the outbreak of the Middle East war and Pazhwak created a precedent when he called for a new election for the Presidency at the outset of the session. Afghanistan, he said, was aligned with the Muslim countries in the conflict and so as to leave no doubt as to the objectivity of the President, whoever presided over the emergency session, should preside in virtue of a unanimous vote. An election was held and Pazhwak was unanimously reinstated. Pazhwak also presided over the General Assembly special session on Namibia and served as the elected President of the UN Commission on Human Rights and as the Chairman of the Investigation of the Rights of the Buddhists in South Vietnam as well as heading a number of other commissions and committees during his service at the UN.
In 1972, Pazhwak was appointed as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to in Bonn and two other ambassadorial appointments followed: Delhi 1973-1976; and London 1976-1978. Pazhwak resigned and returned to Afghanistan immediately after the communist coup in Kabul, and was placed under house arrest by the Taraki regime upon arrival in Kabul. Pazhwak’s health deteriorated during this turbulent time while he struggle to resist political oppression and warned about dangers ahead for the independence of Afghanistan. Nonetheless, political inner fighting between Afghan communist factions and brutal regime tactics to control the country paved the way for the Soviet invasion in 1979.
Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pazhwak organized and led an underground movement called the Society of Human Rights which published and distributed “Night Letters” condemning the Soviet aggression and opposing the newly installed government under Babrak Karmal. The movement consisted of prominent intellectuals, university professors, students and Kabul citizens who risked their lives to distribute political literature, revealing the nature and intentions of the communist regime. Pazhwak’s health deteriorated severely during this period while the Karmal regime initiated a peace and reconciliation policy to counter the growing national resistance against the regime. Pazhwak was on his deathbed when he was allowed to travel to India for medical treatment. Upon returning from India, Pazhwak continued his struggle to forestall Afghanistan’s slide into political turmoil and chaos to no avail. Soon he was forced to travel to India again for continued medical treatment in 1982, but this time Ustad Pazhwak decided to take up the cause of Afghanistan on the international scene by publicly declaring his support for the Afghan national resistance movement in a news conference in New Delhi and sought political asylum through the United Nations.
This moment marked the beginning of Pazhwak’s tireless and passionate campaign to back and organize the Afghan resistance as a national liberation front against the evils of communist ideology, the illegality of Soviet military aggression and the illegitimacy of the Afghan communist regime. Throughout 1980s, Pazhwak’s interviews, articles, poetry and activities aimed at raising the voice of freedom and self-determination for Afghans, warning against the Soviet ploy, Pakistani favoritism to keep the Afghan resistance fractured and allowing element of religious extremists to receive a lion’s share of international aid and arms micro-managed by the Pakistani ISI. Pazhwak called for an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations to implement the right of the Afghan people to self-determination by holding free and fair elections with the participation of all Afghan political parties. Pazhwak also pushed for the establishment of a national political leadership to represent the Afghan resistance and national interests. His efforts were unfortunately hampered by fragile health, short-sighted policies and the rise of factionalism and religious extremism among Afghan resistance groups. Pazhwak nonetheless traveled to Europe, the U.S. and Pakistan to voice his beliefs and refused to play politics with the future of his country. He strongly warned Pakistani regime of President Zia against its policy of favoritism and continued to lobby the Afghan resistance to unite until the Pakistani government felt compelled to deport him as a persona non-grata. Pazhwak returned to the U.S. as a United Nations refugee and continued his campaign to deliver freedom and self-determination to his people in exile.
Throughout late 1980s and early 1990s, Ustad Pazhwak remained somewhat confined in Washington, D.C., but conveyed his ideas and analyses through interviews, articles and welcoming Afghan and non-Afghans to his humble apartment on Connecticut Avenue in Washington. After considerable years of isolation and steadfast defense of his principles and proposals, Ustad Pazhwak accepted an invitation by the Afghan Writers Union to participate in their conference held in Peshawar in 1991. To his surprise, travel documents and Pakistani visa were granted despite years of restrictions on his activities and travel. Ustad Pazhwak’s wish to be close to his people and land materialized after much suffering and forced isolation as he returned to Peshawar, a city he never considered as a foreign land. Pazhwak’s residence again became a hub for Afghan intellectuals, journalists, tribal and national leaders and refugees. Ustad Pazhwak continued to write and express his concerns and hopes for the future of his people and the national interests of Afghanistan until his death on 8 June 1995 in Peshawar. Ustad Pazhwak was buried in his native village of Baghbani, in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province with honors. His record, thoughts, published and unpublished writings offer a glimpse of his rich and exceptional life and legacy. As he once reiterated in response to an individual praising him” Do not praise me, listen to me.” Ustad Pazhwak’s ideas and legacy may be worth listening to as they rekindle the mores of Afghan culture and the ethos of Afghan national identity.