Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was, of course, the Prime Minister of Pakistan from August 15, 1947, but it was in the wake of the Quaid’s demise that his leadership capabilities were put to test, And it is during the next three years (1948-51) that his multi-faceted and compelling personality emerges the most conspicuously.
To say that Liaquat was the first PM means saying a great deal. It means that he enjoyed Jinnah’s confidence to the optimal level – a no mean achievement in itself. His confidence meant that Jinnah had found him sincere, able, hardworking and true to the cause Jinnah espoused. Hence, Jinnah’s description of Liaquat as his “right hand” man and, by implication, his political heir.
It also means that except for the Quaid himself, Liaquat stood foremost in the galaxy of Muslim leadership in India at that forking moment in history. Jinnah had picked out Liaquat in 1936 when
he got him elected as General Secretary of the All India Muslim League at its Bombay session. This office Liaquat held for 11 years, the most critical period in Muslim India’s history since 1857. He was also the longest serving General Secretary of the AIML, even out-serving the legendry Sir Wazir Hasan.
This was, however, only the beginning of his career as an all-India leader, next only to Jinnah. He would become Deputy Leader of the Muslim League Party in the Central Assembly and member of the Committee of Action, both in 1943, Chairman of the Central Parliamentary Board in 1945 and leader of the Muslim League bloc in the interim government in October 1946, before being named as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in August 1947.
These were some of the highest offices a Muslim could occupy in pre-partition India. What is remarkable about Liaquat is that he did it with singular success and distinction. The 1937-47 decade was, however, a period of apprenticeship for him, a period when his abilities, his intellectual prowess and honesty, his steadfastness to the cause he avowedly stood for, were tried and tested. And he did make the grade. That’s why he was catapulted into the highest executive slot.
In terms of his political acumen, three major events stand out. First, at the Meerut Divisional Conference in March 1939, he propounded partition as the most rational solution to India’s constitutional problem. Coming on the heels of the Sindh Provincial League Conference’s resolution of October 1938, this came as a shot in the arm to the proponents of partition, especially since a more concrete sense, Liaquat represented Central League’s thinking as the issue.
Second, in his interview with Sir Stafford Cripps in December 1939, he proposed three options – the provincial option (i.e, each province be given the option to join in Indian federation or not), a loose confederation with a limited centre, and outright partition between Hindus and Muslims. Remarkably though, these three options constituted the basics of the three major British proposals during the 1940s – the Cripps Plan (1942), the Cabinet Mission Plan (1946) and the Mountbatten Plan (1947).
Third, in his talks with Bhulabhai Desai, leader of the Congress Party in the Central Assembly in 1944, he proposed parity between Congress and the League in any future set-up at the centre, and it became the core point in the Desai-Liaquat formula. This was the first time this cardinal principle which the League had long demanded in any coalition set-up, but was stoutly denied, had been conceded by the Congress at any level. Once lifted beyond the pale of controversy, this key provision became the basis for the quota of seats for Hindus and Muslims/Congress and the League in the subsequent Wavell (1945) and interim government (1946) proposals. Thus, Liaquat’s contribution assumes a milestone status in getting the principle of parity accepted.
Jinnah was, reportedly, a little “unhappy” about Liaquat having contracted the “Pact” behind his back (since he lay ill at Matheran), but was fully alive to both its significance and its long-term implications. He therefore, accepted Liaquat’s “explanation’’ and exonerated him of any “breach of trust”, which Sir Yamin Khan alleges in his Nama-i-A’amaal. This was in sharp contrast to the treatment that Bhulabhai Desai had received at the hands of his Congress colleagues. Though blessed by Gandhi in his talks with Liaquat at the time, and despite his critical contribution in the INA trials (1945) and getting the prosecution charges of “treason” quashed, Desai was even denied a Congress ticket in the 1945-46 elections. Soon after, Desai, despite his great services to the Congress, died, broken-hearted – unwept, unsung, and unhonoured.
However, the acid test for Liaquat came in the wake of Jinnah’s death in September 1948. Some American circles, for instance, speculated whether the desire for a separate existence among Muslims would survive the catastrophic event, Even George Bernard Shaw wrote to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on September 18, l948: “I am wondering whether the death of Jinner (Jinnah) will prevent you from coming to London. If he has no competent successor you will have to govern the whole Peninsula.” But during the next three years Liaquat proved to be more than a competent successor. He belied the assumption that Pakistan would collapse once it had to face the problems by itself without the guidance of the Great Leader.
iaquat was, of course, the political heir, but to fill in the vacuum caused by the founding father’s death was by no means easy. More so, because in the wake of his death came the Indian invasion and occupation of Hyderabad. The nation was downcast, in view of India’s consistently aggressive track record coupled with Pakistan’s deficiency in respect of armour and armed forces, but Liaquat raised its dropping morale by taking a bold stand at this juncture. “In the event of an attack on Pakistan,” he declared, “myself, my colleagues and every Pakistani will shed his last drop of blood in defending every inch of the soil of Pakistan.” Thus, the nation came to regain its self-confidence.
During the next three years, India, besides mounting a war of attrition, created several problems, designed to throttle Pakistan. In September 1949, came the Indian refusal to recognise the unaltered value of the Pakistani rupee when India devalued its own currency. This led to a trade deadlock, and Pakistan was put to severe economic strain since India was then by far the largest buyer of Pakistani jute, the country’s premier cash crop.
Then, early in 1950, the repercussions, though mild, in East Pakistan to large-scale communal riots in West Bengal soured relations between the two dominions all the more. The Indian PM talked of using “other methods” to pressurise Pakistan into accepting the Indian viewpoint; India also got its troops massed within easy striking distance of Pakistan. Despite lurking dangers and uncalled for provocation, Liaquat remained calm and unruffled, proceeded to New Delhi for direct talks with Nehru, and drew up the Minorities Pact of April 1950.
Again, in July 1951, India massed its troops on West Pakistan’s borders, without any ostensible reason or provocation. While Liaquat galvanised the people internally to stand as a solid phalanx against Indian designs, he simultaneously induced several western countries to pressurise India into pulling back its troops.
Meanwhile, he consolidated what had already been accomplished in Jinnah’s lifetime, enlarged upon it and carried forward the process of building Pakistan. Thus, he accomplished a good deal in making Pakistan a going concern and growing enterprise. Internally, Pakistan was politically stable, and though still short of resources, economically buoyant and burgeoning. Internationally, it had carved out for itself a place in the comity of nations and at international fora, it was courted by the big powers, as indicated by an invitation to Liaquat by both Moscow and Washington. “Three years of Liaquat Ali Khan’s leadership,” said Sir Olaf Caroe, one-time Governor of the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtukhwa), “carried Pakistan through difficulty and crisis to the achievement of a degree of political stability rare in any democratic country…of economic prosperity beyond her rosiest dreams, and of an honoured placed in the affairs of nations.” Liaquat Ali Khan: Hero and legend By Prof Sharif Al-mujahid | Published: October 17, 2010.