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The First Lady

Published Feb 13, 2013 07:38am


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“God gives and God takes, but God’s work of service to humanity must go on. In the interest of that service, which must rise above all personal considerations and even grief, however great, I take this opportunity of formally declaring open the Seventh-day Adventist hospital of Karachi.”

-The Adventist Review November 1951 – Page 24

Those were the words of Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, the wife of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, while inaugurating the hospital on M A Jinnah Road. She was to be the chief guest at the ceremony but then “grief” struck and instead of having it called off, or not participating at all, she chose to go ahead with the inauguration via telephone. The “grief” was perhaps one of the most major tragedies to have struck this nation, just two days ago, her husband, the Prime Minister had been shot dead at a political gathering in Rawalpindi, at the exact ground where 56 years later, Benazir Bhutto would be assassinated.

Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan was a strong lady. She worked hand in hand with her husband for the Pakistan movement and later served the country in various important offices, including as ambassador to various countries, as a minister and even as the Governor of Sindh. It is needless to mention that she achieved a lot of “firsts” for Pakistani women.

Eulogising Begum sahiba on the dates of her birthdays and death anniversaries has become a clichéd script often performed with all the expressions that seasoned artists can muster. I too, had heard and memorised the mantra fed through the state and now private channels, played in a loop year after year – as if we are all living in an en masse trance and are expected to learn about the accomplishments of great personalities by heart, instead of attempting to replicate them. Everyone recognises that the lady was a pioneer of Women’s emancipation and a champion of their rights in Pakistan. Her services in creating APWA (All Pakistan's Women’s Association), the Women’s National Guard and founding colleges and institutions for women are well known and worthy of respect.

As much respect as I have for Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, I feel that I do not have the knowledge and information to write a proper profile and will refrain from attempting so. To me, her character is personified in her act mentioned in the first paragraph.

Pictures speak in a way that words seldom do. I came across two such sets of pictures of her from different occasions. From the time I set eyes on them, they have raised many questions in my mind about Pakistan’s early trajectory and our way forward.

Prime Minister Ali Khan's wife, Begum Liaquat Ali Khan, talks on "Women of Pakistan" at Town Hall, in New York, New York. -Courtesy: Truman Libaray.
Prime Minister Ali Khan's wife, Begum Liaquat Ali Khan, talks on "Women of Pakistan" at Town Hall, in New York, New York. -Courtesy: Truman Library.

Prime Minister Ali Khan's wife gave an informal speech to the faculty and students at Barnard College in New York City.
Prime Minister Ali Khan's wife gave an informal speech to the faculty and students at Barnard College in New York City. -Courtesy: Truman Library.

Begum Liaquat Ali Khan speaking at the University of Kansas City. -Courtesy: Truman Libaray
Begum Liaquat Ali Khan speaking at the University of Kansas City. -Courtesy: Truman Library.

The first set of three pictures above is from the visit of the first couple of Pakistan to the USA in May 1950. I will not go into the politics of it and the often unfounded criticism that is levied upon Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan for the visit but will only focus on the important role that the Begum sahiba played on the trip. During the tour, the first lady used the opportunity to portray the perfect image of a Pakistani woman, educated, sophisticated, confident, compassionate and an equal partner in all walks of life. In the first picture above she is seen delivering a speech “Women of Pakistan” at the New York City Hall.

She also addressed gatherings at various colleges and universities across the US. Interestingly, today a large number of our politicians, regardless of gender are found scampering to defend their forged qualifications just in order to compete elections, leave alone the capability of addressing scholars in the US! How the descent in education came about is perplexing. How the nosedive in character came about, is even more so.

There was a deliberate attempt by the founders of Pakistan during the early years to communicate that women were an important part of the team. It is interesting to note that when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Sibi to address the Shahi Jirga, Miss Fatima Jinnah, sat beside him on the podium in front of a tribal audience. Perhaps, this was not a fluke but a masterstroke by the Quaid and his team.

-Photo Credit: Wali of Swat - (R) PAF
-Photo Credit: Wali of Swat - (R) PAF

Photo Credit: Wali of Swat - (R) PAF
Photo Credit: Wali of Swat - (R) PAF

-Photo Credit: Wali of Swat - (R) PAF
-Photo Credit: Wali of Swat - (R) PAF

-Photo Credit: Wali of Swat - (R) PAF

The second set of pictures, appear to be from not only a different time but a different world.

The occasion is the induction of a Hawker Fury aircraft into the then Royal Pakistan Air Force. The aircraft is the first of a series which would follow. In the first photograph, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan is being welcomed by Air Marshal Sir Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley, a British Born non-muslim who headed Pakistan’s Air Force at that time. Notably, while her husband was alive, non-Muslims could even be the Prime Minister of Pakistan – the legislature provided for that. Begum sahiba was to formally induct the aircraft and name it “Jahanzeb” (visible just below the cockpit canopy), after the son of the Wali (Ruler) of Swat – which was a state within the state of Pakistan. The aircraft itself was gift to Pakistan from the Wali. Here we had a case where a State existed within a State and yet strengthened the parent state (Pakistan).

Today, when there is talk of new provinces, a counter-argument often hailed is that it will lead to the weakening of Pakistan itself. Perhaps it is the lack of trust and even sincerity on the part of leadership that creates fears all around.

Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan’s personality is such that discussing her, one inevitably ends up pondering upon Pakistan, its issues and their potential solutions.

Begum Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan was born on February 13, 1905.


The writer works for a bank and is interested in the outdoors, wildlife and science. Currently he is seeking transfer to a branch either in the Australian outback or the Himalayas! He can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Muhammad Adil Mulki works in the financial services sector and is interested in the outdoors, wildlife and science.

He is an incorrigible wanderer and can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

umesh bhagwat Feb 15, 2013 01:21am
revive the legacy of the Begum!
abbastoronto Feb 13, 2013 01:59pm
Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. 1. Islam
Aamir Feb 13, 2013 03:01pm
good composition of memories
Junaid Feb 13, 2013 11:33am
Beautifuly written and immaculately presented, what a people we were and what a people we are now. I would agree with the writer on all points, however would just like to point out that we are now reeping what was sown. Perhaps things would have been different if we had not lost our founding fathers so early in our conception. Today we see people chanting 'Jeeway Bhutto' and 'Nawaz Shareef Sher Hai', it is a sad testiment to the state affairs that we exist in whereby we have not educated our generations on the real leaders of our nation i.e. our founding fathers.
Shadman Feb 13, 2013 11:36am
Wow, I was born at the Seventh Day Hospital..... so were my younger brother and two cousins. How we forget history and let the institutions die... I feel sad!
Abid Feb 14, 2013 08:59pm
Respect !
farid Feb 13, 2013 02:16pm
This country was created for this special class, Begum Sahiba, khans, Sardars, vadras, etc.
Shamsher Awan Feb 13, 2013 04:03pm
So actually Family politics started with the making of Pakistan when Liaquat Ali Khan give her more roles than any first lady would expect and from United nations to many state level roles were awarded to her only because she was the first lady. Good riddance with Pakistan actually.
Khurram Feb 13, 2013 08:13am
An eye-opener.
Stranger Feb 13, 2013 08:41am
Mashallah ! what a beauty.
Oki Feb 13, 2013 09:05am
Had we bothered to learn a thing or two from the early years of Pakistan, perhaps what followed would have been different. Maybe, its not too late even now
Tahir Feb 13, 2013 09:35am
A good recollection of Begum Sahiba and splendid pictures. But doesn't contemporary history accuse them and other similar families being Feudal Lords, a system which still unfairly dominates Pakistan poiltics, wealth, power and ownership of huge estates. It might have been prudent if Liaqat Ali Khan Sahib had got rid of the system there and then and distributed the nation's assets to the inhabitants at large and not to a handful.
Faraz Feb 13, 2013 09:42am
Beautiful. Pleasure reading. Thank you.
Capt C M Khan Feb 13, 2013 09:43am
Such a beautiful tribute to the real HERO. Please publish more of her life and accomplishments. I had the honor of once coming across her during the elections of 1965 at Soldier Bazaar polling station which was in a Church compound when she was supporting Fatima Jinnah against Ayub. Found her to be BRAVE,WARM, FRIENDLY , MOTIVATED and INTELLIGENT.
ID Feb 13, 2013 10:12am
It's never too late!
Karachiwala Feb 15, 2013 01:21am
Just for your information, his 2 sons ( from Begum Rana) living in Karachi and own claimed property in BahtIsland. Mr L A Khans other family from his first wife is happily settled in Punjab with huge lands and other property cliamed against their ancestral land/property left in East Punjab and U.P. Mr Khan may not have cliamed anything true, but his immediate family did cliam what ever they could. He born and bread in Karnal (East Punjab) and considerd one of the biggest Landowner in UP.
DARR Feb 14, 2013 05:20pm
Jeway Bhutto was the one who institutionalized and initiated sectarian evolution, Rest is history. We will never see the beautiful fabric of society mentioned in this artical again.
abbastoronto Feb 13, 2013 10:34pm
Liaquat Ali, one of the richest man in India, dies penniless. He gave up everything for Pakistan.
Vijay Feb 13, 2013 11:06pm
You fprgot to mention that she was born a HIndu Brahmin family in Garhwal and also that she was a lecturer in IP college in delhi before moving on to Pakistan with Liaquat
Adil Mulki Feb 14, 2013 02:15am
@ Everyone Thank you for your kind words and generous feedback. The more I dig into Pakistan's history, the more I get amazed with the rich legacy that we have and how detached we have remained from it all.
adilmulki Feb 14, 2013 02:21am
@ Everyone Thank you for your kind words. The more I dig into Pakistan's history, the more I get amazed with the richness of our legacy and how detached we have remained from it.
Raj Feb 15, 2013 03:24am
Did he succeed in giving Musalmans of India their promised land and at what price? East Pakistanis paid a disastrous price for the promised land and then they walked out, why?
Muhammad Bilal Feb 14, 2013 06:24am
Well written article, we want our Pakistan back!!!
ismail nakhuda Feb 14, 2013 08:03am
I am so glad to read about her,I think Dawn should inform more of our yester years politicians, sportsman and other famous people and their next of kin without going into their private life,is it right her two sons or one son live in America? and I also wonder where is our former cricketer Aftab Baluch?and was he from Baluchistan?and one more thing when first world cup of cricket was organised in 1975 in England or second world cup again in England Israeli team participated as associate member and captain was Pakistani origin.
Toronto Feb 14, 2013 08:46am
Please quote the references and sources, which made you reach to this conclusion (point by point)... That would perhaps help others...
Tahir Sahib Feb 14, 2013 10:07am
The long drawn winters in Canada can be harsh to the body and mind. Depression does set in and out of pure helplessness, people of my age (64-ish) do find the wonders of modern technology, especially surfing on the internet and using the search engines a bit like
seemi Feb 14, 2013 10:22am
She was undoubtedly a wonderful woman. I always had a great respect for her. Thanks for such a nice article.
Rayaz Quraishi Feb 14, 2013 11:20am
Her husband was born a nawabzada . However he gave all his wealth to the nation of Pakistan. Why have you failed to say so???? He died a pauper. May Allah his great soul. Ameen. I had the previlige to meet him once. Rayaz
Raj Feb 14, 2013 12:43pm
Did you invent all these stories?