In 2013, the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) received a strange request from the CBI. The agency told the ministry that it wanted to honour a Lahore-based family from Pakistan. The reason was that the family belonged to Khan Bahadur Qurban Ali Khan, the man who founded ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence unit. Before you shout “Traitor!” at CBI and hurl abuses, let us clear the air.
The CBI decided to honour Khan posthumously in its golden jubilee celebrations, for he was the first chief of the Special Police Establishment (SPE), the forerunner of the agency.
Ali Khan had founded the ISI in 1950. Besides gathering external intelligence, ISI was responsible for keeping a tab on the uprisings in erstwhile North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
But before forming the ISI in Pakistan, Khan led an illustrious job of a police officer in India, then ruled by the British. During World War II, the British government set up a unit in a bid to check bribery and corruption in another department. The aim of the unit was to keep a tab in the dealings of the War and Supply Department of India, headquartered in Lahore.
Khan, who was working as the superintendent of the war department, assumed the role of the chief administrator. As the War ended, there arose the need for a central agency to keep a check on the government employees, lest they indulged in corruption. The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act was brought into force in 1946, and Khan continued to lead the agency until 1947, when India divided.
Before leaving the shores of India, the British either took or destroyed the assets of India’s covert arsenal, rendering the agency helpless and futile. Ali Khan, being the head of the agency, left for Pakistan with whatever sensitive files he could salvage.
Post-Independence, with Khan as its head, Pakistan launched sub-conventional offensive warfare. Their idea was clear, offense is the best defense. There was no other way the newly created state could take on the well-equipped Indian Army. A few week after Independence, Pakistan launched assaults with tribal lashkar from Waziristan, to take over Kashmir.
The first Indo-Pak War, also known as the First Kashmir War, started when mujahids tried to take over the princely state of Kashmir & Jammu from 1947 to 1948. Two newly independent nations jumped into a war over a region whose future hung in a limbo.
Initially, the war was fought by the J&K State Forces and by tribal people from the North-West Frontier Province, the region where Ali Khan was based. Shortly after, the Indian Army jumped into the war, and although the result ended in a tie, India had successfully secured two-thirds of Kashmir.
Nevertheless, owing to all the bitterness and animosity of that period, CBI had to shelve the idea of getting Ali Khan’s family in Delhi, because certain diplomats were not very enthusiastic about the whole game.