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The First Lady

February 13, 2013

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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

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-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 vagabonds.odyssey@gmail.com

 


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.