Remembering a Polish tragedy in Karachi, 51 years ago this week

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Dear Sir,

As our government has concluded yet another ‘agreement’ with a proscribed Islamist militant organization, let us not forget that 51 years ago, the November of 1970 began with the Polish delegation arriving at the Karachi airport before being attacked by an Islamic fundamentalist. On November 1, 1970, the Polish deputy foreign minister Zygfryd Wolniak was killed at Karachi airport during welcome ceremonies, by a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) employee and anti-communist Islamic fundamentalist named Mohammed Feroze Abdullah, who was trying to kill the entire delegation but was aiming for Polish President Marian Spychalski in particular. Driving a PIA cargo lorry at high speed, he mowed down the delegation and narrowly missed his intended target. The other three victims were Pakistani – the deputy director of the intelligence bureau, Chaudhri Mohammed Nazir, and two government photographers. His stated motivation to the interrogators was his desire to kill socialists, believing that socialists and socialism were against Islam and Muslims. This occurred on the eve of Pakistan’s first general elections in December 1970 in which right-wing Islamic parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (whose main stronghold at the time was Karachi) were employing highly incendiary rhetoric against socialists as part of their election campaigns. Feroze was sentenced to death by a special military court on May 10, 1971, but permitted to appeal for clemency.

The details of this tragedy published at that time pointed to two aspects – administrative and political. As far as administrative matters are concerned, the finesse which the authorities in Karachi displayed was evident in that the two senior police officers responsible for protective measures were suspended on account of negligence from their duties.

The penetration of the van unhindered into the crowd, where the Polish president and the Sindh governor as well as other eminent personalities were also standing, itself suggested that the administrators had neither created an enclosure of protective divisions around the airplane, nor were any precautionary measures undertaken while the Polish president and other members of the goodwill delegation were conversing with the guests.

It appeared from the news of the national press that Feroze was an active member of the PIA’s ‘Islamist’ union and his association with the Jamaat-e-Islami was also no longer a secret. This union had created a climate of violence at Karachi airport and beating up socialists had become the custom of the union workers.

Pakistan’s international repute was turned to dust because of this tragedy and the head of every Pakistani bowed in shame and regret.


Raza Naeem | Lahore