Did govt pay for Liaqat Ali Khan’s casket?
By Shahzad Raza
ISLAMABAD: It remains unclear whether the government paid an outstanding bill of Rs 500 for the casket in which Shaheed-e-Millat Liaqat Ali Khan was buried.
A declassified Interior Ministry file (No F.16-3/51-public) reveals that the government allocated Rs 6,000 for the death and chelum-related ceremonies of Pakistan’s first prime minister, but exhausted the allocation before a bill of Rs 500 for his casket could be paid. The bill was not paid for at least a year and a half.
Although the correspondence between the provider of the casket, Anthony Coutinho & Coy, and government officials indicates that the government was willing to pay the outstanding bill, the file is silent about how and when the bill was actually cleared.
The matter of paying the Rs 500 bill was discussed among officials of the ministries of interior and defence, station commander and local administration of Karachi, the then federal capital of Pakistan.
The file reveals that the government’s assistant secretary, MS Siddiqui, had to intervene in the matter on January 19, 1953. He asked the authorities to expedite the payment process. “…The matter may please be treated as urgent as the firm is pressing for an early payment,” he wrote to the chief commissioner of Karachi.
According to the file, the second to last letter from Anthony Coutinho & Coy was sent to the office in-charge of the Defence Ministry on December 22, 1952. “...Will you be good enough to expedite the payment of Rs 500 at your earliest, as the said amount of Rs 500 is outstanding since 17th October, 1951.”
The company sent a final letter on February 19, 1953, with the same request.
A letter dated March 5, 1953, from the chief commissioner’s office to the assistant secretary of the government stated that the bill from Anthony Coutinho was sent to the collector of Karachi for payment. However, no official record was attached to the file to confirm whether the bill was actually cleared.
The file also shows that there were objections to the government’s decision to convert Liaqat Ali Khan’s house into a residence for the staff of the governor general of Sindh. It does not contain any comments from the government on the issue.
“I was pained to learn that the house of Shaheed-e-Millat Liaqat Ali Khan has been converted into a place of residence for the staff of His Excellency the Governor General of Sind. Nothing could be more shocking to the people of Pakistan than this act of government in disgracing a place of national and historical importance,” wrote one Begum A Rahim to the now defunct newspaper Civil & Military Gazette. She demanded that the government treat 10 Victoria Road as a place of pilgrimage because it had been where democracy, equality and fraternity were translated into practice.
“If the place does not suit the needs of the present prime minister, it would be better to house in it some national institution like the National Museum of Pakistan or the Liaqat Ali Library instead of disgracing it by keeping subordinate staff in it,” she wrote.
Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated on October 16, 1951, when he was addressing a gathering of 100,000 at Municipal Garden (later renamed Liaqat Bagh) in Rawalpindi. The file said the murderer, Said Akbar, was an Afghan national and a professional assassin.
The file revealed that the late prime minister stood up and moved to the microphone at 4:10 pm. The assassin was shot by Sub-Inspector Mohammad Shah before the frenzied crowd lynched him. There were 26 wounds on the assassin’s body when it was recovered by the police.
The file did not contain any information about the police inquiry into the murder of Pakistan’s first prime minister. An attached press note issued the day after the murder said, “Police investigations are proceeding.”