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Burning down the Quaid’s house

Published Jun 25, 2013 11:23am

The author standing on the verandah around the Quaid-e-Azam Residency.
The author standing on the verandah around the Quaid-e-Azam Residency.
For more than half a century Ziarat has been famous for two things – the second largest Juniper forest in the world and the elegant Residency where the founder of our nation spent his last dying days. I’d always wanted to visit Ziarat and I finally got my chance around 10 years ago. I had planned to go back again, so special had been the visit, but that never happened and now perhaps I will never go back. I still have the photographs however, and all the memories that go along with an unforgettable journey through time and history.

It was the British who developed Ziarat into a hill station and made it their summer headquarters. The Quaid-e-Azam Residency, built in 1892, was actually the old residence of the agent to the British Governor General. According to the travel writer, Salman Rashid, it was “initially meant to serve as a sanatorium. At 2450 metres above the sea and pleasantly located amid a forest where the air is even today richly scented by juniper, it could hardly have served a better purpose. The building was permitted to serve its original purpose for a few years only. Early in the 20th century, it was appropriated to become the summer residence of the Quetta-based agent of the governor general”.

The Residency was the first place I went to visit upon reaching Ziarat. Our group (I had gone with a group of colleagues from LEAD-Pakistan) had to climb uphill to reach the metal gates that led to the lush green lawns with graceful Chinar trees and flower gardens. The double story house was even more picturesque than it appears in photographs with its wide verandahs supported by timber pillars and wooden floors.


LEAD colleagues on the staircase leading to the Residency.
LEAD colleagues on the staircase leading to the Residency.


I was glad to see that the Quaid’s residency was still in such great shape – some said thanks to the centuries old Juniper wood that was used in its construction. The dry, cool air on the Juniper covered hillside was good for the Quaid as he spent this last days battling advanced tuberculosis of the lungs, and trying to hold onto life. I could just picture him sitting on the verandah, staring into the thick Juniper forest that surrounds the Residency, contemplating the future. He probably knew he was going well before his time…


The interior of Jinnah's bedroom.
The interior of Jinnah's bedroom.


The Ziarat Residency was indeed a magical building soaked in history – the estate had long been declared a national monument and heritage site and it was well preserved. Inside, we climbed up a creaking, wooden staircase and peered into Jinnah’s austere bedroom with its graceful desk and tidy bed. On the wall were black and white images of him with his colleagues from Balochistan – I took pictures of him conversing with Qazi Isa (the grandfather of a good friend who looks just like him), who helped organise the Muslim League in Balochistan.


Jinnah with Qazi Isa in Balochistan.
Jinnah with Qazi Isa in Balochistan.


The Quaid often visited Balochistan and Qazi Isa prepared for him a pamphlet entitled: “Balochistan: Case and Demand”, which was a blueprint for the package of reforms to be implemented under the guidance of the Quaid. According to the website ‘Story of Pakistan’, “the work on the ‘Case and Demand’ for Balochistan partially started after independence but was put into cold storage soon after the death of the Quaid in the wake of the volatile struggle for power, which ultimately led to a series of undemocratic rules”.

The Residency in Balochistan is where the Quaid spent the last two months of his life and it marked an important last chapter in his history, and indeed the first chapter of ours as a young nation (only one year old at the time). Today, Liaquat Ali Khan (who was our first Prime Minister) is widely regarded as Jinnah's right hand man, but the events that took place in Ziarat during Jinnah’s last days indicate that this may not be entirely true. While Jinnah was convalescing in Ziarat, only a few weeks before his death, Liaquat Ali Khan and Chaudhry Muhammed Ali arrived one day to see for themselves the state of his health (it was precarious).

Liaquat Ali Khan climbed up the wooden stairs of the Residency to see Jinnah alone for around 20 minutes. Later, when Miss Fatima Jinnah went up to her brother’s bedroom to check on him, she noted that he looked distressed and deep in thought. In Shakir Husain Shakir’s book “Mohtarma Jinnah: Hayat-o-Fikar”, he has devoted a whole chapter to excerpts from Fatima Jinnah’s “My Brother”. He recounts an insightful anecdote about Liaquat Ali Khan’s visit to Ziarat. The Quaid-i-Azam asked his sister to join him at the lunch table. “They are our guests (p. 63)”. Later on we learn that Fatima Jinnah had left the table, because Liaquat was laughing loudly and telling off-colour jokes (p. 148)”. She was offended because her brother was clearly ill and dying.

It appears that Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan had developed some serious differences towards the end of Jinnah’s life. Some say it was over the issue of minorities. My father-in-law, Air Commodore (Retd) Sajad Haider who did some research on what happened during Jinnah’s last days for his book, “Flight of the Falcon”, wrote in the epilogue: “It was Liaquat Ali Khan’s responsibility to have burnt midnight oil to get a Constitution for Pakistan based on the ideals and principles which the Quaid had lived by. However, Liaquat Ali Khan was not a populist leader and his energies were spent on creating a niche and constituency for himself. His best advisor Chaudary Muhammad Ali, though a brilliant bureaucrat, was smitten by the fundamentalism of Maudoodi which manifested itself in the preamble he wrote for the first Constitution, making it religious centric by bringing Islam into governance. This was against the founder’s vision. Even before independence there was complete unanimity with the Quaid’s guiding principle that Pakistan would have a secular federal system of governance and a parliamentary form of democracy. It was never allowed to take root. The question which should agitate minds is why?”

In his book, “With the Quaid-i-Azam during his last days,” Dr. Ilahi Bakhsh, Jinnah’s personal physician, has provided a detailed account of the Quaid’s treatment at Ziarat and Quetta, and his final journey to Karachi. According to Dr. Ilahi Buksh, the Quaid’s condition actually started improving in Ziarat but then when he was brought down to Quetta for some tests, he developed an infection. Dr. Ilahi Bakhsh and other doctors informed Miss Fatima Jinnah that unless a miracle happened, there was no chance that the Quaid-i-Azam would survive for more than a day or two. Arrangements were made to fly Quaid-i-Azam to Karachi. When Jinnah finally arrived back in Karachi on the last day of his life, on 11 September 1948, a rickety ambulance was sent to receive him at the Mauripur Aerodrome without a nurse. The ambulance broke down on the way to the city and this must have hastened his end in the oppressive heat. His devoted sister, Fatima Jinnah, was with him all along; they had to wait for over an hour for another ambulance to arrive and Jinnah passed away later that evening.

In Fatima Jinnah’s own words, “When he died, at his bedside, there was nobody except his doctors and myself... For several years before his death there was a constant tug of war between his physicians who warned him to take long intervals of rest and short hours of hard work, but he did exactly the opposite, knowing full well the risk he was running, but cheerfully pursuing the task he had set himself, the attainment of Pakistan and the events that followed. After the establishment of Pakistan and the events that followed, he worked harder still. Often his doctors complained to me that he ignored their advice. Nor could I persuade him to pay enough attention to his failing health. His frail body could bear the burden no longer. His unconquerable spirit helped him to ignore the dark forebodings, writ large in his failing health…The Quaid-i-Azam is no more. He lived so that Pakistan may come into being. He died so that Pakistan may live…”

Sadly, it appears that the Quaid’s dream of a progressive and democratic Pakistan died with him in those last days in Ziarat. Ill and frail, he was unable to control the events that had been set in place – I was not aware until very recently that “there was generally an expectation that Fatima Jinnah would succeed her brother as Governor-General and that the cabinet’s choice of Khawaja Nazimuddin came as a surprise”. Fatima Jinnah eventually died an unhappy and broken woman, having lived long enough to see her brother’s vision shattered.


The doorway to the Residency.
The doorway to the Residency.


Today, the house that became a powerful symbol of the Quaid’s last days is no more – it has been burnt to the ground by forces that were set in motion years ago when Pakistan failed to become a discrimination free, inclusive democracy. The Residency’s structure was made almost entirely of wood; and it must have caught fire easily when the grenades were hurled at the monument in the late hours of the night. The destruction, whose beginnings were born in the last few months of the Quaid’s life in Ziarat, has come full circle. Today we mourn the burning of his house as the final epitaph.