Governor Nawab Of Kalabagh

ByDr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam

Designation: is an educationist with wide experience


August 20, 2022

Nawab Of Kalabagh

Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam recapitulates an amazing period in Pakistan

Though many people now deride the first military rule that began in 1958 and ended in 1969 yet the personalities of three main characters stands out in the history of Pakistan: Ayub Khan, Zulfiqar Bhutto, and Nawab of Kalabagh. Both Ayub Khan and Bhutto have been often discussed from historical and personal perspectives but the persona of Nawab Kalabagh still remains shrouded in darkness.

In actual fact, Nawab Kalabagh was the mainstay of Ayub Khan’s rule who held dominant West Pakistan in his iron grip for the decisive period in the first phase of military governance. At one time Nawab Kalabagh was widely recognized as the alter ego of Ayub Khan and it was mentioned that his role was second only to the military dictator despite the fact that General WA Burki was also considered to be the number two man in the regime.

As the second most powerful man in Pakistan Nawab Kalabagh ruled West Pakistan with an iron hand for six years. He developed a profile of an extremely well-informed but harsh administrator who never granted any concession to anyone he thought was against the regime. And he heavily relied on the intelligence system and fully exploited the reports sent to him and was known to be very proud of the fact that he was never provided unauthentic intelligence.

He once surprised Gen Jahandad Khan, his military secretary, by telling him that he knew his father was the first to perform Hajj in his area. Jahandad later also served as Zia’s military secretary ending his career with a brief stint as Governor of Sindh. After retirement, he single-handedly built up Al-Shifa Eye Hospital which is an extremely good example of community-based healthcare.

Interesting Personality Of Nawab Of Kalabagh

Nawab Kalabagh was an interesting and intriguing personality full of apparent contradictions. He was also seen clad in a starched sherwani with a towering kullah (headdress) and gave the impression of a born-again scion of the out-of-date aristocracy. He was anachronism personified borne out by the fact that as a pedigreed Nawab, he was given the task of managing an evolving pluralistic province and trying to impose centralized policies completely out of tune with times.

A hereditary Nawab he spoke in a clipped British accent but stayed culturally loyal to his ancestral roots and was very proud of his rural roots. He was a firm believer in the British standards of life and lived according to the traditions set by the former colonial power. On the other hand, he displayed personal and administrative attitudes dating back to the Mughal times and along with Ayub Khan is widely held responsible for stretching Pakistan back to the Mughal way of governance, a problem that still afflicts the country that does not know what pattern to follow.

Educated at Aitcheson College and England he had developed a reputation for brutality that was given for survival in rural society which helped him gain the upper hand over his opponents, the Niazi Pathans of Essa Khel and Pir of Mukhad. Nawab Kalabagh somehow developed an affinity with General Wajid Ali Burki of the Army Medical Corps who was considered instrumental in brokering Ayub Khan’s takeover in 1958.

The families of Ayub Khan, Gen Burki, and Nawab Kalabagh grew close after Ayub Khan’s rise to power. Ayub Khan was impressed by the eloquence and panache of Nawab Kalabagh and in 1959 appointed him Chairman of the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation with the rank of central minister.

Past-time Public Affairs

Getting involved in public affairs was considered the favorite pastime of the feudal class and Nawab of Kalabagh did indulge in them. He participated in the historic gathering at Manto Park, Lahore, and made a substantial donation to Muslim League in 1940 when the Pakistan Resolution was passed.

Quite a non-entity though he rose to prominence due to his sprawling hunting grounds where he used to entice high-ranking state functionaries to hunt. His clientele included personalities like Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan. Nawab of Kalabagh was very methodical in his work and was unfailingly punctual. He was above financial malfeasance and took no advantage of his high office.

He abhorred nepotism and kept his family at a yardstick, they were not even allowed to stay in the Governor’s House. Being financially well of he drew no salary and did not avail himself of any benefits from his all-powerful post. Despite his independent spirit he was initially sycophantic to Ayub Khan and invariably dropped Ayub Khan’s name at least three times during his monthly radio broadcast.

As is the won’t of feudal lords he was very outspoken and once disillusioned by Ayub Khan’s corrupt practices did not hesitate to criticize him to his face. His independent stance made him refuse to join Conventional Muslim League, the handmaiden political party cobbled by Ayub Khan, and he was overheard saying about it:

“Keep me out of that dirt.” He also opposed ZA Bhutto’s Indian policy and remarked that Ayub’s foolish advisers will bring him down. He was also against the appointment of Yahya Khan as Commander-in-Chief and thought that such a drunkard has the potential to derail national affairs.

Nawab Of Kalabagh Playing Political Games

Ayub Khan was playing in the hands of his sycophantic advisers who succeeded in creating a wedge between the president and his governor constraining Nawab Kalabagh to resign from office in 1966. His support for a Balochi Ghaus Buksh Bizenjo to let him win an election in Karachi against the official Conventional League candidate proved to be the last straw.

The parting however was amicable as Kalabagh went to Rawalpindi, had lunch with the president, and departed never to meet Ayub Khan again. To his credit, Nawab Kalabagh never uttered a word about his erstwhile association. Within two years of his departure, Ayub’s regime was beset with protests that ultimately hounded him out of office in 1969.

As governor, Kalabagh was ruthless never hesitating to use force if needed. He once slapped the principal of King Edward Medical College, a highly respected surgeon of Lahore, who had annoyed him by not allowing the migration of a student from one campus to the other. Unfortunately, his harsh genes were transferred to his progeny.

Nawab Kalabagh was a very well-read person and was interested in international relations. He once surprised the UK Imperial Defence College delegation by showing his good grasp of international affairs. Jacqueline Kennedy on her visit to Pakistan asked him about a fruit that she had not seen before.

Kalabagh waxed eloquent on the subject making Jacqueline Kennedy remark that she will ask her husband to hire him as his agriculture advisor. He always maintained his manners and traditions and once declined to shake hands with Queen Elizabeth despite the insistence of Ayub Khan. His family still holds clout in Mianwali and regularly sends representatives to provincial and national assemblies. The Weekender


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