The Government of Pakistan announced the death of “General His Highness Nawab Al Haj Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan V Abbasi, N.Q.A, G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., K.C.S.I., K.C.V.O., L.L.D., the Ameer of Bahawalpur at 1.45pm on May 24, 1966, at London… His Highness was a great patriot…” In Pakistan, the national flag was lowered to half-mast on public buildings.
In London, the representatives of the Queen condoled following funeral prayers. At Karachi airport, the General Officer Commanding, Pakistan Army, received the body of the late ruler on behalf of the President of Pakistan. Units of the Pakistan Army presented an Honour Guard as six pallbearers from the Army bore the late ruler’s coffin draped in the national flag.
A special train escorted by an Honour Guard transported the coffin, members of his family and household staff to Bahawalpur.
On the following morning, the railway lines in the former Bahawalpur State were blocked by people mile after mile. Immense crowds expressed grief at the loss of their former sovereign who had succeeded to the throne of Bahawalpur State in 1904. He represented almost three centuries of peace, dignity and benevolent rule.
At Sadiqgarh Palace, the coffin was mounted on a gun-carriage escorted by six generals of the Pakistan Army; the procession followed on foot for one kilometre through silent crowds. Thereafter, the procession entered vehicles bound for Fort Derawer in the Cholistan desert to bury the last of Bahawalpur’s rulers alongside his ancestors.
At Fort Derawer six buglers of the Pakistan Army sounded the Last Post. Artillery batteries of the Pakistan Army, coordinated by radio, fired a 17-gun salute simultaneously from Rawalpindi and Fort Derawer. Thus the history of Bahawalpur State was buried.
The territories of Bahawalpur State comprised an area larger than Denmark or Belgium, its ruler was entitled to a return visit from the Viceroy of India. On August 14, 1947, its eastern border across ‘the Great Indian Desert’ was shared with India for 300 miles. Its western border was the River Indus, while its northern border was the River Sutlej shared with Punjab, and its southern border was shared with Sindh.
By 1947, Bahawalpur State’s institutions, largely set up by successive British advisors with support from the rulers, consisted of departments run by trained civil servants; there was a Ministerial Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister; the State Bank was the Bank of Bahawalpur with branches outside the State also, including Karachi; there was a high court and lower courts; a trained police force and an army commanded by officers trained at the Royal Indian Military Academy at Dehra Doon.
Regiments of the State’s Forces were later to become distinguished regiments of the Pakistan Army such as the 8th Baluch (1st Bahawalpur Light infantry), the 9th Baluch (2nd Bahawalpur Light Infantry), the 20th Baluch, the 21st Baluch, the 14th Abbasia Field Regiment Artillery, etc.
Education was of special interest to the late ruler. A network of primary and high schools, colleges and a university called Jamia Abbasia (now the Islamic University of Bahawalpur) were operative in the state. Education was free to A level and the State’s Government provided scholarships of merit for higher education. In 1951, the late ruler donated 500 acres in Bahawalpur city for the construction of Sadiq Public School. It was to be the last large education institution to be built in his lifetime.
This institution produced politicians, a chairman of the Senate, businessmen of today’s Pakistan, and several corps commanders. Libraries existed in every tehsil and a most impressive central library (the Sadiq Reading Room) at Bahawalpur was inaugurated in 1924 by Sir Rufus Daniel, Governor General of India. A well-stocked zoo was established in the city as also was the Bahawal Victoria Hospital.
The Boundary Commission formed for partition of India and chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliff allocated the territories to comprise the Dominions of Pakistan and India. The Award excluded the territories of Bahawalpur State from Pakistan since they were not part of British India.
Correspondence from the 1930s between Allama Iqbal and the late ruler shows his interest and support for the Muslim struggle for a homeland, with ongoing financial support for the Muslim League. A relationship of many years developed between the late ruler and the Quaid-i-Azam, who was also engaged professionally for a period to advise. It was this relationship that was later to become significant, politically and economically, in the strengthening of Pakistan.
While India inherited Delhi, the imperial capital, Pakistan had Karachi, then a small town with virtually no State apparatus, without stationery in offices and no State Bank. Financial funding for the new dominion and facilitation of the Quaid to operate as Head of State and the running of administration was much needed.
For the inauguration of the Quaid as Governor General of Pakistan in the presence of the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, on August 14, 1947, the late ruler dispatched units of Bahawalpur’s State Forces to Karachi to provide an Honour Guard on the occasion. A Rolls Royce open Landau was also dispatched for the Quaid to receive Lord Mountbatten and proceed through Karachi to Government House.
Bahawalpur State was independent of Pakistan. The India Act of 1935 provided that the future status of the State lay with its ruler. For Pakistan securing the eastern border with India and for ensuring the passage of water from the rivers Sutlej and Indus was critical (an elaborate and modern irrigation system was in place); all the new Dominion’s lines of communication from north to south ran through Bahawalpur State. Consequently, the State became politically central to the survival of Pakistan in 1947.