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.

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.

25 responses to “Sahabzada Yaqub Khan”

  1. Meengla says:

    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!

  2. Shehryar says:

    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.

  3. Wasif Mumtaz says:

    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!

  4. Brig RS Rawat says:

    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.

  5. Dr. SHAH MURAD MASTOI says:

    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……


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