Rawalpindi conspiracy

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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.[1] The coup was planned by Major-General Akbar Khan, a senior commander in the Pakistani army, in conjunction with 15 other military officers and left-wing Pakistani politicians.[1]


According to writer Hasan Zaheer, there were three main causes of the Rawalpindi conspiracy. First, general discontent of Pakistani army officers with the performance of the Liaquat Ali Khan government, which they thought of as corrupt and incompetent. Second, the view of many Pakistani officers that the continuing presence of British officers in the Pakistan army was a security threat. Third, and most immediately, discontent with the government's handling of the Kashmir war with India (1947–1948). Army officers thought the government's acceptance of UN mediation and ceasefire was weak and squandered an opportunity to capture the whole of Kashmir.[2]


Eleven military officers and four civilians were involved in the conspiracy.[3] The main person responsible for planning the coup was Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, the chief of general staff of the Pakistani army.[3] During the Kashmir War, Khan had led the Pakistani forces under the pseudonym of "General Tariq."[3] 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.[1] Akbar Khan's wife, Naseem Shahnawaz Khan, was also believed to have motivated her husband to undertake this plot.[1][4][5]

Exposure and trial[edit]

The conspiracy was foiled after the government was informed of the coup attempt by one of the confidantes of Akbar Khan.[6] 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.[5] 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 Shahnawaz Khan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Syed Sajjad Zaheer and Muhammad Hussain Ata.[1][5][6]

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.[6] Their defence lawyer was the notable Bengali Muslim politician Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy.[4][6] When Suhrawardy became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1957, he obtained a reprieve for most of the conspirators.[4]


Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated later in 1951, in October, in an unrelated[citation needed] attack by an Afghan in Rawalpindi. 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.

Major General Akbar Khan 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.[4] Naseem Shahnawaz and Akbar Khan were divorced, and the former changed her name to Naseem Jahan (after her mother Jahanara Shahnawaz) and became a politician in her own right.[7] Faiz continued to publish many works of poetry, and was appointed to the National Council for Arts by the Bhutto government.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Rawalpindi conspiracy case, part 1". The Nation (Opinion). 27 August 2009. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  2. ^ Hasan Zaheer (1998). The Times and Trial of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy 1951: The First Coup Attempt in Pakistan. Oxford University Press. pp. xvi, 28–29. ISBN 978-0-19-577892-2.
  3. ^ a b c Robert Wirsing (2003). Kashmir in the shadow of war: regional rivalries in a nuclear age. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 173–yo yo 75. ISBN 978-0-7656-1089-8.
  4. ^ a b c d S.M. Ahmad (2001). A Lucky Pilot: Memoirs of Retired Wing Commander Lanky Ahmad. Ferozsons. ISBN 978-969-0-01371-2.
  5. ^ a b c Hasan Zaheer (1998). The times and trial of the Rawalpindi conspiracy 1951: the first coup attempt in Pakistan. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-577892-2.
  6. ^ a b c d "Rawalpindi conspiracy case, part 2". The Nation (Opinion). 27 August 2009. Archived from the original on 12 July 2010. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  7. ^ Pirbhai, M. Reza (2017), Fatima Jinnah, Cambridge University Press, p. 178, ISBN 978-1-107-19276-8

Further reading[edit]

  • Dryland, Estelle. "Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case." Journal of South Asian Literature 27.2 (1992): 175–185. Online