Reassessing Liaquat Ali Khan’s role — did he give the Mullah power?


Riaz Shahid

Liaquat Ali Khan was the one to bring for the first time religion into politics. His alliance with the mullahs produced the ‘Objectives Resolution’, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic state’. Common perception holds Zia or Bhutto responsible for mixing religion and politics, but it was Liaquat Ali Khan under whose leadership mullahs were given entry into politics and the right to decide the fate of the nation

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was the first prime minister and a founding father of Pakistan. Being the closest lieutenant of Quaid-e-Azam has given him a semi-divine status in Pakistani history. There is, to this date, very little objective assessment of his role as prime minister. I believe this is a folly since Liaquat Ali Khan lived a much longer time compared to Quaid-e-Azam after the birth of Pakistan, and his legacy still shapes Pakistan today in several critical areas.

First and foremost is the fact that Pakistan’s disastrous constitutional history has much to do with Liaquat Ali Khan. He had no constituency in Pakistan. His hometown was left behind in India. Bengalis were a majority in the newly created state of Pakistan and this was a painful reality for him. While India was able to promulgate a constitution by 1950 and hold a first direct election on adult franchise in 1951, the Muslim League under Liaquat Ali Khan scrupulously avoided its responsibility to frame a constitution. The reason was simple. Had a constitution been framed, the Bengali demographic majority would have granted Bengalis political power and Liaquat Ali Khan would have been sent out of the prime minister’s office. The person who would have replaced him would have been Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, the most popular political leader of Bengali Muslims and a great stalwart of the freedom movement. He had been chief minister and head of a Muslim League government of United Bengal before partition. Of course, the West Pakistani political elites, particularly those of Punjab, were also against a permanent Bengali majority in the National Assembly. Had Liaquat Ali Khan ignored his personal political interests and respected the ground reality of the Bengali majority, Pakistan might have got itself a workable constitution 60 years back. He was in a position to ignore the Punjabi elites and do the right thing. The Pakistani army was in formative stages and was in no position to challenge civilian authority. All the service chiefs were British.

Liaquat Ali Khan was the one to bring for the first time religion into politics. His alliance with the mullahs produced the ‘Objectives Resolution’, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic state’. Common perception holds Zia or Bhutto responsible for mixing religion and politics, but it was Liaquat Ali Khan under whose leadership mullahs were given entry into politics and the right to decide the fate of the nation.

Then there is Kashmir. During the initial stages of the Kashmir conflict, Sardar Patel, India’s deputy prime minister, offered Pakistan to exchange Hyderabad Deccan for Kashmir. This fact is corroborated by a host of impeccable sources including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Chaudhri Muhammad Ali, Liaquat’s close confidant. The latter has described how this offer was made by the Indians in his masterly biography, The Emergence of Pakistan. Hyderabad Deccan was a gone case from day one. It was surrounded on all sides by the Indians and had a Hindu majority. Kashmir, on the other hand, was Pakistan’s jugular vein and we should have aimed to get it by hook or crook.

Lastly, Liaquat Ali Khan paved the way for Pakistan’s first military dictator. Ayub Khan was merely a colonel in 1947. Quaid-e-Azam had given orders that he will not wear wings for one year and will be transferred to East Pakistan forthwith due to his involvement in looting evacuee gold and silver. No less a person than Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar had written a report on Ayub Khan’s misconduct. Ayub Khan’s British superiors had given him a horrible ACR for his timidity and refusal to participate in combat in Burma in World War II. Had independence not come about, the British would have retired him early. Most importantly, Ayub Khan had not even taken part in the Kashmir war. Strangely, this bad service record was ignored by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan who also happened to be Pakistan’s first defence minister, and appointed Ayub Khan as Army Chief over two senior generals.

I do not deny that Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan played a tremendous role in the creation of Pakistan, but this does not mean that we deify him and not critically analyse his policies and actions.

The writer is a freelance columnist

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