Abul Kasem Khan (5 Aril 1907- 31 March 1991)
The independence of India from the British Raj, by partition, as India and Pakistan in 1947 brought about a radical change in the outlook of the people, as well as the topics for discussion in gatherings of friends and like-minded people. Talking politics become the usual fashion among the intelligentsia.
A consensus soon came to prevail to the effect that the cause of decay of the Muslim society was the political control by the British rulers on the one hand and economic domination of the Hindus on the other. Such constraints having been removed by the creation of Pakistan, nothing could hold up an upsurge of Islamic spirit which was necessary for the emancipation of the Muslims.
However, such a euphoria soon received a jolt when the controversy over the proportion of representation in the National Assembly from the two wings of the country, held up the progress of constitution making. Anticipating such an unhappy controversy, Mr. Abul Kasem Khan popularly known as A K Khan (1905-1991) had made up his mind on a formula of compromise based on parity of representation from each wing of the country. The formula which ultimately came to prevail and was known as the "Muhammad Ali formula", was originally mooted by Mr. Khan. A K Khan often used to pronounce that Pakistan was achieved by the unanimous demand of the Muslims of East Bengal.
'It was their creation. They should not hesitate to make some sacrifice, if necessary, for its consolidation. It would provide a firm basis for representation, as well as sharing of resources for all times'.The partition of the subcontinent had placed the truncated East Bengal (Bangladesh) in a very difficult situation with its shortages of materials and trained manpower in almost all spheres of life.
There was no outside source from which substantial assistance could be obtained for the reconstruction of the new country. Shortage of resources was worldwide after the end of Second World War. Nevertheless the country was able to tide over such enormous difficulties by its own effort and determination.
There was not famine or pestilence, the usual consequence of disruption of organized life caused by war or civil commotion. Public administration and economic activities could be revived within a short time. When in 1949, England as well as India found it necessary to devalue their currencies, it was not found necessary for Pakistan government to follow suit. Needless to say, what was going wrong in the country was political management. Unfortunately, it failed to attract the notice of those who were presiding over the destiny of the country.
Let us have a glimpse of the pages of Diary by Justice Muhammad Ibrahim (1898-1966) who along with A K Khan, Hafizur Rahman and Habibur Rahman were in the federal cabinet of General Ayub Khan (1907-1074) during 1958-1962 period. The then East Pakistani Ministers in the federal cabinet had to uphold the cause of East Pakistan for dignity and development and in fact they focused those issues which later became the ingredients for raising historic six point demands (18 March 1966) by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman (1920-1975).
"Change of portfolios of three East Pakistani Ministers without prior consultation and as a result they decide to resign.Today I am very happy. Mr. Abul Kasem Khan [A K Khan] and Mr. Hafizur Rahman came to my house from the reception at the railway station. They were not happy. We had a pretty long discussion. Recently, since January, ministerial portfolios have been constantly divided and changed. Much has been taken away from Education, Industry, and Commerce, without any reference to the Minister's concerned.
The portfolios of three East Pakistani Ministers, Messrs A. K. Khan, Hafizur Rahman, and Habibur Rahman have been much reduced. They do not like -neither the change nor the way this has been done. They agreed with me that the proper course is to demand autonomy for East Pakistan in all matters other than defense, foreign policy and currency. They agreed, that is the minimum that can satisfy East Pakistan. If this is not conceded we must resign. But I agreed that we should wait till the Constitution Commission submits its report.
We came to the decision after a full and careful survey of the history of the pre-martial law days, and our personal experience under the present regime. We are firm in our opinion that, there is no other way to save East Pakistan from exploitation and ruin." (Diaries of Justice Muhammad Ibrahim (1960-1966), Edited and annotated by Sufia Ahmed, Academic Press and Publishers Library, Dhaka, March 2012, Page 18)
"East Pakistani Ministers agree privately to press for the autonomy of East Pakistan, if not granted, then decide to resign.Yesterday on 29.06.1960 I had a conversation with Mr. Hafizur Rahman as to the steps we should take in view of the President's speeches, inclinations and actions as regards the Constitution. I am going to meet Mr. A.K. Khan this evening.
On 30.06.1960 I had a similar talk with Mr. A.K. Khan. He told me that all the Ministers from East Pakistan (five in all), were feeling dissatisfied. I told him that we should tell the President our views about the Constitution emphasizing, that the provinces should be autonomous, fully subject to three subjects namely defense, currency, and foreign relations being centrally administered. [it is interesting to observe, that Justice Ibrahim and his colleagues from East Pakistan were seriously thinking about an autonomous East Pakistan with a weak centre. This was five years before the Six-Points of the Awami League was launched]
That we could not concede to the centre more than these three subjects. He agreed with me and gave me to understand that the other East Pakistani Ministers would join hands with us. In that case, I said that we should meet the President and apprise him of our views, and if he does not agree, we should retire. He agreed and said, that he thought that other East Pakistani Ministers would also agree. The question was when we shall do it? I was for doing it without delay." (Dairy of Justice Muhammad Ibrahim, page 45)
Late Manzur Quader, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan told a common friend, "Only two persons in the cabinet stood up to Ayub Khan on matter of Principle, one was Justice Ibrahim and the other was A.K. Khan". In fact, Justice Muhammad Ibraim and Mr A K Khan were constantly upholding the cause of this part of the Country in the Cabinet and they were the only Ministers who did not sign the Constitutional Amendments proposed by Ayub Khan."
When the capital of Pakistan was being shifted from Karachi to Rawalpindi, A K Khan objected as they had to travel by sea to Karachi and then again another 1000 miles inland to Rawalpindi. Ayub Khan then asked what should be done, Mr A K Khan stated that the Legislative Capital should be located in Dhaka and during the session of the Assembly, the Central Government should move to Dhaka and gave the examples of Australia and South Africa-this argument was accepted and resulted in the formation of the Second Capital at Dhaka-which presently is Shere Bangla Nagar.
Just prior to the break up in 1971, A Khan believed that a political solution could be found and advised Bangabandhu to sit in the Assembly-but once he saw the ruthless attitude of the Pakistanis, he whole heartedly supported the Bangladesh Liberation Struggle and crossed the border leaving everything behind. The Declaration of Independence which was read out by Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman (1936-1981) in Chittagong over Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was modifyingly drafted by Janab A.K. Khan in his own hand writing in English.
On the historic day that Bangabandhu reached London in 1972 from Pakistan, Mr A K Khan had then also arrived in London. He went to see Bangabandhu at Claridges Hotel , he warmly received Mr Khan and enquired about his son -in-law Janab M. R. Siddiqui (1926-1992), who was then Bangladesh's First unofficial Ambassador to the USA," Ask Siddiqui to come to Dhaka as soon as possible as I need him."
Later on when Bangabandhu visited Chittagong, he offered to make Mr Khan Adviser. A K Khan thanked him and replied, "Sheikh Saheb, I gave a lot of advice to Ayub Khan, if he had listened to half of what I said history would have been different today" (Salahuddin Kasem Khan, My Father Janab A K Khan, A K Khan In Memoriam, Edited by Helal Humayun, A K Khan Citizen Remembrance Committee, Chittagong, September 1991, page 71)
The writer -- a former civil servant and Chairman, NBR -- is Adviser, A K Khan and Company Limited. firstname.lastname@example.org
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