This is the last of the articles on the Rawalpindi Conspiracy and the final act in the drama that climaxed with arrests, investigations, trials and sentencing.
A significant event that historians fail to factor in, regarding the development of the conspiracy by General Akbar and his associates, is the death of Major General Iftikhar Khan and Brigadier Sher Khan in an air crash in December 1949. Both were outstanding officers and Iftikhar was being groomed to be the first Pakistani C-in-C of the Army. I am convinced that if these two strong-willed and disciplined officers had been alive, the conspiracy would have been nipped in the bud. However, the vacuum that was created in the upper echelons of command in the army with their deaths provided Akbar space for greater freedom of action on his return from a course in the UK in late 1950.
Soon after his return, Akbar was promoted and appointed Chief of General Staff. Seventy years afterwards, it is difficult to appreciate the environment that persisted at that time in which General Gracey who was on the verge of retirement, took this decision to place him in such a sensitive post. General Ayub Khan who became the C-in-C in January 1951, must have also been aware of what Akbar was up to but decided to let him continue as CGS so that he could be kept under watch. It was a bad decision.
Though Akbar Khan did not have direct command over troops, he was at the center of power from where he could subvert many more officers particularly at the mid-level and more so those in command of battalions within striking distance. He built up a dossier on the officers who were contacted directly and indirectly and assigned to each a positive or negative rating and the degree of loyalty to the cause. The dossier was seized during a search of his house after his arrest. The surreptitious meetings, discussions with various army officers and civilians and planning took up a great deal of his time – and Ayub Khan complained that his CGS was not applying himself fully to his responsibilities. Within the army, the rumour that there was going to be a coup was rife.
The climax to this entire episode came on the 23rd of February 1951 when there was a major conference at the residence of the CGS which was attended by most of the senior military conspirators. It was also attended by Faiz and some of the members of the CP. Their presence came as a surprise to the officers who till now were under the impression that the coup was a purely military affair. Many of the military officers involved in the coup also did not like the involvement of Akbar’s wife.
If there is no agreement, there is no conspiracy under the law. Unfortunately, both the approvers lied about an agreement – but that aside, there is no doubt that the planning for the coup was at a very advanced stage when the conspirators were arrested
Akbar in a long address dwelled on the details of the plan, the move and deployment of troops and the arrests. The gathering was then addressed by Faiz and another member of the CP. It was very reckless of Akbar to hold this meeting on a working day within hailing distance of GHQ and involving a number of officers who were working in the HQ. Akbar himself was supposed to attend a conference before a planned visit to the Government in Karachi but told his deputy to attend. Major General Nazir Ahmed had been sent on a course to UK and was not involved in any of the planning for the second coup attempt.
Captain. Zaffarulah Poshni from the Corps of Signals was posted at Rawalpindi during 1951 and was present at the meeting. In an article in Dawn, he describes the atmosphere that prevailed:
“Even today 60 years later I can recall the immense tension under which everyone was placed after hearing the general’s discourse. Apparently no one, except the general, was psychologically prepared for the highly adventurist plan unfolded by the Chief of General Staff. There was palpable hesitation on the part of everyone present. Objections were raised about what would happen in East Bengal even if the coup succeeded in the West. I don’t remember Faiz Ahmed Faiz saying much; he seemed to be listening most of the time to the ferocious argumentation of the military officers to and fro, pro and con. The meeting lasted eight hours, at the end of which the general’s plan was disapproved. The participants dispersed without even deciding to meet again. Technically the ‘conspiracy’ never took place, because there was no agreement.”
He then quotes a verse by Faiz:
Woh baat sare fasane mein jiska zikr na tha
Woh baat un ko bohat nagawaar guzri hai
The conspiracy was blown by Askar Ali Shah, a police officer who belonged to Kohat and was posted in Peshawar. He had initially gone to Kashmir with the Lashkar in 1947 and then carried out various missions assigned to him by Akbar. While posted in the CID in Peshawar, he often visited Akbar’s home in Kohat and Rawalpindi and was a reliable source of information on the movement of the Prime Minister in the NWF Province. Akbar planned to arrest Liaquat Ali in Peshawar. Two days before the final conference, Akbar had urgently summoned Shah to Rawalpindi to tell him that all the arrangements for the coup were in place and the conspirators were ready to strike in the first week of March. Askar Ali informed his superiors on the day the conference was being held in Rawalpindi and the Governor NWFP sent a detailed CID report to Liaquat Ali Khan, who had arrived in Sargodha. The PM summoned his C-in-C Gen Ayub Khan and the Defence Secretary, Iskander Mirza, and an informal investigation commenced.
The first four persons to be arrested on the 9th of March were the Chief of the General Staff Major General Akbar Khan and his wife Nasim, as well as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Brigadier M.A. Latif Khan (who was commanding a brigade in Quetta). He was about to depart from Karachi as a member of a Goodwill Mission to Iran. The famous journalist Ibnul Hasan was a young Public Relation Officer accompanying the mission and in an article in 1991, recollects how conscious he was of “[…] the shadow of this rather sordid event on our mission,” and voiced his concern to General Yusuf, the leader of the mission. “How are we expected to react?” he asked the general. The general had been in contact with GHQ before departing and been informed that he would be the new CGS. He looked grim and said, “Well, we are not expected to react. We shall not react. We do not know what has happened; do we?” And with his characteristic charm ‘General Joe’ took Tehran society by storm.
From Akbar’s perspective, which he may not have shared with many others, it had to be a bloody revolution for it to achieve its purpose
Akbar was arrested by Maj Gen Hayaud Din the GOC of 7 Division whose HQ was in Rawalpindi. Ironically both were such good friends that Hayaud Din had accompanied Akbar’s for his marriage in Lahore. Air Commodore Janjua was picked up in Karachi and so was Major General Nazir on his return from attending a course in UK. A total of 17 were arrested –13 military and 4 civilians.
Two of the conspirators became approvers and the rest were tried in Hyderabad Jail under a Special Tribunal Act which was passed by the assembly. The trial commenced in June 1951 and the judgement was announced in January 1953. Pakistan was a dominion till 1956 therefore interestingly, the basic charge against all the accused was one of “Conspiracy to wage war against the King”. I am told that when he was given his dismissal order, he wrote on the paper that he was a King’s Commissioned Officer and could not be dismissed even by the Governor General. According to the penal code a conspiracy is only established “when two or more persons agree to commit an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means.” If there is no agreement, there is no conspiracy under the law. Unfortunately, both the approvers lied about an agreement – but that aside, there is no doubt that the planning for the coup was at a very advanced stage when the conspirators were arrested.
The attempted coup shook the nation. Most disturbing was the evidence in the documents found at Akbar’s house, which apart from the detailed plan in Akbar’s own writing also contained lists of military and government officials termed “black”, i.e. who were to be eliminated – read assassinated. From Akbar’s perspective, which he may not have shared with many others, it had to be a bloody revolution for it to achieve its purpose. He was sentenced to transportation for 12 years but Major General Nazir Ahmed who was in UK on a course during the final stages of the attempted coup was sentenced till the rising of the court and dismissed from service. All the others were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment ranging from 4 to 7 years. However, under a technicality which rendered the Rawalpindi Conspiracy (Special Tribunal) Act, 1951 invalid, the prisoners were released on bail in June 1955 and subsequently pardoned. It is no coincidence that at this time Huseyn Suhrawady, one of the defence lawyers during the trial, had become the Prime Minister.
After his release, Nazir Ahmed was elected Mayor of Lahore and later led a quiet life till he passed away in 1995. Akbar Khan and his wife separated and in 1963 he became a lawyer and practiced in Karachi High Court. He subsequently joined the PPP and served as Chief of National Security under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In this assignment he was the architect of Bhutto’s infamous Federal Security Force (FSF) that was used for violent actions and arrest of political opponents.
After his release, Mirza Hassan Khan founded the Gilgit League. The party demanded political freedom and democratic rights for Gilgit-Baltistan and was banned during Ayub Khan’s martial law. Hassan subsequently joined the PPP but was imprisoned in 1973 for some time and passed away ten years later.
It is beyond the scope of this article to comment on Faiz Sahib’s work, political ideology, and poetry after his release until he passed away in 1984 at the early age of 73. One of his very famous poems ‘Hum dekhenge. Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge’, was composed in 1979 and recited as a medium of protest against General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule and later General Musharraf’s military rule. I think it’s a bit ironic that it was composed by a poet who was himself in the early years of Pakistan party to an attempted bloody military coup.
Part of the collateral damage from the attempted coup was the Director of Military Intelligence at GHQ, who was sacked and demoted. He was a brilliant intelligence officer who had worked under my father in the ISI Directorate in Karachi. He could not face the disgrace and committed suicide.
In 1974, Bhutto dismissed Akbar as his National Security Advisor and he accepted a posting as Pakistan’s Ambassador in Prague. The DSO that he so coveted got caught in the red tape in Whitehall as to who would pay and when Akbar fell out of favor, the British Government closed the file.
Sometime before his death, in an interview to the Defence Journal, Gen Akbar stated that had he succeeded, Pakistan would have had a democratic constitution and Kashmir would have become a part of Pakistan. “There would have been no dictatorship, no martial law and East Pakistan would not have separated.” He also felt that “It would be unfair to assume that the Pindi conspiracy was a forerunner of future military coups and martial laws.”
Akbar was a brave and capable officer whose achievements during the initial stages of the Kashmir must be recognized. However, he was also ambitious and very impatient due to which his place in history has been relegated to the man who engineered the Rawalpindi Conspiracy.
“The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them; The Good is Oft Interred with their Bones” – quote from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare.
Now IK and Qureshi are ambitious and very impatient, as far as India is concerned.