Fahad Ali remembers the first prime minister of Pakistan on his death anniversary
It must be recognized that Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan was a quintessential team player implicitly believing in the mission his captain had decided to pursue. He remained steadfastly loyal to the mission to his last breath though the times and circumstances around him frightfully changed he never wavered. Quaid-e-Azam gave him the responsibility of the general secretary of the Muslim League and this worked well for him and the party as Liaqat had a legalistic bent of mind and he was a detail-oriented person capable of long hours of work.
Temperamentally he was ideally suited to handle such work as looking after working committees that revolved around him. He was also responsible for the provincial League parties, maintained voluminous correspondence, and frequently traveled throughout the subcontinent. It was partly due to his hard work that the party became a well-organized, national political party just in the space of a few years due to Jinnah’s leadership and Liaqat’s organizational ability.
It was his sincerity to the cause of Pakistan that when the British imperial government asked the Muslim League to send their nominees for representation in the interim government the party had no hesitation in asking Liaqat to lead the League group in the cabinet. He was given the portfolio of finance which he handled brilliantly with the assistance of a formidable team comprising Ghulam Mohammad, Ch. Mohammad Ali and Zahid Hussain.
While in the interim government, he exerted his influence on the working of all the departments of the government and presented a poor man’s budget. His policies as finance minister compelled the Indian National Congress to accept the Muslim demand for a separate homeland.
Muslim League And Independence
After independence, Quaid-i-Azam and Muslim League appointed Liaqat to be the head of the Pakistan government. It certainly was not an easy task to head a state that was nonexistent to begin and political bickering emerged as the dominant feature of the Pakistani policy apparatus right from the word go. Pakistani political luminaries failed to evince any degree of tolerance and resisted the fundamental principle of democratic governance that is essentially aimed at the dispersal of power.
Instead, they did everything to hog power and did their best to exclude other political personalities. The over-centralization of the ruling clique compelled disgruntled politicians to find separate ways to in order to become part of the governance apparatus. All leaders had played an important role in the freedom struggle and they decried the overwhelming role their colleagues from the top tier of the Muslim League played in the political field.
Despite such difficulties, Liaqat Ali Khan had more pressing issues to deal with and he helped Quaid-e-Azam tackle the partition riots and solve the refugee problem,s and set up an effective administrative system for the country. It also goes to his credit that he set up the administrative structure of the country by appointing a secretary-general to the government and assigning this responsibility to the tried and tested Ch. Mohammad Ali ably streamlined government machinery.
He also handed over financial affairs to the trusted hands of Ghulam Mohammad who remained effective and above board throughout Liaqat’s tenure speaks volumes about the respect commanded by the prime minister. Zahid Hussain became the first governor of the State Bank of Pakistan revealing the grip of Liaqat Ali Khan on the financial machinery of the government.
Democratic and Parliament
Liaqat Ali Khan was a democrat and a parliamentarian through and through. Right from the outset he was keen to distinguish the legal orientation of the new country according to the tenets of Islamic civilization as he fervently believed that Islamic principles were cogent enough to guide the governance of any state and therefore presented the Objectives Resolution in the Legislative Assembly getting it passed in 1949.
By doing so he ensured that Pakistan attained separate and distinct guiding Islamic principles of governance while retaining the routine administrative chores that evolved over the preceding era. Under his leadership, the assembly also succeeded in drafting the report on the Basic Principle Committee for the Constitution that paved the way for the 1956 Constitution though parity issues delayed the framing of the constitution for some time.
Liaqat was a committed democrat and firmly believed in parliamentary democracy and was a stickler for civilian rule though he never hesitated to use the punitive powers of the state when considered essential for quelling dissent that he considered harmful to the nascent state.
In this respect, however, his decision to get a Public and Representative Offices Disqualification Act (PRODA) passed in 1949 making all central and provincial ministers and parliamentary secretaries face legal proceedings on charges of corruption is still debated that encouraged dictatorial tendencies in the country to flourish in the future.
On the other hand, however, he tried to balance the political forces from both the provinces and tried to keep them on an even keel by conceding them as much political space as possible while strengthening a shaky political center that was non-existent before the establishment of the country.
Liaqat Ali Facing Hardships
Liaqat also faced the daunting task of laying down Pakistan’s foreign policy that he did with consummate skill and its broader contours are followed even to this day. His vision about India is still the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy and the issue of Kashmir is never to be compromised as Liaqat never agreed to accept Kashmir as part of India, a policy that has characterized Pakistan’s stance to date.
Liaqat made a huge effort in India, England, and in Pakistan, trying to force India to agree to binding international arbitration over Kashmir. Even though he was not successful, his views on Kashmir have been propounded by all who have followed him since. He set the tone for Pakistan’s alliance with the Western world that has held despite frequent hiccups and mutual recriminations.
In this context also he was treading in the footsteps of Quaid-e-Azam who was in favor of increasing ties with America that he believed would fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of Britain from South Asia. Liaqat accordingly visited America in 1951 setting the course of Pakistan’s alliance with the west that has endured for the last seven decades.
On the economic front, Liaqat set about virtually creating an economy that was non-existent with no currency, no central bank, and no foreign exchange reserves. It was indeed a stupendous task and a team of iron nerves headed by Quaid-e-Azam and Liaqat Ali Khan would have managed it and manage they did.
Liaqat stabilized the nascent economy along sound fiscal lines while aligning it with capitalist trends in the West rather than with the communist bloc dominated by the erstwhile Soviet Union. He took full advantage of the Korean War and supplied merchandise earning precious foreign exchange.
Pakistan opened its markets to foreign investment and many foreign companies opened up their businesses here generating employment. Long-term economic development projects were initiated that were completed after their long gestation period and their credit was claimed by the military regime later but they were basically conceived much earlier. The fact that Pakistan’s industrial development in the 1950s and ’60s was actually a result of Liaqat’s early policies was conveniently papered over by the military regime.
Unfortunately, the life and tenure of PM Liaqat Ali Khan ended abruptly in October 1951 when he was assassinated in Rawalpindi while addressing a public gathering. It was his assassination that initiated a string of political assassinations that bedeviled the political landscape with the killing of many prominent political personnel. The Weekender