Manto, on Murder/ Khalid Hasan

Khalid Hasan was a senior Pakistani journalist and writer. This article was published in The Friday Times, Lahore on Nov 7, 2008. 

Khalid Hasan

I have come upon a rare and forgotten piece of writing by Saadat Hasan Manto, sent to me by a friend some time ago. Written within days of the assassination in Rawalpindi of Pakistan’s first prime minister and the Quaid-I-Azam’s right-hand man and confidant, the piece titled “Murder, Murderer and the Murdered One – In one frame” was published in Afaq , Lahore on October 23 1951, exactly one week after the October 16 murder of Liaquat in the same cursed area where, 56 years later, Benazir Bhutto was to be done to death.

This is vintage Manto. I have translated excerpts from this dramatic re-creation of a crime that plunged the young and struggling state of Pakistan in gloom. Here is the maestro himself:

Man: Enemy of man. Party: Enemy of Party. Government: In conflict with government. This is the story of the 20th century, as it was the story of the 1st century. Like other goods and commodities on sale, human flesh has also always been on sale. Gallows used to be erected to hang people by the neck then, as they are now. Human blood was shed in the past, as it is shed today. Murder, oppression, savagery and violence were present in the past as they are present today. So many prophets, savants, mystics and men of God came and went but they all failed to reform human beings. They pointed out what was wrong and criminal but they were unable to eliminate the instincts that make men commit crimes. But mankind is so shamefaced that it has refused to abandon hope. As thousands of years earlier, man also continues to feel moved by the finer feelings of love and desire and longing. And this is what constitutes the greatest of man’s tragedy and triumph. But if in between tragedy and triumph something crude happens, it is irritating. In this drama, there is no drop scene. If one slips and falls, one gets hurt.

On the evening of October 16 when I learnt of the murder of Liaquat Ali Khan, I was shaken. Everyone knows that life has to one day end. Being brought down by a bullet could not have come as much of a surprise for Liaquat Ali Khan but what bothered me was the manner in which this tragic drama ended. The first news flashes said: The killer fired two shots from pointblank range. After he fired, the policemen standing next to him began to fire in the air, causing great panic in the crowd present there, which seemed unaware of what had happened. But crowd control was soon established and the deputy commissioner of Rawalpindi imposed Section 144 in both the city and the cantonment. Liaquat Ali Khan was rushed to the hospital where he was given a blood transfusion. He had fainted after being shot. These were all first reports.

People drew different conclusions from these reports but I could not understand why the police had fired in the air. Although it is said of Punjab Police that when occasion demands, it bans even the wind from blowing, but when the murderer was out there, visible to all and easy to arrest, why did the police fire in the air to disperse a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000? The policemen who stood close to the killer kept firing in the air but failed to save the killer. Because of the confusion caused by the incident, with the crowd running pell-mell, it became difficult to remove Liaquat to the hospital for urgent medical care. By the time he arrived at the hospital, he had lost so much blood that a transfusion became necessary.

Manto

One eyewitness to the murder, a Mr Irfani, in a long article published in Afaq on October 20 reports that the attacker was sitting to his left at an angle no more than six yards away. With the police firing in the air, it was all so sudden and unexpected that no one could think straight. The man who rushed towards Liaquat Ali Khan when he fell was the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner Hardy. Was it not Hardy’s duty to grab the killer first, who was just six yards from him? There were others on duty who could have attended to the prime minister. Who authorised the police to fire in the air?

We also know that that the Frontier government had conveyed to the Punjab government that it considered Said Akbar, the killer, a suspicious character. What thickens the plot is that Rs 2,040 were found on his person and 10,000 from where he was staying. One can assume that he was a hired gun. I do not wish to analyse the psychology of the murderer or the act of murder, but why was he carrying so much money when he knew that there would be little chance of his getting out alive? Two more questions spring from this one then. Maybe the killer was hopeful of getting away. If that was so, there must have been others around who he believed would save him. If this is accepted, then the murder assumes an entirely different dimension. There were several men around the killer who shot him dead after he had done the deed. But then one has to ask oneself why those who planned the murder took so many in confidence. Was it not unwise? And then there is the disappearance from Peshawar of the Afghan consul-general, a member of the ruling royal family, five hours before the murder. Is there a link of some sort there?

Since the Frontier government had shared its suspicions about the murderer a day before with the Punjab government, what did the latter do? The Punjab police, known for arresting even flies and mosquitoes at the slightest pretext, failed to act after receiving this important report. Why was an eye not kept on the movements of Said Akbar? The police are also looking for the 10-year-old boy who was with the murderer. Before leaving Hazara, Said Akbar had left a note with the police saying he was going to Pindi and he would be staying at the Grand Hotel. He had also asked that he not be tailed as had happened when he went to Murree. It is all very strange. Said Akbar arrives in Rawalpindi on October 13 and does not leave his hotel until October 16. He remains a mystery and everything he does is most unusual. Three people visit him every day, who, he says, are from the CID. In the hotel register, Said Akbar describes himself as “CID pensioner.” It is just not possible to understand why, given all this, he was not kept under surveillance. The killer was killed. But where is the revolver with which he shot Liaquat Ali Khan? On October 19, Punjab chief minister Mian Mumtaz Daultana said in a speech, “I am ashamed that this vile act took place in my province but I assure you that your government and police were not lax in making security arrangements.” May God will that it be so!

Said Akbar murdered our beloved prime minister and leader and he deserved to die for it, but he should have been saved from the lynch mob. No matter what we say, and even if we come up with a million reasons, the fact is that on October 16 two human beings were murdered. One was Khan Liaquat Ali Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, and the other, a resident of Hazara by the name of Said Akbar.

Manto

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