Abul Kasem Khan was a prominent businessman and pioneer in industries and shipping, as well as a great educationist and philanthropist, he was a federal Minister of the then Pakistan in charge of Industries, Works, Power and Irrigation from 1958 to 1963. The nation pays its respects to his great service to the country and humanity.
The independence of India from the British Raj, by partition as India and Pakistan in 1947, brought about a radical change in the outlook of people and their topics of discussion with friends and like-minded people. Talking politics became the customary fashion among the intelligentsia. A consensus soon came to prevail to the effect that the cause of the decay of Muslim society was political control by the British rulers on the one hand, and the economic domination of the Hindus on the other. Such constraints having been removed by the creation of Pakistan; nothing could hold up an upsurge of the Islamic spirit which was necessary for the emancipation of Muslims.
However, this euphoria soon received a jolt when the controversy over the proportion of representation in the National Assembly from the two wings of the country, held up the progress of constitution building. Anticipating such an unhappy controversy, Mr Abul Kasem Khan, popularly known as A K Khan (1905-1991), made up his mind on a formula of compromise based on parity of representation from each wing of the country. The formula which ultimately came to prevail and was known as the 'Muhammad Ali formula,' was originally advanced by Mr Khan. A K Khan often used to say that Pakistan was achieved by the unanimous demand of the Muslims of East Bengal. "It was their creation. They should not hesitate to make some sacrifice, if necessary, for its consolidation. It would provide a firm basis for representation, as well as sharing of resources for all times."
In the 1951-1952 budget, A K Khan spoke out against the economic discrimination levelled at East Pakistan
"[Mr Speaker] Sir, I cannot help but remark, which I hope will not be misinterpreted as an indication of petty provincial-mindedness. Sir, these are days of decentralisation and regional self-sufficiency. We find that in this six-year plan, the total sum allocated to East Bengal where 56 per cent of your people live, is less than 23 %. Under the head 'Agriculture,' provision has been made for 82 crores, and the total of all the projects envisaged for East Bengal is only 5.6 crores. Under the head 'Development of Hydro-Electric Power,' a provision for 45 crores has been made and the share of East Bengal is only 5 crores. Under the head 'Industries,' provision has been made for textile industries' [for West Pakistan] to the tune of 30 crores and the provision for jute industry' [for East Bengal] is only 11 crores. Now, Sir, this gives a clear indication that not only in the past, not only in the present but in the future development plans of the country, East Bengal is not expected to get its legitimate share."
The partition of the subcontinent had placed the truncated East Bengal (Bangladesh) in a very difficult situation with its shortages of materials and trained manpower in almost all spheres of life. There was no outside source from which substantial assistance could be obtained for the reconstruction of the new country. The shortage of resources was worldwide after the end of the Second World War. Nevertheless, the country was able to tide over such enormous difficulties by its effort and determination. There was no famine or pestilence, the usual consequence of disruption of organised life caused by war or civil commotion. Public administration and economic activities could be revived within a short time. When in 1949, England, as well as India, found it necessary to devalue their currencies, it was not found necessary for the Pakistan government to follow suit. Needless to say, what was going wrong in the country was political management. Unfortunately, it failed to attract the notice of those who were presiding over the destiny of the country.
Let us have a glimpse of the pages of Diary by Justice Muhammad Ibrahim (1898-1966). He, along with A K Khan, Hafizur Rahman, and Habibur Rahman, was in the federal cabinet of General Ayub Khan (1907-1074) from 1958 to 1962. The then East Pakistani Ministers in the federal cabinet had to uphold the cause of East Pakistan for dignity and development and they focused on those issues which later became the ingredients for raising the historic six-point demands of 18 March 1966, made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1920-1975).
"East Pakistani Ministers agree privately to press for the autonomy of East Pakistan, if not granted, then decide to resign."
"Yesterday, on 29.06.1960, I had a conversation with Mr Hafizur Rahman as to the steps we should take given the President's speeches, inclinations, and actions as regards the Constitution. I am going to meet Mr A.K. Khan this evening."
"On 30.06.1960 I had a similar talk with Mr A.K. Khan. He told me that all the Ministers from East Pakistan (five in all), were feeling dissatisfied. I told him that we should tell the President our views about the Constitution, emphasising that the provinces should be autonomous, fully subject to three areas: namely defence, currency, and foreign relations being centrally administered." [It is interesting to observe that Justice Ibrahim and his colleagues from East Pakistan were seriously thinking about an autonomous East Pakistan with a weak centre. This was five years before the Six-Points of the Awami League was launched.]
"We could not concede to the centre more than these three subjects. He agreed with me and gave me to understand that the other East Pakistani Ministers would join hands with us. In that case, I said that we should meet the President and apprise him of our views, and if he does not agree, we should retire. He agreed and said that he thought that other East Pakistani Ministers would also agree. The question was when we shall do it? I was for doing it without delay." (Diaries of Justice Muhammad Ibrahim (1960-1966)" Edited and annotated by Sufia Ahmed, Academic Press and Publishers Library, Dhaka, March 2012, Page 45)
Late Manzur Quader, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan told a common friend, "Only two persons in the cabinet stood up to Ayub Khan on the matter of Principle, one was Justice Ibrahim and the other was A.K. Khan." Justice Muhammad Ibrahim and Mr A K Khan were constantly upholding the cause of this part of the country in the Cabinet and they were the only Ministers who did not sign the Constitutional Amendments proposed by Ayub Khan."
When the capital of Pakistan was being shifted from Karachi to Rawalpindi, A K Khan objected as they had to travel by sea to Karachi and then again another 1000 miles inland to Rawalpindi. Ayub Khan then asked what should be done. Mr A K Khan stated that the Legislative Capital should be located in Dhaka and during the session of the Assembly, the Central Government should move to Dhaka and gave the examples of Australia and South Africa. This argument was accepted and resulted in the formation of the Second Capital in Dhaka, which is now known as Shere Bangla Nagar.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid, former Secretary to the Government and Chairman, NBR. [email protected]
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