By Noor A. Husain
(Courtesy: The News, Thursday 23rd March 1995 ,& DNF Newsletter July and September 1995)
I read with deep personal interest, Air Marshal M. Asghar Khan’s article on the Quaid in The News of 13 January, particularly some questions he raised on the Quid’s last journey from Quetta to PAF Base Mauripur (now Masroor) by air, and from there by ambulance to the Governor General’s House, on that fateful day of 11 September 1948. Although muxh has been said and written on it, some facts, some fiction and folklore, yet some misconceptions prevail and even increase as time passes.
These days, the gardener who was not there in the residency at Ziarat then, where the Quaid stayed till August, claims that the Quaid expired in Ziarat, and he personally nailed the coffin box! Thrice annually – 14 August, 11 September, 25 December, some speculative print media even attribute his death to conspiracy, assassination, callousness, even implicating his closest friends, associates and life long friends, by irresponsible writing. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The scribe was one of the two ADC’s the Quaid took with him to Quetta-Ziarat-Quetta-Karachi from June to September 1948. My colleague, the Naval ADC, Lt. Mazhar Ahmad, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash with his wife in Indonesia in the 1960’s. So, as the lone survivor of that period, while memory serves, I shall attempt to put the record straight. My diary of 1948 and some photos of Quetta – Ziarat period, loaned to Mr. Hector Bolitho, perhaps the first official/private biographer of the Quaid, never got back to me. Only the sketch-book remains.
In June 1948, Karachi’s debilitating weather had adversely effected Quaid’s health, already over-strained by the Herculean task of establishing a new Federal structure from a scratch, against heavy fiscal, economic, administrative, defence and security odds, created by Mountbatten and his Indian cabinet.
Accompanied by a skeleton staff of two ADC’s, one assistant secretary, and his security officer – Inspector F.D. Hansotia, his personal bearer, and his favourite Goanese cook, Barua, Quaid decided to fly to Quetta leaving most of the policy and decision making to his trusted Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and his cabinet.
Colonel A.S.B.Shah, Secretary States and Frontier Regions was commanded to be present in Quetta, as the Quaid wanted to personally resolve the legal and constitutional issue of Kalat State’s impending accession to Pakistan, in talks with his friend, the Khan of Kalat. Towards the last week of June the Quaid had to return for a few days for the opening of the State Bank of Pakistan and issue of Pakistan’s first coins and currency. At the function, which he went through, he neither felt or looked well, as any photo of that function will testify. The following day we flew back to Quetta. Convictions of his failing health, after some days in Quetta, he desired to move to cooler, secluded, forlorn Ziarat as his best resort. The residency was spruced up.
Even in that old and fragile condition, his clear mind was apprehensive that if news of his failing health reached Mountbatten and the Indian leaders, they may increase their effort to “smother Pakistan in its crib”, or bring about a collapse of the “Pakistan tent” as Mountbatten had confidentially described emerging Pakistan in May – June 1947, to the Indian Congress leaders. It may be recalled that within two days of the Quaid’s death, Mountbatten unleashed the Indian army against the weak and defenceless Nizam and Hyderabad State.
In July, while in Ziarat, the Quaid caught a chill, developed a cough and fever. As he had left his personal physician, Colonel Rahman back in Karachi to attend to the public, Dr. Siddiqui,civil surgeon, Quetta, was immediately summoned to Ziarat. He prescribed medication and advised seeing a chest specialist. Col. Ilahi Baksh and Dr. Riaz Ali Shah (chest specialists) were summoned from Lahore, carried out tests and prescribed medication. Cough and fever left him, appetite improved, he was even allowed to smoke, sparingly and without inhaling, his favourite Craven A cigarettes. He started receiving visitors and attending to State papers that came up daily by a train courier from Karachi. When we informed him that the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, accompanied by Secretary General, M. Mohammad Ali wished to come up to see him, he took pains to go into details of his itinerary, reception at Quetta, timings, lunch menu etc, it was not a surprise visit, as Colonel Dr. Ilahi Baksh says in his book.
The Prime Minister arrived, via Quetta, by car, the Quaid was visibly moved and smiled to see him. They were closeted together in Quaid’s room for over an hour, before lunch, no one else was present, not even Miss Jinnah, as was protocol on such occasions. At lunch with Miss Jinnah and the two ADC’s, quiet and pensive, the Prime Minister remarked to Miss Junnah, “The Quaid is most dear and precious to the Nation, he must get the best medical attention from abroad.” Miss Jinnah’s reply was that the Quaid does not want to have anything to do with foreign doctors, or words to that effect. It seemed to us, that apart from discussing vital national issues, and his last wishes in case of his demise, he had firmly refused treatment by foreign doctors for the same reasons that he had chosen to remain secluded in Ziarat and Quetta as his last resort. Mr. M.A.H. Ispahani, his old friend and associate, then Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, who has come up to Ziarat to see him and plead for foreign medical specialist’s attention, failed to persuade him. For the same reasons apparently Raja Ghazanar Ali, ambassador designate to Iran, and Khwaja Shahabuddin, Minister for Information and Broadcasting had also come to Ziarat to see him, but had failed to convince him, or his sister.
By August, Ziarat had become cold after rains. Moreover his address to the Nation for 14 August had also to be recorded by Radio Pakistan (Mr. Z. A. Bukhari} which was not possible in Ziarat due to lack of electricity. The residency was being supplied electric power for a few hours after sunset, by a small generator. So on 13 August it was decided in consultation with the doctors to move him by car (Humber Pullman) to Quetta, fully dressed up in his three-piece suit, as desired by him, sitting, throughout the two hour drive. That evening his address to the Nation was recorded in the Quetta Residency.
In the first week of September, in spite of medication sometimes flown by PAF DC-3 aircraft from Karachi, and special diet, the Quaid’s condition deteriorated. After arrival in Quetta, sister Dunham, an English woman fromSanduman Hospital, Quetta, had been engaged for round-the-clock care and nursing, under the watchful eyes of Miss Jinnah and the team of doctors.
On 10 September, I was No. 1 on duty with the Quaid. Col. Ilahi Baksh told me that as they had decided to move the Quaid by air to Karachi the following day i.e. 11 September, I should make necessary arrangements. They were hopeful that the sea level of Karachi would be less strain on Quaid’s weak heart and lungs. I immediately got in touch by telephone (one had to communicate via telephone exchanges of Quetta – Sukkur – Karachi, no green line existed) with colonel Knowles, military secretary, at Karachi and explained the doctor’s wishes.
I emphasized the Quaid’s and Miss Jinnah’s express instructions, that like his earlier arrivals and departures from Quetta, it was to be a private departure from Quetta and a private arrival in Karachi, which meant that only the personal staff were to be present. Col. Knowles called back within half an hour that the Quaid’s Viking aircraft would be touching down at Samungli airfield at 1100 hours on 11 September, that he had informed the Prime Minister, and it was to be a private arrival. I confirmed that we would be taking off after Quaid’s lunch and rest, at about 2.30 p.m., if all goes well. The exact time of take off would be communicated by phone, and also from the aircraft direct to PAF base, Mauripur.
On 11 September, the scribe was No. 2 on duty with Miss Jinnah; Lt. Mazhar was No. 1 on duty with the Quaid. The Vickers Viking – a two engined propeller driven aircraft, piloted by Squadron Leader Jim Harrison, RAF, seconded to PAF, landed at 11 a.m. on the old, cracked, World War II airfield at Samungli – then neither a PAF Base nor manned by Civil Aviation Authority, as there was no PIA, and only rare DC-3 flights. Two brick rooms without doors or windows and a wind sock on a leaning bamboo pole marked the airfield and barren landscape of dust-devils, fat-tail sheep and an old mangy camel grazing on dry, sparse vegetation around the airstrip, no human beings in sight.
After lunch and rest, the Quaid was laid on stretcher in his bedroom and carried down the flight of steps by the two ADC’s, accompanied by Miss Jinnah, sister Dunham and the team of doctors. As we got out of his bedroom, the Quaid looked up and asked ”Where are we going?” Lt. Mazhar, holding the head side of the stretcher answered: “ Quaid-e-Azam, we are taking you to Karachi, you will get well there.” “No I won’t” was his clear but feeble reply. It seemed that the Quaid had lost the will to live. Mr.C.A.G. Savage, Agent to the Governor General, as the Governor was then known, since Baluchistan was then not a full fledged province, stood at the porch staircase with wet eyes, to bid goodbye silently to his guest of four months, for whom he had vacated the Residency and shifted to a small hut.
After reaching the airstrip, he was still conscious. As the stretcher was being carried to the aircraft, a gush of breeze blew one end of the white sheet onto his uncovered face. He slowly lifted one arm and moved it away from his face. The Viking took off in time, Miss Jinnah, Sister Dunham, and the doctors and ADC’s accompanying. Due to tail winds, the Viking was over Karachi a little before the estimated arrival time. At the PAF Base, Mauripur, as per protocol and instructions, the Military Secretary, with two cars and an ambulance, picked from the best World War II vintage or earlier, available in Karachi, was waiting. The Quaid’s stretcher, with Miss Jinnah, Sister Dunham and one doctor and ADC got into the ambulance. A traffic sergeant on a motorcycle led the motorcade of four vehicles on the Quaid’s last fateful living journey, out of the PAF Base. Near Lyari, the ambulance (either from the Civil Hospital or CMH, I cannot recollect which) stopped due to mechanical trouble and in spite of the frantic efforts of the driver, would not start. The Military Secretary dashed off to look for another.
The journey was resumed as soon as the Military Secretary located and brought another one, closely followed by the Prime Minister, who I learnt later, had abruptly ended a cabinet meeting in session, apparently discussing the impending national tragedy and how to cope with arising emergency. Much has been talked of and written about the unfortunate mechanical breakdown of the ambulance. In an age of Mercedes, Pajeros and BMW’s, it is difficult to imagine what the clean, quiet, small Karachi of 1947-48 offered by way of cars, ambulances and public transport even after becoming overnight the capital and only port of Pakistan. The vintage, Rolls Royce London, was borrowed from the Amir of Bahawalpur, that brought back, after a state drive, the two Governor Generals – Quaid-e-Azam and Mountbatten – from the transfer of power ceremony at National Assembly on 14 August 1947, emitted smoke and caught fire in the engine as it came to a halt in the porch of the Governor-General’s house allowing its VIPs to make a calm but hurried exit. (Memoirs of General Gul Hasan Khan, page 73). The incident is not widely known, otherwise some fertile brain these days would have read into it as an International conspiracy to assassinate the two Governor Generals in a Rolls Royce.
The Quaid breathed his last at 10.30 p.m. in the ground floor of Governor General’s House, as ordained, he returned to his Creator. The Quaid’s daughter – Mrs. Neville Wadia, then living in Bombay was informed that night through the good offices of the Indian High Commissioner. A special plane brought her to Karachi the next morning, 12 September. A traumatized nation was in mourning, the population of Karachi attempted to scale the gates and the walls of the Governor General’s House to have a last glimpse of their beloved Quaid. He was laid in state in the main entrance hall way as sobbing, wailing men, women and children files past in the porch, catching a glimpse of the mortal remains of their Great Leader.
At about 3 p.m. his coffin was placed on a gun carriage, the funeral procession – the end phase of his last journey started, taking over two hours to reach the elevated, open, bare mound, his final resting place. Miss Jinnah and Quaid’s estranged daughter, Mrs. Wadia, dressed in all black, in Quaid’s favourite black Humber Pullman car had reached the burial site. The prayers were led by Maulana Shabir Ahmed Usmani, as a sea of humanity all around the burial ground, sobbed and wailed. He was laid to rest with full military honour and according to Shahria and Sunnah, as per his last wishes to the Prime Minister, his closest, trusted associate till the end. He had desired that even after his death, there should be no doubt regarding his Faith, and that no effort is made by any sect or section of the society to exclusively claim him for narrow religious or political ends. It seems that with his vision, he could foresee, someday, the likelihood of coming sectarian strife and carnage and ethnicity splitting the Nation. Just as the apprehended Bonapartist and megalomaniacs rearing their heads to destroy democracy and his Pakistan. Hence the firm advice to late Lt. Col (later Major General) Akbar Khan at the 14 August reception (referred to by Air Marshal Asghar Khan in THE NEWS column of 13 February, 1995) and his after-brunch address to Defence Services Officers at Staff College, Quetta, on 16 June 1948, when he exhorted them to study their role in defending the constitution of the country.
As Governor General, his dismissal of a Federal Cabinet minister and an old Muslim League colleague on mere allegations of corruption showed his foresight in warning against corruption in high places and his belief that a fish rots from the head as it did, time and again, from 1953 onwards.
Throughout his 13 months as Head of State, he repeatedly emphasized the moral, the ethical, the legal, and the constitutional in his personal life and statecraft.
Is there still time to follow in his footsteps and practice what the Quaid preached and practiced, so that what remains of the Quaid’s Pakistan, survives. One wonders with anguish and despair.