Monday October 25, 2021

A tribute to Liaquat Ali Khan

October 16, 2016

Nearly 65 years ago on October 16, 1951 Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was martyred in Rawalpindi’s Company Bagh renamed as Liaquat Bagh. It is a strange coincidence that in 1979 a second Prime Minister—Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-- from Sindh was done to death not far from the place of assassination of the first. And much more shocking is the fact that the third Prime Minister from Sindh—Mohatarma Benazir Bhutto too was martyred outside Liaquat Bagh when she was going home after making her historic return home speech. All three were great leaders like of whom would not be born again. And each one of them left an unparallel legacy— consequential legacies that have been described as catalyst of far reaching consequences. 

Liaquat’s assassination just four years after Independence and three years after the death of the Quaid-i-Azam—was the most severe blow at that time when Pakistan had yet to come out of its teething troubles. And the single bullet that pieced his heart did not kill a statesman but it subverted the democratic and secular vision of the Quaid--a vision that remains an elusive dream to this day. Rather, today it is under fatal threat. The forces that had opposed creation of Pakistan and assailed Mohammad Ali Jinnah (MAJ) now have the audacity to threaten the superior courts not to do justice of freeing a victim of most controversial law—a Christian woman, mother of five, accused of blasphemy. 

To begin my piece on Liaquat, I would like to quote a famous American journalist Stephen Kinzer in his best seller “All the Shah’s men”. His book is contemporary history and covers the period of the American coup against Iran’s most popular Prime Minister Dr Mossadegh. I quote: “Tuesday’s session (UN Security Council’s, October 1951) began with tributes to Liaquat Ali Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, who had just been assassinated. Liaquat was a figure much like Mossadegh. He had been leader of the movement to end British colonialism in India and had worked closely with Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to build a democratic Muslim republic in what had been India’s Northern provinces. Following Jinnah’s death he had become what George McGee, who met him several times, called “the unchallenged leader of the country”. Like Mossadegh, he was a visionary statesman, highly educated and erudite. He was committed to secular Islam and sympathetic to Western values but at the same time frustrated by what he saw crippling vestiges of imperialism that prevented poor countries from achieving true independence. Pakistan never again had a leader of his caliber, just as Iran never had another like Dr Mossadegh.”

According to my father late Syed Shamsul Hasan (All India Muslim League’s Assistant Secretary from 1913 to 1947 and who had worked with Liaquat as General Secretary of All India Muslim since 1936 until 1947), the PM was to make some historic announcement in that public meeting pertaining to giving a date for holding first ever general elections as well to serve a warning to United States to keep out of the region and not to play dirty with Iran. In this disclosure lies the secret behind his assassination. West Pakistani political vested interest represented by feudal class was averse to elections. Externally Americans had become wary of his warning and his threat to end the facilities enjoyed by their military. 

Liaquat’s murder most foul has had several fruitless investigations. Head of one of the probe teams -a senior police officer carrying full dossier of his findings got perished when his plane mysteriously crashed when he was coming to present his report to Liaquat’s successor Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin in Karachi which was then capital of Pakistan. Probe into the plane crash declared it due to mechanical failure. In the debris no probe papers were recovered. No traces of the report were found. 

Said Akbar—the assassin-an Afghan stripped of his nationality by Afghan government- was on British dole in NWFP much before the partition. Mysteriously he was given a seat in the front row in an area opposite the dais reserved for the Crime Branch of Peshawar Police in Company Bagh—the venue of Liaquat’s public meeting. He shot direct at Liaquat’s heart to kill him; police around Said Akbar shot him dead with a volley of bullets. Nobody to this day knows who ordered Said Akbar killed. 

Looking at the regional scenario as well domestic then, one could easily reach the conclusion that it could have been on account of external conspiracy aided by internal vested interests to execute the plot that would make them beneficiaries of his death. As a student of history I cannot rule out the possibility of the involvement of the same power that had warned Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of making him a horrible example if he ventured to make a nuclear bomb. Like Bhutto’s overthrow by General Zia and his judicial murder to please the foreign masters, Liaquat’s too was a similar operation. His removal was sought by external forces; his elimination was executed by players in Liaquat’s own government. Obviously when every one in his government had gloves on, traces of his blood could not be found. 

Liaquat was born with a proverbial silver spoon in the mouth. Nawabzada by birth, he had huge land holdings, what endeared him to MAJ was him being a workaholic, honest to the core, dedicated with extra ordinary executive/administrative qualities. He was not only longest serving Secretary of All India Muslim but Quaid trusted him with the running of Dawn along with my father who remained its printer publisher from day one of its publication to its end in 1947 in Delhi when it was burnt down.

Quaid’s trust in Liaquat was phenomenal. Instead of appointing an economist or a Muslim Leaguer businessman as Finance Minister in the Interim government, MAJ chose Liaquat. And he delivered much to his satisfaction when Liaquat presented his first budget that earned him the title of a proletariat finance minister as it aimed towards alleviating the sufferings of the poor, exploited and downtrodden under privileged population of India. 

Liaquat had survived Rawalpindi conspiracy led by Major General Akbar Khan to overthrow him months before his assassination. It had become obvious to him that those politicians, who had jumped on the freedom bandwagon when Pakistan had become inevitable, did not want to see him continue as prime minister. If he could hold elections in 1952 he would have turned tables on the asserting Lahore-based power troika in league with the help of retrogressive religious forces who had opposed Pakistan.

Liaquat’s was larger than life personality. He died a pauper—with bank balance of Rs600, no property in Pakistan. He left everything in India and did not claim anything here. Like all great leaders we have had, he too was a target of vilification by his religious opponents and vested political interests backed by invisible hands averse to Pakistan’s becoming a welfare democratic state as opposed to their idea of a security state. One could go on writing about him but restrained by space I would end that like him are born in centuries. 

[Author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK, veteran journalist and long time advisor to former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto]