The Rawalpindi Conspiracy (also known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case) was an attempted coup d'état against the governments of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, in 1951. The conspiracy was the first of many subsequent coup attempts against elected governments in the history of Pakistan. The coup was planned by Major-General Akbar Khan, a senior commander in the Pakistani army, in conjunction with other military officers and left-wing Pakistani politicians.
Main causes of Rawaplindi conspiracy case (busted on 9 March 1951) were three. One, a general discontent of Army's Pakistani Officers with the performance of the Liaqat Ali Khan's Government, whom they thought of as corrupt and incompetent. Two, many of the high ranking Pakistani Generals viewed the continuing presence of British Army Officers in the army as a security threat, as well as an impediment to their speedy promotions. Third, and most immediate cause was their discontent with Liaqat regime's handling of the Kashmir war with India (1948). Army officers thought Government's acceptance of UN mediation and ceasefire, as a 'tame surrender' and 'flouting an opportunity to capture whole of Kashmir'. It is to be noted that several Pakistan Army officers who had fought the Kashmir war, were ethnic Kashmiris and owned land in the contested province. Maj. General Akbar Khan (who was the master mind behind the Rawalpindi Conspiracy) had communist leanings, which explains why he enlisted the support of communist/leftists intellectuals of Pakistan. e.g. Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Syed Sajjad Zaheer (Secretary General of Pakistan Communist Party). Whether USSR was actively involved in this conspiracy is not supported by any evidence. This conspiracy had no connection with Pakistan's joining SEATO or CENTO, as both these international bodies came into being much later (in 1954 and 1955, respectively).
Eleven military officers and four civilians were involved in the conspiracy. The main person responsible for planning the coup was Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, the chief of general staff of the Pakistani army. During the 1947 war, Khan had led Pakistani forces under the pseudonym of "General Tariq." He was based in the northern city of Rawalpindi, where the army headquarters were located, while the political capital of the state was in the southern city of Karachi at the time. The civilian conspirators included leading Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was notably active in left-wing politics and sympathetic to the Communist Party of Pakistan, and Sajjad Zaheer. Akbar Khan's wife, Naseem Shahnawaz Khan, was also believed to have motivated her husband to undertake this plot.
Exposure and trial
The conspiracy was foiled after the government was informed of the coup attempt by one of the confidantes of Akbar Khan. Government forces immediately arrested Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan and the other conspirators, including Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The army commander-in-chief, Gen. Muhammad Ayub Khan and the defence secretary Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza had both remained loyal to the government. Ayub Khan immediately ordered the army troops to surround and take control of the army headquarters, where Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan was based. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan announced the foiling of the coup on 9 March 1951. The government passed the Rawalpindi Conspiracy (Special Tribunal) Act to set up a special tribunal to investigate the conspiracy. A trial was held for the 15 individuals accused, namely – Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, Air Commodore M. K. Janjua, Maj. Gen. Nazir Ahmed, Brigadier Sadiq Khan, Brigadier M. A. Latif Khan, Lt. Col. Zia-ud-Din, Lt. Col. Niaz Muhammad Arbab, Captain Khizar Hayat, Maj. Hassan Khan, Major Ishaq Muhammad, Captain Zafrullah Poshni, Mrs. Naseem Akbar Khan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Syed Sajjad Zaheer and Muhammad Hussain Ata.
After an 18-month trial conducted in secrecy, Maj. Gen. Khan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were both convicted and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Their defence lawyer was the notable Bengali Muslim politician Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. When Suhrawardy became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1957, he obtained a reprieve for most of the conspirators.
Major General Akbar Khan was soon rehabilitated in Pakistani political life, becoming an adviser to Pakistani politician Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Upon coming to power in 1971, Bhutto appointed Akbar Khan as the chief of national security. Faiz continued to publish many works of poetry, and was appointed to the National Council for Arts by the Bhutto government. Gen. Ayub Khan launched the first successful military coup against the government of President Iskander Mirza in 1958, assuming the reins of the presidency himself until 1969. Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated later in 1951, in October, in an unrelated attack by an Afghan in Rawalpindi.
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