ARCHIVE: October 16, 2017

All-India Muslim League leaders Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan at the India Office in London on December 3, 1946, during a visit to the United Kingdom to call on Prime Minister Clement Attlee and meet with Congress Leader Jawaharlal Nehru. (Courtesy: Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi Collection)
All-India Muslim League leaders Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan at the India Office in London on December 3, 1946, during a visit to the United Kingdom to call on Prime Minister Clement Attlee and meet with Congress Leader Jawaharlal Nehru. (Courtesy: Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi Collection)

Liaquat Ali Khan, one of the heroes of the Pakistan Movement, was the builder of the nation in its nascent years. The Pakistan of 2017 — on the 70th anniversary of its independence — is in many ways Liaquat’s creation as he established most of the policies Pakistan follows today. Liaquat had been a devoted follower of the Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, since 1928, and was appointed general secretary of the All India Muslim League by his leader in 1936. Over the subsequent 12 years, Jinnah and Liaquat developed a close working relationship, with Jinnah calling Liaquat “my right hand” in 1943, and appointing him prime minister in 1947. He held the position with great skill and distinction until he was assassinated on October 16, 1951. Liaquat was a reserved, outwardly calm person. Although he was not a demonstrative figure who craved attention and an audience, he was a skilled politician whom his political opponents often underestimated, as did the Congress Party, to their own cost. Besides, he worked in the shadow of the Quaid, who did not allow others to be the public spokesman for the League after 1936, or for Pakistan between August 14, 1947, and his death. Liaquat greatly admired Jinnah for his devotion to the cause of the Muslims. It was a devotion Liaquat shared and respected. He was always deferential to Jinnah in part because Jinnah always demanded deference from his followers, and in part because Liaquat always respected the almost 20-year difference in age between them. But Jinnah truly depended on Liaquat, who was at the centre of all the League’s activities before partition and as prime minister.

Liaquat was an Urdu-speaking Punjabi, the second son of the Nawab of Karnal. He was educated in law at Syed Ahmed Khan’s Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College, which later became the Aligarh University, and he remained devoted all his life to the modernist ideals and the integration of Western and Islamic learning he acquired there. He was a very good student and became a well-educated, well-travelled person who could, and did, conduct himself well during conversations of intellectual and ethical nature, as Viceroy Lord Wavell recorded in his journal.

Liaquat was married to his first cousin in 1915 and had a son, Wilayat, born in 1919, the year after his father died leaving him an independently wealthy man. Liaquat then studied law at Exeter College, Oxford, and the Inner Temple, London. He was called to the Bar and returned to India in 1922 after touring Europe as a well educated, cosmopolitan man, who could recite Iqbal’s Jawab-i-Shikwa by heart, was fond of entertaining and music, and whose passion was politics.

He was also passionate about education and, among other things, he became the president and benefactor of the Anglo-Islamic School in Muzaffarnagar, United Provinces; president of the Anglo-Arabic College, Delhi (now Zakir Husain Delhi College); and he maintained a connection with Aligarh until 1947. As prime minister he continued his strong interest in education and spoke of its importance frequently.

He registered to practice law in Lahore after his return from England, but devoted his life to education and politics. In 1923 he ran for election to the Legislative Assembly of India from the Punjab, but was defeated. It was, thus, an accident of history that left him associated with the United Provinces and not the Punjab to which he belonged. According to Dr. Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah, a Bengali who knew him well and whose husband served as Liaquat’s foreign secretary, he was “very much a Punjabi”.

Liaquat was elected to the Legislative Council in the United Provinces in 1926 and for 20 years represented the province; first at Lucknow and then, from 1941, in Delhi, where he joined Jinnah in the Legislative Assembly of India. Jinnah appointed him the Muslim League deputy leader. He had always been interested in economic affairs, spoke frequently on the subject in the United Provinces’ legislatures and in the Legislative Assembly of India in New Delhi, served as one of the Indo-British trade negotiators in 1937, and was the first Indian Finance Member of British India in the interim government between September 1946 and partition.

Liaquat had a legalistic bent of mind and he was a detail-oriented person capable of long hours of work . Temperamentally he was ideally suited to be the general secretary of the League, and all its committees — such as the Working Committee and the Committee of Action — revolved around him. He was also responsible for the provincial League parties, maintained voluminous correspondence, and frequently travelled throughout the subcontinent for the League. It was remarkable that the League became a well-organised, national political party just in the space of a few years due to Jinnah’s leadership and Liaquat’s organisational ability.

Of critical value was Liaquat’s role in the creation of Dawn as a weekly newspaper in 1941 and as a daily, the following year. Dawn played a major role in publicising and popularising the demand for Pakistan, and in the elevation of Jinnah as a national and even international figure.

Carrying the newspaper became a sign that one was a follower of Jinnah and a supporter of the demand for Pakistan. Indeed, Dawn was a catalyst for the creation of Pakistan.

The founding of Pakistan in 1947 was the great achievement of the Quaid-i-Azam, but he could not have done it without the help of a number of leading supporters, of whom Liaquat was the most important. But Liaquat also had another great achievement in his life, and that was the establishment of Pakistan as a working state entity and the development of its policies, most of which have been followed since 1947.

In the history of world leaders, Liaquat must be ranked with Clement Attlee, who created the welfare state in Britain, and Harry Truman in the United States, who formulated the US foreign policy which has been followed to this day. Liaquat had a much more difficult task than Attlee or Truman, as Britain could receive loans from the United States and the British Commonwealth countries, and the US had come out of the Second World War in a very strong economic and political position. On the contrary, Liaquat assumed the leadership of a completely new and untested polity, with very little international support.

In 1947 both British and Indian leaders were talking about the possibility of Pakistan soon collapsing “like a tent”, openly discussing how many weeks or months Pakistan would last. It was Liaquat’s historical achievement that by the end of his prime minister ship in October 1951 no one was talking about Pakistan’s imminent collapse.

In 1947, Pakistan needed to create a state apparatus from scratch while absorbing millions of refugees, and fighting with India over Kashmir. In addition to ensuring Pakistan’s survival and the creation of government institutions, such as the civil service and the military, Liaquat was responsible for creating Pakistan’s national policies and 70 years later they have mostly remained intact.

The cornerstone of these policies was the stabilisation of the economy along sound fiscal lines while aligning it with capitalist trends in the West rather than with the communist bloc dominated by the erstwhile Soviet Union. Pakistan had little choice at the time though. Turning to the Soviet Union for assistance was not much of an option as its economy had all but been destroyed during the War and its preoccupation with Cold War issues was not much of a help either. While the West in the end provided little economic support, Pakistan’s industrial development in the 1950s and ’60s was actually a result of Liaquat’s early policies.

In addition to the economic policy, Liaquat also established Pakistan’s foreign policy, which the country has largely followed ever since. The first feature of this policy was in regard to India and the conflict over Kashmir. Liaquat never agreed to accept the Vale of Kashmir as part of India, a policy that has characterised Pakistan’s stance to date. Liaquat made a huge effort in India, England, and in Pakistan, trying to force India to agree to binding international arbitration over Kashmir. Even though he was not successful, his views on Kashmir have been propounded by all who have followed him since.

The same has been the case with the policy of alliance with the West. As with the orientation of its economy, Pakistan had little choice in the matter. In 1947, the Soviet Union was busy draining its East European allies of their assets to build up its own industries. Allying with a state based on godless communism was also unacceptable, and had Pakistan done so it would have been isolated diplomatically by the West at a time when it desperately needed its support. As a member of the Baghdad Pact between 1955 and 1979, as a frontline state in the war in Afghanistan after 1979, and again, as an ally in the war on terror in the post-9/11 world, Pakistan has followed the alignment set by Liaquat. It is only recently that Pakistan has started trying to develop meaningful ties with China.

The third main feature of Pakistan’s foreign policy is its relationship with its Muslim confreres in the Middle East. Before partition, Jinnah had declared that Pakistan would be a friend of the West but oriented toward the Muslim Middle East. Liaquat sought good relations with all the Muslim countries, including Iran, which was the first country in the world to recognise the new state, and he welcomed the Shah of Iran to Pakistan in March 1950; the first head of state to visit the country. In the 1970s and ’80s Pakistan emphasised its Middle Eastern connections; in 2017 the country looks increasingly for assistance from the Middle East and seeks to play a significant role in military affairs in the region.

Finally, with regard to its form of government, Pakistan continues to follow the path set for it by Liaquat. He had always been committed to a democratic political system and sought to create Pakistan as a parliamentary democracy in line with the Westminster model. But this had to be done while recognising and honouring Muslim feelings. These included the recognition that Islam is central to Pakistani life and its political system. Liaquat did this in the Objectives Resolution of March 12, 1949, when he started the process of creating a constitution which set up a parliamentary system but one that respected the sensibilities of the religiously-inspired. The Resolution, although amended, is part of the Pakistan Constitution under Article 2(A).

Liaquat was a son of Aligarh and a devoted follower of its founder, Syed Ahmed Khan, and that explains his modernist philosophy of integrating Western and modernist Islamic learning toward creating an advanced society based on both. Socially liberal, he fully supported women’s education and the activities of his second wife, the dynamic and remarkable Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, who founded the All-Pakistan Women’s Association in 1949.

From the creation of a modern military, a diplomatic service, foreign policy and diplomatic relationships, to the establishment of an educational system, a civil service, a state bank, and an entire economy, Liaquat was at the centre of all these activities and the inspiration for many of them. He believed he would have the time to write and promulgate a constitution, and convert the Muslim League into a well-organised and vibrant party as he had done for its All-India version in the years before 1947. Besides, he was also keen on establishing respect for all sects and creeds and viewpoints. When he was assassinated, he was only 56. Had he been the prime minister for another, say, 10 years or so, Pakistan would have developed more along the principles of the ideal liberal Muslim democracy envisioned by the Quaid-i-Azam and by his “right hand”, Liaquat Ali Khan.

The writer was Professor of History, Eastern Michigan University.

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