Muhammad Zafarullah Khan

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Justice Sir
CH Muhammad Zafarullah Khan
محمد ظفر اللہ خان
Muhammad Zafarullah Khan.jpg
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan
In office
27 December 1947 – 24 October 1954
Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan
Khawaja Nazimuddin
Muhammad Ali Bogra
Preceded by Liaquat Ali Khan
Succeeded by Muhammad Ali Bogra
President of the International Court of Justice
Deputy Fouad Ammoun
Preceded by José Bustamante y Rivero
Succeeded by Manfred Lachs
Personal details
Born (1893-02-06)6 February 1893
Sialkot, Punjab, British Raj
(now Pakistan)
Died 1 September 1985(1985-09-01) (aged 92)
Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Political party All-India Muslim League (Before 1947)
Muslim League (1947–1958)
Alma mater Government College University, Lahore
King's College London

Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan KCSI (Urdu: محمد ظفر اللہ خان‎‎; 6 February 1893 – 1 September 1985) was a Pakistani jurist and diplomat who served as the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and the first Asian and the only Pakistani to preside over the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice.[1][2][3]

Born in Sialkot, British India, Khan was educated as a lawyer at the GC University and the King's College London. Khan went on to serve as a member of Punjab Legislative Council between 1926 and 1931, and was a delegate in 1930, 1931, and 1932 to the Round Table Conferences on Indian reforms in London, England. He became a member of the All-India Muslim League which led the Pakistan movement and served as the league's president between 1931 and 1932. In 1935, he became the Minister of Railway of British India, and sat on the British Viceroy's Executive Council as its Muslim member from 1935 to 1941. In 1939 he travelled to Geneva to represent India at the League of Nations and in 1942 became the Agent-General of British India to China. In September 1941, Khan became a judge on the Federal Court of India and remained on the court until the partition of India.

Khan became one of the most vocal proponents of Pakistan and led the case for the separate nation in the Radcliffe Commission which drew the countries of modern-day South Asia. He moved to Karachi in August 1947 and became a member of Pakistan's first cabinet serving as the country's debut foreign minister under the Liaquat administration. He remained Pakistan's top diplomat until 1954 when he left to serve on the International Court of Justice and remained on the court as a judge until 1958 when he became the court's vice president. He left the Hague in 1961 to become the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, a position he served until 1964.[4]

During his time at the UN, he also represented the State of Palestine in a de facto capacity.[5] He left the UN in 1964 to return to the ICJ and, in 1970, he became the first and only Pakistani to serve as the President of the International Court of Justice, a position he maintained until 1973.[6] He returned to Pakistan and retired in Lahore where he died in 1985 at the age of 92. Khan is considered as one of the leading founding fathers of Pakistan[7] and a prominent member of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan.[8] He authored several books on Islam both in Urdu and English.[9]

Family and early life[edit]

Khan was born on 6 February 1893 in Sialkot and acquired his early education at the American Missionary School in Sialkot. Khan's father was Ch. Nasrullah Khan who was the leading attorney of his native city of Daska and a companion of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad founder of the Ahmadiyya Community. His father belonged to the Sahi Jat clan while his mother was of the Bajwa Jat clan and from both sides were Zamindars. Sir Zafarullah Khan was very close to his mother and inspired by her courage and devotion to her religion and even wrote a book called "My Mother". He studied at Government College, Lahore and received his LL.B. from King's College London, in 1914. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, London. He practised law in Sialkot and Lahore, became a member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1926.[2][10]


The Second Round Table Conference, 7 September 1931, with Zafarullah Khan seated to the rear of the table (closest to the camera)

Muhammad Zafarullah Khan was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1926 and presided at the Delhi meeting of the All-India Muslim League in 1931, where he advocated the cause of the Indian Muslims through his presidential address. He participated at the Round Table Conferences held from 1930 to 1932 and became the Minister of Railways in May 1935. In 1939, he represented India at the League of Nations. He was appointed the Agent General of India in China in 1942 and represented India as the Indian Government's nominee at the Commonwealth Relations Conference in 1945, where he spoke on India's cause for freedom.

From 1935 to 1941, he was a member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India. During this period, Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy, told the leaders of the Muslim League that the Government of Great Britain intended to divide India into three dominions – among the Hindus, the Muslims, and the Rulers of Princely States. Within the Muslim League Working Committee, various sub-committees were established, numerous proposals were presented with the final decision resting with the British. However, when the British saw that their objectives could not be met, they unilaterally rejected all proposals submitted by the Muslims. At this point, Zafarullah Khan was asked to submit a proposal on the partition of India, about which the Viceroy wrote to the Secretary of State for India:

Upon my instruction Zafarullah wrote a memorandum on the subject. Two Dominion States. I have already sent it to your attention. I have also asked him for further clarification, which, he says, is forthcoming. He is anxious, however, that no one should find out that he has prepared this plan. He has, however, given me the right to do with it what I like, including sending a copy to you. Copies have been passed on to Jinnah, and, I think, to Sir Akbar Hydari. While he, Zafarullah, cannot admit its authorship, his document has been prepared for adoption by the Muslim League with a view to giving it the fullest publicity.[8]

— Lord Linlithgow, March 12, 1940

The Viceroy further explained that since Zafarullah Khan was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, he had to be cautious. Orthodox Muslims would become irritated if they found that this proposal was prepared by an Ahmadi. The Viceroy stated that Muhammad Ali Jinnah had been given a copy to gain acceptance from the Muslim League and publicise its contents. Akbar Hydari was given a copy because he was responsible for fund raising. Twelve days after it had been proposed, the Muslim League adopted the proposal at the Lahore Conference, calling it the Pakistan Resolution.[8]

In September 1941, Zafarullah Khan was appointed a Judge of the Federal Court of India, a position he held until June 1947. At the request of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, he represented the Muslim League in July 1947 before the Radcliffe Boundary Commission and presented the case of the Muslims in a highly commendable manner. Zafarullah Khan advised the Nawab of Junagadh that if he decided to join his state with Pakistan, it would be both moral and legal. The Nawab then proceeded to announce his decision.[11]

In October 1947, Zafarullah represented Pakistan at the United Nations General Assembly as head of the Pakistani delegation and advocated the position of the Muslim world on the Palestinian issue. That year, he was appointed Pakistan's first Foreign Minister, a post he held for seven years. Between 1948 and 1954, he also represented Pakistan at the United Nations Security Council where he advocated the liberation of occupied Kashmir, Libya, Northern Ireland, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, and Indonesia.

As Foreign Minister, he represented Pakistan at the Manila Treaty Conference in September 1954. Support for the Manila Pact in Pakistan was divided, with the West Pakistan dominated army and a handful of leaders in favour of this, while most elected members of the Constituent Assembly from West Pakistan and all of the Assembly members from East Pakistan opposed it. Zafarullah signed the Manila Pact, committing Pakistan's accession to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). In the 1953 bloody Lahore riots, religious extremists called for Zafarullah Khan's expulsion due to his adherence to the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith. This resulted in the first instance of martial law in the history of Pakistan. Details are recorded in the Munir Commission Report.[12] The pressure from religious extremists finally led to Zafarullah's resignation as Foreign Minister in October 1954.

In 1954, he became a Judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, a position he held until 1961. He was the Vice-President of the International Court of Justice from 1958 to 1961. Between 1961 and 1964, he was Pakistan's Permanent Representative at the United Nations. From 1962 to 1964, he was also the President of the UN General Assembly. He later rejoined the ICJ as a judge from 1964 to 1973, serving as President from 1970 to 1973.[13]


Zafarullah Khan in Japan, along with Japanese converts to the Ahmadiyya movement.

As an Ahmadi Muslim, Zafarullah Khan held the office of Ameer (president) of the Lahore, Pakistan chapter of the community from 1919 to 1935. He served as Secretary to Khalifatul Masih II, the second successor of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, at Majlis-e-Shura for the first time in 1924, and continued to do so for 17 more sessions. In addition, he was a member of the delegation which represented the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at the All Parties Conference held in 1924. In 1927, he acted successfully as representative counsel for the Muslims of the Punjab in the contempt of court case against the Muslim Outlook.

As Pakistan's first Foreign Minister, Zafarullah Khan addressed the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in the days leading up to the passing of the Objectives Resolution. The Objectives Resolution, which combined features of both Western and Islamic democracy, is one of the most important documents in the constitutional history of Pakistan. It was designed to provide equal rights for all citizens of Pakistan, regardless of their race, religion or background. Zafarullah Khan was quoted as saying:

It is a matter of great sorrow that, mainly through mistaken notions of zeal, the Muslims have during the period of decline earned for themselves an unenviable reputation for intolerance. But that is not the fault of Islam. Islam has from the beginning proclaimed and inculcated the widest tolerance. For instance, so far as freedom of conscience is concerned the Quran says "There shall be no compulsion" of faith...[14]

— Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Addressing the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, c. 1949

In March 1958, Zafarullah Khan performed Umrah and, at the same time, visited the shrine of Muhammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia. During his visit, he met with the King of Saudi Arabia Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, and stayed at the Royal Palace as a personal guest of the king. In 1967, he returned to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so.


Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan is considered a controversial figure in the history of Pakistan for belonging to a sect deemed heretical by conservative and orthodox Islamist factions. Nevertheless, he was one of the most influential, skilled, and passionate diplomats of his time. In a personal tribute, His Majesty King Hussein bin Tallal of Jordan said:

"He was indeed a champion of the Arab cause and his ceaseless efforts whether among the Muslim and non-aligned countries or at the International Court of Justice will remain for ever a shining example of a great man truly dedicated to our faith and civilization."

— Review of Religions Sept/Oct 1986, pg. 6

Muhammad Fadhel al-Jamali, a former Prime Minister of Iraq, in a tribute on his death, wrote:

"In fact, it was not possible for any Arab, however capable and competent he may be, to serve the cause of Palestine in a manner in which this distinguished and great man dedicated himself. What was the result of the debate in the United Nations is another matter. But, it must be acknowledged that Mohammad Zafrulla Khan occupies a pre-eminent position in defending the Palestinians in this dispute. We except from all Arabs and followers of Islam that they will never forget this great Muslim fighter. After Palestine, the services of this man for the independence of Libya also deserves admiration. In the United Nations, his struggle for the rights of Arabs formed the basis of firm and lasting friendship between us."

— Al-Sabah Oct 10, 1985

The DAWN of Karachi admitted that:

"He earned the abiding respect and admiration of the Arab and other Muslim nations as a defender of their interests."

— Dawn Editorial Sept 3 1985

After living in England from 1973 to 1983, Zafarullah Khan returned to Pakistan. He died in Lahore on 1 September 1985 following a protracted illness.[15] He was buried at Bahishti Maqbara in Rabwah, Pakistan, a cemetery established by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.





  1. ^ "All Members | International Court of Justice". Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Brief Life Sketch of Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan". Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  3. ^ "Presidents of the General Assembly of the United Nations". Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafaullah Khan - Nusrat Jahan College". Retrieved 2016-02-15. 
  5. ^ "A forgotten hero". Retrieved 2016-02-15. 
  6. ^ "All Judges ad hoc | International Court of Justice". Retrieved 2016-02-15. 
  7. ^ "A nation that forgets its heroes will itself soon be forgotten – The Express Tribune Blog". Retrieved 2016-02-15. 
  8. ^ a b c Khan, Wali. "Facts are Facts: The Untold Story of India's Partition" (PDF). pp. 40–42. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  9. ^ "Muhammad Zafrulla Khan". Goodreads. Retrieved 2016-02-15. 
  10. ^ The Reminiscences of Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan by Columbia University p. 1,238 "THE REMINISCENCES OF SIR MUHAMMAD ZAFRULLA KHAN" (PDF). Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  11. ^ Singh, Iqbal. Between Two Fires: Towards an Understanding of Jawaharlal Nehru's Foreign Policy, Volume 2. pp. 41–44. 
  12. ^ Justice Munir Enquiry Report on Anti-Ahmadiyya riots of 1953 (English)
  13. ^ International Court of Justice, Members of the Court.
  14. ^ Shourie, Arun. "Surely, the Basic Lesson Flows from the Basic Premise". Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  15. ^ Maulana Dost Muhammad Shahid Sahib. "Brief Life Sketch of Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan". Al Islam. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Retrieved 23 July 2011. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Liaquat Ali Khan
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Muhammad Ali Bogra
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Aly Khan
Ambassador to the United Nations
Succeeded by
Amjad Ali
Preceded by
Mongi Slim
President of the United Nations General Assembly
Succeeded by
Carlos Sosa Rodriguez
Preceded by
Feodor Kozhevnikov
President of the International Court of Justice
Succeeded by
Hersch Lauterpacht