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Prof Fateh’s contribution towards saving King Edward — stories of unsung heroes

Lahore

May 14, 2020

I was not well known to Prof Fateh Khan Akhtar, who recently passed away, during my King Edward Medical College (KEMC) student days ‘83-‘88. Of course, I knew him as an eminent urologist and head of Urology Division at Mayo Hospital, But in 2003, the threat of nascent University of Health Sciences (UHS) taking over KEMC became a real and present danger. This influential new university was like a fierce tornado devouring everything on its path.

Prof Mahmood Chaudhry (late) was the erstwhile Punjab health minister. He was a “personal” buddy of the then President General Pervez Musharraf. It was no secret how disparagingly he looked upon King Edward and its principal at that time.

So a very small group began to gather in the quite evenings at my residence in trying to keep KEMC out of the clutches of UHS. Being Punjab health minister; youthful but inexperienced, I had to walk a very tight rope.

People will remember that UHS had full backing of then strongman President General Musharraf because of his close friendship with Dr Mahmmod Chaudhry (founder chairman of BOG of UHS). They thought of UHS as “their university” albeit naively. UHS was Punjab’s university and since has evolved into a much better institution.

Professor Majid Ch kindly hosted many events at Punjab Club. Dr Asad Aslam, Prof Mumtaz Hassan and dearly departed Prof Faisal Masood attended many of our secret meetings. Dr Jawad Sajid, Prof Mahmood Ali Malik; Prof Bashir (late); Prof Iftikhar (late), Dr Fayyaz Ranjha, Prof Ijaz Ahsan, Prof Muhammad Awais of Orthopedics, Dr Javaid Asgher and Prof Javed Akram – all my beloved teachers and seniors supported me and our frail team morally and otherwise. Even the then chief minister agreed albeit privately with us. He felt that it was not the right time, politically speaking, to ruffle a lot of feathers. He rightly desired a consensus-based solution. It is no secret that Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi fully patronised King Edward Medical University as a premier medical institution.

As the battle got tougher I was then directly ordered from the highest level to go to Prof Mahmood’s home and meet him to kind of placate him. It was a very tense meeting. He was in his typical form, fuming with anger. I must still say, on a personal level, he stayed respectful towards me and even offered tea with biscuits.

In my arguments I asked him that UHS is a great achievement and the Punjab government fully demonstrates ownership of UHS but that KE has a one-and-a-half century glorious legacy too, which cannot be merely thrown out of the window. I remember saying “Sir, King Edward was there, before you, Mumtaz Hassan and myself, and shall be still there after we are gone.” Despite all my respectful efforts for convincing him to back off, he still persuaded the then President of Pakistan that UHS would not be complete without KE as a constituent college. I understand he even threatened to resign as BOG chairman.

We were so worried of inevitable defeat and that’s when Prof Fateh Khan jumped in.

He personally took me to the high and mighty in Islamabad (names cannot be disclosed). Despite his frail health, he encouraged me and supported us in saving King Edward Medical College and helped later in transforming it into KEMU, including conceiving with us the concept of the famous Mayo Surgical Tower – first in Pakistan.

I clearly remember the day I proudly presented KEMU Bill in the Punjab Assembly; his was the first call of congratulations that I received.

There are now many medical universities in Punjab and Pakistan. However, they all owe their existence to the painstaking efforts in the years 2003 and 2004 when we saved KEMU. Many of the details of the great efforts to make KEMU are not known to people, but history must be rightly recorded.

I feel this would have never happened without Dr Fateh Khan. While at this Prof Fateh and I got very close (almost a father figure to me). Aisha Malik, his daughter, should be proud of her father.

I was impressed by his humility and gentle demeanour. Yet he outrightly supported King Edward Medical College and its reputation as mother of all medical institutions in Pakistan.

So as we cherish the memory of all those that made KEMU possible; the real acknowledgement shall be from those at the helm of affairs of these medical universities as they lead them to recognition as true institutions of excellence.

Rest in peace Prof Fateh Khan Akhter.

The writer is a former health minister of Punjab