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06 October 2013

A Tribute: Remembering Pakistan's First Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan on his 118th Birth Anniversary

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By Rohail Khan

Barrister, Statesman, Philanthropist, Right-hand of Quaid-e-Azam, and Pakistan’s First Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan is a towering personality of South Asia. His contribution, from 1923 to 1947, to liberate India from the British empire is written in golden words and remains unmatched.

Born on 1st October 1895 in Karnal, East Punjab, as second son of Nawab Bahadur Rustam Ali Khan, Liaquat Ali Khan was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Raised like a Prince, young Liaquat‘s early education included Islamic studies and social sciences in Urdu, Persian, Arabic, and English languages. Master chess-player, the youthful Liaquat was a champion in swimming and horse-riding.

His father, Nawab Bahadur Rustam Ali Khan, decorated with the titles of Rukun Al-Daulah and Shamsher Jang by the British Government, was one the most respected and affluent landlords whose estate (300 villages) expanded across Eastern Punjab and the United Provinces.

The Nawab family had deep respect for the teachings of Sufi Master Shah Waliullah and the eminent Muslim thinker and educationist Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. With natural admiration for the famous Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), young Liaquat was admitted to AMU from where he graduated in 1918 with a law degree and another in political science.

Based on his scholarly double graduation, the British authorities offered him an illustrious position in the Indian Civil Services which he politely declined. After marriage to his first cousin Lady Jahangira Khan in 1918, he went to England and joined the Oxford University. In 1921, he was awarded a Law degree from Oxford and was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, London.

With the burning desire to serve his homeland, Barrister Liaquat Ali Khan returned to India in 1923 and joined mainstream politics. Firm believer of Indian Nationalism, he was vocal and hands-on in his efforts to liberate India from the British empire.

Despite insistence from senior Congress leaders, the far-sighted Liaquat Ali Khan chose to join All India Muslim League. Inducted into Muslim League in May 1924 personally by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the industrious Nawabzada instantly became the Quaid’s confidante’ and remained with him like a shadow all his life. Notably, his financial contribution towards the Pakistan movement remains second only to the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Throughout his political career Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was known to stick to his opinion even in the face of severe odds. He took active part in Muslim League’s legislative and administrative affairs and was widely accepted at all ranks and levels. A key person of Muslim committee to evaluate the 1928 Nehru Report, the Nawabzada along with Quaid e Azam, was one of the first to unwrap the British initiatives to convert the Hindu Congress leaders against the Muslims.

Nawabzada’s second marriage took place in 1933 with Lady Rana Liaquat Ali Khan - a well-known social worker, diplomat, and economist. She stood by her husband through his political career and even accompanied him to England in 1933 to persuade Quaid e Azam to return to politics when he was living in self-exile.

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan's contribution to the struggle for independence is incalculable.

After the Quaid's return in 1934, the Muslim League was reorganized and Nawabzada was elected its Honorary Secretary. In 1940 he was promoted as “deputy leader” of the Muslim league. Quaid e Azam being pre-occupied in strategic matters and travel to mobilise the league across India, the operational management of Muslim league was performed by the able Nawabzada.

After India-wide success of Muslim League in the central legislative election in 1945-46, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan assisted the Quaid in negotiations with British-led Cabinet Mission and the Congress for the “Partition of Pakistan”. Lord Mountbatten, British Viceroy, recognising his abilities, made Nawabzada the Finance Minister of the interim government.

After independence on 14th August 1947, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was every one’s favourite choice to be appointed as the first Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

In this capacity, Nawabzada had to work against the wind and forced to tackle a vast number of difficulties that Pakistan faced in her early days. He helped Quaid e Azam in managing the country’s finances, negotiating with the Hindu-Sikh consortia to refrain from killing the Muslim emigrants, led the rehabilitation of millions of incoming refugees, and organized effective defence, judicial and administrative system for the new born country.

Nawabzada was entrusted with the task of drafting Pakistan's foreign policy. He selected qualified and meritorious members for the first legislative assembly and took practical steps to appoint the country-wide civil administration. He set up the National Bank of Pakistan and the first currency printing press. He persuaded leading industrialists to jump-start mercantile activities across the country.

After the untimely demise of Quaid e Azam on 11th September 1948, the Nawabzada led the country with extra ordinary zeal and devotion. He took measures to enforce writ of the state and was the man behind “The Objectives Resolution” - a prelude to Pakistan’s first constitution. Passed unanimously by the national assembly on 12th March 1949, it is considered to be "Magna Carta" in Pakistan's constitutional history.

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan called the making of Pakistan’s constitution "the most important occasion in the life of this country, next only to the achievement of independence".

During his tenure, he focussed on economic development and strengthening of internal matters of Pakistan. He successfully persuaded his Indian counterparts to resolve the dispute of Kashmir in a peaceful manner. In an agreement in January 1948, both neighbours mutually decided that a free and impartial plebiscite would be held under the supervision of the UN.

In May 1950, the Nawabzada visited United States and set the course of Pakistan's foreign policy towards closer ties with the West. Thus, he laid the foundation of international diplomacy and economic cooperation between Pakistan and the rest of the world.

In the words of US President Harry S. Truman: "Pakistan's Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was the first elected head of Government of a Muslim State whom I invited to pay an official visit to the United States of America in May 1950. He and his wife, First Lady Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, made an excellent impression on us".

On 4th May 1950 in a historical address to US Senate in Washington D.C, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan delivered one of the finest orations of his life before the US Senators, identifying the raison d'etre for Pakistan, the meaning of the Islamic way of life and the die-hard commitment of Pakistani Muslims to it, Pakistan's policy of protecting all minorities, and the Muslims' heroic struggle for Pakistan under the wise leadership of Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In resonant words, the Nawabzada articulated Pakistan's resolve to promote peace and goodwill in the world and her wish to foster friendly relations with all neighbours.

During the May 1950 visit, General Eisenhower, Chairman of Columbia University and future US President, decorated Nawabzada with a doctorate degree in recognition of his passionate concern for world peace and tangible efforts to build enduring US-Pakistan friendship.

In an address to US Congressmen, removing common misunderstandings about “Women in Pakistan”, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan officially clarified: "Today the women of Pakistan enjoy the same status and rights as those enjoyed by their sisters in any other country of the world. The part which our womenfolk played and the services which they rendered in the achievement of Pakistan are by no means less than those rendered by men. There is no aspect of our life in Pakistan in which our women are not doing their share of work. They have not only the right of adult franchise but they have also been elected to the legislative assemblies and are performing their duties very efficiently."

Throughout his US tour spanning twelve cities, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan's effort was to portray Pakistan as a politically and economically stable country. In his meetings with top American business magnates, he stressed their role to boost industrialisation in Pakistan and provide advanced industrial technology to the new country.

Along with his US tour, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan also paid an official visit to Canada where Prime Minister Mackenzie King gave him and his team an enthusiastic welcome. Together, the two Prime Ministers laid the foundations of Pakistan-Canada friendship and economic cooperation.

Senator Strom Thrummed, one of the longest serving US Senators, considered Nawabzada “one of the ablest leaders from Asia” and recalled his remarkable command over the socio-political and economic issues of sub-continent.

Speaking of Pakistan with warmth and friendship, President Truman in an interview reiterated that the US Government was one of the first countries to recognise the new State of Pakistan. He recalled that him and his Secretary of State, George Marshall, had rushed the US Consul General in Morocco to Karachi to represent US at the Pakistan Independence Day ceremony on 14thAugust 1947 goodwill gestures from the White House.

President Truman recalled how Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan articulately projected the Pakistani viewpoint on Kashmir in his speeches in the US and his insistence that, “created on Islamic ideology, the people of Pakistan have adopted Islamic ways in all matters and manners of life”.

Four weeks before his US tour, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, in order to prevent deterioration of Indo-Pakistan relations, flew to New Delhi on a high-risk mission of peace and signed the famous “Liaquat-Nehru Pact” with Premier Jawahar Lal Nehru of India on 8th April 1950.

Bold stroke of statesmanship on his part, this achievement was extensively covered in the US and International media. Under this Pact, the Governments of India and Pakistan pledged to safeguard the rights and security of religious minorities in their respective countries. While expounding Pakistan's case on the Kashmir issue, Liaquat Ali Khan, using temperate language, emphasized Pakistan's resolve to abide by the UN Security Council's Kashmir plebiscite resolutions.

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was unfortunately assassinated on 16th October 1951 during a public address in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Breathing his last, he whispered: “O Allah, Please Save Pakistan”.

The security forces immediately shot back the assassin, who was later identified as Saad Akbar, an Afghan National.

Just like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the question of who was behind this conspiracy to eradicate Pakistan’s first Premier still remains an enigma. He is buried at Mazar-e-Quaid, the grand mausoleum built for Founder of Pakistan Quaid e Azam in Karachi. The Municipal Park, where he was assassinated, was renamed Liaquat Bagh in his honour. Incidentally, it is the same location where ex-Prime Minister Ms Benazir Bhutto was also assassinated in 2007.

The Nawabzada was posthumously declared “Shaheed e Millat - Martyr of the Nation”.

In one of his public speech, the Nawabzada had stated he had no wealth or property and that he would lay down his life to safe guard Pakistan. And he stayed true to his words. His assassination pushed Pakistan in a state of anarchy that still can be felt. In his book “Servants of God”, Historian

Chaudhary Zafarullah declares that “whoever pushed the trigger of the gun that killed Liaquat Ali Khan is also responsible for killing democracy in Pakistan”.

Let us re-visit what Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, in his life time, unequivocally stated in his June, 1950 broadcast from Radio Pakistan, after returning from his US trip:

"When the fundamental principles of Islam were explained to the people of America, they experienced a pleasant surprise. We explained to them our belief that Islam represented the highest stage of human evolution. Islam is a religion, which inculcates the spirit of equality, fraternity and democracy.

God loves the diligent and every man should be allowed to get the fruit of legitimate labour. No religion considers the acquisition of knowledge as necessary as Islam. Minorities in Pakistan have the same rights as the Muslims in the country".

[Rohail Khan, a Canadian-Pakistani with strong parental roots in India as well, is a Senior Banker and CFO based at Jeddah. He is also Chairman, Urdu Academy International (UAI), Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at rohailkhan00@gmail.com]

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