Khan, Liaquat Ali

views updated


KHAN, LIAQUAT ALI (1895–1951), Pakistan's first prime minister (1947–1951) Muhammad Liaquat Ali Khan was born in Karnal, Punjab, India, on 1 October 1895. He was the second son of the nawāb of Karnal (his elder stepbrother, Sajjad, inherited the title). Liaquat received his early education at home, studying the Qur an and the Hadith and taking music lessons. He was fond of singing, dancing, and theater. Throughout his life he was known as an amiable and warmhearted person, though reserved. In 1910 he joined the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College school at Aligarh. Matriculating in 1915, he entered the college, and graduated in 1918. He was married to his cousin Jehangira Begum; their only child, a son, Wilayat, was born in 1919.

Liaquat entered Oxford University in 1920 as a "non-collegiate student," enrolling in Exeter College there the following year. He received his bachelor of arts in jurisprudence in August 1921. The following year he was called to the Bar from London's Inner Temple. He returned to India at the end of 1922 and enrolled as an advocate in Punjab's High Court. Independently wealthy, he did not practice law, instead devoting his life to politics and education, joining the Muslim League in 1923.

He stood, unsuccessfully, in 1923 for election to the Legislative Assembly of India for East Punjab. In 1926, however, he was elected to the Legislative council of the United Provinces, as an independent from Muzaffarnagar District, a Muslim constituency. In the council he founded his own political party, the Democratic Party. He was also one of the leading figures of the Uttar Pradesh Zamindars' Association, an organization devoted primarily to landlord interests. He had a very successful career in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council, being elected deputy speaker in 1931. In social matters he was liberal, speaking, for example, in favor of education for women; he was conservative, however, on fiscal issues. As a landholder he was concerned about agricultural issues and as a Muslim he was devoted to Muslim interests. He was no bigot, however; his second wife was a Christian, the educator and social reformer, Ra ana Liaquat Ali Khan. They had two sons, Ashraf and Akber. In 1937 Liaquat was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the United Provinces.

In 1928 Liaquat was one of twenty-four Muslim League delegates chosen to attend India's All-Parties Convention to consider the Motilal Nehru Report on Constitutional Reforms. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the Muslim League spokesman at the convention, and from that time Liaquat became his lifelong devoted follower. In 1933 Liaquat testified before the Joint Statutory Commission in London, where he again met Jinnah.

In April 1936 Jinnah, as president, asked Liaquat to become the general-secretary of the Muslim League. He was to hold that position until 1947, and he was to become Jinnah's most trusted lieutenant and political adviser. Liaquat was totally loyal, and Jinnah came to depend heavily upon him. In 1939, when Jinnah signed his last will and testament, he appointed Liaquat one of the executors and trustees of his estate. All of the organizational work involving the Muslim League's committees, conferences, and publications was handled by Liaquat, who spent long days working in the League office in Delhi, while continuing his legislative and educational responsibilities, serving as president of the Anglo-Arabic College in Delhi and as a member of the board of trustees of Aligarh University.

Liaquat was elected to the Legislative Assembly of India in 1941, joining Jinnah on the Muslim League bench there, serving as deputy leader of the League's parliamentary party. In Jinnah's absence Liaquat became the League's spokesman. He established the League's first newspaper, Dawn, as a weekly in 1941, and the following year turned it into a daily. In 1943, when Liaquat was reelected general secretary of the Muslim League, Jinnah called him "my right hand." In 1945 and 1946 Liaquat was Jinnah's chief associate at the two Simla summit conferences. In 1946 Jinnah nominated Liaquat to be the British viceroy's finance member and asked Liaquat to accompany him to London for constitutional talks with Prime Minister Clement Attlee. In 1947 Liaquat issued the controversial "Poor Man's Budget," and Governor-General Jinnah later appointed him prime minister of the new state of Pakistan.

As prime minister, Liaquat worked diligently to establish the country on a sound organizational footing, a task for which he was ideally suited. Until Jinnah's death on 11 September 1948, however, Liaquat was overshadowed by the towering figure of Jinnah, whose authority in Pakistan was supreme. From 1947, the issue that poisoned India-Pakistan relations and made an enormous impact on the political and military history of the country was the conflict over Kashmir, which had been given to India by its Hindu maharaja. Liaquat was successful in raising the issue of Kashmir at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference in 1949. The same year he arranged for the passing of a Directive Principles Resolution, which established the basic principles of Pakistan's Constitution, which would later be promulgated. Liaquat made a successful trip to the United States in 1950, helping to establish a friendly and lasting relationship between the two countries.

Liaquat and the new government had to deal with several serious problems, including the settlement of millions of Muslim refugees from India; the setting up of a central government in Karachi almost from scratch, including the creation of a sound economic system; and the crisis over Kashmir, which immediately led to war between India and Pakistan. Only the Kashmir crisis was not solved within a short time, through herculean efforts by Liaquat and the government.

Liaquat was an exceedingly generous man, and when he migrated to Pakistan, he refused to accept any property in Pakistan in exchange for his landholdings in India. His property was all given to his first wife and their son. His refusal to tolerate political corruption among his cabinet ministers is thought to have led to his assassination at Rawalpindi on 16 October 1951, when he was shot at close range. His assassin, Said Akbar, an Afghan, was shot dead immediately by police, and no one was ever charged in what many believed was a conspiracy by members of his own government.

Roger D. Long

See alsoAll-India Muslim League ; Jinnah, Mohammad Ali ; Pakistan


Kazimi, Muhammad Reza. Liaquat Ali Khan: His Life and Work. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Wolpert, Stanley. Jinnah of Pakistan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.