By Pervaiz Munir Alvi
It is London, June 4, 1953. The official delegation of the Dominion of Pakistan, headed by Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra, who also holds the portfolio of Ministry of Defence, is staying at the Claridge’s Hotel. Included in the entourage is the Secretary Ministry of Defence. Only two days earlier the Secretary, as part of the delegation, had attended the pomp and show filled coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II. Today a telegram from the office of Air-Vice Marshal Cannon, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Pakistan Air Force arrives stating that the Secretary has lost his twenty year old son in a tragic plane accident. The Secretary is devastated. Comforting him in this moment of grief are his few close friends and a thirty-nine year old women named Nahid. The Secretary is Colonel Iskander Mirza – future President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Not much is known about Nahid’s background except that she was the wife of one Lieutenant Colonel Afghamy – the Military Attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Pakistan. Also not known are the time and the circumstances under which Colonel Iskander Mirza and Nahid Afghamy had first met. It is a matter of conjecture that perhaps as Military Attaché Colonel Afghamy had frequent dealings with the Pakistan Ministry of Defence and also with Secretary Iskander Mirza. Perhaps Nahid and the Secretary had met near about 1951 in some social gathering of the diplomatic circle of Karachi. However, first knowledge of the personal connection between the two comes to the Mirza family only in early 1952.
The Secretary had sent his elder son Humayun Mirza to England for further studies and training whereas he and his wife Rifaat Mirza would regularly visit their son during their yearly summer sojourn. In early 1952 the twenty-four year old younger Mirza received a letter and some money from his father telling him that the wife of a Colonel Afghamy would be visiting London and he was to entertain her while she was in town. Later that year the Secretary again asked his son to find a suitable school in England for the young daughter of Mrs. Afghamy. In spring of 1953 Mrs. Rifaat Mirza would herself take the little girl Safia Afghamy to London to enroll her in a school.
Then came the fateful day of June 4, 1953. The younger son of the Secretary – Enver Mirza is killed in a plane crash. The next day Government of Pakistan moves Iskander Mirza to Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon, Surrey for private grieving. To the surprise of his son Humayun, Nahid is present at this hotel as well comforting his father in a very personal way. Humayun Mirza is very upset and embarrassed by the situation and wants Nahid to leave the room to which friends of the Secretary advise the son to let it be. Few days later the son is sent back to Karachi to be with his mother and four sisters while Iskander Mirza and Nahid Afghamy stay behind in London. Finally a month later Iskander Mirza returns to his home and family in Karachi. There is no talk in the family about Mrs. Afghamy.
In April 1954 ruling Muslim League lost the general elections in East Pakistan and the province fell into chaos. To deal with the situation Prime Minister Bogra appointed Iskander Mirza as Governor of East Pakistan. Iskander Mirza moves to Dacca but does not take his family with him. Did he take Nahid with him? Were the two married by this time? Nothing is clear. According to Nahid the two got married by proxy on July 7, 1953 after Iskander Mirza’s return to Pakistan from England and the actual marriage ceremony took place on September 5, 1953. However there is no public record of her account.
After spending six month in East Pakistan, in September 1954 Iskander Mirza left for England supposedly for medical treatment of his ailing back. Also in late September, Prime Minister Bogra, Foreign Minister Sir Zafrullah Khan, Finance Minister Choudary Mohammad Ali, Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, General Ayub Khan and few other members of the administration had gone to the USA on an official visit. On September 21 the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan stripped the Governor-General off most of his administrative powers. Governor-General asked the Prime Minister to return to the capital immediately. On their return trip from the USA, Bogra, Ayub, Mirza, and Pakistan’s High Commissioner in the UK, Abu-al-Hassan Isphani, all met at the London Airport to discuss the political development back home. After the meeting they all decided to fly back to Karachi aboard a chartered Royal Air Force plane arranged by Iskander Mirza.
Upon its arrival, the team with a plan in hand went to the house of Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad. There an agreement was struck between the Prime Minister and the Governor-General. The two agreed to dissolve the Constituent Assembly and form a new government with all in presence getting important cabinet positions. Mirza got the Ministry of the Interior, Choudary Mohammad Ali Ministry of Finance and Ayub in addition to his position as C-in-C got the Ministry of Defence. The occasion marks the beginning of the direct involvement of sitting civil servants and military officers in the running of the government at the highest level.
Month of October 1954 brings some more dramatic developments for Iskander Mirza. His son Humayun is in the USA getting ready to marry the daughter of Horace A. Hildreth, American Ambassador to Pakistan. None of the groom’s family is present at the wedding. Mrs. Rifaat Mirza is away in China as part of a Pakistani women’s delegation. Iskander Mirza is at home in Karachi with his four daughters when the phone rings. Nahid has returned to Karachi and for Iskander Mirza a personal scandal is about to break open in the public. All of a sudden the power broker par excellence is now powerless. The Minister of Interior is embroiled in a domestic problem of his own. White as a ghost Iskander Mirza rushes out of the house without speaking a word to his daughters. The master of crisis must control the biggest crisis of fifty-five years of his personal life. Nahid is no longer willing to be ‘l’autre femme’.
After absence of one week Iskander Mirza returns home and informs his daughters that he has taken Nahid Afghamy as his second wife. The news of his father’s secret marriage is related to Humayun Mirza on his wedding day in the USA while the first wife, Rifaat Mirza learns that only after her return from China. Iskander Mirza leaves his broken family never to return home or to see his first wife again. Two months later a second reception is held in Karachi to receive the newly weds. In addition to the families of the bride and the groom are present the dignitaries such as the Governor-General and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Conspicuously absent are the father-of-the-groom and his new wife Nahid.
The new Cabinet included a number of civil bureaucrats and military officers. Country’s politicians unhappy with this development took the matter to the Supreme Court. The Court upheld Governor-General’s action but directed the government to hold fresh elections. Elections were held in spring 1955 and Iskander Mirza was elected as member of the new Constituent Assembly. His friend Ayub Khan chose to stay with the army and did not run for the election. The new Constituent Assembly was formed in June 1955 and Ayub left the government in July 1955. Year 1955 brought more dramatic developments in the life of Iskander Mirza. Pakistan, along with Iran, Iraq and Turkey joined the Baghdad Pact thus formalizing its alliance with the West. In coming months Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad became increasingly ill. The Cabinet in its August 4 meeting decided to appoint Iskander Mirza as the Acting Governor-General; he was sworn in his new position on August 7, 1955. Bogra resigned from the Premiership and later on was reappointed to his old job as Ambassador to the United States.
In the new Constituent Assembly Muslim League had lost the majority status and was forced to form a coalition government in partnership with the United Front. On August 11, 1955 Choudary Mohammad Ali became the new Prime Mister of Pakistan. Ghulam Mohammad resigned as Governor-General and Queen Elizabeth on September 19 confirmed Iskander Mirza on that post. On September 30 the Constituent Assembly passed Establishment of West Pakistan Act. On October 6, 1955 Iskander Mirza took the oath of Governor-General and a week later all four provinces of West Pakistan were merged into single West Pakistan Province to create parity with East Pakistan.
The new Constituent Assembly drafted the constitution on January 8, 1956 and after some debate passed it on February 17. On March 6 Iskander Mirza was elected as President and the constitution was promulgated on March 23, 1956. Three days later on March 26, 1956 with Nahid on his side Iskander Mirza took the oath as President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Thus in a passage of two years, mostly through palace intrigues and backroom dealings, an ex-soldier and a career bureaucrat rose from the level of a department head to the position of the Head of the State. And the Iranian born Nahid Afghamy, the wife of a Military Attaché lifted by a government Secretary of the host country, became the First Lady of Pakistan. For the next two and half years Nahid Mirza as wife of the President will play significant role in the national and international affairs of Pakistan.