Rawalpindi Conspiracy

The Rawalpindi Conspiracy  was an attempted Soviet-backed coup d'├ętat against the government 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 March 9, 1951) were three.
  1. General discontent of Army Officers with the performance of Liaquat Ali Khan's Government, whom they thought of as corrupt and incompetent. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Most immediate cause was their discontent with Liaquat regime's handling of the Kashmir war with India (1948). 
Army officers thought Government's acceptance of UN mediation/ 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 over there. Maj Gen 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.

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 March 9, 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 -
  1. Maj Gen Akbar Khan
  2. Maj Gen Nazir Ahmed
  3. Brig Sadiq Khan
  4. Brig MA Latif Khan
  5. Air Commodore MK Janjua 
  6. Lt Col Zia-ud-Din
  7. Lt Col Niaz Muhammad Arbab
  8. Capt Khizar Hayat 
  9. Maj Hassan Khan
  10. Maj Ishaq Muhammad
  11. Capt Zafrullah Poshni 
  12. Mrs Naseem Akbar Khan 
  13. Faiz Ahmed Faiz 
  14. Syed Sajjad Zaheer 
  15. 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.

Maj Gen 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 to be 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.