By Khwaja Sayeed Shahabuddin
The Last Nawab of Dhaka is the title of a report which appeared in DAWN written by Ghouse Mohiuddin, based on an interview with Nawab Khwaja HASAN ASKARI in the early eighties covering his entire life.
Nawab Khwaja Hasan Askari was born in Dhaka on 21st. August, 1920, the eldest son of Nawab Habibullah Bahadur and Shahryar Begum and he started to learn to read and write at the “Maktab’ in Ahsan Manzii before joining Muslim High School, and later, going to the Muslim University School in Aligarh. He captained the school cricket team, and was later Captain of the University Riding School, and when Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah visited Aligarh University, Askari acted as his ADC.
In August 1942, Hasan Askari was commissioned in the 7th. Light Cavalry of the British Indian Army and saw action in the Burma front. He is reported to be the first Muslim Officer to have taken part in a tank battle at the time. He was wounded in action with a severe head injury and his legs were smashed when a 1.55 mm, shell landed five yards in front of him. Towards the end of 1945, after he had recovered from his wounds, he was posted as Gunnery Instructor at the Tank School, Babina.
He resigned his commission in March 1946 as his father wanted Askari to help him with the affairs of the Estate. But, a soldier at heart, he could not resist the temptation when he had the opportunity, soon after partition, to apply for a commission in the Pakistan Army, and on selection, was posted to Probyns Horse, the regiment of his choice, in 1948. A year later, in 1949, he was posted to the :Governor General’s Body Guard as its first Adjutant. His next tour of duty was with East Pakistan Rifles from 1950 to 1954, when he was posted back to Probyns Horse. He was back again in East Pakistan in 1958 as Deputy Martial Law Administrator, Khulna, and in 1959, was appointed Recruiting Officer, East Pakistan, and after an attack of Thrombosis, he retired from the Pakistan Army in 1961 with the rank of Major.
After the death of his father, Hasan Askari had assumed charge as the Nawab of Dhaka in January, 1959, After his retirement from the Army, he began taking interest in politics, and in 1982, he was elected from a seat in Dhaka as member National Assembly of Pakistan. Soon thereafter, he became the Minister of Communications, Government of East Pakistan, and in this capacity, he is reported to have made improvements of roads and highways and the construction of bunds.
He believed in having fast communications that were best suited to the peculiar terrain of the province which needed improvement of the Inland Water Transportation system- He managed to start a rail car service for the benefit of the people, and during his tenure as Minister of Communications he got the double line from Dhaka to Chittagong sanctioned. For his services, the Government Pakistan had awarded him the Hilal-e-Khidmat, Askari fought the 1965 elections for the National Assembly as Muslim Leaguer but lost by 15 votes.
In 1966, he set up a 250-loom jute mill in collaboration with EPIDC, which was later expanded to 500 looms. It is known as Hasan Askari Jute Mills. He was actively associated with various organisations and held appointments as Director, PIA, Pakbay, Industrial Promolion Service Ltd., Jessore Jute Milts. Adamjee Jute Mills, Bawany Textile Hills and Eastern Banking Corporation. Besides being a member of the Board of Governors of the Engineering University, Dhaka, he was President of Sir Salimullah Muslim Orphanage, Chairman of Pakistan Jute Mills Association till 1971, and a member of the Executive Committee of Narayanganj Chamber of Commerce & Industry- He was President of the Dhaka Club for a year, and for a while of All-Pakistan T-B. Association when he sponsored a T. B.. Hospital scheme for Dhaka. He also worked with Aligarh Old Boys Association in East Pakistan as its working- President.
It is unthinkable that a person so kind hearted and loving, one who cared deeply for the poor and the needy, a prince among men, ASKAR! BHAIJAN, as we called him, had to undergo a most humiliating experience with his wife and children, when, in February 1969, during the movement against the Ayub Government his house was ransacked by a mob and burnt. But, in spite of extreme provocation, he refused to allow anyone in his group to use arms against the attackers. He faced the most ugly situation with faith, courage and dignity, with full support from his wife and children.
In 1976, Nawab Hasan Askari sought permission and was allowed to leave Bangladesh, it is reported, with only ten US Dollars. His Army pension, which had been stopped after the creation of Bangladesh, was restored in Pakistan. and he lived on it in Karachi, never complaining, always cheerful, and keeping himself away from further political activity.
Nawab Hasan Askari married Bilquis Shahzadi, daughter of Nawab and Begum Hafeezuddin of Surat. They have one daughter and four sons. The eldest, Shereyar, is married lo her first cousin, Zahid Kramet, son , of Sardar and Begum Mumtaz U. Kramel. Sherry, as she is affectionately known, works as an administrator at the Lahore Grammar School. She has four daughters – Saira Marium, married to Yawar Badat. who live in Karachi and have a daughter, Aleeha, and a son Akbar Shehirnaz, married to Ahmed Hafeez and they, too, live in Karachi. Fatima Zehra who teaches at the Lahore School of Arts and Science; and Rabia who studies in Lahore.
The eldest among the four sons is Khwaja Salimullah Askari, who has his own garment business in London, where he lives with his wife, Nusreen, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Sarwur. They have a son, Faisal and a daughter. Zara. The next in line is Khwaja Amanullah Askari, married to Ishrat, daughter of Miangul and Begum Aurangzeb of Swat- Aman works for an Industrial Explosives Firm in. Islamabad, and they have a daughter. Ayesha-Amina. The third brother, Khwaja Samiullah Askari, married to the ever- popular Rowena, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Said Haroon. Sami has his own computer business and they are perhaps the best known among the members of the family in Karachi, where they live with two daughters, Yusra and Bisma. I am indebted to this couple for the help I have received from them in writing about Askari Bhaijan’s family. The youngest in the family is Khwaja Habibullah Askari.married to Naveen, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Matiur Rehman. Habib, who is affectionately known as Kaka. has a business in Dhaka. They have two sons, Hasan Askari and Armaan.
Nawab Begum Bilquis Hasan Askari, as dignified and charming as ever, used to live in a flat in Clifton, and moved around visiting her children and sisters in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. She had been a source of strength and support to Askari Bhaijan throughout his life, taking care of their home and children.
The man that Nawab Khwaja Hasan Askari was can be described in the words of Rudyard Kipling: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch. If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you. If all men count with you, but none too much…”
The last Nawab of Dhaka, Khwaja Hasan Askari passed away in Karachi on August 9, 1984. May his soul rest eternal heavenly peace !