NWFP History: The dismissal of the Khan Ministry and its aftermath (Part 3)

by Yasser Latif Hamdani

In parts 1 and 2 of this present series, I presented the primary source record of the events leading up to the unfortunate impasse between the newly formed Pakistan government and the Afghanistan-backed Frontier Congress led by the Khan brothers. This third piece will determine whether or not there was an alternative left to the dismissal of the ministry as was widely expected and which was to be carried out by Lord Mountbatten with the prior approval of the Congress Party in Delhi before August 15, 1947. This piece will also determine how and why it came to be that the Pakistan government had to take this step?

Before the referendum actually took place, Dr. Khan Sahib had famously said that he would resign from his post if Pakistan got 30% of the electorate. As shown by the last piece, Pakistan ended up polling more than 50% of the total electorate showing that the Pushtuns were overwhelmingly in favor of Pakistan. It was in the aftermath of the resounding defeat for the Congress that Dr. Khan Sahib declared that he didn’t have to resign because he commanded a legislative majority (a situation analogous in many ways to General Musharraf’s notorious re-election to the office of the president in 2007 by a legislature that was no longer representative).

As for claims about “impropriety” of “referendum”, Dr. Khan Sahib himself agreed that the referendum was as proper or improper as the election that had gotten Dr. Khan sahib into power and this was promptly reported to the Viceroy by Rob Lockhart, Congress’ governor of choice (Congress had campaigned for the removal of Sir Olaf Caroe and appointment of Rob Lockhart in his place). Lockhart went on to advise Dr. Khan Sahib that the right and proper thing to do was to resign immediately. The governor also expressed concern that the continuation of a ministry so utterly hostile to the new state would be untenable and that the Viceroy should consider dismissing the NWFP government under section 93 which would be the best course available. Jinnah was repulsed by the idea of dismissing the legislative assembly whole-scale and he and Liaqat Ali Khan suggested instead that if given a chance Muslim League could form a coalition government with non-Muslim representatives which would give the Muslim League legislative majority and thereby bypass the section 93 dismissal. Since there was no constitutional requirement for an assembly session before the budget session in 1948, the Muslim League would have ample opportunity to re-align politically and gain a legislative majority. Rob Lockhart was of the view that if a change was to be made in fitness of things, it had to be made quickly because he recalled the Dr. Khan Sahib had warned of a mass movement which he “would try and keep non-violent”(Minutes of the Viceroy’s twenty third Miscellaneous Meeting Mountbatten Papers- also found in “Transfer of Power Papers, No 278, Volume XII, 405-409” and “Jinnah Papers Volume IV Appendix IV.1”).

Here it is pertinent to quote Kanji Dwarkadas, a staunch Indian nationalist in his own right, who writing D G Pole on 26th July, 1947 said: “… an American journalist, a very reasonable and sound man, who has returned to Delhi from the Frontier has told me that …the Frontier referendum was run on fair lines and not as Dr. Khan Sahib and Abdul Ghaffar Khan have explained it. He found Dr. Khan Sahib to be muddled headed and both Khan brothers are now rather sore with the Congress for having let them down. The Muslim Leaguers don’t want Afghanistan to interfere.” (US National Archives 845.00/8-747, also quoted as appendix to Jinnah Papers Volume IV Annex IV.1).

On August 1st, 1947, Mountbatten and Rob Lockhart had a meeting with the newly appointed Pakistani cabinet minus Jinnah. These included Liaqat Ali Khan, Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Jogindranath Mandal, Ch. Mohammad Ali, Abdul Rab Nishtar and Osman Ali in which Mountbatten stated that the only course of action left was to ask Dr. Khan Sahib and his ministry to resign, failing which he would dismiss the NWFP ministry and invite the leader of the opposition to form a new ministry. The second option was to use section 93 and bring NWFP under federal rule on or before 14th of August, 1947. (“No. 301 Transfer of Power Papers, Volume XII, Pages 441-445” also quoted as “Jinnah Papers Volume IV Appendix IV.3”) Having made this solemn pledge, Mountbatten went back on his word and refused to dismiss the NWFP ministry as he ought to have done and which was part of his responsibility.

If there was any doubt about what Dr. Khan Sahib was up to, it must have been cleared up by his indiscriminate issuing of arms licenses to his party men- as many as 6000. Bacha Khan’s son Khan Abdul Ghani Khan (later awarded Sitara-e-Imtiaz by Zia government for poetry) was busy arming Pushtuns to the teeth. Almost a month before partition, Rob Lockhart had warned of unscrupulous activity by the Khan Sahib government in this regard. “There is no doubt that most improper things have been happening. Certain people have been issuing instructions for licenses to be issued on a party basis. Even Dr. Khan Sahib himself is said to be guilty on these scores. A prime offender in arms trade is Abdul Ghani, the son of Abdul Ghaffar Khan. I have given orders that if proof can be produced he is to be proceeded against… there are reports that the Nawab of Tank, MLA, Muslim League is guilty of similar practices. If he too could be proceeded against, it would be good”. (Rob Lockhart to Mountbatten, 6 July, 1947, IOR, L/P&J/S/224 from India Office- also quoted as Annex II to Jinnah Papers Volume III Appendix IV.28) Ghani Khan was the leader of “Zalmai Pakhtoon” an organization that was involved in systematic violence against Muslim League and which was planning on creating wide-spread disturbances in the event of the dismissal of Khan Ministry.

The police intelligence report of 5th August, 1947 reads as under : “MILITANT CONGRESS PREPARATIONS AGAINST THE MUSLIM LEAGUE: It is rumored in some circles that Congress and Red Shirt supporters might start civil disobedience after the 15th of August if the Congress Ministry is made to vacate the office. It is reported that the Faqir of Ipi will declare Jehad against the British and the Hindus after the Id and that the Zalmai Pakhtoon Party would fight the Muslim League for the attainment of Pathanistan. Two Muslim League supporters of Prang were shot dead by certain Red Shirts on 20 July.” (No. 220, National Documentation center, Islamabad, 1996, 263-264 “The Referendum in NWFP”)

Faqir of Ipi was a firm ally of Bacha Khan and his party. On 8th July, 1947, Shah Pasand Khan had informed Jinnah that he had heard that “Abdul Ghani son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan , the Frontier Gandhi, who came to see Faqir of Ipi in connection with the resolution passed by the Congress in support of Pathanistan. Government authorities supported this move” (Jinnah Papers, Volume III, No. 68). The main crux of the Faqir’s propaganda was that Muslim League was a bastion of British imperialism and Qadiyanism. It is ironic that those who claimed to be secular and liberal were now supporting Faqir of Ipi’s “Jehad” against the British, Hindus and the Muslim League. Faqir of Ipi’s role in the closing days of the Raj deserves an article by itself and would help understand the current state of Islamic insurgency in the tribal areas.

Returning to the issue at hand, given this situation the dismissal of Khan Ministry was logical and the proper thing to do. Dr. Khan sahib should have resigned as he had himself claimed he would be. And after he refused to, it should have been Mountbatten who should have dismissed the ministry as he had been advised and as he had himself agreed to do so. He ultimately went back on his word and the governor of NWFP was left with no option but to dismiss the Dr. Khan sahib ministry under the Government of India Act 1935 after the creation of Pakistan.

Addendum to Part 3: I was frankly baffled by Shehryar Ali’s emotional outburst in his form of his article. When stripped of his irrelevant references to Howard Zinn and Edward Said (neither of whom had anything to say about the referendum), Mr. Ali’s article was a mere regurgitation of the Pushtun Nationalist dogma and the muddled thinking that it produces. The point about the electorate not being based on adult franchise is also ironic because the same electorate elected Dr. Khan Sahib and the Congress in the first place. Furthermore Dr. Khan Sahib had famously boasted that if 30 percent of the electorate voted for Pakistan, he would quit. It turned out that more than 50% voted for Pakistan and Dr. Khan Sahib went back on his word.

For all his distortions, Sheheryar Ali has got one thing right: History is not a farce. So why does he insist on making it so? In this he is a true follower of Wali Khan who said “facts are sacred” but never quite got the meaning of that apt phrase.

NEXT: Faqir of Ipi’s uprising and the frontier Congress

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