Life Lived: Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, Pakistan’s ex-Foreign Minister and AKU’s Board of Trustees founding chairman

January 26, 2016: Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, Pakistan’s former foreign minister and founding chairman of the Aga Khan University’s Board of Trustees, passed away at the age of 95. He is survived by his wife Begum Tuba Yaqub-Khan and sons Samad and Najib.

After the establishment of AKU – the first private university in Pakistan –Sahabzada became the founding chairman of its Board of Trustees and played a pioneering role in the formation of the University for 16 years until his retirement in 2001.

​Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, 1920-2016 (Image credit: AKU)
​Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, 1920-2016 (Image credit: AKU)

Born in 1920 in Rampur, Indian UP province, Sahibzada Yaqoob joined Pakistan’s army from where he retired as lieutenant general.

Sahabzada was a high-profile figure who held the most senior and prestigious military and government positions in the Pakistan Government. A discerning military commander, statesman, diplomat and an intellectual, he nurtured his own worldview independent of his official positions.

After retiring from the Pakistani Army, he embarked on a career as a diplomat, serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to France, the United States and Soviet Union from 1972 to 1982. Later, he served as the foreign minister under seven different governments from 1982 to 1991, and then as the caretaker foreign minister from 1996 to 1997.

Sahabzada became an international figure when he played a central role in the UN-sanctioned negotiations to end the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, and also took part to end the civil war in Nicaragua.

Then from 1992 until 1997 Yaqub Khan was the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Western Sahara. He was also a commissioner in the now retired Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict.

He was well versed in over a dozen languages including French, Italian, German and Russian languages alongside the oriental ones – Urdu, Persian and Bengali and frequently quoted Ghalib, Hafiz and Tagore from his immense repertoire. He was an accomplished polo player and a squash enthusiast. His aristocratic background, military training, imprisonment during the war and extensive knowledge of history, philosophy and literature made him a citizen of the world – comfortably straddling both East and the West.

Outbreak of war is failure of diplomacy, he observed once. Like American diplomat Henry Kissinger, Khan was not a universally loved figure, but his diplomatic ability was such that he was respected by everyone. Sahibzada Yaqub Khan remained an essential figure in international diplomacy for Pakistan for over three decades.


Research, Insight & Perspective by A. Maherali

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