Sardar Muhammad Abdul Qayyum Khan: An Obituary

By Tariq Masud

Tariq MasudPhoto of Sardar Muhammad Abdul Qayyum Khan, ex PM and President of AJ&KEditor’s Note: Mr.Tariq Masud was born in Jammu, migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and lived in Rawalpindi for many years. He studied in Gordon College, 1952-57. After obtaining a law degree from Lahore, he joined Civil Service in 1960. He held many important positions in AJ&K and Federal Governments, including Additional Chief Secretary Planning, Financial Commissioner and Joint Secretary Economic Affairs Division. After retirement in 1997, he was elevated to be the Mohtasib AJ&K for four years. He has also served as Chairman Pakistan Red Crescent Society, AJ&K Branch and a member of National Oversight Council for Disaster & Crises Management. He lives in Islamabad.

He was a revolutionary as well as a pacifist, a flag carrier of traditional value system but seldom hesitant to accept new ideas and compulsions of the fast changing world. Very unconventional and impulsive, he was, but prepared to accept the treaded paths when it became necessary. It is seldom that one individual combines in himself, so many opposing attributes as did Sardar Muhammad Abdul Qayyum Khan.

Sardar Qayyum was born in April 1924, in village Joli Cheer (later renamed Ghazi Abad) Tehsil Bagh, District Poonch of Jammu & Kashmir State. He left High School to join Indian Army in 1945 and served as a non-combatant in Palestine, Sudan and Egypt. Released from Army, he came home in 1947 seeking a clerical position in Soldiers Board Bagh. But destiny had something different in store for him. He made himself prominent in rising against the Maharaja’s rule and is reputed to have fired the first shot starting the war of liberation hence called the Mujahid-e-Awal.

He was in the forefront during armed struggle against Dogra rule, joined Muslim Conference to become one of the trusted assistants of Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas. After Chaudhary Sahib, he became the unanimous leader of Muslim Conference.

He remained President of AJK for 12 years (1956-57, 1970-75 and 1985-91) and Prime Minister for 5 years (July 1991 – July1996)

His inner strength came from an unflinching devotion and submission to a higher cause and from a burning desire to change the thinking and attitudes of the people. He was a commoner first and a commoner last and no worldly position he held ever distanced him from his people.

Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan having Informal lunch on way to Muzaffarabad, with foreign visitors

Sardar Sahib had charisma, the like of which has rarely been seen in this country but he moderated his actions with logic, consultation and consensus. With a deep-rooted commitment to the cause of liberation of Kashmir and the desire to reform and change attitudes of his people, he promoted the establishment of an egalitarian culture in AJK. Harmony and interaction between various tiers of society, uprooting red-tapism to simplify the decision-making process in the Government were the tools he tried to use, however, it took him a long time to make a dent in the hardened attitude of officials. Himself an extremely hard-working person, he expected others to follow suit and lost patience while dealing with instances of belatedness, inefficiency and callousness.

Youthful Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan with Foreign Journalists

Sardar Sahib possessed remarkable self-control and ability to accept change. He had to constantly fight his inherent rigidity to accept new concepts, goals and rules. His decision-making, gradually ceased to be dictatorial and impulsive and evolved to base on consultation and consensus. He avoided confrontation unless driven to the wall. Forgiveness & affection for friends and workers, simple living and a down to earth life style providing accessibility to common man were the other hallmarks of Sardar Qayyum Sahib’s personality.

He was a devout disciple of Kaka Jee shrine and, remained ardently faithful to Pir Sahib’s family all his life. His two sons Sardar Khalique and Sardar Attique were married in Pir Sahib’s family. For several years he lived in a small bare room in Kaka Jee’s house in Rawalpindi, sleeping on the floor and eating what he could find from the langer.

During the ‘50s, he would walk daily from Kaka Jee’s house in Satellite Town to Mayo Road near Pindi Katchehry, to meet Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas who wanted him there to discuss party affairs. Most of the time Sardar Sahib did not have even bus fare but walked unflinchingly in compliance with the wishes of his leader. Sardar Sahib was always reverential to Chaudhary Sahib and never referred to him without prefixing the title of Quaid-e-Millat. I found him particularly attached to Captain Nasim of Chamyati (former Secretary Tehsil Soldier Board) with whom he had stayed in Bagh during the fateful days of 1947 when he was itching to start a rebellion against the Maharaja. Even as President, Sardar Sahib while travelling to his home in Ghazi Abad would invariably break journey at Chamyati to have a cup of tea with Captain Nasim. Sardar Sahib’s sister whom he loved more than any other family member was later married to Capt Nasim’s son.

He greatly valued his party workers, freedom fighters and competent aides; ever ready to help them. He made me personally responsible to finalize several cases where justice had long been denied or delayed. These included cases of land compensation due to late Col. Zia of “Infamous Pindi Conspiracy”, provision of approach road to the now famous school at Rawalakot established by Sardar Habib’s family, land case of Mohammad Hussain Dharray (the 1944 hockey Olympian) and reinstatement of illegally removed Pathan engineer Bostan Khan. Bostan was a simpleton Pathan Executive Engineer who was framed by his clever colleagues and was removed from service. He ran from pillar to post but was denied justice. He had become a recluse, his children out of schools and the family almost a pauper. Sardar Sahib emphasized that Bostan Khan was an outsider with no connections in AJK and needed our full support to fight against the powerful PWD mafia. Bostan’s whole life changed when the courier delivered to him, a fat cheque of arrears.  He became so emotional while thanking Sardar Sahib that only Sardar Sahib could stop him from uttering blasphemy.

It was fascinating to see that Sardar Sahib, though a high school dropout, was indeed a very educated person. He had worked hard all his life in self-education and never hesitated to learn from anybody at any time. He would ask questions and would consult a dictionary if a new word or phrase was spoken before him, and would then use the newly learnt word in his own conversation. His grasp and memory was remarkable and over the years, he developed an admirable command over the English language, written as well as spoken. He spoke to hundreds of visiting delegations from prestigious institutions all over the world and delivered impressive lectures at ace institutions in Canada, USA, UK and elsewhere. He could effectively deal with incisive and troublesome interviewers like Tim Sebestian of BBC and Sharma\ Thapur of Zee TV

It was a pleasure working with him. It was always a two-way traffic, particularly while drafting important letters, during times of conflict with the Federal Government. He would himself draft acrid letters, I would tone them down, arguments and counter arguments would ensue, he would change my draft beyond recognition, I would resubmit arguing against writing such letters and a heated discussion would commence. My effort was to keep him out of a collision course with ZAB Government. Despite the bouts of writing angry letters, Sardar Sahib expressed great admiration for ZAB and that Mr. Bhutto too, I am sure, watched Sardar Sahib with interest and admiration, also picked up couple of things from Sardar Sahib. Once Sardar Sahib remarked, “Instead of these psychos who are making the task of Mr. Bhutto so difficult, if I was ever to be the Secretary General of PPP, I would put new life in it to make it a real People’s Party and fascilitate Bhutto Sahib’s Natioal level task”.

 Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

In 1973, when ZAB abruptly left Mangla for Islamabad, missing a luncheon hosted in his honour by K.H. Khursheed, Sardar Sahib shared with us that the reason ZAB did not want to eat that afternoon was to ensure that he keeps a clear head and remains alert for important discussions with Henry Kissinger in Islamabad that evening. Sardar Sahib was deeply impressed by this action of Mr. Bhutto.

Sardar Sahib repeatedly advised ZAB not to extend PPP or allow other Pakistan based political parties into AJK as that was bound to escalate local conflicts and result in dilution of unanimous support for the Kashmir cause but ZAB did not take that advice because he wanted the monopoly of Muslim Conference broken.

The Federal Government did not allow Sardar Sahib to freely operate in Pakistan and many hurdles were placed in his way. Confrontation with Islamabad for the first time  reached its peak during the Islamic Summit in 1974. Federal Government did not want to see Sardar Sahib in Lahore while Sardar Sahib was determined to take full advantage of Islamic leaders’ presence. Literature on Kashmir cause was updated and reprinted. Special folders were prepared with Sardar Sahib’s letter to the Islamic heads. The task of delivering the folders to the heads of states was achieved by sympathetic co-operation of the Foreign Office officials deputed with heads of the state. Sardar Sahib fixed a briefing session on Kashmir with foreign correspondents at Pearl Continental Hotel, Lahore. The hotel was coerced by Lahore Administration to cancel the reservation hours before the event. Sardar Sahib told the hotel adminstration that if the reserved and paid for hotel hall was refused he would hold the briefing in the hotel lawn. Muslim Conference workers started making necessary arrangements and tension rose high. At that point Sahibzada Rauf IGP Punjab who had earlier served as IGP AJK and was well-known asked me to convey to Sardar Sahib that the Government will have no option but to arrest Sardar Sahib if he does not desist from holding the press conference. I told Sahibzada that I will convey his message but he should realize that it would not be the first arrest of Sardar Sahib’s life and in case Government of Punjab does commit this blunder it will be extremely damaging for the Government of Pakistan.

PPP formed the AJK Government in 1975. In a dinner hosted for ZAB by President Sardar Ibrahim Khan, the new AJK PM, Khan Hamid complained that important matters of AJK were not being given due attention. ZAB retorted “You only sit and make complaints. You have to move. How many times have you written to the Federal Government? Sardar Qayyum used to make my life miserable by repeatedly writing letters about important AJK issues. You should learn from Sardar Qayyum”.

Sardar Sahib felt reluctant to agree to the ordinary definition of “merit”. He would remark, “Merit is proportionate to the sacrifices one has made for the liberation of this territory, it is not marks obtained in the university alone.

Sardar Sahib did not let go of an opportunity to help people but at the same time, kept his integrity intact. One time, I put up the case of new ad-hoc entrants who had been selected on the basis of an examination. He wanted the son of a freedom fighter appointed whom he had summoned from Karachi. I argued that the boy in question was way down the merit list and I could not recommend him. Sardar Sahib tried to prevail but finding me adamant, he threw the pen down and stopped working further. I quietly collected my files and went out. I couldn’t sleep that night reflecting, “Of what use is a Prime Minister if he cannot even appoint a temporary grade 16 officer of his choice.” But then I found solace in the fact that my submission was correct and lawful. He showed some displeasure the next two days but reflected on it and without letting his ego come in the way, became his usual self on the third day and approved the relevant file also.

Kashmir cause was dearest to his heart and every action he took while in office was subservient to the considerations of Kashmir cause. He did lobbying for Kashmir on a fairly large-scale – more than any other leader has been able to do. He toured foreign countries, meeting and speaking to large number of opinion makers, invited and hosted influential delegations from a number of countries, invited journalists and writers from abroad, encouraging them to write about Kashmir in other languages, regularly attended OIC and Friends of Kashmir meetings in European Parliaments, maintained regular and good relations with All Parties Hurriyat Conference, often stating that it will be APHC who will represent Kashmiris at any decisive forum and that he would gladly follow the dictates of APHC.

Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan at  International Kashmir Conference at Rawalpindi, 11th Feb 1990

Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan at 7th OIC Conference at Casablanca in December 1994

He did his best to bring all shades of opinion in AJK at one platform and held periodic meetings with intellectuals, writers and opinion makers to bring about a national consensus on Kashmir. He carefully selected a competent team of advisors to work with him on Kashmir. Khalid Hassan looked after lobbying on Kashmir in Washington (even though AJK could only provide him nominal funds), Dr. Attiya Inayat Ullah, M. Yusuf, Air Martial Ayaz, Z.U. Khan and Prof. Khattak were also included in his delegations from time to time.

Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan with Khalid Hassan and Tariq Masud

Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan with Lord Avebury in Muzaffarabad

Sardar Sahib was born in a middle class peasant family. He remained a commoner all his life. He was down to earth and simple in habits, never losing contact with the common man. He was easily accessible and fully understood the limitations of the common man. Despite the fact that he remained in office as President or Prime Minister for a long time, he lived a simple life. His ancestral house was a typical rural house in his village and he later built a modest urban house in Rawalpindi. Sardar Sahib did not eat much. He took his main meal of the day in the afternoon and seldom ate a meal in the evening. He did not touch farm chickens and preferred goat meat with black pepper. Sardar Sahib relished eating corn on the cob and seldom missed the opportunity of visiting his village during October to eat corn from his own land. He habitually slept on the floor. He observed many fasts.

It was customary for Sardar Sahib to go into Chillas, especially in times of crises. He would confine himself to a room, eat almost nothing, refrain from speaking and indulge in prolonged Duas. I used to send him handwritten notes if there was anything important.

Sardar Sahib was a humane person and a splendid host. I have seen him serving food to guests visiting his home in Ghaziabad.

Once visiting Saudi Arabia as a state guest, my wife and I also formed part of his entourage. In Madina, his old khadim and relative Abdullah (then settled in Saudi Arabia) brought gifts for Sardar Sahib’s family, bringing a gift for my wife also. Sardar Sahib was extremely pleased with this gesture. Addressing my wife and admonishing himself he said, “Beta, Mujh sey tau Abdullah hi acha hai jisay khayal raha, Itnay dinoon sey tum hamaray sath ho magar mujhay khayal na aaya”. With this utterance, he thrust 300 dollars in my wife’s palm.

When a cardiac procedure was to be performed on him in a Washington hospital, it was the President and Secretary General of APPNA (Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America) in person who pushed Sardar Sahib’s stretcher trolley into the surgery.

Last time I met him was two year ago. He had sent a message wanting to see me. He looked frail and exhausted but had the same glint. He had nothing special to say to me except gleefully recounting some past  events.

He left this temporary world and proceeded to his heavenly abode 10 July 2015 after a protracted illness. Rest in peace, Sardar Sahib. It was an honour to serve with him.

Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan at his home in Rawalpindi


  1. Mubashir Khurshid says:

    Tariq Masood Sahib,
    I congratulate you for this tremendous work. Sardar Sahib was not only the leader of Kashmir but he was the leader of Muslim Umaah. From his life span we have seen that having strong opinion and ideology he always listens to others’ point of view. His ideology and teachings are the guideline for us. May Allah grant him high rank in jannah.

  2. Dr. Syed Asif Hussain says:

    Thank you very much, sir. You have captured the life and achievements of Sardar Sahib so well in this article and I am sure this will be a very useful piece for the readers and researchers.

  3. Akram Sohail says:

    Before going in details it is worth to mention here that in my early age as student and later as a political worker of PPP, I always remained in front of those who used to pelt stone on his public meetings, etc. But when I joined Civil Service and he became the President/PM he always offered me the prize postings in my service career and remained very kind.

    He didn’t believe in clan/tribal system in political milieu. He believed in humanity and always ready to help the poor. Introduced common dress for officials and in educational institution an egalitarian gesture. Spread basic education in the nook and corner of AJK whereas his counterparts in Pakistan always discouraged the spread of knowledge so that they may keep the common citizens as their slaves.

    If I am correct he once remained the member of Azad Pakistan Party: having a progressive manifesto. I think his egalitarian gestures may had some influence by that progressive political movement.

  4. Aman Ullah Khan Senior Political Adviser to the US Ambassador (1973-2003) says:

    Mr. Tariq Masood,
    Your efforts to give a very educating and informative account on Sardar Sahib’s life is worth praiseworthy and deserves great appreciation.

    Since I have been a regular visitor along with senior American Diplomats to Muzaffarabad and had the honor of meeting with Sardar Sahib in both his capacities as the President and Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, his warm hospitality was a special characteristic of his humble personality. He always impressed me and my American colleagues with his extremely courteous behavior and politeness in his conversation and he convincingly advocated his view point but doing so he never raised his voice.

    His command on English language would always leave lasting impressions on me and my American colleagues. He indeed was a politician of a great caliber and possessed the qualities of having the farsightedness and the clarity about the Kashmir dispute and its ultimate solution. Keeping in view the Kashmiri traditions we always departed his official residence in Muzaffarabad and later surprisingly finding that so many gifts including handicrafts and my very favorite locally oven made popular Kashmiri Kulcha were put in our vehicle trunk without even mentioning it to us.
    Mr. Tariq Masud was always there being most helpful and instrumental in arranging our meetings with the great Sardar. Tariq Masud’s role being a close adviser played a pivotal role in briefing the American Diplomats in an articulate manner.

  5. Abdullah Abbasi says:

    Tariq Masud Sahib,
    Thank you so much for sharing the insightful personality of Mujahid-e-Awal, Sardar Muhammad Abdul Qayyum Khan with your rich experiences. His achievements in terms of politically, socially and religiously are truly beacon for future generation. Furthermore, in age of social media, where there is no or less politically and ideological awareness, the Government of State Azad Jammu and Kashmir or perhaps Federal Government come forward and formed an official committee to include the life struggle of Sardar Sahib and his strong ideology about “Kashmir Banega Pakistan” (Kashmir will be a part of Pakistan) in national school curriculum. That will serve future generations and intact Kashmir liberation movement.

  6. Maj Khalid Saeed Shah (R) says:

    Dear Sir,
    Indeed Sardar Sahib was a LEGEND and we have lost a very devoted LEADER and a TRUE MUSLIM. May Allah bless his soul a very special place in Janat-ul-Firdous, Aameen.

  7. Sardar Ghulam Ahmad Abbasi says:

    Tariq Masud, a top retired civil servant of AJ&K, has very briefly but correctly summarized some aspects of Sardar Muhammad Abdul Qayyum Khan’s life. This would certainly benefit future researcher of history to place his conduct in Kashmir’s liberation movement as well as positive and established role as politician and administrator. I believe with passage of time more aspects of his life would be revealed especially religious and spiritual side of his personality. If exposed would be beneficial for those who believe and practice spirituality.

  8. Arif Kamal says:

    An insightful piece ….much more than a sterotype obituary … The write up enables us to better appreciate SAQK as a visionary and as a phenomena that carries a deep imprint on the contemporary history of AJ&K …It is certainly, the best tribute to the departed soul that I have seen in recent days.

  9. Lt Gen Mustafa Kamal Akbar (R) says:

    Tariq Masud, alias “COMRADE”, Roll No. 109 at Gordon College Rawalpindi, where are you?
    Your article is very interesting.

    • Tariq Masud says:

      You should have conveyed these words when I wrote my two articles on Gordon College. I am very much in Islamabad, leading a retired life, but at times writing pieces liike this one. I did not avail your generous invitation to accompany you to see an ailing old friend. I will keep on regretting this for a very longtime. May Almighty grant eternal peace to the deceased.
      If you haven’t read those two articles, please ask Col Cheema (Editor) to send them to you.
      My Mobile number is 0300-5770328 and email:-
      Tariq Masud

  10. Thank you for such a thorough and comprehensive write-up.

  11. He was a nice person. May Allah grant his soul eternal peace & place him high in the Heaven’s, Aameen.

  12. Christopher Snedden says:

    Many thanks to Tariq Masud Sahib for this thoughtful and interesting piece about Sardar Qayyum. I met Sardar Qayyum three times, first in March 1996 in Muzaffarabad when he was serving as Prime Minister. He was always a quiet, engaging and impressive man–even though he was often surrounded by lots of people–whose thoughts and experiences were well worth hearing.
    As a political analyst, I also was able to analyse his role in Azad Kashmir politics, in which he played a major and very significant part. He was one of the region’s most important political figures, both for his political and administrative skills and for his leadership and approachability. It was an honour to meet him.

  13. Kh. Farooq says:

    A great article by Tariq Masud summarising the life and services of Sardar Qayyum, a leader, who was most sincere to the cause of the people of Kashmir and personally lived a far simpler life than that of his contemporaries with corruption at its lowest level during his tenure as President and Prime Minister notwithstanding the prodding influences from Pakistan Govt on the contrary.

  14. Munoo Kayani says:

    Sardar Abdul Qayyum was indeed a great leader. But as a patriotic Pakistani I feel it stange that we are supporting Kasmir cause and had to pay a heavy price for it, but these Kasmiris don’t want to join Pakistan, rather they are demanding an independent state. These views have been expressed by many Kashmiris at many forums.

    • Lt Col Zubair Ahmed (Retd) Canada says:

      Munoo Bhai,
      With time, keeps coming change in thoughts of people resulting from their experiences. Since we are surrounded by causes and their effects, all of us from both sides also need to look inward and try to analyze the shortcomings that has led to the change you have mentioned.
      Given past experiences, we have developed an attitude of ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ about almost any thing happening to us in Pakistan. We have an almost never ending list of events in our recent past that we seem to conveniently throw behind our backs and move on with the life ready to repeat same old mistakes so very conveniently.

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