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”). Continue reading