Sahabzada Yaqub Khan

Posted on April 23, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, History, People
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Owais Mughal

Sahibzada Yaqub KhanAs many people guessed correctly, the person in our most recent ATP Quiz here was a young Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, former foreign minister of Pakistan.

Yaqub Khan was a unique and multi-talented high-achiever – general, statesman, diplomat, intellectual. He was born in 1920 in the Royal Family of Nawabs of Rampur, India. He first joined the Indian Army and when Pakistan got independence, he migrated to Pakistan and continued to serve in Pakistan Army. While serving in Pakistan Army he rose to the rank of a Leutenant General and served in East Pakistan as the Chief of General Staff, Commander Eastern Command. For a brief period of 1 week he also became the Governor of East Pakistan.

After retiring from Army in 1972 Sahibzada Yaqub Khan served as the Ambassador of Pakistan in USA, USSR and France. From 1982 onwards he was designated as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister in different Governments. Between 1992-97 he also served as United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Western Sahara.

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Sahabzada Yaqub Khan is also the founding chairman of Aga Khan University Board of Trustees. In June 2005 Aga Khan University Press published a book called Strategy, Diplomacy, Humanity on the life and work of Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan.

Above all, Shaibzada Yaqub Khan was a “personality” in the true sense of the world. In 2005 Abbas Raza wrote a fascinating profile of Yaqoob Khan in the blog Three Quarks Daily, in which he describes Sahibzada Yaqub as “probably the most remarkable man I have ever met.” His account of his meeting with Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan tells much about the man as well as the icon:

Sahibzada Yaqub Khan - Pakistan

The first time that I met Sahabzada Yaqub Khan about six years ago, he was in Washington and New York as part of a tour of four or five countries (America, Russia, China, Japan, etc.) relations with which are especially important to Pakistan… I had heard and read much about Sahabzada Yaqub and knew his reputation for fierce intellect and even more intimidating, had heard reports of his impatience with and inability to suffer fools, so I was nervous when I walked in. Over the next couple of hours I was blown away: Sahabzada Yaqub was not much interested in talking about politics, and instead, asked about my doctoral studies in philosophy. It was soon apparent that he had read widely and deeply in the subject, and knew quite a bit about the Anglo-American analytic philosophy I had spent the previous five years reading. He even asked some pointed questions about aspects of philosophy which even some graduate students in the field might not know about, much less laymen. Though we were interrupted by a series of phone calls from the likes of Henry Kissinger wanting to pay their respects while Sahabzada Yaqub was in town, we managed to talk not just about philosophy, but also physics (he wanted to know more about string theory), Goethe (SYK explained some of his little-known scientific work, in addition to quoting and then explicating some difficult passages from Faust), the implications of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, and Urdu literature, of which Sahabzada Yaqub has been a lifelong devotee.

I left late that night dazzled by his brilliance, and elated by his warmth and generosity. Sahabzada Yaqub listens more than he speaks, but when he does speak, he is a raconteur extraordinaire. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to get to know him well, and have spent many a rapt hour in his company. On my last trip to Islamabad, he and his wife and [his son] had me and my wife Margit over for dinner, where upon learning that Margit is from Italy, Sahabzada Yaqub spoke with her in Italian. Then, realizing that she is from the South Tyrol (the German-speaking part of Italy near the Austrian border), he spoke to her in German, giving us a fascinating mini-lecture on German translations of Shakespeare. I can picture him now, emphatically declaiming “Sein oder nicht sein. Das ist hier die frage.”

… Though he has always been fiercely protective of his privacy, politely refusing to write his memoirs despite great public demand (including entreaties over the last few years from me), Sahabzada Yaqub Khan has recently allowed some of his writings to be collected into book form: Strategy, Diplomacy, Humanity, compiled and edited by Dr. Anwar Dil, had its launch earlier this month at a ceremony at the Agha Khan University in Karachi.

…Among other things, Sahabzada Yaqub Khan is a true polyglot: he can speak, read and write somewhere between 6 and 10 languages. While he was governor of East Pakistan, he learned Bengali and delivered public addresses in it, which went a long way toward assuaging their concerns of cultural dominance by West Pakistan. He is also a stylishly impeccable dresser (he was voted best-dressed several years in a row by the Washington diplomatic corps). My greatest joy in his company, however, remains his inimitable explications of the deeper philosophical implications buried in Ghalib’s couplets, of which he has been a longtime and enthusiastic student. In short, he is a man with many and diverse qualities.

Before formally ending the post I want to share couple of photos of Sahabzada Yaqub Khan. The photo to the left is circa 1922 and Yaqub Khan is sitting in the center. His brother Yousuf is on his right and brother Younus on his left.

The photo to the right below is Sahabzada Yaqub Khan in a group of cousins and siblings.
This photo is circa 1936 and was taken in Masori, India. People sitting Clockwise in the photo are Lady Abdus Samad Khan (mother of Yaqub Khan), Sahabzada Yousuf Khan, Jahan Ara Habibullah (sister), Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, Fakhra (sister), Masood-uz-Zafar (brother in law) and Sahanzada Younus Khan.

24 Comments on “Sahabzada Yaqub Khan”

  1. Ayaz Siddique says:
    April 23rd, 2008 9:58 am

    More information and photos of his early days and family history can be found in her sister’s memoirs Zindagi ki Yadayn. RIYASAT RAMPUR KA NAWABI DAUR published by OUP in Pakistan. Another titbit…Kamila Shamsie the famous writer is the grand daughter of Begum Jehan Ara and so related to Sahibzada sahib

  2. Qureshj says:
    April 23rd, 2008 10:38 am

    I did not like the fact that he served Ziaul Haq. But he
    himself served with integrity and a professionalism that few could match.

  3. Fahim says:
    April 23rd, 2008 12:53 pm

    Sounds like the sort of person we need more of no matter what the country. One cannot accuse him of being dumbed down for certain (like Americans incrassingly are)! What he was like individually is what the nation needs to deliver more of through a challenging educational system that is affordable, so more can benefit.

    In the internet age this isn’t as expensive a goal as it used to be as there’s lot that one can learn via the net. The same applies for governments and their policymakers.

  4. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    April 23rd, 2008 1:26 pm

    Owais Mughal,

    @ If The Sahebzada was good enough, so is ZIA,
    otherwise nothing but “sheer” hypocrisy.
    Anti-Zia is a phobia, visible side effects , PPP

  5. Khadija says:
    April 23rd, 2008 6:24 pm

    I am glad you have chosen to highlight this man of learning and integrity. Having worked with a hedious person like Zia is a blot on his past but he was a true professional and his work as Foreign Minister at a crucial time was of great service to the country. He was an elegant, honest and most impressive representative for Pakistan and has served his country very well, even under someone as bad as Zia ul Haq.

  6. April 23rd, 2008 8:56 pm

    Is it true that Mr. Bhutto said about Sahibzada that he can tolerate Nawabs but he can not tolerate Sahibzadai. Can someone enlighten me if this is true.

  7. Khadija says:
    April 23rd, 2008 11:51 pm

    Richard Rai, this seems to be something you made up rather than something Z.A. Bhutto would have said. Specially in the case of Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, it was Z A Bhutto who propelled him to the diplomatic world.

  8. Hossp says:
    April 24th, 2008 12:34 am

    Khadija and Richard,
    All I can say is that ZAB could have said all that and still had kept in him in his employment.

    We are an unfortunate nation for making bunch of rtd army officers and former nawabs our role models or creating an illusion that these guys were really what they were because they had a letter from Nixon or Al Haig said something about them. Tons of diplomats have letters like that. Since we have no access to any of literary, philosophical or political work by him, how could we possibly believe in what some people related to him or friends of his family making him out to be?

    His perhaps only act of “bravery” was to not follow the Gen. Yahya’s order. But that too is a rather dubious claim. There is no evidence of that anywhere. There is no mention of that in the Hamood urRehman commission report. Gen. Yakoob testified before the commission and he did not make any such claim.
    Gen. Tikka Khan was the General of choice to deal with the E.Pak problem and he dealt with that with all the brutality he could muster.

    It is okay to write a generally favorable eulogy but making a former Army officer, without any distinction even in his army career, a hero and write unsubstantiated stories about him, is just ridiculous!

  9. sada says:
    April 24th, 2008 3:42 am

    This is fact that her has served a dictator. To be a good man personally makes no difference if you come in public life and set tradion of supporting dictators and miltary rulers in Pakistan. It is just like this that after few years people would start saying that Khurshed Qasoori was avery good person but Mushrraf was crook. It should not be like that. Those who even do not have this much of courage, like Sahibzada sb, to say NO to dictator, have no merit absolutely whatsoever. They are not literate, educated, sophisticated, intellegent and visionary in the real sense of these word and we can simply put that such people are just opportunistic.

  10. Ejaz Asi says:
    April 24th, 2008 8:30 am

    Abbas Raza, whose post/quote covers much of this post actually also added in the start of the quoted paragraph that:
    He had come as President Musharraf’s special envoy to reassure these governments in the wake of the fall of the kleptocratic shambles that was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s so-called democratic government. Samad Khan, or Sammy K as he is affectionately known to friends, invited me over to his apartment to meet his Dad.

    I am not sure why that has to be left out? Was it too significant or insignificant?

  11. Abdul Hai says:
    April 24th, 2008 11:27 pm

    I remember the General Yaqub Khan’s visit to our mosque in Orange County, California in 1980/81 time frame. He was then the Pakistan’s ambassador to USA. I was then a recent immigrant to the US having left Pakistan after the brutal murder of Bhutto.

    In response to my question about dictatorship, he replied as a matter of fact that a country gets a leader it deserves. That meant we the people of the Pakistan deserved to be ruled by the likes of Zia and Yaqub Khan.

    It does not matter if general Yaqub Khan spoke six languages. What matters is what he did to the country. There are a lot of interpreters in the UN who speak six languages.

  12. Daktar says:
    April 25th, 2008 12:25 am

    I to remember meeting him a few times, but very briefly and in large group situations.

    He was aloof in a dignified way but not really arrogant. Certainly came across as someone of immense intellectual capacity and of integrity. The type of person you would seek advice from. He served Bhutto as well as Zia, I think largely as a professional doing his job for the country in each case. In neither case was he too close personally to either one and there is nothing I have heard that is about corruption or about personal character or about politicizing his responsibilities.

  13. YLH says:
    April 25th, 2008 1:13 am

    He is a towering figure. Unfortunately he will be dwarfed in history as the “foreign minister” of General Zia and apologist for Musharraf’s coup.

  14. Timur says:
    April 26th, 2008 7:42 am

    Just a thought: All the Presidents/Prime Ministers/Ministers are dictators think about it.They just are so inflated with their own egos.

  15. Umar Shah says:
    April 26th, 2008 2:56 pm

    Yaqub Khan served a couple of dictators, which one are we griping about this time? the only civilian dictator who suspended the 1973 constitution after it was passed, killed and jailed his opponents regularly & was instrumental in splitting Quaid’s Pakistan or the 4th military dictator who disappeared mid-air in 1988 ?
    Yaqub Khan is and will always be a yes-man for the government of the day because he is from the 1st generation of post-partition Pakistani’s who *typically* are devoid of reasonable attitude, accountability & conscience and are responsible for where Pakistan stands today.

  16. Dr. SHAH MURAD MASTOI says:
    May 16th, 2008 11:10 am

    nice to meet sahibzada yakoob khan…….I also saw him at zaibun-nisa street,saddar karachi…when he was minister.,…..i saw him in very simple form….i was v much impressed……


  17. Brig RS Rawat says:
    March 9th, 2009 7:23 am

    Very interesting. I am particularly keen to know if he was the officer, alonwith then Capt PP Kumaramangalam who were POW in Italy & escaped. during the first two weeks of their escape one of them sprained/ broke his leg & the other refused to abandon his buddy. Was it SYK or some other officer. As per late Jemadar Keshar Singh Chaudhary’s account there was a Muslim officer who in the camp, who smoked so heavily that even Keshar Singh’s own quota was not enough for him. It seems, probably, Tikka Khan. But, who was the officer who was recaptured alongwith Kumaramangalam & then lodged in a POW Camp in Germany till finally repatriated? Later in life the two often met.

  18. Wasif Mumtaz says:
    October 10th, 2009 9:12 pm

    SYK, as he is known affectionately by his cotemporaries and admirers, as only a few have the prevelige and honour of knowing him personaly.He is a cosmopolitan personallity of immense talent and intellectual brilliance who could have been settled anywhere in the world in an exalted position matching his experience and knowledge in diplomacy & strategy but he chose to live a quiete life in Islamabad.He was offered to be the guide and tutor of Prince Hasan,the present King of Morroco but he politely refused the then King Hassan.His six lectures on the subject of Strategy, delivered as extempore speeches in Morroco,are a masterpiece and a treat to read.He is the most graceful man in Pakistan and always reminds us the Greats like Augustus or Charleman and our own Quaid-e-Azam.May he Live a long life!

  19. Shehryar says:
    March 14th, 2010 1:20 pm

    I heard someone say that dictators ( as always referring to military rulers) are illiterates, uneducated people. The statement is as falsified as it can get. Just so you people know, military rulers are always from the officer’s cadre which means that they have to go through the Military Academy at Kakul where they’re awarded a B.Sc in Sciences and B.A in War Studies. Then they have to go through an array of courses, including the army Staff course and the army war course in which they’re awarded Masters and Ph.d degrees in Strategy and War Studies and in Political Sciences respectively. So no matter how many mistakes they commit during they tenure, labeling them as illiterates is a weak and illogical argument as they carry more diplomas than any civilian politician (lest Quaid-e-Azam) in Pakistan’s short history. How do I know? Coming from a family whose successive three generations have served in the armed forces, i know a thing or two about our country’s military.

  20. Meengla says:
    March 14th, 2010 7:26 pm

    SYK is one more Pakistani whose extraordinary life is described by this great Pakistani blog. Thanks!
    SYK, until today, remained a self-imposed taboo subject for me because of my extreme aversion to Zia’s rule in Pakistan where SYK would sit beside Zia and his puppet PML-az political facade for good many years. And I also heard from my elders that SYK was a wily person who managed to get out of E.Pakistan just in time before the tragic years of 1971. And I also know that Benazir Bhutto was forced to accept SYK has her foreign minister by the powerful Pakistani Establishment despite her winning the elections of 1988…

    It is hard to get over above points. And it is especially hard to believe that SYK did not ‘suffer fools’. Who was Zia? A God-damned tyrant who hung an elected Prime Minister and who, among his countless follies and cruelties, thought of making Arabic as the national language of Pakistan at one point so as to get rid of the ‘language barriers’ and ‘unite’ the nation. Some fools, damned fools, SYK did suffer!

  21. Muhammad Akhtaruzzaman says:
    August 29th, 2010 4:44 am

    I have heartiest respect to Sahebjada Yakub Khan.I salute him.
    I would like to get his phone or email no.I am from Bangladesh.Please any one inform me.

  22. Jaseem Siddiqui says:
    September 4th, 2010 7:25 pm

    Its very easy to criticise SYK regarding his service to dictaors, but tell me are not all of our Past and current Politicans have nurtured unde dictators look at Bhutto He was the right hand man of Ayub khan and to call Bhutto as the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan is falsifying the history

  23. Nayyar nazir says:
    October 30th, 2010 8:15 am

    hi uncle yaqoob hope u r fine?

  24. DR ESKANDER says:
    December 13th, 2010 10:24 am

    Salute to SYK, one of a very few Pakistani administrator who understood the unfairness that was done to the then East pakistani peoople. His request ( he was the governor of East pakistan) to adress the rightfull demand of Bangali people was rejected several times by Yahya, bhutto and pak Army .Not only that he was punished and was removed from the post of east pakistan governor that brought the disaster for pakistan.Pakistan will carry on with that wound and pain as long as pakistan will exist.May allah bless him .

    Proudly Bangali, Bangladeshi
    Bangla bangalir Joy Hok

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