Sardar Muhammad Abdul Qayyum Khan, also known as Mujahid-e-Awal, the leader of a Holy war against the Dogra of Kashmir and the Indian forces occupying the region, a man of strong principles and an uncompromising commander but at the same time a compassionate person who would go on to pardon his own would-be assassins that were captured by his men. Holding a unique and revered position in Kashmir’s political history, he was lauded both as a Kashmiri freedom fighter as well as a brilliant statesman, who first coined the slogan “Kashmir Banega Pakistan”.
Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan was born in a village known as Ghaziabad (now in Azad Kashmir), on 4th April 1924. After his early education, he joined the British Army where he gained his initial military insight. After leaving the army and observing the conditions of the subcontinent in perspective of the division, he decided to take up arms against the Dogra. He shot the first fire at the historical point of Neela Butt, cementing a revered spot for that hill in the history of the Kashmiri freedom struggle and earning the title of ‘Mujahid e Awal’. After leading and playing a part in the liberation of 32,000 square miles of Kashmiri territory, he became part of its political spectrum, later becoming the President and Prime Minister.
Abdul Qayyum Khan was taken under the wings of Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, a leader who is considered Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s successor in Kashmir, and head of the All Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference, the sole Muslim representative party in Kashmir, considered an offshoot of Quaid-e-Azam’s Muslim league, the party which had passed the resolution for annexation with Pakistan in July 1947 while the party had also won majority mandate. Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, before his death, expressing his trust on Sardar Qayyum said to him, “I leave this nation to you and you to God”.
He enjoyed terms as President and Prime Minister of the Azad Government of Jammu and Kashmir, and pioneered several departments in Kashmir, which were hitherto held by Pakistan’s ministry of Kashmir affairs. Throughout his life, he kept a firm stance on his mission of annexation with Pakistan but he had also stood against several of the steps by government and political leadership of Pakistan which he had openly condemned. His government had been sent home, along with him going to jail.
Despite his pro-Pakistan credentials, he also had to see a change of fate from the President house to Palandri Jail, during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government when the differences between the two leaders resulted in Sardar Qayyum’s government in Azad Kashmir being toppled and Bhutto’s Federal Security Force (FSF) locking him up in Palandri Jail. But in a dramatic turn of events, it was the same Bhutto who had to send a helicopter to bring Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan from Palandri Jail to somehow allay his heated opposition from the Pakistan National Alliance and convince them to come down to the negotiation table. He played an effective role as he was also popular in religious and right wing circles of the country.
After Zia’s martial law, he had to face initial hostility as he had asked martial administrator to acquit Bhutto of the severe death penalty leveled against him. He continued to oppose him early on but later they reconciled and later Sardar Qayyum became indispensable for Zia.
Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan reiterated to his policy makers and the people of Kashmir that it was highly important to “differentiate between Pakistan and the government of Pakistan, we may oppose the people in government but we cannot let go or oppose Pakistan”.
On the question of expansion of Pakistani political parties, Sardar Abdul Qayyum was very clear. He himself writes that he opposed Ayub Khan, who at that time had Bhutto in his corner and wanted Sardar Qayyum to integrate the All Jammu Kashmir Muslim Conference into their party. Even though he is accused of being pro-establishment, he explicitly opposed the formation of political franchises from Pakistan in Azad Kashmir, as it would provide both precedence to Indian parties in Indian Held Kashmir and also because this over politicization in electoral perspective would result in diminishing the concentration of Azad Kashmiris on the freedom struggle. One of the first parties to expand to Kashmir was the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leader Molana Maududi had initially verbally guaranteed Sardar Abdul Qayyum that they will not form a wing in Kashmir. He had proudly stated addressing a gathering in Azad Kashmir, “there is no bigger Pakistani than us”; and at several occasions that “Kashmiris will never back down to sacrifice for the security of Pakistan”.
He wrote several books on the Kashmir issue and consistently addressed various national and international, civilian and military delegations on the problem. His writings include “Kashmir Banega Pakistan”, “From Negotiation to Martial Law”, “Good governance”, “The importance of morals in politics” and many others where he proves to be an encyclopedia on several political and religious issues. While addressing a seminar on Kashmir in 1990, he expressed that the Kashmir issue has become such a conflict that it is a “science of its own”. He had written a wider range of letters calling attention to Kashmir addressed to dignitaries including representatives of all Muslim countries and Prime Ministers and Presidents from that of China to France.
Mujahid-e-Awal Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan passed away on 10th July 2015 and was buried in Dhirkot with honour from Pakistan’s Armed forces. His funeral prayers were held at various places in Pakistan, his village Ghaziabad, and Srinagar, Indian Held Kashmir. He had selected his place of burial when he was a freedom fighter while standing at the spot which today holds his body. His burial with the honour and respect paid, has been considered generally by the Kashmiri people as a renewal of Pakistan’s pledge in its support of the Kashmiri freedom struggle and even his grave is a symbol of the affiliation of the Kashmiri people with Pakistan.