Lt Gen (retired) Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan, Pakistan’s longest serving foreign minister and one time military commander of East Pakistan, died on Tuesday aged 95.
Khan will be remembered for his refusal to use the military option in East Pakistan following elections in 1970. His replacement, Gen Tikka Khan, had unleashed the wave of terror that led to the bifurcation of the country soon after.
This cost Khan his military career but his stance was vindicated soon after his retirement, besides sparing him the ignominy of presiding over the surrender in the 1971 war.
As foreign minister, Khan will be remembered for his role in extracting concessions from the erstwhile USSR during talks hosted by the United Nations in Geneva that finally led to the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
He was taken on by military ruler Zia-ul-Haq, who needed able ministers to help build the image of his regime. After a decade of ambassadorial assignments in important capitals such as Paris (twice), Washington and Moscow, he succeeded Agha Shahi as foreign minister.
Despite his role in the negotiations for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Afghanistan, Khan was removed by the Junejo government a little before the Geneva Accords were signed on April 14, 1988. But Khan was close to Zia-ul-Haq and was brought back time and again by the Pakistani establishment.
Born on December 23, 1920 in Rampur (now in Uttar Pradesh), Khan was educated at the Royal Indian Military College in Dehra Dun. In 1940, he was commissioned in the British Indian Army. During World War II, he was taken prisoner in the siege of Tobruk and held for a year-and-a-half.
He escaped, only to be recaptured by German forces and held for another 18 months. He was rescued by American troops in April 1945. He learnt languages by interacting with fellow prisoners and reading literature in those languages.
He was later selected as an adjutant to Lord Wavell and then commandant of the bodyguard for the first Governor General of Pakistan. Rapidly climbing the promotional ladder in the army, he served in important positions such as vice chief of general staff (1958), commandant of the Staff College (1960), and chief of general staff (1965).
Khan is survived by his wife Tuba Begum Khaleeli, whom he married in 1960, and two sons, Abdus Samad Khan and Mohammad Najib Khan.