The Dawn of Pakistan

It is estimated that over 15 million people were displaced during the Partition of the Indian subcontinent and two million lost their lives in the ensuing communal violence. This feature covers 42 years from 1906 to 1948, an astonishingly short period of time, during which the freedom movement emerged and subsequently achieved the creation of a separate Muslim state under the dynamic leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah – the Quaid-i-Azam – the monumental founder of this nation.



Nawab Viqar ul Mulk, Nawab Salimullah and Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan III Dawn White Star Archives
Nawab Viqar ul Mulk, Nawab Salimullah and Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan III Dawn White Star Archives

Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk (first from left), a prominent political personality from Hyderabad State, inaugurates the founding session of the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906.

Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka (second from left), a venerated educationist, legislator and a powerful advocate for the Partition of Bengal, hosts the session of the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference in Dhaka; a session that leads to the foundation of the All India Muslim League.

Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan III (third from left), the spiritual head of the Ismaili community worldwide, plays a formative role in the founding of the All India Muslim League and serves as President from 1907 to 1913. He later becomes president of the League of Nations.

Founding members of the All India Muslim League Dawn White Star Archives

Founding members of the All India Muslim League Dawn White Star Archives

The founding members of the All India Muslim League above and below at the baradari of Shah Bagh in Dhaka on December 30, 1906. The image below shows Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar seated on the front row, second from left, and his brother Maulana Shaukat Ali, sixth from left, same row. The All India Muslim League which grows from the vision of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan at Aligarh will spearhead the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

Founding members of the All India Muslim League Dawn White Star Archives The founding members of the All India Muslim League above and below at the baradari of Shah Bagh in Dhaka on Dec

Founding members of the All India Muslim League Dawn White Star Archives



Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar left standing next to Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari. Courtesy Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar_s family & Dawn White Star Archives
Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar left standing next to Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari. Courtesy Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar’s family & Dawn White Star Archives

Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar (left) dons Turkish attire on his visit to Turkey on the eve of the First World War. Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, leader of the Indian Muslim Medical Mission to Turkey and future president of the Muslim League, stands on the right. The firebrand Ali Brothers from Rampur State, achieve legendary status within the Khilafat Movement (1919 -1922), as the crucible in which a separate South Asian Muslim identity takes shape.

Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar makes his mark at the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire is occupied by the Allied Powers under the Treaty of Sèvres. The Turkish Nationalists reject the Treaty, and the Grand National Assembly under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk denounces the rule of the reigning sultan, Mehmed VI. As these events unfold, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and his brother, Maulana Shaukat Ali, launch an agitation in India aimed at building up political unity among Muslims and pressure the British to preserve the Ottoman caliphate.

The agitation leads to the formation of the Khilafat Movement. However, despite an alliance with the Indian National Congress and a nationwide campaign of peaceful civil disobedience, the Khilafat Movement itself weakens, because Indian Muslims are divided between working for the Congress, the Khilafat Movement and the Muslim League. The end comes in 1924 when Atatürk abolishes the caliphate. The brothers join the Muslim League and play a major role in the Pakistan Movement. The Khilafat Movement is a major step towards the establishment of a separate Muslim state in South Asia.

Maulana Shaukat Ali sitting next to the coffin of his brother Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar Courtesy Lahore Museum Archives
Maulana Shaukat Ali sitting next to the coffin of his brother Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar Courtesy Lahore Museum Archives

Maulana Shaukat Ali (extreme right) in January 1931 sits next to the coffin of his brother, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, on board the ship SS Narkunda on the way to Port Said. Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar is buried within the precincts of the Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. His frequent jail sentences and acute diabetes have an adverse impact on his health. He dies in London in January 1931, while attending the First Round Table Conference. His final words to the British Government are: “I would prefer to die in a foreign country as long as it is free. If you do not grant us freedom in India, you will have to find me a grave here.”

1931 LONDON 


Mr Jinnah with his sister Fatima and his remarkable daughter Dina Courtesy National Archive Islamabad
Mr. Jinnah with his sister Fatima and his remarkable daughter Dina Courtesy National Archive Islamabad

The Round Table Conferences in London have ended in failure. Mr. Jinnah decides to stay on in London where he has a thriving practice as a Privy Council lawyer, with chambers located on King’s Bench Walk. He spends long periods brooding over the collapse of the Hindu-Muslim unity platform in the Indian National Congress.

Mr. Jinnah and Dina share a private moment in the grounds of their home on West Heath Road in Hampstead, London Courtesy National Archive Islamabad

Finally, in 1934, he is persuaded to return to India to assume the presidency of the All India Muslim League. Thereafter, as the Quaid-e-Azam, he launches a series of initiatives that within a record time span of thirteen years, lead to the establishment of Pakistan.

Ruttie Jinnah is the daughter of Parsi baronet, Sir Dinshaw Petit. She marries the Quaid at the age of eighteen in 1918, despite virulent family opposition. The couple reside in South Court Mansion in Bombay. Ruttie and Mr. Jinnah are a glamorous couple. Flawless in her silks, Ruttie wears her signature hairstyle adorned with fresh flowers or complemented with headbands, embellished with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

The couple are happy in the early years of their marriage. However, by 1923, Mr. Jinnah’s deepening political involvement, long hours and frequent travel leave Ruttie feeling lonely and increasingly fragile.

Ruttie Jinnah Courtesy National Archive Islamabad
Ruttie Jinnah Courtesy National Archive Islamabad

He is in Delhi when a call comes through on February 20, 1929 with the news that Ruttie is critically ill. According to a close friend, Mr Jinnah says:

“Do you know who that was? It was my father-in-law. This is the first time we have spoken since my marriage.” What Mr Jinnah does not know is that Ruttie is already dead. The funeral is held at Bombay’s Muslim cemetery on February 22, 1929. According to Ruttie’s friend, Kanji Dwarkadas, “the funeral was a painfully slow ritual. Jinnah sat silent through all five hours.”

Then as Ruttie’s body is lowered into the grave, Mr Jinnah is the first to throw a handful of earth on the body. Suddenly, he breaks down and weeps like a child. Another friend, M.C. Chagla, said years later that “there were tears in his eyes. That was the only time I found Jinnah betraying some shadow of human weakness.”



Sir Muhammad Iqbal arriving at the 25th Session of the All India Muslim League in Allahabad. Dawn White Star Archives
Sir Muhammad Iqbal arriving at the 25th Session of the All India Muslim League in Allahabad. Dawn White Star Archives

Sir Muhammad Iqbal arrives at the landmark session of the Muslim League in Allahabad on December 30, 1930, to deliver the now famous Allahabad Address. Seated in the Lanchester on the right is Haji Abdullah Haroon. Standing next to the car is a young Yusuf Haroon; standing at the extreme left is poet Hafeez Jullundhri who will pen Pakistan’s national anthem eighteen years later.

In his address, Sir Muhammad Iqbal sets out his vision of an independent state for the Muslim majority provinces of undivided India. He defines the Muslims of India as a nation and suggests there is no possibility of peace in India until they are recognized as a nation under a federal system whereby Muslim majority units are accorded the same privileges given to Hindu majority units.

The young barrister Muhammad Iqbal in his library left. At the historic Mezquita mosque of Cordoba, in Andalusia, Spain in 1933 right Courtesy Iqbal Academy
The young barrister Muhammad Iqbal in his library left. At the historic Mezquita mosque of Cordoba, in Andalusia, Spain in 1933 right Courtesy Iqbal Academy

In outlining a vision of an independent state for Muslim majority provinces for north-western India, Iqbal is the first politician to articulate the two-nation theory; that Muslims are a distinct nation deserving political independence from the other regions and communities of India.

Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s eight stanza masterpiece, Masjid-e-Qurtuba, is inspired by his prayers at the mosque and includes the following lines: “The stars gaze upon your precincts as a piece of heaven/But alas! For centuries, your porticoes have not resonated with the call of the azaan”; an allusion to the turning point when Cordoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 and the mosque became a Roman Catholic cathedral.

1938 SINDH



Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah with Mian Mumtaz Daultana and Haji Abdullah Haroon in Seafield House Dawn White Star Archives & Seafield Archives

Haji Abdullah Haroon, President of the Sindh Muslim League relaxes at home in Seafield House between sessions of the Karachi Conference. The Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mian Mumtaz Daultana are in an animated discussion about the revitalisation of the first All India Muslim League government in Sindh headed by Haji Abdullah Haroon.

Mr Jinnah, once looked upon as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, returns to India in 1934 to assume the presidency of the Muslim League after four years in self-imposed exile in London. His return is marked by three vigorous years during which he consolidates the foundations of what will eventually constitute the future territories of Pakistan (although Pakistan is still not yet an inevitability in his mind).

Specifically, he succeeds in pushing back the Unionist style coalitions in Sindh, which by their composition are dependent upon the intervention of the British Governor. This pushback culminates in the resolution moved by Shaikh Abdul Majeed and adopted at the Karachi Conference recommending that the Muslim League develop a plan for Muslims to attain full independence. This is an important first step in Mr Jinnah’s journey towards Muslim independence and a remarkable homecoming.

Four years later, in 1942, Haji Abdullah Haroon passes away. Mr Jinnah in his tribute says: “Muslim India, especially Sindh, has lost a leader who served and guided the people loyally and faithfully. I have lost a friend and colleague and deeply mourn his death.”

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan describes him as “a pillar of strength to the Muslim League and one of its most sincere leaders. He was a staunch Pakistanist. His death is an irreparable loss to Muslim India in general and to Sindh.”

The Quaid i Azam, in celebratory progression through Karachi in December 1938. At the front, next to the driver_s seat is his ADC, a young Mahmoud Haroon. Courtesy National Archive Isl

The Quaid i Azam, in celebratory progression through Karachi in December 1938. At the front, next to the driver’s seat is his ADC, a young Mahmoud Haroon. Courtesy National Archive Islamabad

1940, MARCH 23, LAHORE


The Quaid i Azam with Nawab Shahnawaz Khan Mamdot and A.K. Fazlul Huq at Lahore_s Minto Park. Courtesy National Archive Islamabad
The Quaid i Azam with Nawab Shahnawaz Khan Mamdot and A.K. Fazlul Huq at Lahore’s Minto Park. Courtesy National Archive Islamabad

The Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah addresses a mammoth crowd in Lahore’s Minto Park on March 22, 1940, subsequent to the passing of the Lahore Resolution at the three-day Annual Session of the Muslim League.

In the photograph above, Nawab Shahnawaz Khan Mamdot, the Chairman of the Punjab Reception Committee for the session, stands behind him, adjacent to the flagpole. At extreme left is Sher-e-Bengal, A.K. Fazlul Huq, Chief Minister of Bengal and the prime mover of the Resolution.

Sir Zafarullah Khan, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hazarvi, Haji Abdullah Haroon and Qazi Isa. Dawn White Star Archives & Seafield Archives

Sir Zafarullah Khan, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hazarvi, Haji Abdullah Haroon and Qazi Isa. Dawn White Star Archives & Seafield Archives

Sir Zafarullah Khan (first from left) is credited with the original drafting of the Resolution; the critical points were then submitted in a memorandum to the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, in Delhi. The draft was subsequently further amended in Lahore by the Working Committee. The main supporters of the Resolution, one each from the north-western Muslim majority states in India, are (from second left) Maulana Zafar Ali Khan (Punjab), Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hazarvi (NWFP), Haji Abdullah Haroon (Sindh) and Qazi Isa (Balochistan).

Quaid i Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan peruse the Lahore Resolution. Courtesy Lahore Museum
Quaid e Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan peruse the Lahore Resolution. Courtesy Lahore Museum

The Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan peruse the Lahore Resolution as Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, the seconder of the Resolution and the leader of the Muslim League in the UP legislature, delivers a fiery oration.

Unanimously accepted, the Resolution declares: “No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions, which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary.”

In the long journey to Pakistan, a critical point has been reached. Nothing will be the same again. It is the moment of truth.



In the photograph above courtesy National Archive Islamabad, the Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and G.M. Syed make their way in a triumphal procession to the Annual Session of the Mus
 Courtesy National Archive Islamabad, the Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and G.M. Syed make their way in a triumphal procession to the Annual Session of the Muslim League in Karachi in December 1943. Behind them and standing are Mr. Jinnah’s National Guard ADCs; Mumtaz Hidayatullah, the son of Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, the veteran politician from Sindh, and Saeed Haroon, the son of Haji Abdullah Haroon.

On March 3, 1943, G.M. Syed brings before the Sindh Legislative Assembly, a resolution demanding the creation of Pakistan. The resolution is adopted, making it the first one in favour of the creation of Pakistan passed by a legislature in undivided India. It states that the Muslims of India “are justly entitled to the right as a single separate nation to have independent national states of their own, carved in the zones in which they are in majority in the subcontinent of India…”

It is this triumph for the Muslim League that frames Mr. Jinnah’s arrival later in December to attend the Annual Session of the Muslim League for which Karachi is chosen as the venue. As the President of the Sindh Muslim League, G.M. Syed is tasked with the responsibility of organising the arrangements for the Annual Session. He writes: “For nearly three months we worked to make a grand job of the honour that had been done to us. We did not spare men or material in lending all the grandeur and splendour to this historic session and only those who attended it can bear testimony to the scrupulous care with which every detail had been attended to and the lavish hospitality that Sindh had to offer.”

In his memoir, Struggle for New Sindh, G.M. Syed also writes about his admiration for Mr. Jinnah: “In Jinnah I found a man of extraordinary intellectual capacity. His domineering personality and dynamic genius left a deep impression on my mind.”

G.M. Syed is subsequently asked by Mr. Jinnah to resign from the presidency of the Sindh Muslim League, after which a group largely drawn from the Sindh Muslim League and styled as the Progressive Muslim League contest the 1945-46 elections in Sindh and establish a path of their own.




The Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi smile during the Jinnah-Gandhi talks. — Courtesy National Archive Islamabad

Mahatma Gandhi visits the NWFP in the mid-1930s in order to consolidate the alliance between the Indian National Congress and Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Redshirt Movement. It is the proximity between Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahatma Gandhi that earns the former the sobriquet of the ‘Frontier Gandhi’.

The Redshirt Movement begins as a non-violent struggle against British rule by Pakhtoons under the leadership of Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The movement starts facing pressure from the British authorities and Abdul Ghaffar Khan seeks political allies with the national parties. Rebuffed by the Muslim League in 1931, he finds a sympathetic ear with the Congress. His brother, Dr Khan Sahib, plays an instrumental role in the success of the Congress-Redshirt Alliance in the 1937 and 1946 elections. As Partition approaches, the Redshirt Movement opposes joining Pakistan and when the Congress agrees to the British proposal for a referendum in the NWFP, Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s relationship with the Congress finds itself seriously frayed.

Initiated by Mahatma Gandhi in July 1944, the talks are held at Mr. Jinnah’s residence in Bombay in September. Mahatma Gandhi’s objective is to convince Mr. Jinnah that the idea of Pakistan is untenable. In his opinion, power should be transferred to the Congress, after which Muslim majority areas that vote for separation will be made part of an Indian federation. This view, says Mahatma Gandhi, reflects the substance of the Lahore Resolution. For Mr. Jinnah, the absence of any guarantee that would protect Muslim rights under such an arrangement makes the proposal completely unacceptable. The talks end in failure.

Courtesy Lahore Museum Archives, the Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, dons a solar topi as his rickshaw makes its way to Viceregal Lodge.

Mr Jinnah is on his way to attend the Simla Conference called at the behest of the Viceroy, Lord Wavell on June 25, 1945. The purpose is to discuss the Wavell Plan with the Muslim League and the Congress. The Wavell Plan is the outcome of discussions in May 1945 between Lord Wavell and the British Government about the future of India. The crux of the plan is the reconstitution of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, with members selected by the Viceroy from a list of nominees proposed by the political parties. Differences immediately arise between the Muslim League and the Congress on the issue of Muslim representation. The Muslim League’s position is that as the only representative party of Muslims in India, all Muslim representatives on the Council must be nominated by them. The Congress maintain that as they represent all communities in India they, therefore, should nominate Muslim representatives. The result is a deadlock and failure.

The Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru caught smiling at each other at a reception at the India Office Library in London in December 1946. — Courtesy National Archive Islamabad

1945-46: SIMLA & LONDON  


Mr Jinnah and Mr Nehru are attending the London Conference, chaired by British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. This is a further attempt by the British to secure acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan. Although Mr Jinnah is willing to consider maintaining links with Hindustan (as the future Hindu majority state is referred to) on subjects such as a joint military and communications, he is adamant in his refusal to any agreement with respect to the composition of the Constituent Assembly without the constitutional stipulations required for the protection of future Muslim rights. Subsequent to the failure of the London Conference, Mr Jinnah insists on a fully sovereign Pakistan with dominion status. The encounter of smiles at the India Office did not work



Khan Abdul Ghani Khan (right) converses with Benegal Shiva Rao, a leading journalist and politician, in front of Council House in Delhi. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, New Delhi

Ghani Khan is the eldest son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Educated at Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan School in western Bengal, which Indira Gandhi also attends, he is a poet, a sculptor, a painter – and a man of strong political views.

In April 1947, as Partition approaches, he forms a militant group, Pakhtoon Zalmay (Pakhtoon Youth), aimed at protecting the Redshirts and members of Congress from ‘violence’ at the hands of Muslim League sympathisers. However, the relationship between Congress and the Redshirt Movement is on a downward spiral. Despite Redshirt opposition to Pakistan, Congress negotiations with the British over the Partition of India stipulate for a referendum to be held on whether the NWFP will join Pakistan or India. Bitterly disappointed by this turn of events, his father’s last words to Mahatma Gandhi and his Congress allies are: “You have thrown us to the wolves.”

The referendum is overwhelmingly in favour of Pakistan; the Redshirts severe their connection with Congress and move a resolution, whereby the Redshirts “regard Pakistan as their own country and pledge to do their utmost to strengthen and safeguard its interests and make every sacrifice for the cause.”

From then on, although no longer active in politics, Ghani Khan is still seen as a symbol of dissent and spends much of the early 1950s in prison. After his release, he withdraws into philosophy and art and authors several volumes of poems, including De Panjray Chaghar, a literary defence of the Pakhtoonwali code of honour. In 1980, General Zia-ul-Haq confers the Sitara-e-Imtiaz upon him.

He dies in 1996; his legacy is best expressed in his words: “Pakhtoon is not merely a race but a state of mind; there is a Pakhtoon inside every man, who at times wakes up, and it overpowers him.”




Vultures feed on corpses strewn across an alleyway in Calcutta. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi


As dusk descends, the results of the riots that erupt on Direct Action Day are all too clear. It is a day of untrammelled rioting and slaughter between Hindus and Muslims.

Trouble starts in the morning, even before the Muslim League rally, scheduled for noon at the Ochterlony Monument, begins. The Premier of Bengal, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and his predecessor, Khawaja Nazimuddin are the main speakers. Tensions rise and Khawaja Nazimuddin pleads for restraint.

The moment the rally is over, the crowd, incensed by unconfirmed reports that all the injured are Muslims, start attacking Hindu-owned shops. Hindus and Sikhs lie in wait; as soon as they catch a Muslim, they hack him into pieces. By six o’clock a curfew is imposed; at eight o’clock troops secure the main routes and conduct patrols.

Although the worst affected areas are brought under control by late afternoon and the army presence is extended overnight, the killing escalates the next day. In the slums and areas outside military control, the violence gains in intensity. On August 18, buses and taxis loaded with Sikhs and Hindus armed with swords, iron bars and firearms appear. The communal slaughter continues unabated until August 21, when Bengal is placed under Viceroy Rule. The violence claims an estimated 3,000 dead and 17,000 injured.




It is the eve of Direct Action Day. Bengal Premier, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (right), is engrossed in a telephone conversation at his residence in Calcutta. Khawaja Nazimuddin, his predecessor, is seated next to him. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

Mr. Suhrawardy is the last premier of Bengal under the Raj. He is a prominent leader of the Muslim League and serves as mayor of Calcutta in the 1930s. In ten years’ time, he will be Pakistan’s fifth prime minister. Two years later, Khawaja Nazimuddin will be Pakistan’s second governor general and subsequently Pakistan’s second prime minister.

One month earlier, the Muslim League and Congress, for different reasons, reject the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Congress are intransigent in their opposition to any kind of equal Muslim representation at the centre. It is clear that agreement cannot be reached and Mr Jinnah announces a countrywide Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946 to demonstrate the Muslim League’s determination that any arrangement following a British withdrawal must include parity at the centre.

As Direct Action Day breaks, no one can predict that the events that unfold will come to be known as the Great Calcutta Killings. Meetings and processions take place all across India, and all with minimal disturbance – with one exception – Calcutta. Perhaps because the situation in Bengal is particularly complex.

Although Muslims represent the majority of the population (56%), they are concentrated in eastern Bengal. In Calcutta, the ratio is reversed and Hindus constitute 64% of the population. As a result, Calcutta’s population is divided into two antagonistic entities.

Adding fuel to fire, tensions are running high. Hindu and Muslim communal newspapers are whipping up public sentiment with inflammatory reporting. And on the day itself, political leaders fail to anticipate the emotional response the word ‘nation’ evokes; it is no longer a political slogan – it has become a reality, politically and in the popular imagination.

Against this backdrop, Direct Action Day becomes symbolic of the carnage Hindu-Muslim antagonism will trigger in the days leading up, and subsequent, to Partition.

It is a day neither the Muslim League, the Congress nor the British administration could foresee.




The Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, is announcing the Muslim League’s rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan at a press conference and calls for a Direct Action Day on Friday, August 16, 1946. Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan is seated on the right. —Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

Earlier the same year, the Cabinet Mission, appointed by the British Government, is in India to find a solution that will grant independence to India, while attempting to preserve some semblance of the country’s unity.

They draw up a plan that calls for the setting up of a Constituent Assembly composed of members of the Congress and the Muslim League. The plan includes two options.

Option one is an all-India Federation based on the grouping of a) the Hindu majority provinces b) the Muslim majority provinces in the northwest (to include Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and the NWFP) and the Muslim majority provinces in the northeast (to include Bengal and Assam). The powers of the federal centre under option one are to be limited to defence, foreign affairs and communications. Although acceptable to the Muslim League, this option is rejected by the Congress, which is firmly opposed to the grouping of provinces and the restrictions placed on central powers.

Option two proposes a sovereign Pakistan based on the partition of Punjab and Bengal, with all the Muslim majority areas going to Pakistan. Option two is rejected by both the Muslim League and the Congress, the latter reiterating that they will never forego their national character, accept parity with the Muslim League or agree to a veto by any communal group.

Once it becomes clear that the Congress wants to break the grouping and enhance central powers, Mr Jinnah withdraws the Muslim League’s approval of option one, reiterates the demand for a sovereign Pakistan based on undivided Punjab and Bengal, and calls for a Direct Action Day to force the British to grant them equal representation at the centre.

The die is now cast



Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Altaf Husain, Editor Dawn Delhi, outside Mr Jinnah’s residence in Delhi, on June 3, 1947. — Courtesy Altaf Husain Archives & Dawn/White Star Archives

Dawn Delhi and Dawn Karachi are founded by Mr. Jinnah. Mr Husain is first appointed editor of Dawn Delhi in 1945; his predecessor was Pothan Joseph. In August 1947, Jan Sangh demonstrators accuse Dawn Delhi journalists of firing at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s procession. This is when Mr. Jinnah asks for Mr. Husain to be transferred to Karachi and assume the editorship of Dawn Karachi, which is published by the family of Mr. Jinnah’s late friend Haji Abdullah Haroon. It is plain to him that Dawn Delhi will not survive the threats of the Jan Sangh. Dawn Delhi is burnt down on September 14, 1947. Despite this, Dawn Karachi continues to carry the inscription: ‘Published simultaneously from Delhi and Karachi’ on the masthead until October 21, 1947, when it is removed and Mr Jinnah accepts the reality that Dawn Delhi is no more.

The loss of Dawn Delhi is a tragedy for Mr. Jinnah, for this was the paper he founded and nurtured in 1941 to carry forward the Muslim League’s message across undivided India. His triumph is the survival of Dawn Karachi.

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan with the staff of Dawn Delhi. — Courtesy Altaf Husain Archives & Dawn/White Star Archive.

To the right of Mr Jinnah is Pothan Joseph, the editor of Dawn Delhi. Behind Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan is Hamid Zuberi, who subsequently joins Dawn Karachi; to the left of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan is Mahmud Husain, GM, Dawn Delhi.

Mr.. Jinnah founds Dawn Delhi on October 19, 1941, to represent the views of Indian Muslims. The offices are housed in an old building in the Daryaganj area of Delhi. The furniture is modest, the staff minimal and the pay low. Yet, everyone is full of zeal. Mr. Jinnah and his editors – Pothan Joseph and then Altaf Husain – inspire them with a strong spirit of nationalism as the newspaper fights for justice and fair play for the Muslims.



Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in animated conversation with a group of students on the lawns of the University of Punjab, Lahore, on January 7, 1946. The photograph is taken by the prominent photographer of the Pakistan Movement, Faustin Elmer Chaudhry. — Courtesy Lahore Museum Archives

Students, particularly from the Punjab, play a pivotal role in the 1945 general elections. The elections are vital for the Muslim League because failure to win the Muslim seats will mean that further discussion on the demand for Pakistan will be dismissed by the Congress and the British Government. Consequently, the Muslim League moves to mobilise Muslim students.

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan exhorts the students of the Aligarh Muslim University to give up their studies for a period of time and campaign for the Muslim League. A training camp is set up on campus and students are given training courses before they are sent to various parts of the province. An election office opens in Islamia College in Lahore and the Punjab Muslim Students’ Federation establish an election board to spread the Muslim League’s message. Two hundred students are deputed to tour 20 constituencies covering 400 villages. By the end of the campaign, the Muslim League says 60,000 villages are visited by their student campaigners. As a result of this massive student mobilisation, a remarkable victory is achieved by the Muslim League, obliterating the failure of the 1936-37 elections.

Women leaders of the Muslim League are released from Punjab Jail in March 1947. First row, from left to right: Begum Nasira Kiani, Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz; second row (behind Begum Shah Nawaz, left to right): Miss Mumtaz Shah Nawaz, Fatima Begum, Dr Hassan Ara Begum and Begum Kamal-ud-din. Begum Salma Tasadduque Hussain stands behind Miss Shah Nawaz. — Courtesy Lahore Museum Archives

 Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan dies in 1942. Determined to prevent any attempt by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah to intervene in the politics of the Punjab, his successor, Malik Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana, disregards the Jinnah-Sikandar pact of 1937. When negotiations fail, Malik Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana is expelled from the Muslim League. The 1945 elections confirm the Muslim League as the single largest party in the Punjab Legislature. Yet, the British Government does not call upon them to form the government; they ask Malik Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana to cobble together a majority government through a coalition with the Hindu and Sikh members of the assembly. This leads to a civil disobedience campaign in the Punjab and then mass agitation, when Muslim League leaders are arrested in January 1947. Undaunted, the women of the Muslim League defy the ban on demonstrations and court arrest. Eventually, the coalition government is paralysed, Malik Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana resigns and governor rule is imposed. The women, like the students, play a pivotal role in enabling the creation of Pakistan.



Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah with Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, probably at the time when the Jinnah-Sikandar Pact is signed in 1937. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

After winning the general elections in the Punjab in 1937, Sir Sikandar, the leader of the Unionist Party in the Punjab, is faced with pressure from many of his Muslim parliamentary colleagues. Mindful of the need to maintain an equitable stance in a divided Punjabi political milieu, Sir Sikandar enters into negotiations with Mr Jinnah. As a consequence, the Jinnah-Sikandar Pact is signed.

The pact is essentially an arrangement whereby the Muslim League will represent the Muslims at the national level, while the Unionists will maintain a measure of independence at the provincial level.

Mr. Jinnah’s ability to deal with various hues in the tapestry of the Punjab through democratic persuasion is reflected in the Muslim League’s ascension to power after 1947.

Mian Iftikharuddin is a scion of the Arain Mian family, custodians of Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens. He begins his political career in the Congress and rises to the presidency in the Punjab. In 1945, he joins the Muslim League. After Partition, he is elected as the first President of the Punjab Provincial Muslim League and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah appoints him Minister for the Rehabilitation of Refugees.

In 1947, Mian Iftikharuddin founds the Pakistan Times; Faiz Ahmed Faiz is appointed Editor-In-Chief. In 1949, Mian Iftikharuddin’s proposal for land reforms in the Punjab leads to a backlash from the feudal leadership within the Muslim League. In frustration, he resigns from his ministry and is expelled from the Muslim League in 1951.

After his death in 1962, Faiz Ahmed Faiz pays tribute to him with this couplet: Jo rukey tu koh-e-garan thay hum/ Jo chalay tu jaan say guzar gaye/ Raah-e-yaar hum ne qadam qadam/ Tujhay yaadgaar banaa diya (For when we stayed, we rose like mountains/ And when we strayed, we left life far behind/ Fellow traveller, every step that we ever took/ Became a memorial to your life).

It is a tribute to Mr Jinnah’s political sagacity that he can mobilise talents like Mian Iftikharuddin’s to work within his government in the Punjab.

1947 LAHORE 


Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah addresses a mammoth rally at Lahore’s University Stadium on October 30, 1947. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

The violence that mars Partition is a period of great personal anguish for Mr Jinnah. Yet, his clarity of thought is unimpaired. He states: “Some people might think that the acceptance of the June 3, 1947 Plan was a mistake on the part of the Muslim League. I would like to tell them that the consequences of any other alternative would have been too disastrous to imagine…”

A man who has never compromised on his essential beliefs, he continues with conviction: “The tenets of Islam enjoin on every Musalman to give protection to his neighbours and to the minorities regardless of caste and creed. Despite the treatment which is being meted out to the Muslim minorities in India, we must make it a matter of our prestige and honour to safeguard the lives of the minority communities…”

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah campaigns at the Badshahi Mosque during the 1936-37 provincial elections. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

Despite Mr Jinnah’s campaign efforts, the Muslim League lose these elections. In Punjab, the Unionists, led by Sir Sikandar Hayat, win 67 of the 175 seats; the Congress 18 seats and the Akali Dal 10 seats. Although many Muslim Unionists are ardent supporters of the Muslim League, the Unionist party in Punjab formally constitutes a distinct entity and the Muslim vote is divided.

The election loss galvanises the Muslim League to redouble their efforts in Punjab and turn themselves into a credible alternative to the Unionists and reclaim Punjab. They achieve this in the 1945 elections.



Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Qazi Isa are cheered by the Muslim Student Federation in Quetta. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

Mr. Isa, a prominent leader of the Pakistan Movement, plays a pivotal role in facilitating Mr. Jinnah’s visit to Balochistan and his meetings with Baloch leaders. This is one of several visits Mr. Jinnah makes to Balochistan.

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is welcomed by Nawab Akbar Bugti and prominent Baloch tribal leaders at the Royal Durbar in Sibi, on February 11, 1948 — Courtesy Sherbaz Mazari Archives

During Mr. Jinnah’s stay in Sibi, he schedules three meetings with the Khan of Kalat to discuss matters related to the accession of Kalat. The last meeting is scheduled for February 14 in Harboi, the Khan of Kalat’s mountain estate. The meeting is cancelled due to the sudden ‘illness’ of the Khan. Balochistan consists of British Balochistan, the state of Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran; the latter three are placed under Kalat’s rule as fiduciary states by the British. Three months before Partition, Mr. Jinnah is in negotiations with the British on the future status of Kalat and of British Balochistan. After several meetings between Lord Mountbatten, Mr. Jinnah and the Khan, a Standstill Agreement between Pakistan and Kalat is announced on August 11, 1947, with a proviso that there will be further discussions with respect to an agreement on defence, external affairs and communications.

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat, on October 15, 1945. — Courtesy Khan of Kalat Family Archives

Mr. Jinnah then undergoes a change of thinking. His view is that Kalat should sign the Instrument of Accession, just as the other Princely States have done, but the Khan and the Dar-ul-Awam Assembly resist. By March 18, 1948, Lasbela, Kharan and Makran accede to Pakistan and on March 26, 1948, Pakistan’s Army moves into Jiwani, Pasni and Turbat. On March 28, 1948, the Khan agrees to merge his now landlocked state with Pakistan. The agreement is backdated to August 15, 1947.

Despite the many disagreements along the way, Mr. Jinnah’s efforts succeed in winning the hearts and minds that matter.

1945-48: PESHAWAR


Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is presented with a traditional loaf of bread in Peshawar by Afridi chiefs in November 1945. — Courtesy National Archives 

In this second visit to the NWFP, Mr Jinnah addresses rallies in Peshawar, Mardan and in the tribal areas. Since 1937, a Congress-Redshirt government is in power in the NWFP. The Muslim League’s popularity is surging amidst Muslim dissatisfaction that although Hindus and Sikhs account for only seven percent of the representation in the Assembly, the British Government has accorded them a disproportionate 24% of the seats.

However, the problems in the NWFP are not communal; they arise from a clash between the Hindu-financed Congress-Redshirt government and the Muslim League, and are further complicated by the tribes who, broadly speaking, are in sympathy with the Muslim League.

In February 1947, the Muslim League launches a civil disobedience movement against the Congress-Redshirt government, which rapidly gains momentum. As Partition approaches, the Congress agree to the British proposal to hold a referendum on the future of the NWFP. In June, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan announces the boycott of the referendum and calls for the establishment of an independent state for Pakhtoons called ‘Pathanistan’. The stock of the Congress-Redshirt government in the NWFP plummets and the momentum swings to the Muslim League.

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Landi Kotal on April 11, 1948. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

This is Mr Jinnah’s third visit to the NWFP; he spends 10 days touring the province from Khyber to Gomal. This special equation between Mr Jinnah and the tribesmen is a major factor in the Muslim League’s landslide victory in the 1947 referendum on the decision to join Pakistan. Mr. Jinnah has secured the Frontier for Pakistan.



Saeed Haroon – a salar (commander) of the Muslim League National Guard and former National Guard ADC to Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, leads a procession towards Boulton Market in Karachi.— Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

The All-India Muslim League National Guard, founded in the United Provinces in 1931, is a quasi-military organisation associated with the Muslim League. The goal of the National Guard is to mobilise and inspire young Muslims with the values of tolerance, sacrifice and discipline. In 1934, the National Guard is given a further boost by Mr Jinnah and the organisation spreads across all the states of united India to activate participation in the Pakistan Movement.

The rally pictured here is met by a mammoth crowd raising the twin slogans of “Leke Rahenge Pakistan” and “Leke Rahenge Kashmir.” This rally in Karachi is part of an overall effort to mobilise all sections of the country in favour of Pakistan in the wake of Independence.

This photograph of Saeed Haroon was taken by Margaret Bourke-White and appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1947 and subsequently as part of a series of images in Life magazine’s cover story on Pakistan in January 1948.



Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah stands in the study of his South Court residence on Mount Pleasant Road in Malabar Hills, Bombay’s most exclusive residential neighbourhood. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

We are a few weeks before Mr Jinnah’s final departure for Karachi, where he will be sworn in as Pakistan’s first Governor General.  For the moment, he is still able to enjoy the pleasures of his well-appointed home in Bombay.

A long journey has taken him from being the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity to becoming the sole spokesman for the Muslims of undivided India. This remarkable transition in his political career is analysed in The Sole Spokesman, a groundbreaking work by Pakistani historian, Dr Ayesha Jalal.

Single-handedly Dr Jalal transforms the whole prism through which Mr Jinnah’s career is viewed after his return from a self-imposed exile in London, and her work is a source of inspiration for many subsequent historians in South Asia and abroad, including the former Indian foreign minister, Jaswant Singh.

Here, Dr Jalal explains the dynamics of the concept of the sole spokesman.

Mr Jinnah was representing a divided Muslim community that needed to speak with one voice in order to be effective in the negotiations to determine independent India’s constitutional future. So when Mr Jinnah spoke to the British and the Congress, he claimed to represent all Muslims – be it in Muslim majority provinces or in Muslim minority ones.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Jinnah had been styled the “ambassador for Hindu-Muslim unity” by his political mentor in the Congress, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Here, by contrast, Mr Jinnah himself claimed to be the sole spokesman of all Indian Muslims, a tactic that was intended to counter the Congress’s claim to speak on behalf of all Indians and paper over the cracks within the Indian Muslims. The remarkable corollary to this was that throughout his political career, Mr. Jinnah consistently championed minority rights. He demonstrated this aspect in his first address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in August 1947 and in subsequent statements in the post-independence period. There was a paradoxical side effect to Mr Jinnah’s claim to be the sole spokesman of the Muslims in India. The Congress used Mr Jinnah’s demand for Muslim self-determination to insist on similar rights for non-Muslims in the two main Muslim majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab.

Pressed by the Hindu Mahasabha, the Congress high command called for the partition of these two provinces in March 1947, turning Mr Jinnah’s idea of an undivided Punjab and undivided Bengal for the Muslim state of Pakistan on its head. This is why, concludes Dr Jalal, “it is a mistake to confuse the demand for Pakistan with the truncated Pakistan that emerged after the partition of Bengal and Punjab.”



Lord Mountbatten announces the British Government’s plan for the Partition of India. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

Earl Louis Mountbatten of Burma, the last viceroy of India is seated in his study at Viceroy House. To the right are Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan and Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar (for the Muslim League). To the left are Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Acharya Kripalani (for the Congress) and Baldev Singh (representing the Sikhs). Seated behind Lord Mountbatten are General Lord Ismay (right), his chief of staff, and Sir Eric Miéville (left), his private secretary.

It is June 3, 1947, and failed viceregal initiatives, such as the Simla Conference, the London Conference and the Cabinet Mission Plan – even the killings of Direct Action Day – are matters to be left behind. All hopes for a united India are dead. The sole question is how to proceed with the division of India.

Lord Mountbatten announces the British Government’s plan for the Partition of India, to be implemented under the Indian Independence Act, 1947. British India will be divided into two new and fully sovereign dominions with effect from August 15, 1947. Bengal and Punjab will be partitioned between the two new dominions. Legislative authority is conferred upon the Constituent Assemblies of the two dominions and British suzerainty over the Princely States ends on August 15, 1947.

The meeting is followed by separate broadcasts on All India Radio by Lord Mountbatten, Mr. Nehru, Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Singh. This is the parting of ways. A few weeks later, Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Nehru assume their responsibilities respectively in Karachi and Delhi.

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan at the former’s residence at 10, Aurangzeb Road. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

A lawyer by training, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan enters politics in 1923. Throughout the struggle for Pakistan, he is a close associate and friend of Mr Jinnah. After Mr Jinnah’s death, his name appears as one of three executors of his will.

He serves as Pakistan’s first prime minister until his assassination on the grounds of Company Bagh, Rawalpindi, in 1951.



Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah delivers his reply to the Viceroy’s address at the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan to mark the transfer of power between the British Government and Pakistan and India. — Courtesy National Archives 

 Three days earlier, on August 11, 1947, at the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly in Karachi, Mr. Jinnah delivers a landmark address, setting out some of the key components of his vision for Pakistan. On the subject of the freedom of religious expression he says: “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state… We are all equal citizens of one state.”

Now, Mr Jinnah prepares for the Dominion of Pakistan to assume power… Lord Mountbatten has returned to his seat after delivering his address to mark the transfer of power. In his speech Lord Mountbatten says: “I would like to express my tribute to Mr Jinnah. Our close personal contact and the mutual trust and understanding that have grown out of it are, I feel, the best omens for future good relations…”

Mr. Jinnah, dressed in a white sharkskin sherwani, in measured extempore and with a few notes in his hand, replies: “Your Excellency, I thank His Majesty the King on behalf of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and myself for his gracious message… Great responsibilities lie ahead… It will be our continuous effort to work for the welfare and well-being of all the communities in Pakistan…”

The next day, Mr Jinnah will be sworn in as Pakistan’s first Governor General by the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Mian Abdul Rashid

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Miss Fatima Jinnah, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lady Edwina Mountbatten face jubilant crowds as they leave the Constituent Assembly. — Courtesy Directorate of Electronic Media and Publications [DEMP], Ministry of Information Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad


Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is sworn in as the first Governor-General of Pakistan. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad


“I, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, do solemnly affirm true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of Pakistan as by law established, and that I will be faithful to His Majesty King George VI, in the office of Governor-General of Pakistan.”

It is Friday, August 15, 1947 and as Mr. Jinnah speaks these words, as enunciated in the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the culminating moment of his long struggle for Pakistan is at hand. The oath of office is administered by Mian Abdul Rashid, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court (Mian Abdul Rashid later becomes the first Chief Justice of Pakistan). A thirty-one gun salute follows immediately.

 Next, the first Cabinet of Pakistan is sworn in. Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan is appointed as the first Prime Minister. Cabinet Ministers include I.I. Chundrigar (Trade & Commerce); Malik Ghulam Muhammad (Finance); Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar (Communications); Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan (Food, Agriculture & Health); Jogendra Nath Mandal (Law & Labour); and Mir Fazlur Rahman (Interior, Information & Education).
Following these ceremonies, Mr. Jinnah, resplendent in a white sharkskin sherwani, walks towards the naval guard and acknowledges their salute. Although it is the month of August, the day’s heat dissipates under slightly overcast skies and the light incoming winds from the Arabian Sea.

Mr. Jinnah walks down the steps of the cascading patio and on to the lawns of Government House, where dignitaries, diplomats, government functionaries and political veterans wait to congratulate him. On the outside perimeter, cheering crowds gather, intent on catching a glimpse of their Governor-General.
The last image of Mr. Jinnah and Miss Fatima Jinnah on this historic day is of them waving from one of the balconies of Government House as the Pakistan flag flutters in the wind.



Muslim refugees from East Punjab and the United Provinces climb atop trains at Amritsar Railway Station to head towards Lahore. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

Immediately after Partition, massive population exchanges occur between India and Pakistan. Six-and-a-half million Muslims move from India to West Pakistan and 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs from West Pakistan to India.

Only thirty-two miles separate Amritsar from Lahore. Hindus and Sikhs constitute about a third of Lahore’s population and in Amritsar, Muslims account for half of the city’s population. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have links in both cities; some have their homes in one and their businesses in the other. Then Partition intervenes and from August to November 1947 huge caravans of refugees from both cities join the mass exodus; Muslims are fleeing from East Punjab and Hindus and Sikhs from West Punjab.

This exodus is accompanied by unprecedented violence on both sides and is most tragically witnessed in the attacks on trains crammed with refugees, and the arrival of trainloads of corpses at both ends of the railway line. The violence destroys 4,000 houses in Lahore and most of the 6,000 houses in the Walled City are badly damaged. Amritsar is the worst affected city in Punjab, with almost 10,000 buildings burnt down.

Hindu refugees wait to board ship at Karachi Harbour and embark for Bombay. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

Although in the second half of 1947 Sindh is still relatively free of communal violence, Hindus and Sikhs begin migrating to India. According to noted Sindh historian, Dr Hamida Khuhro, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah “fully expected to retain the minority communities in Pakistan” and Ayub Khuhro, his Chief Minister in Sindh, declares the “Hindus to be an essential part of the society and economy of the province.”

Yet, events spin out of control as violence breaks out in Ajmer on December 6, 1947, and then in the Thar Desert, where Muslim casualties are high. On January 6, 1948, anti-Hindu riots break out in Karachi and the situation is aggravated when new arrivals from India forcefully take possession of houses in Karachi and Hyderabad that are still occupied by their Hindu owners.

In September 1947, according to estimates published by the Times of India, 12,000 non-Muslims leave Sindh for Mewar and other Princely States via Hyderabad (Sindh) and approximately 60,000 non-Muslims leave Karachi by rail, sea and air. In Bombay alone, 290,000 non-Muslims arrive on January 7, 1948 after leaving Karachi on August 15, 1947.

1947: AUGUST 


Too weak to walk on her own, a woman sits on her husband’s shoulders as Sikhs and Hindus brave the unforgiving October heat during their migration to eastern Punjab from Lahore. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

Sir Cyril Radcliffe arrives in India on July 8, 1947. His instructions are to draw up a boundary line between India and Pakistan by August 15, 1947. His objections to the short time frame are ignored. The problem is that Punjab’s population distribution is such that no boundary can divide Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims without massive disruption.

The Commission has four representatives; two from the Congress and two from the Muslim League. But the bitterness between the two sides means that the final decision is Sir Cyril’s alone. As soon as the Commission announces the demarcation line on August 17, 1947, mass migration movements erupt, as Hindus and Sikhs in West Punjab move east, and Muslims in East Punjab move west.

Over the following days, the migrations assume staggering proportions and the violence on all sides of the communal spectrum is catastrophic, and estimates of the death toll vary between 200,000 and two million.

Mr. Radcliffe leaves India immediately after completing the demarcation, destroying all his papers before departing. In 1966, W.H. Auden, the celebrated English poet writes a poem on Mr Radcliffe’s Partition, evoking the difficulties of his task:

“Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day/ Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,/ He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate/ Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date/ And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect/ …But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,/ A continent for better or worse divided.”

Punjab was indeed torn asunder.

The road to partition. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi
The road to partition: Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

As Partition approaches in 1947, large convoys of Sikh and Hindu refugees head towards East Punjab, and Muslims flee to the two wings of Pakistan. This photo captures the tail end of this momentous period.



Mir George Ali Murad Khan Talpur II – “the boy prince of Khairpur” – at Faiz Mahal, Khairpur, in December 1947. He is seated on his throne holding a sword, while his Regent, Mir Ghulam Hussain Khan Talpur, looks on.— Courtesy Mir of Khairpur Family Archives

The Talpur rule in Sindh begins in 1783, when Mir Fateh Ali Khan Talpur of Hyderabad declares himself Rais of Sindh, having obtained a farman to this effect from the king, Shah Zaman Durrani. Mir Fateh Ali Khan Talpur’s nephew, Mir Suhrab Khan, settles in Rohri and establishes the foundations of the state of Khairpur.

Recognising the rising power of the East India Company, the Mir offers Khairpur’s assistance to the British during the First Afghan War. This is an astute move, as the continued existence of Khairpur is largely a consequence of this policy.

On July 24, 1947, the British depose the reigning Mir Faiz Muhammad Khan II due to his poor health and appoint his son, Mir George Ali Murad Khan Talpur II, as the ruling Mir. Because he is a minor, a Board of Regency is created with a rotating chairmanship made up of close male relatives of the Mir – Mir Ghulam Hussain Khan Talpur is one such regent.

In the early 1940s, Khairpur covers an area of 6,050 square miles, and its population is estimated to be in the region of 300,000, sixteen percent of whom are non-Muslims.

A large portion of the Lahore-Karachi railway track is within the State and this explains why the Government of Pakistan considers its integration important.

On August 4, 1947, the Khairpur government issues a notification that August 15, 1947 will be celebrated as Khairpur’s Independence Day. However, repeated efforts by the Government of Pakistan finally persuade Mir Ghulam Hussain Khan Talpur to sign the Instrument of Accession on behalf of the boy prince on October 3, 1947 – the same day as Bahawalpur accedes. Hence, on the same day, Pakistan gains two valuable Princely States, not only significant in terms of land mass, but in terms of agricultural land, nascent industries and strategic value.



Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Miss Fatima Jinnah enjoy high tea with the Amir of Bahawalpur, Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan Abbasi V, possibly at his retreat in Malir, on the outskirts of Karachi. Standing in a white suit, between the Amir and Mr. Jinnah, is his son, the future Nawab. On the extreme left, behind Miss Jinnah, is Colonel Hashmi, ADC to the Amir. — Courtesy Princess Yasmeen Abbasi Archive London

The Nawabs of Bahawalpur claim descent from the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad – and in this way distinguish themselves from the other ruling princes of India. They receive their first grant of land from Emperor Nadir Shah and subsequently come under the suzerainty of Ahmed Shah Durrani. When the Durrani Empire crumbles, they assume independence. However, the rise of Sikh power prompts them to sign a treaty with the East India Company in 1833, accepting the paramountcy of the Company.

Nawab Sadiq Abbasi becomes ruler of Bahawalpur at the age of 18 months, and until 1924, the state is ruled under the regency of his eldest sister.

In 1941, Bahawalpur has an area of 17,494 square miles and a population of over 1.3 million subjects. In 1947, the Nawab is in poor health; he is in England and is advised by his doctors to remain there. This is a crucial moment for Bahawalpur; the state has contiguous borders with India and Pakistan and can choose to accede to either country. Yet, no decision can be taken in the Nawab’s absence. Sir Penderel Moon, the historian and also Public Works Minister in the Bahawalpur Government, notes: “Jinnah, unlike the Congress leaders, was not hostile to the ruling princes and had no plans for sweeping them away or curtailing their powers.”

In April 1947, Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani, a Unionist minister from the Punjab is appointed prime minister of the state. As the date for the Transfer of Power approaches, rumours circulate that Bahawalpur may accede to India.

On August 15, 1947, Nawab Sadiq Abbasi declares himself Amir (independent ruler), announcing his willingness to enable Pakistan and Bahawalpur “to arrive at a satisfactory constitutional arrangement.” The Government of Pakistan, alarmed by Bahawalpur’s intentions, moves to ensure the state’s accession to Pakistan. Negotiations are stymied when the Nawab decides to return to England.

Despite rumours that Mr Gurmani is planning Bahawalpur’s accession to India, he does not oppose the accession; the only complication is the signature of the Amir, which he gives on October 3, 1947.

The Amir of Bahawalpur, Nawab Sadiq Mohammad Khan Abbasi V in full state regalia. — Courtesy Princess Yasmin Abbasi Archive London

Nawab Sadiq Abbasi is the last reigning ruler before Bahawalpur’s accession to Pakistan. He follows in the tradition of the Abbasid caliphs by travelling through his state in disguise in order to better understand what is required for effective governance.

He builds schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and an agricultural canal system to create more arable land in the desert. He possesses one of the finest stamp collections in the world and owns one of the largest collections of custom-made Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. He is known for his love of fine art objects and of fine food.



November 1, 1947 is the day when Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan accede to Pakistan.

Astore, Gilgit, Hunza and Nagar are part of territories conquered by the Dogra Maharajas. Their grip is tenuous and in 1889 the British create the Gilgit Agency as a means of turning the region into a buffer against the Russians. Then in 1935, the British lease the Gilgit Agency for a period of sixty years from Maharaja Hari Singh.

In 1947, Major William Brown, the Assistant Political Agent in Chilas, is informed that Lord Mountbatten has ordered that the 1935 lease of the Gilgit Agency (it still has 49 years to run) be terminated. Gilgit Agency, despite its 99% Muslim population, is to be allotted to the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh.

Meanwhile, stories of communal violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in the Punjab reach Gilgit, inflaming passions there. On October 26, 1947, the Maharaja signs the Instrument of Accession and joins India. (The signed document has never been seen.)

Sensing the discontent, Major Brown mutinies on November 1, 1947. He overthrows the governor, establishes a provisional government in Gilgit and telegraphs the chief minister of the NWFP asking Pakistan to take over. According to the leading historian Ahmed Hasan Dani, despite the lack of public participation in the rebellion, pro-Pakistan sentiments are strong amongst civilians.

Armed Pakhtoon tribesmen wait on a road between Peshawar and Rawalpindi for their leader Bacha Gul of the Mohmand tribe. — Excerpted with permission from Witness to Life and Freedom, Roli Books, Delhi

Upon hearing of Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India, these tribesmen wait for Bacha Gul to lead them into battle in Kashmir. They reach the outskirts of Srinagar before they are pushed back to the upper reaches of what constitutes today’s Azad Kashmir.

Resistance in Poonch starts over issues related to taxation, but soon turns into an armed uprising when a public meeting is fired upon by Kashmir state forces. Two days later, the chief minister of the NWFP organises a guerrilla force to attack the Maharaja’s forces in the Dheer Kot camp. According to Australian historian Christopher Snedden, it is the Muslims in the Poonch region of Kashmir who instigate the uprising and not Pakhtoon tribesmen invading from Pakistan, as India consistently maintains.

India’s case on Kashmir is built upon a version of events that asserts that India’s military intervention is in response to a tribal invasion supported by Pakistan. On January 1, 1948, India takes the issue to the UN Security Council. The Security Council pass a resolution calling for Pakistan to withdraw from Jammu and Kashmir and for India to reduce its forces to a minimum level, following which a plebiscite is to be held to ascertain the people’s wishes.

Dispute erupts over the implementation mechanism because of which the Kashmir problem remains unresolved to this day.



DP a
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah decorates Lieutenant Colonel M. Ahmad with the Military Cross for his services in Burma during World War II on March 20, 1948 at the Dhaka Cantonment. Major General Mohammed Ayub Khan, GOC Dhaka, stands between the two. — Courtesy Gauhar Ayub Family Archive

This is Mr. Jinnah’s last trip to Dhaka; had he lived beyond September 1948, he would certainly have made many more visits to the capital of East Pakistan.

Although the historic founding of the All-India Muslim League takes place in Dacca in 1906, it is Calcutta (which Mr. Jinnah frequently visits) that is the centre of politics in Bengal under British rule; it is only after Partition that Dacca becomes the political hub of the Muslim majority in Bengal.

Khawaja Nazimuddin is the Chief Minister of East Bengal. Now, political elements are stirring up issues of whether Bengali rather than Urdu should be the state language, thereby inflaming provincial sentiments among people. Mr. Jinnah has come to Dacca to clarify matters.

In a mammoth public meeting held in Dacca on March 21, 1948, he declares that “having failed to prevent the establishment of Pakistan… the enemies of Pakistan have turned their attention to disrupting the state by creating a split among the Muslims of Pakistan. These attempts have taken the shape principally of encouraging provincialism. If you want to build up yourself into a nation, for God’s sake give up this provincialism.”

A few days later on March 24, speaking at the annual convocation of Dacca University, Mr Jinnah says that people could choose to adopt the provincial language of their choice, but there could only be one lingua franca for the whole of Pakistan and that language should be Urdu.

General Ayub Khan becomes the second president of Pakistan after a military coup in 1958. He is forced to resign as president in 1969 after a popular uprising in East Pakistan and some other parts of the country. As a consequence of his military rule, East Pakistan and its capital Dacca are to be permanently lost to Pakistan a mere thirteen years later.



Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah turns his attention to an early musical score of Pakistan’s national anthem after inspecting an anti-aircraft regiment in Malir on February 21, 1948. — Courtesy Lahore Museum Archives

Mr. Jinnah’s personal interest in selecting the national anthem is indicative of his painstaking attention to detail about everything that touches upon Pakistan’s future. (His earlier care in designing the national flag, with its broad white band representing the minorities, is further evidence of the importance he attributes to these matters.)

It is not known whether this is the musical score composed by Ahmed Ghulamali Chagla and selected in 1949. The lyrics are written as late as 1952 by Hafeez Jullundhri. In 1954, the anthem is officially adopted as Pakistan’s qaumi tarana.

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan consult on national policy in the early days of Pakistan. — Courtesy Lahore Museum Archives

As Governor-General, Mr. Jinnah steers the nation’s policy, achieving significant results. He nominates Pakistan’s Federal Cabinet and in the absence of a constitution, amends and enforces the Government of India Act 1935. He reorganises the civil service and develops cordial relations with Pakistan’s neighbours and the West. On September 30, 1947, Pakistan becomes a member of the UN. Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan has an important role in these matters.

Critics state that the Jinnah-Liaquat relationship deteriorates during Mr Jinnah’s last days. Such conjecture fails to recognise the fact that Mr Jinnah never revoked his decision to nominate Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan as one of the three executors of his will – by no means a small matter for a person as particular as Mr Jinnah when it comes to his private matters.

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah inaugurates the State Bank of Pakistan in Karachi on July 1, 1948. He is accompanied by Zahid Hussain, the first Governor of the State Bank. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

For Mr. Jinnah “the opening of the State Bank of Pakistan symbolises the sovereignty of our state in the financial sphere.”

As per the Pakistan Monetary System and Reserve Bank Order 1947, the Reserve Bank of India is to continue to be the currency and banking authority of Pakistan until September 30, 1948. Mindful of this date, Mr. Jinnah performs the inauguration in advance of this deadline on July 1, 1948.



Zeenat Rashid, a captain of the Sind Women’s National Guard, practices how to use a lathi in Karachi on November 1, 194–Courtesy Seafield Archives

The Sind Women’s National Guard is a small group of about 25 to 30 teenagers who wear white uniforms, learn first aid and self defence, and encourage citizens to vote.

This photograph is taken in 1947 and Zeenat Rashid is 18 years old. Her father, Haji Abdullah Haroon, passes away five years earlier. Her mother, Lady Nusrat Abdullah Haroon, continues to be a dominant figure in the Pakistan Movement. As a captain in the Sind Women’s National Guard, Zeenat Rashid gathers 35 school friends to form the caucus of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s young women’s contingent.

She explains: “The Quaid-i-Azam said to us: ‘The women are standing shoulder to shoulder with the men. What are you young people doing?’” Zeenat Rashid’s answer to her hero was: “We are ready; what do you want us to do?”

Later, in an interview with Life magazine, she recounts that: “We were a symbol. Mr Jinnah wanted to show people that in Pakistan, women would do things. We didn’t cover our heads! What nonsense. We were a symbol of progress.”

Her grandest moment? It is 1947 and she is practising with the Sind Women’s National Guard, brandishing a lathi – it is then that Margaret Bourke-White captures these magical moments. The one above is part of a series of images in Life magazine’s cover story on Pakistan in January 1948.

By courtesy: This content has been independently produced by Dawn Media Group. UBL has paid for association with the content.













Indira Gandhi

Indiraji: an enigmatic and complex personality

Mrs. Gandhi was a multi-faceted person, who could at the same time be complex and simple, familiar and aloof, haughty and humble, sociable and lonely, tough and vulnerable, gentle and harsh, and many other things.

In a letter to Dorothy Norman dated 20 September 1959, Mrs. Gandhi wrote:

Are most people not just a split personality but several personalities? I feel I am and I have learnt to make all the separate personalities quite friendly with each other. But I still don’t know how to present them to the world. Different people see different me-s! — Indira Gandhi by Dorothy Norman

I am not sure if these traits were as friendly to each other as Mrs. Gandhi claims. However, interaction with different people brought out different aspects of her personality, and they assessed her accordingly.  She had an inner quality which remained untouched by the outer turmoil she faced, and there was a tremendous amount of turmoil in her life. Armed with this inner strength, she withstood many storms, both political and personal. At the same time, she could be vulnerable too. These were the many paradoxes in her life and personality. She was a loner; she shut herself in but didn’t shut others out. Actually, she had a wide circle of contacts and maintained relationships even with distant relatives and friends from her school days, and she participated in their joys and sorrows.

Benazir Bhutto with Shri Y.S. Parmar, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and the author in Shimla, 1972

Mrs Gandhi and the author at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece 1983

Mrs Gandhi with Melina Mercouri, Greek minister of culture and film actress, at the amphitheatre in Epidaurus, Greece, 1983

While Mrs. Gandhi could talk quite intimately with people, and this led some to form an impression that she was close to them, this was not necessarily so; an inner distance was always maintained. Another of her traits was that sometimes, when meeting a person with whom she was diffident about interacting, she would keep quiet and make notes or doodles. She generally kept her views close to her chest.

She was not a feminist, but proved the point through actions rather than words. Any reference to her as a woman prime minister used to irritate her. Mary Carras offers an interesting insight:

In her political demeanour [Mrs.] Gandhi rarely revealed any of the ‘feminine’ traits ascribed to women . . . In her public persona, she did not fit the female model as ‘nurturer’ or peacemaker. But in her dress and . . . bearing, she was very feminine . . . In the privacy of her home, with her children and especially grandchildren, she was decidedly a ‘nurturer’.

An important aspect of her personality, and so naturally of her work, was her quiet, subtle and unostentatious way of working. This was also reflected in the simple, natural, and yet aesthetic environment of her surroundings. Simplicity and economy were the keys to her personality. Her capacity for economy was visible in all aspects of her character and personality, even in her body movements and the way she packed for travel. She was often dissatisfied and irritated with the packing done by others and felt they wasted space. She often took out everything and repacked the bag herself in such a way that many more things could be accommodated.

The quality of economy was especially evident in her writing. She had the ability to grasp the essence and weed out the superfluous. She would have made a good editor. I noticed this right away when I started to work for her and was a one-person secretariat! A draft put up to her would come back chiselled, sharper in focus, with all verbosity slashed away. She was quite allergic to pompous, verbose and flowery language, which she felt generally diffused the meaning and power of the language. She liked to be provided the basic material, the inputs and the draft, but she then used them as raw material, as the craftsperson does to mould and shape the text to her own liking. She often rejected suggestions but negating them would often ignite her own creativity and expression. She worked on revising her special speeches and letters, even to children, until she was fully satisfied. In some cases, this would take hours and sometimes even days.

She was a quick reader and went through papers and books at quite a speed. At the same time, one felt that her reading was not superficial and that she had comprehended the essential points. Intrigued, I once asked her how she managed to do this. She said that first she skimmed over the words to get the sense. If the idea or language interested her, she then went over the text more slowly. Although the scope and amount of her work changed over the years, her style of work more or less remained the same. Work, leisure and family duties were never compartmentalized, but they flowed into each other. She worked best when many streams of activity interacted with each other, and while working with one task she could attend to numerous other activities as well.  For her, work and relaxation were intertwined, and she did not need separate periods to rest and relax. However, relaxation did not mean long periods of doing nothing. It was really doing something different, even if this was for a short time, such as reading, arranging flowers, sorting books or clothes or even watching television. While having lunch she often did crossword puzzles, which also perhaps helped her to defuse the tension, to relax, and to sort out her ideas.

Her day and her work did not have strict divisions. How much she could do in a day was amazing. With her organized and disciplined mind and her ability to grasp the essential without wasting time or energy, she could do much more in twenty-four hours than most people generally manage to do. She also followed an exercise regimen. If she could not get the time in the morning, she would do it on her return from the office in the evening.

Mrs. Gandhi was a very frugal eater. She used to have coffee, toast with honey, and fruit for breakfast while working in her room. Lunch consisted of simple Indian food in a ‘thali‘, eaten with the family in the dining room. Dinner was again light-fish or egg, steamed or baked vegetables–often in her room unless the whole family was eating together. She was not keen on desserts and watched her weight.

As Mrs. Gandhi’s mind worked all the time and since it was sometimes not
possible for her to convey her instructions and comments personally to the person concerned, she would often leave slips of paper for them.  Her interest in books stayed with her from her childhood till the end. She was happy in their company and liked to be in touch with the latest thoughts and writings. Even if she travelled out of Delhi for a day, books would accompany her. Books and journals would collect in her room over a period of time. Mrs. Gandhi’s powers of observation were quite extraordinary. Even when her mind was involved in serious business, she never failed to observe minute details of the people and the environment around her. Sometimes we would be together at a place and on our return, she would refer to many points of interest which, to my embarrassment, I had not noticed. Her sense of humour was subtle, often going above the heads of others.

However, to say that Mrs. Gandhi was always pleasant and good-humoured would not be true. There were many rough edges to her personality. The pressures she faced often produced irritation and eruptions of temper. While Panditji also used to lose his temper, with him it was like a cloudburst which subsided immediately and there was a blue sky thereafter. It was not always so with Mrs. Gandhi. She could nurse grudges for quite a long time and some lasted all her life. Sometimes she would become cool towards a person who would often be unaware of having given cause for offense, thus leading to an uncomfortable atmosphere. One learnt to give her time and space.

After she became the prime minister, however, such moods decreased because she became completely involved in many activities in her own right. This gave her not only a sense of fulfilment but also left her with less time to brood over hurts and grievances. Still, the tendency did not disappear, and though it was not always visible, it was sometimes, reflected in her behaviour in the political field as well.

Mrs. Gandhi was humane, compassionate, and sensitive, but she did not find it easy to be large-hearted and generous. Possibly that is why she especially admired her grandfather, Motilal Nehru, who had these qualities in abundance.

She took her work–political and official–in her stride and it did not submerge the feminine side of her personality, which extended to different areas, ranging from her interests in hospitality and interior decoration to personal grooming.

In spite of her tremendous work schedule, Mrs. Gandhi managed to retain her grace and elegance, which had both external and internal aspects. There was nothing sloppy about her. No doubt she had an eye for beautiful saris but she also possessed the ability to carry them off with élan, which many women do not have. During her visits abroad, Mrs. Gandhi’s dress sense and her well-turned-out appearance were admired. She, of course, had a natural elegance, but for the trips abroad much planning was involved behind the scene. A chart was prepared indicating the different occasions she would be attending. Mrs. Gandhi’s saris and accessories were decided upon with great care with her concurrence, and these were then entered into the chart in different columns. This resulted in no wastage of time, as everything was planned and her clothes and accessories were kept ready for her rushed schedule.

How does one sum up Mrs. Gandhi’s personality?

According to Mary Carras she mirrored India in many ways: in the contradictions within her personality, her penchant for synthesis, and her singular ability to evoke both hate and love — to alienate and to charm, to frustrate and simultaneously to delight. Carras adds that the motivation of her personality blended in unique ways with opportunities offered, by her culture and that only in the interaction between her environment and her personality can her political behaviour and outlook be understood.

Of course, this is only one interpretation. Mrs. Gandhi was an enigmatic and complex person, and there are bound to be many different interpretations concerning her.

Very early on, I realized that to preserve a relationship with our friend [Mrs. Gandhi] it was essential to preserve, or build up a certain detachment, otherwise one would inevitably become vulnerable to being hurt, not intentionally, but because friend is moody (letter dated 28 August 1983)Marie Seton

Complex facets of her personality emerged: one intimate, leisurely and provocatively intelligent with the strongest inclination for the company of creative people, the other side, businesslike cool in appearance and with a swift withdrawal to irritability . . . Panditji by Marie Seton

It was hard to decide if he was a very handsome man in a hacked out sculptural manner, or if he was distinctly devilish to look at. As a personality, he might have walked out of a primeval forest, . . . But in contradiction to this primal quality . . . his intellect was tempered to the most scintillating impersonal steel . . . It crossed my mind that this man might be possessed of a streak of what is called genius. –Marie Seton on V.K. Krishna Menon

Although he genuinely admired his father-in-law, he thought there was something counterfeit in the cult developing around Nehru. He intensely disliked being introduced as ‘the Prime Minister’s son-in-law,’ . . . This only encouraged him all the more to establish his own identity. As Indira found a substitute satisfaction in attending to her father’s needs, Feroze sublimated his energies in attending to the needs of his constituents and to parliamentary affairsIndira Gandhi: A Personal and Political Biography by Anand Mohan

He hated protocol, state banquets, formality in any shape or form . . . The children, under his care, would not have been so bedazzled by their proximity to power . . . Indira had grown up at a time when India was engaged in [the freedom] struggle . . . Rajiv and Sanjay by contrast were brought up in the shadow of power politics
The Nehrus and the Gandhis: An Indian Dynasty by Tariq Ali

She was charged with a fierce sense of responsibility. Mrs. Gandhi said, “I was looking after myself from the time I was three or four, and whether I was or not, I thought I was looking after my parents.” It was this feeling that made her fiercely protective when she saw her mother slighted or neglected or pushed into the background–Indira by Katherine Frank

When I went to live with my father at Teen Murti House, the residence of the Prime Minister, it wasn’t really a choice. My father asked me to come and to set up the house for him. There was nobody else to do it. So I set up the house, bit I resisted every inch of the way about becoming a hostess. I was simply terrified of the so-called social duties . . . I used to stay for a period of time and then go . . . It was a real problem because, naturally Feroze didn’t always appreciate my going away. I was living about half the month in Lucknow and half in Delhi, until Feroze became a member of the Parliament.Indira Gandhi, My Truth. 

For many months following Feroze’s death, Indira retreated into herself. When Indira was at last able to speak about his death, she said to me that it would have been a far greater tragedy for her had she and Feroze not discovered a revived understanding of each other during their month alone in Kashmir. This was her salvation. She confessed that on the day he died and people crowded about her, their sympathy only made her feel more alone in her stunned condition. Panditji by Marie Seton

I am sorry to have missed the most wonderful thing in life, having a complete and perfect relationship with another human being . . . for only thus, I feel, can one’s personality fully develop and blossomIndira Gandhi by  Dorothy Norman,

In February 1967 Mrs. Gandhi was on a tour of Orissa, and while she was giving a speech in Bhubaneshwar, some rowdy young people threw stones to disturb the meeting. A stone hit Mrs. Gandhi on the face and a nasal bone was cracked. When she returned to Delhi, she looked quite a sight and had to be in the hospital for a couple of days. Her vanity had been hurt by the injury, and being always conscious of her long nose, she wrote Dorothy Norman half in jest:

“Ever since plastic surgery was heard of, I have been wanting to get something done to my nose . . . I thought the only way it could be done without the usual hoo-ha was first to have some slight accident which would enable me to have it put right. But as you know, things never happen the way one wants them to.”

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Mrs Gandhi in the Lidder river in Pahalgam, Jammu & Kashmir, 1956


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By courtesy: Indiraji by Usha Bhagat, Published by the Penguin Group, Toronto Ontario 2005

The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship

The shield that India acquired was the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship concluded in Delhi on August 9, 1971. The treaty, which many Americans and Europeans tended to see as a virtual abandonment of India’s policy of nonalignment, had originally been proposed by Moscow and discussed by the two countries in considerable detail in 1969. That was the year when Soviet leadership was beginning to shed some of its suspicions about Indira’s ideological moorings originally fostered by her swift move to devalue Indian currency in 1966 under seeming World Bank pressure and by the warm welcome that President Johnson had accorded Mrs. Gandhi during her visit to Washington soon after she became Prime Minister. Not only had Brezhnev and Kosygin seen indications of India’s moving closer to the United States under Indira’s leadership, but Indira in her turn had her own reasons to be wary of Soviet intentions. It was about that time Moscow endeavoured to adopt a nonaligned posture in the affairs of the subcontinent and started for the first time supplying arms to Pakistan in the hope of gaining certain political leverage with its military rulers. The quantities of arms given to Pakistan were limited, but they were enough to distress India. Also, during a visit to New Delhi in the beginning of 1968, Kosygin offered Indira advice about affairs in Kashmir and management of various Soviet-collaboration industrial projects that to Indira’s sensitive ears sounded not like friendly counsel but unwarranted interference. By the middle of 1969, however, both sides had overcome much of their suspicion and realized the fruitlessness of drifting apart. Indira’s confrontation with the Congress Party Old Guard and her close association with the Communist Party of India, the Moscow-affiliated section of Indian Communists, in her temporary tacit coalition government, brightened her image in Brezhnev’s eyes. Additionally, Moscow by then had found that its decision to supply arms to Pakistan was yielding no noticeable dividends and, much to India’s satisfaction, had resolved not to make any fresh commitments.

The suggestion that India and the Soviet Union should sign a friendship treaty was, however, greeted by many Indian leaders with hesitation and a marked lack of enthusiasm in 1969. Indira’s advisers were divided among themselves over its political implications. The treaty, some argued, would bind India too closely with the Soviet Union for it to function with complete independence—and would needlessly antagonize its Western friends. If the bear could hug, it could also bite, they pointed out. Others held that fears about impairment of India’s independence and nonalignment were exaggerated and that India had gathered sufficient self-confidence and political stability to be able to join a partnership even with a superior power without limiting its freedom of action. This group among her advisers argued that any misunderstandings the treaty might cause in India’s relations with Western powers would be temporary and outweighed by the enormous political, psychological, and even military gains that the arrangement would offer.

Durga Prashad Dhar, a progressive Kashmiri leader then newly appointed Ambassador to Moscow, suggested a compromise. India, he said, might discuss and even finalize the treaty, but it should be concluded formally only at some future time that both parties might consider opportune. The Prime Minister favoured this approach and, when Moscow signaled its willingness to accept such an arrangement, ordered the discussions to begin. She, however, directed Dhar and others entrusted with the negotiations to bear in mind two points: The treaty, she told them, should contain nothing that might make India look like “a client state of the Soviet Union.” Also, the phrasing of the document should not draw attention unduly to the clause relating to mutual collaboration in the event of a threat to a signatory’s security.

By the beginning of 1970 the draft of the treaty had been finalized. Dhar and others had made it clear that a friendship treaty between India and the Soviet Union would be meaningless if the Russians had any intention of resuming their supply of arms to Pakistan.  The Indian representatives had also balked at the excessive bluntness in the language of the early draft stating each country’s responsibility to come to the military assistance of the other; the language originally favoured by Moscow virtually made it imperative for each party to offer military support to the other in the event of a war. Indira and her colleagues were anxious to keep the commitment somewhat hazy for fear of the friendship treaty’s looking like a mutual defence pact, and Clause 9 of the final draft, which provided for mutual consultations in the event of either party’s being subjected to an attack, or a threat of one, was largely the result of Indian reluctance to enter into an explicit defense commitment.

The decision to quickly dust off the treaty and formally sign it was taken by India only in the beginning of August. By then the number of refugees who had crossed into West Bengal had already risen to over 6 million. The conscience of the world community had remained distressingly unmoved by this tragic uprooting of humanity. The nations and their governments, it was felt in India, were shirking their duty by hiding behind a clause in the U.N. Charter forbidding interference in the “internal affairs” of a member country. Surely, Indira told numerous diplomats, newsmen, and various audiences, those who had drafted the Charter could not have imagined or anticipated the scale on which genocide was being committed in a part of Pakistan. By regarding the military crimes in East Pakistan as a domestic problem of Yahya Khan’s government, the world, she said, was observing the letter of the Charter provision and ignoring the real spirit of the total document. In any case, with millions of Pakistanis crossing into a neighbouring country in an endless stream, the situation she stressed repeatedly had become an international problem. World inaction could not be justified. But her pleas elicited little positive response from abroad. As the weeks passed, India’s grievance over other nation’s indifference rapidly turned into an obsessive sense of isolation. Why was it that no one did anything effective to lessen the enormous burden India was carrying alone? Many in India asked in despair and puzzlement. Legislators as well as newspaper writers wondered why it was that neither of the two superpowers, which regarded themselves as the guardians of world peace, nor various European nations claiming to live by superior political and moral values, nor even any of the Arab countries, which had a refugee problem of their own and whose cause India had steadfastly espoused, had come forward to roundly condemn Pakistan and ask Yahya Khan to desist from mass terror. When Indira remarked that words of praise for India irritated her and noted that Pakistan, instead of being rebuked, was still receiving material help, she was not merely expressing her own very deep-seated exasperation but also a national feeling of being without friends.

Something dramatic was needed to change that mood of frustration and helplessness. It came when Andrei Gromyko arrived suddenly in New Delhi on August 7. Dhar, who had by then left the Moscow post to be a special adviser to the Prime Minister at Indira’s bidding, had hurriedly persuaded the Soviet Government to sign the treaty at that moment. In the earlier stages of the East Pakistan conflict Moscow’s appreciation of the problem had been remarkably like that of the Nixon Administration in Washington. Before his arrest Sheikh had been in touch with Soviet and American diplomats and with what he regarded as consummate skill in playing one power against the other had made all kinds of promises to both in the event of his coming to power. That combined with some double-talk by Yahya Khan had encouraged Moscow to hope that the Soviet Union would be able to persuade both sides to share authority, thus earning good will all around. When the massacre that followed Sheikh Mujib’s arrest at the beginning of March, however, revealed the naiveté of the Soviet assessment. Kosygin wrote Yahya Khan a personal letter protesting the bloodthirstiness of his troops. The Soviet leaders were disturbed, moreover, by the unreserved support that Peking had offered the Pakistan Government. When, therefore, Dhar suggested that the treaty be concluded, they responded with alacrity. (Few reports could be farther off the mark than the one in the New York Times four days after the signing of the treaty, suggesting on the authority of a secret CIA informant in the Indian Government that Indira had extracted the Soviet signatures as the price for deferring formal recognition of Bangladesh. At stake on both sides was much more than the recognition issue.)

The move to resurrect the document and sign it publicly was one of the best-kept secrets in the Indian capital. Besides Indira, not half a dozen persons knew about the last-minute exchanges with Moscow. The Indian Cabinet was informed of the Prime Minister’s decision to enter a treaty arrangement with Moscow just half an hour before the accord was due to be signed by Foreign Minister Gromyko and Swaran Singh. The announcement about the conclusion of the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty had the expected impact on the morale of the Indian public. A few brief expressions of skepticism apart, people received it exuberantly. In their view, it meant that in the affairs of the subcontinent the Soviet Union at least was no longer sitting on the fence. Through the treaty, the Russians promised India support in the war with Pakistan that by then seemed almost certain to come. The treaty also issued to the United States and China an implicit warning that they would intervene in the conflict on Pakistan’s side only at the risk of elevating it into something bigger than a limited war between two relatively backward countries. Most Indians were grateful for this assurance and praised Indira for her adroitness in securing for them.

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Pakistan and the Bangladesh War

The Indian Perspective

Tremendous though it was at the time, Indira’s power did not attain its peak with the unexpected and overwhelming electoral victory she won for her party in the beginning of 1971. In the following twelve months, she was to face a challenge much bigger than the one the Congress party “Old Guard” had posed, and her remarkable success in tackling it was to impress the world and turn the substantial but routine political support of her own people into what was for many months real, if sometimes frenzied, adulation. The threat to India’s security came from its neighbour and old adversary, Pakistan, but because of the way the situation developed in the subcontinent the United States and the Soviet Union, particularly the former, also got deeply involved, politically and diplomatically, in the conflict.

About the time Indira and her supporters in India were jubilantly watching the announcement of the parliamentary election results, Yahya Khan, Pakistan’s military dictator, and other leaders in that country were confronted with an unnerving situation that threatened to split their country governmentally as drastically as it was split geographically. Yahya Khan had come to power in Islamabad in March 1969, following a coup against his predecessor Ayub Khan. Yahya Khan had promised to hold elections and restore normal political institutions—some, including free elections and an uncontrolled press, abolished as far back as 1958. The general elections held in fulfillment of that promise gave the majority in the Pakistan National Assembly to the Awami League, the dominant party in the country’s distant eastern wing, 1,000 miles away across the intervening territory belonging to India. This party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was committed to securing maximum autonomy for East Pakistan. Not surprisingly, the prospects of a national government headed by Sheikh Mujib and autonomy for East Pakistan deeply agitated the ruling groups in West Pakistan, which had until then enjoyed power and economic benefits almost exclusively.

Plainly, Yahya and those who supported the junta had not visualized such a development. (While visiting Islamabad, Henry Kissinger, was asked by a half-drunk Yahya Khan at a banquet, “Do you think I am a dictator?” Reportedly, the U.S. national security adviser quipped, “Mr. President, for a dictator you run a lousy general election.”) Efforts at a compromise between the Awami League and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had emerged as the principal leader of the western wing, failed. Yahya then sent several divisions of Punjabi troops to Dacca, the capital city of East Pakistan. There ensued a barbaric attempt to put down the largely Bengali, protesting citizenry, Hindu and Muslim alike. As all those who understood the Bengali mind, but as Yahya Khan apparently did not, the brutal use of force by their countrymen, instead of overawing the East Pakistanis, stiffened East Pakistan’s resolve to end the western wing’s dominance.

Mujib and some other Bengali leaders were arrested. Many others eluded Yahya Khan’s police, however, and went underground in East Pakistan or across the border in India. And as a ragged but fiercely determined guerrilla force came into being, the Awami League’s ultimate objective changed from autonomy within Pakistan to complete independence for the 75 million people in a country that now tentatively adopted for itself the name of Bangladesh.

Mrs. Gandhi vehemently denies the Pakistani charge that the Bengali uprising drew its inspiration from and what was later sustained by India. “India had no part in the internal development of Pakistan—West or East,” she says. The sympathy of the Indian Government however, as well as of the public undoubtedly was with Sheikh Mujib. Pakistan’s Western wing leaders had trod on Indian toes so frequently since the partition of the subcontinent that to see them discomfited and to consider the possibility of Pakistan’s breakup as a nation caused widespread satisfaction in India. Furthermore, at a later stage of the liberation movement, the Mukti Bahini, or Freedom Fighters, received considerable help from India in training and equipment. But in March 1971, when the conflict began, India was distinctly not involved in what Indira described as the “battle that Pakistan was waging against its own citizens.” Those close to Indira testify that there was no link—direct or otherwise—at that time between Indira or any of her authorized representatives and Sheikh Mujib—if for no other reason than she was too deeply engrossed in her own political survival to mastermind a revolt in a neighbouring country. She was then still fighting her political opponents at home with grim earnestness, and so complete was her involvement in that battle that she deferred attention to all other matters, however pressing. While the political drama in Dacca was moving to its bloody second act, Indira was engaged in the hectic election campaign during which she travelled over 40,000 miles. On many days, she was at places deep in the interior of the country where news of what was happening in East Pakistan often did not even reach her.

The Pakistani Army’s vicious crackdown in Dacca began as Indira, after celebrating her victory in the elections, was getting her new government in Delhi on the rails. Most of the Western newsmen who congregated in Dacca to watch Pakistan’s constitutional tussle work itself out were forcibly prevented from witnessing the atrocities that the West Pakistani troops were ordered to commit in the hope of terrorizing the Bengali populace into submission. But before the Military Governor of East Pakistan summarily debarred the press—no exception was made even in the case of correspondents from traditionally pro-Pakistani conservative papers in Britain and the United States—many visiting newsmen had seen enough of what was beginning to occur or evidence of the earliest atrocities to write dispatches that made their readers’ stomach turn. In the organized burning of villages, destruction of crops, mass shooting of innocent people (whose bodies were left to be devoured by vultures), and the rape of tens of thousands of Bengali women, many Western reporters saw terror equaling, perhaps surpassing, that which the Jews had suffered in Hitler’s Germany.

It was inevitable that the Indians would be much more deeply affected by the gory developments in and around Dacca than were people living continents away. Dispatches from British and American newspapers were reproduced in the Indian press, but Indians had even more graphic and moving accounts of what was happening from those East Pakistanis who began crossing into India by the thousands before the Pakistani Army’s “campaign” was a month old. Despite the barrier that partition had erected between them, Indian and Pakistani Bengalis had maintained strong cultural and emotional ties over the years. The Hindus in East Pakistan constituted a defenseless minority and were the special target of the Pakistani Army’s venom. Most of those who now fled to India were, therefore, Hindus. Many Hindus believed that the Pakistani Army repression was designed primarily to rid East Pakistan completely of its non-Muslim population, and the anger aroused was widespread. In Parliament and the press there were some who from the start seriously advocated war with Pakistan to stop the terror and influx of refugees. Indira, deeply affected by the tragedy, later wrote in Foreign Affairs:

We would normally have welcomed the attainment of freedom by any victim of colonial oppression but usually it would have little direct impact on us. Bangladesh, however, was a part of our subcontinent. How could we ignore a conflict which took place on our very border and overflowed into our own territory?

It was only a short time before the conflict between the two wings of Pakistan spread into India. Since the partition of the two countries in 1947, Pakistan had driven out several million of its Hindu citizens, who had crossed into India in periodic waves. Thus, East Pakistani Hindus seeking refuge in the Indian state of Bengal were by no means an uncommon phenomenon. They arrived, destitute and in a state of shock following sudden, inexplicable outbursts of religious hatred or equally inexplicable acts of official highhandedness in their homeland. In the decade following independence, nearly 4 million Hindus from East Pakistan had been reluctantly absorbed into India—their expulsion viewed as an unfortunate extension of the communal frenzy that had seized people in both countries at the time of partition. But over the years the pace had slowed almost to a trickle and by now, twenty-fours after independence, official as well as public attitudes towards having to offer them permanent refuge had changed. In March 1971 over 10 million Hindus were still in East Pakistan. They were citizens of Pakistan. India considered the lengthy chapter in the subcontinent’s history devoted to exchange of persons finally closed. Not that Indians would shut the door in the face of the terror-stricken. Poor in the world’s terms as their country was, they would look after these new refugees from Pakistan as best as they could—but it had to be understood that the refugees’ stay must be short. They were East Pakistanis and in time they must return home.

Indira Gandhi wondered if Pakistan was trying to solve one of its problems by driving out the 10 million people whose presence as citizens it found “inconvenient.” As April gave way to May and June, another aspect of the steadily rising influx that worried her was its possible impact on the area in India into which refugees were streaming. West Bengal bordering East Pakistan was – and still is—among the most thickly populated and politically restive parts of India. The state had a history of administrative instability, and sizable sections of its volatile people had earlier tried to seek power through Maoist attempts at organized violence. The arrival of many refugees was liable to strain the area’s limited economic resources and the ensuing frustration might well encourage further violence. From the very start, therefore, Indira was quite clear in her mind that irrespective of the fact that many of them were Hindus, the East Pakistani refugees must return home. And in the beginning of October 1971, by which time a staggering 9 million refugees had entered India, she told BBC, “We have no intention of absorbing these people here—no matter what. I am absolutely determined about it.”


When, during that terrible summer and early autumn, Yahya Khan protested that what his army was doing in East Pakistan was the country’s internal matter and many abroad appeared to agree with him, Indira, through Indian and international news media, reacted strongly. The problem in East Pakistan was not of India’s making: “We have never interfered in any way in the politics of Pakistan,” she said. “But Pakistan can no longer pretend that this is its internal problem.” With millions of helpless Pakistani citizens entering India, “it has become an internal problem for us and it has become a major problem of humanity, a question of conscience and of the protection of people’s lives and rights,” she asserted. India’s Foreign Minister Swaran Singh, whom she dispatched that summer to London, Washington, Moscow, and other major capitals to explain the implications of the refugee influx, told various heads of governments that what India was experiencing was a “civilian invasion.” As the verbal battle mounted, Yahya Khan, equally angry but less decorous, told a correspondent of Le Figaro in August that Indira “is neither a woman nor a head of state by wanting to be both at once.” Should he come face to face with her, he would say to her, “Shut up woman; leave me alone and let refugees come back,” he declared.

Not many even among Yahya Khan’s friends abroad seriously believed that India had any interest in deliberately holding back Pakistani refugees from returning home, as Yahya Khan was now claiming. For one thing, the overwhelming nature of the strain on India’s resources was obvious. Several special taxes, including a substantial surcharge on the postal rates, were levied temporarily to raise additional revenue burdening an already weak economy. India was then spending $5 to $6 million daily to feed the refugees and provide them with some improvised shelter and basic medical care (an outbreak of cholera in epidemic form was narrowly averted). When torrential rains hit West Bengal, the refugee camps turned into vast marshy lakes. The more fortunate among the residents were those who had had the initiative to establish squatting rights in large concrete sewer pipes awaiting installation. U.N. observers, volunteers of numerous relief organizations, visiting U.S. senators and congressman, British M.P.s, and scores of reporters from all over the world wrote or spoke of the miserable conditions in which the refugees had to live and the sacrifice that India was required to make to keep them there at all and alive, even if in misery. Despite these reports there were those who sometimes inquired in apparent innocence why India did not “let the refugees return home” as Yahya Khan had suggested. Snappishly, Indira pointed out the absurdity of the return-home “invitation.” How could any refugees be persuaded to go back when tens of thousands more of their countrymen were arriving every day with new horror stories to tell and with evidence in their blank eyes and scarred bodies of the continuance of the terror from which they had fled?

Even those who expressed admiration for India for the way it offered succor to the terror-stricken did not always please Indira. After a while, in fact, such expression of praise became, she said, “a bit of an irritant.” India’s efforts, she believed, were being dismissed with flattering words. Meanwhile Pakistan was continuing to get material help from the United States and China. The world, she often said with exasperation, even bitterness, as the situation steadily worsened, was not doing its moral duty towards the people of Bangladesh. Instead of condemning Pakistan for the “callous, inhuman, and intemperate” butchery that its military apparatus had organized, most countries were merely appeasing their consciences or their isolated groups of outraged citizens by praising India or offering some food, clothing, and medicines for the refugees.

There could be “only one solution,” she told an Italian journalist:

Conditions must be created in East Pakistan, Bangladesh as it is called, in which there is not military terror but normal democratic functioning of the people’s will, so that the refugees are enabled to return to their homes and their safety is guaranteed. The rulers of Pakistan must be made to see that there is no other way. It is the duty of every country which has any influence with Pakistan to impress the truth upon them.

But Indira’s hope that the world community would exert the required pressure on Pakistan’s military junta was, and all along had been, slender. Early in the conflict in East Pakistan, she had come to feel reasonably certain that the Western wing’s repressive hand would not be withdrawn until too late, and that East Pakistanis, particularly Hindus would continue to flee from terror in massive numbers while the world held back from action to end the tragic situation. Armed conflict with Pakistan, she and her advisers had begun to reason, might become unavoidable if her resolve to send back the refugees was to be fulfilled.

As early as the beginning of April 1971, soon after she had formed her new Cabinet, Indira had issued formal directions to India’s army chief, General S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, to prepare for the eventuality of a war. As he told an interviewer, Manekshaw (who had since been promoted to be India’s first field marshal) was impressed by the “clarity of the briefing issued to me by my political command.” The influx of the refugees he was told, was expected to continue and was creating economic, social, and psychological burdens that India could bear for no more than ten months to a year. If the government’s efforts to find a peaceful solution of the problem failed during that period, the armed forces would be ordered to achieve “the specific objective of opening the door” for the refugees to return home. While preparing for the task, he must keep in view the fact the international situation and the political pressures that India would likely to invite upon itself in the event of a war with Pakistan would permit the army only “three to four weeks” to achieve the objective. Besides allowing herself time to search for a peaceful solution, Indira’s ten-month deadline for the refugees’ return presumably considered the time Manekshaw must need to prepare the army for the conflict and the fact that from June until September the monsoon would make any swift military operation impossible.

While they were helping her make the necessary preparations for a war, the Prime Minister’s advisers also warned her against getting the country involved in battle at a time and place of Pakistan’s choosing. Pakistan could be expected to launch an attack from its Western wing, where its military power was considerable, and to occupy a certain amount of Indian territory before responding to the almost certain Security Council for cease-fire. If that happened, India would find itself in an embarrassing predicament. It would have to pull back its troops from East Pakistan to have its own territory in the western area surrendered by Yahya Khan’s troops. Also, the Bangladesh problem would then be internationalized, which would give Islamabad all the time it would need to put down the Bengali uprising. The Political Affairs Committee of the Cabinet, over which Indira presided, therefore considered that India must be strong enough to deliver a quick, effective blow in the East while defending its borders in the West. It must also acquire a shield against big-power pressure for halting the conflict before the return of the refugees to their homeland was secured.





USA and Indira

The Indian Perspective

In sharp contrast to her success with Moscow, Indira’s attempt to persuade Nixon to exert pressure on Yahya Khan to stop the killing and come to terms with Mujib was a singular failure. Yet in the protracted confrontation between them over the issue, Nixon, not Indira, appeared the real loser. In the view of much of the world—and, indeed, of many Americans—the Nixon Administration seemed to be supporting Pakistan and courting Peking at the expense of the freedom seeking people of Bangladesh.

Neither in their assessment of the real nature of the problem in East Pakistan nor over the correct way to resolve it did the U.S. President and Indian Prime Minister see eye to eye. From the time when the military crackdown began in East Pakistan until the end of the war that established the new state of Bangladesh, the two leaders held a lengthy dialogue through public pronouncements as well as private communication. The whole time, however, they seemed to be talking at cross-purposes. The stubbornness with which Nixon refused to take what Indira regarded as effective action in Pakistan puzzled legislators and political writers in both countries. Perhaps, as some reasoned, Nixon felt morally obliged to stand by a friendly country in the time of its crisis and prevent its disintegration. Perhaps he was irked more than his predecessors in the White House had been by India’s continuing policy of nonalignment, its seeming partiality to Moscow, and often arrogant posture in world politics. However, it is reasonably certain that personality factors also counted for much in the lack of rapport between him and Indira.

Between him and Pakistan, Nixon was known to have feelings of much greater warmth towards the latter. When he visited Pakistan soon after his defeat in the 1960 election, Nixon was accorded a hero’s welcome. Pakistanis remembered his role in the conclusion of a mutual security pact in 1954 and the accompanying supply of U.S. arms that had been part of John Foster Dulles’s policy of containing Communism. That Nixon was no longer in the U.S. Government had seemed scarcely to matter to his Pakistani hosts. In the spring of 1967 he had a similarly heartwarming reception when he returned as a private citizen, to the subcontinent. By the summer of 1969, when, as U.S. President, he passed through the region, an element of slight chill had entered the two countries’ relationship owing to Pakistan’s acceptance of arms from Moscow. Yahya Khan, who had by then displaced Ayub Khan as the country’s military dictator, was also personally unknown to Nixon. However, during the single day that the American visitor spent in Lahore—he had expressed his inability to go up to Pakistan’s capital in Islamabad—the two reportedly developed a strong sense of personal affinity. The bond grew in strength and warmth in 1971 when Yahya Khan’s government agreed to provide the line of communication with Peking as the Nixon Administration sought to re-establish relations with the Communist Chinese Government and enabled Henry Kissinger to take off from a Pakistani military airport on his historic secret mission to China’s capital. Earlier that year, when heads of governments from all over the world assembled in New York to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Yahya Khan was among those who readily responded to Nixon’s invitation to travel to Washington for dinner in the White House. At the dinner, other guests noticed that when a noticeable tipsy Yahya Khan indulged in some buffoonery, Nixon, his own normally puritanical ways notwithstanding, looked with amused indulgence.

Nixon’s experience with India has been totally different. During his 1961 visit to the subcontinent he was almost ignored in New Delhi. The only official function in his honour was lunch by the then Finance Minister Morarji Desai, who served him an indifferently cooked vegetarian meal and some blunt, biting comments about the United States and its alliance with Pakistan. During his 1967 global tour his stop in New Delhi brought him a meeting with Indira, who had just been re-elected Prime Minister. But the meeting held at her house was brief, and Indira had little to say to him. She could, in fact, scarcely conceal her boredom with her visitor. After about twenty minutes or so of desultory chat, she inquired of the Indian Foreign Office official escorting Nixon how much longer the interview would last. The question was asked in Hindi, but its tone indicated its purport. In 1970 Indira, also visiting New York for the U.N. celebrations declined Nixon’s invitation to dinner without offering any plausible reason for her inability to accept.

Perhaps inevitably, therefore, as 1971 progressed and the Bangladesh grew in dimension, the dialogue between Nixon and Indira acquired an increasingly shrill, abrasive character. Both looked at the same happenings. But what each saw was quite different from what appeared important to the other. Both claimed and doubtless believed that they were striving to keep peace on the subcontinent and to minimize human suffering. Both felt and behaved self-righteously about the way they were tackling the problem. As the gulf between them widened steadily with every passing month, their mutual dislike and distrust was evident to all.

At the outset Nixon acted with noticeable promptitude in expressing his disapproval of Yahya Khan’s policy of repression. In the beginning of April, the Administration stopped issuing and renewing licenses for military equipment for Pakistan and suspended the processing of a special $80 million arms sale to Pakistan to which the United States had committed itself the previous autumn over strong Indian protests. Economic aid was also stopped. On May 28, when the suspension of U.S.  arms supplies appeared to have little impact on the Pakistan Government, Nixon wrote to Yahya Khan urging him to end “civil strife and restore peaceful conditions in East Pakistan.” He also expressed his “deep concern” over the possibility that events might lead to “international conflict” in the subcontinent. To avert such an occurrence, he suggested that Yahya Khan create “conditions in East Pakistan conducive to the return of refugees from Indian territory as quickly as possible.”

As the American President analyzed it and explained later in his State-of-the-World Message to the U.S. Congress, the Bangladesh problem had three aspects—the humanitarian, the political, and the threat of war it posed in the subcontinent. Of these, he regarded the humanitarian problem involving the care of refugees who had fled to India as “monumental and immediate.” A political settlement between the Yahya Khan regime and Sheikh Mujib’s followers, he felt, would take time. His Administration, Nixon claimed in the message, had obtained assurances from Yahya Khan that Sheikh Mujib would not be executed and that the military governor of East Pakistan would be replaced by a civilian. He said that:

In August, we established contact with Bengali representatives in Calcutta. By early November, president Yahya told us he was prepared to begin negotiations with any representative of this group not charged with high crimes in Pakistan.

Indira showed no interest in the U.S. efforts. She regarded them as totally inadequate and liable to strengthen Yahya’s brutal hold on East Pakistan. Nixon’s action in suspending military and economic aid to Pakistan seemed to her no expression of a sense of moral outrage at the inhuman way Yahya Khan was “pacifying” East Pakistan but merely the compulsion to respond to pressures from the U.S. Congress, many of whose prominent members were shocked at what was happening. Indira was also irritated by the fact that a few days after William Rogers, then Secretary of State, had solemnly assured her Foreign Minister that no U.S. arms were being supplied to Yahya Khan, the New York Times disclosed that several million dollars’ worth of spare parts, some meant for lethal military equipment, were on their way to Pakistan. She found Nixon’s priorities concerning the Bangladesh problem topsy-turvy. By assigning top priority to refugee, relief, the Administration was merely shifting attention away from the basic malady, she contended. Unless there was a satisfactory political settlement in East Pakistan the flow of refugees into India would not and could not stop—and none of the millions who had already entered India could be induced to return home. In any case it was preposterous, as she saw it, for the U.S. Government to advise Yahya Khan, as it apparently did, to grant amnesty for the refugees, instead of asking him to atone for his army’s crimes against them.

Indira was also unimpressed by Nixon’s claim that as part of his quiet diplomacy U.S. officials had established contact with Bengali leaders in Calcutta and that he was hopeful of useful negotiations beginning soon between Yahya khan and Mujib’s men. From India’s own intelligence sources, she learned that the individuals contacted were of low political status and could neither speak on behalf of their imprisoned leader nor even influence the course of the Bangladesh freedom movement. By insisting on talking only to those Bengali leaders who were not accused of “crimes,” Yahya had debarred from such parleys almost all Bengali leaders of any political consequence. Nixon was seen to be knowingly exaggerating Yahya Khan’s willingness to negotiate with East Pakistani leaders or respond to U.S. initiatives. Despite his close friendship with the Pakistani dictator, the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Joseph Farland had been refused permission to meet Mujib in jail. While the White House publicly proclaimed that the U.S. Embassy had been allowed to establish contact with Mujib, all that Farland had in fact been permitted was to talk to Mujib’s lawyer. Even that privilege was rendered useless by the lawyer’s refusal to meet any U.S. Embassy official. But Nixon quietly disregarded the lawyer’s curt no and continued to give the impression that a major political break-through had been secured—one that India, he implied, lamentably chose to ignore. Nixon’s own Ambassador in India, Kenneth Keating who knew about the lawyer’s refusal was puzzled by the White House claim and a cable to the State Department protested the seeming distortion of facts.

What distressed Indira and many others in the country more than anything else was Nixon’s attempt to equate India with Pakistan. It was Pakistan’s military rulers who were responsible for tragedy and turmoil in the subcontinent. India was the indirect victim of their tyrannical actions. Why should the U.S. Government treat India as one of the culprits in the situation and deliver it periodic sermons on the importance of keeping peace? It was asked. About the same time Nixon wrote to Yahya, he sent a personal letter to Indira that “the problems involved in this [Bangladesh] situation can and should be solved peacefully.” He said he was deeply concerned that the situation not develop into a war between India and Pakistan “either because of the refugee flow or through actions which might escalate the insurgency which may be developing in East Pakistan.” Rogers was less circumspect in warning India when he met the Indian Ambassador in Washington on August 11. The United States, he bluntly told the envoy, would stop all economic aid to India should India precipitate a war with Pakistan. To Indians such warnings appeared totally unmerited and unjust and a clear indication of the Nixon Administration’s strong bias in favour of Pakistan and its President.

Irritations, exasperation and suspicions apart, Indira’s attitude remained determined by one basic consideration. The East Pakistani refugees must go back. She pressed for Mujib’s release, because she was convinced only he could negotiate a settlement acceptable to Bangladesh and create the climate of peace and confidence essential for the refugees return. She objected to the timetable for the restoration of civilian rule in East Pakistan that Nixon proposed, because it was so slow-moving that it would take years before any solution to the refugee problem could be found. With passage of time the refugees’ inclination to return to East Pakistan would subside, for they would have begun to grow social, cultural, and economic roots in India. Indira Gandhi told a cabinet colleague in the autumn of 1971 that “if the refugees do not go back soon they will never go.”

Having to feed, clothe, and house 9 to 10 million Pakistanis for an indefinite period was a burden heavier than that of going to war to secure their return. India was dedicated to peace, but it was not committed to preserving peace at all costs. Economic and political stability was more precious than peace, and that is precisely what Indira told Nixon when she met him in Washington in the beginning of November in a final effort to persuade him to use his influence with his friend in Pakistan for a quick and effective solution of the East Pakistan problem.

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In Washington 1971

The meeting got off to an inauspicious start. At the customary reception on the White House lawn, Nixon went out of his way to refer to a news report that morning about monsoon floods in the State of Bihar and to offer Prime Minister Gandhi his sympathy over the hardship that must have caused a portion of her countrymen. However, he pointedly omitted any mention of the Pakistani refugees who had endured much deeper suffering for a considerably longer period than the flood victims in Bihar. To Indira, it seemed a calculated political affront combined with a measure of personal callousness to mention a relatively minor and routine calamity—floods in certain parts of India are an annual occurrence—while ignoring the bigger tragedy. Even though the reception was strictly a protocol function, Indira was not about to let her host get away with it. In a speech quickly redrafted minutes before the ceremony, she pointedly admonished Nixon for referring to a natural disaster while ignoring a “man made tragedy of vast proportions.” She had come to Washington, she told him, “in search of some wise impulse, which, as history tells us, has sometimes worked to save humanity from despair.”

 At other public functions in her honour, too, pleasantries and compliments hid an occasional political barb. The private talks, as the Columbia Broadcasting System reported at the end of her visit, “had many tense moments.” Contrary to the impressions given to newsmen at White House briefings, the Indian Prime Minister never gave Nixon an assurance that India would not resort to war if peaceful efforts failed to give the country relief from the refugee problem. If anything, she told the U.S. President that, should a war start, it would not be a limited one, by which she meant hostilities would not be confined to the eastern wing of Pakistan or merely to the use of ground forces. She refused to accept the U.S. plea for withdrawal of forces from India’s borders with Pakistan. That Pakistan had accepted the suggestion did not impress her. Having been attacked thrice by Pakistan since independence, India, she pointed out, had no faith in Islamabad’s promises or in any assurance that its friends might offer on its behalf. India was not interested in Pakistan’s breakup, but it was also not committed to the preservation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity, she said. Nixon was equally firm in expressing his disagreement with her views. He was not convinced that Mujib alone could negotiate a political settlement with Yahya Khan. Much useful ground, he argued, could be conveyed by any of his nominees. He reportedly urged her to order Indian troops to pull back from the border and to use her influence with the Bengali guerillas forces to end their insurgency. On her return home, she was satisfied with her reception in Washington and that she had had a sympathetic hearing. But much of that was just polite talk. Both Indians and Americans who had followed the course of her talks had little doubt about the failure of her mission.

In London, Bonn, and Paris, cities she visited as part of the same mission that had taken her to Washington, Indira received much greater sympathy and understanding. But in these capitals, too, she sensed little desire to exert any pressure on Yahya Khan. She returned home convinced that a major conflict with Pakistan was unavoidable and that should that war come the Nixon Administration would try its utmost to prevent India from attaining its objective. Those who met her at that juncture noticed little evidence of trepidation or sense of despair on her part. Some recall even an air of buoyancy around her, as if she had been rid of the enormous burden of making a difficult decision. Militarily, the situation had changed in India’s favour in the preceding months. Manekshaw had finalized his plans and had received all he had asked for to prepare his men for the war. The monsoon had ended and a quick and decisive action was possible. India had collected extensive intelligence about deployment of Pakistani troops and the Mukti Bahini, the Bengali freedom fighters, had attained some measure of strength, training and confidence. The West Pakistani troops, conversely, were physically fatigued by their own excesses and demoralized by the sea of venom and hatred that surrounded them. Pakistani aircraft and naval ships had to travel 3,000 miles to bring supplies and replacements from West to East Pakistan. An Indian plan for Bengali insurgency had been in operation for some months, and guerillas trained and equipped on Indian soil—Indira had made no secret of her government’s support for them—had been committing increasingly daring acts of sabotage. Harassed Pakistani soldiers would often cross the border into India chasing them or shell their hide-outs and camps, only to invite upon themselves sharp Indian reprisals. There was no better time for the inevitable trial of strength.

The question, however, remained, and the one over which Indira and her four Cabinet colleagues on the Political Affairs Committee agonized almost daily was: How and at what point should India intervene militarily in the Bangladesh situation? Manekshaw, who was usually invited to attend the committee’s meetings, was quite sanguine. He told them, “Do not worry. . . Yahya Khan will give us what we want without his knowing it . . . He would at any moment commit an obvious folly. Then we would move.”

Yahya Khan committed the expected act of foolishness on December 3, nearly three weeks after the Prime Minister’s return home following her unsuccessful diplomatic endeavour. Pakistani Air Force planes suddenly struck at Indian Air Force stations at Srinagar, Amritsar, Agra, Ambala, Pathankot, and three other points near the western border. Pakistani artillery also began heavy shelling of several strategically important points along the Indian border. Yahya khan had not only offered the justification India needed for its military intervention but had even given a warning of his action. On November 23, he had publicly announced that war with India would begin in ten days.

Though all precautions had been taken against sudden Pakistani attack—the damage to Indian Air Force stations was negligible—Indira apparently had not regarded Yahya Khan’s war timetable too seriously. On the day of the Pakistani air attack she was nearly 1,000 miles away from the capital delivering a speech in Calcutta. The Defense Minister and almost all other members of the Political Affairs Committee, the body supposed to deal with emergency situations, were either abroad or touring different parts of the country. Indira was in the midst of her speech when the news of the Pakistani air attack was conveyed to her. She wound up her address rather abruptly and returned to Delhi by then shrouded in total darkness as a precaution against further Pakistani air raids. When someone in her party expressed concern about her security and pointed out that the Pakistani Air Force might attack her aircraft, she reportedly snapped back, “Well, if it does, what is the Indian Air Force for?” At about ten o’clock that night she went on the air to announce to the country that it was at war with Pakistan and that a state of emergency had been declared. During her brief broadcast she said:

Since last March, we have borne the heaviest burden and withstood the greatest pressure in a tremendous effort to urge the world to help to bringing about a peaceful solution and preventing the annihilation of an entire people . . . But the world ignored the basic causes and concerned itself only with certain repercussions . . . Today the war in Bangladesh has become a war on India. . .. We have no other option but to put our country on a war footing.

The war, as Manekshaw had predicted, was “short and bloody—quick and decisive.” It ended in India’s victory. Pakistani soldiers fought stubbornly, almost ferociously, but the superiority of Indian strength and diverse advantages Manekshaw had over his adversary overwhelmed them. The Indian Army chief knew the terrain in East Pakistan like the palm of his hand. Before his appointment as the head of the Indian Army, Manekshaw had held the Eastern Command. There he was entrusted with the task of watching over security of the entire eastern region from West Bengal and Sikkim to Assam and the region bordering with Tibet and Burma. In that post “I had nothing to do except read maps,” he said, and he never ceased to think of what might need to be done in the event of a war between India and Pakistan. “Sometimes I used to shut my eyes and recall, even in the dark, the map of East Pakistan—its plains, rivers, and cities. The picture was vivid in my mind all the time and in full detail,” he told a visiting editor. He also knew and understood the person against whom he was pitched. Two years before India’s partition Yahya had been a major in the British Indian Army unit that Manekshaw commanded. He knew the Pakistani dictator to be “a very stupid man” who could “not control his nerves.” What was more, his study of the power structure in Pakistan convinced him that at the top “the Pakistani political and military mind was confused.” As a result, their armed forces’ faith in it was shaken. The control of the political and military leadership “was weak and its lines [of communication] were feeble,” he said.

On the Indian side, there was no evidence of confusion in thinking or inadequacy of communication between the political leaders and military commanders. Indira claims that her relations with the chiefs of the Indian Army, Air Force, and Navy were marked by complete mutual trust. She respected their judgment and advice in tactical and technical matters, and they retained confidence in her assessment of the political aspects of the situation. Manekshaw, for example, decided to avoid capturing big cities as the Indian Army moved into East Pakistan, for he felt the control of big urban areas placed an unusually heavy strain on the army’s resources; Indira promptly accepted his reasoning, even though the psychological and political advantages of capturing well-known towns and cities was tremendous. Similarly, when it was decided to deploy the air force to attack targets not only in the East, but also in the West, and that the Navy should shell the Karachi harbour; the service chiefs readily accepted her directive against “terror bombing” or hitting civilian population. In any event, the Indian forces moved forward so steadily and the war ended so quickly that there was scarcely a situation that might require extraordinary “control over nerves” or bring to the surface elements of “confusion in the political and military mind” in New Delhi.

Curiously, it was left to President Nixon to introduce into the conflict the only element of high drama. Four days after the beginning of the war he ordered part of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to sail into the Bay of Bengal. For many this was a startling development, immediately raising the specter of a wider and protracted war. Indian officials and the press angrily denounced the U.S. Government for employing gunboat techniques of a bygone era. The public was in an uproar. But Indira says the news that the U.S.S. Enterprise was heading towards Dacca caused her “amusement,” not worry. What was it that the fleet could have done? She asks. All that its dispatch demonstrated, she recalls, was how little Nixon understood the situation in the subcontinent. She did not give this assessment at the meeting of the Political Affairs Committee summoned urgently late that evening to study the development, but, as those present remember, she was cool and unfluttered. At the meeting Manekshaw said the most that the Seventh Fleet would attempt would be to establish a beachhead to evacuate some of the top Pakistani civilians. Some argued that the U.S. act was nothing but sabre-rattling on Nixon’s part. There was, however, a touch of nervousness and worry in their demeanor even as they said that. Despite the widespread indignation in the country, Indira adjourned the meeting (“we have a busy day ahead of us”) after directing that the conduct of war should remain unaffected by the impending arrival of the U.S. nuclear-armed ship. Perhaps it was an empty threat, or perhaps Washington was impressed by India’s angry response or belatedly noted the hazardous implications of its move, but the fleet was ordered to sail back long before it could come anywhere near Indian or Bangladesh waters.

Indira was not amused by some American actions. As was expected, the United States moved to ask the U.N. Security Council for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of troops. While urging this course of action, the U.S. chief delegate to the United Nations, George Bush, accused India, bluntly and repeatedly, of being the aggressor. He not only ignored the fact that Pakistan had taken the first major military step towards war by bombing Indian airfields but also charged that India was anxious to annex territory in the Western wing and was conspiring to bring about Pakistan’s total disintegration. As days passed and the U.S. efforts to secure withdrawal of Indian forces from East Pakistan were thwarted by the Soviet veto, Bush’s diatribe against Indira and Indian leaders acquired a sharper, more wounding tone. In Washington, in the meantime, the administration had summarily adjudged India the aggressor and stopped all economic aid. It even froze the $88 million in assistance for which commitments had already been made and formal contracts signed. Through Kissinger, Nixon also ordered all departments of the government to follow the policy of a “tilt” against India. Kissinger went to the extent of directing that “henceforth we show a certain coolness to the Indians; the Indian Ambassador is not to be treated at too high a level.” Of the Indian Prime Minister, Kissinger said at a secret White House meeting, “the lady is cold-blooded and tough.”

On December 15 Indira reacted to the administration’s anti India stance and in a letter to Nixon asked sorrowfully if he as “President of the great American people will at least let me know where precisely we have gone wrong before your representatives or spokesmen deal with us with such harshness of language.” She told him that “we are deeply hurt by the innuendos and insinuations that it was we who have precipitated the crisis and have in any way thwarted the emergence of solutions.” The letter was not merely a sentimental plea for greater sympathy. Indira also bluntly told Nixon how his administration had failed the people of Bangladesh and must share the responsibility for the tragedy. War between India and Pakistan, she said, could have been avoided “if the power, influence and authority of all the States and above all the United State, had got Sheikh Mujibur Rahman released . . . Lip service was paid to the need for a political solution, but not a single worthwhile step was taken to bring this about.”Nixon, obviously chagrined by the U.S. failure to prevent the breakup of Pakistan and embarrassed by the naiveté of his Seventh Fleet move, refused to accept Indira’s criticism of his role. In a confidential letter, he sent her on December 18, he rebuked India for having “spurned” efforts and proposals that the United States had been making to find a peaceful solution to the Pakistan problem and instead having chosen war as an instrument of policy.” His administration, he wrote, was not against India. What it opposed was the resort to military means when political resources for a solution had not been fully explored. To Indira’s remark in her letter that “there are moments in history when brooding tragedy and its dark shadows can be lightened by recalling great moments of the past,” Nixon responded by remarking curtly that “there are times when statesmanship could turn the course of history away from war.”

That Nixon was mollified scarcely worried the Indian people. Under Indira’s leadership their country had won a war that, apart from being more decisive than the three earlier military conflicts with Pakistan, had led to the breakup of an intensely hated neighbour and secured the creation of a new nation, Bangladesh. Pakistan, as an Indian columnist tritely wrote in a Delhi newspaper, had been “cut to size.” The victory washed away the humiliation the Indian people had nursed for almost a decade since the border war with China. Their adoration of Indira—no other word can be used to describe the public attitude towards her in the beginning of 1972—was heightened by the fact that she could twit a world leader of Nixon’s stature. Throughout the country, as the refugees began to go home to Bangladesh hopes were high that now at last India under Prime Minister Gandhi would be recognized as a power of consequence—a role that many Indians had yearned for in the twenty-five years since independence.


A Military Debacle

 G.A. Custer, Lieutenant Colonel Seventh Cavalry, is young, very brave, even to rashness, a good trait for a cavalry officer–William T. Sherman

On June 25, 1876, while leading the 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory against a coalition of Native American tribes, he and all his regiment—which included two of his brothers—were killed. The battle is popularly known in American history as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Custer and his regiment was defeated so decisively at the little bighorn that is has overshadowed all his prior achievements.

George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars.  Armstrong Custer’s first charge as a General, on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, was a disaster, and he barely managed to escape with his hide (though not his horse). His final charge, against a large Plains Indian village on the banks of a winding river, was also calamitous. Between the two, he led a charmed life, attributable by some to chance – “Custer’s luck,” as he and both friends and enemies termed it — and by others to good fortune’s true components: preparation, analysis, confidence, and decisive action.

During the Civil War, Custer was frequently termed “The Boy General” in the press, reflecting his promotion to brigadier general at the age of 23.

During his years on the Great Plains in the American Indian Wars, his troopers often referred to him with grudging admiration as “Iron Butt” and “Hard Ass” for his physical stamina in the saddle and his strict discipline, as well as with the more derisive “Ringlets” for his vanity about his appearance in general and his long, curling blond hair.

His detractors claimed that he loved nothing better than a charge. They were right. They also accused him of recklessness, of acting without thought or deliberation. They were wrong about that. Custer had an uncanny ability to process what he saw, what he heard, and what he knew — the intelligence available in a situation — and then make a considered decision in an incredibly short amount of time. “He was certainly the model of a light cavalry officer,” said one of General Wesley Merritt’s staff members, “quick in observation, clear in judgement, and resolute and determined in execution.” Time and again in the last two years of the Civil War, after his promotion to Brigadier General, his subordinate officers observed ” the Boy General” decide on a split-second course of action that turned out to be the right thing to do at the time. It did not take more than a charge or two to make a believer out of anyone. By war’s end, only a few skeptics remained, and they tended to be resentful officers who were older and less successful. The men who served under Custer swore by him and claimed that they would follow him into hell itself.

After the Civil War, Custer remained a major general in the United States Volunteers until they were mustered out in February 1866. He reverted to his permanent rank of captain and was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the 7th Cavalry Regiment in July 1866. He was dispatched to the west in 1867 to fight in the American Indian Wars. On June 25, 1876, while leading the 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory against a coalition of Native American tribes, he and all his regiment—which included two of his brothers—were killed. The battle is popularly known in American history as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Custer and his regiment were defeated so decisively at the Little Bighorn that it has overshadowed all his prior achievements.

On July 28, 1866, Custer was appointed lieutenant colonel of the newly created 7th Cavalry Regiment, which was headquartered at Fort Riley, Kansas. He served on frontier duty at Fort Riley from October 18 to March 26, and scouted in Kansas and Colorado to July 28. 1867. He took part in Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s expedition against the Cheyenne. On June 26, Lt. Lyman Kidder’s party, made up of ten troopers and one scout, were massacred while en route to Fort Wallace. Lt. Kidder was to deliver dispatches to Custer from General Sherman, but his party was attacked by Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne (see Kidder massacre). Days later, Custer and a search party found the bodies of Kidder’s patrol.

Following the Hancock campaign, Custer was arrested and suspended at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to August 12, 1868 for being AWOL, after having abandoned his post to see his wife. At the request of Major General Sheridan, who wanted Custer for his planned winter campaign against the Cheyenne, Custer could return to duty before his one-year term of suspension had expired and joined his regiment to October 7, 1868. He then went on frontier duty, scouting in Kansas and Indian Territory to October 1869.

Under Sheridan’s orders, Custer took part in establishing Camp Supply in Indian Territory in early November 1868 as a supply base for the winter campaign. On November 27, 1868, Custer led the 7th Cavalry Regiment in an attack on the Cheyenne encampment of Chief Black Kettle — the Battle of Washita River. Custer reported killing 103 warriors and some women and children; 53 women and children were taken as prisoners. Estimates by the Cheyenne of their casualties were substantially lower (11 warriors plus 19 women and children). Custer had his men shoot most of the 875 Indian ponies they had captured. The Battle of Washita River was regarded as the first substantial U.S. victory in the Southern Plains War, and it helped force a significant portion of the Southern Cheyenne onto a U.S.-assigned reservation.

In 1873, Custer was sent to the Dakota Territory to protect a railroad survey party against the Lakota. On August 4, 1873, near the Tongue River, Custer and the 7th Cavalry Regiment clashed for the first time with the Lakota. One man on each side was killed. In 1874 Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and announced the discovery of gold on French Creek near present-day Custer, South Dakota. Custer’s announcement triggered the Black Hills Gold Rush. Among the towns that immediately grew up was Deadwood, South Dakota, notorious for lawlessness.

Grant, Belknap and politics


Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, 7th U.S. Cavalry, ca. 1875

The expedition against the Sioux was originally scheduled to leave Fort Abraham Lincoln on April 6, 1876, but on March 15 Custer was summoned to Washington to testify at congressional hearings. These concerned the corruption scandal involving U.S. Secretary of War William W. Belknap (who had resigned March 2), President Grant’s brother Orville, and traders at Army posts in Indian Country, who were charging troops double what they would have paid for the same goods in Bismarck, North Dakota. (Soldiers were required by regulations to purchase goods from the traders.) Belknap had been selling trading post positions.

After Custer testified on March 29 and April 4 before the Clymer Committee, Belknap was impeached and sent to the Senate for trial. Custer left Washington on April 20, but instead of immediately returning to Fort Lincoln, he visited the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and planned to travel to New York City to meet with publishers. Custer’s testimony was a sensation, both because of what he said and because he was the one saying it. Custer was sharply criticized by the Republican press and praised by Democratic editors.

President Grant held up Custer’s departure from Washington. Grant and Custer did not get along. Earlier, Custer had arrested Grant’s son, Fred Grant, for drunkenness. Now, Custer was accusing Grant’s brother and Secretary of War of corruption. Additionally, Custer was writing magazine articles criticizing Grant’s peace policy towards the Indians.

Brigadier General Alfred Terry determined there were no available officers of rank to take command, but Sherman refused to intercede. Stunned that he would not be in command, Custer approached the impeachment managers and secured his release. General Sherman advised Custer not to leave Washington before meeting personally with President Grant. Three times Custer requested meetings with Grant, but was always turned down.

Custer gave up and took a train to Chicago on May 2, planning to rejoin his regiment.  On May 3, a member of Sheridan’s staff greeted Custer in Chicago. President Grant had ordered Custer’s arrest for leaving Washington without permission. President Grant had designated General Terry to command the expedition in Custer’s place. Custer took a train to St. Paul to meet General Terry.

Brigadier General Terry met Custer in Fort Snelling, Minnesota on May 6. He later recalled, “(Custer) with tears in his eyes, begged for my aid. How could I resist it?” Terry wrote to Grant attesting to the advantages of Custer’s leading the expedition. Sheridan endorsed his effort, accepting Custer’s “guilt” and suggesting his restraint in future.

Grant was already under pressure for his treatment of Custer. His administration worried that if the “Sioux campaign” failed without Custer, then Grant would be blamed for ignoring the recommendations of senior Army officers. On May 8, Custer was informed at Fort Snelling that he was to lead the 7th Cavalry, but under Terry’s direct supervision.


President Ulysses S. Grant



Major General Philip Sheridan, Custer’s mentor


By the time of Custer’s Black Hills expedition in 1874, the level of conflict and tension between the U.S. and many of the Plains Indians tribes (including the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne) had become exceedingly high. Americans continually broke treaty agreements and advanced further westward, resulting in violence and acts of depredation by both sides. To take possession of the Black Hills (and thus the gold deposits), and to stop Indian attacks, the U.S. decided to corral all remaining free Plains Indians. The Grant government set a deadline of January 31, 1876 for all Lakota and Arapaho wintering in the “unceded territory” to report to their designated agencies (reservations) or be considered “hostile”.

 Sheridan to Terry & Crook at Omaha HQ: order for operations against hostiles on Feb 8. 1876. Before leaving Fort Snelling, Custer spoke to General Terry’s chief engineer, Captain Ludlow, saying he would “cut loose” from Terry and operate independently from him. Several companies of infantry will accompany the 7th to man the supply depots while Custer searched for the enemy from his base up the Yellowstone River. Steamers would freight supplies up the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Dakota Column comprised 12 companies of 7th Cavalry, 3 infantry companies & battery of Gatling Guns.

The Campaign

Sioux War Country 1876; The Little Bighorn Campaign 1876; Area in Detail; The Battlefield 25 June 1876.


Area Detail



June 25, 1876

Battle of the Little Bighorn

Montana Column from Fort Ellis– eastwards in western Montana Territory; Colonel John Gibbon; 5 companies of infantry & 4 cavalry troops under Major James Brisbin, 400 men, 2 Gatling Guns. 

At the outset of the campaign, Terry had ordered Gibbon’s smaller command to move down the Yellowstone to the mouth of the Bighorn River, prevent any Indians from getting away to the north, and strike a hostile camp only if the opportunity arose. His Montana column had been encamped some twenty miles east of the mouth of the Bighorn since April 20. The next day a dispatch from Terry ordered him to stay put until the weather delayed Dakota column got underway.

May 16: Lieutenant James Bradley spotted  an immense Lakota camp on Rosebud Creek. Upon hearing Bradley’s report, Gibbon ordered his command on May 17 to cross the Yellowstone and strike at the encampment but the fast flowing river prevented a surprise attack. 

Gibbon moved his command downstream to the mouth of the Rosebud  on May 21, four days after the failed river crossing in response to his scout’s report of a large body of Indians headed that way. He found no Indians but established a new camp there. 

On May 27, Bradley reported that the village he had espied eleven days earlier had now grown to almost five hundred lodges and moved from the Tongue River to Rosebud, the next waterway to the west. Gibbon did not take any action but wrote to Terry about the sighting of a large enemy village. The report was delivered to Terry by courier a week later. 

On May 28 pursuant to fresh orders from Terry to move east toward the Little Missouri, he began marching downriver Yellowstone to join the Dakota column against the hostiles then believed to be in the vicinity. After more tan 5 weeks on the Yellowstone, Gibbon’s command of almost 500 men had accomplished little. Indians seemed indifferent to the soldiers in the north.

Wyoming Column from Fort Fetterman-north from Wyoming, Brigadier General George

March 1. two companies of infantry & ten troops of cavalry under Colonel Joseph J. Reynolds (55 years age).

March 8: wagon train sent back with all tents and bedding to increase mobility.

March 16-Crook splits command into Reynolds with strike force of 400 men and remained behind with 4 companies.

Cheyenne band of 50 lodges led by Old Bear attacked Crook’s column which blundered and returned to Fort Fetterman.

June 11: Crook reached Goose Creek to establish a base camp there.

June 16: Crook marches out with four days rations leaving wagon train and pack train behind under guard to increase mobility. (1300 men, including 175 infantrymen mounted on green wagon mules). Spots the Indian camp which shifted from Rosebud to Little Big Horn on June 15.

On the afternoon of June 16, two Cheyenne hunting parties stalking a herd of buffalo came upon Crook’s Wyoming column. The chiefs of all the tribal circles met in one large council and after a discussion advised prudence. A course of action was decided upon the insistence of young warriors. The Indian force comprised at least seven hundred warriors and Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse rode with them. But Sitting Bull would not participate in the battle, and for good reason.

Battle of Rosebud is a debacle for Crook, and he turns back to Goose Creek. Crook loses strategically for he retreats the next day and abandons the mission. No attempt made to communicate with Terry or Gibbon though he notifies Sheridan on June 19. Intelligence reached Terry on July 9.

Dakota Column from Fort Abraham Lincoln: west from Dakota Territory.

May 17: Custer & 7th Cavalry + 1 infantry battalion & artillery departed from Fort Abraham Lincoln, part of a larger army force planning to round up remaining free Indians.

June 7: reached Powder River,a few miles below the Yellowstone. Three scouts from Gibbon’s command  rode up and delivered the news that the Indians were in considerable force south of Yellowstone. Supplies received at Stanley’s Stockade (Yellowstone & Glendive Creek) by river steamers.

Meanwhile, in the spring and summer of 1876, the Hunkpapa Lakota holy man Sitting Bull had called together the largest ever gathering of Plains Indians at Ash Creek, Montana (later moved to the Little Bighorn River) to discuss what to do about the whites. It was this united encampment of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians that the 7th met at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.





About June 15, Reno, while on a scout, discovered the trail of a large village on the Rosebud River.

On June 22, Custer’s entire regiment was detached to follow this trail.

On June 25, some of Custer’s Crow Indian scouts identified what they claimed was a large Indian encampment in the valley near the Little Bighorn River. Custer had first intended to attack the Indian village the next day, but since his presence was known, he decided to attack immediately and divided his forces into three battalions:

  • One led by Major Marcus Reno, sent north to charge the southern end of the encampment.
  • One by Captain Frederick Benteen sent south and west to cut off any attempted escape by the Indians.
  • One by himself; rode north, hidden to the east of the encampment by bluffs and planning to circle around and attack from the north.

Captain Thomas M. McDougall and Company B were with the pack train.

Reno began a charge on the southern end of the village but halted some 500–600 yards short of the camp, and had his men dismount and form a skirmish line. They were soon overcome by mounted Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who counterattacked en masse against Reno’s exposed left flank, forcing Reno and his men to take cover in the trees along the river. Eventually, however, this position became untenable, and the troopers were forced into a bloody retreat up onto the bluffs above the river, where they made their own stand. This, the opening action of the battle, cost Reno a quarter of his command.

Custer may have seen Reno stop and form a skirmish line as he (Custer) led his command to the northern end of the main encampment, where he apparently planned to sandwich the Indians between his attacking troopers and Reno’s command in a “hammer and anvil” maneuver. According to Grinnell’s account, based on the testimony of the Cheyenne warriors who survived the fight, at least part of Custer’s command attempted to ford the river at the north end of the camp but were driven off by stiff resistance from Indian sharpshooters firing from the brush along the west bank of the river. From that point, the soldiers were pursued by hundreds of warriors onto a ridge north of the encampment.

Custer and his command were prevented from digging in by Crazy Horse, however, whose warriors had outflanked him and were now to his north, at the crest of the ridge. Traditional white accounts attribute to Gall the attack that drove Custer up onto the ridge, but Indian witnesses have disputed that account.

“Hurrah boys, we’ve got them! We’ll finish them up and then go home to our station.”—Famous words reportedly said by General Custer shortly before being killed.

For a time, Custer’s men appear to have been deployed by company, in standard cavalry fighting formation—the skirmish line, with every fourth man holding the horses, though this arrangement would have robbed Custer of a quarter of his firepower. Worse, as the fight intensified, many soldiers could have taken to holding their own horses or hobbling them, further reducing the 7th’s effective fire.

When Crazy Horse and White Bull mounted the charge that broke through the center of Custer’s lines, pandemonium may have broken out among the soldiers of Calhoun’s command, though Myles Keogh’s men seem to have fought and died where they stood. According to some Lakota accounts, many of the panicking soldiers threw down their weapons and either rode or ran towards the knoll where Custer, the other officers, and about 40 men were making a stand. Along the way, the warriors rode them down, counting coup by striking the fleeing troopers with their quirts or lances.

Initially, Custer had 208 officers and men under his command, with an additional 142 under Reno, just over 100 under Benteen, 50 soldiers with Captain McDougall’s rearguard, and 84 soldiers under 1st Lieutenant Edward Gustave Mathey with the pack train. The Lakota-Cheyenne coalition may have fielded over 1800 warriors.  Historian Gregory Michno settles on a low number around 1000, based on contemporary Lakota testimony, but other sources place the number at 1800 or 2000, especially in the works by Utley and Fox. The 1800–2000 figure is substantially lower than the higher numbers of 3000 or more postulated by Ambrose, Gray, Scott, and others.


As the troopers were cut down, the native warriors stripped the dead of their firearms and ammunition, with the result that the return fire from the cavalry steadily decreased, while the fire from the Indians constantly increased. The surviving troopers apparently shot their remaining horses to use as breastworks for a final stand on the knoll at the north end of the ridge. The warriors closed in for the final attack and killed every man in Custer’s command. As a result, the Battle of the Little Bighorn has come to be popularly known as “Custer’s Last Stand”.


Some eyewitness reports state that Custer was not identified until after his death by the Native Americans who killed him. Several individuals claimed personal responsibility for the killing, including White Bull of the Miniconjous, Rain-in-the-Face, Flat Lip, and Brave Bear. In June 2005, at a public meeting, the Northern Cheyenne broke almost 130 years of silence about the battle. Storytellers said that according to their oral tradition, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a Northern Cheyenne heroine of the Battle of the Rosebud, struck the final blow against Custer, which knocked him off his horse before he died.


A contrasting version of Custer’s death is suggested by the testimony of an Oglala named Joseph White Cow Bull, according to novelist and Custer biographer Evan Connell, who relates that Joseph White Bull stated he had shot a rider wearing a buckskin jacket and big hat at the riverside when the soldiers first approached the village from the east. The initial force facing the soldiers, according to this version, was quite small (possibly as few as four warriors) yet challenged Custer’s command. The rider who was hit was mounted next to a rider who bore a flag and had shouted orders that prompted the soldiers to attack, but when the buckskin-clad rider fell off his horse after being shot, many of the attackers reined up. The allegation that the buckskin-clad officer was Custer, if accurate, might explain the supposed rapid disintegration of Custer’s forces. However, several other officers of the Seventh, including William Cooke and Tom Custer, were also dressed in buckskin on the day of the battle, and the fact that each of the non-mutilation wounds to George Custer’s body (a bullet wound below the heart and a shot to the left temple) would have been instantly fatal casts doubt on his being wounded or killed at the ford, more than a mile from where his body was found. The circumstances are, however, consistent with David Humphreys Miller’s suggestion that Custer’s attendants would not have left his dead body behind to be desecrated.

During the 1920s, two elderly Cheyenne women spoke briefly with oral historians about their having recognized Custer’s body on the battlefield and had stopped a Sioux warrior from desecrating the body. The women were relatives of Mo-nah-se-tah’s, who was alleged to have been Custer’s one-time lover. In the Cheyenne culture of the time, such a relationship was considered a marriage. The women allegedly told the warrior: “Stop, he is a relative of ours,” and then shooed him away. The two women then shoved their sewing awls into his ears to permit Custer’s corpse to “hear better in the afterlife” because he had broken his promise to Stone Forehead never to fight against Native Americans again.

When the main column under General Terry arrived two days later, the army found most of the soldiers’ corpses stripped, scalped, and mutilated. Custer’s body had two bullet holes, one in the left temple and one just below the heart. Capt. Benteen, who inspected the body, stated that in his opinion the fatal injuries had not been the result of .45 caliber ammunition, which implies the bullet holes had been caused by ranged rifle fire.

Following the recovery of their remains, Custer’s body and that of his brother Tom were buried on the battlefield, side-by-side in a shallow grave, after being covered by pieces of tent canvas and blankets. One year later, Custer’s remains and those of many of his officers were recovered and sent back east for re internment in more formal burials. Custer was buried again with full military honors at West Point Cemetery on October 10, 1877. The battle site was designated a National Cemetery in 1876.

Criticism and controversy

President Grant, a highly successful general, bluntly criticized Custer’s actions in the battle of the Little Bighorn. Quoted in the New York Herald on September 2, 1876, Grant said, “I regard Custer’s Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary – wholly unnecessary.”

 General Nelson Miles (who inherited Custer’s mantle of famed Indian fighter) and others praised him as a fallen hero betrayed by the incompetence of subordinate officers. Miles noted the difficulty of winning a fight “with seven-twelfths of the command remaining out of the engagement when within sound of his rifle shots.

The controversy over blame for the disaster at Little Bighorn continues to this day. Major Marcus Reno’s failure to press his attack on the south end of the Lakota/Cheyenne village and his flight to the timber along the river, after a single casualty, have been cited as a causal factor in the destruction of Custer’s battalion, as has Captain Frederick Benteen’s allegedly tardy arrival on the field, and the failure of the two officers’ combined forces to move toward the relief of Custer.

When writing about Custer, neutral ground is elusive. What should Custer have done at any of the critical junctures that rapidly presented themselves, each now the subject of endless speculation and rumination? There will always be a variety of opinions based upon what Custer knew, what he did not know, and what he could not have known…”—from Touched by Fire: The Life, Death, and Mythic Afterlife of George Armstrong Custer by Louise Barnett.

General Phillip Sheridan and other critics have asserted several tactical errors in Custer’s final military actions.  While camped at Powder River, Custer refused the support offered by General Terry on June 21, of an additional four companies of the Second Cavalry. Custer stated that he “could whip any Indian village on the Plains” with his own regiment, and that extra troops would simply be a burden. At the same time, he left behind at the steamer Far West, on the Yellowstone, a battery of Gatling guns, knowing he was facing superior numbers. Before leaving the camp all the troops, including the officers, also boxed their sabers and sent them back with the wagons.

On the day of the battle, Custer divided his 600-man command, despite being faced with vastly superior numbers of Sioux and Cheyenne. The refusal of an extra battalion reduced the size of his force by at least a sixth, and rejecting the firepower offered by the Gatling guns played into the events of June 25 to the disadvantage of his regiment.

Custer’s defenders, however, including historian Charles K. Hofling, have asserted that Gatling guns would have been slow and cumbersome as the troops crossed the rough country between the Yellowstone and the Little Bighorn. Custer rated speed in gaining the battlefield as essential and more important. The additional firepower had the potential of turning the tide of the fight, given the Indians’ propensity for withdrawing in the face of new military technology. Other Custer supporters have claimed that splitting the forces was a standard tactic, to demoralize the enemy with the appearance of the cavalry in different places all at once, especially when a contingent threatened the line of retreat.

Posthumous legacy

Custer Monument

Custer monument in Ohio

After his death, Custer achieved the lasting fame that he had sought on the battlefield. The public saw him as a tragic military hero and exemplary gentleman who sacrificed his life for his country. Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, who had accompanied him in many of his frontier expeditions, did much to advance this view with the publication of several books about her late husband:

Boots and Saddles,

Life with General Custer in Dakota (1885),

Tenting on the Plains (1887), and

Following the Guidon (1891).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an adoring (and often erroneous) poem.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s lavish praise pleased Custer’s widow.

Connell concludes: “These days it is stylish to denigrate the general, whose stock sells for nothing.  Nineteenth-century Americans thought differently. At that time, he was a cavalier without fear and beyond reproach.”



Family, ancestry and early life

From the beginning of his life, Custer never lacked for confidence. Its source, as with anyone, can only be guessed at–what a man is born with, what he develops, what he is accorded– but a good portion of Custer’s share of that attribute likely was his upbringing. A middle child of a large family, he was loved, encouraged, and admired by his parents and all his siblings.

Custer’s ancestors, Paulus and Gertrude Küster, immigrated to North America around 1693 from the Rhineland in Germany, probably among thousands of Palatine refugees whose passage was arranged by the English government to gain settlers. According to family letters, Custer was named after George Armstrong, a minister, in his devout mother’s hope that her son might join the clergy.

Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio, to Emanuel Henry Custer (1806–1892), a farmer and blacksmith, and Marie Ward Kirkpatrick (1807–1882). He had two younger brothers, Thomas Custer and Boston Custer, who both died with him on the battlefield at Little Bighorn. His other full siblings were the family’s youngest child, Margaret Custer, and Nevin Custer, who suffered from asthma and rheumatism. Custer also had several older half-siblings. Throughout his life Custer was known by a variety of nicknames. He was called “Autie” (his early attempt to pronounce his middle name) and Armstrong.


USMA Cadet George Armstrong 'Autie' Custer, ca. 1859

USMA Cadet George Armstrong ‘Autie’ Custer 1859

Custer spent much of his boyhood living with his half-sister and brother-in-law in Monroe, Michigan, where he attended school. Before entering the United States Military Academy, Custer attended the McNeely Normal School, later known as Hopedale Normal College, in Hopedale, Ohio.

Custer entered West Point as a cadet on July 1, 1857, to become a member of the class of 1862. At the time, West Point’s course of study was five years long. With the outbreak of the American Civil War, the course was shortened to four years allowing Custer and his class to graduate on June 24, 1861. He was last in a class of 34 cadets. Throughout his life, Custer tested boundaries and rules. In his four years at West Point, he amassed a record-total of 726 demerits, one of the worst conduct records in the history of the academy.

Under ordinary national conditions, Custer’s low-class rank would represent a ticket to an obscure posting, but Custer had the ironic fortune to graduate as the Civil War broke out. During his rocky tenure at the Academy, Custer came close to expulsion in each of his three years, due to excessive demerits. Many of these were awarded for pulling pranks on fellow cadets.

Civil War

Custer was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment and was assigned to drilling volunteers in Washington, D.C.

On July 21, 1861, he was with his regiment at the First Battle of Bull Run during the Manassas Campaign, where Army commander Winfield Scott detailed him to carry messages to Major General Irvin McDowell. After the battle, he continued participating in the defenses of Washington D.C. until October when he was sick and absent from his unit until February 1862.

In March 1862, he participated with the 2nd Cavalry in the Peninsula Campaign (March to August) in Virginia until April 4.

On April 5, he served in the 5th Cavalry Regiment and participated in the Siege of Yorktown, from April 5 to and May 4 and was aide to Major General George B. McClellan; McClellan was in command of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. On May 24, 1862, during the pursuit of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston up the Peninsula, when General Barnard and his staff were reconnoitering a potential crossing point on the Chickahominy River, they stopped, and Custer overheard his commander mutter to himself, “I wish I knew how deep it is.” Custer dashed forward on his horse out to the middle of the river and turned to the astonished officers of the staff and shouted triumphantly, “That’s how deep it is, Mr. General!” Custer then could lead an attack with four companies of the 4th Michigan Infantry across the Chickahominy River above New Bridge. The attack was successful, resulting in the capture of 50 Confederate soldiers and the seizing of the first Confederate battle flag of the war.

McClellan termed it a “very gallant affair” and congratulated Custer personally. In his role as aide-de-camp to McClellan, Custer began his life-long pursuit of publicity. Custer was promoted to the rank of captain on June 5, 1862. On July 17, he was reverted to the rank of first lieutenant. He participated in the Maryland Campaign in September to October, the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, the Battle of Antietam on September 17, and the March to Warrenton, Virginia in October.


Lincoln and generals at Antietam (Custer (extreme right) with President Lincoln, General McClellan and other officers at the Battle of Antietam, 1862)

On June 9, 1863, Custer became aide to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Pleasonton (rank since September 17, 1862), who was now commanding the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac (June 7 to March 26, 1864); after the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), Pleasonton’s (Brigadier General, July 16, 1862, U.S. Volunteers) first assignment was to locate the army of Robert E. Lee, moving north through the Shenandoah Valley in the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign.

Brigade command and Gettysburg

Custer with Gen Pleasonton

Custer (left) with General Pleasonton on horseback in Falmouth, Virginia

Pleasonton was promoted on June 22, 1863 to Major General of U.S. Volunteers. On June 29, two days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3), Pleasonton promoted Custer to brigadier general of volunteers, commanding the Michigan Cavalry Brigade (“Wolverines“). Despite having no direct command experience, Custer became one of the youngest generals in the Union Army at age 23. Two other captains—Wesley Merritt and Elon J. Farnsworth—were promoted along with Custer, although they did have command experience. Custer lost no time in implanting his aggressive character on his brigade, part of the division of Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. He fought against the Confederate cavalry of Major General J.E.B. Stuart at Hanover and Hunterstown, on the way to the main event at Gettysburg.

In his first command, Custer affected a showy, personalized uniform style that alienated his men, but he won them over with his readiness to lead attacks from the front (in contrast to many other officers); his men began to adopt elements of his uniform, especially the red neckerchief. Custer distinguished himself by fearless, aggressive actions in some of the numerous cavalry engagements that started off the campaign, beginning with the Battle of Aldie on June 17. Pleasonton was Custer’s introduction to the world of extravagant uniforms and political maneuvering, and the young lieutenant had become his protégé, serving on Pleasonton’s staff. Custer was quoted as saying that “no father could love his son more than General Pleasonton loves me.”

Custer’s style of battle was often claimed to be reckless or foolhardy, but military planning was always the basis of every Custer “dash”. As Marguerite Merrington explains in The Custer Story in Letters, “George Custer meticulously scouted every battlefield, gauged the enemy’s weak points and strengths, ascertained the best line of attack and only after he was satisfied was the ‘Custer Dash’ with a Michigan yell focused with complete surprise on the enemy in routing them every time.” One of his greatest attributes during the Civil War was what Custer wrote of as “luck” and he needed it to survive some of these charges.

Custer established a reputation as an aggressive cavalry brigade commander willing to take personal risks by leading his Michigan Brigade into battle, such as the mounted charges at Hunterstown and East Cavalry Field at the Battle of Gettysburg. At Hunterstown, in an ill-considered charge ordered by Kilpatrick against the brigade of Wade Hampton, Custer fell from his wounded horse directly before the enemy and became the target of numerous enemy rifles. He was rescued by Private Norvell Francis Churchill of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, who galloped up, shot Custer’s nearest assailant, and allowed Custer to mount behind him for a dash to safety.

One of Custer’s finest hours in the Civil War occurred just east of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. In conjunction with Pickett’s Charge to the west, Robert E. Lee had dispatched Stuart’s cavalry on a mission into the rear of the Union Army. Custer encountered the Union cavalry division of Brigadier General David McMurtrie Gregg directly in the path of Stuart’s horsemen. He convinced Gregg to allow him to stay and fight, while his own division was stationed to the south out of the action. At East Cavalry Field, hours of charges and hand-to-hand combat ensued. Custer led a mounted charge of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, breaking the back of the Confederate assault. Custer’s brigade lost 257 men at Gettysburg, the highest loss of any Union cavalry brigade. “I challenge the annals of warfare to produce a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry”, Custer wrote in his report. On July 3, he received the rank of Brevet Major, “For Gallant and Meritorious Services at The Battle of Gettysburg, PA.” Custer was wounded during action at the Battle of Culpeper Court House in Virginia on September 13.




Elizabeth (Libbie) Bacon



George and Libbie Custer, 1864

On February 9, 1864, Custer married Elizabeth Clift Bacon(1842–1933), whom he had first seen when he was ten years old. He had been socially introduced to her in November 1862, when home in Monroe on leave. She was not initially impressed with him, and her father, Judge Daniel Bacon, disapproved of Custer as a match because he was the son of a blacksmith. It was not until well after Custer had been promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier general that he gained the approval of Judge Bacon. He married Elizabeth Bacon fourteen months after they formally met.

In November 1868, following the Battle of Washita River, Custer was alleged (by Captain Frederick Benteen, chief of scouts Ben Clark, and Cheyenne oral tradition) to have unofficially married Mo-nah-se-tah, daughter of the Cheyenne chief Little Rock in the winter or early spring of 1868–1869 (Little Rock was killed in the one-day action at Washita on November 27). Mo-nah-se-tah gave birth to a child in January 1869, two months after the Washita battle. Cheyenne oral history tells that she also bore a second child, fathered by Custer in late 1869. Some historians, however, believe that Custer had become sterile after contracting gonorrhea while at West Point and that the father was his brother Thomas. A descendant of the second child, who goes by the name Gail Custer, wrote a book about the affair.

The Valley and Appomattox

In 1864, with the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac reorganized under the command of Major General Philip Sheridan, Custer (now commanding the 3rd Division) led his “Wolverines” to the Shenandoah Valley where by the year’s end they defeated the army of Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. During May and June, Sheridan and Custer (Captain, 5th Cavalry, May 8 and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, May 11) took part in cavalry actions supporting the Overland Campaign, including the Battle of the Wilderness (after which Custer ascended to division command), and the Battle of Yellow Tavern (where J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded). In the largest all-cavalry engagement of the war, the Battle of Trevilian Station, in which Sheridan sought to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and the Confederates’ western resupply route, Custer captured Hampton’s divisional train, but was then cut off and suffered heavy losses (including having his division’s trains overrun and his personal baggage captured by the enemy) before being relieved. When Lieutenant General Early was then ordered to move down the Shenandoah Valley and threaten Washington, D.C., Custer’s division was again dispatched under Sheridan. In the Valley Campaigns of 1864, they pursued the Confederates at the Third Battle of Winchester and effectively destroyed Early’s army during Sheridan’s counterattack at Cedar Creek.

Sheridan and Custer, having defeated Early, returned to the main Union Army lines at the Siege of Petersburg, where they spent the winter. In April 1865, the Confederate lines finally broke, and Robert E. Lee began his retreat to Appomattox Court House, pursued by the Union cavalry.

Custer distinguished himself by his actions at Waynesboro, Dinwiddie Court House, and Five Forks. His division blocked Lee’s retreat on its final day and received the first flag of truce from the Confederate force.

Custer was present at the surrender at Appomattox Court House and the table upon which the surrender was signed was presented to him as a gift for his wife by General Philip Sheridan, who included a note to her praising Custer’s gallantry. She treasured the gift of the historical table, which is now in the Smithsonian Institution.

Before the close of the war Custer received brevet promotions to brigadier general and major general (because of a plea by his patron General Sheridan) on March 13, 1865, in the regular army, and major general of volunteers on April 15, 1865. As with most wartime promotions, even when issued under the regular army, these senior ranks were only temporary.

On April 25, after the war officially ended, Custer had his men search for, then illegally seize a large, prize racehorse “Don Juan” near Clarksville, Virginia, worth then an estimated $10,000 (several hundred thousand today), along with his written pedigree. Custer rode Don Juan in the grand review victory parade in Washington, D.C. on May 23, creating a sensation when the scared thoroughbred bolted. The owner, Richard Gaines, wrote to General Grant, who then ordered Custer to return the horse to Gaines, but he did not, instead hid the horse, and winning a race with it the next year, before the horse died suddenly.

Reconstruction duties in Texas

On June 3, 1865, at Sheridan’s behest, Major General Custer accepted command of the 2nd Division of Cavalry, Military Division of the Southwest, to march from Alexandria, Louisiana, to Hempstead, Texas, as part of the Union occupation forces. Custer arrived at Alexandria on June 27 and began assembling his units, which took more than a month to gather and remount. On July 17, he assumed command of the Cavalry Division of the Military Division of the Gulf (on August 5, officially named the 2nd Division of Cavalry of the Military Division of the Gulf), and accompanied by his wife, he led the division (five regiments of veteran Western Theater cavalrymen) to Texas on an arduous 18-day march in August. On October 27, the division departed to Austin. On October 29, Custer moved the division from Hempstead to Austin, arriving on November 4. Major General Custer became Chief of Cavalry of the Department of Texas, from November 13 to February 1, 1866, succeeding Major General Wesley Merritt.

During his entire period of command of the division, Custer encountered considerable friction and near mutiny from the volunteer cavalry regiments who had campaigned along the Gulf coast. They desired to be mustered out of Federal service rather than continue campaigning, resented imposition of discipline (particularly from an Eastern Theater general), and considered Custer nothing more than a vain dandy.

Custer’s division was mustered out beginning in November 1865, replaced by the regulars of the U.S. 6th Cavalry Regiment. Although their occupation of Austin had apparently been pleasant, many veterans harbored deep resentments against Custer, particularly in the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry, because of his attempts to maintain discipline. Upon its mustering out, several members planned to ambush Custer, but he was warned the night before and the attempt thwarted.

American Indian Wars

On February 1, 1866, Major General Custer mustered out of the U.S. volunteer service and took an extended leave of absence and awaited orders to September 24. He explored options in New York City, where he considered careers in railroads and mining. Offered a position (and $10,000 in gold) as adjutant general of the army of Benito Juárez of Mexico, who was then in a struggle with the Mexican Emperor Maximilian I (a satellite ruler of French Emperor Napoleon III), Custer applied for a one-year leave of absence from the U.S. Army, which was endorsed by Grant and Secretary of War Stanton. Sheridan and Mrs. Custer disapproved, however, and when his request for leave was opposed by U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, who was against having an American officer commanding foreign troops, Custer refused the alternative of resignation from the Army to take the lucrative post.

Following the death of his father-in-law in May 1866, Custer returned to Monroe, Michigan, where he considered running for Congress. He took part in public discussion over the treatment of the American South in the aftermath of the Civil War, advocating a policy of moderation. He was named head of the Soldiers and Sailors Union, regarded as a response to the hyper-partisan Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Also formed in 1866, it was led by Republican activist John Alexander Logan. In September 1866 Custer accompanied President Andrew Johnson on a journey by train known as the “Swing Around the Circle” to build up public support for Johnson’s policies towards the South. Custer denied a charge by the newspapers that Johnson had promised him a colonel’s commission in return for his support, but Custer had written to Johnson some weeks before seeking such a commission. Custer and his wife stayed with the president during most of the trip. At one point Custer confronted a small group of Ohio men who repeatedly jeered Johnson, saying to them: “I was born two miles and a half from here, but I am ashamed of you.”

With Scout

Custer and Bloody Knife (kneeling left), Custer’s favorite Indian Scout

Custer presented Bloody Knife, his Arikara (“Ree”) scout, with several gifts. Custer told Bloody Knife and some Arikara scouts this would be his last Indian campaign. Custer further stated that if the scouts helped him win a victory, then he would become president and look after the Arikaras from the White House.


Sitting Bull, spiritual leader of the Plains Indians, had been a renowned warrior in his prime

Sitting Bull, spiritual leader of the Plains Indians, had been a renowned warrior in his prime

Low Dog, Oglala war chief

Low Dog, Oglala war chief

 Wooden Leg, noted northern Cheyenne warrior

Wooden Leg, noted northern Cheyenne warrior

Spotted Eagle, Sans arc war chief

Spotted Eagle, Sans arc war chief

Major Marcus Reno, Custer's second in command on the expedition

Major Marcus Reno, Custer’s second in command on the expedition


Captain Frederick Benteen, chafed at serving under Custer, whom he despised

Captain Frederick Benteen, chafed at serving under Custer, whom he despised

Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer, United States Army, 1865

George Armstrong Custer

  • Born: December 5, 1839, New Rumley, Ohio
  • Died: June 25, 1876 (aged 36), Little Bighorn, Montana
  • Buried at: initially on the battlefield; later reinterred in West Point Cemetery

Allegiance: United States of America

Union: Service/Branch

  • United States Army
  • Union Army

Years of service-1861–1876

American Civil War

  • First Battle of Bull Run
  • Peninsula Campaign
  • Battle of Antietam
  • Battle of Chancellorsville
  • Gettysburg Campaign
  • Battle of Gettysburg
  • Overland Campaign
  • Battle of the Wilderness
  • Battle of Yellow Tavern
  • Battle of Trevilian Station
  • Valley Campaigns of 1864
  • Siege of Petersburg
  • Appomattox Campaign

American Indian Wars

  • Battle of Washita River
  • Battle of the Little Bighorn

Promotions and ranks

Custer’s promotions and ranks including his six brevet [temporary] promotions which were all for gallant and meritorious services at five different battles and one campaign:

  • Second Lieutenant, 2nd Cavalry: June 24, 1861
  • First Lieutenant, 5th Cavalry: July 17, 1862
  • Captain Staff, Additional Aide-De-Camp: June 5, 1862
  • Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers: June 29, 1863
  • Brevet Major, July 3, 1863 (Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
  • Captain, 5th Cavalry: May 8, 1864
  • Brevet Lieutenant Colonel: May 11, 1864 (Battle of Yellow Tavern – Combat at Meadow)
  • Brevet Colonel: September 19, 1864(Battle of Winchester, Virginia)
  • Brevet Major General, U.S. Volunteers: October 19, 1864 (Battle of Winchester and Fisher’s Hill, Virginia)
  • Brevet Brigadier General, U.S. Army, March 13, 1865 (Battle of Five Forks, Virginia)
  • Brevet Major General, U.S. Army: March 13, 1865 (The campaign ending in the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia)
  • Major General, U.S. Volunteers: April 15, 1865
  • Mustered out of Volunteer Service: February 1, 1866
  • Lieutenant Colonel, 7th Cavalry: July 28, 1866 (killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, June 25, 1876)

Commands held           

  • Michigan Brigade
  • 3rd Cavalry Division
  • 2nd Cavalry Division
  • 7th Cavalry Regiment


  • Elizabeth Bacon Custer
  • Thomas Custer, brother
  • Boston Custer, brother
  • James Calhoun, brother-in-law

By courtesy:

  • A Terrible Glory by James Donovan, Little Brown & Company, New York, London, Boston, 2008

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif  MNA نواز شریف


Nawaz Sharif 

Born into a wealthy Sharif family in Lahore, he is the son of Ittefaq Group founder Muhammad Sharif, and the brother of  Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif.

Early life

Nawaz Sharif was born in Lahore, Punjab on 25 December 1949. The Sharif family are Punjabis of Kashmiri origin. His father, Muhammad Sharif, was an upper-middle-class businessman and industrialist whose family had emigrated from Anantnag in Kashmir for business, and eventually settled in the village of Jati Umra in Amritsar district, Punjab at the beginning of the twentieth century. His mother’s family came from Pulwama. After the movement led by Jinnah and his struggle to create Pakistan in 1947, his parents migrated from Amritsar to Lahore. His father followed the teachings of the Ahle-Hadith.

His family owns:

Ittefaq Group multimillion-dollar steel conglomerate
Sharif Group conglomerate company with holdings in agriculture,

transport and sugar mills

He is married to Kulsoom Butt. The personal residence of the Sharif family, Raiwind Palace, is located in Jati Umra, Raiwind, on the outskirts of Lahore. He went to St. Anthony’s High School.

  • He graduated from the Government College University (GCU) with a degree in art and business.
  • He received a law degree from the Law College of the Punjab University in Lahore.


Government College University, where Sharif studied business.

Sharif studied business at Government College Lahore and later law, at the University of Punjab before entering politics in the late 1970s. In 1981, Sharif was appointed by the military government as the minister of finance for Punjab. Backed by a loose coalition of conservatives, he was elected as the Chief Minister of Punjab in 1985 and re-elected after the end of martial law in 1988. In 1990,

Political career

Nawaz Sharif started his political career during the period of nationalization policies introduced by former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Sharif family was financially hit after the family owned steel business was nationalized, but soon Sharif was into national politics. In 1976 he joined the Pakistan Muslim League, a conservative front rooted in the Punjab province. He initially focused on regaining control of his steel plants from the government. In May 1980 Ghulam Jilani Khan, the recently appointed Governor of Punjab and  former Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), initiated a search for new urban leaders; Sharif was one of the men picked and promoted quickly to  finance minister of Punjab. In 1981, Sharif joined the Punjab Advisory Board under General Zia-ul-Haq and rose to public and political prominence as a staunch supporter of the military government of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq during the 1980s.

He maintained close relations with Zia-ul-Haq, who soon agreed to return the steel mills. During his political career, Sharif maintained an alliance with General Rahimuddin Khan, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and also had close ties with the Director-General of ISI, Lieutenant-General (retired) Hamid Gul, who played a substantial role in the formation of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) – a conservative political alliance that supported Sharif.

Sharif invested in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Arab countries in the Middle East to rebuild his steel empire. According to personal accounts and American historian Stephen Cohen in his book,  Idea of Pakistan: “Nawaz Sharif never forgave Bhutto after his steel empire was lost at the hands of Bhutto; and even after [Bhutto’s] terrible end, Sharif publicly refused to forgive the soul of Bhutto or the Pakistan Peoples Party.” After coming to national power in 1990, Sharif attempted to reverse Bhutto’s nationalization policies, introducing an economy based on privatisation and economic liberalization.

Punjab Advisory Council

In 1981, he became a member of the Punjab Advisory Council under General Ghulam Jilani Khan, the Governor of Punjab. Since the start of his early career, Sharif had been strongly vocal of capitalism and opposed the nationalization. In the 1980s, Sharif gained influence with General Zia-ul-Haq. He convinced the General to denationalize and deregulate the industries to improve the economy.

In the military government of Lt.-General Ghulam Jilani Khan, Sharif was appointed the provisional finance minister and successfully denationalized all of the government-owned industries to private sector. As provincial finance minister, he presented development-oriented budgets to the military government; he gained prominence in Punjab which also supported and extended the rule of Lt. General Ghulam Jillani Khan, as he improved the law and order situation in Punjab. Financial policies drafted and approved by Sharif were backed by General Zia. Punjab Province benefited with improved financial capital, and purchasing power of locals was greatly and exponentially improved. Punjab with Sharif as Finance minister, received many funds from the federal government, more than any other province of Pakistan. This also contributed to the economical inequality between Punjab and other provinces. Due to its huge financial capital in the 1980s, Punjab was Pakistan’s richest province and had a better standard of living compared to other provinces.

Chief Minister of Punjab

In 1985 General Ghulam Jilani Khan nominated Sharif as Chief Minister of the Punjab, against the wishes of Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, who wanted the rural candidate, Malik Allahyar. Sharif secured a landslide victory during the non-political parties 1985 elections and became Chief Minister of Punjab with the support of the army. He served for two consecutive terms as Chief Minister of Punjab, the most populous province. Because of his popularity, he received the nickname of “Lion of the Punjab”. As chief minister, he stressed welfare and development activities and the maintenance of law and order.

The provincial martial law administrator of Punjab, Lt. General Ghulam Jilani Khan sponsored the government of Nawaz Sharif, and Sharif built close ties with senior army generals who would remain supportive and sponsor his ministership. Lt. General Jilani Khan made headway in beautifying Lahore, extending military infrastructure, and muting political opposition; while Sharif maintained the law and order in the province, expanded the economical infrastructure that benefited the people of Punjab. In 1988, General Zia dismissed the government of Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo, and called for new elections. All the provisional and the national assemblies were dissolved, but General Zia-ul-Haq retained Sharif as the Chief Minister of Punjab. He continued with Sharif’s support until his death (Gen. Zia) and the elections in 1988.

1988 General Elections

After General Zia’s death in August 1988, Zia’s political party, Pakistan Muslim League (Pagara Group)–split into two factions. Fida Group led by Sharif and Zia loyalists and Junejo Group led by Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo.The Fida Group later became the PML while the Junejo Group was known as the JIP. The two parties plus seven other right-wing conservatives and religious parties united with the encouragement and funding by the ISI to form the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). The alliance was co-led by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi to oppose PPP in the elections. The IJI gained substantial majorities in Punjab and Sharif was re-elected Chief Minister of Punjab.

In December 1989, Sharif decided to remain in the Punjab Assembly rather than hold a seat in the National Assembly. In early 1989, the PPP government failed to unseat Sharif through a no-confidence motion in the Punjab Assembly. Sharif retained control by a vote of 152 to 106.

First term as prime minister (1990–93)

Sharif led a conservative alliance to victory, becoming the Prime Minister; investigation into the election would later reveal that the election was rigged in favour of Sharif by the Pakistani intelligence through channeling millions of rupees into his election campaign.

The conservatives for the first time in the country’s history came to power under a democratic system under Nawaz Sharif, who became the 12th Prime Minister of Pakistan on 1 November 1990 as well as head of IJI. He succeeded Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister.  IJI had been created and funded by Zia loyalists in the ISI; they gave Rs 15 million.  He had campaigned on a conservative platform and had vowed to reduce government corruption focussing on improving the nation’s infrastructure and spurring the growth of digital telecommunication. He privatised government banks and opened the door for further industrial privatisation; disbanding Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s policies. He legalised transactions of foreign money exchange through private money exchanges. His privatisation policies were continued by Benazir Bhutto and Shaukat Aziz in the mid-1990s and 2000s respectively.

Conservative policies


Nawaz Sharif meeting with conservative intellectuals of Pakistan in Sindh Province, c. 1990s.

Sharif took steps to initiate Islamisation. The continuation of conservative change in Pakistan started by Zia-ul-Haq was encouraged. Reforms introduced for:

  • Fiscal conservatism
  • Supply-side economics
  • Bioconservatism
  • Religious conservatism in Pakistan.

He raised the Kashmir issue in international forums and worked toward a peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan; to help end the rampant trading of illicit drugs and weapons across the border.

  • He intensified General Zia-ul-Haq’s controversial Islamisation policies
  • He Introduced Islamic Laws such as the Shariat Ordinance and Bait-ul-Maal (to help poor orphans’ widows etc.)
  • He ordered the Ministry of Religion to prepare reports and recommendations for steps taken toward Islamisation.

He ensured the establishment of three committees:

  1. Ittehad-e-bain-ul-Muslemeen (Unity of Muslims Bloc)
  2. Nifaz-e-Shariat Committee (Sharia Establishment Committee)
  3. Islamic Welfare Committee

He believed in forming a Muslim Bloc by uniting all Central Asian Muslim countries and so extended the membership of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to all Central Asian countries. Nawaz Sharif ruled confidently due to the majority he enjoyed in the assembly. He had disputes with three successive army chiefs.

 Domestic issues

Following the passing of the Resolutions 660, 661, and 665, Sharif sided with the United Nations on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Sharif’s government criticised Iraq for invading a fellow Muslim country, which led to strain in Pakistan’s relationship with Iraq. This strain continued as Pakistan improved relations with Iran, and this foreign policy continued with Benazir Bhutto, and Pervez Musharraf until the removal of Saddam Hussain in 2003.

Sharif concurred with former Chief of Army Staff General Mirza Aslam Beg over the 1991 Gulf War; under directions from General Beg, Pakistan Armed Forces participated in the conflict and the Army Special Service Group and the Naval Special Service Group was rushed to Saudi Arabia to provide security to Saudi royal family. Sharif also supported the new Chief of Army Staff General Asif Nawaz over paramilitary operation in Sindh.

During his first term, he found it difficult to work with PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a potent force in Karachi. The MQM and PPP opposed Sharif due to his focus on beautifying Punjab and Kashmir while neglecting Sindh.

The MQM, a liberal force, also opposed Sharif’s conservatism. The clash between liberalism and conservatism forces soon erupted in 1992 when political tension began to rise as both party renegades initiated an ideological war against each other. Despite MQM being a part of the government with Sharif, more and more problems surfaced between Sharif and the MQM in 1992. Sharif’s government passed a resolution in the Parliament for launching paramilitary operations to end the cold war between PML-N and MQM.

During this time, the centre left of Pakistan Peoples Party remained neutral watching the cold war between liberal and conservative forces. Prime Minister Sharif also concurred with Chief of Army Staff General Asif Nawaz on the paramilitary operation in Sindh which was launched in 1992.  It brought violence and economic halt in the country that dismantled Sharif’s industrialisation and investment process. Benazir Bhutto, during this time remained silent as she too had opposed the MQM but due to pressure exerted by her brother Murtaza Bhutto, it had come to a halt. The period between 1992–1994 is considered the bloodiest in the history of the city, when many went missing.

Industrialization and privatisation

Shortly after assuming the office of prime minister, Sharif announced his economic policy under the programme called, the “National Economic Reconstruction Program ” (NERP) which introduced a high level of western-styled capitalist economic system.

It was acknowledged that unemployment had become Pakistan’s greatest disadvantage in its economic growth and only industrial and privatization could solve the economic slowdown. An intensified Privatization Program was commenced and presided by Sharif in his vision to “turn Pakistan into a (South) Korea by encouraging greater private saving and investment to accelerate economic growth.”

In 1990, Sharif announced the nuclear policy which aimed to continue peaceful atomic energy benefit for country’s economic infrastructure. Sharif expanded and industrialized nuclear energy program in the whole country and a peaceful economic infrastructure was extensively built by him by the 1990s. Many of the nuclear medicine and nuclear engineering projects were completed under his government as part of Sharif’s Atoms for Peace program.

The privatization programme came as a response to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Peoples party led by Benazir, and Sharif’s spontaneous programme was as swift as the nationalization programme of Peoples Party in the 1970s. However, Sharif lacked the charisma and personality of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and countered Bhutto’s ideology with full force by aping him. During the period 1990–93, around 115 nationalized industries were put under private-ownership management, but this was controversial as the programme lacked competition, and was largely controlled by favoured insiders.The favouritism shown in privatization of the industrial and banking units by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to become the hallmark, and the rise of strong business oligarchs who concentrated enormous assets, further increasing inequality in Pakistan and contributing to political instability.

Privatization programme took the GDP growth rate to 7.57% (1992), but it dropped to 4.37% (1993-1998).

Sharif upgraded Islamic laws such as Shariat Ordinance and Bait-ul-Maal (to help poor orphans widows) to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state. Sharif’s family was affected by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s nationalization policy. A number of important industries, such as:

  • Pakistan National Shipping Corporation
  • National Electric Power Regulatory Authority
  • Pakistan International Airlines
  • Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation
  • Pakistan State Oil

were opened to private sector. In 1990, Prime Minister Sharif successfully privatised the National Development Finance Corporation.

He introduced and inaugurated several large-scale projects to stimulate the economy, such as the Ghazi-Barotha Hydropower plant. However, unemployment remained a challenge. He imported thousands of yellow-cab taxis for young Pakistanis; this program came at a cost; few of the loans were repaid to the government and Sharif founded it difficult to keep the taxis at a low rate as the young and poor could not afford a higher price. Sharif privatised these taxis at low rate and the steel industry was forced to pay the remaining cost.

During his first term Sharif intensified policies of industrialisation and privatisation of major industries that were nationalised by former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Undoing what was previously done in the 1970s remained a challenge for Sharif but, despite the slowdown of the economy, Sharif reversed major policies of Bhutto and within a short span of time, 90% of the industries were industrialized and privatized by him. This radical move did have a positive impact on country’s economy and it improved at an appropriate level.

Sharif policies were continued by Benazir Bhutto, who nationalised those industries that needed a government bailout plan, and by Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz in the 2000s who managed to privatise all the major industries by the end of 2008.


A line graph indicated policy benefits enjoyed by Punjab.

During his first term, Sharif focused his industrialization on Punjab and Kashmir; few projects were completed in Khyber and Balochistan provinces, while Sindh did not get the benefit. After severe criticism from Pakistan Peoples Party and the liberal-secular Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), Sharif launched the Orangi Cottage Industrial Zone which was completed and inaugurated by him.

However, prime minister’s reputation in Sindh was badly damaged because of his focus with Lahore and Kashmir’s beautification, and neglect of other provinces. Sharif’s industrialization was also targeted by his opponents as it was focused on Punjab and Kashmir. His opponents argued that Sharif, as prime minister, obtained permits for building factories for his business. Sharif is also blamed for expanding and financing the Armed Forces secret industrial conglomerate. He is held responsible for bribing generals to protect himself.  Sharif strongly criticized former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s socialist economics policies, citing them as “lamentable state of Pakistan”. His privatization policies were also strongly criticised by former science adviser Dr. Mubashir Hassan, who called Sharif’s privatization “unconstitutional”. Other PPP members maintained that nationalization measures were protected by the Parliament which gave them a constitutional status; the Peoples Party felt the privatization policies were illegal and was taking place without parliamentary approval and parliament was not taken in confidence.

Science policy

Sharif authorized the establishment of the Jinnah Antarctic Station in 1991. Sharif took steps for government control of science in Pakistan and the projects needed his authorization.

In 1991, he authorized the Pakistan Antarctic Program of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and Pakistan Navy’s Weapons Engineering Division, and established the Jinnah Antarctic Station and Polar Research Cell.

In 1992, Pakistan became an Associate Member of Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research which was signed by the Science Adviser Munir Ahmed Khan at United Nations. Like Benazir, the ongoing nuclear weapons and the energy program remained one of his top priorities. Sharif countered international pressure, and followed Benazir. He refused to compromise the program in spite of the United States offer of large economic aid to Pakistan. Unlike Benazir, Sharif’s nuclear policy was seen as less aggressive towards India and focused on the atomic programme for the benefit of civil society, and he set forth a nuclear policy to build civil nuclear power.

With this vision, he intensively used the integrated atomic programme for medical and economic purposes; his nuclear policy was viewed by experts as vintage Atoms for Peace program— the United States’ 1950s program to use the nuclear energy for civil purposes, and to promote peaceful nuclear technology in the world as well.

In 1993, Sharif authorized the establishment of:

  • The Institute of Nuclear Engineering (INE) and promoted the policy of peaceful use of nuclear energy.
  • On 28 July 1997, Sharif declared the year as “year of science” in Pakistan
  • He allotted funds for the 22nd INSC College on Theoretical Physics.
  • In 1999, Sharif signed an executive decree, declaring 28 May as the National Science Day in Pakistan.

Nuclear policy

On 7 November 1990, the prime minister announced the nuclear policy on public television. He stated: “the peaceful [atomic] programme which . . . would be accelerated to accommodate growing [nuclear] energy needs and to make up for rising [oil] prices. And, of course, (Pakistan) will construct new nuclear power plants.”

On 26 November, Sharif authorized talks with the US to solve the nuclear crisis after the US tightened the embargo on Pakistan, prompting him to send  finance minister Sartaj Aziz to hold talks in Washington. It was widely reported in Pakistan that the US Assistant Secretary of State Teresa Schaffer had told Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqub Khan to halt the uranium enrichment programme.

In December, France’s Commissariat à l’énergie atomique agreed to provide a commercial 900 MW power plant, but plans did not materialize as France wanted Pakistan to provide   funding for the plant. In December, a financial embargo was placed, and the country’s economy felt the effect which prompted Sharif to replace the finance minister. Sharif then used Munir Ahmad Khan to convince IAEA to allow Pakistan a nuclear plant in Chashma, and Khan intensively lobbied with IAEA for that. In December 1990, IAEA allowed Pakistan to establish CHASNUPP-I, signed with China; the IAEA also gave approval of upgrading of the KANUPP-I in 1990.  During his first term, Sharif intensified his non-nuclear weapon policy and strictly followed the policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity which was continued by Benazir.

Responding to US embargo, Sharif publicly announced that: “Pakistan possessed no [atomic] bomb… Pakistan would be happy to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) provided India “first did the same.”

Sharif intensified his move to enhance Pakistan’s integrated nuclear development and authorized projects that seemed to be important in his point of view. He promoted the peaceful nuclear energy programme, and signed for the CHASNUPP-I reactor with People’s Republic of China for commercial electricity use. Sharif also proposed to use nuclear development mainly for economical usage for the country’s benefit. His policy to use the nuclear programme for economical benefit was continued by Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf.

 1992 Co-operatives societies’ scandal

Sharif lost support from Punjab and Kashmir when the co-operatives societies’ scandal became public. Co-operatives societies accept deposits from members and can legally make loans only to members for purposes that benefit the society and its members. However, mismanagement of the societies led to a collapse in which millions of Pakistanis lost money in 1992. In Punjab and Kashmir, around 700,000 people, mainly poor, lost all their savings when the states cooperatives societies went bankrupt. It was discovered that the society had granted billions of rupees to the Ittefaq Group of Industries— Sharif’s owned Steel mill. Though Ittefaq Group’s management hurriedly repaid the loans to the affected, the prime minister’s reputation was tarnished.

1993 Constitutional Crisis

In 1993, Sharif survived a serious constitutional crisis when it was reported that he had developed serious authority issues with the President. On 18 April 1993, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan with the support of the Pakistan Army used his reserve powers under (58-2b, 8th Amendment) to dissolve the National Assembly, the lower house. Khan appointed Mir Balakh Sher as the interim prime minister. When the news reached Sharif, he refused to accept this, and moved the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  On 26 May 1993, Sharif returned to power after the Supreme Court ruled the Presidential Order as unconstitutional and reconstituted the National Assembly immediately. The Court ruled, 10–1, that the president could dissolve the assembly only if a constitutional breakdown had occurred, and the government’s incompetence or corruption was irrelevant. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was the only dissenting judge; he later became 13th Chief Justice of Pakistan.

End of First Term

However, issues with the president over authority increased and a subsequent political standoff occurred between the president and the prime minister. In July 1993, Sharif resigned under pressure from the Pakistan Armed Forces but negotiated a settlement that resulted in the removal of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan as well; Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Shamim Alam and the Chief of Army Staff General Abdul Waheed Kakar forced President Ishaq Khan to resign from the presidency and end the political standoff. Under the scrutiny of the Pakistan Armed Forces, an interim and transitional government was formed and new parliamentary election was held after three months.

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was born in Lahore, Punjab on 25 December 1949 (age 41) and served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan from November 1990 to July 1993.

  • Spouse: Kulsoom Nawaz
  • Children: 4
  • Parents: Shamim and Sharif
  • Residence: Prime Minister’s Secretariat
  • Political party: Pakistan Muslim League (N)

 Alma mater   

  • Punjab University Law College
  • Government College University
  • Religion: Islam
  • Website:

Chief Minister of Punjab: 9 April 1985 – 13 August 1990

By courtesy:  Schajee – Own work, Public Domain,