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Death of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Telegram from Charles W. Lewis, Jr., US Charge d'Affaires (Karachi) to US Secretary of State, Washington on Death of Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Appointment of Khwaja Nazimuddin as Acting Governor General: September 15, 1948

American Embassy,
Karachi, Pakistan,
September 15, 1948
Despatch No. 410

The Honorable
The Secretary of State,

I have the honor to refer to my telegram No. 451 of September 12, 1948 and subsequent telegrams on the subject of the death of Governor General Jinnah and the appointment of the Premier of East Bengal, Khwaja Nazimuddin, as Acting Governor General of Pakistan.

Although the people of Pakistan had known that Governor General Jinnah had been ailing for some time, which was one reason for his remaining in the higher altitude of Baluchistan during the hot season, they were wholly unprepared for the shock which they received early in the morning of September 12 when the following announcement was issued:

"The Prime Minister and Ministers of the Pakistan Government announce with deep sorrow and grief the death by heart failure of the beloved Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Governor-General of Pakistan, at Karachi on Saturday 11th September 1948 at 10:25 p.m."

While no official information was given concerning Mr. Jinnah's illness the course which that illness had taken during the last two months of his life was substantially as reported in my telegram No. 452 of September 13. His age, the burdens of his office and the troubled relations between India and Pakistan, and a worn down physical condition resulting from his recent attack of influenza which he was unable to shake off apparently combined to produce the fatal heart attack around 10:00 p.m. on September 11, a few hours after his return to Karachi by air from Quetta. That this sudden death came as a complete surprise not alone to the populace of Pakistan but to the highest ranking officials is evident from the circumstances that the Prime Minister, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, and all of the other ranking officials of the Government who were in Karachi, attended a reception that evening given by the French Ambassador. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan subsequently told me that neither he nor anyone else at that time envisaged Mr. Jinnah's sudden death. He said that Mr. Jinnah's mind was clear and active up to the last.

Immediately following Mr. Jinnah's passing the members of the Cabinet who were in Karachi met at the Governor General's House and were in continuous session until about 4:30 in the morning. It was decided at the cabinet meeting that the funeral of Mr. Jinnah should be held as soon as possible, in keeping with the injunctions of the Koran, and the time for the beginning of the funeral procession, starting from the Governor General's House was fixed at 3:00 p.m. that day, September 12. It was also decided that the Quaid-i-Azam should be buried on a hillock at what is now the Exhibition Grounds but which has been selected as the site of a proposed Juma Mosque.

The Quaid-i-Azam's body was placed in state at Government House and scores of thousands of persons paid their respects there before the start of the funeral procession at 3:00 p.m. Shortly before that time members of the diplomatic corps, ranking government officials and special guests passed around the Governor General's bier. The Governor General's bodyguard and detachments from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the police provided the escort for the body, which was placed on a gun carriage. The hundreds of thousands of people who lined the funeral route of some three miles to the burial site behaved with admiral discipline although at times there was severe crowding because of the pressure of the enormous crowds. At approximately 6:00 p.m. the body of Mr. Jinnah was laid to rest in the presence of a vast concourse of sorrowing people.

Along with other members of the Diplomatic Corps I signed the Visitors' Book at the Governor General's House and called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the morning following Mr. Jinnah's death, to offer condolences. The messages from President Truman and Secretary of State Marshall were deeply appreciated and were given prominent places in the local press on September 14.

The Government announced that all government offices would be closed for three days from September 12 and that there would be a period of official mourning of 40 days, ending October 21, 1948. While there was no legal obligation on the part of the public to close their business establishments during the first three days of mourning this was generally done voluntarily, but squads of self-appointed enforcers roamed the city to force closing upon any establishments which might not have voluntarily closed their doors. There is no doubt but that the shock and the grief of the people were great, but the spontaneity of the grief of the people was marred by the presence of these roving bands of zealots who in a few instances caused some unpleasant episodes, including the burning of one of the principle restaurants in the city.

There was naturally much speculation as to who would be appointed to succeed Mr. Jinnah. It was not until 4:00 p.m. on September 14 that an official announcement was released stating that Khwaja Nazimuddin, Premier of East Bengal, had been appointed as Acting Governor General. Not even the official invitations to the swearing-in-ceremony which were sent out on the morning of September 14 gave the name of the person who was to be sworn in and therefore so far as any official information was concerned none of the guests knew until the actual arrival at the scene of the ceremony who was to be Mr. Jinnah's successor. However, the unofficial news became widespread on the morning of that day that Khwaja Nazimuddin had been appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Pakistan Cabinet. The persons invited to witness the swearing-in-ceremony were restricted to the highest ranking officials of the Governments of Pakistan and of Sind and the Diplomatic Corps. The swearing-in- ceremony took place in the Durbar Hall in Government House at 4:00 p.m. It was simple and brief but was conducted in a colorful environment. Following the taking of the oath and a review of the Body Guard and military detachments, the Acting Governor General received the members of the diplomatic corp in the drawing room.

No explanation has been given as to why Khwaja Nazimuddin was only appointed to be Acting Governor General but the assumption is that it was the desire of the Cabinet to ascertain the reactions of the people to the appointment before making it permanent, leaving the Cabinet free to appoint another person should the present appointee for any reason prove to be an unsatisfactory choice.

I have known Mr. Nazimuddin since my arrival at Karachi over a year ago. I have always been impressed by his friendliness and simplicity. Gnome-like in appearance, he is short of stature, probably not exceeding five feet, and is rotund of waist and thin of legs. While not otherwise distinguished in appearance, nor particularly outstanding as a leader, he is nevertheless widely respected, and entirely apart from other considerations will probably make a suitable Governor General. There is no doubt, however, that as stated in my telegram No. 455 of today's date, he was primarily chosen for reasons of political expediency with a view to increasing the representation of East Bengal in the central Government and strengthening the ties of that very important Province, separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory, with Western Pakistan. In addition to the Acting Governor General, East Bengal is now represented in the Central Government by three Ministers: Khwaja Shahabuddin, Minister of the Interior, and a brother of the Acting Governor General; Mr. Fazlur Rahman, Minister of Industries, and Mr. J. N. Mandal, Minister of Law and labor. A biographical sketch of the Acting Governor General was given in my telegram No. 454 of September 14. A more complete report will be submitted in the near future.

There is universal satisfaction in Pakistan that Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan was not appointed Governor General. This satisfaction is not a reflection of any lack of confidence in Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, on the contrary, it is evidence of the popular trust in his indomitable will and a belief in his superior administrative and legislative talents as a Prime Minister. Had he advanced to the higher constitutional position of Governor General the vacancy he would have left behind as Prime Minister would have been virtually impossible to fill as there appears to be no one of his stature to take that position.

Respectfully yours,
Charles W. Lewis, Jr.,
Charge d'Affaires, a. i.

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In fact, politically Gandhi now carried little weight, but it was of the utmost importance that Mountbatten should have a close understanding and friendship with India's beloved prophet, and this, he succeeded in achieving. The other major politicians and statesmen, in turn, warmed to the aura of affection and goodwill and at the same time recognised Mountbatten's genuine love for their people. But the one man who could drive home the bolt and secure the lock of united India was Jinnah. 'Jinnah was the Muslim League' said Mountbatten. 'He held the future of India in his hands. I tried the same technique with him but it was almost impossible to warm him. He had only one dream and that was a separate Muslim state.

The Hindu leaders, trained by Gandhi, dropped him as of no use when the decisive moment arrived. The Quaid could not be budged - He wanted Pakistan, and he won it!

Mountbatten, Hero of Our Time, Weidenfels & Nicholson, London, 1980, p. 218
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