Mohammad Asghar Khan (Urdu: اصغر خان 17 January 1921 – 5 January 2018), was a Pakistani politician and an autobiographer, later a dissident serving for the cause of pacifism, peace, and the human rights.
Born into a military family, Asghar Khan briefly served as an officer in the Indian Army before being deputed to the Royal Indian Air Force as a military adviser in 1941— he was later drafted in the air force as its commanding officer in the Asian front of the World War II. After the partition of India in 1947, he chose to join the Pakistan Air Force and subsequently secured promotion as a three star rank air force general where he was appointed to command the air force at the age of 36 in 1959– the youngest officer at the command level in the military at that time. In 1965, his dissenting opinion with Gen. Musa Khan, the army commander, over the area contingency plans and vetoing the decisions to go on war with India eventually led to his replacement with Lt-Gen. Nur Khan. He continue to serve with his rank when he was deputed as an airline executive until retiring in 1968.
After his retirement from the military in 1968, Asghar Khan founded the Solidarity Party with a secular and centrist political program in a direct opposition to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) but failed to make any significant impact when the general elections held in 1970. From 1970s–90s, his political career focused towards the politics of agitations against the elected civilian governments, and gained notability when he filed the multiple lawsuits against the PPP and the PML(N) at the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1990s. During this time, he authored many political books, some very critical or given dissenting criticism to the Pakistan Army's involvement in the national politics.
Family background, early life and military career in India
Mohammad Asghar Khan was born in Jammu, Kashmir in India on 17 January 1921 into a Pashtun family.:iii His family belonged to Afridi tribe from the Tirah valley in the tribal-belt region that settled in Jammu and Kashmir. His father, Brigadier Thakur Rehmatullah Khan, was an army officer in the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles of the Indian Army, and later emigrated to Abbottabad after the partition of India in 1947.
His elder brother, Brig. Aslam Khan, was an one-star rank army general in the Pakistan Army who earned his reputation as the "Legend of Baltistan" after his participation in first war with India in 1947.
After his education at the boarding school, Asghar was sent to attend the Royal Indian Military College in 1933 where he secured his matriculation in 1939, subsequently joining the Indian Army in 1939.:67 After graduating from the Indian Military Academy 1940, he gained commissioned in the Indian Army as the 2nd-Lt. in the Royal Deccan Horse attached to the Armoured Corps of the Indian Army in December 1940. In 1941, Lt. Asghar Khan was seconded to the Royal Indian Air Force, joining the No. 9 Squadron as its military adviser during the Burma fronts.:15 In 1942, Capt. Asghar Khan was transferred to the Royal Indian Air Force, where he saw actions in the first front in Burma against Japan, and flown bomer missions on the Hawker Hurricane.:14
In 1944, Sq-Ldr. (Major) Asghar Khan later served in the second front in Burma, commanding the No. 9 Squadron alongside with Sq Ldr. Arjan Singh who led the No. 1 Squadron during the aerial operations in Arkan in 1944-45.:content
After the end of the World War II in Asia, Sq-Ldr. (Major) Asghar Khan was posted at the Ambala Air Force Station where he was assigned to served as the flight instructor at the Flying Instructors School until 1947.:15 He was noted to be the first Indian to have qualified to fly fighter jet, a Gloster Meteor, in the United Kingdom in 1946.
During this time, Sq-Ldr. (Major) Asghar Khan decided to transfer to the Pakistan Air Force and went to Great Britain to attend the RAF Staff College at Bracknell, where he graduated in 1949. He was later directed to attend the Joint Service Defence College located in Latimer, Buckinghamshire and graduated in 1952.:v He continued his further education at the Imperial Defence College and graduated in 1955.:v
Command and war appointments in the Pakistani military
Upon returning to Pakistan, Wg-Cdr. (Lt-Col.) Asghar was appointed as the first Commandant of the Pakistan Air Force Academy in Risalpur in 1947 until 1949, he was attached to command the Peshawar Air Force base in 1949–50. In 1948–49, Wg-Cdr. Asghar Khan greeted Governor-General Muhammad Ali Jinnah when Jinnah visited the famed Pakistan Air Force Academy. For a short brief of time in 1953, Gp-Capt. (Col.) Asghar was taken in deputation in the services of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) where he served in the corporate administration.:38 In 1955, Gp-Capt. (Col.) Asghar Khan was appointed as the commander of the No. 1 Group.:120:97
In 1955-56, Air-Cdre. (Brig.) Asghar Khan was posted in the Air AHQ and briefly met with the Brigadier-General Saxton of the U.S. Air Force to discuss the military advisory and equipment procurement for the Pakistan Air Force.:97 In 1957, AVM (Maj-Gen.) Asghar Khan was appointed as the ACAS of Administration and took initiative in establishing the Air Force Education Command that oversaw the establishment of the Air War College in Islamabad and the College of Aeronautical Engineering in Risalpur.
Commander-in-Chief and President of Pakistan International Airlines
In 1957, the Government of Pakistan announced to retire the services of Royal Air Force's officer, AVM Sir Arthur McDonald, and promoted AVM Asghar Khan to the two-star rank.:v In 1957, AVM (Maj-Gen.) Asghar took over the command of the air force as its first and the youngest air commander in the military– he was only at the age of 36 at that time of promotion. In 1958, Maj-Gen. Asghar Khan's rank was upgrades to three-star rank.:v
Soon after his promotion in 1958, Air-Mshl (Lt-Gen.) Asghar Khan soon become involved in the national politics and harboured strong feelings towards nation's politicians involved in monetary corruption.:104 He sided with army commander, Lt-Gen. Ayub Khan against navy commander, V-Adm. HMS Choudhri over the contingency plans and management of the Joint Staff.:381–382 Eventually in 1958, Lt-Gen. Asghar played crucial role in support of the martial law and consolidating the control in support of Gen. Ayub Khan, alongside with Admiral A. R. Khan and four army and air force generals: Azam, Amir, Wajid, who were instrumental in Ayub Khan's rise to power.:104
Ouster of President Mirza was welcomed at public circles, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar backed the actions for the martial law enforcement which he viewed necessary step to eradicate the corrupt practices found in the nation's politics.:104 In 1960, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar was given the first extension and was allowed to continue the command of the air force.:37 In 1963, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar was approved for the second extension from the President Ayub Khan, which was set till 1965. During this time, he maintained close ties with the U.S. Air Force to continue training and supported the test pilot program where many of Pakistan air force's pilots qualified as career test pilots on U.S. military aircraft.
In 1965, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar reportedly was in conflict with the army department led by its army commander Gen. Musa Khan when he questioned over the contingency plans and secret infiltration in Indian side of Kashmir. Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar reported that the air force department nor the naval department was kept informed by the military planners when the second war with India broke out in 1965. Before the declaration of war by either sides, Lt-Gen. Asghar reportedly spoke with the Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh, the Indian IAF's Chief of the Air Staff, where both reached mutual understanding of avoiding bombardment of residential cities of each sides.:17
He boldly came out against the war with India during the meeting with the President Ayub Khan and correctly calculated that "a provoked India is likely to respond along the border in an all-out war." Though, President Ayub took the war option after being convinced by the arguments presented by his Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
On August 1965, President Ayub Khan reportedly refused to approve his extension papers for the third term and was confirmed to be replaced from his command appointment when Lt-Gen. Nur Khan was appointed his post.:67:148 By the time, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar was replaced from his command appointment, the Pakistan Air Force had been formidable branch of the armed forces.
After leaving the command of the air force, President Ayub appointed him as the President of the Pakistan International Airlines, which he served with his rank. There, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar qualified to fly the commercial airline and obtained his commercial license. Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar transformed the corporate culture into professionalism when he introduced new uniforms for the air hostesses and stewards which earned words of admiration at domestic and international airports.
After the deadly aviation incident took place in 1966 involving the PIA's helicopter service in Eastern Pakistan, he stressed towards the aviation safety which led to the PIA achieved lowest aircraft accident rate and highest net profit of Pakistan, and was a formidable competitor in the world airline business. In addition, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen.) Asghar briefly served as the Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) from 1965 until retiring in 1968.:196 His tenure as president is often reminded as "Golden age of PIA" by his supporters. In 1968, Air-Mshl. (Lt-Gen) Asghar eventually retired from his military service and later left the corporate affairs of the airlines, also in 1968.
Political career in Pakistan
Solidarity Party, politics of agitation and support for martial law
After retiring from his military service, Asghar Khan announced to form the political party, the Tehrik-e-Istiqlal (lit. Movement for Solidarity Party), in response of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's announcement of forming of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The TeI was a centrist political party found in direct opposition to left-wing PPP, though both were opposing the Ayub administration.:169 Despite its centerist and secular program, the TeI attracted the right-wing conservative vote bank and support from the ultraconservative clergy.:169 During the election campaign in 1969–70, Asghar Khan placed the blame on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for starting the second war with India in 1965 after reading the statement from Ayub Khan after meeting the latter.:23-24
He also was very critical of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Mujibur Rehman when they quietly sustained the turnover of central government under President Yahya Khan.:89-90 He was later imprisoned alongside with Bhutto and Mujib for sometime, sharing the limelight in the news for his imprisonment.:76 In protest in 1969, Asghar renounced his civil awards bestowed to him by the Government of Pakistan.:vii He later advised President Yahya Khan of transferring the control of the government to Mujibur Rehman to prevent the breaking-up the unity of Pakistan as early as 1971.:contents
During the nationwide general elections held in 1970, Asghar Khan decided to run on the Rawalpindi's constituencies, believing that the city's population would vote in appreciation of the retired air force general who is also close to the military establishment.:76 However, Asghar Khan clearly lost the election to the less-known politician, Khurshid Hasan Mir of PPP; the TeI generally lost the election without winning any seats for the National Assembly as the PPP had performed well to claim the exclusive mandate in the Four Provinces of Pakistan.:159
After the disastrous third war with India in 1971, Asghar Khan joined the National Assembly, only to be served in the Opposition bench led by Wali Khan of communist Awami National Party.:159 After Yahya administration turned over the civilian government to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as President, Asghar Khan accused Bhutto of escalating the situation that led to the breaking-up the nation's unity and noting that: "We are living virtually under one-party state... The outstanding feature is suppression."
In 1973, his criticism on Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto grew further and held him directly responsible of authorizing the military operations to curb the nationalism in Balochistan in Pakistan.:205. In 1974, Asghar criticized the nationalization of industry and his party was benefitted with financial support from industrialists such as Nawaz Sharif, Javed Hashmi, Shuja'at Hussain to oppose such policy measure programs. In 1975–76, Asghar Khan eventually supported and was instrumental informing the National Front, a massive nine-party conservative alliance, and was said to be determined to oust Bhutto and his party from the government and power.:163
In 1977, Asghar Khan participated in the general elections on his previous constituency but lost the elections to less-known politicians, much to his surprise.:76 He refused the election results and leveled charges on the government of vote rigging, immediately calling for the massive dharnas against the government.:76 When provincial governments led the arrests of massive workers of National Front, it was reported by historians that it was Asghar Khan who penned a letter to the Chairman joint chiefs Admiral Mohammad Shariff and army chief Gen. Zia-ul-Haq of reminding them of not to obey the law of their civilian superiors.:68:contents Excerpts of this letter is later published by the historians as Asghar Khan later asking the military to renounce their support for the "Illegal regime of Bhutto", and asked the military leadership to "differentiate between a "lawful and an unlawful" command... and save Pakistan.".:181
To the historians and observer, the letter was a pivot for the military to engage in establishing the martial law against Prime Minister Bhutto in 1977.:68 Asghar Khan was reportedly offered cabinet post in the Zia administration but he declined to be served.
Imprisonment and political struggle to maintain image
After the martial law upheld by army chief, Gen. Zia, supported by Chairman joint chiefs Adm. Sharif, Asghar Khan began opposing the Zia administration and called for supporting the restoration of democracy. On a television interviews with the news channels, Asghar Khan strongly defended his letter as according to him "nowhere in the letter had he asked for the military to take over", and he had written it in response to a news story that he had read in which an army major had shot a civilian showing him the "V sign".
He was kept under house arrest at his Abbottabad residence from 16 October 1979 to 2 October 1984 and was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. In 1986, Asghar Khan left the MRD, which was under the influence of the PPP and ANP, and had paving a way for the Bhuttoism which had irked Asghar Khan.:51-52 His decision of boycotting the non-partisan general elections held in 1985 eventually led many of his party's key member defecting to the Pakistan Muslim League led by its President M. K. Junejo.:134
In 1988, his penned letter calling for support for the martial law became a public matter and failed to defend his multiple constituencies against the PPP's politicians when the general elections held in 1988.:114-115 He also lost the general elections held in 1993 and leveled accusations on the military of financing the conservative PML(N) and PPP.:187 He eventually took his case to the Supreme Court of Pakistan where the hearings of his case are still being heard by the Nisar Court of present. In 1997, Asghar Khan boycotted the general elections held in 1997.:703
Public disapproval and merging with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Since 1990, Asghar Khan's political image had failed to sustain any political influence in the country. In 1998–99, Asghar Khan made unsuccessful attempts to merged his party's cause to Imran Khan's PTI.:887
In 2002, he handed over his small party to his elder son, Omar, who was the cabinet minister in the early Musharraf administration. After his son's death, Asghar joined the National Democratic Party in 2004, which he remained part of until 2011.:428 On 12 December 2011, Asghar Khan announced his full support to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Imran Khan. He praised Imran Khan for his struggle and endorsed him as the only hope left for the survival of Pakistan. This endorsement came at a crucial time for Imran Khan, when many tainted politicians were joining his party.
Dissent: Criticism on state, military and politicians
During this political career, Asghar Khan was very critical of Pakistan Army's involvement in the politics and issued strong criticism to Pakistan Army's general in first instance in 1980, which led to his imprisonment– he stressed the importance of the civilian control of the military for the economic development.:133 On various occasion, Asghar Khan called for normalization of Indo-Pakistan relations and reportedly accused the Pakistan Army inciting the deliberate attempts to start the conflict with India. Asghar Khan also renounced the nuclear tests operations conducted by Pakistan, targeting Prime minister Nawaz Sharif move for making that move. In 2011 Asghar Khan maintained that:
In the last over 60 years, India has never attacked Pakistan, as it cannot afford it. Indians know well, if Pakistan is destroyed, they will be the next target... It was made our problem that one day India would invade us. But we did so four times and the first attack was on Kashmir, where Maharaja was not prepared to accede to India for he wanted to join Pakistan and waited for this for 21 days. Indian forces came to East-Pakistan when people were being slaughtered there. Moreover, again at Kargil, Indian never mounted an assault...
In 1972, Asghar Khan accused Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the break-up of the country, later blatantly blaming Bhutto for the starting of the conflict in Western Pakistan in 1976, and the war in Eastern Pakistan in 1971, terming it "inflexible attitude" of Bhutto.
Commenting of his political collapse, Asghar Khan accused the civil society for his failure, and marked that: "the majority in Pakistan voted for the (corrupt) politicians, as they also wanted their job done by "hook or by crook".
In 1990s, he briefly fought the several legal battles against his country's elected politicians where he accused them of involved in monetary corrupt practices, and eventually filed a lawsuit against the PPP and PML(N) at the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He held a numerous televised press conferences where he attached the case file of his lawsuits and penned an article to the public: Is Hamam Main Sab Nangay… (lit. Everyone's naked in this bathroom...).
Asghar Khan was also a prolific political writer and historian where he penned criticism on the politics of Pakistan army and the role of military establishment in country's political system. Of 13 books, three of his popular bibliography included: We've Learnt Nothing from History, Pakistan at the Crossroads and Generals in Politics.
Personal life, death and funeral
Asghar Khan was married to Amina Shamsie in 1946 and they had four children, Nasreen, Sheereen, Omar (deceased) and Ali Asghar Khan.:103 Asghar Khan passed away on 5 January 2018, two weeks shy of his 97th birthday. The government of Pakistan buried him with full state honours and he was given a state funeral, the fifth such funeral in the history of the nation (After Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Abdul Sattar Edhi, and Ruth Pfau).
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He firmly believed Pakistan does not face an offensive threat from India and has nothing to fear on its eastern front unless it keeps provoking its giant neighbour...
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The Tehrik-i-Istiqlal of retired air marshal Asghar Khan had also joined the MRD by  ... The so-called 'three Khans' – Nazrullah Khan of the Pakistan Democratic Party, Walid Khan of National Awami Party and Asghar Khan of the Tehrik – opposed [participation in the 1985 elections] and carried the rest with them.
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| Commander-in-Chief, Pakistan Air Force