Liaquat Ali Khan

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Liaquat Ali Khan

Liaquat Ali Khan (1896-1951) was the first prime minister of Pakistan. He played an important role in the negotiations leading to the creation of Pakistan and then in the consolidation of the new state.

On Oct. 1, 1896, Liaquat Ali Khan was born at Karnal in Punjab, India. His family were wealthy landowners who later moved to the United Provinces. He was educated at Aligarh and Oxford University. After qualifying as a barrister in England in 1922, he returned to India.

Liaquat was elected to the Legislative Council of the United Provinces in 1926, where he served for the next 14 years. During this period he was active in the affairs of the Muslim League, and in 1937 he became its secretary. Genial and able to mingle easily with all classes, he was a useful counterpoise to the austere Mohammad Ali Jinnah, with whom he worked closely in building up the Muslim League as an effective political organization after 1937. Liaquat was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly in 1940, where, as deputy leader of the Muslim League party, he strengthened the Muslim demand for a separate home-land.

In 1946, when independence for India was being negotiated with the British, Liaquat was appointed finance minister in the interim government. His "poor man's budget," which put heavy taxes on the rich and threatened to investigate the activities of the great industrialists, was regarded as an attack on the Indian National Congress, which the industrialists helped to finance.

After partition on Aug. 15, 1947, Liaquat became prime minister of Pakistan. Although at first he was subordinate to Jinnah, the governor general, after Jinnah's death in 1948 he emerged as the most powerful figure in the nation. Two major issues were used by his opponents, however, to undermine the stability of his regime. One was relations with India, which had been embittered by the struggle over Kashmir. Open war seemed a possibility in 1950, but Liaquat's journey to Delhi, where he signed an agreement with Jawaharlal Nehru pledging cooperation between the two countries, lessened some of the tension. This action was fiercely criticized by militant groups in Pakistan as a concession to India.

The other issue was the demand by orthodox Moslems to declare Pakistan an Islamic state, with all laws conforming to the Koran. Liaquat, who was a liberal democrat, with strong commitments to modernization, opposed this demand as reactionary. His compromise, as accepted by the legislators, was that Pakistan was a state where "Moslems would be enabled to lead their lives … in accord with the teachings of Islam." He was not able to halt the growing factionalism, however, and a fanatic assassinated him on Oct. 16, 1951.

Further Reading

A brief account of Liaquat's career is given in S. M. Ikram, Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan (1950; 2d ed. 1965). His speeches are collected in M. Rafique Afzal, ed., Speeches and Statements of Quaid-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan, 1941-51 (1967). □