Published:  01:20 AM, 06 April 2021

Development of entrepreneurs: Pioneering role of A K Khan

Development of entrepreneurs: Pioneering role of A K Khan

A jurist, public leader, and industrialist Abul Kasem Khan (popularly known as AK Khan) came from an old family of Chittagong; the family claims its pedigree from Hamza Khan, supposedly a noble of Gaur in the 16th century. Abul Kasem Khan was a federal Minister of the then Pakistan in charge  of Industries, Works, Power and Irrigation (1958-1963),  a distinguished member of the Civil Service; a brilliant luminary of the legal profession; a great scholar; a promoter of entrepreneurs, a prominent businessman, a pioneer in industries and shipping; a great educationist, and a philanthropist.

Mr. Abul Kasem Khan received his education first at Fatehabad High School, Government College, Chittagong; and then at the Presidency College, Calcutta, wherefrom he graduated with distinction in English language and Literature in 1927. He then joined the University Law College, Calcutta, and stood First class second in order of merit in the final B.L. Examination in 1931. Mr. Abul Kasem joined the Calcutta High Court as an advocate in 1934 and practiced as a close associate of Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq (1873-1961). 

In 1935 A K Khan was selected as a member of the Provincial Judicial Service and was appointed a judicial officer. As a judge, he was uncompromising and always trove to establish justice. Eminent historian Tapon Roy Choudhury (1924-2014) in his memoir Bangalnamah mentioned that his father congress activist Amiya Ray Chaudhury was accused in a criminal case by the British ruled government.

Tapon Choudhury concluded, "The name of the fearless judge who dismissed this case was Abul Kasem Khan" Mr. Khan ruled against a British police officer, Mr. Cottam, for assaulting a local politician. During British rule, it was rare that a local judge gives judgment against a British official. In taking such a stand, Mr. Khan's reputation as a courageous judge was forged.  As a result, the British authorities transferred him to a punishment posting in a remote area of East Bengal. Mr. Khan faced a period of extreme hardship.

Realizing the increasing difficulty in disposing proper justice under British rule, he resigned his service in 1943 and started doing business at Chittagong with his father-in-law late Abdul Bari Chowdhury-a great business magnate of Rangoon. Soon he made a name and fame in the business world and has become a prominent industrialist of then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh.

He established the A K Kahn and Company limited in 1945. Between 1945 and 1958 Mr. Khan set up a Match Factory,  Ply Wood Factory, Electronic Motors, Jute Mills and a Cotton Textile Mill, Docking and Engineering plant,  in Chittagong,  Tea state, Cold storage, Rubber plantation,  and started a shipping company (Pakistan National Steamship Company). All these industrial establishments could absorb thousands of technical manpower and entrepreneurs who later became business investors cum industrialist by default.  He founded the eastern insurance Company and the eastern Mercantile Bank, the first Bengali -owned bank to be based in the country.

AK Khan's views well foreshadowed the future disparity issue and the question of provincial autonomy. He was unhappy, however, about the turns and twists of politics, nationally and provincially, after the elections of 1954 and thus he, being utterly frustrated, retired from politics and concentrated on businesses and industries again. But shortly he made a comeback to limited politics during the early part of the Ayub regime. He held, from 1958 to 1962, the portfolio of 'Industries, Works, Irrigation, Power and Mineral Resources.

However, on constitutional and regional issues he parted with Ayub Khan and represented his constituency as an opposition member in the Pakistan National Assembly from 1962 to 1964. He left politics forever after the Indo-Pak War of 1965.A K Khan always treated people equally, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak. Often he used to quote the dictum of Emperor Akbar, "Be high and mighty with proud and powerful and low with the poor and lowly". 

Mr. Khan always was humble and tried to follow the Siratul-Mustaqueem and had a firm belief in Allah. In times of adversity, he advised his worthy sons and daughters to have "Tawakkul" and patience. According to him, in life, any goal can be achieved through hard work and determination. The core inspiration for this determination should be, "Knock and ye shall enter, seek and ye shall find" he used to assert.   

A K Khan, as an industrialist, noticed the feeling of alienation and the worker's lack of feeling for the industry he worked in. He firmly believed that this could only be removed if the workers were given a stake in the industry in which they worked in. His radical statement raised a hue and cry amongst the Pakistani industrialists.

Pakistani industrialists were wondering about this statement. What Mr. Khan proposed nearly six decades ago, has been introduced in many countries in Europe and even in America today. This concept of worker equity participation should be considered seriously and there should exist a three-way partnership between the Entrepreneur, the Worker, and the Financing institution, which essentially is an Islamic Model of Industrial enterprise.

Justice Muhammad Ibrahim (1898-1966), who was a law minister in the same cabinet of General Ayub Khan with Mr. A K khan, wrote in his diary dated January 1, 1960 "Mr. A.K. Khan arrived from Rawalpindi this morning. Soon after his arrival, he rang up to say that he would call on in the evening. I thought that it was one of the usual courtesy calls. I had no idea that he had some pent-up tormenting feelings.

He came at 7 p.m. He started talking about the Economic Committee which the Governor of East Pakistan, came to attend with his Chief and Additional Chief Secretary. This meeting of the Economic Committee was important, for the main topic of discussion was the proposed, Second Five Year Plan. Zakir Hussain (Governor, East Pakistan) has prepared notes for this meeting showing his demands. In his note, there was a reference to the underdevelopment of East Pakistan and there was also therein a suggestion for devaluation by way of remedy.

The draft plan prepared by the Planning Commission also stressed the fact of underdevelopment in East Pakistan. When the committee sat on the first day, Akter Hussain (Governor of West Pakistan) objected to the statement regarding the underdevelopment of East Pakistan and special consideration on that ground. But the President did not continuance this objection. When the talks began it appeared that the President was somewhat inflamed. He asked Zakir, "who had prepared this note?" (Mr. A.K. Khan comments that the President suspected that this was made by some East Pakistani).

The president was at the height of his temper. He said something like this" "that there should be no talk of disparity in development; that East Pakistan's allegation that their foreign exchange was utilized at their cost, for the development of West Pakistan was nonsense; that the foreign exchange earned by East Pakistan (more than two-thirds of the total foreign exchange) was of no use of them, as they have no money to supplement or support building industries; that the foreign aid that comes from other countries is given because West Pakistan has a strategic and geopolitical position, and Pakistan army may be useful to the aid-giving countries, etc."

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Mazid, former Secretary to the Government and former
 Chairman NBR.

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