Asghar Khan

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A soldier turned politician Asghar Khan was the first Muslim Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Air Force. Asghar Khan was born on January 17, 1921 in Kashmir and educated at the Prince of Wales’s Royal Military College, Dehra Dun. He got commission in the Royal Indian Force in 1940 and became the Commander of Squadron No 9 in short time. During World War II, while on the Fighter Leaders’ Course in England, Asghar Khan became the first pilot from the subcontinent to fly a jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor Mark III, the only jet employed by the Allies during the last stages of the War. After the partition of British India he became the first Muslim commandant of the Royal Pakistan Airforce College at Risalpur. He became the youngest Pakistan’s first Air Chief at the age of 36. He held this position for over 8 years from1957 to65. During this period the PAF underwent all its expansion, re-equipment, and training programs. Air Marshal Asghar Khan retired on July 23, 1965, six weeks before the 1965 Indo-Pak War. Some critics objected that he did not brief the new commander-in-chief about the future war. But he refused and revealed that he was kept in the dark about the coming war. He said that he was neither informed nor consulted before the launch of the Operation Gibraltar. He squarely blamed Pakistan for the 1965 and 1971 wars and strongly opposed the war with India over the Bangladesh issue in 1971. For his defiance and critique, he was imprisoned for a few months and again when General Zia-ul Haq took over Pakistan in 1977, he spent five years in jail.

He also served as President of PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) from 1965 to 1968.
As a soldier he proved himself up to the mark but after retirement, he turned his attention towards politics. He is among those individuals whose political voyage is replete with difficulties and hardships. However, in politics he is considered as a man of principles showing no compromise or any deal in his long political career. M. Asghar Khan formed his own political party, the Tehrik-i-lstaqlal, in 1972. He was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan in the General Elections held in 1977. Most of the time he remained in opposition camp, opposing military regimes of General Ayub Khan and General Yahya Khan. He also participated in the movement of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) as a leader of his political party Tahreek-e-Isaqlal and strongly condemned what he called as “the fascist regime” of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Asghar Khan was the main political figure of MRD (Movement for Restoration of Democracy) that started in 1981 against General Zia regime. In 1988 he also took active part in Pakistan Awami Ittehad and later Pakistan Democratic Alliance in 1990. He stepped down as President of Tehrik-i-Istaqlal in December 1995.

Also known as the “Mr. Clean” of Pakistani politics, he publicly called for the ISI’s disbanding terming it the biggest destabilizer in Pakistan. He strongly opposed the government’s decision to detonate nuclear devices, fearing it would give a serious blow to the country’s already weak economy. A strong advocate for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue, Asghar Khan has consistently pleaded for better relations with India. He recently visited India to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Rashtriya Indian Military College in Dehra Dun of which he is an alumnus.

This soldier turned politician is a prolific writer, who wrote many books We’ve Learnt Nothing from History, Pakistan at the Cross Road, Generals in Politics and Islam Politics, and the State and the Pakistan Experience, a commentary and in-depth critical evaluation of the political history of Pakistan.

He renounced the awards of Hilal-i-Pakistan and Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam in January 1969 as a mark of protest against the government’s policy of suppression. Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan holds Pakistani leaders responsible for several major mistakes since independence. The first in his opinion was the decision to give up Hyderabad and concentrate on Kashmir alone. Speaking at the launch of his book We Have Learnt Nothing From History, Pakistan, Politics and Military Power, he said that the policy was pursued in hope that Pakistan would get both states but ended up with nothing. Mr. Asghar Khan described the policies adopted during the East Pakistan crisis as stupid. He said that the East Pakistanis were politically much more mature than the West Pakistanis and were not ready to take the injustices meted out to them. He said that persistent military intervention had caused irreparable damage to the democratic process in the country.

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 05, 2009